The frustration of lost car keys presents us with an opportunity to examine reaction and considered response. I use this example as an insight into the indirect nature of Alexander Technique, exploring the ‘end-gaining’ and ‘means-whereby’ attitudes.
Imagine a situation where you have lost your car keys in a studio apartment. How do you respond? One option is to go looking for the keys - turning things upside down, moving swiftly from one place to another. Another option is to methodically clean the room.
The first option seems appealing as it appears to address the issue of lost keys directly. You need to find the keys quickly, so moving fast, going straight for the goal seems the most sensible course of action.
The second option at the outset seems unrelated to the problem - until one considers that in cleaning the room, one would attend to all the potential places the keys could be.
Option one has you rushing. In a panic. The longer it takes to find the keys, the more uptight you get. The modus operandi is to ‘find keys at all costs’. The cost is a compromise to the equilibrium of the person searching. It has high potential for stress and is inviting tension.
A methodical process
Option two has you mindfully bringing the room into order. There is more opportunity in this scenario for you to get yourself in order! The focus is not on one exclusive action (finding keys), but on an inclusive action (tidying room and finding keys).
The latter option has infinitely more scope for attention to the use of the self. One would more likely be able to consider one’s quality of movement and engage in the processes trained by Alexander Technique.
Furthermore, if the keys happen not to be in the room, the first option has left you with a mess, and the second with a tidy room.
End-gaining and the Means-whereby
Going directly for an end, without consideration of the ‘big picture’, or the potential cost to self, is what FM Alexander referred to as ‘end-gaining’. It’s antithesis is the ‘means-whereby’ approach, where one follows a considered course of action which takes in the ‘big picture’ and prioritises a quality of movement throughout all tasks. Thus we have avoided any potential compromise on the practitioner, or on his or her work.
The analogy of looking for car keys and engaging in Alexander Technique was proposed to me by some teacher during my training, though I regret I cannot recall whom. I refer to it in teaching to encourage students to engage in a process which is general, rather than specific. Every student comes with a specific interest - often a localised pain. Alexander Technique doesn’t address this directly, but indirectly - as our two search options epitomise.
Alexander Technique in itself may not resolve every problem we have. Using it’s principles will improve the overall coordination. This makes solutions more accessible, or at the very least, improves management and overall quality of life.
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