On Byron Katie and F.M. Alexander
The Peaceful Body
The Work of F.M. Alexander Meets The Work of Byron Katie
I have been practicing the Work of F.M. for 40 years, but The Work of B.K. for only four years. The similarities are striking. It seems F.M. found the truth through understanding the workings of the body, and B.K. found the truth through understanding the workings of the mind.
Here are just ten ways in which B.K. and F.M. strike the same bell. It is the ring of truth in their work that helps set me free.
Both share a similar view of determinism. A thought or a belief, whether conscious or unconscious, whether stressful or peaceful, creates a felt or unfelt emotion and/or sensation. Our bodies react to these emotions/sensations. These changes in our bodies influence the way we move and act and interact, that is what we do and how we do it. Our actions and interactions lead to certain results. These results have consequences. Those consequences impact us and our world, shaping how we think. And that brings us full circle back to our thoughts.
It is a loop, not dissimilar to the Buddhist concept of the karmic wheel, or more precisely, John Lennon’s concept of “instant karma.”
Here’s an example. I find myself in a severe traffic jam. (external stimulus, or so i think.). I am sure I am going to be late. If I am late again I could lose my job. (internal stimulus.) I’m gripping the wheel to death. I’m pressing down the break with 50lbs of force. (physical reaction) I decide I immediately have to text my boss. (action/interaction) While I am doing that the traffic is starting to move, but I don’t see it. My head is down in my lap. I haven’t breathed for a minute. (action/interaction) The car behind me accidently bumps into me. (result). The man behind me gets out of the car and tells me not to worry. There are no scratches on either car. He smiles. (surprise consequence) I think, “What a nice guy. I am such a jerk.”
And around and around we go.
Both F.M. and B.K. discerned and then discovered ways, (methodologies), for helping others come to know the truth about themselves. I cannot say how grateful I am to both of them for finding a way to help others with their suffering. It’s one thing to work something out for yourself. It is another thing to discover and refine a way to help others to help themselves the way you helped yourself.
Both methodologies are called The Work. F.M. called his work The Work because he had no idea what to call it. Others later tagged his work The Alexander Technique, of which F.M. was not fond. B.K. tells us she calls The Work, The Work, because it takes work. You have to apply yourself.
Both speak repeatedly about their work not being about learning but about unlearning. Both refer to their work as about Undoing, not doing.
It is in this field of undoing and unlearning where F.M. and B.K meet.
Both processes of inquiry (I believe B.K. would prefer the word, inquiry over methodology, and I think inquiry is more accurate.)
Both inquiries begin with the identification of a disturbing or stressful stimulus, which in B.K.’s work is traced back to its root – always a thought or cluster of thoughts. The stimulus for F.M. could be internal or external, but ultimately, like B.K., F.M. is concerned with how we react to what we perceive as a stressful stimulus.
Once you identify the stimulus you take the time to observe and sense all the ways you react to the stimulus. Both B.K. and F.M. discovered that it was not the stimulus that was creating their suffering but their reactions to the stimulus that was creating their suffering. In other words, they discerned that all their suffering was unwittingly self-inflicted, but only 100% of it, as B.K. would say. The good news is that if we are creating our suffering perhaps we can cease creating our suffering.
Here is a simple example of how my Alexander teacher, Marjorie Barstow, (B.K. was from a town called Barstow), brought this truth home to me. I came up to her to work, much as people come up to work with “Katie.” Instead of coming up with a stressful thought, I came up carrying a particular chair. I said to “Marj”, “This chair is uncomfortable.” (Continued via number Seven.)
“Oh really,” Marj declares. “Are you sure that chair is uncomfortable? Now I am an old lady but in all my years I have never had a chair come up to me and complain about being uncomfortable. Could it be that you are uncomfortable?” Then she asked me some questions. “Bruce, who is more flexible? Who has more options? Who can adapt? Maybe you have not yet discovered how to be comfortable with this chair.” Then she went about helping me to discover solutions for being comfortable sitting in that chair. It was like a great metaphor. The world is how the world is. My job is to change how I am in relation to it. It is up to me. It is always up to me.
Performing artists would come up to work with Marj and they often would say something like, “I’m nervous. All those people watching are making me nervous.” “Oh, is that so?” Marj would question.
What is making us nervous – those people watching us, or our reaction to the people watching us?
This is parallel to B.K. questions – Is that true? Can you absolutely know that is true?
Here’s the great opening inside of both F.M.’s and B.K’s work. It’s brilliant and occurs to almost no one. Once you have identified the stimulus, once you have questioned if it is the stimulus that is creating your problem, once you have observed all the ways you react to this stimulus, letting yourself really feel your reaction fully, as painful as it might be… at that moment, you are ready to ask the simple question that can lead to the Great Undoing as B.K. calls it.
Who would you be without that thought? Or via F.M. via Marj Barstow, I wonder what would happen if just for one second you could let that reaction fall, drop, ungrip.
Rather than try to change your reaction, you see what happens without it. You don’t add something. You don’t do something. You cease doing something. You allow for a space, an absence, for “a little bit of nothing” as Marj would call it.
Often, at this point, given a little bit of grace, the reaction lets go of the person, and there is an extraordinary experience of freedom, of lightness, or breath, of peace, of relief, of recognition, of gratitude, of so many things, depending on that person.
If the person is A and the world is C, through the Work of B.K. or F.M., the person experiences A and C without the interference of B, (their habitual and often stressful beliefs).
A direct, undistorted experience of the world as it is.
As B.K says, God is Reality.
Both processes of inquiry leave you in a condition of openness. You are no longer certain that the world was as you perceived it. You may not even feel like yourself. There has been a shift. Maybe I had everything a bit backwards? Maybe I had things turned around? Maybe they don’t make me nervous. Maybe I make myself nervous, and maybe when I am feeling nervous, I am making them nervous! Now you can inquire into how you make yourself nervous. Before you were sure it was something outside of you that was making you nervous, making you a victim of your circumstances. You just had the whole situation turned around. How good to know.
Maybe when your boss is yelling at you, you are arching back without knowing it and tightening the muscles in your neck, jaw, shoulders, and lower back. You finish your day and you think, “My boss makes me so tense when he yells at me like that.” Then through “The Work” in this case of F.M., you realize that your boss is not tensing those parts of your body when he raises his voice. You are. And if you are doing that all by yourself, maybe you can undo that all by yourself and see what happens to you and to your boss.
If you put in the work that the Work of F.M. and/or B.K. requires, eventually you will come to realize that you simply had yourself, like a sweater, turned inside out.
Once you have the inside on the inside and the outside on the outside, life gets a bit more comfortable.