Directing

A comment I read recently:

“For two and a half days, every waking moment, I gave those directions–and I mean *every* waking moment–except when I was talking to someone, because I can’t give directions inside my head and talk at the same time.

I also added one:  “my neck to relax, so my whole head can move forward and up, my whole body can lengthen and widen and whatever I’m doing to cause that pain I can stop.”

In the middle of the 3rd day, I realized my back didn’t hurt any more.  And it never did again.

But here’s the best part:  I told that story in class one day, and one of our students went home and told her husband.  He had had a few lessons, maybe 3 or 4–and his arm had been hurting.  So he did the same thing.  And after a couple of days his arm didn’t hurt any more.

Directing works. Each time, every time.  All you need is clear intention, some patience and a “genuine trust” that they be effective and they will be. ”

I find this observation faintly troubling. I think that’s because it reminds me so much of Emile Coue’s belief in the repetition of the phrase, “Every day in every way I get better and better”, as the cure for most ills.

Really, what is being described is nothing more than autosuggestion. In fact, I doubt it even qualifies as that. I should add, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with autosuggestion; but I always believed the Alexander process of directing was different.

I accept that what is being described is a version of Stage 1 directing, which, as was pointed out, could not be done at the same time as, say, talking. Nor, in my experience, is it possible to give directions in this way and ‘think’ at the same time. A different approach is needed, and that becomes Stage 2 directing, which the same person described this way:

“I think the ability to give directions non-verbally develops from the practice of doing as Alexander did and giving them verbally for a long time “consecutive days, weeks and months at a time without attempting to do them.”  When you have developed that skill, then thinking about your neck being free, etc. without literally saying the directions, will immediately allow that coordinating response to happen.”

However, they also added, they still find cause to return to Stage 1 directing, as a form of practice, likening it to playing scales on the piano. Clearly, before Stage 2 directing becomes possible, Stage 1 directing must be mastered; but, what is there to master, apart from memorizing a series of words and remembering to repeat them?

If this is ‘all’ the early stages of learning the Technique involves, then it is easier, cheaper and far less complex than is generally believed.. No lessons are required; simply dedication.

The most intriguing part of the whole question of Stage 1 directing is whether we need to have any notion at all, from the outset, of what is actually meant, intellectually or kinesthetically, by the words used. If not, what are we relying on? If it is not a question of having enough lessons so that the words are inextricably linked to prior experiences of good or better use, is it a reliance on the wisdom within us that somehow ‘knows’ what those words mean, or is it something else entirely?

For me, the idea that something in me ‘knows’ what is meant by certain words or phrases (that were formulated by another individual, to describe their understanding of an idealised state) to a degree of accuracy that would be increasingly useful and become increasingly evident the more I employed them, is hard to accept. I don’t deny that certain words repeated subvocally can have a beneficial effect; but I’m doubtful they would be the same words for everyone. I could make an exception for Coue’s succinct phrases, which appear to have a universal meaning. ‘Every day’, ‘every way’ and ‘better and better’ are not open to alternative interpretations. I don’t believe that’s the case with ‘Let the neck be free’ or ‘head forward and up’. These phrases are open to all sorts of misinterpretation, even when explained. There are many, many examples of suggestion, particularly hypnotic suggestion, backfiring, when words that seemed to have had a clear definition are taken too literally.  An infamous example involved someone intent on personal ‘growth’ using that word suggestively and finding themselves afflicted by a plague of warts.

I don’t have any clear understanding of what most teachers believe happens when they, or their students, direct, verbally, in this Stage 1 way. I know some are passionate advocates of using the words and making no attempt to understand or interpret them; others, of using the words to bring about a conditioned response from lessons based on the use of the same words; of using the words with a specific intention, based on an individual understanding of that they mean. Certainly, Alexander suggested any words would do, as they simply acted as triggers for experiences.

For myself, I’ve come to the conclusion that the effectiveness of Stage 1 directing works in only one way. When we use the words, they – the words – have little or no relevance. What is important is that while we direct we are not able to do anything else with the part of us that is employed on this task. In other words, our thinking mind becomes fully engaged in what is, in fact, a meaningless task. We can’t talk, either out loud or to ourselves, while directing in this way. The more we direct, the less we will be doing what we would ordinarily have been engaged in that our directing has effectively disabled. Whatever we were doing – whether talking to ourselves, or pursuing an end – will have been causing us grief, in terms of use; otherwise we would not be considering directing. By stopping doing whatever this is, for whatever duration of time we ‘direct’, that grief will be lessened.

So far as Stage 1 directing goes, prior to having lessons, or very many lessons, that is the major, and only positive, effect I can conceive of. I don’t mean to suggest this effect is anything but beneficial. My point is that it is easily obtained, in that it requires no skill, no learning and no expense.

Stage 2 directing is a different matter.

I’m quite happy to be shown to be wrong about this. I would love to hear an explanation that better describes what does happen when we start repeating Alexander’s words to ourselves, without attempting to make any particular sense of them.

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