Life in Balance

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Movement Teacher Replaces Instinct with Consciousness: Disease Slows Him Down but He Keeps Going

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will-crane-photographer-natt-mcfee

Photo Credit: Natt McFee

Copyright 2016, Mark Judelson

From his earliest memories of childhood, Will Crane’s body was moving in space. He rode surfboards and skateboards, walked tightropes, balanced on stilts, juggled balls, climbed and repelled down cliffs, achieved the rank of San Dan (third degree Black Belt) in Aikido and Menkyo (first degree Black Belt) in Japanese  Sword. For 26 years, he has taught gym and was the Director of Physical Education and Athletics at Green Meadow Waldorf School. Today, at age 64, because of an illness called Peripheral Neuropathy which impairs the transmission of his once finely-tuned nervous system, he has lost significant sensation. His balance and stamina are compromised. Simply remaining upright is a challenge that requires more than he ever imagined as he gracefully surfed big waves of Hawaii, Mexico and California. Others might collapse into the gravity of depression, denial and anger. Not Mr. Crane. After all, his first name is Will and this is one human being who keeps moving.

Born in 1952 on a U.S. Naval base in Guam (where his father was stationed), he remembers “always being interested in the world around me. I was a wanderer, drawn to what was over that next hill. My father was a mechanic and he was deeply interested in the world of machines. His first words were, ‘Go car.’ He was interested in what made them move and how they work. I was drawn to the world of nature and what moved in that world.”

His family ended up in San Diego, California where Mr. Crane lived for most of his childhood. “I was fascinated by what I saw in the clouds. I looked for what was on – and beyond – the horizon. I had a love of nature and somehow knew there was something more than just the physical element of nature.”

When Mr. Crane was nine, he got a bicycle for Christmas. “I jumped on this bike and rode for hours. That allowed me to move farther, with a different dynamic – my activity plus the bicycle. “We lived close to the ocean and I was always drawn towards that element. That was where the horizon was. I’d go and just watch the waves. Once in a while, there were people who were carrying these long, heavy boards. They’d put these boards in the water, paddle out and turn around and ride the waves. I was really fascinated.”

When he was 11, his fascination outgrew observation to actual surfing that involved temporary larceny. “Surfboards in those days were big and heavy. When surfers took a break, they’d leave their boards lying on a pile of seaweed close the water so you didn’t have far to go to get in the water. One day, I couldn’t help myself. Nobody was around. There was this pile of surfboards. I grabbed one and paddled out and turned around and caught my first wave. I was standing and the whole world was going by me! Awesome! I turned around, paddled out again and rode my second wave. As I was coming in,  this giant guy came charging at me. He was angry and ready to beat me up for taking his board but I was so little he just took his board back.” Aside from the near thrashing he almost received at the large hands of his offended victim, surfing took on a huge role in his life. “That joy became an obsession for the next 30 years of my life,” he said.  “I knew I needed to get a surfboard. My first one cost $15 that I earned from delivering newspapers from my bicycle. I took it to the bay but it was so waterlogged that it sunk. It was a learning experience. I saved more money from my paper route and bought a $35 board. It was something I could paddle out with and not rob a board from somebody else,” he chuckled.

Surfing served as a vehicle for Mr. Crane to develop what he refers to as “Sport-Art.” ”For me,” he said, “surfing bridged the gap between the human being and nature.”

In his early 20’s, he began training in Aikido.  “I developed a fascination in the economy of movement of different martial arts. I walked past an Aikido dojo (school) and saw people flying through the air and landing on the mat gracefully. Standing with grace and strength. There was harmony of that movement that fascinated me. And there was a spiritual element. I needed to consciously extend my forces in the spaces around me.”

In 1977, Mr. Crane married and their first child was born shortly after. “I held my newborn son and knew that I had to do something to make the world a better place. He and his wife became interested in Waldorf education.” Waldorf integrates a strong artistic component in all aspects of learning, something that spoke to Mr. Crane. He completed a two year training to become a Waldorf teacher. In 1986 he accepted a teaching position at Green Meadow Waldorf School in Chestnut Ridge.

Three years later, he began training in Spacial Dynamics® in which the moving human being is envisioned as a fluid continuum of body, space, and awareness. “It was the first training of this type in North America. I felt I met my sisters and brothers and this was movement I totally connected with. From the training, I re-connected with my childhood pictures of movement of forces manifesting and streaming through the physical and in the space around us. It was a movement education, a fundamental and essential basis for physical education. I taught movement, games and physical education to grades 1-12 through developmentally appropriate games, exercises and activities. These included running, tagging games, jump rope and rhythmical hand-clapping games, ball games of all sorts, track and field, wrestling, gymnastics, tumbling, acrobatics and physical conditioning exercises and activities.” In the course of his teaching day, he demonstrated what he was teaching. For the past 26 years, he was busy and he was moving.

Over the course of the last eight to ten years, subtle symptoms began to appear such as a change in gait, referred to as “drop foot”. He saw a neurologist, who diagnosed his condition as Peripheral Neuropathy. “In a healthy person, peripheral nerves feed information from our limbs,” he said. “The nerves are saying, ‘This is your location. This is where your weight is bearing. Pay attention – You’re stepping into a hole!’ That information wasn’t getting through to me. What I was able to do before, out of instinct, had to be replaced with effort and consciousness. Without that awareness, I might fall. My studies of Spacial Dynamics® help me tremendously.  It showed me how my awareness and engagement into the space around my physical body can support my movement.”

The neurologist told Mr. Crane that Peripheral Neuropathy is a slow-progressing, degenerative disease and there’s no cure. “He told me, ‘There’s nothing you can do.’ I just couldn’t accept that. My research has become to discover how to regenerate the life forces that are decaying in my own body and restore function.”

Mr. Crane acknowledges the frustration of his condition. “When I’m walking, my balance, mobility and stability are challenged. When the things you love to do, that you’ve done naturally and instinctively for so much of your life, you can’t do – that’s something lost, something taken away. But when I look at the big picture – the degree of human suffering on the earth, I see my condition as something to work through and to learn from. Although I am unable to demonstrate running, jumping and vaulting, I understand the movement with a growing clarity and can lead others to their own experience and understanding of those activities.”

“My research, beginning with my own experience, is to deepen my understanding about these nerve pathways – which are also the movement pathways. To discover how conscious movement can strengthen, support and enliven the life forces of these neural pathways. There are more than 250,000 people in the United States alone who suffer from Peripheral Neuropathy. The most common treatment being offered is pain medication because it can be painful. I want to make progress so that I don’t just help myself but help others. That’s my mission.”

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