A Birthday Blog: Intention and Choice


One of my cats does not have good use of his self, even though he is a member of the animal kingdom. He stomps around the house on the hardwood floors so loudly that you can often hear him coming from 20 feet away, even though he is quite small. “Thunk, thunk, thunk.” More often than not, he goes “splat” on the side of the cupboards when he tries to jump up to the countertop, and I regularly even see him fail to be able to jump up on the coffee table, which is only about 18 inches off the ground. He has mental issues as well (like obsessively trying to remove our wedding rings, for instance), but today I would like to share my observations about how his thinking affects his physical functioning. (Ask me in the comments if you would like to know more about his early kittenhood.)

At first we would laugh (surreptitiously, of course, so as not to humiliate him) at his lack of coordination, but I started wondering why he could jump up onto the washing machine without fail (which is close to where we store his food), and why sometimes he padded around instead of stomped. And my theory is: you guessed it, intention.

I noticed that when he is just bored and walking around aimlessly he stomps, but as soon as he sees something he wants to walk towards, his eyes brighten, his body organizes, and his footfalls soften. And when he sees something specific that he wants on the countertop, he leaps up effortlessly. The times he goes splat are the times he seems to be thinking, “Hmm, I don’t have anything to do, I think maybe I’ll jump up on that cupboard for the heck of it.” Sometimes I have caught him looking doubtful that he could make it, and I have noticed when there is a moment of hesitation, it messes with his coordination, leading to the “splat”.

I have noticed something similar in myself. If I am out for a walk, and think to myself, “Hmmm, I wonder if I should maybe run a little bit for better exercise,” my coordination feels different than if I see something in the distance that interests me, and I break into a jog to get there faster. It is much easier to begin work on something I am excited about rather than on something unpleasant that I know I have to get done. When I can decide I really want to clean the bathroom, that clear intention or desire leads me to bring my unified psychophysical self to the task rather than being at war with myself.

In the training course, we are reading Man’s Supreme Inheritance. In the section “Habits of Thought and Body”, F.M. Alexander writes about habits of thought that get in the way of attaining poise, and one of these is “lack of purpose”. He also talks about the mental conflict between “I must” and “I can’t”, and says what we really need is “I wish”. He says if we have the desire to do something and the desire to carry it through to a successful end, we can bring our whole self to the task at hand.

It is my 50th birthday today, and always on my birthday, I tell myself I will do exactly what I wish to do all day long. So the mental conflict that arises from trying to force myself to do things that I don’t want to do is gone. Strangely, on my birthday some of the things I decide I want to do would normally be disagreeable (like cleaning), but are no longer disagreeable since I have given myself a choice. Every year after my birthday, I wonder why I don’t treat myself like this every day? Maybe this year…

by Heidi Leathwood

Image courtesy of tiverylucky at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


  1. This is a creative, thoughtful post, Heidi. I think in the Alexander Technique we sometimes downplay the mind’s affect on the body except during ‘directions.’ Sometimes the reverse is forgotten too; the body’s affect on the mind.

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