Author John O’Donohue, in his book of blessings, To Bless the Space Between Us, has poetically described downward pull, and I’m guessing he didn’t even know it! Mr. Alexander observed that many of us habitually have our heads down and forward of the spine, which compromises head/spine balance. A feeling of heaviness and increased fatigue are often signs that we are engaged in downward pull. When head and spine are happily in optimal relationship with each other, we experience instead a feeling of lightness, along with a quiet and sustained liveliness.
O’Donohue goes on to offer remedies for weariness (and downward pull): ‘take refuge in your senses, open up to all the small miracles you rushed through.’ Cultivating our kinesthetic sense awareness is one of the principal practices of the Alexander Technique. We notice our feet on the floor, the contact of sit bones with chair; we invite the lengthening of our spine as the morning coffee is sipped.
He offers another antidote for weariness and its partner, downward pull: ‘Learn to linger around someone of ease, who feels they have all the time in the world.’ We find an Alexander Technique teacher who can model for us a different way of responding to the never-ending stimuli of daily life. And we linger. What a lovely word.
O’Donohue ends his blessing with this kind admonition: ‘Be excessively gentle with yourself.’ I shall. Whenever I think to, and wherever I find myself, which this morning, was at a new neighborhood bakery, Flowers&Bread.
(With thanks to Sharon Stohrer, who gave me O’Donohue’s book. It’s a treasure, and so is Sharon!)
‘Part of my difficultyis that I am always trying to be right. I must stop this trying to be right, for immediately when I try to be right, I do things wrong (i.e., in the old way that feels right). I must cease this trying to be right.’
That’s Goddard Binkley,in The Expanding Self, a memoir of Binkley’s Alexander Technique training. His journal entry continues:
‘Inhibit this tendency(to try and to be right) and I shall then be free to project the guiding orders, that is to direct my neck to be free, and my head to go forward and up. Moreover, if I can inhibit this tendency, which is so overwhelming, to try and be right, I can then allow nature to assert itself.’
Yes. That. What he said. Quit with the trying. That’s all this Alexander Technique teacher has to say. Just stop with trying so hard. Often the trying has produced the physical tensions and misuse, and merely stopping will be enough to restore ease and poise.
Truth-telling. Not enough of that in this present political age. Since I’m not in control of our society’s unleashed lying habits, I’m proposing to start here:
Be honest with myself.
Hmmm. As in, a long, hard look in the mirror? What I see there these days is my mortality.
You too can stare death in the face with a read of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and OtherLessons From the Crematory, by Caitlin Doughty. It is not for the squeamish or faint-of-heart, but I found it to be bracing and yes, refreshing. Death is acknowledged. No lies. No subterfuge.
My Alexander Technique teaching studio has two skeletons in daily use, along with multiple anatomy tomes. Some students are uncomfortable with considering the bones beneath their flesh, and a bit of light-hearted cajoling is required for a engaged lesson of curiosity about the body and its structure.
Facing the truth of death and decay is to embrace living. In a death-denying and truth-negating culture, this can be a radical practice. Let’s begin with some courageous honesty all around, and who knows, we could be contributing to a new cultural norm; telling the truth!
In Alexander McCall Smith’s MyItalian Bulldozer, Paul is driving his rental machinery through the Italian countryside, and this happens:
‘…he felt as if he were suddenly lighter, able, if he wished, to float upwards and look down on the track, the trees, the farmhouse, the cluttered yard. It was a form of intoxication, a relief from self, a feeling of a sort to accompany being picked up by the wind and effortlessly borne away to a place that it alone decided.’
McCall Smith has aptly described the experience of release from downward pull. Students new to the Alexander Technique invariably use some version of the word ‘light’ to define their altered use of self.
And if you are seeking a light and heart-warming read, look no further. He has written several series; my two favorites are: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, set in Botswana with Mma Precious Ramotswe, and The Sunday Philosophy Book Club, featuring Isabel Dalhousie of Edinburgh, Scotland.