Allowing Time to Learn

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on March 26, 2020 in Uncategorized

Time is redefined in these surreal and challenging times. Normal work schedules may have evaporated or accelerated. and family needs may have shifted to a new gear. Anxiety can be accompanied by a sense of urgency and rush. Unstructured time can untether us from our previous coping strategies. It’s hard to recall the day of the week, or how long we have been in this slow motion disaster.

In addition (as if the above wasn’t already too much), we may have to learn new technologies and choose fresh means of calming and enlivening in the spiral between uncertainty and information overload.

We have plenty to learn, and will have to keep on learning in an Accelerated Program. We didn’t sign up for this, but we are enrolled anyway.

From an Alexander point of view, we learn best and most effectively welcome new means if we allow time. “I have time” has a far different psycho-physical outcome (thought/sensation/emotion/movement) than the thought “I don’t have time”. The dynamic pause to allow time and to refuse to rush requires only a moment, although we may have to gently and cheerfully repeat our request to ourselves.

Walter Carrington said in his training course lectures, “You have time to free your neck even if the house is burning down around you”. We can move through these weird days more effectively, and find our best means, if we allow ourselves the generosity of unhurried time, even for a moment.

From Undoing to Doing (without doing too much)

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on March 25, 2020 in Uncategorized

Some definitions of terms:

Undoing: a dynamic request for less tension (I have noticed tension and want less)

Doing: indirect activation of balanced tone and support (I want to do something, solve a problem, rise from a chair, write an email, practice my instrument, etc)

Undoing is not deadening or “relaxing”. It is prioritizing lively quiet as our means on the journey toward doing. Doing is not exertion, but an open welcoming of broader support. We welcome the ground and the volume of breath as our ongoing connections.

We can develop a new stamina for active allowance/undoing as the basis of activity. True support is often invisible, and may seem “wrong”, as deeper systems below our perception are activated and external muscles quiet. We may not believe we are “doing” enough, when in fact we were in all likelihood doing too much previously in a habitual manner. Doing too much has become our “normal”.

We have typically learned how to learn from effort, not from ease. Now is a crucial moment to amplify ease as our means. We don’t have to know how an activity happens; we have to know how to get out of the way so the activity can do itself. Happy curiosity (a quality of great usefulness in our current crisis) keeps us from judging/criticizing as we move through our activities. The question becomes one of learning rather than of concluding.

Where is the ground? Where is my attention? How much less can I fix/do/be right?

We are unified fields of self, integrated, inseparable systems of thought, movement, sensation, emotion. If we can bring even a micro-moment of happy curiosity to our life’s activities, we can gain confidence and growing skill in undoing as our means to doing (without doing too much).

Falling Up in Free Fall

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on March 24, 2020 in Uncategorized

It’s not just each of us in the blur of free fall, it’s all of us. We are in a collective trapeze act as we swoop through the daily uncertainties. Perhaps we can establish some active stillness in the blur, an “instrument of self” safety net of sorts.

A suggested beginning is a generous tenderness toward ourselves that may require reducing news intake. If I can’t allow my limbs to undo out of my back, and my thoughts to easily rise and see the world while taking in news, then it is time to turn news off, leave it unread, switch to music or welcome silence. I want to know enough to be safe and effective for my community, but more than that may be too much just now. If the stimulus of news is beyond my constructive response, then reducing news is a conscious and necessary choice. This is not a report card on my fortitude, but a gentle welcoming of the tender time in which we all find ourselves.

I’d prefer to remain elastic. Less news gives me a chance. I can adjust as needed if I allow a dynamic pause.

In that dynamic pause (not a freeze, or a stop), I can recall that I fall up from the ground, wherever the ground meets me. The less I compress, collapse, tighten, stabilize myself, the more breath supports and expands me, in a rhythm that responds to all of me, everything that I see, hear, think, feel. We are integrated systems of inseparable signal flows, our own trapeze acts of complexity and purpose.

Even pausing for a moment to request “on the ground springing up” as an overall condition can shift our brain state. Gravity is everywhere, ready to support stillness, movement, and breath.

