Prescription for a Suffering World

On the Sunday of a recent teacher training course weekend, ITM Head of Training Don Weed kindly asked me to share an experience I had had the day before.

I had attended a seminar with a woman called Marianne Williamson on the topic of “Career and Spirituality". For those of you not familiar with her,  Marianne Williamson is a spiritual teacher who has been active in American politics. 

Due to her political engagement and outspoken opinions on US foreign policy, inevitably someone asked her a question about the recent terror attacks in Europe. 

In response, she spoke about what she thinks is most needed from us as world citizens at this time, as well as what she believes we must demand of our leaders and decision makers.

She spoke about how we must learn learn to more accurately identify and analyse causes. How we need to more clearly understand the relationship between cause and effect.

She put forward that we must learn how to read more deeply and learn how to more thoughtfully process information.

She suggested that we, as a collective, must learn the skill of how to live with the questions rather then rushing to answers and solutions.

She talked about developing the ability to have a more nuanced analysis of situations and developing the ability to have more nuanced conversations. She spoke of the importance of being able to hear and consider opinions with an open mind and identify good ideas regardless of their source.

As she spoke I thought of my colleagues who were at that time in class with Don Weed at the training course. I felt very proud and very grateful. All the things of which she was speaking are ideas, values and processes that lie at the very heart of what my colleges were learning and sharing at that moment. They lie at the heart of the ITM Alexander Technique.

This woman was declaring that not only are these ideas important, she was claiming they are what is most needed in the world right now to tackle the biggest problems facing humanity. She believes the very future of the human race may depend on us bringing these processes forward into how we live our lives.

If you, like me, are doing a little imaginary fist pump at this moment and thinking: “Yes!!!!, but how do we get more people involved in what we do so we can really make a difference?”. Let me leave you with what happened next.

As the topic of the seminar was “Career and Spirituality” a women raised her hand with a question. She told us that she had developed a process that grew out of her deep passion. She told us she knew it could change the world. Her question to Marianne was about how to get her message out there.

Marianne Williamson lectures to tens of thousands of people every week. She has sold millions of books and provides spiritual council to some of the the most influential and powerful people on the planet today.

She told this women that in all her career, she has never, ever concerned herself with getting her message “out there”. Her only concern is getting her message “in here”, at which point she gestured to herself. Her concern lies with how to live her message, how to be her message.

As I shared this with our current trainees and looked around the room at their bright eyes full of understanding I saw a group of people doing exactly that.

 

SHAME AND THE ALEXANDER TECHNIQUE

Last month I was teaching a group class at the ITM Teacher Training Course and found myself talking to the students about shame.

For many years, when I had an Alexander Technique lesson I experienced an almost overwhelming sense of shame. Looking back I am surprised I persevered in the face of that kind of emotional discomfort, but the benefits of the work were so stunning that they kept me moving forward.

Why shame?

One of the surprising things that often happens in an Alexander Technique lesson with an ITM teacher is that your performance in any given activity improves dramatically in a very short time. Singers immediately gain better pitch and tone, yogis get instantly more flexible and even a simple activity like sitting becomes more effortless and elegant. People grow more beautiful and charismatic before your eyes.

I interpreted this sudden and easy improvement when I worked with a teacher to mean that I had been doing something very wrong before.

And I made a terrible and incorrect mental leap to see this as proof of not only the lack of value in my performance and abilities, but a lack of value in myself.

The powerful tool that allowed for these almost miraculous improvements to happen in a lessen has also served as the antidote to those feelings of shame.

You see, in the ITM Alexander Technique, we learn how to develop and use the incredible power of our reasoned, conscious mind.

This use of reason teaches us to see beyond our immediate feelings in a situation. We can learn to respect our feelings but choose to look at situations through the lens of reason.

And while it has taken time and work, this development of my reasoning processes has helped me to break through to a more realistic and positive view of myself and humans in general.

I no longer feel shame, but excitement and joy when I experience improvement in myself.

The instant improvements we experience in lessons happen because we are so intelligent, so creative and so flexible both mentally and physically.

Through this work, I have come to see that constant improvement is part of our very DNA. We are incredible beings who are forever learning and changing. And even more incredible, we can determine which direction we want to grow towards. We can direct our reasoning, conscious mind toward our desires. Our potential for improvement is open ended.

