Thinking vs. Awareness

Michael Frederick, (one of my very favorite mentors) was talking about the difference between Thinking and Awareness in an Alexander Technique class for actors the other day. It’s a distinction that bears some exploration.

Thinking is an action that is linear in nature. If I ask you to add two large numbers together, or ask you which route you take to work every morning, chances are you will pause, your facial muscles will contract ever so slightly, and your mind will take you out of the room as words and images move past your minds eye. Thinking often has A LOT to do with the past or the future. When my mind wanders away and I “think” about things, it usually has to do with things that have happened before this moment, or speculation about things that might be tomorrow.

Awareness is a vastly different state. Awareness can only occur in the present moment, and generally has very little to do with words that are not being said or images that are not being seen right here right now. Awareness invites us to see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. Thinking asks us to compare what is being felt now to a previous feeling or supplies us with an expectation of a feeling yet to come. Awareness knows only the feeling being felt this time.

Both thinking and awareness are necessary and important. After all, when you were a child and touched a hot stove for the first time, I imagine the pain got you to stop and think before you did it again. Thinking helps us to develop likes and dislikes, aversions and attachments necessary for survival. But in our western culture we spend far too much of our lives in thinking states. Thinking often hijacks a present experience by coloring it with judgment created in the past (how else can you define “baggage” brought into a new relationship?)

Awareness however knows nothing of judgment and helps us to experience moments as they truly are, without the taint of what’s come before. This is why awareness is such an important component of the Alexander Technique. How you are moving, speaking, working, writing, dancing in this moment is distinct and will be different than any other time in your life. That’s exciting to me! Many students come to me with phrases like “I always lock my knees when I stand up”. That may be what they think, what they have encountered in the past, but how can they be so sure that will happen this time? What happens if they let go of whats happened before, come back to the present moment and a state of awareness and see?