Monday, May 23, 2011

Relating to the Past

For me, Alexander Technique is about relationships.  First, and foremost, it is about my relationship with myself.  "Know thyself."  All other relationships are relative to that one, and are directly affected by it.

(See end of this post for some ideas about how to practice relating to the past in a constructive way.)

Today, I am noticing how I relate to the past.  All too often, I react to my thoughts about the past.

I cling to pleasant memories, wanting to drag them into the present or push them into the future.
I fight with unpleasant memories, running away from them, resisting them, and fighting to make sure they don't ever happen again.
Or, I freeze in confusion, when I don't really understand what actually happened, because it is impossible to remember it all, and because our perspective is always limited and partial. 

In all of those cases, I am forgetting about the present moment, the only actual reality, the only time when I can really be at peace with myself.  Even if memories are pleasant, clinging to them can eventually pull me away from my center and off balance in a downward direction.

Clinging, fighting, pushing, fleeing, resisting, and freezing in response to memories are a total waste of psychophysical energy.  Those mind-body reactions to thoughts about the past are not helpful to my well-being.  The past is over.  It is an illusion.  It doesn't exist anymore.  

In essence, I am trying to have a relationship with something that doesn't exist!!!

Memories--thoughts about the past--are fine; my reactions to them are the problem.  Once the reactions come, the past needs to be recognized for the illusion that it is.  Only the present moment is real.

Letting go of the past releases energy which I can redirect into my relationship with the present moment, the only one that actually exists.  It is only in the present moment that I can come to know my true self as I am now.  

Before I can let go of the past, though, I need to accept it.  Accepting memories means simply letting the thoughts come whenever they do, without reacting to them.  It means being aware of them (because my thoughts about the past DO exist now, in the present), then releasing them from my attempts to control them, giving them up, and redirecting my awareness back to the present moment.  

It can be supremely difficult sometimes to aim myself back into the present moment.  To do so, again and again, from moment to moment, day after day, requires a kind of superhuman act of courage and trust, and it requires constant, vigilant practice.

But, I know at heart that this is essential if I want to live in peace.


Some ideas for putting this into practice:

  • Think of a memory you have.
  • How do you react to it?
  • Do you notice any tightening in your body, or constriction of your breath?
  • Do any emotions come up?  Feelings?  More thoughts?
  • Are you judging this memory, labeling it as positive, negative, good, bad, or neutral?
  • Are you getting sucked into thinking about it more?
  • Are you fighting it, fleeing from it, freezing, or clinging to it with attachment?
  • Does your response to the memory tend to pull you down or send you up?
  • Can you choose to let go of that memory and bring yourself back to the present moment?
  • Bring your awareness to your surroundings: sights, sounds, smells...
  • Become aware of the objects you are in contact with.
  • Choose to let go of the memory and put your energy into knowing yourself in relation to the present moment.
  • "I release myself from the past." "I give up the past." "I am saying NO to my reactions to these thoughts."
  • "I am here, now, being myself in the present moment."

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Doing what we cannot do

"You must do the thing you cannot do. You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience by which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” --- Eleanor Roosevelt

One of the most difficult things to "do" is to "do" nothing at all.

Try it now:

  • Can you decide to take 30 seconds or 1 minute for yourself RIGHT NOW to practice Non-Doing?
  • Can you stop looking at this screen and just sit with yourself, Be with yourself, not doing anything else?
  • Stop now and try it.  Then come back and read on.


Were you able to do it?
Did you stop for the suggested amount of time when suggested, or are you still reading this without having stopped? 
If you didn't stop, why not?
What is there to lose?
What might there be to gain from trying the experiment?
If you didn't stop yet, here's another chance.

  • Stop now, and practice Non-Doing for 30 seconds - 1 minute before reading on.


If you chose to practice Non-Doing, what was it like?
What thoughts and/or feelings came up?
Were you able to continue "doing nothing" for 30 seconds - 1 minute?
Did that seem long or short?  Easy or difficult?  Pleasant or unpleasant?  Neutral?
Might this be something good to practice throughout your day?  Why?

Why do you think people tend to resist this practice so much? 

Saturday, May 21, 2011


Plants and animals, as far as I am aware, all tend to expand as they grow up.
Living things that are shrinking and getting smaller are tending towards death.
Most growing things, including people, require space and light to grow in.

Every stimulus in our life (including life, itself) presents us with a choice about how to respond.

Do we want to react in a habitual way that will bring us closer to death, by shrinking or halting inner movement?
Or, do we want to respond in a more conscious way that would allow for movement and growth aiming into space and light?
Can we see our challenges as "gifts for growth" (as a friend of mine once called them)?
Or, will we allow circumstances and ego to pull us down and trample our spirits, stunting our growth and blocking out light?

All directions exist, and are essential to wholeness.
Up and down, in and out, growing and shrinking.

