Jury Duty as Crisis-tunity

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on November 23, 2019 in Uncategorized

“It’s always something” Roseanna Roseanna Dana

Life brings us endless opportunities to learn from delays, disruptions, surprises and unexpected shifts. Since we bring our entire instrument of self to every experience, we can also bring our constructive response, and view a challenge as an opportunity for refinement of our skills.

Like many people, I have dreaded the disruption of life that a jury duty summons implies. Loss of income, removal from preferred routines, and the weighty responsibility seemed daunting at best and overwhelming at worst. My dread had no influence on the court system, however. I was called, selected and I served, with a jury of my peers, on a civil trial of several weeks duration.

No amount of complaining in my brain could change circumstances. I knew from many previous crisis-tunities that there is always something to learn, a new experience to welcome, and a new application of dynamic non-interference. Thus, I began asking myself: how can I bring my best instrument of self to jury duty? This shift in emphasis from anxious resentment to possible learning increased curiosity about constructive solutions. Here is what worked best for me in creating conditions so that I could rise to this new demand.

1.Notice bias/habitual thinking

The presiding judge at our trial instructed us to remain keenly aware of our own biases, to pay close attention to testimony of witnesses, and to make our decision based on reason. I recast “bias” as “habitual thinking”. Being removed from familiar and usual conditions heightened awareness of bias/habitual thinking. Unusual circumstances revealed my usual reactions. Recognizing bias/habit is the first step to dynamically allowing a new response.

2. Walking, walking, walking

Jury duty is exhaustingly sedentary. As an Alexander teacher, I can sit well, but I rarely sit more than briefly during my work day. Thus, during lunch break, I walked miles for refreshment, motion, views and overall renewal. I rediscovered serene urban parks and discovered quiet urban spaces new to me. Walking quieted my entire self, as I welcomed the rhythm of the streets. My habitual thinking lowered in noise level and intensity. I found the steep hills in downtown Seattle to be particularly constructive in lowering my internal chatter volume.

3. Fun and connection

Jury duty is an odd social experience. The common thread that draws the thirteen jurors together (the case) is the experience the jury cannot discuss until deliberations begin. (Jurors cannot discuss the case with anyone until the case is complete). The jury, comprised of citizens from many walks of life and points of view, has an opportunity to find means of trust and communication other than the daily intensity of the trial, or the familiarity of “normal” life.

What gave us connection in the daily tedium was humor in the jury room. We had several themes of amusement that gave us a shared vocabulary. Laughing lightened us even on heavy testimony days. Once we reached deliberations, we could proceed with mutual trust toward our decision. This is not the same as agreement, but trust is necessary for discussion and shared decision making. Sharing jokes helped us be at ease with each other.

I was enormously relieved to return to the work I love and the life I have created. Being removed from work highlighted how deeply I enjoy the complexities and challenges of teaching the Alexander Technique. Relief was also enhanced by gratitude for all I learned as a juror: the necessary formality of the courtroom, the language of the law, and the potential for strangers, confined in an experience, to work together in a reasonable manner. I also learned, yet again, that a disruption can inspire new skills in rising to demand

Response to living

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on May 27, 2018 in Uncategorized

In Alexander lessons, we learn to respond to increasing demands with reduced interference, a lively quiet, and greater elasticity. This ongoing exploration informs the entire integrated, inseparable system of self.  We refine our tools of attention and intention during ordinary activities (sitting and standing) so that we can bring our refined tools to further adventures.

We potentially learn, via Alexander lessons, to, for example, easily rise from a chair, use our voices, walk up stairs, play a musical instrument, problem solve.  We become skilled in dynamic non-interference. We can refine our instruments of self by means that are constantly new.   We relinquish the notion of a right answer. Learning becomes much less predictable and far more interesting.  Increasing demands seem intriguing.  We can respond to the inevitable challenges of life with confidence in our means, rather than anxiety about results.  We have become more elastic, and can respond to life more resiliently.

Life, of course, includes surprise demands and sudden challenges. Illness, accidents, mortality, glitches, quandaries and questions can halt us in our habitual tracks or become opportunities to learn further elastic and dynamic responses. Through the experience of Alexander lessons, we can relinquish guaranteed outcomes, refuse to even define the activity, and explore the means of response. The means are learned, deepened and extended by experience. We strengthen our means by using our means in increasingly demanding activities.

