At the beginning of Act II of ‘The Magic Flute’ Tamino and Papageno are brought into the Temple to face their trials. Sarastro, who leads the priests, has already set the tone by replying to one of his fellow priests that Tamino is not to be seen worthy because he is a prince – ‘more than that, he is a man’. Tamino answers bravely to the challenge to risk his life for high ideals. The priests then turn to the common man, to Papageno, to see if he is prepared to face the trials – “Hey – fighting, well, fighting is not really my thing, you know. And as for wisdom and truth, well… take it or leave it”. We respond to his honesty, his lack of pretence or pretension. The Alexander Technique is a way of overcoming our fear of the unknown on the level of our habits, of the restrictions we have allowed and needed in the way we go into the everyday trials of life.
In this exploration I am looking at the way simple, abstract movements can help you to cope with the unknown. There are teachers of the Alexander Technique who like to work only with the complex reality of actual life – of the flautist playing Mozart or the golfer on the first tee – but I find the simplicity of abstract movements both interesting and helpful. You could work with any simple movement such as bending to pick something up, or opening a door. The first thing about approaching such a movement or gesture as an abstract movement is that you emphasise its separation from specific circumstances. You draw back, which is what ‘abstract’ means. An element of thinking enters as part of this draining of narrative from the action. It also allows you to experience your wholeness because there is no distraction. The simplicity encourages the sense of wholeness; the action takes in your whole body. At this stage you are exploring the basic Alexander Technique discipline of getting out of the way, of getting out of your own way. The movement becomes somewhat depersonalised. If you are working with a teacher who is able to guide and observe and maintain the very important interest in repeating the movement, you are likely to find something surprising. Your drawing back, your simplification, your abstracting, leads you to let go of personal habits and, probably, to feel a disorientating sense of incapacity at not grasping what is going on when you move in the new way your teacher is leading you into. You pare the movement down to something simple and fundamental which can then become a multitude of specific, practical actions in the future. In the repetition of the simple version you are giving emphasis to the value thinking can have in establishing a generally applicable skill which leads you from your intention through to the action and your own experience of the action. You let go of personality on the level of it being tightly bound to the way you do things and then rediscover it as a higher or more centred experience of control and co-ordination.