Dear Alliance Trainees and Teachers,
My thoughts are with all of you as, together, we find ourselves in unknown territory. Alexander writes, “That rigid routine we refer to as habit, this rigid routine being the stumbling-block to rapid adaptability, to the assimilation of new ideas, to originality.”
This global event is shaking the entire world out of its routine. If Alexander’s work is about readiness, about being able to assimilate new information and ideas as they arise, and then to be able to adapt rapidly to ever changing circumstances, and to do so originally, that is, in ways that we have not done before, then now we are being put to the test.
John Dewey said Alexander taught him that, most of the time, all he really needed to know was where he was now, and where he was immediately going next. This seems to be all we can know for certain, given our ever changing situation – where we are now, and where we can immediately go next. We will have to improvise. We will have to simply go moment by moment.
As F.M. often declared, “The readiness is all.”
Even if we cannot meet and work together as we normally do, it does not mean that we have to stop training. It doesn’t mean we have to stop helping one another. It doesn’t mean we have to stop studying together. We don’t have to close our doors. We have to open new ones. Now is the time to be the community/school that we are.
Robyn and Magdalena are at work on preparing for some online study. Let’s make the most of this experiment and see what we can learn from it. We will likely learn something important through the process, something we may one day make use of as teachers.
I see this time as a chance for intense self-study, self-training. This is what I am doing for myself. Here we are in a non-habitual situation. How are we reacting and responding to the “myriad stimuli from within us and all around us? How do we want to respond? How do we want to be?
For me, how do I want to be is the main question. Not so much, how do I want to respond to what is going on around me, but what is the stimulus I want to be for those around me? How do I want to be, not just for myself, but for those around me, for the people I love, for my neighbors, for my community? Now is the time to use the training we have, and to train more purposely than ever.
In this letter, I will include an essay, reminding you what our practice is at the Alexander Alliance. I suggest reading it carefully in light of the situation in which we find ourselves. Design a training program for yourself, a practice for yourself so that, every day, you are working on yourself.
At the same time, Magdalena, Robyn, Margarete, and I will be thinking about ways that we can all stay in touch and study together and virtually support one another. I think we may need to begin a Facebook page, specifically for Alliance trainees, teachers, and graduates. I just did this.
Let us remember, some of us are older than others of us. Some of us are more physically at risk than others, particularly those of us with diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, or cancer. Some of us are more financially at risk than others. Some of us will contract this virus, and others of us will not. Let’s stay in touch. Let’s help each other in every way we can.
I love and cherish our community, and all of you.
We are all in this together.
Shalom, (meaning peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility)
The Alexander Alliance Europe
Without having spent years integrating Alexander’s work into one’s personal life, it is not possible to become a teacher of his work. Personal transformation is the basis upon which a life as an Alexander teacher is founded. Therefore, I will go into some detail as to what this transformational process entails.
Throughout the entire training, we train somatically, that is, we work on attuning ourselves physically, and we explore the relationship this physical attuning has upon our lives personally, psychologically, socially, and spiritually. Our physical attuning process is founded upon the insights and principles discerned by F.M. Alexander as to how we learn to function in accordance with our inherent coordination and structural design.
Regardless of our personal life situation, we share a common context in which our lives take place. Alexander’s work attempts to shift, for the better, our psychophysical relationship to the contextual framework in which life happens. This shift in how we relate psychophysically to life’s contextual framework, indirectly but often profoundly and surprisingly, influences the content of our lives, the way in which our lives unfold, and how we experience this unfolding. Our training is devoted to this transformational shift.
Our Common Contextual Framework/Universal and Basic Realities
By our contextual framework, I mean basic realities that are constant for all human beings.
I divide these basic realities into ten facets. They are like facets of one diamond. The ten basic realities are: Structural Support, Ground Force, Spatial Freedom, Organ Capacity, Respiratory Restoration, Temporal Existence, Sensory Receptivity, Motoric Refinement, Uncertain Conditions, and Social Harmony/Inner Peace. In this essay I will go into detail as to what I mean by each of these terms.
Simply said, regardless of our life situation, all of us
(1) possess the same Homo Sapient structure.
(2) We live in relation to gravity and the ground.
(3) We live and move through space.
(4) We possess the same organs and they are vital to us.
(5) We breathe.
(6) We all live in time, which for each of us is finite.
(7) We all receive sensory input.
(8) We all move.
(9) None of us know for sure what will happen.
(10) And, we are all social animals.
Regardless of our culture, class, gender, age, color, profession, personality, or life situation, the context in which our lives unfold are the same for all of us. Personal Development for us at the Alexander Alliance means in depth study of our relationship to this contextual framework in which we find ourselves, in which our lives unfold, and that is equally true for all of us.
