The Emerging Self

I was drifting in and out of consciousness as the (wonderful) firemen were cutting me out of the tangled wreckage of our car; I remember apologising for being a nuisance and wondering if I’d make it to my son’s graduation the following month. I was in the front passenger Seat of our Montego Estate car. A big Volvo had come out at a junction straight into me, and knocked our car sideways into the oncoming traffic. I’d taken another bashing, this time from a large Saab. All three cars were wrecked, but fortunately I was the only one really badly injured. 


The scar on my head still gives a Harry Potter tingle occasionally, but the bones and soft tissues have healed amazingly and very few people pick up on the asymmetry caused by breaking my pelvis. (I’m so grateful for the consultant in one of my follow-up visits saying that I’d be back to normal in about six months and then coming back to say that ‘normal’ didn’t mean the same as before the accident.) 


I’ve always been afraid of having a car crash, but although I wouldn’t want to go through it again, or wish it on anybody, the overall experience was an incredibly positive one for me. When I came home from hospital I was amazed at the wonder of being alive, by the green of the trees against the blue of the sky, the white of the clouds, the birdsong, the love and joy that enfolded me; and the wonder of the healing process, my whole being programmed to regenerate itself; the daily, weekly, monthly alterations; the realisation that, somehow, all was well. All of life ahead was bonus time. A lot of what I believed seemed somehow to have made that long, long journey from head to heart. (I had often told people wholeheartedly that their value didn’t depend on their usefulness -now I began to grasp that my own didn’t either!) 


Two of my daughters, who’d had Alexander Technique lessons in music college, suggested that lessons would help me. The insurance company agreed to pay for twenty lessons. I had no idea what I was letting myself in for!


My husband was a vicar (retired now), and twelve years older than me. We’d had seven children, including two sets of twins, in eight years; life in a Vicarage is as rich and full as anyone could want (often more so). I’d never been in paid employment, and a clergy stipend was such that it allowed for the faith that God will provide to become deep-rooted. To have money to spend on the ‘luxury’ of the Alexander Technique was a challenge to me; surely this money could be put to better use, I thought. 


I’d read a bit about the Technique (I’ve always liked to be ‘prepared’ and ‘in charge’) and I was mystified, but open to learn. I expected to learn to ‘use myself better’ in the sense of being more poised and efficient. 


Initially, I thought I was paying for moon shine, or the ‘emperor’s new clothes’. I’d read chemistry and maths at university and liked to make rational sense of things; I liked to do well at whatever I undertook. With the Alexander Technique I found I could do neither! In a very pleasant but nebulous way I felt ‘lighter’ and ‘taller’ but if it hadn’t been for my husband encouraging me, and if it wasn’t for the fact that the lessons were being paid for, I’m sure I would have stopped; I am so glad I persevered. 


I would echo John Dewey’s words, which he used in his preface to one of Alexander’s books: 


In bringing to hear whatever knowledge I already possessed - or thought I did - and whatever powers of discipline I had acquired... I had the most humiliating experience of my life, intellectually speaking. For to find that one is unable to execute directions, including inhibitory ones, in doing such a seemingly simple act as to sit down, when one is using all the mental capacity which one prides himself upon possessing, is not an experience congenial to one's vanity I found the things that I had 'known' - in the sense of theoretical belief -... changed into vital experiences which gave a new meaning to the knowledge of them. (The Use of the Self 1932, p. 10)