About verbal ordering

An expression of some of my qualms.

Many thanks for your letter. I agree there’s little point producing a compressed version of your booklet; so I suggest we bury that idea. In the meantime, I’m happy to correspond with a view to something productive emerging.

One possibility that occurs to me is that I could "interview" you. Not a one-off event in which whatever you say is taken down verbatim, but a mutually agreed question and answer format that could be re-hashed until we were both happy with it.

The way ordering was taught to me, or the way I understood it, was that it was best done blind. In other words, although it could include paying attention to the parts of the body referred to by the orders, it was preferable if it didn’t; and any conscious intention for the body to change in the way the orders implied was better avoided.

The point of purely verbal ordering, as I understand it, is to help us avoid the tendency, when sending messages to the body, of attempting to carry out the intention implicit in those messages.

Such ordering – whether given as you describe in your article or as Patrick MacDonald suggests in his memorial lecture – appears to me to produce changes in use in two main ways:

1. By replacing the verbal chatter that would otherwise be going on in our heads.

2. By eliciting a conditioned response based on prior associations.

There is also the possibility that change occurs:

3. Through a direct link between the orders and the intelligence of the body.

What seems to happen in (1) is that whatever amount of misuse is present in a person as an on-going reflection of their interior dialogue, it will disappear, to be replaced by better use, once that dialogue stops.

This isn’t the result of the orders so much as the absence of what they replace. By stilling our mental chatter, the physical manifestations of it will cease. This is the basis of mantric meditation and requires no expertise, or even any experience, in the Technique to work.

In (2) a conditioned response depends on the gradual build up of repeated experiences, linked to the repetition of the orders, the point of which is for a pupil to become independent of their teacher. Although this may work for a while, since pupils are most likely to give orders when they in difficulty, a time will come when, far from producing a beneficial state linked to prior lessons, their efforts will result in a response based on the more recent, cumulative experiences of poor use present when ordering.

In other words, a secondary conditioning will be set up, eventually superceding the primary one. In circumstances where ordering is all a pupil knows, this downward learning spiral would only be rectifiable through recourse to further lessons.

I have to say (3) I don’t go along with Kitty Wielopolska’s view that any meaningful, Alexandrian change in use can be brought about by the direct, unconscious response of our bodies to their perception of what the orders mean.

I assume she’s talking about purely verbal orders, since it would be difficult, if not impossible, to pay attention to the body as a whole, or to those parts of it to which the orders refer, and not at the same time to be thinking – whether visually or kinesthetically – about what those orders mean, as well as wanting them to work in a particular way. Clearly, the presence of any such thought and its associated intention would get in the way of Kitty’s desire for the body to be "left to its own intelligence".

The problem is, where else could our unconscious hope to get a proper understanding – or any understanding – of what the orders mean if not from our conscious mind? The unconscious, in order to translate the orders into improved use, would have to interpret them as Alexander intended, and could hardly do this unaided.

A seperate point I would like to make is that purely verbal ordering seems to me to exclude the possibility of anything but the most superficial inhibition. My understanding of inhibition is that it is dependant on a sensitivity towards existing conditions, and specifically towards the possibility of the Primary Control being interfered with, that is incompatible with the largely unmediated, undirected, inattentive and unintentional nature of verbal orders.

My conclusion is that ordering, in an Alexander context, is invaluable for stilling the mind, and for any initial learning, or later remembering, of the directions; but limiting and potentially damaging for anyone with a commitment to understanding how to apply the Technique to their lives.

I hope that goes some way to explaining what I meant. I don’t expect you to agree with me, and I look forward to hearing where you think I’ve gone wrong; but I do have a question for you too, if you have the time and space to answer it. I’d like to know what place or provision in your scheme of things for working on yourself there is for:

a. What Alexander called "the critical moment".

b. Objective feedback. By this, I mean the confirmation Alexander received from mirrors, and we receive from teachers, that what feels right is in fact wrong.

By the way, hypnosis suggests the unconscious mind takes the meaning of words literally. There are stories of implanted suggestions going wrong, such as the person, yearning after personal "growth", who found her face sprouting warts. My own experience of listening to a tape of my voice, during self-hypnosis, exhorting me to go with the "flow", left me waking on successive nights with a bleeding nose I had difficulty staunching.

We might think that by knowing, consciously, the essential parameters of Alexandrian orders, our unconscious could hardly misinterpret them; but I knew what I meant by going with the "flow", and it had nothing to do with streams of blood. I find it difficult to imagine how my unconscious might interpret a phrase like "back widen" if, as Kitty suggests, my conscious gives it no help; but I see no reason why it should be in accordance with Alexander’s understanding.

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