Under Construction

I grew up in Michigan, where, like much of the northern US, there are two seasons: winter and construction. It’s a joke, of course, but it has some interesting parallels with the speeds and seasons of our lives. I looked at winter in a blog post marking the Winter Solstice in 2016. Today is the Fall Equinox here in the northern hemisphere, so let’s take a look at that other season: construction.

I commute for my teaching position at IU Bloomington 2 days a week, through some serious construction along the new Interstate 69 corridor, currently known as IN-37. There really aren’t other good ways to get to Bloomington from Indy, so I spend quite a bit of time surrounded by orange cones, construction zone speed signs, and big machines tearing up old road and paving new ones. The speed zone signs have the biggest immediate impact on my drive. There have been days I’m running behind in the morning, where I really, really wish I could zoom through that construction at 60 mph, rather than the strictly enforced 45. I just want to get to work!

Construction Barrels and traffic

Have you ever said that about the delays you see in front of you? “I just want to get to work!” In our hurry to get “to work,” whether that’s a project for our job, or to playing music we love, or finishing a 5K, or spreading mulch before it rains, we humans can easily put the goal ahead of the process. F.M. Alexander called this “End-Gaining.” When we end-gain, we’re often willing to ignore pain or stress, to use more effort than we need because we don’t feel we have the time or the option to try a new way. Sometimes, though, it’s necessary to go slow – even to stop – on the way to discovering freedom. This allows us to be more present in the process, and to be open to new possibilities – more creativity, more ease, less pain, less stress.

The process of discovering this freedom is re-education. You have to unlearn the habits of tension, strain, and collapse at the root of your difficulties before you can learn to do things in a  new way. (F.M. Alexander called his work “Psycho-Physical Re-education.”) You could look at it as re-construction. Take the example of IN-37, eventually to be I-69. The road was uneven in some places, with potholes that had been patched, cracks…a typical midwestern road that endures freezing in winter and humid heat in summer. It wouldn’t stand up to the traffic volume expected on the new interstate, and it might not be safe to travel at interstate speeds. The road construction workers are taking it apart where it needs to be repaired, removing sections of pavement, updating the under-structure, adding new lanes and bridges and overpasses… so drivers need to slow down. Why? We don’t want to hit the workers, obviously, and sometimes there are tight or unexpected turns, sometimes bumps or dips in the road.

When you’re in the process of changing your habits, of re-education, there are going to be unexpected turns, tight corners, and plenty of bumps or dips. Metaphorically, you ARE the road, AND the driver, AND the construction worker. So slow down! Take care of your self. Don’t pave over the bumps in the road, no matter how tempting…they’re not going away unless you’re willing to stop and deal with them. 

The other given of road construction is that it rarely runs according to schedule. So to with our re-education (and life!) There is a sign on the way to Bloomington that actually says “EXPECT DELAYS.” Delays are just a part of life. Instead of dreading them, or fighting them when they come up, can we welcome them as opportunities to explore? Expecting that you’ll be able to “fix” or “solve” a problem in a certain number of weeks with a particular goal in mind doesn’t leave room for the amazing result of Alexander Technique work: possibility. So slow down. You have all the time you need.

You’ll enjoy what’s on the other side of this ‘self-re-construction’ zone. 

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