Moses and Alexander – Between a Rock and a Soft Place


In Numbers 20, verses 2-12, The people are thirsty and Moses asks God to help.  God gives Moses a staff and tells him to command a rock to supply the water.

The pattern established over many years was Moses conveying the peoples’ needs to God, God taking care of the problem or God telling Moses what he needed to do. So under normal circumstances Moses would have gone before the people, his staff lifted a bit to emphasize his connection to God, and told them they would soon have water.  Then he might have turned, faced the rock, and said:  “Bring forth water.”

And out the water would flow, with no effort of any kind on Moses’ part.

But this time Moses had some recent unfinished business. He was angry because he had recently faced a serious rebellion, and he was stressed because his sister Miriam – who always had a facility for finding water – had just died. Now, while he was still grieving, the people were complaining to him again.

It’s not that Moses wasn’t used to this kind of complaining – he’d been hearing it for decades – but this time Moses was pushed past his limit. He was old and worn out after years of dealing with complaints, and he allowed this anger to accompany him as he marched out in front of the people. He momentarily forgot that he was the channel for bringing God’s wish to fruition, not himself the power behind it.  He spoke harshly to the people and then hit the rock twice as though it was his own effort that enabled the rock to fulfill its role.

The rock didn’t seem to mind, and water flowed out even though Moses didn’t actually speak it it as he was told to do.

But God minded. Big time. He didn’t say anything at the time, and allowed the rock to produce the water. But he was very disappointed in Moses.  Moses should have known better.

Not long after, God told Moses that because he had hit the rock, instead of just speaking to it, he would not be allowed to lead the people into the promised land – something Moses very much wanted to do.

Many commentators see God’s action as a punishment, and perhaps it was, but I see it also as a recognition that Moses could no longer be counted on to keep himself out of the way of God’s commands when he was stressed.  And that could prove particularly disastrous as the people transitioned from being desert nomads to conquering settlers in the promised land, where they would meet a whole new set of challenges.


Looking at this story from an Alexander Technique point of view, there’s a pretty good analogy here to the the use of Alexander directions, for example “I’m free” or “My neck is free”.  (More about Alexander Technique directions can be found here.) They work best when delivered very softly and without any assistance by us.

Our conscious brain is potentially great at sending out self-directions, but absolutely terrible at implementing them.* Still, it’s incredibly easy for us to fall into the trap of thinking we can help.  In an earlier blog, Not Even a Teeny Weeny Bit, I wrote:

“Marjory Barlow was F. Matthias Alexander’s niece, and a well-known teacher of the Alexander Technique for many years. In her book, An Examined Life she quotes Alexander on the topic of giving directions: “This is an exercise and finding out what thinking is.”

“She then goes on to write: If that doesn’t put it in a nutshell, I don’t know!  Because it’s so hard for us to think.  By that word we mean to send a direction, not to try and implement it, not to try to carry it out, not even a teeny weeny bit.  We’re always inclined to to think, “Oh well, just a little bit, just give it a little nudge.” and a lot of that’s not very conscious, actually, the degree to which we are helping it along, or trying to help it along, otherwise, you see, we’d stop!  But it’s a blind alley. – page 130″

When we do fall into the trap of “helping” – and it’s pretty certain we will at times – we fail to get to the “promised land” of improved use of ourselves.  That’s not a punishment but simply a clear indication that “helping” doesn’t work.

We’re very lucky that, unlike Moses, we have as many chances as we want to start over: Softly think the direction we’ve know from experience will be useful, and get out of it’s way.

Repeat as necessary.

What has been your experience with using Alexander Technique directions?  Please leave your comments below or on Facebook.


* Here’s a podcast that division of labor in more detail:

As always, I try to find an appropriate Country Music song for my blogs. This one is particularly apt, since it mentions an earlier incident when God actually did ask Moses to strike a rock. Enjoy!

Moses Image copyright: chonlapoom / 123RF Stock Photo

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