We know that the Central Nervous System (CNS) is the body’s gatekeeper. It determines how far you can bend, what movements you can do, and whether you feel stiff or fluid. This is not to say that there are no other important variables such as sleep, diet, bone morphology, age, exercise…the list goes on. But at the root, if you want a free neck, your CNS has to believe that you are safe, or at least effective – able to handle the challenges thrown in your path.
A friend of mine is facing some pretty challenging decisions about career, location, artistic aspirations. Big Life Stuff. His body is rebelling with aches and pains, and he is having a hard time choosing his next step.
I suggested that he pay attention to the situations and conditions that make him feel safe. To notice where “the soft animal body*” is intuitively drawn.
Obviously, as adults we have to negotiate fear and do things our animal body does not like. On the other hand, it is important to notice where and when we feel safe, and to wonder if the fear is reflexive normal fear of change, or if there is something deeper going on.
But is it always a good idea to rely on felt sensation? One of F.M. Alexander’s key principals is that body feelings are set by habit. In the same way we can have emotional reactions that don’t fit current situations, we can have muscle sensations based on our expectation, not on incoming data. We might instinctively clutch in fear, but how much of those sensations are based on something that is really dangerous? In these cases, F.M. Alexander’s solution was to use his conscious reasoning processes. I think this is a good idea, if we intelligently blend reasoning with attention to sensation.
Happiness might be the opposite of fear. Happiness is a moving towards something – an expansion. Fear is about moving away from something – retraction, contraction. Sure, it is possible to be both fearful and happy at the same time, and this creates an interesting push-pull within the body. But, what if you let happiness, not fear, be your directional guide? Would your neck then relax? And how can you know what will truly make you happy? Something else to worry about. Is this all too Woody Allen**?
Humans tend to have a baseline level of happiness***. Even after catastrophic events, barring lingering trauma, we return, more or less, to our usual levels of happiness. This seems hard to believe, and perhaps simplistic, but it’s also good news. Maybe the stuff that happens to us doesn’t matter as much as we think it will. And maybe our choices are less important than we believe them to be
Moreover, studies about happiness show that humans are terrible predictors of what will make them happy****. Our best data points are not ourselves, but other people who have already made the decision we are considering. Newsflash, you are more like everyone else than our individualizing culture would have you believe. So, do you know other people who have made one or all of the scary choices you are considering? Do you know someone who has: Picked a College, Changed Careers, Moved to another Country, or any other of the more trivial decision (Purchased an Instant Pot, Called Him Back, Gotten rid of those Clothes) that might be blocking your flow and causing unconscious tension? I strongly encourage you to talk to those people, and listen to your own body feelings as you do. Perhaps then, your CNS will determine that you are safe, your neck will relax, your heart rate will regulate and you will move and live with more ease.
*Quote taken from Mary Oliver’s Gorgeous, Poem Wild Geese.
**from the Annie Hall era
****This is from Daniel Gilbert’s excellent book, Stumbling on Happiness.