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Archive for October, 2007

If I were presenting the principles of Alexander Technique to kids, I would start with basic thinking skills of revealing assumptions. I would teach what is an assumption as being a habit of a ground rule in games. I’d outline some basic thinking strategies as strategy in game play. I’d go through some common decision-making processes about the best ways to play a game. After I covered those, I’d go on to how to creatively generate ideas and apply them to problem solving of how to win a game.

As a template, I would probably use the work of Edward de Bono in his CORT thinking skills that he designed to teach children in Venezuela in the 1980s. The first situation that I would set up would be Edward de Bono’s basic thinking strategy of outlining the disadvantages, advantages and interesting ideas that do not fit as three basic sections to help explore a topic.In the case of the kids, I would use how to win at playing a game as the topic. Following the process of Alexander Technique, we would first have to play the game to experience what it would be like to be inside the situation. Then we could observe and think about how and why the winning strategies worked – and what these winning strategies were.

Making a list of this sort involves going through a process of brainstorming and “lateral thinking” activities – a term de Bono coined that has since made it into the dictionary. Lateral thinking would come under the heading of “interesting” ideas that do not fit the other two categories.

Most kids are already familiar with brainstorming, thankfully, even if they do not know what to do with the list of ideas. If not, I could show examples of what is brainstorming; I like to think of it as the ability to make a list to preserve every idea before we decide if we want to do anything about any one idea. So the first skill I’d be teaching would be making the ideas, so we can deliberately choose which idea to act on later from a list of possibilities. Separating the activities of noting ideas without deciding if they are good or bad judgment is teaching suspension – which is a major feature of Alexander Technique.

Many skills build on previous concepts. For instance, we can’t understand circumference until we experience what a circle is and how long it actually takes to go around a circle. Learning has the sound of a surprise, an “aha!” Things do not turn out as we expect when we make discoveries.
From my own observation, when they begin to establish what is criteria for themselves, people favor two major ways of sorting: people tend to match for similarities or people compare to reveal differences. As you direct your line of questioning in each of those two directions, each of these two strategies will give you wildly differing answers. Some of us seem to be wired to notice novelty and also we are motivated to retain the status quo; so each of these two abilities are useful to purposefully be able to use in their respective differing situations. In this teaching situation, we can sort the group of people into two sections depending on whether they think they are kids who like new, exciting experiences or kids who like things to be predictable, easy and comfortable.

It strikes me that playing “red light, green light” would be a fun way to learn these features. For those who do not know about this game; it is where one child stands a ways away from a line of children with their back to them, and the objective is to get close enough to tag the child who is “it.” This child can turn around to spot the line of people moving; they can send anyone who is moving when they turn around back to the starting line further away.

It is a way of getting kids to experience how there are two basic strategies someone can use to win that game. Of course, combining these two means works the best. The two strategies are is to inch forward so gradually that the person cannot see you moving to get closer and closer. The advantage to using this strategy is you can easily stop on a dime each time they turn around to look; because they are moving so much faster than you are, they never notice you are moving. The other is to make a mad dash when the person is not looking and tag them by getting into their blind spot, which is determined by which way they choose to turn around. After the experience of the game was played until these two strategies were revealed, then I would note the mystery advantage of suspending the urge to madly dash for the goal, noting that each strategy has advantages, disadvantages and points of unrelated features that make them curious or interesting.

Then I might ask the kids to make a list for themselves as homework over a few days, “What are the disadvantages of being a kid?” I would have them interview adults, I would have them observe their own reactions to how it feels to be who they are, and I’d have them act out and role play their objections to being kids in the classroom. Essentially, I would have the kids tell to someone else the secret of how they think is the best way to win the game.

It seems to be in our nature to sense disadvantages. To compete in a game structures a very clear priority. So, in some ways, we are wired to notice what does not match – in this case whether we are winning or losing. After we have a list of why it is a disadvantage to be a kid and what are the limitations of childhood compared to being an adult, this list will tell us what the advantages are, point by point. Advantages are much more difficult to reveal than disadvantages. Why is that so? The nature of an advantage is that it is almost as natural as a fish noticing it is in water, so it is tricky to notice what you take for granted.

My motive in asking this question of kids is that the guiding feature of what makes kids different from adults is adults get stiff and tend to resist learning new things; kids learn very fast and are flexible.

