Saturday, January 07, 2006

What did Alexander mean by Conscious Inhibition?

In the Muddy Pool, Floating Weed wrote:

There is a sense amongst some practitioners that we can consciously intend and practise this actual inhibition of habitual response in our daily lives but we cannot, we can only practise zazen. There is no moment we can identify in which our conscious response is appropriate. Our natural expression (immanence/prescience) cannot be defined or controlled only revealed.

If Floating Weed were familiar with Alexander's work, he or she would not have written this. I am afraid that Floating Weed might be guilty of expressing a view on a subject that he or she has not yet investigated thoroughly.

It is impossible to convey in writing what happens in an Alexander lesson, but I shall attempt to give a kind of snapshot. A lesson tends to be filled with complaints from the teacher along the lines of:

"No, now you helped."
"No, you used your legs."
"Uh huh! Now you want to get out of the chair, don't you?"

These complaints occur when the pupil fails to inhibit his habitual response, and thereby gets in the teachers way, preventing the teacher from conveying to the pupil a new experience of freedom from doing.

The late Patrick Macdonald, a protege of FM Alexander, wrote: "You must learn to get out of the teacher's way, learn to get out of your own way, then learn to get out of ITS way."

In response to feedback from the teacher of the kind quoted above, it is up to the pupil to renew a conscious decision to inhibit his habitual response. This habitual response arises from a desire to get it right or to help the teacher, and so it is necessary for the Alexander teacher to reassure the Alexander pupil that it is totally unnecessary for the pupil to try to get it right or to help the teacher.

If you have never had an Alexander lesson, the above will not make any sense to you, and neither should it. It is merely a snapshot of my own experience of Alexander work.

All I can do is to once again bear witness to the fact that, before having Alexander lessons, I completely failed to understand the real meaning of the first sentence of Shobogenzo, in which Master Dogen writes of the Subtle Skill/Method/Technique of Zazen. In recent years, due to input from Alexander teachers, I believe that I began to understand what Master Dogen was getting at when he described the Subtle Skill as "of the highest order" and "free of doing."

If you want to investigate for yourself whether or not I am talking through my hat, find a good Alexander teacher. There is no other way.


Blogger Michael Tait said...

Why would Dogen write 'not doing' when he meant 'consciously inhibit habitual reaction?'

Why would Nagarjuna describe the relinquishing of all views when he meant 'all except conscious inhibition of wrongness?'

Your post on The Middle Way is direct.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Mike Cross said...


I think it might be as if I am attempting to describe to you a land that you have not yet visited, and you are trying to make sense of it by consulting an old map of a place you have visited.

Alexander's teaching is not like anything else -- except, I believe, the original teaching of the Buddha.

If you want to check out whether I am talking through my hat, you must seek out a good Alexander teacher.

Why not?

3:00 AM  
Blogger Gareth said...

I haven't had time to read and digest this whole article, but as an actor the work of Alexander interests me - and, from the bits and pieces I have seen, seems to resonate with other physical work I have done.

Do you know the work of Kristin Linklater at all?

11:42 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

This quote on inhibition has been reaching me lately:

"You come to learn to inhibit and to direct your activity. You learn, first,
to inhibit the habitual reaction to certain classes of stimuli, and second, to direct
yourself consciously in such a way as to affect certain muscular pulls, which
processes bring a new reaction to these stimuli. Boiled down, it all comes to
inhibiting a particular reaction to a given stimulus. But no one will see it that way.
They will all see it as getting in and out of the chair the right way. It is nothing
of the kind. It is that a pupil decides what he will or will not consent to do.
They may teach you anatomy and physiology till they are black in the face --
you will still have this to face, sticking to a decision against your habit of a life." Fm

11:02 AM  

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