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  • Writer's pictureEve Bernfeld

What Was I Scared Of?

I did four super scary things this week:

I ordered a steak at a table full of people eating vegetarian curry.

I spoke (terrible) Spanish to the parents of one of my students who were visiting from Mexico.

I left a bunch of friends at a get together and took a walk by myself.

I wore a bathing suit in front of a dozen college students (one of my students wanted to work on swimming, so into the pool we went!).

Okay, these are not among the most courageous things I’ve ever done in my life. But they struck me as having some common themes. All of them made me feel vulnerable. And so it would have been very easy to NOT do any of them. In each case I could have put my head down and gone with the flow. Eaten the curry, given verbal instructions from the side of the pool. And nobody would have been the wiser. Except for me.

My children and I love a little story by Dr. Seuss called “What Was I Scared Of?” In it, a little Seussian dude keeps encountering some empty green pants that scare the bejeezus out of him. Only after his whole life is disrupted does he realize the pants are scared too and they make friends.

If this story seems far out, maybe it shouldn’t. F.M. Alexander noticed that we are all suffering from what he called an “unduly excited fear response.” We talk today about being stuck in “fight or flight” mode. Of having too much cortisol, too much stress. It’s the same phenomenon Alexander observed over 100 years ago. On constant overload, it’s easy to see danger everywhere, and to begin to live smaller and smaller and smaller lives—and I mean this figuratively and literally. We literally shrink when we feel we’re in danger. When we feel vulnerable. Not a very comfortable or healthy way to go through life.

The Alexander Technique reminds me that if I take a moment to stop, to Inhibit that immediate fear response, I have a chance of behaving differently. A choice about how I respond to the world. The possibility to live a fuller, richer life, standing at my full stature. I get to experience something new, rather than same old same old.

I really enjoyed that steak, and nobody else at the table blinked. My broken Spanish was greeted with courtesy and patience. I came back from my walk refreshed and ready to be social. My student raved about the experience in the pool and how helpful it was.

What was I scared of?

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