When I look at my shame response through the lens of reason, it is very clear that what I DO, how well I perform has nothing to do with my value as a human being.

We are all the same. We are all special and none of us are special. How well we perform or how we feel does not change anything about our intrinsic values as human beings.

For me, these two concepts have been incredible helpful to navigating my life.

First of all, understanding that I will always have room for improvement and secondly always remembering that what I do, achieve or don’t achieve has nothing to do with my value as a human being.

Have you ever struggled with shame in the face of improvement or growth? I would love to her about your experiences in the comments below.

WHY YOU DON'T NEED A HORSE PART II

In a previous post I wrote about the concept of “joining up” with a horse and the contrast between this approach and the more traditional western idea of “breaking” a horse. To read that article click here.

I think for many of us, when we try to make changes in the way our bodies feel and move we tend to follow the traditional western model of horse training.

We try to force our “errant tissues” into submission.

I was recently getting my nails done and the girls in the salon were sharing tips they had been given by their personal trainer and physio: Pull your chin in! Engage your tummy muscles! Drop your tailbone! Pull your shoulders down! The more they tried to demonstrate what they had been told to do, the more distorted and uncomfortable they looked.

In order to develop the technology of “joining up” instead of forcing a horse into submission the creators of this method spent countless hours observing horses in the wild.

They watched the way stallions communicate with the mares in their heard and the way horses train their young. You see, for a heard animal like a horse, being able to follow their leader can be a issue of life or death.

Through this study, they learned how horses communicate with each other. And they took those skills into training horses in a way that works with the horses natural way of communication.

Similarly, we try to “fix” ourselves on the physical level without actually taking the time to look more deeply at the processes that govern our movements.

F.M Alexander and my teacher Don Weed have done a remarkable job at studying how we move. The understanding they developed gives us the option of having an influence over our movements that is less about dominating ourselves and more about taking advantage of the who we really are and the way we are made to move.

Which is so exiting. Because it means we are working with our true nature and expanding our innate capacities.

Many people breathe a big sigh of relief when they come into contact with this way of working.

I had a student recently who suffers from major chronic pain and disability.

After her first lesson she sat in the chair absolutely stunned.

She said:” I never considered the questions I was asking of my body. I feel like I have just opened up a kind and thoughtful line of communication. I will never be the same again.”

And this is true. Once you get a glimpse of how incredible you really are, you will never be the same again.

WHAT DO YOU DREAM ABOUT?

This week I was working with a long time student of mine who has also gone through the ITM Teacher Training Course.

We were chatting about the future of the ITM and whether we were going to commit to another four years of professional development in 2016.

She told me that no one she talks to seems to understand why she dedicates so much time and money to learning about this process.

I can relate.

In a world where you can professionally certify in many disciplines in a weekend, the 8 years of formal professional training I will have completed in 2016 could seem a bit excessive!

She said she does not often tell people that this work is about reaching your dreams.

She said that the people around her don’t see that she is reaching her dreams. But she knows, on the inside, she is becoming more and more of the person she dreams of being.

I was so touched by her saying this.

I have to confess, I can be a bit sheepish about claiming this work I teach is about reaching your dreams.

Because there are things I dream of having in my life that still feel totally out of reach.

My student that day made me realise that on some level I only feel justified talking about reaching your dreams if I can point to some outrageous symbol of success in my life that represents a huge dream.

I have somehow limited my idea of dreams to achieving things that other people can see and ackqnolodge. Objects! Awards! Projects! Jobs! Trips!

I have forgotten that the health, peace, love, freedom, joy and sense of purpose I experience in my life more and more every day is something I only dreamed of 20 years ago.

Thinking about this reminded me of the principle we study in our training course so perfectly expressed by Stephan Covey when he claims that private victories proceed public victories.

Now, I don’t for a moment want to suggest that studying the ITM may not lead to achieving those dreams visible from the outside. In fact, our current training course is full of people doing just that over the four years they immerse themselves in this work.

It has been incredible watching the trainees apply the material in the curriculum to their lives and land dream jobs, start businesses, create incredible charity projects, write plays and put out albums.

