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
Saturday, 08 November 2014 18:36

Living on the Edge

One of the facts of movement is that we move best when we are unstable but balanced. This is often a discomforting fact, something that we would prefer to avoid by seeking stability, predictability, limiting our choices to the already known. Life though has the habit of intervening when we go down this road; at some point we will be caught short. In simple movement terms, if we are trying to move and be stable, then we establish limits to what we can do and make ourselves prone to hurt and injury.

To move into balance, it is necessary to let go of stability, to unknow what we know, to pass through a moment of instability, without balance in order to find ourselves balancing on the edge, ready to step forward into the unknown in order to know it. Alexander Technique is as a process, as Joseph Rowntree, of ‘reasoning into the unknown.’ It helps us find the edge and step forward into a life of uncertainty, discovery and creation. It is there at the beginning of our first lesson, when we stand in front of a chair for the first time thinking we know how to stand.

The invite to place your feet under your hips and turn them out by 45 degrees, releases most people into a free balance, as they stop pulling forward by shortening by placing their weight through the balls of their feet. At the same time, their breathing releases, the gold standard, in terms of feedback of how we are doing. This free balance requires nothing else from us but the placing of the feet and freeing ourselves to look ahead. It teaches us how to stand well, without our usual effort and sets us up for learning the guiding orders in relation to movement and action.

There at the beginning of lessons, we are starting to unknow our most basic patterns of movement, in terms of standing, walking, sitting and taking hold of the world. Beginning there is a prelude to becoming more conscious of our habits, our ways of approaching things and other people. As our consciousness grows, as we grow our awareness, we learn the difference between attending directly to ourselves and being aware our selves with our attention free to gaze, glance and focus in our surrounding worlds. Within our growing awareness, subsidiary to our attention we learn the meaning of the guiding orders, in terms of distinctions between the small movements of the micro actions, that can interfere or co-ordinate the use of our self.

It is perhaps worth noting here that Alexander’s definition of self is very wide and loose and seeks to includes everything of our phenomenological experience. In this I think it can be related to both William James ‘self of selves’ and Jung’s idea of a Self, an archetype of wholeness that emerges in the process of time, in the process which is ourselves. And Alexander’s idea of the primary control, that use of the head and the neck in relation to the torso, is a control in process, that for him was a universal constant in our process of living, that is always taking us to our edges. Tantalizing us forward into unknowing our past and our present by moving forward into a future of increasing wholeness. We are never standing still in this, we are always moving forward with new levels of integration emerging if we work the process, of keeping our necks free, our heads going forward and up as we allow ourselves to lengthen and to widen, integrating ourselves in a daily practice of increasing psycho-physical integration. Through conscious control, we become whole again.

Published in Lessons from the Chair