One. Structural Support
We share a common structure. We are all Homo Sapiens. At any given moment, we are using our structure in a particular way. At the Alexander Alliance, we learn how to respect and treat our structure according to its inherent design. This frees us into our natural support, allowing us to be at once, light and substantial, soft and strong, relaxed and ready, stable and flexible, peaceful and lively, receptive and generous, awake to ourselves, to others, and to the world around us.
Through Alexander’s work our personal relationship to our physical structure, to being consciously and appreciatively embodied changes, for the better.
Two. Ground Force
All of us are subject to gravity. Gravity derives from “gravis” or “gravitas”, and means heavy, weight, serious. For our purposes, gravity might best be thought of as “the law of mutual attraction” which states that bodies are drawn to each other through gravitational attraction. This force of attraction exists between any two bodies. Or, we might refer to Newton’s third law of motion, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” When we sit in a chair, our bodies exert a downward force into the chair, while the chair exerts an equally upward force through our bodies.
These forces are not grave, not serious. They are positive, interactive forces, I dare say, joyful. These forces allow objects, both animate and inanimate, to rest. The more we can rest, the more support we can receive. The more support we receive, the more we can rest, and the more grace and lightness we experience.
Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to gravity changes, for the better.
Three. Spatial Freedom
We all live in space. There is space within. We all possess a sense of space, or a lack thereof. Sometimes, we feel trapped, or cramped, that we have no room to move or breathe. Sometimes, we feel open and free, that the future is open to us, that the horizon widens forever, that the sky is the limit, that life is deep and vast, like the ocean. Some of us seem to spread out, some squeeze in, some hold back, some thrust forward, some press down, some pull up. How to be spatially unbiased, spatially balanced, spatially omni-directional?
There is space between, between us and our smartphones, our computers, our steering wheels, our soup bowls. There is space between us and those around us, on a crowded train, in line at the grocery store, at the kitchen table.
There is space all around us, above us, below us, before us, behind us, beside us. Unbeknownst to us, often we live with blinders on, zooming in on what is in front of us, narrowing our worldview.
Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to space within, between, and around changes, for the better.
Four. Organ Capacity
We are all organ-isms, creatures. Even though we have a sense of internal space, in reality, the space within our structural framework is fully occupied; the cranial cavity, thoracic cavity, abdominal cavity, and pelvic cavity. Again, unbeknownst to us, we impinge upon our organs, exert pressure against them, prevent them from moving. We ignore them. Sensing our organs, our organ life, reminds us that we are alive, human beings, rather than human doings.
Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to our organ life changes, for the better.
Five. Respiratory Restoration
Unknowingly, we often interfere with breathing, without understanding how or why, or even when, we do it. It helps to become aware of the particular ways in which we interfere with breathing. Breathing responds to pressure of any and all kinds. External pressure, for example, altitude, pollution, over stimulation, under stimulation, danger, as well as safety, comfort, love, a cat resting in your lap.
Breathing responds to internal pressures as well, like exertion, hunger, fatigue, strain, disease, self-imposed standards, time restraints. Breathing responds to the entire gamut of thoughts, sensations, emotions – be they painful or pleasurable.
Breath is not an action; it’s a response. When we decide to run up a hill, we don’t stand there and breathe until we have enough air to make it up the hill. We start running. The air of the world, and our bodies reflexes, without our having to ask, help us to accomplish what we have decided to do. Just like that. Such support. Such kindness. Such faithfulness. And how often do we stop, and say thank you?
Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to breathing changes, for the better.
As we improve our relationship to our Homo Sapient structure, cultivate our affinity with gravity and the ground, find space within, between, and around, as we learn how to make room for our organs, and allow ourselves to be breathed, (1 through 5), we find ourselves better equipped to deal with other basic realities, other constants, that challenge our integrity: time, work/input-output, change and uncertainty, people/ourselves, (6 through 10).
Six. Temporal Existence
We all live in time. A second is a second, a minute a minute, an hour an hour, a day a day, a year a year, a decade a decade, and yet our subjective sense of time varies. An hour can fly by in a second, an hour can feel like an eternity, for better or worse. We can find ourselves waiting, a temporal event, for an urgent phone call, for a needed document to download, for the train that is late to arrive. Then again, there is long-term waiting, for the kids to leave home, for the perfect person to come into our lives, or for when we will be earning much more money, or for when we finally retire and get to travel. Or we find ourselves rushing about, worried about being late, meeting deadlines, getting everything done that we have to do. Time pressure. Clock time.
Then, there is biological time. Pacing. Tempo. Right timing. Eating, walking, speaking. Time to think. Time to feel. Time to breathe. Time to let the beauty of the world sink in, into our bones, into our hearts. Biologically, we by nature, mature, age, die. Our lives are temporally finite. We only have so much time, so many breaths. “Number your days”, King David suggests to us in Psalm 90. Don’t waste them. Don’t miss them. Experience them. Enjoy them. Be grateful for them. Live them. Make the most of them, as he did so well. What does it mean to age gracefully? How can we best adapt to our aging bodies? What do we want to pass on, to give away?
Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to time changes, for the better.
Seven. Sensory Receptivity
We all are endowed with senses, though some of us do not have all of them. We see, hear, smell, taste and touch. We also have less known, often less educated senses that tell us about ourselves, our kinesthetic and proprioceptive senses, senses we educate to an extraordinary degree at the Alexander Alliance.
There’s a very simple way to understand what happens to our senses. As our motoric activity increases, often our sensory receptivity decreases. The result is that our actions are not as informed as they could be, which often makes our actions less accurate, more effortful, less effective, and sometimes inappropriate. To add to this, a diminishment of sensory receptivity prevents us from experiencing how we are doing, what we are doing, as we are doing it, reducing our ability to delight in and appreciate life as we are living it. We don’t want to live unlived lives.
It is as if, within us, there is a doer and a receiver. There is the you who washes your hair, and the you who senses and enjoys your hair being washed, or the you who does not sense your hair being washed and therefore cannot enjoy. There is the you who is feeding you a spoonful of soup, perhaps potato leek soup, or miso soup, or lentil soup, or split pea soup, or French onion soup. And then, there is the you who is tasting it, savoring it, feeling thankful for it, or the you who is not tasting it. Reawakening the receiver within us, the one who is not putting out, not on output, but the one receiving, on input, keeps us from becoming depleted, allows us to be replenished.
Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to our sensory world changes, for the better.
Eight. Motoric Refinement
We all move. We all work in some way. We all have to figure out how to survive. The question is, how well, how enjoyably, how appreciatively can we move through our daily lives? The more sensitive, accurate, and reliable our senses become, particularly our intra-senses, our kinesthetic and proprioceptive senses, the more refined our actions become, the more precise, the more efficient, the more effective, the more effortless, the more fluid, and the more beautiful. Everyday movement, everyday actions become interesting and pleasurable; walking up and down steps, riding a bike, folding laundry, cleaning the house, cooking a meal.
Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to moving through our life changes, for the better.
Nine. Uncertain Conditions/Continual Change
When asked to say, in one word, what his work was about Alexander said, “Readiness.” Alexander felt that fixed habits prevented us from being in a condition of readiness. He writes, “…That rigid routine we refer to as habit, this rigid routine being the stumbling-block to rapid adaptability, to the assimilation of new ideas, to originality.”
Readiness helps us adapt rapidly to life’s uncertainties, to unexpected events, to the unknown.
Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to uncertainty changes, for the better.
Ten. Social Harmony/Inner Peace
We are all social animals. Existence is co-existence. Even if we choose to live our lives as a hermit far away in a cave, in isolation, it is a social choice we make, a relationship we have with society. Most conflict that we experience happens in relation to other people. Being in social conflict is a physiological event. Fear and anger are physiological events. Everything is a physiological event. Likewise, being in social harmony is a physiological event. Love, kindness, empathy, joy are also physiological events. How we are physiologically, when in the presence of others, can dramatically influence, for better or worse, how we feel about others, and how they feel about us. Social harmony is a physiological event.
In a very real way, we also have a social relationship with ourselves. All of us live with an inner roommate. Are we living with our own best friend, and/or our own worst enemy? Do we respect and care well for ourselves, or do we disrespect ourselves and mistreat ourselves? Inner peace is also a physiological event.
Through Alexander’s work our personal, physiological relationship to others and to ourselves changes, for the better.
What Human Beings Do
When you take a look at what humans do throughout the day, physically, it is fairly simple. At any given moment we are either:
(1) Lying down.
(3) Reclining. (a combination of sitting and lying down.)
(5) Squatting. (a combination of standing and sitting.)
(5) Leaning. (a combination of standing and lying down.)
(6) Walking. (or other gaits, such as jogging, running, sprinting, crawling.)
(7) Transitioning between the basic attitudes above.
(8) Working. When working, we are usually using our hands in some way, and usually handling tools in some way, and often we are with other people in some way, which means often we are either speaking or listening. Sometimes we are playing, which I see as working in such a way where enjoyment supersedes practicality.
This is all we do. At any given moment something is happening from (1) through (8). Many of these attitudes and abilities are somewhat particular to homo sapiens, and are what we excel at: standing, walking, using hands, using tools, and speaking. Also, evolutionarily, these abilities emerged together, and developmentally in infants they emerge together as well, so it makes sense, as adults, to continue developing them together.
Therefore, at the Alexander Alliance, we have no choice other than to work on improving our psychophysical relationship to our contextual framework in which our lives unfold when we are lying, sitting, reclining, standing, squatting, leaning, walking, working and playing, using our hands, using tools, and when we are speaking and listening and being with people, or by ourselves. At the Alexander Alliance this is what we do, and in this way our work, our training, is imminently practical and immediately applicable to life.
In a nutshell, the Alexander Alliance is a Life School. It is about how we live our lives in relation to these basic realities.