Thanks for Then and Now

Last week, a student told me a story about walking in his neighborhood, feeling very free and easeful after his lesson, until he noticed a woman coming out of her house a few doors down. At that point, he felt himself beginning to take on a more closed and protective posture, though she posed no real threat. It felt familiar, but the contrast with the previous moment was striking. Recalling discoveries he’d made in recent lessons, he was able to have a different response to her presence, one that allowed him the freedom in movement that he’d been enjoying on his walk.

Realizations like this are common among people who are taking Alexander Technique lessons. When something shifts and a kind of effort is no longer needed, there’s an “aha” experience, and a comparison between old and new. It’s interesting to think about why we respond the way we do in certain circumstances, and how a response becomes a habit, but I think there’s another aspect of this that’s also important.

We learn our use of ourselves throughout life, in whatever conditions we find ourselves (F.M. Alexander used the term “use of the self” or just “use” to describe how each of us as united mind/body, or self, responds to stimulus from outside and from within). We use our temperaments, natural gifts, and tendencies, and the abilities, powers of observation, and reason available to us at the time. With those tools, we find ways of being in the world; everything from how to sit at the computer to how to play a musical instrument to what happens when we meet a neighbor while out on a walk. We do the best we know how. When something we’re used to is no longer working, and suddenly it feels obvious, hindsight is a little tricky. Feeling free of the old habit is liberating, but for many of us, it’s tempting to be hard on ourselves or feel regret for not having known better before.

Today, I encourage you to send a mental note of thanks to your younger self (even the self from 5 minutes ago). That self got you through some things and brought you to this moment. Now you know more than you did. If you want to consciously change something, you can start from exactly where you are. Let go of some of the worry about current blind spots too, because of course, we all have them. Thinking about our lives, and learning from mistakes is in our nature. Limiting the amount of time we spend in the energy of “should have known better” is another layer of changing how we respond, and frees us up further to be present and open to different choices going forward.

Take a moment to just let yourself be where you are, with nothing to change or fix. Recognize the support of the ground under your feet or the chair seat under your sit bones. Gently bring your attention up and out. Let your neck be free. Allow in the sights and sounds of your surroundings. Fine tune your awareness. Practice a tiny pause before taking your next action, and trust yourself to know what to do.

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