My mother was very proud of my academic abilities. Her side of the family were all brilliant people, and it was expected that she would be the first to graduate from college. Her sight started deteriorating during her freshman year until she was labeled “legally blind.” Sadly, in a world without the compensations for the blind that we take for granted today, she was unable to finish her schooling. This put a lot of pressure on me to be the first in my family to meet the college goal. There was never any doubt in my mind that I would do it. I loved school, and I assumed the family mantle of being The One to do it gladly. By the time I left home for college, I was an expert in figuring out things for myself without asking for help, in putting a lot of pressure on myself to succeed, and in placing the expectations of others ahead of my own desires and needs.
My father, on the other hand, was pretty laissez-faire about the whole academic thing. He was a champion problem-solver. He loved puzzles of all kinds, but especially ones you had to solve physically, like those little metal clumps of shapes that were all hooked together that you had to put into individual pieces. He also loved Rubik’s cube. He could pack the back of a car full to the brim with more than anyone ever thought would fit in there. He had the neatest workshop you have ever seen, with everything in its place all the time. An electrical engineer, my dad was highly valued for being a real out-of-the-box thinker, and he seldom went in a straight line from A to B. Over the years he did a lot of things for me that no one else could figure out – like rewiring an outdoor Christmas lights timer to turn on during the day instead of at night so I could use it to run a birdbath fountain. He built me a composter out of a 50 gallon barrel. He taught me to think creatively, to problem solve, to love jigsaw puzzles and word scrambles.
Underlying all of that, of course, is a level of fear that no matter how “good” I am, I will never be “good enough.” The problem solving gifts take the edge off of that, but underneath it all is always a worry that I’m really not as good as people think I am. Imposter Syndrome resonates for me. For much of my life, that led me to just push myself harder to be even better, even smarter. It’s a lot easier to get good grades (or to fix other people’s problems and wrong answers) than to fix yourself and come to terms with those fears.
Part of the “shadow side” of always wondering if you’re good enough is the imaginary yardstick by which others can be measured and judged. After all, if you’re judging yourself, you have to have something to measure against. Living in a world of “right” and “wrong” is something we’re all too familiar with these days, and it certainly is easy to go there. Why choose grey when black or white is so clear?
So why would a person like me be attracted to the Alexander Technique – something that encourages you to be in the moment, to suspend judgment, to listen, to perceive? From my personal experience, it’s exhausting to have to be “right,” to be “better than.” When I got off the Yes Train, I decided I wanted to get off the Right/Wrong Train, too.
Perhaps the most difficult part of becoming an Alexander Technique teacher for me was letting go of this particular habitual thinking pattern and the immediate need to decisively problem solve. I remember teaching a lesson early on, in my practice teaching days, when a student walked in literally limping from a very clear problem with her right hip. She hadn’t said a word, and I had already formulated in my mind how I was going to address this problem, ideas to “fix” it, where I was going to put my hands, etc., etc. She sat down, and I said “What brings you here today?” She replied, “My left shoulder is really hurting.” Oh. Wow. Oops. That was unexpected. What a great Alexander lesson for ME. In the overall scheme of things, and with the hindsight of 15 years of teaching, it is entirely possible that her shoulder was hurting because she was having a problem with her hip. But in that moment, at that time, it was my job to simply listen and ask good questions. It’s not my job to have the answers – that honor belongs to each student alone. Believe me when I tell you that that was both what attracted me to teaching the Technique and scared me half to death. I really didn’t know if I could simply listen without coming up with solutions for people, but I wanted to learn how.
Over time I have come to understand that all of life – our habits, our ways of holding ourselves physically, our opinions, everything – is on a continuum. There are many continuums, and it helps me to get away from ideas of “right” and “wrong” to look at life this way. If you’re familiar with the Meyers Briggs test, you know that there are four continuums contained within it that help us to understand the ways we each function best in the world. The one I’m working on illustrating here is the Judgement/Perceiving (J/P) continuum. Here’s a quote from the Meyers Briggs Website which to me, sums it up:
“Everyone takes in information some of the time. Everyone makes decisions some of the time. However, when it comes to dealing with the outer world, people who tend to focus on making decisions have a preference for Judging because they tend to like things decided. People who tend to focus on taking in information prefer Perceiving because they stay open to a final decision in order to get more information.”
If you click the link above, you’ll see that the Meyers Briggs descriptions of Perceiving and Judging are a bit different that the definitions we usually assign those words. The checklists there will help you see pretty quickly in which direction of that continuum you naturally align yourself. You’ll have to take the test to see exactly where you fall.
When I first started Alexander Technique studies, I was 98% J. My most recent round of the Meyers Briggs shows me at about 54% J, which means my Perceiving ability has shifted and increased by 44% over the last 15 years. I find that academically interesting and, thankfully, out of my typical and habitual box.
Having a judging mother and a perceiving father made me what I am. I still make to-do lists. I still like to make decisions. Occasionally I really need to be “right.” (Ask my husband!)
My Alexander Work has helped me let go of the shadow side of judging, and allowed me to experience perceiving in an open, receptive way with my students. I have worked hard on not focusing so much on the goal that I miss new information along the way.
What “gifts” did you inherit from your parents?
Are you a judger, or a perceiver?
What habits of thinking serve you well?
Are there habitual thinking patterns you’d like to let go of at this point in your life?