23. Playing our Instrument

There is something very special about the way we experience our own physical being and its movements: we have the experience of being, or being carried on, a stream of willing, of active intentional being.  Our consciousness can never grasp this kind of life fully, and most of the time we don’t try to grasp it.  When we plan or practice something new we may become conscious about our movements, and when we prepare ourselves to catch a ball falling from the sky, or hit a difficult putt we may become present with our attention, in and through the body, applying a technique we have practised.  In both these situations, as with normal activity, we do have the possibility to review or evaluate the move we have executed, after it has happened.  So, our activity offers us the opportunity to pass to and fro between consciousness – planning, reflection, awareness of all kinds – and movement, physical action.  For me the Alexander Technique gives me the means to become more fluent in the crossing of this border, in both directions.

In the building in which I trained as a teacher of the Alexander Technique hangs a painting by Linda Mallett, with two separate panels, much higher than they are wide, echoing the graceful shape and structure of the tall Victorian windows in the one-time schoolroom in which the panels hang.  One panel incorporates a quotation from Michael Gelb, an articulate Alexander Technique teacher, from his book Body Learning: “The body is our instrument for fulfilling our purpose on earth”.  The body is instrument, tool, but is also us, ourselves, the agent or tool-user.  It was Michael Gelb, in the same chapter this quotation comes from, who describes the most fundamental form of misuse, of not integrating our agency and our instrument, as “the failure to make choices”.  This act of choosing, thinking, directing, separates us from our instrument, so that we can then fully connect with it.  When things go wrong I end up having a body – “I have a bad back”, which becomes part of me when things go well and I send the Frisbee freely spinning through the air.  The more mental aspect of fully realising that we have the power to make choices is that we become able to enter into the unfamiliar: these two ideas really mean the same thing.  The other panel of Linda Mallett’s painting includes a quotation from F M Alexander himself – “The things that don’t exist are the most difficult to get rid of”.  Our body and its movements give us a physical foundation for our thoughts and feelings, helping us transform our fears and prejudices into revitalised action.  Body and mind disappear together into the wish to change.

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