Near the top of Eugen Herrigel’s book, Zen in the Art of Archery, he states that by the “art” of archery, he is not referring to “the ability of the sportsman… but an ability whose origin is to be sought in spiritual exercises and whose aim consists in hitting a spiritual goal, so that fundamentally the marksman aims at himself and may even succeed in hitting himself.”
There are parallels with this notion to be found in Alexander work. In some sense, the goal in Alexander is always to “hit oneself” – which is to say, to find oneself within ordinary movement and to make this movement as flexible and effortless as the art of the keenest archer.
“Should one ask, from this standpoint, how the Japanese Masters understand this contest of the archer with himself, and how they describe it, their answer would sound enigmatic in the extreme. For them the contest consists in the archer aiming at himself – and yet not at himself, in hitting himself – and yet not himself, and thus becoming simultaneously the aimer and the aim, the hitter and the hit.”
In Alexander sessions, when I try to pin down exactly what Alexander *is*, what the purpose of Alexander is, what the principles are, what the work is essentially about, Leland tends to say there isn’t really one definite answer. Once one understands what the work is in one moment, the work changes – sometimes it seems to be about movement; sometimes the breath; sometimes it is about how movement and the breath relate; sometimes it is about nothing at all except letting go and enjoying the experience of being. As Herrigel goes on to say, art becomes “artless” and in this artlessness there is perfection and in this perfection there is freedom. The freedom to move, to not move. The freedom to breathe – the freedom to accept oneself just as one is in that moment.
In the past week, I have begun to deal with a “base” of Alexander work, which involves freeing the neck and allowing the back to lengthen and widen. In returning to this work over and again, there is certainly a sense of “hitting oneself” – to find oneself present in the midst of the everyday or in the midst of a moment – and in this moment, to consider that choices are present where they seemed to be missing, before the target was found.