Have you ever noticed what’s going through your mind during conversations? Are you listening or are you wondering what the person speaking meant? Are you wondering whether those listening might be judging you? Are you just waiting to jump in and tell a story of your own?
A more modern possibility – are you (surreptitiously) looking at your smart phone?
How many times during a day do you do just one thing at a time?
We can easily allow ourselves to fill our time and minds, e.g. reading while on the bus, or train. Thinking of the million things we have to do this week, today, while driving – what about thinking about driving?
In a recent conversation people were talking about wanting to download podcasts to listen to whilst traveling. What a great idea, I thought – an effective use of time spent in transit.
I considered this further, it made sense but they were talking about 30 minutes to 2 hours, some of which whilst driving.
Is it necessary to fill every minute – every second?
When we fill all the space we leave no time to consider – others or ourselves.
When you walk from your home to the street are you thinking of how you’re getting there or of being there? In your mind are you already outside?
In the Alexander Technique we look at ‘how’ – how we do the things we do.
If our mind is rarely on what we’re currently doing, it is likely that we are not considering how we are doing it.
It is therefore more likely that we are following an old way of thinking and moving, which might be the cause of a difficulty we would like to avoid or a problem we want to solve.
As Alexander wrote in his first book, Man’s Supreme Inheritance:
“We must cultivate, in brief, the deliberate habit of taking up every occupation with the whole mind, with a living desire to carry each action through to a successful accomplishment, a desire which necessitates bringing into play every faculty of the attention.” *
This is something that Don Weed tells us that his teacher, Marjorie Barstow, used to do. His example is of sweeping the leaves off the porch at her house: “she treated it to the full power of her observation and analysis each and every time.”**
Each time they swept the leaves, Marjorie would work out the best way to do this, even if she had done it the previous day. Even when her solutions seemed very similar.
Don’s initial experience of this was that Marjorie was doing something he thought unnecessary, which meant spending longer on a boring chore, as he says, “I would just want to shut off my mind and rush through the chore and run off to something else more interesting.”** (It didn’t matter that her method yielded better results).
Over time Don came to appreciate the importance of that process:
“This process of analysing the conditions present in order to reason out the most appropriate means whereby an end can be gained is at the heart of Alexander’s work”.**
We see the effect of this in lessons. An experience that people often have is that things go better when you think about what you need to do to achieve them. Sometimes people solve problems by doing this.
For example, a lady who got a painful shoulder when carrying her bag realised that she was anticipating the weight of the bag. She was slightly lifting her shoulder up to make what felt like ‘a more stable platform’.
Examining this idea, the way she moved her arm, and how to go about lifting the bag, helped her to change. Her shoulder didn’t hurt when she followed that process.
When she thought about what she needed to do and how to move to achieve her goal, she could come up with a new way of doing the activity, one which didn’t cause her the problem of an aching shoulder.
What if we don’t shut off our minds to the apparently mundane considerations of how we are sitting, standing, walking…even carrying bags? Perhaps we can try an experiment with what we put our attention on and see what happens when we focus on the task at hand.
* Man’s Supreme Inheritance, F.M. Alexander
** What You Think is What you Get, Don Weed