One of the key Alexander Technique concepts is the idea of ‘non-doing’, the opposite of ‘doing’ or ‘trying’. It’s not doing nothing, but a way of doing less, so we match the effort to the task.
To do less, we have to stop doing things in the normal way and allow ourselves to find a better one. The stopping or ‘inhibition’ means we intercept ourselves just before we proceed with an action. In the pause we have time to choose whether and how to continue. This allows us to think more about the ‘means whereby’ we do something, rather than ‘end-gaining’ to achieve a given result. By pausing we also stop our usual ways of acting and start to ‘unlearn’ our habits. This allows new patterns to develop over time, as old ways start to be replaced by easier and more conscious ways of being.
I’m about to apply the idea of non-doing to this blog. I want to continue writing, but with less effort. Non-writing. Or maybe writing in a more thoughtful, more sustainable way. Gradually I’m discovering that the activities I undertake have to be sustainable. This means looking after myself – working for shorter periods, taking breaks, and noticing when I need to stop, rather than carrying on regardless.
This term I’ve gone through some large ‘undoings’ in my body, and the process continues. In line with Alexander’s concept of psycho-physical unity (that the body and mind are not two entities, but one integrated self), it’s having an effect on my sense of myself and, in turn, on how and what I want to write. My response is to apply Alexander thinking not just to movement but also to how I approach other areas of my life, including this blog. I’m not sure what the outcome will be, but that is very much the point.
After nearly nine months of weekly posts, I’ve decided to take a break over the Christmas holidays, and after that I’ll be posting monthly rather than weekly (on the first weekend of the month, with an email going to subscribers on the Monday immediately following).
The next post will be on the website in early January 2018 -until then, best wishes for the holiday season and the New Year.
My world is full of handles. They jump out at me and announce their presence, waiting for a hand to touch them. Body parts are opening out all the time during training, and right now my hands are edging into the limelight. Of course it’s all connected together, as release in one part allows something else to let go. My arms are finding their connection with my back, and I’m noticing the effect in my hands.
The handles I’ve seen vary in shape, and I approach them differently. Some are metallic, delicate, inviting to the touch and well matched to the size and weight of door they have to open. Others give clues before you lay a finger on them – fitting easily to an imaginary hand and anticipating a light push away or a gentle turn to left or right.
One asks for downward pressure from the thumb at the top to lift a latch behind the door, while the rest of the hand fits comfortably round the handle below. The positioning and craftsmanship of both suggest only the softest of touches is needed to enter the secret garden behind the wooden door.
I’ve seen door knockers as well – two hands and one fish. These are made of sterner stuff, requiring firm treatment to resonate through the building and wake a sleeping household. But there’s a humanity and lifelike quality about the metal hands and I see how I could gently shape my own fingers round as I knock.
Shop and office handles vary widely, and their doors are not always easy to enter. Some are wide open, inviting me in hands-free. Not all are accessible, and it can be hard to find the way in. It isn’t always clear if I should push, pull or move closer and wait for the doors to open. Typewritten signs on the glass – Push to Open or Automatic Doors – suggest other customers find it confusing too. The doors are larger and heavier than domestic ones with substantial handles encouraging effort and strain.
Handles are coming to the fore because I’m ‘unlearning’ the way I normally grip with my fingers – tight and with too much effort. My hands are becoming less harsh, more open and alive, and I’m beginning to use them in a lighter, easier way. My thinking is changing too. I’ve not been paying attention and have assumed doors are heavy and I must use effort. Instead I need to meet each handle as it comes, and give myself time to unlearn the old ways. I’m losing my grip and that’s the way it has to be.
Erling Kagge, the Norwegian explorer and publisher, took fifty days to walk alone in silence to the South Pole. He describes the end of his journey:
“It was more difficult to start talking again than it had been to get up early all of those fifty mornings. Being on the journey is almost always more satisfying than reaching the goal. We prefer the hunt for the rabbit over its capture.”
I went to hear him talk about his experience of silence on this and other expeditions, and how he now makes space for silence in his everyday life. He described the noise of his thoughts on the first couple of days in the Antarctic. It was only when this calmed down that he began to appreciate the depth and richness of the silence around him. At first he perceived the landscape as entirely white and flat. But as his senses awakened and re-calibrated to the new environment he began to see different colours and perspective in the snow, ice and sky.
“Only when I first understood that I had a primal need for silence, was I able to begin my search for it – and there, deep beneath a cacophony of traffic noise and thoughts, music and machinery, iPhones and snowploughs, it lay in wait for me. Silence.
…. I had to use my legs to go far away in order to discover this, but I now know it is possible to reach silence anywhere. One only need subtract.”
I’m half-way through my Alexander training now, and it seems I’m learning how to subtract. I’m taking away the habitual busy-ness from my thoughts and movements leaving a welcome capacity for inner quiet and silence. When everything is still I become more receptive to the messages teachers give me with their words and hands. By calming my internal chatter and excess muscle tension, my senses are opening up and I’m starting to hear, see and feel the world more accurately and in more depth. The landscape is no longer just flat and white.
Within the silence I’m starting to formulate words. I’m a linguist by background, so for me the Alexander training is like learning a language. To start with I wanted rules, grammar, vocabulary, building blocks. Then I made simple sentences. I couldn’t say much. Now I’m running ahead of myself, wanting to speak and understand before I really know how. But sometimes I become fluent, and I can listen, think, move, speak, make sense. Not altogether, not all the time, not for very long but often enough that I want to keep going. I’m quietly finding the silence and out of that I’m slowly finding the words.