You’re a Nice Place to Visit, but Would You Want to Live There?

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

The most important question you can ever ask is: ‘Is the universe is a friendly place?’ – Albert Einstein

He added: … if we decide that the universe is a friendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to create tools and models for understanding that universe. Because power and safety will come through understanding its workings and its motives.*

Perhaps the most important question you can ask about yourself is something along the lines of: Am I a friendly place?

If we can say with certainly that the answer is “yes”, then we have every reason use our intelligence to understand how we function, and how to improve our functioning.

Luckily for us it’s easy to verify that “yes” in indeed the answer – at least in the realm of our posture and physical co-ordination – by using a “paradoxical” Alexander Technique direction.

Do you want to check this out for yourself?

Here’s how:

First, choose any activity you do on a regular basis.  it could be speaking, chopping vegetables, working at a computer, climbing stairs – anything you can easily experiment with.

My personal favorite for this kind of exploration is walking, so I’ll use that as an example.

Start by standing and very gently thinking to yourself I am not walking. Continuing that thought, move around the room. After a few steps, continuing to move, toss the I am not walking thought away.  After a few steps, gently bring the I am not walking thought back.

What did you notice at the moment you stopped thinking I am not walking?  And when you brought the thought back?

(If Alexander directing is completely new to you, here are a few more detailed instructions: First, absolutely no holding on to the thought I am not walking. You’ll almost certainly forget it, and when you notice you have, just gently bring it back.  In other words, be totally forgiving of forgetting. Second, if you’re adding extra thoughts – like This is silly or What does this mean? just gently tell yourself that those thoughts can be entertained later, but not during the experiment. Third, let go of any intention to make anything happen, or not happen.  Just the simple thought I am not walking. It may also be useful to choose a hard, or creaky wooden, floor and wear shoes with hard soles to make it easier for you to notice the sound made by your foot falls.  You can learn more about Alexander Technique directing here: New Developments in Alexander Technique Directing)

You’ll probably notice that when you switch away from I am not walking, your feet come down a little more heavily on the floor.  You might also hear a louder sound from your feet as they arrive at the floor.  And you might also sense a little downward compression in your torso.  And when you gently bring the direction back, there is less pressure on your feet and on the rest of you.

What’s going on here?

I believe that saying I am not walking is shorthand for this longer, more cumbersome, message for your body: I don’t want to walk in my usual wayFind another way for me to walk.

You might well be thinking that logically your body would be just as likely to come up with a heavier, less efficient, manner of walking as it is to move you in the direction of lightness and ease.  After all, you only asked for a different way of walking.

However – and to me this is truly amazing – in my experience, with myself and my students –  that NEVER HAPPENS!  With walking – or swimming (I am not swimming) or using a computer (I am not using the computer) or pretty much any other activity.

I take that as an indication that my body (and yours!) is a friendly part of a friendly universe – that it wants the best for you and is just waiting for you to give it the opportunity to show how it can help you.

And that makes me happy and proud to be living in such a friendly location and motivates me to continue working to improve myself.


I’d love to hear your experiences with paradoxical Alexander Technique directions, and how you interpret them.

* Einstein also addressed the implications of the other 2 possible answers:

If we decide that the universe is an unfriendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to achieve safety and power by creating bigger walls to keep out the unfriendliness and bigger weapons to destroy all that which is unfriendly and I believe that we are getting to a place where technology is powerful enough that we may either completely isolate or destroy ourselves as well in this process.

If we decide that the universe is neither friendly nor unfriendly and that God is essentially ‘playing dice with the universe’, then we are simply victims to the random toss of the dice and our lives have no real purpose or meaning.


Einstein image copyright: photoestelar / 123RF Stock Photo

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