The Crucible

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on August 24, 2014 in Uncategorized


* a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to high temperatures

* a place or occasion of severe test or trial

* a place or situation in which elements interact to produce something new

Intensity and trial come to us all, hopefully.  In other words, we are called upon to interact with life in a manner that yields new experience.

Using the above definition, provided by Lord Google,  as a structural web:

1.  a container.  Our sensations, perceptions, emotions, thoughts, awarenesses are a series of containers.  Breath connects the container inside with a broader container outside.  We are contained by the wider world, and by the conditions in which we live.  Containers within containers.  The less we interfere, the more connected the containers become.

2. ah, the severe trial. Our perspective, sensory reliability, and refinement in awareness, our entire integrated  instrument of self, responds to all of life’s activities. Demanding activities call upon us to extend beyond habits of protective stabilization and/or collapse, or combination of both.  We all have our unique style of habitual interference, and unless we know better, we go full force with habitual means. But,when life becomes more demanding, our best use of self is needed. We can learn to  see this like a slow motion video, observing ourselves in the rapids.  Am I compressing or expanding, resisting or assisting?  Can my breath connect me again?  Can I allow new solutions?  Where is my choice at this moment so I can allow fresh experience?

3.  which leads ideally to the 3rd definition:  creating a brainstate in which elements formerly seen as contradictory are now working together, due to a broader view.  A severe trial can expand the container of possibility.  Using Alexander tools of dynamic non-interference, spatial thinking, unity of self, we improve the instrument with which we solve problems.  The container changes, so experience changes, and connection beyond the container changes.  Expectation gives way to a curious welcoming.


Dynamic non-interference: meaning and means

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on August 13, 2014 in Uncategorized

As Alexander teachers and students, we view our participation in life’s activities through the often indefinable lens of Alexander principles.  We use words to describe a wordless experience.  We wrestle with the gap between  experience and description. We improve the use of ourselves and can’t describe exactly how that happened.

Alexander  Technique skills of intention and attention rely upon, and are deepened by, a refusal to interfere by habitually reacting, changing our shapes directly, relying on past information to assess present conditions, or rushing to outcome without consideration of means. It is a mental/emotional/sensory/physical process all at once, because we, as animals on Earth, are designed to respond totally to the totality.

The essential “pause to allow a new response” (otherwise know as inhibition in Alexander terminology) is not a deadening, freezing or collapse.  It is the active and open state of curiosity that relies upon welcoming a new means of response.  Instead of traveling the same, grooved pathways, we simultaneously  intend both an activity and a new pathway for activation.  This dynamic non-inteference is a continuous process through life that supports and requires curiosity and discovery. We refine the instrument of self by refusing to use it mindlessly and repeatedly in the same mode. This refinement requires dynamic intention and attention, a quietly enlivened state of self that informs all activity.

We each have to climb the mountain ourselves.  With the assistance of an Alexander teacher, we forge your own ways, and with skills we develop from experience, we forge  further onward.  What was previously effortful becomes easier.  Ease becomes the new barometer. A happy curiosity  quiets effort.  This is where the rubber of dynamic non-interference really hits the road.  We learn to welcome experience, so we can learn more about  skills in considered response.  Every activity presents an opportunity to learn.DSC04063

Expanding Possibilities

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on July 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

As students of the Alexander Technique, we continuously refine skills for intention and attention.  We learn to notice our habitual reactions to internal and external stimuli, and to choose new, more potentially constructive responses.  By saying no to the old, we welcome the new.

This new spectrum of choices  may begin with refusing to tighten or collapse in daily, previously mindless, activities, such as sitting, standing, walking.  Over time, and with the expert guidance of teachers more experienced than ourselves, we take our happy curiosity, and willingness to learn, into more complex activities.  We attend to the possible, not just the previous.

Life is not stable or predictable.  It has never been so and, hopefully, will never be so.  We are designed to change and subtly  adjust to the shifting conditions of life.    We can begin to use the instrument of our selves with intelligence, and become more attuned to the planet on which we live.  We may think far more creatively if we are using ourselves in a connected and expansive manner. The instrument by which we perceive changes, and thus perceptions and possibilities change.

As human animals on Earth, we can respond to the challenges of life mentally, emotionally, kinesthetically, physically, and all at once.  “One at a time and all at once”  is a quote attributed to F.M. Alexander.  We are always in the continuum of thought/sensation/movement/emotion, and within the larger continuum of conditions.  Waves within waves support and inform us.

We can allow habit to cling, expecting the world to remain stable and our habitual response to be effective (despite evidence to the contrary), or we can dynamically not interfere with the instrument of self, and enjoy a new experience of ourselves and of our world. We can be fluid and elastic.  We can request an improved condition of self so that perception broadens and possibility expands because the instrument becomes more reliable.   We can use our attention, through the precise mechanism of the body, to explore a happy curiosity about life and our response to life.

We can expand our possibilities.

The continuum: no hierarchy

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on June 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

In the lives we currently live, as privileged  members of the First World, we have the dubious luxury of labeling some moments “more important” than others.   Capitalism relies upon this thinking.  Some activities are valued more than others, some moments are seen as more important..  We disconnect from our basic ease and primary connections in our urgency to find meaning.