It’s Not What You do, It’s What You Don’t Do

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on March 23, 2020 in Uncategorized

Other than adhering with dedication to physical distancing directives (it’s for all of us, people), there is little effect we can have on how much our lives are dramatically changing. We are surfing in conditions we have never previously known.

Gathering data from experience informs us on how we do what we do, so we can decide not to do what we do, and then a new thing can happen. Let’s say I’d like to reach a vase high on a shelf, and I need to come up on my toes to do that. A dynamic pause gives me a window to notice how much tension and preparation I believe is necessary. Another dynamic pause provides time to cheerfully, non-critically refuse to make those preparations. Maybe I don’t have to do any of what I have now noticed. I see the vase, and my attention leads me up on my toes with invisible support and overall elasticity. The effort I had believed necessary evaporated, and the more interesting work became not making it hard in the way I thought it had to be hard. My means has become a happy curiosity rather than a fear of being wrong.

Refining the instrument of self in daily activity won’t change the upheaval of the times in which we are living, but we may learn how to learn as we hang 10 on the wave. We rise to demand.

Pace and Space

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on March 22, 2020 in Uncategorized

The rhythm of life has shifted.

Most of us are in reinvention mode, doing our best to construct lives in uncertainty. We have more time but less definition of time, too much distance from family and friends, and not enough space at home. What previously determined our pace/space of living (work, social gatherings, performance arts, the farmers’ market) has evaporated. We are not safely able to be physically close to our neighbors, friends, students, teachers, baristas, but we need one another more than ever. How can we best choose our constructive response?

Pace: I can move quickly on any level (mental, physical, emotional, all connected, of course) without hurrying. I can move slowly without freezing. If I don’t assign a particular value to pace, I give myself the time to allow pace to be determined by intention, attention and the small and large demands of living. I become more of a fluid instrument. My means outweigh my end. as my means are my experience. Rate of movement does not define me. I am a symphony of response to the sensory information of the world. Less of me, more of the heartbeat of the world.

Space: Gravity and the tides of breath support me, allow me a rhythmic flow (air) and a reliable steadiness (the ground). Breath nourishes my big brain designed to solve problems, a full emotional spectrum, and a sense of connection through air to the world beyond me. I undo my limbs out of my entire back (from pelvis to ears), ask for expansive quiet in the brain above my eyes. The volume of self becomes a breath wave, connecting the outside to the inside to the outside to the inside like a tide.

Who is writing this disaster movie anyway, and how do I best play my role? All we have is the instrument of self for connection, construction, creativity. We have a crisis-tunity to shift concepts of pace and space, so we can bring our best, most elastic selves to the drama and the symphony. We all play a part. We can welcome new pace and space for the best outcome for all

Welcoming uncertainty

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on March 21, 2020 in Uncategorized

Our current human experience overturns any notion of normalcy or certainty. For most of us, the structure of life has evaporated. Our typical means of coping with stress are likely unavailable. We are spending far more time with our families or roommates than usual, or we are far more alone than we would prefer. We may be anxious, bored, restless, lonely or needing more time alone. We seem to be in a free fall of recalibration and invention at the blurred pace of a slow moving tsunami. Where is our choice, our dynamic non-interference when the landmarks of daily routines crumble?

We always have our intention and attention as tools, and our instrument of self as both data-gathering and response system. We can notice what is outside ourselves and our own response to what is outside ourselves. We can refuse to fix, narrow or shorten, so that our entire instrument of self allows new solutions, both for ourselves and for our communities.

Fear can easily harden us into habitual and non productive reaction. We can’t pretend that we aren’t afraid, nor push fear down, but we can begin to choose a constructive response. It’s an evolving skill that we can pursue with happy curiosity, even in fearful times.

I know I am afraid because I pull my legs in, tighten through my upper arms, narrow my attention, and grip my jaw. There is no productive outcome in investigating why I am afraid, nor in questioning the validity of fear. My physiology has registered fear. Fear is happening. My response to these signals can also happen.

