Friday, December 23, 2005

Allowing: A Mountain To Climb

The following is an authentic record of an exchange between a Zen monk and an Alexander master. The context is that the monk is leaving himself in the hands of the Alexander master, as the master (1) works to give the monk a new experience in using the self, which the master describes as “freeing of the head,” and (2) moves the monk from sitting in a chair to standing and back to the chair again.

Master: I would like to get a connection that is uninterrupted and allows for this freeing of the head. Yes. Yes. Yes. That kind of connection.

No, now you are using your legs.

So it’s that connection that in fact allows for the complete freeing of the head. The complete freeing of the head. That’s what we want. Yes. The complete freeing of the head. And then the legs are the last thing that has to respond.

Monk: The legs kick in because I want to stand up, don’t they?

Master: Of course.

Monk: I have to ask myself what I want: Do I want to stand up? Or do I want to allow something?

Master: That’s right. But the habitual reaction comes in before you have a chance to recognize it. That’s the problem. Yes. That’s the problem, and that also shows us how automatic we are. The legs are perfectly automatically tuned in.

Monk: The intention to achieve is unconscious, isn’t it? The intention to allow, unfortunately, requires....

Master: Ha, hah! It has a mountain to climb.

That is why, actually one does need lots and lots and lots of experiences of the kind that one gets in an Alexander lesson when somebody else directs me. Because it gradually reassures me that it is possible to allow. To get myself out of the way. Because it’s not an easy thing to get myself out of the way. It might be news to you [laughter]. But it is the hardest thing.