Minding the gap between a thought and the resultant action is one of the skills we learn through the Alexander Technique. When we practice inhibition in the AT sense, we adjust our mental process by inserting our awareness between our thoughts and actions. This expands our self-awareness as well as our awareness of our environment. In the beginning, we may need to slow down in time in order to register these changes.
As our awareness grows, our mental and sensory perceptions affect both time and space. Taking ourselves out of automatic pilot mode and into the open field of possibility requires increasing our awareness to perceive moments that have so far been unknown. Learning to expand our field of awareness can be a satisfying activity and can lead to greater mental and physical ease. Opening our awareness loosens the grip on how we perceive reality and gives us more choice as to how we respond to different situations.
In this entry we will focus on the thought process involved in minding the gap. Experiment with these instructions. First, notice that you can register an individual thought. Then, notice that you can also observe the time/space between that thought and the next one that follows. This perception can occur as part of mental conversations you are having with yourself and conversations you have with others. It also occurs with thoughts that lead into actual actions.
Warning: all thoughts you have, whether or not they necessitate a movement through space, will have a physical effect you can perceive.
It takes practice and vigilance to develop expanded awareness. From here, it's possible to cultivate a process F. M. Alexander calls “inhibition”. Awareness is necessary to effect change of any sort. We have to observe our response to stimuli, whether internal or external. Stimuli can come from any or all of our senses.
Noticing the gap between one thought and the next is the first step in a process that allows for a continuous flow of responses to stimulus. It is a process that helps us move past our current habits (what F. M. Alexander calls our current ”constant in living”) to learn and embody an easier, thoughtful and more fluid ability to respond to the world.
This more optimal use of ourselves leads to physical, mental and emotional freedom from our ingrained habits of stimulus/response that basically run our lives.
It is not necessary to go into slow motion to discover the space between our thoughts and our thoughts and actions. However, it can be helpful to slow down at times to give ourselves the opportunity to find out what is occurring. The Alexander Technique is sometimes confused with moving in slow motion. That is not at all the intention of the training. It does take conscious time and focus to learn how to insert our awareness into our activities. However, new thoughts and expanded awareness can happen very quickly.
Here is an activity to experiment with. Take a look at the sequence below. Find the gap between your thoughts in this non-emotionally charged process of asking yourself if you would like a glass of water or a cup of coffee. What happens between your thoughts, where do you go?
1. Thought/Stimulus: Seeing a glass or water or cup of coffee in front of you
Response: Registering you could have some if you would like
2. Thought/Stimulus: Would I like something to drink?
Response: (Your response)
3. Say your answer was “yes”:
Thought/Stimulus: Impulse to reach for the glass or cup
Response: Begin the movement to pick up the cup
4. Thought/Stimulus: Making contact with the glass or cup with your hand
Response: (Your response)
If you couldn’t observe a gap between your thoughts, slow down until you discover where you go mentally when you think and how the decision was made. Take your time. How did you arrive at your response?
This process applies to every decision we make. We can become more conscious of the moments between our thoughts, and between our thoughts and actions. In order to discover what happens in the gap we have to keep ourselves from jumping to our first immediate choice. Only then will we be able to notice what is occurring. Once we can tune into these moments, we will be able use them to make new decisions and choices.
More to come!