To live in a world that is constantly changing requires a relationship with uncertainty. Many of us may really not like uncertainty, because by its very nature we don’t know what’s going to happen.
Adapting to Change
The Alexander Technique is a practice that helps us adapt to the constantly changing world we live in, by bringing body, mind, attention, and intention together in the moment. As such, it gives us practical tools for dealing with the uncertainty that is a continual companion in any life.
I always find value in drawing parallels between the “laboratory” style work of an Alexander Technique Lesson — which might include learning about oneself through the actions of sitting and standing at a chair, walking, breathing, or lying down — and our everyday lives. It’s very helpful to work at these “simple” activities, so that we can reduce stress by eliminating, even for a few minutes, the demands and complexities of “higher stakes” life in the real world. This gives us a better chance of letting our old habits go and trying something new, and helps us foster new ways of being while they are still tender and fresh.
The lessons we absorb in this style of work are infinitely transferrable to both the mundane actions of our life — how we sit at a computer, or drive, or run for exercise, or pick up groceries — as well as to the more ephemeral: the psychological, emotional, and even spiritual background of our daily activities.
Staying With the Uncertainty
I vividly recall a situation during my Alexander Technique teacher training that required me to confront uncertainty, and which has stayed with me ever since. I was receiving instruction at the chair from my training director, and she had helped me to experience a new way of balancing and coordinating through my entire body while seated. And then: it was time to stand.
She asked me to continue to inhibit (or not give permission to) my habits of pulling down and tightening as part of that standing. There was a moment — which at the time seemed to last forever — where I truly did not believe it would be possible for me to stand without that pulling or tightening. I thought there was no way out of the chair without that old habit. But I continued with my practice of non-doing, of not giving permission to my old habits, and I stayed in the process. Thanks to the expert hands-on instruction of my mentor, I was guided into a new way of standing, a way that I had never before consciously experienced, and which, even while it was happening, felt ‘impossible.’ But there I was — standing!
Space for Freedom
Since that time more than 15 years ago, I have had numerous opportunities to confront uncertainty, not only in the simple everyday activities of my life, but in the big questions of how to approach the future. Sometimes it feels quite impossible to move forward without metaphorically “pulling down and tightening,” without grasping for habits of mind, body, and spirit that have worked — though perhaps not well or in healthy ways — in the past. Being willing to live in that uncertainty, to say “no” to the old ways of finding certainty through tension or struggle, is part of the process of discovering more freedom in every area of my life.
Rebecca Solnit speaks to the power of embracing uncertainty in her book, Hope in the Dark. She writes:
Hope locates itself in the premises that we don’t know what will happen, and in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act…Hope is an embrace of the unknown and unknowable, alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists.
The Impossible Possible
It’s easy to fall back on the habits that are familiar, and easy perhaps to imagine that anything unknown will (at best) fail, or (at worst) be dangerous.
But that moment of spacious choice, that hope in the dark where we might act, is exactly the place we study in Alexander Technique practice: the Present Moment, where the past and future meet, in which we can choose to leave our habits of tension and fear behind, and step into the impossible, possibility-filled Next.