freedom for life

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

Saturday, 12 January 2013 09:31

New Year Resolutions and The Need To Stop

The turning of the year with the lightening and lengthening of the day brings with it blogs and newspapers full of plans to detox, get fit, change your life, become a new you. Questions abound, as to which fitness plan, which diet, how to stick to it? Experts differ and everybody tends to assume that if you just tell people what they need to do, it happens, despite the abundant evidence of failure of far too many people with their diets, fitness plans, lapsed gym memberships and the like, in trying to change. WHY IS THIS?


It is not as if it is a new phenomena, rereading Alexander’s four books over the holiday season in preparation for an article, one finds the same themes, the same problems, exactly one hundred years ago. The problems persist, despite greater knowledge as to undesirability and damaging effects of certain behaviours, certain habits. For example the consumption of too much sugar is known to be linked to the rise in obesity, diabetes, heart disease and other major forms of illness, which waste lives in later years, eating up precious health budgets in care. 


Alexander himself wrote about the corruption of taste that goes with adding sugar to a babies’ milk and how it establishes a habit for sweet things that persist through life. A modern equivalent of which might be giving a child flavoured water, which is laced with large amounts of sugar. Now, specific dietary advice is beyond the normal remit of this blog, what is in its remit is the process of re-education, the process of change and here Alexander has much to say that is as relevant now, as it was, when he was writing. 


Perhaps the most important is the power and importance of being able to STOP and say NO to habit, to suspend it and close it out, in favour of something new, something that is a reasoned chosen choice. Too often no thought is given to what needs to be prevented, where we go wrong, where we have gone wrong, when we seek to help ourselves; too often little thought is given to how we get the fundamental experience of change, that is pervasive and persisting; too often we fail to consider that we might need to re-educate ourselves at a fundamental level, in terms of constructive conscious guidance and control in order to achieve our aims, realise our hopes and our dreams. 


Realising our hopes and our dreams, becoming more fully human in coping with inevitable disappointments that lie along the way, the tracks of our lives, will be the themes of the blog this year. I will blog about them both in the context of developing and gaining constructive conscious control and becoming a personal scientist; that is both within the context of Alexander’s work and Kelly’s work. Kelly, through Dewey can be seen as taking on many of Alexander’s elements of change, and applying them to the topic of human relationships, personal and social rather than the improvement in general function that comes from being well co-ordinated in carrying out the practical acts of daily life. 

Published in Lessons from the Chair

Musturbation is a lovely word coined by Albert Ellis to name the habit some people have of thinking that they must do something or that the world must be other than it is. Karen Horney meant something similar with her phrase the tyranny of the shoulds and it was something Alexander wrote about in his first book Man's Supreme Inheritance. For Alexander, the problem stems from a conflict between two positions. On the one hand, people are saying to themself 'I must' and on the other hand they are saying to themself 'I can't.' The solution in muscular terms is often concentration which as a way of controlling and directing attention amounts, as Alexander makes clear, to little more than a furrowing of the brow, physical rigidity and a holding of the breath. It serves little purpose other than narrowing attention and limiting us in the possibilities we can construe, as well as lowering our standard of vital functioning. The habits that lead to this limitation, are often chosen means of avoiding situations. The solution is to inhibit both the 'I must" and the "I can't' and replace it with the 'I wish' which evolves out of 'I want;' where the 'I want' is a starting point for an elaboration and negotiation with the world. 


Alexander can be somewhat harsh in his language around inhibition here. He uses terms like eradicate and oppose when understanding and acceptance are certainly better preludes to inhibition. For one thing is clear, is that in uncovering the habit that stifles initiative or aggression, as Kelly named spontaneous elaboration and curiosity, we often uncover the story of peoples lives, the choices that have been made in circumstances that were often not benign and sometimes down right malevolent with abuse that is both physical or mental. The avoidance, the habit at this point is not so much to avoid but to necessarily protect oneself. In time protecting becomes a habit that is carried beyond the original situation that someone is born into or found themselves in. They continue with a habit that no longer protects but filters current situations and people through the experience of the past, and anticipate in replication rather than creation. Futures can then become self-fulfilling, as people are sought out to recreate old relationships of the past. The way out of such a situation involves identifying the pattern, identifying the habit, identifying the construct, so that it can be suspended or inhibited in favour of something else, something that allows a sightline for increased possibilities of growth, happiness and being alive, even in the most difficult and trying of circumstances. Alexander, like Kelly, calls for propositional thinking, not rigidity or fixity but clear-eyed thinking, to find purpose and meaning. It becomes for both, each individual's responsibility to exercise their intelligence in the living the possibilities and adventure of their lives. This for Alexander was Man's Supreme Inheritance. The phrase may be dated but the ideas behind it are not, nor is the wish to live a full and active life. To dream, to wish, to live are what a full active lives are made of. 

Published in Lessons from the Chair