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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Connecting and Dynamic People

I was talking to an old boyfriend of mine who was telling me about a book he has about couple's compatibility. This author made a gross classification of the way people generally make priorities in their lives. Here is a pic illustrating what this author terms "dynamic" and another person he would term "connecting."
Dynamic people put actions first. They like to accomplish tasks. They like status, appearances, accomplishments.
Connecting people always put other people first. Their first priority is how people feel and they love to talk about it.
With this description, I'd say the culture in Hawaii is a connecting culture. Everything happens here because of who you know and how they feel about you. Whereas, on the Mainland US, the culture there is a dynamic culture. Connecting people will look dynamic in their areas of expertise.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Can I Call It Compassion?

Many years ago, I had an old German & Australian shepherd mix who lived to the ripe age of 17. During this dog's last few years of life, I had also adopted a few cats, one of whom had a very un-catlike attitude. Most cats have self-involved and often quite self indulgent little personalities, like this one below who befriended me at the beach one day.

But this particular white Turkish Angora cat I adopted had a very unusual attitude. I eventually ended up calling her Squeeker. She was quite wild when I adopted her, so wild that I had to reward her with treats while approaching my house so she would allow me to touch her. She was pregnant when she arrived and had five kittens. What made this particular cat so unusual, (aside from how fat she later got from all those treats,) is how the other three cats in the household regarded her. She was always in the middle of the proverbial kitty sleeping pile, with all of the other cats choosing to touch only her - and not each other.

All of the cats did everything to stay away from my old slow-moving dog most of the time, in a sort of group feline disdain. This was in spite of the fact that the dog did nothing to deserve that opinion on the part of the cats, other than to be a canine. The dog actually liked the cats, and would have slept next to them if they would have allowed it. But they didn't, the cats all rejected all but incremental contact with the dog, and even then with frightfully dirty looks. The dog was mostly crushed about that.

We were all in a house where the back porch had been converted into a bedroom. From the bed, a nice view of the garden could be seen through a picture window at the level of the bed, with the back door by the window and bed opening to an outside sitting porch.

The dog had been in the back yard, and I was in the other room writing on the computer and listening to music while it was getting dark and suddenly windy and cold. The cats liked to sleep on the bed - and indeed it was the bed where Squeeker was when she decided to come and get me with a rather loud and deliberate "miaow" rather than her usual "squeak." She got my attention because she usually didn't often ask me for things. So I allowed her to get me up from my chair. I was curious to find out what she wanted me to do.

Amazingly enough, she passed the food bowl with no hesitation, so it wasn't a meal she wanted. Squeeker sat by the bedroom door with another, very plaintive identical "miaow." This was an unusual request, as the cats usually didn't prefer to go out at night because it was cold outdoors. But she was making it very obvious what she wanted. As I approached to open the door, Squeeker waited until I'd actually unlocked it, then she jumped back up onto the bed. Waiting outside was my shivering wet old dog, who wasn't able to get my attention by rattling the screen door over the loud music I had been playing.

I was incredulous. Had the cat had really gotten my attention so I would open the door for the dog to come inside? Crafting a little experiment to test my theory, I picked up the cat from the bed, petted her a bit and put her down by the door and reached over to open it. The cat looked at me as if I was crazy and jumped back onto the bed before I could nudge her out the now-open door with my foot.

It seems, compassion in cats can extend to a dog also, (as long as the other cats weren't watching too closely.) Here's a picture of Squeeker, otherwise known as Miss Most Magnanimous.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Observing Without Interferring

"You were saying something about seeing what happens without doing anything - in fact, a lot of Alexander teachers mention this - but there is something about this that I really can't understand."

Your habits are in charge of keeping things the same. Lots of people can tell after something has changed - but only a few can sense change as it is happening - and describe what is happening as it is going on. Even more rare are the times you can witness the very first thing that starts the chain of events into action. - That's almost a transcendant challenge.

Most of the time, sort of like waking up in a lucid dream, you realize that here you are in the middle of the story, doing mysterious things for reasons you don't understand, instead of the beginning that you would like to be able to remember. The challenge is to find out what and how you did what you wanted to do, so you can go through a similar proces and maybe discover another amazing secret about yourself.

  • What happened that made an experience that was so different?
  • Can you wake up to witness yourself changing as it is happening?

It sounds esoteric, but it's not so hard, it's an unfamiliar sort of easy. Your habits make it hard. This challenge is helped by the fact that your habit that you're moving away from or prevent is so habitual and easy to repeat any time you want to. Really, you don't have to trace what is happening as it is happening any further back than just one tiny moment of awareness before what you have found out before. String those discoveries together, watch without caring so much - and poof! you'll notice the next surprise in what may turn out to be an important chain of events.

How to remember back the moment before? What did you do, just before? As far back in time as you can - Was it the sequence, was it your attention, which direction did you go, what was the quality of the motion, what did you hear, breathe, where did your attention go, when?