F.M. Alexander began his journey of discovery to resolve a difficulty.  His personal challenge became an opportunity, and his opportunity became a Technique that has benefitted many individuals.  All the moments of his journey were necessary.

All the moments of our individual journeys are necessary.  There is no one moment when Alexander principles count more or less.  It is the continued intention and attention that adds up, the quiet insistence on learning that becomes a way of being. By increments, we learn to make choices where we can make choices, and to allow flow when we have no choice but to be in flow.  Gravity remains constant; our response  can be elastic  and full. We can pull down a little less and go up a little more.

Any moment becomes an opportunity.  We are mortal.  There are no guarantees.  If every moment is necessary, perhaps we can welcome and be awake to every moment.  The use of the integrated self seems essential.

Perhaps we can connect more widely to the world and to ourselves in the world by acknowledging the continuum of response to our moments, acceptance of our participation, in the adventure of being alive.

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.

The Means-Whereby applied to Life

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on July 14, 2013 in Uncategorized

As an Alexander teacher, my intention is to apply Alexander principles, such as dynamic non-interference and thinking with the whole self, to the activities of living.  Especially in response to emotionally charged activities, it is deeply difficult to refuse habit and allow a new response.  The more important an opinion, activity or belief is to me, the more my use deteriorates.  I fix, I tighten, I revert to my same old worst case defensive me.  I am right, I am scared and I am over-stabilizing myself.  No elastic response is possible in such a condition.

The campaign to retire local zoo elephants to sanctuary is hugely (no pun intended) important to me.  I felt called to advocate and act on their behalf some years ago, and will continue until I can watch them happily adjusting to their more humane sanctuary conditions on a web cam.

It is very easy in this sort of politically overwhelming and dauntingly complex campaign to divide thinking into “us” and “them”, “us” being elephant advocates, “them” being the zoo industry.  This enemy thinking is hard to shake the more I know about the zoo industry and elephants.  I have hardened but not become more effective.

Suddenly, after years of fighting the zoo industry in thought and action, of feeling frustrated, hopeless, defeated, I realized that I have to think bigger, just as I would while teaching a lesson, or recovering from a major injury, or attending to a conversation.  I can insist on being right, or I can have a free neck.  A free neck generally indicates I am using my entire self more easily and clearly, and that I can allow solutions to occur that my habituated enemy response would have obscured.

How to shift the dynamic from division and blame to shared interests and co-operation? Or at least a productive conversation? All I can really shift is my own use of self.  If that is the sole change I can make, I will endeavor to do so ( with recognition that I may fail repeatedly).  My interest is in effective means-whereby for the elephants. In order to attend to them, I must attend to my instrument of self with clarity and quiet.

I’d like to give up being right or defining enemies for a free neck so I can allow the means-whereby to free the elephants.  Stay tuned for how this goes along.

The Glowing Screen and the Use of Self

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on April 21, 2013 in Uncategorized

Let’s face it, the glowing screen is so addictive and ubiquitous that we all take it as a given.  We check the weather on our devices instead of looking out the window.  We check websites on our smart phones about dogs while walking our dogs. My doctor gazes intently at a screen instead of looking at me.  We can touch a screen or press a button and get instant results.  Outcome rules, process recedes.  We are confined to our craniums as experience becomes ever more virtual.

More and more frequently, I get inquiries about Alexander lessons expressing hope that all aches, pains and limitations will be resolved in just a few lessons.  This assumes that aches, pains, limitations are “fixable” in a mechanical manner,  when their development was not only mechanical.  We may use machines with increased dependence and frequency, but we are not machines, nor is any animal on the planet. Addressing our aches, pains and limitations requires a non-mechanical set of skills, including tools of intention and attention, as well as the mysterious and valuable skill of dynamic non-interference.

The concepts of an entirely integrated self, a unified field of co-ordination, and a process of undoing habitual reactions become ever more arcane.  We use ourselves as our devices demand, rather than choosing a new response in the live moment.  We think less with our whole selves and allow our devices to think and sense for us.

I composed this post using pen and paper because I enjoy the connection between brain and hand, the feel of the pen contacting paper, the way narrative thinking proceeds in this activity. The experience of typing these words is a very different experience than the more manual process.  Hearing birds outside is different than hearing them on a website.  Talking to a friend on the phone or in person is different than texting.  All possibilities have their merits, but if we lose the use of the self,  our conscious response to stimuli, and our value of the means-whereby as we accomplish our ends, it seems to me we will be losing the point of being alive and present on the planet now.


AT principles applied to daunting project

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on March 1, 2013 in Uncategorized

As has been noted previously in posts, I am dedicating time, attention and intention to a campaign to re-home local elephants drearily confined in the zoo to much more humane sanctuary.  The zoo industry brings huge political and financial resources to bear in preventing this compassionate outcome.  Our campaign faces enormous resistance.

The task I have agreed to complete in service to the campaign involves viewing and documenting zoo keeper records of many years.  The information in these records is deeply upsetting.  It is one thing to imagine  Chai, Bamboo and Watoto’s discomforts, and quite another to see all their continuously serious health issues (mostly due to lack of space for movement) spelled out in black and white.  They have suffered and are suffering terribly.

