For at least the past two decades, my practice has involved significant elements of critical reflection – working to techniques whose focus and rigour have changed over time. I’ve examined ways to work differently with known tools as well as with the hands, modes of constructive disruption, ways to understand the perfomative aspects of writing, models for facilitating critical reflection, and I’ve also spent a year documenting my unresolved notes, mindmaps and drawings through INDEX-SYSTEM, as well as exhibiting that as a work in itself.
All of these are very active modes of thought. They animate the body and its mind. While this work has been deeply satisfying and greatly generative, it has also made me yearn for its other, its complement, its counter-pose. A mode of thought that works precisely by not being active – one that lets that go.
What is my body holding onto when I am holding a space? Where am I holding the tension in my own body – even while I present as alert, lithe and responsive? When my perception and all of my attention is directed outwards, what am I missing out on understanding in my own body? How could I develop a perception for that? And, having found it, would it mean to let it go?
Last week I have begun an Alexander Technique program with David Young, and it’s given me a great deal to think about. I can actually feel my body thinking it through.
David Young is someone whose practice and ethics I have admired for well over a decade. A former Artistic Director of Chamber Made Opera, Aphids and Next Wave, David is a composer, experimenter and creative leader. His disciplinary background is diverse, yet characterised by a consistently rigorous approach, whether it’s been professional gymnastics, marathon, tai chi, social work, sound, light or movement. Over the years we’ve enjoyed extended critical conversations about a range of complex issues, and over that time I have developed a deep respect and trust in him and his approach.
Based in Berlin with extended Melbourne engagements, David’s commitment to Alexander Technique is a natural extension of his own practice and his life’s work to date. Alexander Technique is a subtle set of tools for approaching everyday postures and movements. It requires a careful rigour and focus on the part of the instructor, who is both a facilitator and a director, someone in whom you place complete trust – because that’s the only way to let go, including of course a deep trust in yourself.
Part of the practice involves surrendering your limbs to the teacher, allowing them to be manipulated into more aligned posters as you sit or stand. This means letting go of the weight of the limb as expressed through active muscular control or tension. It’s far more difficult than it sounds – and, astonishingly, even when you think you’ve let go entirely, you find that you are still holding the limb and there is in fact more to let go.
The deep insight for me here is not that there’s a greater depth to that tension and letting it go, but more critically, that there are greater depths to discover in my perception and awareness of my own body.
And then, some even deeper questions, darker investigations. I have known all of my life that I am not the kind of person who exhibits the symptoms of stress. Everyone experiences it; mine, it seems, recedes into various crevices and folds and intricate blood vessels and neutrons across my body, manifesting as migraine or seizure or endometriosis or the otherwise unexpected. I have chosen roles with high degrees of responsibility and public accountability, and I also come from a family background of unresolved traumas passed on to next generations as arbitrary cruelty and violence. I need to think this through.
On Sunday I was part of David’s workshop on Alexander Technique and Death, which offered me new tools for understanding what my body is doing when it is mourning. The past few years have been complicated in that regard. My role in supporting many friends and colleagues through Kat Muscat’s death was very public and very demanding; my deeply personal need to mourn close family members who have died in recent years has been denied by a family member whose withholding of the news of their deaths rendered my responsibilities public in unwelcome ways, having to take on her responsibilities to support others rather than be allowed the private dignity of my own mourning. I have been very conscious of performing an unwelcome embodiment: hard and not supple, closed and not open, carrying on without letting go.
I’ve undertaken counselling or analysis at key points in my life, incorporating their approaches into my own reflective practice, but I hadn’t considered an approach that would allow my reflective processes to recede, setting instead my entire body as the thought process. The body may be a complex unity of diverse consciousness, but too often we only address that complex unity cerebrally.
As with David, Alexander Technique seems a natural extension of my long-held preoccupation with working the hands differently to activate the mind – only now, I am working with the body differently to activate the body.
I’ll keep you posted.
IMAGE: Photo of Esther Anatolitis by David Young. More about David’s approach to Alexander Technique.