Action is easy. When we are in it, it is just happening. It is our inner reaction to what we do that hurts, feeling arduous or painfully scary. If we come out of that, via releasing our fight or flight tension, we are just left with seeing (if even) what we are doing, our task at hand. In this post I will call everything we do a task, for the simple reason that that word is relatable. Doing dishes, folding laundry, driving, paying a bill come to mind. But let’s widen our scope to include: talking to a friend, texting, brushing our teeth, walking across the street, jogging, meditating, smoking a cigarette, drinking a glass of water, as some examples. The word task can be interchangeable with the words action or activity, but task doesn’t get caught up with mental opinion and interpretation. It resounds like a bullet point.
If we refer to every doing as a task, we must remind ourself we are always engaged in some task. Look down to witness the task you are in right now. Because our body never leaves the space, we are in a guaranteed state of continual “tasking.” Even sleeping, daydreaming, sitting around feeling like we are doing nothing, standing on line, getting up from a desk, walking into the other room, watching a toddler, petting a dog or cat, making a cup of coffee, are tasks. Nothing is excluded from this classification because we can never exit our existence (unless of course we are no longer alive). Time flows continuously for us, always requiring some physical engagement on our part.
Being in our task is easy because the getting there is over. The discomfort we may feel is only muscular work. Even if it seems like mental straining (emotional resistance to what we are doing because we don’t like it, or, we believe it’s difficult to do, or, we are thinking about something else stressful), at base, it is muscular tightening. In my teaching of the Alexander Technique, where the primary focus is coming out of (releasing) muscle tension, I often ask a student to think of herself as a skeleton on a surface. We are always a whole skeleton (including our head that is structurally connected to our spine and rest of body) and always on some surface (because of our relationship to gravity and other unseen forces).
Let’s try. In this moment, whatever your task is, sense yourself as a skeleton on a surface, and then notice if you are squeezing your skeleton with your muscles (we generally are). Once you grasp the awareness that you are a skeleton on a surface (it helps to touch your head and identify the chair, couch, bed, water, stair, floor or ground you are on), you can more easily ascertain if you are clenching, compressing or stiffening your body; it is like making a fist around your bones. Again, be sure to include the areas of your head, neck, face, chest and shoulders. I call this exercise the 3 S’s: “I am a skeleton on a surface, squeezing.” Play with releasing the squeezing. When you come out of this inner work, you may find that you feel better in general, lacking some or all the emotional resistance and discomfort you were experiencing. Your bracing against your task and frustration with the conditions of the present moment may have disappeared.
This is similar to Byron Katie’s questions 3 and 4 in her work. She asks, “How do you react when you believe the thought?” and “Who would you be without the thought?” My approach with the 3 S’s tackles the problem solely from a physical angle. In a given moment, releasing out of our muscular fight or flight tends to rid the mind of its laborious chatter, or any thoughts really. It cleans the slate, like erasing a Zen board. It rings the realization that thought is a muscular contraction. The next time you feel yourself mentally uncomfortable with something you are doing, research what it is like to unsqueeze your skeleton (including the bony masses of your jaw, skull, face, eyes, chest, shoulders, hips, etc.). You could ask the question, “What if I didn’t squeeze my whole skeleton?”
In conclusion, there are two reasons action is easy. The first, that I have discussed extensively in other posts, is that we don’t do anything to bring ourself to our next action because the new time arrives via the turning of Earth, automatically putting us into our next and next and next activities. We are in them as involuntarily as we are in the weather. The sense that there is a necessity of effort to get to our next action is as illusory as believing we make the weather. Enjoy this ease. Secondly, if we still feel efforted (which is normal), we can look down, see our task and experiment with what it is like to come out of our muscle tension, our personal squeezing of our body.