As an Alexander Technique teacher for 20 years, I have been in the business of illuminating how muscular effort is an extraneous phenomenon in our life. Generally, in an Alexander application, this pertains to walking, talking, sitting, standing, and moving through our everyday activities (for example, we don’t need to tense our neck or back muscles to get out of a chair, walk into the kitchen, speak to our children, pick up a laundry basket, etc.). In my training, however, my teacher also highlighted how our heart beats and our body breathes involuntarily, as we can see these functions occurring on their own, with or without our muscular effort (tension, straining, stiffening). In my work that I have gone on to develop, that I call Mindful Reality, I purport that effort is not assisting with the even more basic forms of existence and action in the respect we intuitively believe and assume, meaning that we are not causing them through any type of voluntarism. I am primarily referring to thinking and acting. This statement moves beyond Alexander’s work in the sense that what we consider to be a deliverance of personal conscious effort, a drumming up of conscious thinking and inner doing to make decisions and act in the world, is also a mistake of perception, as those functions (making decisions and acting in the world) are also involuntary and do not require any voluntarism in the way it is felt. Furthermore, just as our muscular effort does not assist with our breathing or the beating of our heart, our thoughts do not assist voluntarily with the materialization of our actions.
The word we tend to use regarding the creation of thoughts and actions is “consciousness.” With our breath and heartbeat, we can see that they are happening with or without any conscious exertion on our part. The same pertains to our thought process and all our behavior; the efforted feeling that can accompany thinking is not making our thoughts happen or assisting in manufacturing actions. Thus, the belief (seeming) that there is something to “think up” to generate the events in our life, and, that that needs to come from some conscious source of self or ego, is faulty. In using the reference that our muscle tension is not helping our respiration or pulse, we can understand that the feeling that is associated with thinking (which is essentially a contraction or tensing of muscles) is not causing the thinking to occur. Likewise, our tension is not creating the actions correlated with our thoughts. We are just in the space thinking, acting, and tensing, whether those things are even relating to each other.
I credit my exposure to and long-time practice in the Alexander Technique for this discovery because it underlines the false way we intuitively perceive our familiar, habitual effort and inner sense of doing to be propelling our activities. It is a method, like none other, that aims the microscope at our fight or flight reaction that we take to be necessary for carrying out behavior. With the specific focus on breath and heartbeat, I was exercised to observe these physical movements occurring by themselves. This extended into my keen consideration of how gravity (that interminably binds us to a surface) and the progression of time (Earth’s rotations and revolutions, which automatically put us into our “next” activities), also occur for us involuntarily, the latter displaying our continual decisions/choices without us being able to interfere with that prescription. Next is already now, and all we can do is discover what we are doing. Just as we can watch our chest moving up and down and that little flutter of movement in our wrist, regardless of our tension, we can also witness our whole body in the space it is occupying, along with our body parts in their ongoing movements, large or small, to be occurring without our voluntary assistance or our choice, any more than when we were born. These are the only actions we have: our continual physical movement in real time in relation to our environment.
Additionally, brains operate involuntarily, i.e., there is no way for a person to direct her or his brain (when we are consciously aware of something it still came to us; thoughts just appear in our mind, emerge, surface). Subsequently, both these functions, thinking and acting, that we take to require a voluntary assist by some inner part of us, are automatic. There is no conscious aid needed for anything that we ever think or do.