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Alexander Technique addresses the ways people come to notice the need for problem solving. It also has something to say about the ways people deliberately choose and design exactly how they might move to respond – as opposed to the actual content of these thoughts. Sometimes content is important, but only to the extent that some of our choices narrow and prevent other choices. Using a habit and holding certain assumptions may prevent us from perceiving other possibilities that may be more practical and useful to us.

The first thing on the list of Patrick MacDonald’s synopsis of his understanding of the Alexander Technique is learning about the force of habit, how it works to set up habits and how strong habits are in the face of new possibilities. Also implied in recognizing habit is recognizing when a discovery or insight arrives that is not consistent with established habitual ways. The ability to recognize when something new has happened allows us to note and use these new discoveries to our advantage. Part of the difficulty in doing this is that habits prevent new experiences from happening, and the use of habits dulls our innate sensititivy to sense that something new has happened. Use it or lose it!
It seems from this comment of MacDonald’s that humans are set up to see disadvantages first. The nature of a disadvantage is it shows us an objection that “sticks out” or emerges in a gestalt that “rises to the top” of our attention in similar ways that figure/ground relationships emerge in a visual field. In many cases, we only notice that something is wrong because we feel pain or stiffness.

In our Western culture, we tend to pick out the “important” activity or thing that is going on in a visual field rather than notice all the elements in the picture at once. We tend to favor the use of a searchlight instead of a wide beam field of attention. Our culture sells to us the value of immediately determining the goal and ignoring what does not fit the goal. Who gets to determine the goal is not so often questioned, so the question of “by who’s standards are we selecting for?” is more often already determined for us.

So the ability to match for similarities is more prevalent in our culture than the ability to compare and “scan” to reveal important factors that may be determining subtle differences. Desires would tend to disappear as a person accepts outside influences to be the most important ones. As you practice a habit, by selection the opposing activity will die off.  The ability to “scan” and compare is more useful when revealing subtle differences, internal desires, thoughts and ideas that do not fit the priorities of others. If you do not use this ability, it will die down because there is less and less of a need for using it.

This motive comes from how our culture values goal setting. Goal-setting drives an imperative need to install the skill of goal-setting so it can become innate and disappear into our ability to command it as soon as possible. Many people are satisfied after they have successfully installed their first answer to what they have determined the goal is. They do not go on to seek for the next step in learning until something else jumps forward to demand their attention. “Good enough for Rock and Roll” is their philosophy.

Part of the beauty of habits is that we are able to add additional next important steps onto it in a behavior chain. We are able to refine a habit to pick and choose which parts of it we want to retain and which parts do not serve us as we learn to tell crucial difference in quality. The disadvantage is that our standards can escalate as we learn. We cultivate perfectionism and get caught in the bind of not being able to live up to our own standards that go just beyond our own reach.

I have observed that this problem comes from putting our objections before our ability to make a move in a new direction. We use our observations, sense only our habits and become discouraged that nothing new can happen before we have gone anywhere or anything else. Our habits trap us and we do not know how to get free.

It is in our human nature to sense objections and desires that do not fit, and also in our nature to ignore what does not fit or match. Sometimes what “sticks out” needs to be addressed and could benefit from some adjustment, and sometimes it is to our benefit to note them and put them aside, and sometimes merely expressing them is satisfactory. The ability to put an objection aside and the power to choose to do something to accommodate an additional desire – or not – is one of the signs of maturity.

As anyone in a certain situation understands and can become aware of what sorts of characteristics exist to their advantage, it is possible to work within these advantages and have quite a bit of power and influence that will answer their desires. So it pays to know what your desires are as well as how to be patient enough to choose a suitable means to get what you want.

We are rarely taught how many possible ways there are to come to a decision concerning what to do about our personal concerns and desires. This ability to think for ourselves is not to the advantage of those who see the need to control us. Adults want kids to go along with the program of what adults want kids to do. The adult justification for this is kids need to obey because they need to be protected from the consequences about what to do. A kid’s objections, criticisms or urge to rebel against the status quo needs to be controlled for their own benefit and protection. Adults cite the need for this because kids often can’t see ahead to the eventual result of their bad choices, although many kids still retain the ability to sense what they want to do. It’s also within the nature of kids to have a built-in bullshit detector that determines how much adults are trying to protect them so they can go beyond those limits that are imposed by adults. However, by doing this, kids force adults to compensate for their lack of foresight so this is a virtual question that kids and adults are engaged in constantly as the kids mature. Often adults run into a blind spot in the gradual eduation of kids when kids reach the teen years; so this is why a strategy that worked for awhile no longer works indefinitely as circumstances change.

