What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
Updated: Feb 5, 2019
A few weeks ago I heard the sad news that the poet Mary Oliver had died. A line from one of her poems influenced my life. It was “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
In my work, teaching the Alexander Technique – teaching three-dimensional mindfulness – I help people take control of their lives. FM Alexander said that his Technique gives us a way to resist, conquer and then govern the circumstances of our lives, and, essentially, that’s what I’m teaching.
Sadly, if you type “Alexander Technique” into Google and skim down the first few pages of results, you will see a lot about posture and movement but little about changing thinking and consciousness - arguably the more valuable and life-changing side to it.
The NHS website says “The Alexander Technique teaches improved posture and movement, which is believed to help reduce and prevent problems caused by unhelpful habits.”
Improving posture and movement? That’s a tiny part of what I’m teaching, and, I believe, a tiny part of what FM Alexander was teaching. Governing the circumstances of your life is not going to happen by changing your posture or the way you move.
I said in my last video that we do something once and it works, and we do it that way from then on. FM Alexander said “…the vast majority of human beings live very narrow lives, doing the same thing and thinking the same thoughts day by day…” And we keep doing things the same way even when they no longer work: twenty-something years ago a middle-aged psychotherapist asked my advice – he said he was making the same mistakes in his second marriage as he made in his first marriage.
I heard a great way of describing it – we settle into patterns of posture, patterns of movement, and patterns of behaviour.
I would argue that patterns of posture and movement ARE patterns of behaviour. This morning I was in a café, and a woman sitting near me frowned and curved her back every time she wrote in her notebook; curving forward to get her face close to the notebook. That’s not “poor posture”, it’s a habit; a pattern of behaviour that she learnt at school.
Bending your back to pick something up, instead of folding at your knees and hips, is a pattern of behaviour. It might be a pattern of movement, but it’s still a pattern of behaviour.
Although Alexander lessons can look like we’re working with posture and movement, we’re working with thinking and choices. I said in my book that some
“…Alexander teachers work a lot with standing and sitting. It’s called “chairwork”, and it would be very easy to mistake it for learning to stand and sit correctly. So if it isn’t about learning to stand and sit correctly, what is it about? Until people have an Alexander lesson, they don’t think much about how they stand or sit. Then they find they have choices about how they stand and sit. They’re surprised how effortless it can be – so effortless they can’t actually feel their body – but the point is that they have to choose to do it the new way after many years of doing it the old way.”
In Alexander lessons, people discover they have choices about things they didn’t even realise they had choices about. Discover that you can make new choices about how you sit and stand, and then find that you can make choices about your attitude to life. One of my trainee teachers told me that he had spent most of his adult life miserable but has realised he can choose not to be. Being miserable had become a pattern of behaviour for him, and the Alexander work helped him become aware that it was a habit he could drop. By the way, his posture improved too, but maybe that was insignificant compared to gaining control of his happiness.
Learn that the way you write in your notebook every time is a pattern of behaviour and that you can make a different choice, and then find that the way you react to your partner – and reacted to your previous partner – is a pattern of behaviour and you can make a different choice.
What we’re learning in Alexander lessons is that we can step outside our patterns; our habits. It’s about getting off autopilot; thinking about things differently; making new choices. It allows us to expand what FM Alexander called “very narrow lives.”
What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? Improve your posture? Or move more naturally? Or learn to stop doing same thing and thinking the same thoughts every day? There’s nothing wrong with wanting to improve your posture or to move more naturally, but new choices about posture and movement are made by your mind – by your thinking - and not by your body, so learning the Alexander Technique involves learning to think differently; learning not to think the same thoughts every day. It will improve your posture, but it is also mind-expanding and liberating. It’s the road to happiness, and to being able to choose what you do with your one, wild and precious life.