The Alexander Technique: Thinking, Seeing, Knowing

(This article is taken from a post on the Alexander Technique Email Discussion Group by Jon, an Alexander Technique pupil in France)

As soon as people come with the idea of unlearning instead of learning,
you have them in the frame of mind you want
. - F. Matthias Alexander

I am uncertain how to unlearn something without some awareness of what I think I already know, I can hope to forget something of course but in the absence of this existing beliefs sometimes need challenging - not necessarily replacing but challenging and contradicting.

Alexander did not sit down one day and decide to eradicate every notion in the least illuminated recesses of his mind and then find he suddenly had good use, he did not unlearn without investigating what he had to unlearn.

Alexander had to first look at what he was actually doing and his motives and then compare this with what he thought he was doing - he needed to look at his preconceptions and his idea of how he used himself and challenge those conceptions - if he had completely mis- analysed his original fault he would not have arrived at the answer he did.

His countless hours in front of the mirror were all about observing the fault in his conception of what he did.

In short, if I am pulling my head forwards and down as well as backwards and down then I would indeed like to be aware of this as a possibility.

How I decide to react to this new belief system is another matter. Some people may merely tumble from one rigid belief system into another (possibly more accurate) one, other people might use the new evidence to re-examine their faith in all possible similar belief systems and come to the conclusion that it might be worth using the evidence in support of the proposition that all such belief systems are unreliable and choose to no longer have any preconceived idea
about their faults. In other words to say "I will no longer proceed on the assumption that I am pulling my head back and down nor forwards and down, I will accept a number of possibilities of what I might be doing with my head and believe none". This is an example of how a belief system may be defeated and not merely replaced with another one (that may in turn be unreliable) - how each individual approaches this will vary so I think you are inaccurate in your line of debate since you presume to know how another person deals with a discord between an old idea and a new one, my idea of unlearning is to embrace more
possibilities, the alternative seems to be to try and choose to forget or to lurch from one narrow perspective to another.

Of course one can simply choose to give up all beliefs (by beliefs I mean knowledge as the individual sees it) in one go but is this really what we want and is it really possible? Of course someone who knows nothing has no faults in his thinking but when we first arrive at AT we face the prospect that we are wrong and so the thought is seeded and so just like FM we start asking "how am I wrong" and so we acquire beliefs. Is it realistic to tell people they are wrong but that they
should not investigate the matter? - if so then can you still call AT a re-education rather than mere manipulative conditioning?

Can a person choose to unlearn everything or it is necessary to examine first what current beliefs actually exist and which ones seem prudent to challenge as monoliths? Can we discard beliefs (knowledge) trivially? It is our nature to learn, we cannot stop it - all we can hope to do is to challenge our learning continually so that nothing becomes rigid and all is in constant flux and review. Accepting all possibilities is often not so much a starting point in a learning process but rather a mature reaction to a continued process of learning when we finally realise that all our 'knowledge' is only the current best guess, this can liberate us, reduce fixed focus and help us achieve greater flexibility not less.

Unlearning as I see it is a matter of learning to embrace ambiguity and to love it!

For what it is worth I sometimes find that when I think my neck is stiff, when I think I am pulling back and down then sometimes it appears to be the case that if I stop thinking that the problem might be that my head is being pulled back and down then the stiffness seems to disappear. I am finding a profitable way of thinking is to admit all possible faults but to confess to none. I was unable to get to this position without first challenging an old idea with a new one.

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