It has also been inspiring to watch people manage incredibly difficult life circumstances with grace and dignity as they find more and more resources within themselves through using the tools and principles that make up the ITM Alexander Technique.

One of my favourite things I have heard Don Weed, the founder of the ITM say about reaching your dreams is this:

“If you are taking steps toward your dreams, you are already living your dreams”.

How wonderful is that!

And yes, I still have projects and goals I will tend to and pursue. I still have my worldly ambitions.

But fundamentally, my student that day helped me remember that the biggest dream of all is to become the men and women we are capable of being.

"REMEMBERIG" VS "UNDERSTANDING"

“And when you understand a thing don’t grind over and over it….The moment you understand it, know that it is a part of you forever.”—Brenda Ueland

One of the great joys of my work is seeing how people respond to their early lessons in the ITM Alexander Technique.

When people experience, in seconds, how much easier they can be in themselves, delight and relief floods their face. This is often quickly followed by anxiety and the question: How do I keep this?

The answer they often come to is that they must remember exactly what happened in the lesson and then remember it as much as possible over and over again.

They are often baffled when, as a teacher, I don’t recommend this strategy as a constructive way forward.

In the ITM Alexander Technique, we work with the hypothesis that our movements are caused by thinking: by sending messages out from the brain to the muscles involved. Because I understand the processes and mechanics of movement, I know that my pupil is having this wonderful experience because they have had a change in understanding.

I also know that this new understanding may not be something they can yet articulate because it just does not fit with our usual way of thinking about ourselves or how we move. The beauty of this work is that we have a simple, observable proof of this change in thinking: how the student now looks and moves.

Oprah calls these moments “aha” moments. Archimedes yelled out “Eureka!”. There is magic in that moment when a spark lights our minds and a new idea or understanding illuminates the whole landscape of our mental world.

I don’t think my pupil needs to “remember” anything, because I can see in their appearance that they have had a new understanding. And this understanding has now changed their mental landscape.

The more they “grind” over it , the more likely they are to stuff this understanding into something they already know and by doing so extinguish the light and life from this new realisation.

But if they are willing to hang out in no-mans land of new and different, to accept that something has changed in them even if they can’t pin it down and put a label on it, that new understanding will attract more new understanding and they will continue to learn and grow.

The effort is not in “remembering”, the effort and difficulty is tolerating the discomfort and uncertainty of new and different.

As I trust more in “understanding” I have found that I need to worry less about “remembering” or even “memorising”. As I own ideas and concepts and develop my understanding, new behaviour flows easily from those realisations. So I wonder, Is there any part of your life that could be made easier if you focused on your understanding and trusted that a new understanding will lead to new behaviours?

WHY I WON'T TELL YOU WHAT TO DO

As an ITM Alexander Teacher you build up a tolerance for the fact that they way we teach may not appeal at first to all of our students.

I recently taught a delightful and large group for three months. We had a lovely time and everyone who showed up week after week had amazing results by the end of the course. I get teary just thinking about all the shining faces and triumphant reports on our last day together.

One of the participants was very articulate about her mixed feelings about those results.

She told me that when she had a lesson, she felt, in her words “how I have always wished I could feel”. She was glowing. Her classmates all commented on how much younger she looked and how much happier she seemed. Her appearance was confident, calm, poised and she felt great.

The problem?

Nothing that led to those changes matched anything she labelledas”learning”. She told me she needed a list of things to do, and that she would do them. She begged me for clear instructions. On the last day of class she requested a list of “learning objectives” so that she could find out if she had learned anything.

Despite the fact that she had changed so much, in ways she loved and could acknowledge, she could not accept that she had learned anything.

This is understandable.

The way we approach learning and education in the ITM Alexander Technique really does not match what most of us have come to label “learning”. And while not all of us are as articulate as this particular student, I think anyone who has studied this work has had a similar experience at some point.

You see, in the ITM we don’t believe that we are of much use to you as teachers if we just “tell you what to do”. For more reasons than I could go into here in a blog, or even a book.

We believe that if you are getting results you don’t like, in any activity, the place to look for a solution is in your ideas, your beliefs and the processes you are using.

