This is the time of year when many of us begin to think about turning over a new leaf. We make resolutions to change some bad habit we know is harming our well-being, begin a new program of exercise, or otherwise embark on a program of self-improvement. I'd like to make a radical suggestion: don't bother. It probably won't work (whatever it is). What's more, it's not necessary.
I don't believe in "self-improvement," because I don't think we need to improve ourselves. I think we are all just fine the way we are. If anything needs improvement, it's the way we talk to ourselves about, well, our selves.
Does this mean you shouldn't quit smoking or cut back on your sugar intake? No. What I'm saying is that you are sufficient already, have amazing powers of intuition, empathy and creativity. In particular, your body-mind is nothing if not highly resilient.
I have to thank Dodinsky for reminding me of this. For those of you who aren't familiar with this wonderful soul, Dodinksy has a Facebook page called The Garden of Thoughts, and he posts beautiful photos and little messages of positivity there. He recently posted:
Do not sell yourself short by promising to be a better person. You have always been amazing. Recognition starts from within.
One of the principles of the Alexander Technique is that when we allow it, our systems operate beautifully, reliably, and dynamically. Alexander lessons provide the means to restore innate balance so that "the right thing does itself," as we like to say. And not even "restore" balance actually, but simply access it. It's not like it's not there already. One component of the Alexander experience is the process of eliminating interferences -- unnecessary excess tension, misuse of various moveable body parts, application of excess force, dulling of the sense gateways, unconscious automatic thought patterns. Once you get out of your own way, amazing things can happen, and often do.
Okay, so that's a form of "improvement," I get that. But to me, it's not the same as resolving to be a better person. I find the whole "self-improvement" industry a little insidious, frankly. The underlying message I hear is that I'm not good enough; I'm broken and need fixing. Nope. (I have the same problem with fundamentalist Christian theology too, but that's for another blog.) I have my flaws, but so does some of the most beautiful artwork ever created, and most of the living creatures on the planet.
So if we're not improving ourselves when we study Alexander Technique, what are we doing? Are we learning a new skill? Well, sort of, but it's a skill we already possess, if only we knew it. I sometimes describe it as waking up to myself, encountering my whole self in real time (i.e. now) and noticing how highly functional and able I really am. This takes consistent practice, so if we're improving anything it's our ability to recognize this inherent wellness.
F. M. Alexander recognized it, or at least refused to sell himself short. A professional actor in late 19th-century Australia, he suffered from vocal problems. Doctors could not find a permanent solution to his problem and, as the story goes, finally one of them told F. M. that he just had a "weak" voice and would be better off choosing another profession. Luckily for us, he did not take kindly to this advice and had been raised to be self-determining (he also appears to have been a little arrogant, like me and maybe you), so instead of giving up his art and livelihood, he set about to understand his part in the whole situation. He discovered that his voice was not weak at all, but the way he had been using it masked how powerful it actually was.
I agree with Dodinsky that recognition starts from within. Give yourself a little recognition, remember how amazing your body-mind is. Let it do its thing. Don't resolve to be a better person in 2011; just resolve to be. Then go about the business of quitting smoking or losing weight or strengthening your core or whatever you think you should be doing more or less of.