Sometimes it takes a long time to learn to do this. You'll wake up sooner and sooner. You'll remember more and more. One time, there you'll be at the source of the old choice you made when you put the habit in place. You might "remember" the reason why this particular habit; or suddenly be inside of an era when you trained the habit...or hear something your parent told you when you were so young. The memory may be the other direction, a memory of once being free of the habit before you thought you needed it. Then - think about what happened. Don't make a decision about it, or a conclusion. Record it. Be careful who you tell it to, because saying it sometimes leaves out important parts. Go back and get those parts you left out the first time you tried to describe what happened.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Asking Great Questions

As a topic in general, good questioning has many examples in every field. It pays to study the process of questioning as a separate subject, as if you were going to design an FAQ for your skill. Not only can it make you a better learner, but a better teacher.

If you are a teacher, you know there are multiple advantages about encouraging questioning from the start. Questions from a student show a teacher their student's range and style of thinking. Questions point in the direction of the answers. In fact, questions can imply a limitation of what kind of answers that are possible to find. Better questions open up a rich field of personal discovery.

How do you ask a really good question?

As a student, you can ask any question to get started. Sometimes the first questions that come off the top of your head aren't the most appropriate, but everyone has to start somewhere. Most teachers understand this.

As a learner, to ask a really juicy question, you first have to listen carefully to learn any "lingo" about the topic. So the best questions to start with are often about the specialized use of terms being used.

The other skill that's good to develop as a questioner is being able to tell the teacher the best way that you learn by indicating acknowledgment you are following them. It's useful for the teacher to know when the student is on "over-load, please change tactics now" or "I've got it, go on" to the teacher.

Some learners believe some kinds of questions might be insulting or too challenging for the teacher.

At first, even in a private lesson, most students seem to want a teacher to "lecture" them. They want to let the master talk. The teacher saying something to preface or frame a lesson might be appropriate in some cases. But what if the teacher doesn't really want to go on about the topic; what if they want their student's involvement from the very beginning?

Some teachers address this desire by doing the asking themselves, and then answering their own questions. They hope that the students will get the idea of what kind of questions to ask and starting to ask questions themselves. However, students can misunderstand that questions posed by the teacher and then answered are merely rhetorical ones; that the teacher is asking these questions to show off their knowledge. The students may imagine that the teacher would never ask a question that they don't already know the answer to. What to do when the teacher finds that students resort to parroting or restating the teacher's questions with other motivations such as to gain approval?

How can a teacher encourage learners to get past their misconceptions that particular issues, communications or questions are somehow "forbidden" without losing ability of being able to direct the class? Part of being a teacher is the skill of pulling together the attention of the group. There are some assumptions that create problems with encouraging this activity in learners related to respecting the teacher; especially in a large class situation. What to do when students seem to believe that they are being encouraged to deliver certain questions that cross the line of impolitely questioning the ability of the teacher to teach?

It's very tricky to ask a question that will point in an entirely new direction. Questions can imply that there is one answer, rather than a multiplicity of answers. It's also easy to think that just because you have come up with an answer to a question - that this one answer is enough of an answer.

Fantastic and personally meaningful questions sometimes need quite a bit of personal experimentation to adequately explore their potential. Sometimes this kind of question can become a sort of "virtual question" that many actions of exploration are continually answering during the course of life.
  • How can you encourage your students to ask really good question of the teacher?
  • How can a teacher get around student's misconceptions about the nature of authority, for instance, without inviting disrespect? (We're talking about adult learners here.)

Instead of my lecturing, here's an account from many years ago about a teacher of mine who I considered to be a master. In this case, she was teaching Alexander Technique, but this relates to asking questions concerning any skill.

My teacher was in her late eighties here. She's almost five feet tall. Classes could be huge; sixty to eighty people in one room. The advantage was that the workshop lasted for weeks. The disadvantage was that people figured it was too early in the workshop to dare to risk anything in front of everyone else.

My teacher was too polite to be overt about what must have been some frustration beyond kidding the group, "What do I have to do to get some questions and thinking out of more of you people, do a jig?" Most often, laughter, but no daring questions. The humor did have some effect to loosen people up.

The experience of feeling a new perceptual assumption that Alexander Technique delivers is unsettling to many people. A master of an art can sometimes come across as frightening or magical. In this case, people were both attracted and intimidated. This little old lady could shake people's foundations; pull the carpet out from underneath their very sense of self. So the group treated her with "respect." For some people, this turned out to be a kid glove sort of unquestioning loyalty and agreement.

This little old lady named Marj Barstow hated that. She had a number of ways of dealing with it. One was to invite different people to get up in front of the class for a "private" lesson with her... with everyone else watching. While working with someone she would ask, "So you see that little difference? Can someone describe what they see?" She wouldn't go on until someone described it.

That's how she taught us to see very subtle indications of motion or a lack of movement. That also taught us to ask ourselves what these indications meant in each specific situation with each different person. It was also how she embarassed people, and then showed them the way out of the crippling emotions of stage fright, embarassment and being completely tongue-tied.

She might ask the group to move in slow motion to illustrate a crucially pivotal point that influenced that entire outcome of what someone was trying to do. Then we learned how to integrate the special points with the whole, normally speeded action again.

These examples of techniques to encourage questions are, (or should be) commonplace to any teacher. The one I'll tell you about next surprised me, because I regarded it as being positively sneaky.