And that is not a direct, one to one transaction. You can’t tell someone what to believe, what to think or even how to think. Nor can you dictate the processes that will work best for each person’s unique set of talents and unique life situation.

But you can design a learning process, design an experience through which someone can examine their own ideas, their own beliefs and put themselves in a position to make changes on a causal level.

You can offer them the information and tools they need. You can help them practice the skills they need to design their own process. And that is what we call “lessons” in the ITM. Actually, that is what we are doing from the moment our students walk through the door.

Because “learning” only has a little bit to do with acquiring information. But I think my student had limited her definition of learning as I think many of us have. I think we have a tendency to limit our definition of learning to what happened in school, to acquiring information or learning a specific skill that we can evaluate in a measurable way with a checklist or exam.

I believe we are “learning machines” and that almost everything that brings us great satisfaction, almost everything we admire in other people is a result of learning processes.

I love sharing a whole new attitude, perspective and appreciation for the learning process with my students.

Because if you can “learn how to learn”, the world is your oyster! So this is what I work towards in my classes and why I will never just tell you what to do.

So I wonder, are there ways you have limited your definition of “learning” in your life? What are the most important truths, skills and ideas you have ever learned?

THE POWER OF PERFECT....ENOUGH

One of the many wonderful concepts the founder of the ITM, Don Weed, has introduced me to over the years is the idea of “perfect enough”.

Perfect is a top down concept. You predetermine what “perfect” is and then strive toward that goal. To be honest, however, I think that for most of us it is not even that clear or rational. I speak for myself here, but I am sure some of you can relate to this.

You see, I have caught myself over and over again feeling like I am falling short. When I stop to think about it I have not even bothered to determine what I am falling short of! So perfect becomes this imaginary, illusionary state that is always unreachable, because it has not even been properly defined.

The problem with perfect? Well, beside the fact that it may not even exist, it is actually a limited concept.

Your “perfect” is predetermined. From where you are now. With your current knowledge, perspective and understanding. By deciding what perfect is, you have actually put a big lid on what is possible for you.

So what is the solution?

Enter……. Perfect enough.

And two more words that really help with this:

Perfect enough…for now.

You see, if everyday you work on “perfect enough…for now” you will experience success each and every day. And that is incredibly motivating and uplifting.

It is also much more honest.

The truth is, there is only so much we can accomplish on any given day, in any given state. If you are down and out with the flu, perfect enough is going to look different then on a day you are feeling great, have no distractions and are surrounded with all the support you need.

The most exiting thing about perfect enough?

As you simply do what you can, when you can, you will stealthily and steadily improve. Over and over again. Little by little. And there is a really good chance that that steady, small improvements will catapult you far beyond your limited concept of “perfect” without you even noticing you have surpassed it and them some.

You see, perfect enough for today is open ended. And I think when it comes to our potential, so are we.

I would love to know, do you find the concept of “perfect enough” helpful?

WHY YOU DON’T NEED A HORSE (BUT IF YOU HAVE ONE, THAT’S COOL!)

Some of you will be familiar with the concept of a “horse whisperer”. Horse trainers have developed a non violent way to “join up” with an untrained horse that taps into the way horses naturally communicate with each other in a herd environment. By “joining up” with the animal they create a foundation from which they can begin to train the horse. This approach is in stark contrast to the traditional western practice of “breaking” a horse which is exactly how it sounds: you basically beat a horse into submission so that you can start to train them.

The mental skills and discipline required to “join up” with a horse have a wider application. Teaching people this process has become part of some addiction rehabilitation programs, life coach training and other therapeutic processes.

Life coach Matha Beck describes her first experience learning the process:

“The horse, as any part of the wild world always does, mirrored my confusion perfectly, stopping, starting, turning, wheeling, trying desperately to follow my contradictory signals.”

The magic of this approach is that the horse acts out exactly what is going on in your mind. And by observing the effect you are having on the horse, you can learn how to discipline your mental state toward a mental state that the horse trusts and follows. They accept you as leader because you become a leader: of your own mind first and foremost.

However, getting ahold of a wild mustang to practice with is not all that realistic for most of us.

But you don’t need a horse to learn how to do this.

Because you have a body.