Initially, as I began this task, I became so depressed that sleep was disrupted and daily energy was diminished.  The details haunted and hounded me, and a furious anger at the zoo industry overwhelmed me.  This was a bad combination for living fully or remaining effective in the project!

So, I have begun to apply AT principles of attending to the whole use of self, and prioritizing the means-whereby.  I am in no way suppressing or repressing emotional response, as that would be both impossible and also personally disastrous.  Instead, I attend to the larger picture of self with an intention of being effective in my task.

I ask my ribs in back to continue moving while I type out distressing information.  I take breaks to walk and cook and play with my cat.   I stop viewing the records when my neck tightens and my jaw clenches and attend to the spring bird songs, the weather moving through the skies.  I widen my view so I can attend to specifics.  I attend to my self, allow time, so I can bring my own instrument to bear in a refined manner.  I balance dismay in a momentary fashion.  I sink into despair, then rise again with my only hope:  bringing my best use of self to the task at hand

long term recovery results

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on February 9, 2013 in Uncategorized

Nearly 4 years ago, I fractured my patella in a sidewalk injury fall.  This injury required emergency surgery to install pins and wires so the patella could heal.  A year later, I had another surgery to remove the hardware so that I could live without the continuous pain of hardware. (Please see previous posts for all the details on both surgeries).

Recovery required far more time and dedication than I had believed was necessary, but as I had never before broken a patella, what did I know?!  After 3 years of physical therapy, Gyrotonic exercise, and applied Alexander principles, I was able to move much more like my previously vigorous self.  Recovery has required yet another year before my knee pain quieted consistently.  (My knee still hurts when I am confined into a sitting position for long airline flights, but that may be a permanent condition).  Although I can no longer run as I used to on hard surfaces, I can run with great joy barefoot on the wet beach sands of Kauai, and I no longer limp for hours after waking.

Thus, 4 long years of many set backs and frustrations and incremental victories.  Depression and defeat taunted me at many points.  It was a long road.

Alexander principles of dynamic non-interference, allowing the means-whereby, and attending to the whole entire Self made the journey endurable. I learned a tremendous amount of lessons, often painfully and on deep levels, that have enhanced my understanding of students who arrive with chronic pain, serious injuries, and all the associated distress of above.  Patience in recovery is so very challenging, and injury and response to injury is complex.  We aren’t who we thought we were when injury limits our way of being in the world.  The entire Self is questioned and challenged.

However, injury also presents tremendous opportunity.  In the long endurance test of my own recovery, I learned to seek appropriate assistance from skilled professionals whose approach was consistent with Alexander principles. I also learned a much more nuanced and sensitive way of experiencing my instrument of Self.  I can listen to myself, quiet my crazy chatter, engage less non-productively with disturbing sensations, trust the bigger picture, and know, deeply, that dynamic non-interference is an effective and thorough means of recovery from injury.

The Habits of Living

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on November 3, 2012 in Uncategorized

In life, as in Alexander lessons, we bring our entire self and manner of use to all activities, be those activities primarily mental, emotional or physical.  F.M. Alexander viewed all aspects of self as inseparable and integrated.  Alexander principles are clear in the gentle, continuous, indirect process of change that attending to the unified self involves.  In the Alexander Technique, we don’t directly change a part.  We use the tools of intention and attention to improve the entire self.  Then, the parts all shift accordingly.

During recent months, I experienced a deeply uncomfortable and distinctly unpleasant set of physically expressed symptoms. Of course, discomfort on any level brings the entire self along for the ride.  I was uncomfortable about being uncomfortable, a state of distress deepened by the fact that my symptoms were visible for all to see. Oy, the spiral of discomfort!

In order to resolve not only the ugly painful symptoms but the cause (read, condition of self), and with welcome expert advice, I made many changes in life habits.  In simple terms, everything that inflamed my system had to be relinquished: many foods, overuse of media, hyper-activity, overstimulation of any sort.  Pain and distress were tremendous motivations to follow given advice, just as injury, pain or performance issues are often motivations for people to seek Alexander lessons.  My symptoms were not immediately reduced by my new choices, and in fact came and went with frustrating frequency.  However, my mind and spirit became calmer.  I became less “inflamed”, more patient, less easy to rile up, less aggravated or fearful, more at ease.  My thinking clarified and a sense of inexplicable ease and quiet became “normal”.

The journey back to full health has become much more about the process than the desired result, although I welcome the desired result with great joy.  I got the outcome I wanted plus so much more.  If I had gone a more “medical” and end-gaining route, I may have experienced reduced symptoms more quickly (and thus less evidence of my unwitting interference), but no sense of process or the resulting joy of improved overall condition of self, and no notion of my participation in health improvement.

This experience has deepened my confidence in the value of the “means-whereby”, the integrity of self, and the rewards of relinquishing a narrow life dictated by invisible habits for a larger, more connected life of conscious choice.  I am still learning, of course, but I can still learn.  That’s the reward, being able to still learn and having the “means-whereby” to continue to do so.