freedom for life

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

Saturday, 23 March 2013 15:09

You have to make a picture!

So said the caption in the exhibition* explaining how to explore the nano world which has been opening up wonderfully strange landscapes of the molecular world not visible to the human eye. The opening of this world with its intriguing technological possibilities of adventure made me think of Alexander's discovery of a world from looking at himself in a mirror. There he had to suspend the usual way of looking at himself, as all who undertake mirror work have to do. Instead he observed himself in various activities and formed a picture of how he did things, how he used himself. He identified a new world, different from the one he had inhabited, one where instead of relying on the feeling of what he is doing, he directly observed his behaviour to identify how his habitual way of acting interfered with his general functioning and how he caused his own throat trouble.

This picturing of yourself aids in understanding how you use yourself. It is one of the reasons why role play is important in teaching people to become aware of their use of themselves as well as its implications. To talk of picturing is not to recommend visualisation. This is not some obscure academic point. It is of immense practical importance to do with bringing what Alexander called 'mental acts' under conscious control, so we do not interfere with our functioning while we are thinking. Too often people tighten and stiffen when visualising, thereby getting themselves into a bizarre contradiction of shortening when trying to lengthen.

Part of the difficulty is that people are directly attending to themselves and end-gaining in aiming for a result rather than attending to a focal point that is external to themselves. Even if that focal point is an object of thought like an idea or a picture. So in making a picture or working with a picture we have to be aware of our use, while attending to something external to ourselves. Understanding the difference here between attention and awareness is crucial to the development of conscious control.

Attention involves a focal point external to ourselves which allows us to be aware of ourselves in activity, as actors in the world. Awareness is subsidiary to attention but it is only within our awareness that we can learn to use the technique’s two component parts of inhibition and direction. Awareness is something that is developed in lessons and in applying the technique in life. It is something that continues to develop through life, allowing us to become more aware of the micro actions that leave us shortening and narrowing rather than opening up to the possibilities and adventures of the human world. Like with the nano world if we keep forming a picture, using the mirror or role play, we see new possibilities at a micro level in the world of action that allow for an increasing and developing levels of conscious control.

* The exhibition was in the Deutsche Museum in Munich

Published in Lessons from the Chair