Seek And Thou Shall Not Find
There’s a time to seek and a time to sense.
Have you ever started looking for your glasses and then suddenly discover they are resting on your nose? Or have you ever began looking for your hat and then realize it’s sitting on top of your head? That’s what I mean.
There I am on my knees, doing my best to get the tip of my screwdriver into the groove of a tiny screw. I’m cranking my neck into some ungodly position, trying unsuccessfully to get my head in a place where I can see that screw, which is there, somewhere, in some dark, dusty corner, inside some small kitchen cabinet. My friend, an experienced carpenter and Alexander teacher says, “Bruce, what would happen if you stopped trying to see that screw?” Immediately my entire body unwinds like a snake uncoiling, the head of the screwdriver drops into its groove, and the screwdriver begins turning, as if by itself.
A woman, now living with and taking care of her aging mom, is trying to figure out how to get the lid of her mom’s pressure cooker to snap into place. It’s not happening. She tries harder, which means dropping her head down closer to the pressure cooker in an attempt to peer under and around the lid’s rim. She hasn’t breathed for about a minute, which is why, when she stops trying, I hear a huge inhale, and then a huge exhale accompanied by an exasperated collapse of her chest. Okay Renate, how about we let go of that pressure cooker, because the only pressure I can see cooking is in you and not in that pot.” Let me ask you, are you having any success seeing what you are looking for? No, I am not, she says, with a big smile on her face, a sign of recognition and understanding.
Thinking of my dear carpenter, Alexander friend, Rob Gepner-Muller, I say, Renate, back away from the stove and get a bit of distance between you and the pressure cooker. That’s good. Now, just stand where you are. I go over to her and gently help reestablish an easy but strong internal alignment, engage some core support, a bit of ground connection, encourage breathing. Okay, Renate, we know that looking for what you cannot see doesn’t work, so go over and give it another go. Renate walks over, her left hand holding the handle of the pot, her right hand the handle of the lid and begins trying to see what’s under the lid. I sneak up on her, silently place one of my hands on the back of her head, and the other over her hands so that she won’t try to straighten up and correct herself when I ask her to stay exactly where she is. Again, another big smile. I’m looking for what I can’t see, Renate says. Renate, give up seeing. Close your eyes. Be blind. Her eyelids lower, her shoulders drop and spread, air fills her lungs, the lid drops and snaps into place, her hands turn, she opens her eyes, which are now sparkling, and lets out a big laugh. Everyone is amazed. Me too.
Two speech therapists are working together. They want me to watch a particular technique that’s difficult for them. I watch as this sensitive young man palpates somewhere under his patients chin, for what I am not sure. I decide not to ask for the details. I don’t want to get too involved, which of course I really want to do, because I want to learn about everything. But I know from experience that it is often better for me to stay out of my student’s business, out of the content, and simply watch as a naive observer. Wise innocence. I see him peeking under his patient’s chin, looking for something. Then he takes a tissue and gently holds the extended tip of his patient’s tongue, in what I am guessing is an attempt to get the tongue to relax and widen. Now, he’s craning his neck to look down her throat.
Hiroki-san, I don’t know what you are trying to do, and I don’t know what you are trying to see. But what I do know is that you are trying real hard to see something. And my experience tells me that sometimes if we stop trying to see something that may be too hard for us to see, our other senses will take on the job that the eyes just can’t do. Other senses step up and figure it out. So see what happens if you gently lower your eyelids the way you do when you smell a flower you are holding under your nose, and just continue to do your work.
Immediately, his head poise establishes itself. A beautiful sense of space surrounds him. He’s looking like a great orchestra conductor. I don’t know why. His fingers look like they are doing the seeing now. His tactile sense has taken over.
What’s happening, I ask? Do desuka, one of my favorite questions. I’m getting what I want, he says. Great. Sugoi, I say. And how about you, I say to the patient? The patient, actually another speech therapist, says that his touch changed completely, that at first it was pokey and a little uncomfortable for her, and that now his fingers are so soft she doesn’t feel them. All I feel is what is happening inside my neck, inside my own body, she says.
Rob, thank you for everything, but also for knowing the right questions to ask, and for giving me the space to live into the answers.