Coming in to Full Volume
1st April, 2019
When liquid enters a funnel, it gains momentum with gravity. It spirals and becomes concentrated as the stream intensifies. Its vibration becomes pulsation as it rhythmically flows into the whirlpool. Its pulsation becomes streaming as it passes through and out the other side of the passageway, free-falling with flow and speed.
I have had a lot of input in the last two months. I have been learning and unlearning, doing and non-doing. Letting go and picking up. Reconnecting with my natural design and finding a more honest way to be.
But let me rewind, for those of you who have not a clue what I am talking about. For the last 6 years I have been actively engaged with the Alexander Technique since my first weekend workshop as a first-year music student. I went along to see if it could help relieve some of the pain I was feeling in my left hand, and I left with tools that would radically transform my approach to life.
What is the Alexander Technique? is a question I have been asked a lot recently. And every time I give a different answer. It’s a bit like the question, what is art? Artists are always and forever trying to answer that question. Perhaps the question is more important than the answers. The Alexander Technique is not a therapy, it is not a band-aid or a painkiller. It is a process, a procedure, a map for the moment to moment experience of conscious direction. Direction of what? Of your whole self and all the parts, operating as one. We learn to unlearn our harmful habits of movement and thinking. We learn to remember that the mind is the body, the body is the mind. We don’t have a language for something so elusive, and as of today the Alexander Technique is excluded from the private health general treatment list. This is no April Fool’s joke - it could potentially shove the technique further under the carpet of common awareness and accessibility, along with many other deeply healing modalities and art-forms.
Thomas Merton once said, “Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time”. I could say the same about the Alexander Technique. When I know where I am in space, when I embody my understanding of the active, ever-changing distance between my head and my third finger, between my ribcage and the back of my knees, I find myself and simultaneously get out of my own way. Out of two-dimensional thinking and into spatial-aliveness. I am in the vibrating, pulsating flow of being a living organism - balancing, breathing, moving with gravity, funnelling ideas from my imagination into action. I can then ask, what do I want?
This is what I have come to Melbourne to study and practice. I have made some significant changes in my life to be able to do so, and some major and challenging events had to take place to prepare me to sit where I am now. I knew at the very first workshop that this was my path, and from that point my life has been spiralling slowly but surely in the direction of becoming a teacher of this work. Deep grief and near-death experiences have a way of asking you to go deeper and find out what is true - what you really want. So, at the start of this year I packed up all my belongings, piled everything into my car, said goodbye to my friends and family, and drove 1550km South.
It wasn’t an easy, fairy-tale landing. After the stressful few weeks of packing and running out of money, I developed conjunctivitis in my eye. Instead of going away, it spread to both eyes in Melbourne and seeing became unbearable. I shut myself away in the dark spare room of a generous friend and, unable to see the world, started to examine my inner-landscape. Not exactly the exciting arrival I had envisaged. The gravitas of what I had just done hit my body and I couldn’t get enough sleep and darkness. I was in the belly of the whale. I needed to surrender fully to the process of this change. I didn’t go to school for the first week, and when I finally did, I faced confronting triggers and fears about my decision. I was disoriented. Playing the cello brought me to tears and anger. With gentle reassurance from the kind Alexander teacher I was staying with, and some timely insights from friends and supporters, I kept going to school. Little by little I had experiences which brought me into ease, movement and balance.
This gentle opening and settling - a slow sending of roots into unfamiliar ground - has been supporting me perhaps more than I know over the last two months. I came to see this on Monday, when I finally decided to do some cello practice. Everything I had experienced in Melbourne up until that moment came funnelling in to guide me, feeding me inspiration to play with. I realised that whilst I didn’t know it, I had been practicing cello in the last months – every time I used my arms in class. Every time I used them in life – reaching for a pencil, scratching my nose, doing a triangle pose in yoga. Now, as I sat in the practice room, I had no desire to get anywhere. I had no fixed ideas of what this practice session would look like. I was merely playing with the concepts I had worked on in my Alexander classes, using the cello as a stimulus to observe my responses and return to cooperate with my whole self, the ground beneath me, and the vast space all around. I was swimming in the sound, soaring high with the music, actively engaged with the tiniest of details that changed the tone quality and volume. Everything else dissolved and I was in pure process.
With this beginner’s mind, I was moving as if I had never interacted with the cello before. I could notice my immediate, unconscious reaction to pull my ribcage forward to support the instrument. By staying back in my own support, I allowed the cello to come to me in a way that felt more like an embrace than a ‘playing position’. I came into my full spatial volume, instead of contorting myself to coax a sound out of the instrument. We were dancing together. The ceiling of my previous self-limiting beliefs was shattered.
I looked at the clock and twenty minutes of this exploration had passed. I was playing at the level I used to at university, but with much more presence, much more wholeness and life experience within me. I felt elated. It was a glimpse into the ‘impossible’ – that which I previously held myself back from. As my first Alexander Technique teacher’s teacher, Marjorie Barstow, once said, “The process must be rediscovered for each individual”. I am my own teacher.
This is how I free myself from previous reliance on others and my limiting beliefs. This is how I truly embrace my own discovery of the process of being a human, moment to moment, with my whole self, in full volume.
M.C. Escher, "The Encounter",
May 1944, Lithograph
Note: For more about the concept of Vibration, Pulsation and Streaming, read Stanley Keleman, Your Body Speaks its Mind, 1975