Our Essential Task
(From a graduation speech given to the Alexander Alliance graduating class of 1991, written in the long, infamous style of F. Matthias Alexander. Revealing footnotes included.)
Our essential task as teachers and students of Alexander’s work is to bring about a conducive atmosphere for learning and unlearning,*1 thus increasing the opportunities for sensory discernment*2 wherein our habitual patterns of being and doing can become conscious, known, accepted, and experienced as abundant energy,*3 allowed to disintegrate positively,*4 simultaneously re-integrating in such a way*5 that energizes the true and primary movement in each and every activity,*6 thus bringing about a surprising change in proprioception*7 as we proceed to function, to act, to live, now,*8, risking feeling wrong,*9 interacting with deeper contact, responding with greater freedom*10 than we ever imagined possible.
*1. Compassionate attitudes that allow people to learn and unlearn. They are…
Non-diminishment: It helps no one to diminish either yourself or your students. “Moses laying his hands on Joshua may be compared to one candle lighting another, no light is lost to the former.” -Rabbinic Midrash on Numbers 27:18.
Non-objectification: I refuse to work “on the body.” I choose to work with people, with this particular person, and that particular person. I never touch a person’s body. I only touch a person.
Non-forcing: I refuse to use force to bring about grace. I choose to bring kindness, intelligence, and skill to the situation at hand. “Fluid as melting ice. Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself? If you realize that all things change there is nothing you will try to hold onto. Less and less will you need to force things.” -Lao Tzu/Stephen Mitchell
Non-isolation: I choose to observe and accept the truth: that we live in relation. My wish is to be simultaneously aware of myself in relation to my environment. My wish is to exist within a unified field of attention, a field that includes me without orienting around me. “Within, but not enclosed, Without, but not excluded.” Abbess Hildegard von Bingen. “Existence Is Co-existence.” -Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
Non-endgaining: How we are doing what we are doing as we are doing it is more important than just getting it done.
Non-correction: Correction is usually too quick, and often founded upon a lot of judgment and too little information. I choose to become curious, ask questions, conduct experiments, and let my students arrive at their own conclusions.
Non-concentration: Rarely is it desirable to give more than 25% of your attention on the figure of an action or event. Background is beautiful, orienting, restful, meaningful. Think about the distribution of attention of a driver behind the wheel for the very first time, and that same driver having driven for years, listening to Bach, sensing the road under her hands, enjoying the landscape all around her, while listening to her friend.
Imperfection: I choose to look for the way, rather than the form, the end, or the ideal. I care not about what a person looks like. I hold no graven images before me. I care less about the acquisition of knowledge and more about the eradication of blocks. I care less about learning and more about nurturance, maturity and growth. My wish is to deepen the quality of experience, responsiveness, and attention for my students and, of course, for myself.
Unhurried: “ As Alexander teachers , we give people our time,. We give time. You can’t change a habit if you are in a hurry.” – Marjorie Barstow.
*2. Sensory discernment – sensory perception, void of judgment, founded upon a wish for understanding and direction.
Sentience – The immediate, accurate, and inclusive perception of reality, received through a harmonious use of the senses, free from the intervention of language, thought, or analysis. Bruce Fertman
*3. “Energy is eternal delight. William Blake
*4. Alexander’s “inhibition and direction”, Barstow’s “a redirecting of energy,” all expressions implying that the energy of the old and the new are one and the same, and that this energy must relinquish expressing itself one way, before it can do so another way. “Our habitual holding pattern is our true and primary pattern, incognito.” Bruce Fertman
*5. …in such a way, implying that the change to which Alexander Teachers refer is tremendously subtle and delicate, a blending of sensitivity, keenness, kindness, knowledge, wonder – too difficult, or perhaps too simple, to describe.
*6. That energizes the primary control, the head/neck/back pattern, the primary pattern, deep structural integration, the pattern which connects everything to everything, the pattern of reciprocal interactions, of interdependent co-arisings, the life-force within us, our vitality.
*7. Read Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales, chapter three, “The Disembodied Lady,” for a truly moving account of proprioception.
*8. “Structure is the record of past function. Function is the source of future structures.” -Ludwig von Bertalanffy.
*9. F.M. would sometimes begin a lesson proclaiming to his student, “Let’s hope something goes wrong!”
*10. From reactivity to responsiveness, from impulsivity to spontaneity. From repression to deliberation. How we respond to the myriad, constantly changing stimuli from within and without.