You see, your body is just like the horse. It is responding to your thoughts.

In fact, already I have a problem here. Because as soon as I start to talk about your body as an “it”, as soon as I start to talk about “mind” and “body” I am setting up a separation in a system which is unified.

If you for a moment put aside the incredible complexity of us and simply look at the relationship between thinking and movement you have something you can work with.

Your movements, the way your muscles contract and stop contracting to create the movement of bones around joints, are caused by the messages sent out from your brain: your thinking.

And for most of us, our movements represent exactly the kind of confusion Martha Beck describes above. We experience the effect of this confusion as things we label “tension”, discomfort while sitting at our computer,  a lack of coordination or simply our inability to perform at the level we desire.

If you study the cause and effect relationship between your thinking and your movements, you have an observable learning laboratory you can take with you wherever you go. Much easier to travel with then an untrained horse.

Learning how to go from confusion to clarity in the way you move has far reaching implications that extend to every part of your life. This relationship, like the horse, can become a metaphor for the way you approach life and give you an indirect, but highly effective way to become more conscious, deliberate and thoughtful in the way you navigate your life.

THE TRUE YOU MASTERCLASS

…the true self if always in motion like music, a river of life, changing, moving, failing, suffering, learning, shining. – Brenda Ueland

Over the past six months I have been working with two friends on a series of events. One of those friends, Sarah Abell, is a relationship coach, author and journalist.

One of the many benefits of working with Sarah is that she is a great writer. She takes my stumbling attempts at the copy we need to promote our events and turns them into elegant, flowing words that create a mood and convey what we want to share with our clients beautifully.

She has also come up with some wonderful names for our offerings.

Our next event is called “True You Masterclass”.

When she made the suggestion, I liked it, approved it, and moved on with all the other tasks that needed to be done to make the workshop happen.

One day I went downstairs and saw the postcards we had printed to promote the event. And I remembered: For many years, when people asked me why I studied the ITM Alexander Technique, why I loved it so much and why I was willing to travel halfway around the world to have ITM lessons I would say:

“I love it because when I have lessons I feel like I become more of myself”.

I would get blank stares. And over time I stopped talking about it quite so much. I never included it in my copy to promote courses or classes. It seemed too vague, too airy fairy.

For over twenty years I have watched what happens when people stop moving in ways that don’t serve them.

In a very simple, practical way, when people get clear on the movements they actually need to make in order to sit, walk, talk, miraculous changes happen.

Almost without exception what emerges is peace, clarity and comfort. People often report loosing a feeling of “self consciousness”. They claim to feel more connected to the other people in the room. They delight at how much easier and enjoyable even the simple tasks of daily life can be. When I am teaching in a group of beginners a comment that comes up often is that the person having the lesson starts to glow.

This has led me to believe that our “true self” is something wonderful. We are all inherently loving, compassionate, creative, intelligent and joyful. And perhaps all we need to “do” is to stop doing the stuff that gets in the way of expressing that truth.

I think this is partly what F.M Alexander meant when he said that the Alexander Technique is about realising all of our potential.

People like Sarah are facilitating a cultural conversation about “authenticity”. She comes from a different perspective then our ITM classes where our focus is on thinking and movement.

Sarah explores how we can be true to ourselves in our relationships.

Her life story gave her a heartbreaking reason to pursue that interest. It comes from a deep place of wanting to connect with other human beings. She has had the courage and conviction to pursue that need and share what she has learned with others. That too, seems to be a hallmark of our “true self”: when we tap into what is true for us and commit to that truth, we can more easily share and connect with others.

Sarah is a shining example of how we can find meaning and purpose by facing the most painful circumstances of our life with honesty and clarity.

The fact that as a culture we are talking and thinking about authenticity is significant.  I think many of us are wanting to be more of our “true selves”. And I think their are many wonderful process out there to support us in that quest.

In our workshop we will be looking at how to express more of your true self through the way you dress, the way you move and the way you relate to others. But really, it is a perspective you can take on any part of your life.

So I feel things have come full circle for me. That I have moved from blank stares to a colleague suggesting the name “True You Masterclass” as a way to describe the work I offer.

And I might start using it more myself again to talk about what I do.