I don’t mean preparation, like for a public lecture or test. I mean the moment by moment experience of bracing yourself for the next moment. Yes, I’ll explain.
There’s a very common experience in Alexander Technique lessons, particularly for beginners, where the student ‘gets ready’ to receive some Alexander Technique instruction. This is 100% the opposite of what is actually needed, although it provides an excellent opportunity for the teacher to point it out and thus actually teach Alexander Technique.
And this micro-moment within a lesson maps extremely well to countless moments like it in your day to day life, so it’s worth exploring.
After a couple of lessons the student knows that the teacher is likely to put their hands on their head, neck, hips, whatever. They might know that this will be accompanied by a subjective shift in their experience of themselves and of the world around them.
But the student has certain conditioned beliefs along the lines of
- I want to get this right
- It’s important that the teacher knows I’m paying attention
- I need to know what’s about to happen
- I can’t just stand here, I need to do something
These beliefs manifest themselves both in muscle tension and in the narrowing of awareness.
I mean this literally. The student’s body becomes stiffer, less available for movement. This tension ultimately causes physical pain, which is why many people seek out Alexander Technique in the first place. Their awareness of the space around them and of the present moment also diminish such that the student is living within a projection of thoughts about what might happen next, rather than directly experiencing what is actually happening now.
What’s particularly interesting is that the student likely has no idea that any of this is going on, because the ‘meta-awareness’ needed to be able to notice all this has itself gone away.
Any good teacher can notice all this instantly. It’s the teacher’s job not only to bring the student back into full awareness, but also to point out what just happened and help the student learn how to avoid it next time.
So let me do that for you now.
We just need some stimulus, some imagined trigger, that will get you to respond with a ‘getting ready’ response.
- How about your boss coming over to you and saying flatly “we need to talk”.
- Or your partner sending you a text message that says “call me”.
- Or someone about to throw you a ball.
- Or your phone bleeping with a new email alert.
Just let each of those scenarios drift through your imagination and see if you can detect that ‘getting ready’ response.
Slight muscle tension. Shallowed breathing. Slight reduction of awareness of everything else. Thought loops.
Behold your analytical, problem solving mind kicking in. I would say this is the left hemisphere taking charge, although since I’ve yet to read The Master and His Emissary, I can’t assert this confidently.
This is the process we are looking to interrupt in a conscious way, because this ‘getting ready’ response is what suppresses not only the innate capacities of your supercomputer, but also your capacity to learn, since:
“You can't do something you don't know, if you keep on doing what you know." — F. M. Alexander
To get ready is really to assert an old, known response onto a new situation, one where the most appropriate response may actually be unknown to ‘the thinking you’. And the only way you can discover that more appropriate response is by not trying to impose all the existing responses that you already know.
Let’s take the example of your partner asking you to call.
Your analytical mind will immediately spin up any number of things this could be about. It really could be anything from a request to pick something up from the shops to a death in the family. You can guess, but you can’t know.
The problem is that you can only really ‘get ready’ in a limited number of directions. If you orient yourself towards ‘death in the family’, you’ll be caught off guard when it’s really about your child’s acceptance to that great school.
That’s a positive example, but you would still go into the conversation apprehensively, coordinate yourself as if braced to hear bad news, then you have to unhook yourself from the bad imagined story and switch into a positive emotional state so that you can respond in a suitably excited way.
Imagine if it were the other way around! You’re ‘ready’ for good news about the school and instead you get accusations of infidelity.
These are strong examples, but the point is that this ‘getting ready’ process is likely always happening over and over again in response to pretty much every stimulus that goes on around you. Even down to the level of hearing that new email alert on your phone. Do you have a physical and awareness based response to that sound? How does it serve you?
Life is easier, more spontaneous and just generally better when you’re not pushed around by this reflex. Rather than constantly trying to get ready, you can learn to trust that whatever happens you’ll respond appropriately.
And you can’t know what appropriate looks like until you’re in the moment, so why live in a mental simulation of your own making? Just live in the real world and let yourself respond when you need to!
Yes the word ‘just’ is doing a lot of work there.
For now, I invite you merely to go about your days and notice this ‘getting ready’ process. At first you’ll probably only notice it in retrospect, but when you realise it happened, ask yourself
- “where was I just now?”
- “what caused me to check out in that way?”
- “what was it like the moment I came back to senses?”
And that’s it. Just notice, don’t try to change. You’re gathering data here, that’s all.
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