It’s a very human characteristic to want to finally figure something out: “Now I’ve got it!”
Unfortunately, the moment we think we have figured something out is usually the moment at which our relationship to that particular thing becomes set in stone, and thus not amenable to further development. In this way, unconscious habits are formed.
What I want in life is to maintain a constant state of improvement. I have come to realize that the aha moments that occasionally come along and delight me represent not a permanent figuring-out of how things should be, but more like a provisional state until I reach the next phase of my development. (This next phase may come 2 seconds or 2 years later.)
I forgot my own wisdom twice this week, allowing moments of improved functioning in my lessons to evoke a now-I’ve-got-it state of mind. In both instances, I fell into the mistake of abandoning my thinking, reverting to trying to feel my way into an activity.
In recent Alexander lessons, my teacher (Mio Morales) has been helping me to achieve a greater ease in my body. When I engage in thinking that produces such a state of ease, my movements feel very different: lighter, easier, freer. The change in feeling is the result of the thinking process, but during my last lesson I forgot this and got caught up in trying to make my body feel the way it has in the past when I experienced ease. Because the conditions in my body were different from those during my last lesson — in particular, I had pulled a neck muscle during an over-enthusiastic session of butterfly at the pool — it made no sense for me to try to recreate the same feelings I’d experienced in the past. Once I recognized this (with Mio’s help), I could re-engage my productive thinking, which reliably produced an increase in my ease. In a few minutes, even my pulled neck muscle had let go.
In my last voice lesson, my teacher (Donna Reid) was helping me to free up my lowest notes. After a few minutes of exercises, which subtly shifted my thinking process, I’d started getting a clearer sound in this range. Singing these tones felt different, of course, and I memorized this feeling, without being aware that I had done so. Donna went on to work my falsetto awhile, which created further improvements in the freedom of my singing. When we returned to my low range, I was frustrated to notice that these notes were not as free as they had been a few minutes earlier. Then it came to me — d’oh! –that I had been unconsciously trying to make the low notes feel the same way they had earlier in the lesson. But with the further improvements Donna had elicited in working with my falsetto, the conditions in my throat had altered, making the approach of five minutes ago no longer valid. As soon as I gave up trying to make the notes feel a particular way, they became more stable and resonant. And they felt different too, but I’m not going to try to recreate that feeling today!
I’ve been experimenting with shifting my mental role in my own activities to one of observer rather than do-er. This approach helps me to stay in the realm of continuing development and to avoid solidifying into set habits based on feeling. It’s especially effective when I am able to let go of my expectations of how some movement or note is going to feel and to observe how it actually feels.