MONITORING AND ANALYZING “USE”
by Joe Boland
Not monitoring and analyzing myself (…as I understand monitoring and analyzing myself...) doesn’t mean that I cease being conscious; on the contrary, the less do I become preoccupied with specific details, i.e., thoughts and feelings, sounds, smells, sights, anatomy, which are the raw material of monitoring and analyzing, the more wholly conscious do I become. This doesn’t mean that the “details” disappear; they’re always there and they’re always changing. It simply means that I decide to not be distracted by and/or react to them as isolated phenomena.
A number of questions come to mind when I consider the phrase “monitoring myself”:
1) What exactly am I doing when I monitor? Does it involve the contraction and projection of attention to something and if so….What is it that I’m projecting attention to? If to my “self”, what and where is that? Is it what I’m “feeling” at the moment and if so what about what I’m not “feeling”? Is it my thinking/thoughts and if so does that mean that my attention is focused/fixed somewhere “inside” my head? Am I not really just “monitoring” the manifestations of my habit and if so is it not necessary for these manifestations to be there in order for me to “monitor” them? Is it possible that the act of “monitoring” is actually creating these manifestations?
Why am I doing this “monitoring”? Do I believe that it is necessary in order to maintain my notion of “good use”? If so where does that belief come from and does that mean that “good use” is not really innate but is a phenomenon that must be constantly monitored, analyzed, and managed? Am I monitoring because I believe it is necessary to “know” if I am “right” and, if not, so that I can do something to make it “right”. And if so what did Alexander mean when he said, “I don’t want you to care a damn if you’re right or not. Directly you don’t care if you’re right or not the impeding obstacle is gone” and “You all want to know if you’re right. When you get further on you will be right, but you won’t know it and won’t want to know if you’re right”. And finally…
2) Is not “monitoring” just another way of interfering, of continuing to impose the
limitations of what I think I know about “use”, thereby maintaining my habitual “use”?
My own experience suggests that analytical “monitoring” is in fact a primary act of interference. I think Alexander understood this (it comes under the heading “Incorrect Conceptualizing’”) and recognized it to be a critical element in what he saw as the process of change, but for whatever reason it has not survived in the presentation of his work.
Instead what we have is a pedagogy that communicates not that analytical “monitoring” is unnecessary and counterproductive, but that it is appropriate and necessary and here is a better (the right) way to do it.
The critical point for Alexander in his learning process came when he reasoned that his "feeling" was not a reliable standard and that he needed to cease analytically monitoring his "feeling" in order to assess his "use". Ceasing to do so was primary and indispensable to his making progress and finding his way out of his habitual pattern.
Certainly in what he wrote and in quotes attributed to him from various sources we have the evidence of the import he placed on weaning oneself from kinesthetic preoccupation/reliance. In trying to effectively communicate this most critical step in his own learning process to others, however, Alexander proved unsuccessful.
So if Alexander's own experience showed him that in order to restore an innate/dormant/forgotten kinesthetic reality one must detach from kinesthetic referencing altogether...and yet he was unable to create an effective way to teach this detachment to others, what was he to do? What he did was to develop a hands-on way to elicit in a student the innate kinesthetic reality of improved use that he achieved for himself by learning to detach from "feeling" as a guide. The problem with this model is that not only doesn't a student become practically schooled in the very component (kinesthetic detachment) that is the key to independently transcending habit, but in fact the notion is fostered that what is being produced by the hands-on ministrations is indeed a kinesthetic sense on which one can confidently rely (without really having to go through the same process as did Alexander). In effect one just continues monitoring and analyzing "feeling" in the belief that a "right" standard has been achieved.
What I “know” (a word I use advisedly) is that when I decide to do less monitoring and analyzing of my-self/use, what seemed to be a problem usually ceases to be a problem simply because it is the act of monitoring and analyzing that created and/or exacerbated the problem in the first place. (Consider that when you first become conscious in the morning the moment is “problem”-free; it’s only when the monitoring and analytical mind engages that the problems begin.) Not coincidentally, all activity from thinking to seeing and hearing to movement takes on a comparatively effortless quality because the effort was established and rooted in the act of trying to monitor and analyze and respond to particular sensory fragments.
