Mar 292017
 

I’ve become a soccer fan, thanks to my husband. What a pleasure to appreciate such agility, strength, endurance, acrobatics! While watching a game in Bogotá, Colombia, he asked me, “what would the Alexander Technique contribute to soccer?” My first thought was that I would coach the players on one thing to never do: clasp their hands to their head.

We express emotions through the body, and our body language can predispose or initiate emotions. Can you guess the sentiment expressed by these players and coach?

 

 

 

 

In addition to disappointment (“that shouldn’t have happened”), there can be an element of culpability, of recrimination (“I shouldn’t have done that, I can’t believe I did that”). As much as we operate as if scolding or blaming will “teach” us to “not make that mistake again”, this habit is not at all helpful for improving subsequent performance. Who feels free and inspired to give their wholehearted best after such punishment? In fact my husband had long-ago intuited this: While coaching his young son to play soccer, he forbade the boy to ever clutch at his head if he missed a shot. His rationale matched mine: If you don’t demonstrate the self-reproach and despair expressed in this gesture, you won’t practice the associated beliefs. (I’ve since met this young man, and he took the lesson to heart: he doesn’t get upset about anything!)

It’s interesting to note that not all players respond to a mistake by putting hands to their head. Everyone goofs, misses, forgets. What’s it like to simply acknowledge that, as a thing that happens, and move on? I’d like to measure the effect on players and fans of giving up this expression of aggravation, disbelief, condemnation. I realize my suggestion calls into question how seriously fútbol fans take their national pastime, but… once again, we get to choose: habit, or freedom? Let’s use the game as an excuse to marvel at athleticism and sportsmanship, and not get hung up on how it’s “supposed” to go!

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Jun 212016
 

This past weekend I got to see how my belief that I knew how to communicate was the very thing that prevented it. Over the years I have studied relationships and communication through various paradigms, and I consider myself pretty well versed in being responsible in my speech, willing to admit where I’m wrong, and committed to maintaining connection over winning an argument. The astonishing quality of my friendships and marriage are testament to this.

But boy oh boy did I see how mistaken I am.

For any of many possible reasons, one morning during our blissful four days of camping with perfect seclusion, gorgeous scenery, ideal weather, and fun together, Sweetie woke up in a funk. The mood seemed to even out over the day, so that by afternoon I was caught unawares when the Funk reared its head in a comment that I considered out of place. I watched myself then become increasingly confident in my rightness to point it out and demand that my sweetie revise his thinking. If only he’d consider the wrongness in his interpretation of what he was experiencing, not only would he see the folly of his judgment about me, but HE would assuredly feel better! See how justifiable is my argument – I have his best interests at heart!

As you can imagine, that didn’t go so well.

UnknownOnce I realized that I had an attitude about my sweetie’s attitude –!!– I could see that the real work is actually mine to do, not my beloved’s. I wanted him to change his focus and thus his perspective – but that’s my job, to shift whatever interpretation I have of him, or what’s going on, to remain connected to the deepest truth of my being: I am meant to abide in love, and I love this man. Loving him is Who I Am, not something I feel, and whenever I use ANY excuse to step outside of loving him, I suffer. The work of Byron Katie and Abraham-Hicks is coming clearer and clearer to me (as clear as a ton of bricks on my head!!), and the lesson is nowhere clearer than this. When my beloved and I get off track, when discord arises, when I believe I’m right (about some way he’s wrong), the end result is that I hurt all over. I absolutely cannot bear to hold a judgment about him, find fault, separate myself from living in wonder and appreciation of him. So really it’s completely self-serving to recognize that I never, ever have any justification for believing that he should be or behave in any way other than exactly how he is, and that it’s my job to alter my perspective so that I can remain in an attitude of love.

It (only sometimes, now) surprises me to hear myself speak of love and relationship in terms that sound dangerously close to dissolution of my free-willin’ self. It challenges my painstakingly cultivated sense of autonomy to let everyone else off the hook, and engage all these tools of responsibility and compassion, myself; to locate the fault in myself IMG_5190whenever I feel wronged by another – not as a declaration that I am wrong, but that I’m entertaining a thought/perspective that is erroneous. In Touching Enlightenment, Reginald Ray states that “this journey toward realization…is a process of unmasking, taking off the armor, becoming more and more nakedly ourselves” (p. 234).  In forsaking a thought that takes me out of the state of love, I’m not giving up the self that is my True Self; I’m surrendering the one that clings to judgments and mistaken beliefs –the primary one being that there is anything more important than Being in love.

Really??? Who would choose fame or fortune, being “right” or “realistic,” over the opportunity to live a life in love love love!??!!

 

 

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Mar 042016
 

As a tool, the Alexander Technique can be used in whatever application you wish. It relieves pain and restriction, improves performance, is an access to greater facility and ease. But it is not completely innocent of agenda.

It's possible to apply the Technique to minimizing or eliminating inefficient movement patterns that interfere with what we believe we want to accomplish — whether that's working pain-free at a keyboard, playing an instrument, enhancing stage presence, or improving athletic performance. It can even help us “know ourselves” more, developing our capacity to calm the mind and body, direct our thinking, expand our repertoire of expression, as well as sit/stand/move with more ease. This can yield enhancements in self-reflection/meditation, confidence, less emotional volatility, and lighter moods.

But if the Technique were simply about learning how to do what we do, better, there's nothing to prevent the inevitable intensification of our current lifestyle — in work and play, we constantly aim for more, better, faster, more comprehensive, more cutting-edge. Are these improvements in doing what we're already doing, or doing more of what we'd like to do, really what the Technique is about? Is that what it's for? Is that the best it can summon from us?

