In my current dedication to effecting release of Chai, Bamboo and Watoto from dreary zoo conditions to much happier elephant sanctuary in Tennessee, I am doing everything possible from the means-whereby principle. As previously stated, the urgency for the elephants is great and can easily involve end-gaining. I want them released NOW if not sooner. How about today already?
Frustration, dismay, anger at the Zoo’s arrogance and callous disregard of the elephant’s misery could easily derail attending to the means-whereby. Meanwhile, the elephants suffer, and being effective in assisting their release has to be my priority. My anger won’t make a positive difference. The zoo doesn’t care about my anger, and the elephants only want freedom and ease in their lives.
Thus, I gave a benefit day of teaching. All students wrote their checks to the elephant campaign. My students were extraordinarily generous, and I had the wonderful opportunity to teach for a larger outcome. I encourage all Alexander teachers to consider giving a benefit day of teaching for whatever organization speaks to you as worthy of your time and energy. It is truly a win-win scenario.
Applying the means-whereby to a major campaign necessitates good use on many levels. Questions for myself include: how can I best offer my skills and interests to achieve the goal in mind? How can I use my current instrument of self for best outcome? Can I improve the use of my self to make the best contribution?
Given that the facts and details concerning the elephants cause me great emotional distress, how can I prioritize my response to be most effective? And, how do I help create conditions overall for successful outcome?
This is not about me, this is about finding the as yet unknown means-whereby for successful outcome to intention. The use of the self in a comprehensive campaign requires humility, willingness to learn, working with like minded others, acceptance of potential failure, attention to effective process, and a dedication to dynamically allowing new means to reveal themselves.
Just as in an Alexander lesson, in which the student learns a new and effortless response to the stimulus of being moved in and out of the chair, so in a larger context I am learning to allow dynamic effortlessness, surprising means, and a willingness to allow with intention and attention. I am learning the means of contribution, the limits of my urgency, and the conditions required for accomplishing desired outcome of elephant release from zoo to sanctuary.
There are situations in which all of our best intentions for good use of the self are thwarted, and our skills in response are utterly defeated. Demands can increase to levels that no amount of dynamic non-interference can be effective in pulling down less and going up more. Although this is a dis-spiriting experience, it is a potential reality, and needs to be acknowledged as a possible outcome.
If we, as Alexander teachers and students, find ourselves in situations that challenge our skills in response beyond our capabilities, what then? We can pull down with frustration and distress, or make conscious choices otherwise. Sometimes recognizing our limitation in response to great challenge can indicate the wise choice to remove ourselves from situations that are very difficult for us. And of course, removal from difficult situations is not always possible. Accepting our own limitations is key. If backing off from a challenging scenario is not an option, the least we can do is acknowledge our best intentions and choose to go up as well as we can, without judgement about our success in going up. Forgiveness and patience, an internal request for quiet, are important ingredients in dynamic non-interference. The Alexander Technique does not sell perfection, but instead the notion of allowing a means-whereby, a process, for new solutions to any stimulus.
We have the option of “failing” to respond as would wish but not diminishing our selves further with reaction to perceived “failure”. Refusing to judge, remaining dynamically open, accepting limitations, and being willing for new experience may be the best we can do in very challenging situations. And, in this refusal to layer judgement upon limitation, new solutions may reveal themselves, as well as a potential new experience. Good use involves many layers of the self. Life provides the challenges to explore the myriad layers.
The Alexander Technique provides skills for response to stimulus, and the potential for consciously considered response in any situation. F.M. Alexander viewed the individual as integrated and inseparable in mental/physical/emotional use. He viewed the self as a whole, and the use of the self as an entirely integrated response.
In my current involvement in effecting release of zoo elephants to sanctuary, many of my habitual reactions are challenged. I am required to shift my use to a new level. The urgency to assist the elephants stimulates my habitual reaction to push, rant, and insist. My habit of response, however, is quite ineffective in achieving my desired results. Thus, I am learning to inhibit (allow a dynamic pause and an internal quiet) to welcome a new, as yet unknown means-whereby.
Today, I went to the zoo to observe the elephants and their keepers. I had the opportunity to engage a zoo docent in conversation. Rather than impose my habitual mode, based in urgency, of confrontation, I quieted and listened, asked questions and listened, engaged instead of confronting. This yielded much information that would have been inaccessible if I was doing my habitual confrontation mode on a subject of urgency. I learned of the docent’s sincerity, and she learned of my sincerity. I did not present myself as an adversary, but as a person who is informed and deeply interested in elephant well-being.
Believe me, I had to step back and quiet myself numerous times during this conversation, but since my priority (like the priority of having a free neck, a long wide back, etc) is in the elephants’ release to sanctuary, it was a necessary choice. Do I want to be right or do I want to be effective? Clearly, being effective is my choice, and thus the best use of myself is required.
Is this easy? No, it is not! Just as in my long, arduous recovery from patella fracture which required 2 and 1/2 years, this project requires patience, willingness for the means to reveal themselves, and a continued dedication to applying Alexander principles to activity.
I learn new ways to quiet and to endure emotional distress, and find new skills in response for a larger priority.
The campaign to release the elephants confined in the zoo to happy sanctuary involves tremendous opportunities for applying AT principles. My own habitual emotional guarding from any upsetting information about animals has yielded to a new painfully open and more wide ranged emotional experience. Going beyond my habitually closed response has opened my heart, and changed my use of self. In Alexander terms, I have begun to explore the discomforts beyond habitual response. This is not easy, but necessary, as my priority is to make the best use of myself and explore new means-whereby on behalf of the elephants. I could continue to guard and not be effective, or refuse to guard (narrow and shorten) and have a new more effective and satisfying experience.
My more open painfully aware heart requires me to make choices in response that are new to me. The campaign to free Chai, Bamboo and Watoto (not just “elephants”, but individuals with their own needs and preferences as intelligent beings) involves huge obstacles. The Zoo has financial and political resources that far outweigh those of us who advocate for elephant release to sanctuary. The urgency is great, as Chai, Bamboo and Watoto endure miserably limited conditions. My habitual response would be to push, scream, urge and activate, but this reaction is not useful. I have to quiet myself, and look for the means-whereby to reveal itself, while also remaining dynamic in myself. My constant question has become: how can I use myself best to benefit the elephants?
My broken heart has become a surprisingly expanded heart. The habit of avoiding distress was based on fear that I could not survive upsetting information about any animal. Now I have too much information that is deeply disturbing. The fear of too much pain has been vanquished by the necessity to act despite pain. This is a far preferable experience to guarding and not acting. Better to effect change and suffer the emotional distress (and learn to ride that river with new response) than to wait passively for productive change and suffer from not participating.
How to go up more and pull down less in response to an overwhelming set of obstacles is my current challenge. This requires a total response of self on all mental/physical/emotional levels. How to face a wall of resistance without diminishing the instrument of self is my new subject and obsession.
Meanwhile, the elephants suffer, and I can only make my own choices in response to help them. I am writing, speaking, giving a benefit day of teaching, requesting help from many sources, hoping for the means-whereby to reveal themselves in an active fashion.
Thank you to all who have offered help, checks, support! You have also risked heartbreak by knowing enough to act and participate with your entire knowing selves.