Using the self: learning in life

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on August 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

The Alexander Technique offers skills to respond to life’s activities with awareness and choice.  These skills require time, dedication and ongoing inquiry.  We learn to know our habitual responses so we can relinquish them and allow new modes of response.  We give up old pathways to forge new ones.

We can apply Alexander principles to how we move through life on many levels, not only our “postural set”.  We can extend the co-ordination of self to life’s many challenges and opportunities.  We bring the entire instrument of self into every activity.

I received a summons for jury duty some months ago.  My initial response was one of dread and resistance; how could I manage my teaching practice and life with the unpredictable outcome of being chosen for a jury?  My neck tightened and my back narrowed and my mind became noisy with anxiety.

On the morning of jury call, I decided that a new experience awaited me, and that using my self with refinement would likely result in a better experience than being limited by fear and dread.  Expectation of experience pre-sets us on neural, muscular, mental and emotional levels.  We prepare, often unnecessarily, for what we fear will happen instead of remaining open to what might be possible.  This is why, as Alexander teachers and students, we explore a dynamic pause, an overall quieting, so we can have a more reasoned response and a new experience.

I went along to the jury pool (hours of waiting with hundreds of people in bad lighting) with the intention to relinquish expectations, hopes and dreads, to attend primarily to my field of attention, and to allow new experience to inform me. After adjusting to very collapse oriented seating and the aforementioned terrible lighting, I began to observe myself and others with a happy curiosity.  Jury duty brings a wide cross section of humans into shared time and space.  I watched people, read books, waited and quieted myself. It was rather entertaining, really.

After some hours, I was called to a jury selection.  The solemnity of entering the court room sharpened my observation.  This was serious, and needed to be taken seriously.

In order to request dismissal, I had to explain to a very stern judge that as a self employed person with a private practice; a long trial would be a hardship.  Explaining the Alexander Technique to the judge, two attorneys and a room full of potential jurors was rather fun. I was calm and clear because I had no set outcome in mind.  The freedom of my neck and the breathability of my back were more important than “winning” dismissal.

The judge, after some commentary about the Technique being “a new one on me”, let me go.

No desired outcome was key.  If I had been fixed on my own way, I may not have been adequately calm to be convincing.  My neck would have been constricted and my voice ungrounded. And, if I had been selected for a jury, I hope I would have brought my best use of self to the task.  No bad outcome was really possible if I was using myself well.

Our only choice is in the use of ourselves.  We can learn to react less and less to fears so that we can respond more and more with possibility and ease. This learning is incremental, cumulative, ongoing.  No desired outcome except continued learning, as long as we are willing to learn.