Doing vs. Feeling

As I was hiking the Swiss Alps, using walking sticks, I felt like I had four legs. I first did this back in the mountains of Colorado after I found some dried Aspen roots that I used for walking sticks. Later I scurried up desert rocks using my hands as two more paws.

I mentioned this to my dancer friend, who I was hiking with, and she said that she just couldn’t feel her arms as if they were legs. This surprised me, because she is one of the most physically aware people I know. So I had to figure out why, I really didn’t feel as if my hands were holding sticks. They were legs. I felt my lat’s engaged pulling me up the mountain.

I asked her if she ever rode horses? She didn’t. I did. Sitting on horseback, esp. English dressage, you feel the horse’s flanks move under you. Feeling the horse move, is where I got the visceral feeling of my arms being legs. I learned what four appendages moving along the earth felt like.

That is why I’m so happy that I began flute at age ten, and why it is a challenge for my older adult students to really feel the sounds they are making. I wonder what it will be like for this next generation who spend more time moving images on a screen vs. physically engaged. Will moving in the virtual worlds of the Oculus wire the same kinesthetic memories of moving in the physical world? I think VR does train the physical body. I wonder what science says.

Playing the Oculus actually helps me feel more empowered! When I play “Until You Fall” my heart races when this extremely scary looking being shows up that I have to vanquish. It took several months before I could look at him and retain my center enough so that I could take him down. I’ve been playing mini golf in VR and am looking forward to getting on the real golf course to see if my putting is better! Boxing in “Supernatural” is training my body on some actually boxing moves. I’ve even fallen over putting my hand on the nonexistent virtual ping-pong table to reach a ball close to the net.

One of the best things is when I take my headset off and the three dimensional world looks enhanced. I feel that the VR is training my vision to perceive what’s around me in a different way.

I am so visually interested, it took 4 ½ hours to do a 2 ½ hour alpine hike. Part of it was lack of physical strength in high altitude, but the other part was there was so much to enjoy. I had to stop several places along the babbling brook and listen to nature’s music. Looking at the ground was so much more interesting than just where to put my feet: the purple, yellow, white flowers; the black, white and several shades of green lichen on the rocks; the different shapes of leaves and grasses; the different piles of rocks that had fallen down together. Then I had to look out and around: mountains as far as I could see; glaciers and small lakes in the distance; large lakes in the valleys that separated small pockets of villages; boats and windsurfers on those lakes; clouds and their shadows; Para gliders and of course cows and the wonderful sonic counterpoint of their bells.

Now, I’m on a twelve hour flight, stuck in a small economy seat with the person in front of me reclining. What is my body learning by being in this position? What information am I gathering as my ears pick up with the constant roar of the engine mixed with sounds of coughing, talking, chip bags rustling? I’m sharing half a day with over three hundred people that I don’t know. I’m lucky that my seat partner is friendly and we got to talk!

Every situation in life can train our physicality to relate different experiences.

We can gather, combine, contrast, compare physically as much as we can sonically when improvising. I have a renewed excitement to get home and practice. How much can I feel; my fingers; lips; front, back and middle of my tongue; how my body changes with inhales and how those inhales are different depending where they come in the phrase; how I’m balanced on my feet; how I use my legs…Then there is listening: to the attack, sustain and release of a note; how the attacks relate to each other; dynamics during and between notes; intonation…So often I practice like the 2 ½ hour hike—I play the music and get on to the next piece. I’m curious to see how I can speed up my attention to slow down my perception and start practicing like the 4 ½ hour hike.