The outcome is not our concern. Who cares if you stand from the chair?  The means are valuable because they apply to everything.

Post surgical recalibration

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on April 14, 2018 in Uncategorized

Recovery from major surgery challenges the entire continuum of self. After-effects of general anesthesia, restrictions in activity due to incision protection or other considerations, and shifting signals from all interior systems are just a few of required post surgical adjustments.

Any change in the integrated instrument of self necessitates overall recalibration. We are mobiles of interconnected systems, in ongoing balance as the winds of life shift.

As teachers and students of the Alexander Technique, we have choices and tools, no matter our condition of self.

Allow Time

Healing requires time, and is unlikely to proceed in a linear or predictable manner. The continuum of emotion-thinking-sensation-movement (which may be sequenced differently, depending on stimuli) has been shifted in axis by surgery prep, anesthesia, surgery, hospitalization and drugs. All systems have to recover at their ideal rhythms, in relationship to each other.

“Allowing time” as an attitude gives a general signal that the integrated self can be trusted. Much as in a hands-on Alexander lesson, we allow the time to have a new experience. We allow the time for a new means of proceeding.

Happy Curiosity

Surgery is traumatic. The essence of identity is shaken, tossed, thrown into turmoil. Allowing time is essential so that a happy curiosity can resume.

We can start small: “if I can’t do this familiar activity in a familiar way, how do I allow an unrecognizable way?”. Then proceed to bigger questions: “what am I learning in this upheaval?”. We can build confidence in our  dynamic non interference, in allowing  new and surprising solutions. We can allow unfamiliar experience as a means of learning.

Welcome Demands

Demands provide opportunities to learn new responses. We can ask, as demands increase:

Where is the ground? (Ah, there it is, meeting me where I am)

Where is my attention? Can I allow it to broaden beyond previous experience?

How much less can I fix, do, interfere, make everything like it was?

Continue the Adventure


Rising to higher demands

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on March 17, 2018 in Uncategorized

Of the many possible experiences in ongoing Alexander Technique lessons is that of rising to a demand with an elastic and curious response. We begin with the familiar activity of sitting and standing, and in that activity refine intention and attention, learn to interfere less, allow more. Then we proceed to more demanding activities.

All aspects of self are inseparable and integrated. If we can allow an easier means of moving from sitting to standing, we can allow a new means of learning.  We learn to dynamically allow new solutions, and to welcome support beyond our own habitual response.

Life, of course, has bigger ideas than sitting and standing. Challenges sneak or spring upon us. The plot shifts without our prior approval.

Our outcomes are not guaranteed. None of us are invincible, and we all eventually sleep the endless sleep. In the interim, we can allow time, welcome new demands, spring to the challenge and rise from a chair with surprising ease.

the demands of living: crisis-tunity

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on March 4, 2018 in Uncategorized

Life is unpredictable. All aspects of living shift constantly in patterns frequently beyond our perception. Our only effective skill is in making choices where we can, and relinquishing control where our choice is not an option.

Our instrument of response for the whirls and lurches of life can be refined, polished, shifted and explored. Since the instrument of self integrates all aspects of being (physiological, emotional, sensory, psychological) in a continuum of signals and responses, a change in any part of the system is a change to the entire. We can rise to the challenge of increased demand with a more elastic response. We can use challenge to become ever more refined in our tools of intention and attention. We can welcome challenge as reason to learn and grow.

Essential to effective response to crisis is a happy curiosity: what new skills in elastic response can I learn in this difficult situation?  Can I broaden my attention, allow the ground to support me as I spring up, quiet my mental chatter, see the lovely and endlessly complex world outside myself? Can I allow the micro-moment of a new response, over and over again?

Hands-on Alexander lessons can provide a supported experience of happy curiosity as a means of change. It’s not about “getting it right”. It’s about allowing, repeatedly, something new.

The adventure continues

Indirection not correction

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on September 6, 2017 in Uncategorized

There is an entire language of the unified self that we learn as we study the Alexander Technique.  During Alexander lessons, we set aside what may seem “wrong” or “right”, and even what “wrong or right” might mean. We learn to minimize stability when availability provides a more effective and satisfying response. We become more comfortable with not knowing, assessing less, experiencing more. This education requires time, curiosity and an ongoing refusal to “make something happen”.

