Pause for thought

ClockTerm 5

This week I went looking for words.  I found hundreds of them, at the cashpoint, on buses, in shop windows and open spaces.  A chorus of adverts and notices shouted for my attention and instant action:

Touch screen to begin
Start the adventure
Get the app
Swipe right
Go binge

Find your new job
Do something you love
Please say hello
Call our team today

Press up
Sit up
Drink up

Now available here
Open all day
Open every day
Same day service
Available now

Buy one get one free
Have you swiped your Nectar card?
Clean up after your dog

I don’t have a dog, but came home overwhelmed by possibilities. The next day I went out again, on the lookout for things not to do:

No ball games
No parking
No entry

No stopping
No smoking
No dumping
No dogs

I couldn’t find as many of them, and I didn’t have to (not) do them immediately. Instead this was about keeping me in my place, ensuring my behaviour and my body stayed within boundaries. I had less freedom in the outside world than I thought. Still no dog.

The Alexander word for ‘not doing’ is inhibition.  I’ve struggled with it and find it hard to put into practice or describe, but it’s central to becoming a teacher. I think it’s about habit and choice.  If we automatically obey an instruction or react to a stimulus, we’re more likely to do it in our habitual way.  Habits are what we want to move away from, because they encourage us to act or move unthinkingly, without paying attention.

By ‘not doing’ we allow ourselves breathing space between stimulus and response.  This gives us time to choose how to react: we can do nothing, carry on with what we intended, or do something else altogether.  But in the pause for thought we’ve allowed a moment to make a conscious choice, and that’s the key.

My sample of words on the street is just a fraction of the shout-outs for action we come across each day.  ‘Doing’ is seen as positive, natural, a necessary part of everyday life – otherwise how would we ever achieve anything?  It’s also time-bound, deadline-driven, urgent.  The idea of ‘non-doing’ seems largely negative and constraining, even lazy and out of step.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that it’s difficult to explain or understand Alexander’s ideas, because they run so counter to prevailing thinking. There seems little room for the Alexander concept of not reacting, stopping and pausing or for seeing ‘non-doing’ as a welcome chance to catch our habits on the hop before they take over.

The only instruction I came across where the mainstream and the Alexander world were in unison was a road safety slogan. The three words made me smile, breathe and pause:

Stop.  Think.  Live.



4 thoughts on “Pause for thought”

  1. What an uplifting way to start the day! Thank you Sheila for another inspired piece. Stop. Think. Live. (And no dog.)

  2. A lovely read! Put a smile on my face as I read those last 3 little words. I really enjoyed how you distinguished Alexander’s concept of inhibition, and the opportunity it is. Nice one!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *