JUST STANDING,
LOOKING, AND SEEING

Joe Armstrong
March 1999
Boston



Here are some suggestions for working on yourself just by directing, although you might also want to combine them with some silent, verbal ordering at certain times - maybe at the beginning, to get some direction started.1 The main idea, though, is to see if you can make any changes in your conditions of integration by taking some time (at least ten or fifteen minutes) just to focus on that goal in and of itself.

GETTING SET UP

If you can, choose a place for standing and looking where you have a view that you like - or at least a view with a variety of interesting things to look at all around your full range of vision (including your peripheral vision). It's especially good, I find, to have a landscape with some distance to it to look at too, even if you're indoors and you have to look out to it through a window, beyond the things in your view in the room around you.

Limit yourself just to standing - standing basically in one place. But don't think of it as trying to stand stock still. Keep open the option to shift the position of your feet from time to time if you feel you need to in order to keep from getting tired or stiff. Also be open to shifting your weight over your feet a little from side to side or forward and backward as well as allowing for some turning from the ankles around to your right or left, even though you'll be leaving your feet mainly in one spot.

Most of the time, keep your balance centering above your heels, rather than more forward over the arches or the balls of your feet, even though you'll still allow for some shifting of balance around on the six main weight-bearing points on your feet - your heels, the inside balls of your feet, and the outside balls of your feet just behind your little toes.

(If you're wearing shoes while you're doing this standing work, make sure they're comfortable but not too worn down - especially not on the outsides of their heels. If they're worn down on the sides much at all, that affects the relation of your feet to your ankles and your lower legs, and it can throw your entire balance off, making it much harder to let your upward direction bring you toward your fullest possible integration during any particular period of standing work. And it's also better if the heels of your shoes are not too high, because they'll tend to pitch you more forward over your toes and tend to make you pull down into your pelvis, thighs, and lower back so that you add yet another obstacle to your chances of lengthening and widening and integrating to your fullest.)

If you need to from time to time, give yourself the chance to bend some at your hips and/or at your knees if you start to feel you're getting stiff or tired in your legs or in your pelvis and lower back. Also, be free to raise or move your arms sometimes if you need to. The main thing is to be as free as you can be and not get stiff or fixed or held by trying to stay too still. On the other hand, make sure you're not fidgeting or moving around very much unnecessarily. Only move (shift your weight, bend, turn, etc.) when you really need to do it to free yourself to lengthen and integrate more. You might find that you need to move more when you first start out standing; but eventually, as you begin to integrate more, you'll probably find you won't really need to move much, if at all. In fact, you might even find that a different kind of stillness comes over you that's more truly free and alive than anything you can achieve by trying directly to will yourself to be still.

BEGINNING

As you start standing and looking, see if you can be aware of your whole self and what you're looking at all at the same time. If you stop looking so that you can try to be more aware of your self, that can easily lead you into a blank stare that causes you to fix or collapse, which then takes you more away from the full psychophysical integration you're hoping to build toward during this time. On the other hand, you need to be careful not to get too caught up in reacting to or thinking about what you're looking at so that it distracts you so much from your whole self that you fix or collapse because of this too. Much of the time, especially in the early stages of this standing work, you might have to settle for shifting back and forth between your self focus and your outward focus. But more and more, both can merge into one whole way of being and looking. Sometimes thinking of "looking through" your going up, out to your view, helps bring these two fields of awareness together.

(In case you don't have the gift of sight, I think you can still use this standing and looking process by substituting a scene in your imagination for the scene around you. It certainly worked very well with a blind person I once taught, especially when she realized that she'd been used to creating her inner images and scenes more in the back of her head. When she placed them more at the front towards her eyes instead, as if she actually was looking out and around her, this also made her "forward" clearer and stronger for the "forward and up" direction of her whole head which, of course, improved her overall upward direction a lot too.)

It's important not to fix your eyes on one place too long. Just keep calmly interested in taking in as many features and qualities of the scene in front of you as you can, allowing them to come to your eyes rather than looking for them in a more active, searching way. If your looking stays alive, interested, and appreciative so that you can enjoy all the qualities of the scene before you, it'll give you the best chance to work on your self-integration in relation to gravity as you're standing there looking. In a way, this kind of looking can also be a lot like what an artist might do to choose a view to paint or sketch, taking in all its nuances from many angles and perspectives, including how the light and shadows fall on things in it at that particular moment of day or night.

