freedom for life

The Edinburgh Alexander and Therapy Centre has been offering Alexander lessons and workshops since 1994.

Saturday, 17 June 2017 07:56

Donald Trump and Fairytales

Donald Trump may not be out of his mind but he may be an idiot and in saying both things, I am actually saying the same thing: that he lacks a sense of community or fellowship, he lacks a connection with his Self. Now the word 'Self' takes on numerous different meanings in different thought systems, not least in Alexander’s work, Jung, and in the work of constructivist psychotherapist Jay Efran. He distinguishes between Self and Mind, as providing two important psychological contexts, where the Self is about openness to experience, connection to others and the world at large - community in other words - while the mind is centred on safety, survival and proving itself right at all costs. Jonathan Raskin, another constructivist, in a recent blog used this distinction to suggest that the problem with Donald Trump that enrages many people is not that he is out of his mind but actually in it all the time, and therefore lacking an openness and connection to others and the world. 

This, in the old Greek sense, helps makes him an idiot, a private self-centred person, lacking skill, who does not understand that, to be an individual, one is sustained by community, depends on community and needs to nurture it, rather than potentially destroy it. Something that Eric Anthamatten rather nicely explicated in the case of Donald Trump in the New York Times at the weekend.


What though has this to do with either Alexander Technique or therapy? Well, with both there is a need to get in touch with one’s Self, where the Self includes everything as Alexander thought, then you get something akin to what Jungian Marie-Louise Von Franz wrote in her book on Redemption 'Motifs in Fairytales:' If you take the human personality as a sphere, with the Self embracing the whole sphere and also being the self-regulating factor in the centre, any deviation will have compensations,’ or we might say negative implications in general functioning if we were to follow Alexander. And while a Jungian might work with dreams in order that the ego functions in harmony with the Self, Alexander would work with the habits that make up the personality, so that the Self functions in harmony with the personality.


What that means in Jungian or Alexander terms is that we need to be aware, conscious of the habits by which we disturb our balance and pull down into mind. We can then learn to stop relying on these habits and literally come up and be held in the context of our Self that allows the better parts of our nature to function, connecting us to others and to our environment. That way we can see our way forward both living our individual lives but within the networks of our sustaining communities and now more than ever our sustaining world, something that President Trump finds all too easy to cast aside. 


Casting aside that concern for the world and for others, living in a world of insults and revenge, with the demand for personal loyalty, reminds me of The Emperor’s New Clothes, and the importance of truth telling not just to others but most importantly to ourselves. And to quote Orwell here:

‘We are all capable of believing things which we know to be untrue, and then, when we are finally proved wrong, impudently twisting the facts so as to show that we were right. Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time: the only check on it is that sooner or later a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield.’


It’s better not to end up on the battlefield and we can get there avoid it by listening to others and then to ourselves to find out where we are justifying or defending ourselves by habitually going into mind and staying there rather than coming up into connection with our Self and, through that, with community and others. 

Published in Lessons from the Chair

Whenever I seek to introduce Alexander’s technique to someone, I ask the rhetorical question of 'what is it a technique for?’ The answer I give is drawn from the title of Alexander’s second book, 'Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual'. Which is a bit of a mouthful and it is all too easy to imagine a present-day publisher objecting to this and demanding something snappy like ‘Improve Your Posture’, ‘Fix Your Back’ or even just ‘The Alexander Technique’. Alexander, I think, would have objected and tried to explain just how well the title does tell you what his work is about, if only you had the technique to stop and be curious as to what is in front of you.

So let me explain what I understand the title means and why constructive conscious control is important for each of us as individuals, in other words why it is a good for us that we might want to invest our time and money in.

The first term I usually start with is the term 'conscious' and, like all the terms in the title, it is a word we approach with our prior understandings, connotations from other theories that can get in the way of understanding what Alexander is writing about. The term 'conscious' in Alexander’s work is used to talk about being aware of ourselves and very specifically being aware of how we are going about controlling ourselves in the activities of our daily lives.

These activities rely on a set of basic actions such as sitting, standing or walking, actions that we learn before we are two and before we have a memory to recall how we learned them. Which means that most of us have no conscious idea of how we do any of these actions, that is we have no idea of the habits of how we control or coordinate ourselves, and lacking any idea, we have no ability to assess the implications of what we have learned, whether it is a tendency to be beneficial to our health and performance or not. We are in Alexander’s language relying on subconscious control and, in doing so, if our habitual manner of controlling ourselves interferes with our postural support, it will interfere with our breathing and therefore our vitality and our functioning generally - in this respect it is not constructive. The interference with our general functioning has many symptoms not least the sore necks and backs that bring so many people to Alexander’s work.

Constructive conscious control involves many things, not least becoming aware of our subconsciously learned habitual manner of controlling ourselves, in order that we can assess the implications of these early habits. We can then replace them with consciously learned habits if necessary, that do not interfere with our general functioning and vitality but rather enhance it. In this move to conscious control we get away from many of the negative aspects of control that people can be concerned about in terms of rigidity, tightness and worrying about the correct way we should do things. Conscious control brings with it a lightness, flexibility and a freedom, which allows for spontaneity. If we follow this path, many symptoms that bother us lessen or disappear - as our general functioning improves – we feel alive. We also find that we become more balanced and successful in performing skilled activities, whatever they maybe.

Amongst the great benefits of practising constructive conscious control is that it allows for constant successful adaption in terms of general functioning to changing circumstances including our ageing, so that we make the most of ourselves and the opportunities and possibilities that life and our current age offers us. So for a teenage musician it might be about instilling habits that will help them avoid career threatening injury as well as helping with the quality of performance. For someone older it may be about re-educating themselves out of habits of moving that are a major cause of their neck or back pain, or to improve their performance skills in a particular area. Or it might be to help prevent problems with movement from occurring as they get older. At any age it might be helping with the recovery and rehabilitation from illness including surgical operations. Or it might be looking at habits which are deeply psychological in terms of how we face and interact with others, which are important and need to be worked with at some point. We all face such challenges at different points in our lives and conscious control is a great help in meeting them. The earlier one starts in some senses the better, but no one is too old to learn if they want to feel more alive and make the most of the opportunities afforded to them.

Published in Lessons from the Chair