I Have Very Bad Posture

I realized while meditating this evening that I tend to hold my shoulders up and forward. The guided progressive relaxation I use includes the instructions that the hands should lay "alongside the body, with the palms open toward the ceiling." This position has always felt uncomfortable to me; my natural inclination has been to lie with my palms down against the bed. This is the position that feels most "relaxed" for me. When I tried to do it as instructed, I felt my arms uncomfortably twisted in a way that became downright infuriating after 45 minutes of motionless contemplation.

Tonight, in something of a breakthrough, I realized why. Rolling my shoulders in tends to bias my arms toward the palms-down position. If I really relax and stretch the muscles in my chest and put my scapulae flat against the bed, it becomes quite natural and comfortable to lie with my palms open to the ceiling, to say nothing of how it improves my experience of my chest and upper back. I have a barrel chest which, at least as an adolescent, looked pretty strange with my spindly limbs and neck, and I imagine the habit of pulling my shoulders forward was an unconscious effort to minimize this. It's a habit that might also date to my bodybuilding days, as pulling the shoulders back tends to flatten and minimize the pecs whereas pulling them forward tends to bulge and emphasize the pecs, which, I am somewhat ashamed to admit, is something I once wanted to do.

I should think about ways to correct my habit, which I believe is both a lifting and a rounding of my shoulders. My father once told me (and now I wonder if he had an ulterior motive at the time) that he had corrected his own shoulder-rounding problem by having someone affix a piece of surgical tape across his upper back between his shoulder blades when they were in the proper position. Then if he started to pull them forward he would feel resistance and tightening in the tape and would be reminded to leave them back.

If I had somebody around here to apply the tape, I might just try that.


God Bless Bob Solomon and His Memory

He was the greatest professor I have ever known, and I've known a lot of them. I've just now heard of his passing this January.

I remember a physics class once, and the Russian professor was describing his reaction to textbook merchants touting the features of their latest, umpteenth, feature-packed editions.

"If you really want to make it great," he would say to them, "Make it cost five dollars."

Well, Bob Solomon did just that. I don't know how long he taught his existentialism class, but he compiled the little eponymous blue textbook for it, and it did cost $5, and it's one of the best damn books I've ever owned. Those lectures have been immortalized by The Teaching Company, and are available for sale as CDs or tapes. I can't recommend them enough.

I remember in a lecture about Kierkegaard, Dr. Solomon drew a tiny stick figure at the bottom of the board, and next to it, towering over it, an enormous circle that one first assumes is going to be a planet. Then he draws a pupil and an iris and the circle becomes a cyclopean eye, staring down at the little man like a bug beneath a microscope.

"This," he said, "is how Kierkegaard saw his relationship with God."

It still makes me laugh.

When we read Camus, he talked about the sense of hopelessness as a doctor might describe an interesting pathology. "Everything you do," he said, "becomes pointless if you think about it long enough. Even teaching. Every teacher has had the experience of a pupil who returns years later brimming with gratitude, and after talking to them for awhile, of realizing that they have completely and utterly missed the point."

I never got to know Bob as well as I should have. I had the best grade in a class of 60 when I took his course, and the way was open for me. But I was too intimidated and I failed to establish a relationship with him. I asked for a meeting with him to write me a letter of recommendation for law school. He agreed, and then stood me up. He must've thought I'd missed the point, too. And at that time maybe I had.

But I quit law school. I never should have gone in the first place. I like to think that if I'd gone back and talked to Dr. Solomon, before he died, he would have been proud of me for realizing on my own that the world has too many damn lawyers in it, already. I like to think that, in the end, I didn't miss the point at all.

Goodbye, Bob.