Typically, there is an identified problem that compels us to investigate the Alexander Technique: a sore neck or back; performance issues for dancers, musicians, actors; a longing for deeper comfort and awareness. And, once we begin lessons, the constructive unraveling begins.  We may  not know what caused the “problem”, and we do not need to know specifics in order to allow a solution. The tools we refine via in person, hands-on Alexander lessons are intention and attention. We don’t become “problem solvers”, we become “solution allowers”.

A nearly universal temptation  is to identify the “problem”, then correct by direct means: pull down shoulders that are perceived to be lifted, straighten backs and necks, push into width and length, muscle ourselves into shape.  This becomes an endless and fruitless battle, as the elastic and entire instrument of self cannot be pummeled into a cooperative and responsive condition. The corrective battle also requires perception based on a flawed instrument, a belief in what is “right”, and an urgency that undermines curiosity and process. Curiosity is a lot more fun than correction.  We are designed to be curious, and we learn more when we are having fun.

The principles of indirection, intention and attention learned in Alexander lessons can be applied to any activity, as the instrument by which you learn and act is improved in refining both instrument and means.  You can learn a new language, solve a software problem, engage in political activism, develop an effective business plan, or learn a new, complex piece of music with an instrument of self that allows a solution rather than fixing for a result.

Fix less, allow more, and welcome curiosity.

Non-mechanical problem solving: injury recovery

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on April 11, 2017 in Uncategorized

Experiment: your dominant hand is now unable to take weight or pressure, and your dominant thumb is partially immobilized. Pain allows a much reduced range of movement. Attempt, within limits of safety and pain, the following activities: cut with scissors, write a check, brush your teeth,  prepare dinner, open a pain medicine bottle with child proof cap.

The above, with the addition of teaching my full schedule of hands-on Alexander lessons since the day after injury, are some of the challenges that are guiding me to recover, renew, relearn.  How can I move from undoing to doing without doing too much within the context of injury?

The tools of the Alexander Technique are intention and attention. These are not static tools, but constantly refined and changing means of thinking with the entire integrated self.

My primary intentions as I proceed in activities are: to not hurt myself further, to allow pain to be a friendly signal, and to attend to my unified self in the wider world. I don’t want to push through pain in order to, say, open the pain med bottle. If it hurts to open the bottle, I can: attempt the activity in a new way, give myself the time for a different means, or ask for help from more fully able others. Or, I can decide I don’t need the pain meds at all!  I also remind myself that what hurt yesterday or even an hour ago may not hurt now. New means may have occurred to me, and injured ligaments, tendons and muscles may have changed. They are alive and responsive after all. The injured tissues do not function in isolation, but in the larger complexity of my entire thinking self.

A happy curiosity works best for problem solving. This quality of curiosity relies upon a wide attention span, and trust in the abilities of my entire self, rather than a narrowed focus on the area of injury.  When my attention zooms to my wrist and what I can’t do, my entire self pulls in and down. I become discouraged and despondent. If, instead, I allow the time to see and hear the world outside myself, to notice how the ground supports me, that my breath can move through my entire spine, and that my instrument of self changes constantly, the solutions seem to do themselves.  I am hopeful again.

Injury has also given me the opportunity to notice habits that were previously invisible to me. Writing with pen and paper, which remains challenging, is an example. As I attempt to form letters and proceed from thought through arm to fingers to paper, I notice unnecessary tightening throughout myself. This is not merely bracing against pain (I have some of that too, of course), but most likely what I typically do while writing. I can ask bracing to cease, even if writing then seems impossible. The moment of seeming impossibility is when friendly curiosity comes in handy. I don’t have to figure out the means; I do have to allow the time and curiosity to let the means flow from brain to hand to paper.

Injury, and the full recovery I intend to experience, may thus give me new problem solving skills, and improve my overall use in the process. Within limits of safety and pain, I continue the exploration.

Yet another crisi-tunity: injury as opportunity

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on April 7, 2017 in Uncategorized

There is no rushing recovery from injury. The entire integrated system of self takes the time needed to repair, renew and relearn. This is not a “parts” repair but an entire self opportunity to do life differently. We are, after all, integrated systems of complexity.

As I recover, renew and relearn from injury (severe sprain to my dominant hand/wrist/arm), the following inquiries seem essential

Q.How can I do what I would like to do within limits of pain and safety?