My teacher took me aside and told me that she appreciated having me and a few other people in the class. She said that it was because we'd pipe up with questions that nobody else would dare ask. She then told me a story about how she didn't understand when another student accused her of putting them on the spot by singling them out, inviting their participation. This is what made me realize that she was asking my permission to deliberately put her "on the spot" by bringing up what may be forbidden as defined by the group of students. This little old lady had some unusual ideas in her field about how her skill should be taught. People seemed to be avoiding asking her specifically about what made her ways different. I decided that she wanted me to break the ice, so to speak, for the rest of the class.

Essentially, she gave me license to be planted as a sort of "sacrificial fool" in the forbidden questions department. People would stare at me with open mouths and shocked looks on their faces when I'd fire off these questions that nobody else would dare say.

It pleased the teacher and myself immensely - I felt as if we were conspiring together. After those kind of questions were in the air, class would get much more interesting. Other students would then started to ask the questions that were very important to them personally.

So if you are a teacher, don't be above encouraging one of your students to act as a 'secret plant' in the classroom! Certainly - if you've got any comments or questions to ask me - please speak up now!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Escaping from Hayfever

I'm actually heading to see the love of my life. Glad to be escaping Bolinas at a time when everything had to wait to bloom at once so late. Already wishing that I could stay longer.

My sweetie has a really nice place for me to stay on the Big Island of Hawaii so I can recover from the stress of hayfever for a little while. I wish that my landlords could figure out what I'm supposed to do to have a roommate so I could stay longer, because spring was so late this year.

The place I get to stay on the Big Island has a nice view of Kealakekua Bay; I just arrived; but already my favorite place to swim is Ho'okena Beach. The City of Refuge is a really nice place to burn some meat and dawdle in tide pools. Actually, the photo of the kitty on this page was a wild kitty who lives there and begs from the barbequers.

The day I first arrived I ran into an old friend on Ho'okena Beach who invited me to a really interesting music party just this weekend. At this party I got to see some incredible footage that showed this man who could blow bubbles the size of hula-hoops snorkling down to about thirty-five feet with spinner dolphins - almost 50 of them! Dolphins commonly come close to shore within the distance that I can swim; so I'm really looking forward to getting up my health to where I can swim with them myself.

I'm working on that by swimming every day enough to completely exhaust myself. It's a wonderful thing to do for one's body. It's amazing how bad one's health can get without exercise and without noticing it's happening.

You'll read some of my other animal stories next...and then maybe I'll get strong enough to having some new experiences with dolphins!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Getting That Feeling Back Again

"The way the self is rearranged from within. How would you describe the difference between feeling self rearrangement and imposing that arrangement to one's self?"

By asking the question that way - you've got bits of the answer. It's how go from one to the other that you want to learn to do in a new way.

How do you "get" something you know? Perhaps it's a kind of filing system that you use to go and "get" an experience again. That way of "getting" the experience only works if you know where and how the experience can happen again that will work. You'll find that if you've just had a new experience - your ways of retrieving a filed system of feeling won't work to retrieve that new experience.

That's why Alexander teachers will say - observe what happens as you go into action without giving yourself the order to "do something." It's as if you're going to doing something before you've gotten "ready," because "getting ready" is actually revving up the habit to fire off. I've written more about this before in a previous post called "magic words."

To see your thinking/actions in motion, it helps to practice leaving off imposing your idea of what you should be doing from what you're observing. In Alexander Technique, we have tricks - we like to trick our habits and confuse them, so they give up and stop coercing everything we do. To do that, you would tell yourself you're not going to "do it that old way." Instead, you tell yourself that you're just going to sneak by those old habits and do only the little parts of the action, bit by bit - In AT we call that the "means whereby."

As an example, instead of "I'm thirsty, I'm going to grab the glass and drink some water"... You could direct yourself to move your whole head... Follow with your whole body... Move your eyes to turn your head... Move your fingers off the table... Move your elbow behind your back... Move your shoulders wider... Move your body to follow your head.... Swivel your hand across the table... Cradle the glass with your fingers... Move your head and body... Decide how much the glass weighs... Let your elbow move as your arm moves... Reassure yourself that you're not going to drop the glass with your light touch of it... Raise the glass off the table... Feel how much the liquid weighs... Bring the edge of the glass to your lips...and now feel your thirst. Strange process, huh? Essentially, we're doing all that to completely bore our old habit into giving up.

After we do that enough, the habit becomes a little empty. The glass becomes lighter. The habit loses its urgent necessity and endless blathering justifications of how it's so essential. Meanwhile, we've trained a completely new way to drink water, or type words, or whatever we practiced without our habits in the way.

Golden Gate Bridge In Alexander Technique, we call that suspending your goals, or using a willingness to experiment. Recreating your feelings that happen after you're experimenting is a trap - because if you're going where you haven't been before, how can you use your habits to get you there again? You can't. Instead you're going to be using your strategic thinking, your observation and you're going to suspend doing what didn't work before. Just leave it out. Drop it. Give up. Admit you don't know. (You'll be happy about not knowing. It means you still have something fascinating yet to discover!)