Chicago is frozen again.
I am sitting here in my PJ pants because due to teacher illness the first two days of class coming back from our winter break have been cancelled. Though I am a goober and therefore get disappointed when classes get cancelled, I have decided to see the bright side and use these two extra days not to gallivant around my living room, but to be (drum roll)…. PRODUCTIVE!!!
So I set out Monday morning to make something happen. I sat down right after finishing my coffee and read an ENTIRE PLAY for an audition, taking notes on my character the whole way through. I applied a laser-like focus to my computer screen and blocked out the outside world. It took me just under two hours. BOO-YAH! I DID IT!!! Yeah, it was hard to concentrate that much, but I muscled through it (“muscled through it”—interesting turn of phrase, huh?). WHAT’S NEXT!!!!
….collapsing on my couch from exhaustion and a mounting feeling of anxiety. Not to mention some embarrassing (for an Alexander Teacher) back and neck pain.
The fact is, I had trouble even finishing the play. I felt irritated by the time I got to the third act, and kept checking to see how many pages there were left. I felt stiff and contained and I wasn’t absorbing the play on a deep level (as if I was living in it). I realized that my attempt to push through the play and “accomplish” something actually kept me from doing it in an effective way. It put so much stress on my mind and body and drained me so much that I felt hard pressed to do anything else that day. I certainly wasn’t in any state to do any acting or audition prep.
This push to accomplish a goal by brute determination is called “Endgaining” in the Alexandrian world. It is doing something for the sake of having it done without attention to the quality of the method used. In this case, the erroneous method I used was trying too hard to ‘concentrate’ on a task, to the detriment of my mind and body. This was set into motion by my desire to accomplish a goal in a timely fashion, something I often struggle to do. I get distracted by Facebook, sounds in my house, etc. So what do I do stay “on-task” without over-concentrating in a way that is unhealthy for me?
The thing that works best for me is to substitute an expanded awareness for a narrowed concentration. Allow me to explain.
Rather than flipping between my task and a million different things that draw energy from it as one way of working(which results in my not getting anything done) or putting up a wall to screen out the outside world(which causes mental and physical stress and a less effective result) as another, I expand my awareness to include the outside world and my task as part of one big picture. I find this expanded awareness keeps me on track without limiting me. It also tends to put less stress on my body and keeps my mind flowing freely and openly.
Here is a game you can play (based on an exercise my Teacher Trainer Daria Okugawa does) next time you find yourself too “concentrated” on a task which will help you to expand your awareness. It is a great one to do working at an office, while practicing music, or even cooking. It can be applied to any activity. See how much more freedom in work you can find!
1. Pause for a moment. Be aware of your breath flowing in and out, without interfering, with a special awareness of the exhale. Use your uncontrolled breath to become aware of a relaxed flow of time.
2. While keeping whatever is in front of you in your attention, ‘listen’ to the space behind you. This ‘listening’ with your kinesthetic sense is not unlike what happens when you realize someone is standing behind you even if they don’t make a sound. What is the room like behind you? Include your own body in the awareness. Play a game with a free imagination to see how much awareness you can have of the space behind you. Notice if this attention has robbed you from taking in what is in front of you. See if you can keep both directions in your field of awareness at once. Let it go and return to your breathing.
3. Now play the same game with whatever is to your left or right. ‘Listen’ kinesthetically in both directions. Can you hold both directions in your field of awareness? Now see if you can add an awareness of what’s in front of you in the picture. Can you maintain 3 directions of awareness? Now add a thought of listening to what’s behind you. Can you listen in all 4 directions?
4. Now add to the picture a thought of what’s above you. If you are indoors, play with the idea that this awareness doesn’t have to stop with the ceiling. Are there other stories above you? Is there open sky? Add to this a similar awareness of what’s below you.(The first time I tried this on my 3rd story apartment, it drastically changed my sense of what my space is like).
5. Keeping an awareness of what’s above and below you, take in what is in front of you and add an awareness of listening to what is behind you. Now add the sides. Make sure you are including an awareness of your body and breathing at the center of this ‘bubble of attention’. Notice if one of these directions of awareness is particularly hard to maintain.
6. Return to your original activity, keeping some awareness of your ‘bubble’ as you begin working again. If you find yourself losing some of the directions of awareness, don’t beat yourself up. Take a breath and see if you can re-establish them. Notice the effect this awareness has on your task. Do you feel less constrained around it? More open? Do you feel a little bit more energy in your body? Perhaps your neck is less stiff if you are sitting for a long period of time? Do you find yourself generating ideas more spontaneously? Are you as or perhaps even more efficient?
Thoughts on what is going on in the work and the world right now. Many posts to come.