Perhaps fully accepting the shrinking/freezing response as something natural and inevitable is actually part of the way we allow ourselves to grow.
Maybe finding a dynamic, constantly vibrating balance between shrinking and growing is a middle way which can help us see that life and death are part of one thing, after all.
Maybe the choice is not so much between life and death, up or down, in or out...but between seeing opposing things as separate, or seeing them as one united whole.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

"I Can't" becomes "I Can"

There are days when I'm feeling low, tired, overwhelmed, stressed, and/or sick...and underneath all of those heavy feelings, when I look deeply, I discover that what I'm really thinking is usually variations on a theme of "I can't".

There are various possible ways I can respond to this thought:

  • Fight it.
  • Flee from it.
  • Freeze in my tracks.
  • Keep thinking it and believe it.
  • Collapse under the weight of this thought.
  • Stop thinking it.
  • Accept this thought and see it as something potentially true and life-affirming, rather than something that creates pain, suffering, and hopeless desperation.

I was sick last week and experiencing a great deal of stress, so I was presented with the opportunity to take a good look at these options.  I found the last one especially interesting.  

I realized that it was quite possible that I really can't do what I was intending to do on my own.  This left me with a need for help from something or someone other than my limited, conscious, thinking self--something much greater that could support me in carrying out my intentions.   When I opened myself to the possibility that there might actually be an untapped resource part of me (not somebody or something outside of myself which I need to depend on to do something for me) which really does have the solution and the strength to support and help me through my difficulties, I was presented with a choice: either take the risk to trust that unknown, deeper part of myself; not trust it and seek for something outside of myself for support; or give up on my intentions. (And the first two choices are not mutually exclusive; in fact, the combination of trusting myself and others can be particularly helpful at times.)

When I choose to trust this mysterious, unknowable part of me (some people call it the "higher Self", some people call it "God within", Missy Vineyard calls it our "inner helper", others prefer "inner teacher", "inner guide", "a little voice inside", "the primary control", etc.*), and let it help the smaller/ego part of me by organizing and coordinating the use of my whole self, I somehow start to know that "I can" follow through.  This trust restores my hope, confidence, and faith in myself, and it motivates me to continue onwards in the direction about which I was previously thinking "I can't".  

Uniting the inner, powerful Self with the lower, weaker self (which is thus transcended), is, to me, what it means to be fully human.  This is what it means to fulfill our potential and live with integrity.  In this unification lies our wholeness/holiness, and all things become possible.  May we all learn how to become whole again in this way.

And then, whenever we fall back and down into the habit of believing that "I can't" is something absolutely true (and, as long as we are human, this is pretty inevitable), may we remember to open ourselves up to trusting the Unknown within us, again and again and again.

*I am not intending here to equate all of these possible expressions; I'm just suggesting that any of these ideas could "work" in this context.

The Not-Thought Game

"Think the Not-Thought." - Dogen

As a child, I realized that I am more than my thoughts, because there is another part of me that has control over them.  During car rides with my family, I used to stare out the window and make a game of seeing if I could stop thinking.  I could do it, but only for a few seconds, at most.

As an adult, I realize that this game develops a very important skill which is essential to living a more conscious and constructive life.  We cannot consciously direct ourselves in a well-coordinated way without first clearing out the mind-clutter of unnecessary thoughts.  If we want to improve our "use" of ourselves, we need to practice "thinking the Not-Thought" on a regular basis.  This "not-thinking" is something very active.  Consciously "not-thinking" is not a passive activity; our habit is to passively think thoughts in a mindless/unconscious way.

  • Sit quietly for a few moments.
  • Notice whether you are thinking or not.
  • Ask yourself to stop thinking:  "Now I am practicing not-thinking."
  • You can drink in whatever you perceive through your senses, but choose not to think about it.
  • If you have a spiritual practice which involves the repetition of a mantra, this is something which might spontaneously flow into the empty space created by not-thinking.  The mantra then serves as a reminder to not-think.
  • The breath can also serve as a reminder to continue the practice of not-thinking.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Falling with Humility

Here we are, human beings suspended between the earth and the heavens.

If we wish to take up our rightful space, rise to our full stature, and get in proper form/shape, it is necessary not only to reach for the heights above, but also to be brought down low to meet the ground.  The awareness of aiming in both directions must occur simultaneously to achieve balance.

It is only in humility that we can open ourselves to the truth of full objectivity, and see what is right before our eyes and inscribed in our hearts.

So let us not fear our falling.  Let us know that the earth ("Mother Earth") will support us as we fall straight down towards it, and let us trust that in the sincerity of our free-fall, we shall again in time stand tall.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The Sense of Unity

Last night, I watched part of a beautiful movie about a blind man whose sight was restored after a lifetime of not being able to see and wishing to be able to see light.

I was so struck by imagining what a shock it would be to, all of a sudden, have another sense added to my way of life.  To, all of a sudden, be coordinating vision with touch.  This would add a whole new dimension to the experience of everything in my immediate world, a new way to integrate and unite every object that I come into contact with.

  • Close your eyes and touch the objects around you.  Can you do this without imagining what they look like?
  • Open your eyes and look at the objects around you.  Can you imagine what they would feel like if you were touching them, as you look at them?  Can you caress the objects with your vision?
  • Now imagine an object far, far away.  Even though you cannot see it or touch it, or sense it with any of the physical senses, can you realize that it is still a part of your experience, and therefore a part of you?

