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Concept Spotlight: Non-Doing

by Ellen on August 4th, 2016

There’s a (probably apocryphal) story that Alexander teachers like to tell. It harkens back to the early days of Alexander’s first training course, and it goes like this:

One day on the training course at Ashley Place, the students were all sitting around watching Alexander giving a lesson to one of their colleagues when the doorbell rang. The students were all inhibiting beautifully – and nobody got up to answer the door. The doorbell rang and rang because everyone was too busy inhibiting to get on with doing what needed to be done!

This story reminds us that inhibition should not be a prolonged thing, a state of being; it’s a momentary pause that allows a decision to be made in the form of direction. Inhibiting doesn’t mean never doing anything at all; at some point, you’ve got to get on with it! The important thing about inhibition is the pause itself; if you’ve paused for a moment to think about how you plan to do something, you’ve successfully inhibited and you can now go about your day.

Non-doing, on the other hand, is more like that state of being. It’s being open and receptive enough to allow the inhibition to happen when it’s needed, and then carrying that openness through to allow movements and actions to take place. Inhibition is a tool to use when needed, but non-doing is a state of mind that allows that inhibition to be effective. For example, inhibition is pausing for a few moments after your friend who has just poured out their heart to you says “What do you think?”, to marshal your thoughts before responding. Non-doing is being open and patient enough to actually listen to their entire soliloquy with earnest interest and refrain from thinking about how to respond until they ask.

It’s easy to misconstrue inhibition as the perpetual prevention of everything habitual, the repeated reminding of yourself not to react to every single stimulus that you perceive – like the ringing of the doorbell at Ashley Place. But if you inhibited that hard about everything, you’d never do anything but sit quietly for the rest of your life! Better to adopt an attitude of non-doing; just stay free enough to allow what needs to happen, to happen without your interference, and give yourself permission to make a decision and follow through on it. As Alex Murray says, “Decide what you’re going to do and then do it, and the rest be damned!”

Forward and Up! is a Pittsburgh-based private practice offering quality instruction in the Alexander Technique in a positive and supportive environment.

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