freedom for life

The Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre has been offering Alexander lessons and workshops since 1994.

Musturbation is a lovely word coined by Albert Ellis to name the habit some people have of thinking that they must do something or that the world must be other than it is. Karen Horney meant something similar with her phrase the tyranny of the shoulds and it was something Alexander wrote about in his first book Man's Supreme Inheritance. For Alexander, the problem stems from a conflict between two positions. On the one hand, people are saying to themself 'I must' and on the other hand they are saying to themself 'I can't.' The solution in muscular terms is often concentration which as a way of controlling and directing attention amounts, as Alexander makes clear, to little more than a furrowing of the brow, physical rigidity and a holding of the breath. It serves little purpose other than narrowing attention and limiting us in the possibilities we can construe, as well as lowering our standard of vital functioning. The habits that lead to this limitation, are often chosen means of avoiding situations. The solution is to inhibit both the 'I must" and the "I can't' and replace it with the 'I wish' which evolves out of 'I want;' where the 'I want' is a starting point for an elaboration and negotiation with the world. 


Alexander can be somewhat harsh in his language around inhibition here. He uses terms like eradicate and oppose when understanding and acceptance are certainly better preludes to inhibition. For one thing is clear, is that in uncovering the habit that stifles initiative or aggression, as Kelly named spontaneous elaboration and curiosity, we often uncover the story of peoples lives, the choices that have been made in circumstances that were often not benign and sometimes down right malevolent with abuse that is both physical or mental. The avoidance, the habit at this point is not so much to avoid but to necessarily protect oneself. In time protecting becomes a habit that is carried beyond the original situation that someone is born into or found themselves in. They continue with a habit that no longer protects but filters current situations and people through the experience of the past, and anticipate in replication rather than creation. Futures can then become self-fulfilling, as people are sought out to recreate old relationships of the past. The way out of such a situation involves identifying the pattern, identifying the habit, identifying the construct, so that it can be suspended or inhibited in favour of something else, something that allows a sightline for increased possibilities of growth, happiness and being alive, even in the most difficult and trying of circumstances. Alexander, like Kelly, calls for propositional thinking, not rigidity or fixity but clear-eyed thinking, to find purpose and meaning. It becomes for both, each individual's responsibility to exercise their intelligence in the living the possibilities and adventure of their lives. This for Alexander was Man's Supreme Inheritance. The phrase may be dated but the ideas behind it are not, nor is the wish to live a full and active life. To dream, to wish, to live are what a full active lives are made of. 

Published in Lessons from the Chair