I would prefer to allow my entire back to breath, my limbs to undo out of my back, and my attention to broaden (notice I am not asking to “relax” anything. I want to remain dynamic, not asleep). I can ask the beautiful planetarium of my conscious brain to quiet, empty a bit, undo. I can ask my quieter brain to enliven and quiet all of me. I don’t run around myself “fixing” bits and pieces, I ask the planetarium to deliver instructions. Fear may well continue, but I can develop my own vocabulary of self in response. The world may be topsy turvy, but I can respond by increasingly elastic skills. It’s a circus of crisis-tunity, and we are in bootcamp response school.

Just think how much we can refine in this most demanding of times!

Lively Quiet in Uncertain Times

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on March 20, 2020 in Uncategorized

An essential beginning of rising to the many demands of our currently uncertain times is to quite simply want to remain effective, dynamic, engaged and elastic in our entire instrument of self. Most current events are out of our hands (except washing our hands to our favorite song du jour). Choice in response remains an endless exploration, as long as we are alive.

If we want to remain effective, dynamic, engaged and elastic, we begin from quieting. This does not mean freezing or retreating, but to request quiet throughout our entire self. A dynamic pause of even a few moments can shift mental chatter, calm muscular tensions, slow a racing heart and loosen a tight jaw. This request for quiet works best in conjunction with seeing and hearing the world outside yourself. Our brains, diaphragms, vestibular systems rely upon sensory information to calibrate response.

Here are some examples of how I gather data and make decisions in the interest of best outcome for remaining effective:

I notice my jaw is tight, as though I am holding the world and my life together with my teeth. I don’t want a tight jaw, and I know better than to change the jaw directly (direct change of a part never works), so I ask for overall quiet and connection to the ground, which is always there to support me. After some moments of cheerful requests for quiet, I am more keenly aware of birdsongs and tree blossoms and the faces of dear ones 6 feet away. My entire response has eased and expanded. A choice was made.

Sleepless worry disrupts much needed rest. Whispered ah and the thought that breath moves through my entire spinal system of curves, nourishing all of my systems, rocking me gently on a wave from within and without….the mental/emotional chatter retreats, my overall bracing undoes and sleep embraces me.

A furrowed brow and mental spin indicate information overload. I turn off the radio, leave the news unread, and dance around the apartment like a wild maniac. Laughter and vigor dispel the gloom, at least for now. Easy enough to repeat the wild dancing!

Creative solutions elude me. I notice I am all up in my forehead as though my facial muscles can find the answers. A dynamic pause allows me to notice gravity coming through my feet and sitting bones, eliciting internal, invisible support through my torso, allowing my limbs to undo out of my entire breathing back. A sense of global connection for this time in which we are living moves through me.

Solutions for each of us and all of us depend on our own refinement in response. We are integrated beings, inseparable in our own emotional, mental and physical systems. Now is the time to make our best integration possible, for the sake of the wider community beyond us.

New era, new skills

Posted by Jeanne Barrett on March 19, 2020 in Uncategorized

Rising to demand as an intention and skill is essential in our present moment. Our dynamic area of effective choice is in our use of the entire instrument of self, and how we refine that instrument in response to an unrolling set of challenges.

If we can calm ourselves, even in distress, we can dynamically contribute to solutions. The following questions may give each of us the experiential data and insight to best proceed.

  1. Where is the ground? (No matter where the ground meets me, I spring easily from the ground)
  2. Where is my attention? (Is that where I want my attention to be?)
  3. How much less can I do/fix/be right? (Can I allow new solutions by not being right?)

Examples in application of above:

  1. Reaching for last item on a high grocery shelf: the ground receives my entire weight through my feet and sends my arm up. My attention includes the space around me and the ground coming up through me. I can try less to reach the thing, and allow more of an entire response. I have time to reach the thing on the shelf.
  2. Unstructured time: Walking: gravity (the ground) is always and everywhere available to send me up even if time is unstructured. I can walk and allow the ground to send me into motion. While walking my attention is easily external. I welcome the sound and light waves of the world. I forget about doing/fixing/being right and let the world walk me

Gravity/attention/undoing becomes a means of remaining dynamically effective, so that we can best care for ourselves and our communities.

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.