“This end-gaining business has got to such a point – it’s worse than a drug” 1
One of the biggest, though not always most apparent, obstacles to applying the twin forces of inhibition and direction in our everyday activities is “end-gaining”. What is “end-gaining”? Is there an underlying metaphysical assumption that predicates it?
At a very fundamental level, end-gaining (i.e. going directly for an end without consideration of or attention to the processes, or the means, whereby such an end can be brought about) is dependent upon a conviction, either conscious or unconscious, that the centre of gravity of one’s life is somewhere else or some “when” else and not in the here and now. It is not a question of speed, or even of tempo. End-gaining cannot be said to be a mental, physical or emotional activity, although it affects all three. End-gaining is a ‘state’. Like a drug, or as FM said “…worse than a drug“, it seems to permeate us at a cellular level.
When I am end-gaining I am “out of sync” with my life.
Unless there is an ontological acceptance that one’s life is happening here and now, and that it cannot be otherwise, we become very susceptible, as is a host to a pathogen when resistance is low, to either end-gaining or, arguably even worse, a kind of dreamy lassitude (see Aimless and Purposeful).
The pull to gain an end is part of the human condition; it is always waiting to reclaim us and our energies. It takes us away from “process”, and consequently away from a real sense of self.
Our “use” – in particular the disposition of our mental, physical and emotional energies – is axiomatically part of any process, whether we are aware of it or not. When we are attending to process – even if only externally – we are open to possibilities which are not there when we are in a state of end-gaining or of lassitude.
It is, in my experience, of great value to try and study for oneself – and in oneself – the phenomenon of ‘end-gaining’.
Here are some suggestions:
- What triggers end-gaining in me? Is it something mental or emotional? For example, is my brain busy making lists of things to do? Am I worrying about getting everything done “in time” or of letting other people down?
- What is the form of it? Does it make me speed up, be more tense, make mistakes? Do I feel as though I am pumped-up with caffeine?
- Can I let it go? Is it possible for me to shift myself back into the here and now and attend to process? Or am I possessed by it? What resists letting go of end-gaining?
- How do I experience myself when I am ‘attending to means-whereby’?
We cannot eliminate end-gaining, but we can certainly reduce its strength and duration.
“I always think the best test one can make on oneself is simply, in the middle of an activity, go away, walk away and maybe look out of the window or open the front door and look out. If you mind the interruption, it means you are end-gaining.”
Erika Whittaker 2
By addressing the universal tendency to end-gain, and developing a practical method of directing attention to means-whereby in activity, Alexander’s work has resonances with teachings from East and West, ancient and modern, about latent possibilities in human beings.
1. Teaching Aphorisms: The Alexander Journal No 7, 1972, published by the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique. Also published in Articles and Lectures by Mouritz (1995).
2. In correspondence with the author.
© 2013 John S Hunter
I first heard talk of Marj (Marjorie Barstow) when I was attending the STAT ‘think-tank’ in 1986, a sub-committee set up to look into the workings of the Society and suggest policy to STAT Council. One of the teachers present commented that having attended a Marj workshop she was impressed that everyone there was given the experience of their head going forward and up as they went into movement. At the time I found this comment somewhat strange, as I would have expected nothing less from an Alexander teacher, especially one trained by Alexander.
Many senior teachers in London were very negative and critical about her. Some referred to the work she did with large groups of people as the ‘Alexander Technique by remote control’, meaning that she did not use her hands much but tried to guide people by speaking to them as they were moving around the room.
At the time all this seemed rather distant and unrelated to what I was learning and beginning to teach.
However, in 1988 I had the opportunity to see for myself. I had decided to attend the 2nd International Congress in Brighton and Marj was going to be there giving some master classes.
She was small, slight and stooped, obviously suffering already from the loss of bone density which was soon to worsen, but with bright, mischievous eyes and an eagle-like attention.
She started her master-class in a very unusual but captivating way. Instead of standing on the stage she came down into the auditorium and stood in an obvious slump.
“What am I doing?” she asked in the long, drawn out vowels typical of her Nebraska accent, eliciting comments about her slumping or pulling down. People were already interested and enlivened; her presentation was obviously going to be interactive.
“I am waiting for a friend and she is late and I am fed up. I am really fed up” drawled Marj. She mimicked looking at the time and being seriously fed up in tone of voice and posture.
“Now how am I going to get out of this mess I am in?” she challenged.
“Go home and leave her there!”
“Inhibit and direct!”
“Release the tension!”
None of the suggestions offered were quite what she was looking for.
“If I want to get out of this mess then I am going to have to move” she said. “It is only a question of what leads the movement, in what direction and what is the quality of the movement. Watch me!”
She then simply put her head forward and up and moved off across the auditorium, her body releasing into length as she did so.
“If you are in a mess, you don’t have to stay there. You can move.”
For those who had eyes to see, the whole of the Alexander Technique was there in that simple, practical demonstration. Inhibition, choice, decision, intention, direction, movement, means-whereby. It was all there.
For the rest of the morning she worked with a group of volunteers on the stage and responded to various questions. But for me, that first ten minutes had said it all. I decided to sign up for a five-day workshop with her in London later that Summer.
© 2013 John S Hunter
When I need to undertake a task of some sort there is an inner activity and an outer activity. The sequence, according to Alexander’s ideas, of “inner events” is something like this:
- say “no”!
- consider my options
- make a decision
- organise myself (head, neck & back etc.)
- work out my “means-whereby” (the best way to do it)
- reconsider (I can still change my decision)
- let my head go forward and up and get on with it
Is it not the case, though, that there is often an assumption that as long as my neck is free (etc.) I am “using” myself well?
Think of any task involving a number of necessary actions. For example, decorating a room: I might need to move all the furniture into the centre of the room or even out of the room all together.
Where am I going to put everything? Which items should I move first? Should I empty drawers or bookshelves before trying to move heavy furniture? Where might I store the contents ? Etc, etc……That’s before I even start preparing the surfaces to be painted.
Unless I work out my means-whereby before I start, I am likely to have to do a lot more work than necessary.
If I start moving a sideboard around with no idea where to put it because I filled the only large enough space with piles of books, BUT….. I keep a free neck – does that mean I have “good use”?
Compare this with the practical man or woman – amateur or professional decorator – who, before starting, thinks things through and works out the optimum sequence of events, BUT….. stiffens or collapses somewhat while doing the practical work.
Whose “use” is better?
Taking a moment or two to consider the means-whereby we are going to carry out an activity (the best way to do it) can bring a new dimension to our understanding of the use of the self.
© 2013 John S Hunter