A few weeks ago James asked me to contribute an article to Beyond the Call. I’d like to offer you a brief tour of one way in which I’ve been thinking about co-ordination over the past year or so. I think about co-ordination because I’m an athlete, an Alexander Technique teacher and a beginning and determined to improve pianist.
Co-ordination is, grammatically speaking, a noun, but the linguists among you will also recognise it as a nominalisation. “To co-ordinate” is at least a four-place predicate. Some “thing” is co-ordinated with some other “thing” (or “things”) by someone, in order to do something.
So, who co-ordinates what with what in order to do what? The short answer that I’ve found most practical is this: When I’m functioning well, the conscious portion of my whole self co-ordinates relationships between my intention, my action and my perception, in order to enact my intention.
Assumption: my whole self at any point in time includes aspects of which I’m conscious and aspects of which I’m unconscious. These aspects are wonderfully entwined. I can infer these entwinements via my conscious experience but cannot experience them in and of themselves.
Implication: this limitation of consciousness – or rather the vastness of our unconscious minds – is one of the reasons we need to co-ordinate ourselves deliberately rather than act habitually if we are to transform our behaviour and experience.
So, given that I have an intention – a want – how does the “conscious I” co-ordinate my action and perception with that intention?
First of all, I frame my want in positive terms; for example, “I want to play this piano piece gracefully,” rather than “I want to play this piano piece without stuffing up.”
Then, second of all, I begin to construct a co-ordinating plan starting with a reminder to myself that the quality of co-ordination between my head and my spine is primary in determining the quality of co-ordination through my whole self (this is true for all vertebrates). Thus I begin with an active request to my whole self:
“I ask to co-ordinate between my head and my spine so that my head can move so that all of me can follow so that …”
Third of all I include my whole self in such a way that invites elegant unconscious organization so that I needn’t be directly conscious of or micro-manage everything:
“… everything that wants to move can move so that …”
Fourth of all I include my audience if I have one:
“… I can invite my audience to be with me while I am with them …”
Fifth of all I include those aspects of my perception and action that are specific to the current want:
“… as I see the music and let my fingertips lead my whole arms to the keyboard so that I can play this piece gracefully.”
“I ask to co-ordinate between my head and my spine so that my head can move so that all of me can follow so that everything that wants to move can move so that I can invite my audience to be with me while I am with them as I see the music and let my fingertips lead my whole arms to the keyboard so that I can play this piece gracefully.”
In practice this plan is dynamic and flexible: I can think it faster than I can say it, and I can refresh and modify this plan as I am enacting it.
This is the linguistic form of an active co-ordinating process with which I may effectively think my actions (as distinct from thinking about them). This mode of thinking will necessarily entrain aspects that can’t be rendered verbally; it’s the menu, not the food.
This mode of thinking works because it is posed and enacted in a way that initiates a generative cycle of conception-enaction-perception-reflection-conception, and so on. How we move and perceive are inseparable from how we think. By thinking in a way that accounts for and appeals to our psychophysical wholeness we can most effectively insert our conscious wishes into our cycles of activity, including the unconscious aspects of those cycles.
This description of my approach to co-ordination is an expanded version of one answer that I sometimes give to the question, “What is the Alexander technique?” The short answer to that question is, “It’s a way of learning about and improving the underlying patterns of co-ordination in anything you do.” For both the long and short answers I am indebted to F.M. Alexander, Marjory Barstow and Cathy Madden for their discoveries and teaching however I take full responsibility for the form of the ideas offered here.
As I look at this description it seems very terse – almost Wittgensteinian – yet I am happy that it is a reasonable account of the process I use when I teach the Technique to others and when I apply it in my own activities. Of course these words contain none of the tactile, visual and verbal feedback that characterise an Alexander class, but still, I’m curious what you may learn of the Alexander Technique simply by experimenting with this account, however you understand it, and without any other input.
One format for doing this may be to play with this stuff in relation to a simple activity you do each day, such as brushing your teeth or putting on your shoes and socks. If you stick with it for a week I’m sure you’ll generate some new types of experience. Please let me know what you find out.
If you would like to learn more about the Alexander Technique, contact Brendan at www.brendanbond.com.au