What if the essential message of the Technique (no surprise here) is to not do? Not, “do what you do with less effort”, but actually “stop doing so much”… ?

I notice that my own alarm bells go off at this questions. Wait! I don't want my desires and energy to be stifled! I don't want to give up my dreams, my aspirations! I want to persist in feeling that I have a say in my life, that I am a free, active agent, that I can and do make things happen!

There's a trap I catch myself in: I tell myself that my training in the Alexander Techique should allow me to keep up a frenetic pace in a busy life, but be able to do it “with more ease”. I think that I ought to be able to conduct myself with “good use” while I persist in filling the hours of my days with Important and Pressing Things to Do. I even use pseudo-spiritual talk about “not doing” as a way of “letting things happen” — continuing to presume that things OUGHT to happen, and will happen in the way or time that I want them to, if I am exceptional enough at “not doing” them!

I suspect the Alexander Technique holds an unsettling insight for me; that the real work (and true freedom) is in letting things not happen.

There's another trick here. I can tell myself that I'm detaching from results as a secret tactic to act disinterested in an outcome, while continuing my expectation that something ought to happen.

But maybe it's not a question of letting things happen outside my desired time frame… maybe those things won't, aren't meant to, happen at all.

How do I know what's appropriate to include in a single day, let alone in my life?

Desperate times call for drastic measures

Sometimes when I catch myself misusing the Technique in this inhibiting-and-directing-while-staying-busy way, times when I notice that I “include” stopping in what I'm doing — but I don't actually STOP doing, I entertain the thought that this is my last day on earth.

If this moment now were one of just a few moments remaining to me, in this physical body on this beautiful planet, I wouldn't hurry it. I also wouldn't delay any inspired action. I wouldn't refuse that bite of chocolate, but neither would I make of it more than what it is — I wouldn't substitute it for whatever I might really want.

When I act as if these are some of my last precious moments, I welcome in every nuance. I smell, I see, I breathe; I tread lightly, I feel what I'm touching, I soften myself to receive every whisper of the world's pressure against me. I allow myself to be as whole as I am, experiencing this time and place. I don't aggrandize, and I don't diminish.

This is what I KNOW it's really all about: Letting happen what happens, and letting not happen what doesn't happen.

I can't tell you how much courage I feel I have to summon to meet this letting go, letting not happen. But again, how do I know what my life should include? Is this letting go really a death of a desire, or like winter, is it only the appearance of death — while under the surface, things are gathering force?

Is true ease the ability to let small questions remain, let hints remain unanswered for the moment, so that their reemergence at a more mature time can startle and amaze us? The wonder wouldn't have been there if things hadn't had time to slip out of sight, come to significance behind closed doors. We need to let things rest. We can't even put our trust in their later development; we need to actually forget about them, forgive (“give as before”) their appearance as a hope or wish. It's the only way they can surprise us later with their relevance.

I've been memorizing this poem by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, which about sums it up:

Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), “Keeping Quiet”

Extravagaria (translated by Alastair Reid)

Jonathan Cape, London, 1972, pp.27-29

(original Estravagario, Editorial Losada, Buenos Aires, 1958)

 

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May 282015
 

Learning to inhibit our reactions means that sometimes we actually feel an emotion we previously would have suppressed (or attempted to suppress). Avoiding the full experience of a powerful emotion could seem a reasonable response, and certainly there are times (like in childhood, or cases of severe trauma) where the mind and/or body are not equipped to process events as they transpire. Alexander argued that a person who was mal-coordinated would have been more prone to perceive events as disruptive, and be further unbalanced by them, whereas someone with better coordination would be less likely to perceive events as disruptive, and more able to re-calibrate to handle disturbances. Think of surfing: the ocean is constantly moving, but a surfer who is sure-footed on her board is able to navigate ebbs and swells without losing her balance — and can even maximize her response to such changes, such that she can harness the power of the waves and go for a ride!

If we have a history of avoiding strong emotions (and most of us do, whether it's anger or shame or joy) it can be an exercise in suffering to allow those sensations to be acknowledged in our awareness and to pass through the body. We tell ourselves some version of “I can't handle this,” in the belief that we're successfully avoiding feeling the feeling. But this attempt to diminish or stifle the expression of an emotion just saves it up for later — and in fact locks it into our nervous system, so that the reaction it activated persists at a low level, unresolved and ready to fire up again at the next hint of danger. By contrast, allowing ourselves to feel what we're feeling can be crazy uncomfortable in the moment, but allows for resolution… And can turn out to be not that bad after all!

Here's what happened to me: I took a risk expressing interest in spending time with someone; their response indicated that my interest was not reciprocated. Next thing I knew, I found myself hurrying to gather my things (and get outta there!). I caught the slight trembling in my upper torso and arms as I fidgeted with my jacket, and in the moment, I simply let that go… I dropped my hands to my sides, directed my attention to feeling my feet on the floor, and just stood there feeling my nervousness. “I'm embarrassed,” I thought, and just let that be so. I decided I didn't have to do anything about it. I let myself feel the flush of strong emotion, and just hung in there with it. They kept talking, I stood and listened, and soon enough the intensity of the feeling passed. It remained true that I felt somewhat exposed, but I didn't compound the damage by pressuring myself to hide or act. It's a source of pride, and makes me feel mature, to know that I can withstand some uncomfortable emotions — and live to tell the tale!

 

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