Describing Perception

How do you perceive yourself? Well, you just do it. That’s an inadequate answer, but it is all most people have.

It’s my business to be teaching people to perceive what they take for granted by teaching Alexander Technique. I use the often ignored kinesthetic sense as a medium, rather than the visual or auditory…but maybe here we can cross-pollinate with it. Maybe we can use the same process and apply it to perception in general – say, the visual sense, so it could be communicated in writing.

In Alexander Technique classes, students walk across the room and try to describe how they are walking. They can’t describe much, usually. So I introduce them to categories to help them to form some questions for themselves. These categories function like thinking tools to organize and focus their point of view. The categories are:

  • * timing
  • * sequence
  • * quality
  • * direction

What you would do is to ask yourself how each of these affects what you are observing about yourself. Once they have these categories, their ability to describe what they’re experiencing for themselves works a little easier. Their new ability to observe and describe what is happening works so well they can later design, on the fly, inventive ways for getting past some pretty serious self-imposed limitations.

So perhaps we could do this with perception in general. We could make general categories to help people ask themselves specific questions. Answering these questions would give us new perceptual information out of what we usually take for granted.

We’re talking about the raw perception, not the content. So – how we direct attention to say, the visual sense with these categories? If I were to apply the same categories I just mentioned, I’d get something like:

  1. * Quality: attention can be focused, like a searchlight, or diffuse like an overhead light.
  2. * Timing: depending on when you pay attention, different things will be happening. A frozen image will show you stuff that you would miss in a movie, for instance. Bits and pieces do not have the same effect as the whole. Timing will influence the figure-ground relationship of what you can see. If you’re moving fast while traveling, you’ll have a whole different experience compared to moving slowly.
  3. * Sequence: chains of paying attention to one thing after another bring different results; and mixing up sequences actually has an associative emotional effect. It’s easy to mistake sequence for cause and effect.
  4. * Direction: Where we are oriented contributes to Point Of View. POV involves your motives about what you want others to do, react and agree with you. Your POV colors how you describe what you see, merely because it has to do with the way you’re facing.

Anyone else want to try one or more of these four categories about perception and apply them? Let me know how it goes…

2 thoughts on “Describing Perception

  1. Yes, good suggestion. Since I’ve written this post, I have taken your suggestion to enlarge these four points about how to observe yourself to also include a fifth category: Relationship.

  2. To the category of Quality I would add the measurement of attention that remains within onself. So whether the perception is focused or diffused the attention still encompasses the self along with whatever content ‘out there’ is being perceived. I can then – as Mr. Gurdjieff says – always and everywhere remember myself. And then I can be responsible for my actions.

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