As is natural after an injury, attention focuses on further protection of the injured and painful area. Although I am in no way suggesting ignoring or minimizing pain, a broader  attention to the entire self can be a constructive tool. As I attempt to use my hand to write, teach a lesson, open a door, brush my teeth, I can adjust attention to include how I am contracting in my thinking, how I am disconnecting from the ground, how I am no longer seeing or hearing the evidence of Spring. Once I widen and expand attention, solutions in co-ordination occur to me. I know more clearly what is safe to attempt and what isn’t, and how to problem solve in either case.

I can see pain as a friendly signal of current limits, not an alarm meriting contraction and panic.  I can respond to the friendly signal  with constructive solutions instead of freezing into an overall mode of protection that typically hurts more, not less.

Q. Can I allow a new way of doing nearly everything?

Injury to a dominant hand brings so many activities, so much identity, under scrutiny. This is also where opportunity lies, the crisis that brings new learning (crisi-tunity).  I welcome the time, the uncertainty, the potential unfamiliarity of allowing a new response.  This seems to me to be the heart of the Alexander Technique: a means of dynamically refusing to interfere so that uncertainty is the reliable rule, and response to uncertainty a creatively shifting response.

Election survival guide

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on October 2, 2016 in Uncategorized

The current U.S. election season has sparked global, national, local and personal anxieties. Uncertainty, tension and an overwhelming amount of constant information exhaust us and deplete us. How can we apply Alexander principles in these stressful conditions?

Our primary choice is that of our own response. Since we bring the entire instrument of self as an integrated and inseparable system to every activity of life, the more we learn to use the tools of intention and attention, and to quiet habitual interference, the more refined our instrument of self becomes, and the more effective we can be as demands rise.

Some specific suggestions:

The steady onslaught of media, social media, news, tweets, posts, can be reduced in volume and intensity.  If I find I cannot quiet my internal chatter, I allow the ground and breath to support me, and  I reduce the externally sourced noise. Frequent breaks from devices, logging out of social media, reading instead of watching, all give my nervous system a respite, so that I can resume elasticity, and thus retain perspective and connection. I quiet to remain active.

We learn with our entire instrument of self. When we deliberately seek to learn something, we have an opportunity to observe how we learn, what works best, and to quiet habitual thinking, moving, framing. Learning a new language, new music, new choreography, new mediums of expression bring exhilaration and a sense of possibility. We are, then,  more expansive, responsive instruments. And, we might have fun, and since we all learn better when we are having fun, we can have fun learning to have fun learning. To hell with doom and gloom.  I am learning here.

Democracy requests your very best use of self. What an opportunity we have to explore effective action through refinement of the instrument of self in demanding times!  Take your refined self and DO something: register voters, make phone calls, write calm and composed letters to the editor. When we worry, we tighten and tire. We fix our positions, brace for a fall. If we prioritize being effective,  we can remain elastic, move with more ease as the political waves get wilder. The active quiet we develop will be essential no matter what comes next.


After the lesson: recreating “feeling”

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on September 16, 2016 in Uncategorized

Alexander students often ask if they need to be recreating the “feeling” of a lesson after their lesson. How else can they retain the experience of a hands-on lesson?

In an Alexander lesson, the teacher’s refined use of self in hands-on contact potentially expands and refines the student’s co-ordination, and choice about co-ordination. It is a co-operative process. Nothing is forced, shaped, or rushed. It’s not what you do, it’s what you don’t do. A dynamic undoing builds a new skill of dynamic undoing, which is a very dynamic skill indeed. Years of habitual doing begin to quiet. The instrument of self changes.

The attempt to recreate a “feeling” recruits memory, current sensory feedback accuracy (based on entire instrument of self), and a belief that recreating a previously experienced moment without the context, contact, light, emotions, blood pressure, brain state, and muscle activity of that moment is possible.  In recreating this moment, we have to fix ourselves into what the “right” feeling might be. It requires us to return our entire co-ordination to a moment that is almost guaranteed to be inaccurately recalled. Instead of moving into new neural connections, we fix into a recalled mode.

Your tool is your attention and your means is your intention. External attention to the broader, wider, world beyond you, up and out of yourself, connects you elastically to life.  Effective intention dynamically refuses to interfere so something new can happen.

Happy curiosity brings your lessons to life.