Have you ever felt you wanted one thing and then did another, just from pig-headedness? Maybe you were tempted to do something you’ve never done before, or to become part of a larger relationship, opening up to a group or a friend. The on-line dictionary defines druthers as “getting one’s own way” and, as I understand it, that usually means that whatever the others want to do, I’druther do something else. In my childhood we were sometimes scolded for our refusal to join the family plan or the gang’s game (I was part of a New York City street gang as a child).
But let’s hone in on the inner aspect of druthers. How often are we aware of what’s best for us, or what we really need to do, but then fail to do it? “Oops. Botched up again!” Was it from laziness? Lack of interest? Desire for comfort? While we usually accuse ourselves of any or all of these so-called faults, that’s not the point. What’s important here is to realize that we had a choice. In fact, we have a choice at any and every moment to choose what James Hollis, in his most recent book Living an Examined Life, calls “the path of Enlargement.” You could also think of it as becoming present to your life rather than letting it live you.
The Alexander Technique—which I love and teach—is a study in neuromuscular reeducation. With the help of some classes with a teacher, you begin to learn how to regain the physical and mental freedom you had as a child. The most important practice, similar to the practice of presence—is to enliven your day by reminding yourself again and again that at any moment there’s a choice in how you are and what “you plan to do with your one wild and precious life.” (See Mary Oliver’s poem below).
We all share this opportunity to give up our druthers, our demandingness, our wish to have my way above all else. Then who in me cries out l’ll Do It My Way! by making personal demands on the world and on myself all day long? You got it! The ego. The ego doesn’t factor in the price to my soul, which can be steep. It just says, “my way or the highway!”
Here’s the central Druthers problem as I see it: we need help to wake up to what is really of value, and help is available if we can only let go of our prejudices and preferences and get out of our own way! There’s a very special joy we can feel when a part of us stands up and speaks its piece and becomes independent of other people’s opinions. That part can sometimes be internal, as when I was faced with a difficult problem the other day and a voice inside me said: “You must give up forcing yourself to do something you don’t understand.” It freed me from the devil knows what compulsion to coordinate my behavior or my choices with some “right way” out there, in a world beyond my soul’s comprehension.
As I recognize my deep longing to find my way to inner freedom, I ask myself for the first and millionth time, what do I seek beyond fulfilling all the demands on me? And the answer comes as a surprise, from another part of the forest of my being: “An unbroken receptivity to truth.”
“But wait,” says I, “I don’t know how to open to that.” And my inner guide reminds me: “It is time to return to yourself, to live in yourself. No one can tell you what you ought to do. Stay open, stay vulnerable (that’s the hard part!). Dare to respond to every new demand, every new occasion, by not knowing what to do rather than having your druthers. Then the best in you comes forward to meet the challenge, to find again and again your own path.”
THE SUMMER DAY by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA