Recently, I was I lying awake in the wee hours for a little while. I’d gone to get some water and as I was waiting for sleep to take over again, it didn’t and my mind started to wander as it likes to do in the wee hours when the tasks and details of the day are over. Years ago I struggled with insomnia and for the briefest of moments a flicker of worry crossed my sleepy mind that it may, it always could, spiral down that path again into dread, or worry, or list making, or endlessly counting sheep.
But then, through a gap in the curtains I noticed a waning moon- bright and distant- initially just a glowing blob, but slowly focusing into shadows and craters. It is very hard to see the moon from my first floor NYC apartment on any night. It is a much more unique event when it peeks through a gap in the curtain, no more than 4 inches wide and I happened to be awake to see it.
After a moment of ‘wow’ and wonder and a little awe, my eyes slowly adjusted and the outward focus released my thoughts away from any worry and my whole body softened into the bed a little more. I stayed with the moon, it only lasted a few more moments before it crept out of view again. But it was enough time to remind me to look outside of myself, or to think of my being in relationship to the earth below me and the sky above.
We live daily life on a spectrum of internal and external awareness, with the Alexander Technique, we practice bringing our awareness into balance to develop presence and poise. Awareness of how we respond to both internal and external stimulus is a fundamental principle of practice. It is both how your mind and body work and react to each other - like the brain reminding the heart to ‘look up’- but also how your whole (thinking, feeling, moving, breathing) self responds to its environment.
Our senses connect us to our environment. Sight, hearing, touch are excellent routes outward. Think for a moment about our primal connection to the earth, and the awareness that nearly all other creatures in the animal kingdom and natural world possess. I'd argue there is no other species more disconnected and distracted than humans are and none of it helps us feel any better.
It may be a nice thing to try, the next time your internal experience feels like it dominates your attention -a worrying heart, a knotted stomach, a clenched throat, locked knees- shift your focus outward for just a few moments.
Feel how you’re connecting to the ground- Let the earth support you.
See outside of yourself- Let your eyes find something pleasing to gaze upon.
Listen. Sounds are orienting and dynamic- allow them affect you.
Repeat as necessary. Try not to practice with the expectation of solving anything, but simply allow for a shift in your experience.