I did an Alexander exercise with my yoga students this week. Without physically moving, using only their conscious awareness, I asked them to lengthen and widen their dominant arm, starting at the shoulder and mentally working each segment of the arm and hand down to the fingertips. As they focused their thoughts on lengthening and widening, it was impressive to see the "conscious" arms become significantly longer and "fluffier" than the "unconscious arms".... up to three inches longer on one student. They reported feelings of lightness and fluidity in the dominant limbs... feelings that they created with their thought process.
This phenomenon is not simply about relaxation and letting go of tension, but rather about bringing a level of conscious observation that invites recognition of our ability to create experience in our lives. It brings consciousness to the appreciation of the sensations of the here and now, to the presence of the moment and our relationship with it. No regrets about yesterday, no worries about tomorrow cloud the awareness; it is just this experience right now. It moves us away from the memories of old pain that tend to replicate themselves when we give them attention.
Ever been in love? Think about your focus of attention during that time. Being in love heightens the quality of our immediate presence. Our best times with the beloved are in the moment, full of appreciation and joy. With conscious awareness of self in proximity to another with an open heart, things appear different, better. We are in tune with our interconnectedness, of being part of something larger than our single self. We are bathed in happy emotions and delightful sensations generated by our openness and willingness to engage in relationship with what the present moment offers. We radiate appreciation and create a harmonic convergence with another.
"I long to escape the prison of my ego and lose myself in the desert and mountains", wrote the mystic poet Rumi. When we go to our special place, whether it is at the beach or sitting in a tree, we allow ourselves to live each breath as part of the landscape, part of the larger whole. The magnificence of the sunset or the wave or the rock formation engages us in this very place and time, and our soul soars. Again, as with the experience of being in love, we are filled to the brim with astounding sensory input and our emotions are illuminated with grace. We recognize the interconnectedness of all and know we are part of it; our ego and our soul self come into balance and we are fully present with what is.
Notice what happens when we start to think about what comes next. When we make our "to do" list, or worry about what could go wrong, project into the future or compare to the past. We exit the moment, we leave that place of feeling connected and we separate ourselves from the whole. We awaken fear, an acronym for "false evidence appearing real," and we create the pain of loss and separateness. Our bodies constrict and tighten in futile attempts to protect from injury and old pain patterns return to our thinking and to our bodies. Taken to the extreme, we fragment and fall apart because we have lost our ground, lost our connection with our environment and taken up residence in our head. Often we end up recreating past history with our critical and fearful projections. The ego has taken control and is no longer in balance with the soul self.
So how do we stay in the joy of the moment and still get things done? We need to think about the future and go buy groceries and make plans and call for an appointment to take the car to the shop. We need the individualism of ego to survive on this earth and can't always be in that 'la la' place of connected bliss. Or can we? Is it possible to stay connected to it even as we "leave the beloved" for a specific purpose when we need to plan or take action for the future? What if we are open to noticing when we exit the present moment and make an intentional choice as to whether it is in our best interest to do so at this particular time? And what if we hold the honest intention to return to our conscious awareness, to 'our Beloved' (and, know that according to Rumi, "everyone is a shadow of the Beloved"). With practice and willingness, we can learn to flow back and forth as needed, altering our perspective with conscious choice and redirection instead of unconscious reactivity.... if we pay attention and take responsibility. We can learn to lengthen and widen our thoughts as well as our arms. We can challenge the old beliefs that insist we need to close down our heart in order to have time to ourselves, to feel safe. Perhaps the strongest heart is the one that remains open, that chooses to love and be present with what is. And perhaps it is in the heart that the ego and the soul self best practice collaboration and honor our dual nature of being a spiritual entity in a physical body.