19. Enjoying the ordinary

I would like to begin with some words from F M Alexander, near the end of his second book published in 1923.  “Unfortunately, we have been taught that all the ordinary acts of life should be automatic and unconscious.  For this reason they have become indifferent.  Such a psycho-physical condition induces stagnation in the organism.  As it is a condition which becomes more and more pronounced with advancing age, we gradually lose the capacity to take conscious interest in and derive pleasure from those normal and useful activities of doing, hearing, seeing etc.  Small wonder, then, that sooner or later we seek satisfaction in less normal and less useful activities and create an undue demand for specific excitements and stimulations” (Part 4 of CCC1).  Eighty five years later with the unimaginable proliferation of leisure, sports, fitness equipment and regimes, I love and need the discarding of all this stuff to mediate my contact with the world.  The simplification cultivated by the Alexander Technique is, for me, a light which allows the clear experience of outer events, and which stimulates compassionate and practical acts.  Just before the passage I quoted above, F M Alexander had been writing about sitting down and standing up, topics I will return to.  Because of our lack of presence in the everyday, F M Alexander describes how it can become so that, for someone, “as soon as he touches the chair, (he) proceeds to ‘sit down’ – that is, he slumps – and as far as his awareness is concerned the act of sitting is then completed…  Likewise with ‘standing up’.  Once he has stood up, the process is completed, again as far as his awareness is concerned.  In both instances he ends a psycho-physical process which, in reality, should never be finished”.  This last thought is, despite the measured prose, a revelatory insight.  The impulse of growth and learning, of preventing monotony and stagnation, can be cultivated in simple ongoing acts like standing and sitting, processes which “should never be finished”.  Henry David Thoreau writes (in Walden)  “to be awake is to be alive” and  “To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts”.  Give your willing attention to the everyday.

When I first began teaching I would usually get my teaching room ready both very early and very hurriedly, and then get on with the serious business of preparing myself for teaching via all kinds of special measures. I now try to make the main part of my preparing myself to be the preparation of the room and the normal flow of everyday deeds that precede teaching.  And our engagement with and enjoyment of the ordinary will mean we are alive and awake enough to cope with the unfamiliar.

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