I hope that this post will provide you with some comic relief as I recount an embarrassing mishap that befell me last week. “Befel” me is really the wrong word as I take complete responsibility for what unfolded, or perhaps shared responsibility with the subway conductor who just may have been timing closing the mechanical jaws, sometimes referred to as doors, making an example of me as a reminder to riders not to enter the car after we are asked to “stand clear”.
Backing up a bit...I was in a rush to get into Manhattan from Brooklyn, in a bad mood and hungry. I approached the subway station carrying a bag containing a sandwich from a local deli and a large coffee with milk in the other hand. As I neared the stairs, I could hear the ruble of a train. I scrambled down the stairs and as I shot through the turnstiles I could hear the female recorded voice on one of the newer models of the R train explaining “This is a Manhattan-bound R train”. I scrambled down another set of stairs as the male recorded voice cheerily warned, “Stand clear of the closing doors please.” I was in front of the doors on “please”. At that moment, I could have stood back, but I knew I was pretty much guaranteed an on-time arrival if I boarded that train, so I went for it with a leap. I don’t know if the conductor saw me and essentially bit me with the doors, or if he/she didn't notice me at all. It’s a smaller, local station and the conductor car is right by the stairs. They’ll usually wait if it’s not too busy and crowded if someone is running down toward the platform.
Anyhow, I’m not even sure exactly how this happened but I managed to get in the train as the doors closed, but the jarring slam of the doors popped the lid off of my huge coffee cup and sent the coffee spewing all over the car...a fountain of caffeine, much to the shock of the other passengers. Luckily it was about 12pm on a weekday and there weren't too many people traveling at that time. I was in shock. They were in shock. My first thought was that they all hated me and were harshly judging me for having leaped onto the train with coffee in my hand and that they were all drenched. (By the way, I think it’s technically against subway rules to eat/drink on the trains, probably for reasons exactly like this one!) I just stopped for a minute, realized that by some miracle most of it had landed on the floor, except for a few drips on the slacks and folded hand-truck of a guy who nervously blotted at them for several minutes straight with one very tiny tissue. I unfroze when someone kindly handed me a pile of napkins. I began the process of cleaning up the floor and then someone else began helping me. I managed to mop up most of it with napkins, and then sat down next to the guy whose pants and cart I’d spilled coffee on, surrounded by everyone who had witnessed the scene. I felt oddly calm and surprisingly unembarrassed.
I decided to write about this event in my blog because it’s really about posture. If we think of posture as a state of being, rather than simply body positioning, I might say that it was my posture at that moment that got me into the predicament. F.M. Alexander said that most people do something that he called “end-gaining”, which simply means, getting ahead of yourself and not being present and in the moment. In our bodies, the pushing ahead manifests itself as jutting the chin forward or sticking the chest out. It feels like a sort of forward pushing that creates a downward accordion-like compression throughout the body. Sometimes it happens for a moment, but we can get stuck there and let it define us. The Alexander Technique gives us skills so that we can define ourselves and make choices rather than enslave ourselves to our habits and the postures that result and then in turn feed more end-gaining behavior.
I end-gained to get on the train and coffee went all over the place. I end-gained by assuming that people were angry, but as I became more present, I realized that they were sympathetic and that the situation, though problematic, certainly, was easily resolvable and I calmly enjoyed the rest of my subway ride.
Improving your state of being includes changing how you hold your body and it’s not about being perfect all the time, but rather being able to regain a sense of presence and to come back to neutral in ourselves when things sometimes go awry.
Have you had a similar experience? If so, share below.