Most of the time, how you're looking is also a reflection of how your overall integration is working as you're standing there. The more balanced and integrated your standing becomes, the more a richness and depth often come into your looking. And vice versa, the more your looking stays awake and alive, the more it can feed the integration of your standing.

When you're looking in this way for a while, it can often turn into what I call "just seeing" - just seeing the qualities of the objects or scene as they are at that moment, and no more than that. This kind of seeing also comes with true inhibiting if you're really freeing yourself fully from your "preconceived ideas" and "fixed prejudices" - Alexander's terms for some of our main blocks to learning the Technique.

I think Wallace Stevens' poem "The Snow Man" expresses wonderfully well this way of being, looking, and seeing.


THE SNOW MAN

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow,

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun, and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.



GOING UP

While you're standing and looking and taking in your whole self in relation to gravity's pull on you, begin to see if you can notice where you might feel any tension, tightness, deadness, numbness, fatigue - anything that seems like it might be blocking your chance to be free and integrated into a balanced, up-going whole. If you find one or more of these places, don't dwell in any way on any of them at first. Just be content scanning yourself and noticing where these places are, only thinking of each of them as small fragments of the whole of you as you continue standing there, looking and going up from the center of the earth with the wish to go on improving your freedom and integration.

Your main guide for locating where your going up is coming from is the contact of your feet (basically the bottoms of your heels) with the floor or the ground; but some of it also comes from your looking out around you and seeing how everything in your view is related to your standing there on the earth (or on a surface attached to or resting on it).

The main function you're dealing with here involves your basic reflexes of standing (which operate somewhat differently from your movement reflexes). They're set off from this contact of the bottoms of your feet and run up through your legs and on up into your torso and neck and are governed, well or poorly, by the direction of your head. (Alexander called our best use of these standing reflexes, "the integrated (normal) working of the postural mechanisms.")

So, as you become more and more aware of the quality of your going up while you're standing and looking, decide that you'll stick with that as much as you can as your main concern no matter what, in this whole span of time that you've set aside for working on yourself. The real challenge is to go on sustaining your overall going up wish enough that you can begin to use it to affect those specific tensions, tightnesses, deadnesses, fatigues, etc. that you've noticed might be detracting from your freest state of being and to transform them into your full flow of upward lengthening direction.

I should say here too that if these tensions, tightnesses, etc. sometimes also carry with them various degrees of discomfort or even pain, it can be harder to stay with your overall going up and your looking, especially because there's even more of a temptation to get quick relief by trying to make local changes in those places that seem to cry out for help. This, of course, is also where Alexander's warning to "beware of specifics!" is good to remember, because a more effective and long-lasting kind of relief can often come instead from just improving your overall going up and using it to "apply aid" to these specific areas. The real source of your discomfort, pain, etc. (at least the kinds related to muscle tension and tightness) can usually be traced back to the fact that your whole integration is not working at its best. So, improving your whole promotes the best chance to help the part that seems to be in trouble.

Sometimes it can take great patience - even courage - to postpone (inhibit) trying to achieve quick, local changes to relieve pain, etc. if they are fairly severe. All I can say to encourage you to stick with your overall going up when that's the case is just that many others before you have had success relieving pain (even great pain) and discomfort in this indirect way. The most important thing to remember there, though, is giving yourself time for this approach to work. It can't be hurried, rushed or pushed - even though it does take a certain intensity of energy and desire to stay with your going up enough to build toward the psychophysical unity we're looking for in the long run. Those old sayings in the Technique, "Don't try too hard." and "Don't try too hard to be right." come in handy here too.

TENSION AND TIGHTNESS

It's important to make a distinction between the words "tension" and "tightness" in this working on yourself. By tension, I mean any kind of efforts you're making or any holdings you're doing (even subconsciously) that you can let go of fairly quickly, if not immediately, when you put your attention to them and your wish to free yourself of them is strong enough. (These kinds of tensions come under Alexander's heading "manner of use of the self.")