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Since I’ve been spending time with an eight year old lately, I’m beginning to think about how I would teach her age group Alexander Technique.

Since I’m writing my ideas that follow on the fly from here on out to get them down, I’m going to apologize in advance for the disconnected way these ideas may be presented. The first part of this is far and away my philosophy of why chose certain means to teach more flexible mannerisms of choosing to respond. My own innate way of organizing my thoughts for the purpose of communicating to others requires me to go back and compensate for the time of arrival of my ideas, even choosing which sentence follows the next sentence. My ideas innately usually do not follow a presentation sequence that makes sense to other people when these ideas first emerge, so this may be a little confusing to read. I will do some editing to group my ideas together, but it may not be enough. Please tell me your impressions.

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When I first began to study AT, I was living with a person who was in Frank Ottiwell and Giora Pinkas’ first training course named Kenneth Feld. Kenny used to live in Chicago and had lessons with Goddard Binkley; Kenny told me that Binkley dealt with addiction, anger, etc. by encouraging students to shout reactive phrases while he worked on them with A.T. I assumed it was so the student could refuse the reaction while they were doing the activity, but later I realized that doing this uncovered assumptions for the student about emotion at an alarming rate! At the time, I thought that Binkley wanted his students to shout the words emphatically without the associative reaction behind them, but I wasn’t sure. So I decided to try this some time.

When another visiting AT teacher came out to Bolinas to visit us, all of decided to try this idea out. The way it transformed the point of view of the emotion sort of sucked the obcession out of the act and made the shouting devoid of the usual emotional motives, content or certainty of righteousness in a way that must be experienced to really be believed.

Since the comments shouted out in this manner were entirely void of the stimulus for becoming angered, hurt, self righteous or defensive, many questions from experimenting in this way followed.

What am I up to here and how does it work?

I seem to be making a jump into reacting despite there being no external stimulus; when does this jump happen and what is going on with my wanting to do it?

Is there an assumption I am making underneath the sudden need for the reaction?

Do I know where, the history or why this particular reaction come from in me? Do I need to know the history first in order to trace it back to when it happens and sense what is going on with me there at that moment?
It was also sort of a scary experiment; freeing up the expression of reactive anger, for instance, made a person seem to those witnessing as really, really crazy and unpredictable and actually angry. As in acting, there were many other things going on that nobody could guess at, proving that there is no way to determine projections without checking with the person who is their own only authority on the subject. You can often witness how most people have some part of their reactions under control, even though the anger is poking through uncontrolled. Take away that degree of control by providing ways to free expression as Alexander Technique provides, and the power of the raw emotion comes out first.

This practice allowed me to “show my anger” when I had deemed it to be effective for a certain communicative purpose without being trapped by the loop of the emotion itself shutting down my abilities to problem solve and observe on the fly. I was now also able to drop the anger at a moment’s choice.

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There is only an indirect connection between Alexander’s ideas and those that specialize in dealing with addiction. Certainly it would be worth exploring, but I don’t personally know any Alexander teachers would seek out working with alcoholics as a group by choice yet. Let me know if you do.

Thinking about the connection between addition and Alexander Technique, what comes to mind is there was a bumper sticker on Marj Barstow’s car that said “Easy Does It.” I think that saying that came from AA, but when I asked about it, she said she came by it purely because of what it said and it didn’t imply that she had a connection to AA. …But you must remember, people who are connected to Alcoholics Anonymous are sworn to uphold privacy for other members, thus the name.

There is a reason that people who studied with Marj Barstow had a reply when asked about how they used Alexander Technique in their own lives – whereas those who were trained in the UK only could think of doing another lesson with their teachers. Marj Barstow made her students think about how people used language – when they were talking and thinking to themselves. She also made you remember how responsible you need to be when you gave orders or directions to other people. She was the first teacher to regard speaking and putting your experience into words as the beginning expression of the first part of mindful action on your own. Marj believed that thought is the first part of movement. Previous to Marj, talking was pretty much ignored as a vehicle of teaching A.T… and even A.T. teachers would merely point at Alexander’s books if you asked any questions about ideas. Marj would answer your intellectual questions if you didn’t pull your head and body down while you asked them. If you did pull down, she’d consider the manner closed and it was time to change the subject until you were ready and willing for the next challenge of doing better at taking on these challenges at another time.

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