Monday, January 28, 2013

W05.01 Alexander's Breakthrough Needed A Mirror - What Will You Use To Get the Same Result?

He was desperate – his whole life was at stake.

He had done the rounds, tried their suggestions, and finally ended up here: alone, half-dressed, wondering where it had all gone wrong… He was a long way from home, and there was no going back to the island. Anyway, he didn’t want to go back, not there, not to him. Later, he would deny it. Bloch would find out, tell everyone – but he would be dead by then. It didn’t matter. What mattered was that he had to find out why – otherwise, there was no hope, no possibility.


Finally it hit him: he had to employ an agent. There was no choice anymore – he had to go down that path, whatever the consequences. But who? Where? How?

Our film noir hero is Alexander of course: circa 1870s, trying to get his life back on track after a devastating loss of voice that spelt the end of his career, drowning dreams harboured since a little boy. Many Alexander Technique teachers feel a similar desperation – loving this work, feeling how precious and valuable it is, and wondering how they can do something about it. “Why do I have so few students? How can it make this work?” So it behoves us to re-read Alexander’s story: what did he do to save the situation? How did he climb out of his despair?

He used a mirror. It sounds so ordinary doesn’t it?

Yet over the years, as I have read his story countless times, I have come to see that this is a profound metaphor for anyone in stuck in ignorance about a dilemma they can not solve. I was particularly struck by Jennifer Mackerras’ comment in her guest post on my blog yesterday which clearly illustrates this point:

But seeing it written down by someone else allowed me to think about it more clearly. It gave me permission. I have discovered that I, just like my students, sometimes just need permission to think the unthinkable, so that change can occur.

What did the mirror do for Alexander? It reflected back his behaviour in an objective, irrefutable way. It didn’t add, comment or judge his actions – it merely “reflected” them. In Alexander’s case, this reflection revealed the opposite to what he imagined was happening. His head was pulling back when he believed it was not: 

There was no question about this. I could see it actually happening in the mirror.” (UOS, Ch 1, p.41)

It is also this way with personalities – you can think you are being reasonable, but the report you get back is that you are being righteous, vindictive, angry and delusional. So many divorces, wars and conflicts erupt from this fundamental ground. It would be better that you engineer a way to see what you are doing, especially given humanity’s wonderfully ability to delude itself.

So who is going to be your mirror?

Friends don’t usually offer that kind of honest feedback. You need to seek it elsewhere. Who will tell you: fearlessly, unashamedly, without prejudice the truth of you? And the ultimate answer for the courageous is your enemy, that’s who. Enemy? Well, call them your irritant, the person who “gets under your skin.” This person could be your teacher, mentor and advisor. Basically, any person you can rely on to tell it how they see it. I choose “enemy” first because you can be sure their view will oppose your own, and that is valuable information if you are willing to consider it. Doesn’t that remind you of someone: Alexander, believing his head went forward, when his mirror revealed it actually went back. The opposite of what you believe to be true is often as true, if not truer. I have learnt this lesson many times, and it is an integral factor in Alexander Technique lessons.

Yet your enemy’s viewpoint is usually the only feedback you ignore. Not just ignore, but actively ignore: putting huge resources into refuting, denying, squashing. Are you doing that somewhere in your life right now? That kind of behaviour should be ringing your alarm bells. As Shakespeare so elegantly expressed: "The lady doth protest too much, methinks." However, not all of us are cut out to face our enemy this way. So if that doesn’t appeal to you, what next?

Pay someone.

When you want specific feedback, it is necessary to find a person qualified to give you that. The best mirror is a person who absorbs your information, asks questions and then illuminates patterns you have not discerned. Not adding anything: but helping you get behind your eyeballs to see how you are seeing. Do you have someone like that on your team of one? If not, that could be why you are stuck…

How I Got Unstuck
I first discovered the power of this insight when I was trying to overcome my overwhelming desire to get drunk at every opportunity I could. I didn’t reach the point of turning up drunk for a lesson, but I would dream all day of my first drink; I would have black-outs and do things that next day caused me to shrink in horror and remorse as I listened to my companions’ report. Some of you know the space I went into.

I tried so hard to stop, but could only be effective for short periods of time. Like Alexander my repeated loss of control was relentless, and resisted all attempts on my part to overcome it. I have written about this period of my life in the DIRECTION issue on emotions: my breakthrough came when I started attending meetings based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. At those meetings, I would often arrive on edge, desperate for a drink but after 90 minutes of listening, leave calm, reassured and have no desire to drink left in me. How did that work?

Meetings served the function of a mirror. Listening to other people was a way to listen to voices inside me that I tried to ignore. Hearing these thoughts spoken by others woke me up to the truth of feelings within myself. I admitted things I had been trying to push away. The meetings were powerful antidotes to my self-hate: negative feelings that I sought to numb out with reckless behaviour, instead dissolved to reveal my true self-love.

Odd as it may sound to you, this experience is a significant factor in my decision to shift BodyChance from Jan, 2013 to an exclusive group teaching Service Product. Private lessons are now an expensive premium, not part of our membership plan. This is both a pedagogical and financial decision. Students learn in an entirely different way when they see another person struggling with the very same issue that has been puzzling them, and groups support people continuing in a way that private lessons struggle to achieve.

This week’s blog is the start of exploring how mentors work, how a team works, how you get reliable, truthful information about what you are doing that will support you building your career. For all my deep talk, let me remind you that this blog is niched to Alexander Technique teachers & trainees who want to be financially successful teaching the work.

TOMORROW: Building Your Team of One
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