I wonder:  what if we actually do have another sense available to us, which would help us to integrate, not only what we come into physical contact with (through sight, touch, hearing, smell, taste, or proprioception), but everything in our world and beyond--everything that we are in contact with in any way, through sheer existence?

Some people call this "the sense of the sacred", an awareness of the essential unity of everything.  We all have it, but we usually don't pay much attention to it, and we fall back into the habit of believing that things are separate, and can only be sensed through the physical senses.

  • Can you be aware of a country on the other side of this earth?
  • Can you be aware of the people there?
  • Can you be aware of the sufferings and delights of all mankind?
  • Can you rise above the 5 or 6 usual senses, and sense the interconnectedness of everything?
  • Can you realize that there is nothing separate from this sense, that all is included in it?
  • Can you realize that the physical senses are also included in this sense, and can be used to help unify things, just like touch and sight can go together to help describe an object?
  • Can you rest into this sense of unity, and let go of any thoughts or suggestions that resist it?
  • Can you give up and let go, in order to rest in this sense?

I, personally, can only find balance and harmony and inner peace when I give up and let go into this unifying "sense of the sacred", which is within me and all around.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Getting sick?

I haven't succumbed to a cold for many months now, despite many times when I felt like I was getting sick. To me, this feels like a real coup, because I have habitually gotten several colds every year, often lasting two weeks.  I, like most people, hate getting sick!

I've been experiencing a lot of extra stress over the last couple of weeks, and I've often been feeling like I might be getting a cold; but, thankfully, I have been able to stay healthy.  Today is another one of those days, and I feel sicker than the other times, so I want to really put my energy into being healthy.  I don't know if I will be successful, but this is what has been working for me lately.  (Or maybe it really IS the JuicePlus supplements that one of my friends has been selling me this year! :)

  • I am placing my awareness in the area behind my forehead (the prefrontal cortex, PFC).
  • I am noticing that my body is feeling sick, but I am not dropping my awareness down to those parts of my body that feel sick (nose, throat, etc.), continuing to aim forward and up with my mind. 
  • I am allowing feeling sensations to rise up to my brain, but I am staying high above them, as if I were at the top of a mountain top, gazing down and all around.
  • From the PFC, I tell myself: "I am refusing to react to whatever it is inside of me that is trying to make me sick." "I refuse to react to those feelings." "I am not reacting to the feelings of sickness." "Forward and UP!" "I am stopping the pattern that is causing me to feel sick."
  • I stay with this process, continually renewing my intentions throughout the day.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

In the morning

One of the best ways for me to wake up in the morning, is to:

  • Remember the essential unity and connectedness of everything, including me
  • Remember the inherent goodness in all, including me
  • Remember to be grateful for everything in my life, positive and negative and neutral
  • Realize that part of me habitually denies or is unaware of Reality/Oneness, because I'm human
  • Inhibit / Stop that which interferes with that awareness/connectedness/Oneness
  • Refuse to base myself on feeling; instead, remember to stick to the Oneness Principle
  • With open-acceptance of everything in myself, direct myself into wholeness-goodness
  • Realize my true nature:  Being-Consciousness-Bliss, and allow this to be expressed
  • Not expect to feel or see positive results of the above process right away, trusting that in time I will

Monday, May 2, 2011

Self-control and pressure

"The way you see people is the way you treat them and the way you treat them is what they become." - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.  I agree that this is very often the case.  However, I would add to the quote by Goethe: "...unless they know how to stay centered and lovingly detached by applying constructive, conscious self-control."

People have enormous influence over one another, on conscious and unconscious levels.  It says this about self-control in Wikipedia:

"Self-control is directly related to the pressure an individual may face.
  • Good Pressure: When an individual is in a competitive, yet non-judgemental and non-prejudicial environment, the individual may want to be like those around them. An individual may become motivated and inspired and gain self-control.
  • Bad Pressure: When an individual is in a judgemental and prejudicial environment and there is no competition, an individual may become depressed and unmotivated, losing self-control.
  • No Pressure: When an individual is free and there is no competition, and can do what one may feel, self-control is based on how an individual may feel. Since there are no other individuals to compare, an individual may be less motivated or more motivated depending on the urgency of whatever they are doing."

I would argue with the "no pressure" quote above.  True self-control is NOT based on how an individual feels; it is based on how the individual thinks.  I believe that true self-control happens in spite of how a person feels.  

Self-control may indeed be related to the pressure facing us, but it is entirely independent of that pressure.  Otherwise, we are speaking of something other than self-control.   Real self-control may very well increase in response to so-called "bad pressure."

Our feelings may fall into the category of "pressure" facing us.  What Alexander would call a "stimulus".   Let us learn to respond to them with constructive, conscious self-control.

Most importantly, let us realize that it takes enormous courage to develop the level of self-control needed to constantly, over and over, let go of our old ways...of trying to control.