By tightness, on the other hand, I mean any kind of contractions (even spasms) lodged in you that won't immediately respond, if at all, to your wish to release them and let them be transformed into the integrated lengthening of your going up. Sometimes we call these tightnesses "pulls," because they're usually pulling in very specific directions (mainly down and in) if we look at them closely enough. (These kinds of tightnesses fall under Alexander's heading "conditions of use of the self.")

Often we've lived with these tightnesses in us for so long and they've become so congealed that they actually cut off feeling in and around them. We can't even begin to realize they're there until we start to have work from a skilled teacher's hands and experience the overall integration and going up that unmasks them. They tend to lodge in certain common areas in us, but these places can also vary from person to person in terms of size and degree of tightness. It usually takes a lot of work from a teacher over many weeks (even months or years) before most of these tightnesses will begin to release and lengthen into our integrating whole - especially because many of the deeper ones can also be very bound up with our character and our emotions - our whole attitude to life, really. (What Alexander called our "reaction to the stimulus of living.") And even if they might seem ready to release and lengthen from a more general "physical" point of view, we still might have some resistance to letting them free completely for all sorts of "emotional" or "psychological" reasons. Usually we don't feel much trust to release them fully until we're confident enough in our overall going up as a steady new source of psychophysical stability and strength.

But even if many of these tightnesses do need long-term work, there's always some chance that they might still respond at least a little to our working on ourselves as we do some of it each day. Of course, lying down floor work often has an important part to play in improving our integrating too, and many tightnesses might respond better there than in this standing work. In fact, you might easily need to do some lying down work first before you're really ready to do this standing and looking work - especially if you are very tired.

So, once you're aware of these different areas of tightness, go on to work on them very much in the same way as you approach looking at your view that I described earlier, being careful not to over focus or dwell on any one place too long. Instead, circulate around, only staying with one of them for a few moments at a time and continually returning to your total going up energy as your main source of improving and integrating. (Stay open to the chance that you might also uncover other deeper, "hidden" areas of tightness too as you free up the superficial ones more and more.)

But after you've worked for a while in this way and you've improved your integrating and going up considerably, you might find that there seems to be a major place or area that's blocking you from further improvement. Then you might want to start returning more often to that one place with your overall going up energy. Even so, it's still important to stay with your standing and looking as much as you can and reinforce your going up as your main source of aid to this one particular area.

TIME

The time you take for this standing and looking work might have to vary according to how busy you are, but I hope you can try to do it in the beginning for a minimum period of ten or fifteen minutes a day so that you can have a good chance to accomplish at least some change or improvement - even if it does no more than quiet you down a little and help you let go of some of the tightness you might have built up during your other activities. Even small changes count for a lot in the long run because they can go on adding to your skill in directing, and they can pave the way for bigger improvements to happen later on.

Above all, it's important to remember that sometimes changes can happen when you're not even working directly for them. That's why the Alexander Technique can be such a great adventure in so many ways. And it's partly why Alexander used to call it "a technique for the unknown." Very profound changes can take place when you're least expecting them that bring new insight into freedom, integration, wisdom, character and creativity. The more you open yourself to this whole spectrum of possibilities while you're standing and looking, the more it can affect your whole way of living and being.

Here are some short guiding points for working, in case they might help you keep the process more together as a whole.

JUST STANDING,
LOOKING, AND SEEING

1. Balance mainly over your heels.

2. Allow for bending, turning, shifting. etc.

3. Look out to your view "through" your standing.

4. Keep your looking alive, including your peripheral vision.

5. Allow the scene to come to your eyes.

6. Dedicate to improving your going up for this period of time.

7. Notice tensions, and let them release into your going up.

8. Notice tightnesses, and work on them with your going up as the source of improving.

9. Allow for standing and looking to turn into seeing, without preconceptions or prejudices.

10. Be open to the fullest psychophysical integration and to new insight to there being more to it than you've ever experienced before.


1. I'm taking for granted here that you understand directing and ordering in sequence according to the best use of the Primary Control as the usual approach to improving your going up and that you've read the paper I wrote in 1988 describing it in detail.

Created on ... November 14, 2000