The day you had your first Alexander lesson your teacher asked you to sit down and to notice in the process how you were “using” yourself. Contrary to established dogma the first thing you did in response was not the pulling back and down of your head, etc. The first thing you did was to scan and analyze your kinesthetic database, from which you selected the feelings that you associated with the ideas of sitting and noticing, and then you fixed your attention on those feelings until you were safely in the chair. (Again, this is essentially what you were doing before you ever heard of the Alexander Technique because this is the nature of misuse.) Predictably, the teacher at some point observed that your neck “shortened”, etc., etc., etc. and brought those observations to your attention asserting them to be primary causes of misuse. In other words, you were told and came to believe that those phenomena represented the cause of your misuse and that insofar as you could alleviate those conditions your use would improve. You were also probably left with the notion or at least it wasn’t dispelled by the teacher that, even though you were misusing yourself, you were still qualified to monitor and analyze yourself/use and that it was appropriate to do so. This doesn’t pass the test of reason.
The problem with this picture is that henceforth you embarked on a course of monitoring and analyzing and trying to mitigate symptoms rather than addressing the more primary act which was (to paraphrase Alexander) the act of conceptualizing (monitoring and analyzing) the idea of “use” in familiar sensory and anatomical terms.
And yet by the end of your lesson and most if not all subsequent lessons you were left with a wonderful “experience”, which I consider is properly characterized as improved “use”.
The dilemma has long been, “What brought about that experience?”
The Alexander Technique paradigm as it has come to be holds that the primary cause of misuse is “anatomical” and if we analyze, monitor, “inhibit and direct” on the basis of what are essentially anatomical terms/perceptions, improved use will prevail.
I submit that this paradigm doesn’t work, certainly not if our purpose is to learn the most effective means for restoring our own efficient use and the most effective means for communicating this information to others such that within a reasonable amount of time they can become independently confident in the maintenance of their own efficient use.
And yet how can this paradigm not be viable when we have the evidence of the “experience” that results from an Alexander lesson?
The answer in my view is that we totally misunderstand the essential mechanism that is operating in an Alexander lesson. That mechanism is not, as commonly believed, an enhanced self-consciousness, but rather a restoration of trust, or if you will, an act of faith in the “unknown”.
Reflecting on my own experience with having lessons it occurs to me that by the time I walked into a lesson I was as often as not so exhausted and/or demoralized by monitoring, analyzing, “inhibiting and directing” and getting nowhere that I was well disposed to just give-up and let the teacher take care of the problem. And in effect that’s usually what happened, I just stopped trying to figure it (my “use”) out. And lo and behold by the end of the lesson I was usually in that state that someone has described, aptly, as, “…being nowhere and everywhere at the same time.”
The conclusion that I draw from this is that the more we come to trust that the lesson (and more specifically, the tactile ministrations of the teacher) will produce the “experience” the less do we feel compelled to project our attention to and analyze the sensory details of the passing lesson moments in order to get it “right”. And not coincidentally, the less do we project and analyze the less are we interfering in our “use” and the easier does it become for our “use “to improve, with or without the presence of a teacher.
But not understanding this phenomenon we walk out of the lesson and proceed to monitor, analyze, inhibit and direct in the mistaken belief that that is what is necessary in order to sustain and refine the “experience”, when in fact the opposite is the case.
And of course it doesn’t work which is not to say that we don’t occasionally experience what seems to be a revelation or breakthrough (or at the very least, transitory kinesthetic thrills), but no sooner does that happen than we proceed to monitor and analyze and otherwise interfere with THAT and before you know it we’re frustrated and exhausted and anticipating the next lesson “fix” which we hope will reveal to us the error of our ways. But it doesn’t and pretty soon we’ve had thirty or forty lessons and somehow convinced ourselves that if we have more lessons or commit ourselves to three years of teacher training it will all be revealed.
But it isn’t and sowith certificate in hand we proceed to solicit others to join us in our neverending spiral of monitoring and analyzing.
Certified as an Alexander teacher in 1979, Joe Boland has since 1982 lived and taught near Yosemite National Park in California where he can be reached at (209) 966-3762 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learning to work effectively with those engaged in athletic activities has been a primary focus for him; creating and directing a program of "Alexandered" tennis instruction for children and adults has been one result of that focus.
Copyright 2002 Joseph Boland
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