I was going to slip in a short guitar session before dinner today, but decided first to read through a section of Missy Vineyards book dealing with the prefrontal cortex and inhibition. As I read, I would pause and follow along with her thinking experiments. Sitting in a chair with no guitar, I began to apply her thinking first to "not playing the guitar" but then decided to apply inhibitory thinking to my right arm & hand. After 10 minutes or so, of gently playing with these thoughts of "forward & up to the prefrontal cortex" and not holding onto my arm, then my elbow, and then my hand, I returned to the whole arm again. During this time I had a sense of my head on top of my spine and at times sense a lightness in my torso similar to what I believe she was describing. My relationship to the room also appeared to change, a different sense of the space around me.
Then at one point, a muscle on the right side of the back of my neck let go. Though I can not name this muscle, I know it since it has been sore at times of extended playing and/or typing. Just a simple release of tension, certainly unnecessary tension as all I was doing was sitting, occasionally reading, and thinking inhibitory thoughts. This muscle is part of the habit I named "The Lean" last week. Could this muscle tensing be the cause of putting the system out of balance on my right side leading to the execution of "The Lean" as I move my arm into position to play?
Certainly a small victory in line with what Alexander said: "This is the principle of the whole work - not to do something but to think. We redirect our activity by means of thought alone. This principle is the hardest of all to grasp. People just don't see it. Yet we know that it works. It is demonstrable." (Thanks to Missy V. for this quote that Goodard Binkley attributes to Alexander in his book The Expanding Self.) I have had this experience before with working with AT inhibition and direction, but it continues to surprise me when a muscular release arises by thought alone.
When I did move to the guitar, as soon as I sat with my instrument and practiced inhibition again, I noticed my relationship to the room changed spatially once more. I lack the descriptive power to elaborate on this, but this happens to me with the hands of an AT teacher and occasionally through arriving in the present moment. I began to play Senseless Loss and was enjoying the act of making music, listening to the melodies, being present with my activity. Then the fantasy thought arrived - "Could I do this in Missy's upcoming workshop." The connection I had with myself, the guitar, and music was short circuited as this thinking rattled on. I stopped playing and began again.
On the second run through, I kept the thinking and chatter down, but then noticed the tension developing in my left hand as the piece neared the end. "Should I stop playing now?" "Or develop my stamina with this piece?" Needless to say the ending fell apart. Which is fine, the overall process was successful and will lead to deeper revelations and releases I am certain. In the words of Todd Rundgren "Give us just one victory and we're on our way ..."
Stop doing the wrong thing and the right thing will do itself. F. M. Alexander
He's right of course. This is how we are designed - there is a right way to use ourselves. Somewhere along the line we interfere with ourselves; we mimic how others use themselves; and in my case I was unaware that I was doing so. Unfortunately aware or not, habits develop. Neuronal pathways that are repeated become the preferred way for how our brains handle future movements. The habits deepen and grow stronger.
These days I continue to develop my awareness of what I am doing and what I am not doing. Finding opportunities to pause, inhibit, & direct with the guitar and away from the guitar. Slowly new neuronal pathways are forming. Slowly the dance of bringing body and mind to the same place before I begin to move allows a bit more freedom. Slowly. I am ever so grateful that there are directions for this. F. M. Alexander spent years finding out how to let go of the "wrong thing" and then enunciated directions for how to allow the right thing to happen. A shining example of not doing the "wrong thing" embodied by teachers of the Alexander Technique. I am ever grateful that I fell into their hands.
A friend is suffering from a loss that is so difficult to understand and process. While words offer some relief, I sense that much more is needed. I'm not certain I have what is needed. But I do what I can. Tonight as I sat with my guitar practicing AT inhibition with "I am not holding onto my neck" I thought of him. My intention was to play Gathered Hearts as an offering to his suffering. After inhibiting the movement of my arms to the guitar, I brought them to her. I was about to offer up the direction "I am not playing the guitar" when out of nowhere "I am not holding onto love" arrived.
I repeated this thought and then began to play. Towards the middle of this piece a mistake arrived that could have disrupted the flow, but I thought "Love does not hold onto mistakes." After I completed the piece I thought "If only I could live my life with this way?" Then with thought of another person and another piece, I began to play and let it go again.
I began my morning practice by sitting down and audiating Senseless Loss. This process informs me how well I know a piece. Today audiation showed me that I now have a firm grasp of how I intend to play this piece.
Standing with my guitar and working with Alexander Technique inhibitory thinking I began to working with the beginning of this piece. After a few minutes I sat down and continued to work with inhibition. I am not holding my neck followed with I am not playing the guitar. Bringing my hands to the guitar and inhibiting again. I then turned on the tape machine and inhibited again. Just as I was to play the first note I notice myself moving slightly forward and to the right side of my body with a slight downward crunching of my upper torso into the pelvis. Do I do this often? Was I just quiet enough this morning to notice this subtle but definite movement that as I played a customary tension in my right leg arose. This movement which I dubbed "The Lean," would account for tightening and tension that I notice regularly on the right side during or after playing.
I have enough AT experience to know that this tension involves the neck, but have not detected how I use myself to generate this tension. Seeing "The Lean" I noticed the neck and shoulder areas that have been stressed at times, and how also this downward direction of my upper torso into my pelvis might account for the tightness in my right leg that has plagued me for years when playing seated.
Letting go of the guitar I did a few minutes of Qi Gong . Sitting down again with the tape on I began to go through a series of inhibitions again. I am not holding onto my neck, my arms, my body. At one point I arrived at just I am not holding. I moved my arms to the guitar and worked with "I am not playing the guitar." Simply holding this thought, I noticed sensations particularly in my right arm, which seemed to allow a slight lengthening & lettting go. I also noticed a slight tilt of the head towards my right shoulder. Might this tilt of the head be the predecessor to "The Lean" it thought? Removing my arms from the guitar, I became aware of my right hand and then the left.
Deciding to wake them up with movement a bit I began to flex them and then rotate my hands about my wrists. I could hear an occasional audible click arise from my right wrist. Allowing my hands to return to the guitar I again held "I am not playing the guitar. "
At one point I allowed my right hand to play the first note and then flowed into the piece. Senseless Loss was being played beautifully when the thought arose, "oh but I could never inhibit that long in a performance." Ah the state shifted, the monkey mind finding a branch to swing out of the moment on. Working to continue playing while struggling to quiet the monkey mind I noticed I was tensing, so I let go of the playing.
This evening I returned to the guitar, aware of the tendency if not a habit to invoke "The Lean." Inhibiting and directing were successful, but then I noticed how another habitual use of my right arm that I have had some success with changing had arrived once again. And so it goes ...