For my article this week I am again shamelessly pillaging from Chris Guillebeau, superb blogger and traveller and speaker of many truths. Specifically, I’m going to bounce my ideas off his excellent article Homecoming and the Adventure Detox.
In the article Chris talks about the strange decompression effect that can happen when you come home from a trip. You’ve seen and heard new things, and these things have changed you. You want to share them with friends and family. But friends and family may not be interested in what you have seen or heard. They’ll listen politely, but actually they’re keen for you to engage back in your home world – “Have you seen what’s happening with American Idol?”. Anyone who has travelled and had deep or memorable experiences can testify to the disconcerting and deflating nature of this ‘decompression’ experience.
The reason why I’m talking about this article by Chris, apart from the fact that it’s excellent, is that it so neatly describes what is happening in the lives of a number of my Alexander Technique students just now. One student in particular has undergone a lot of changes as a result of working with the principles and tools that I’m priveleged to share with them. In the 18 months or so that this person has had lessons with me, they have changed radically, both physically and in the way that they relate to the world around them. But it is only now that friends and family are starting to notice that they are different. Why?
Why is it that even those who are nearest and dearest to us are not able to see when we have changed? I think there are two issues that contribute to the problem.
Knowing how to look
From working with young actors, I’ve learned one basic fact. Observing is a skill, and most people don’t have it. They’ve never been taught how to look, to really look, at anything.
This problem is compounded when we are asked to look at people. In Western culture we are taught that it is rude to look at others. “Don’t stare!” we are told as children. So we begin to look away, to keep to ourselves. We sneak glances at others, on the pavement or on the train, but we don’t look for long, and we certainly don’t make eye contact! In effect, far from encouraging observation skills, in effect we are taught from childhood NOT to look.
If we don’t, can’t or won’t look, how will we ever see what is different? In fact, how will we ever truly see anything at all?
Analysing conditions past
When FM Alexander talked about his strategy for planning the protocol of a movement, he talked about “analysing the conditions present.”* In other words, looking at what is in front of us at that particular moment, and creating a plan of action based on what we see. Sadly, familiarity can breed contempt: why bother checking out that chair again when it looks the same as the one yesterday? The same thing happens with families and friends.
When we meet someone for the first time, we have no choice but to respond to whatever cues the person gives us regarding their character, personality and appearance. It’s completely different with families and friends. Because they’ve known us a long time, our friends and family tend to respond to us based on their experience of us in the past. They don’t need to observe us afresh, because we’re just the same as we were before, right?! Well, no, actually!
This is why those of us who live a long way from our parents can find it really difficult to visit home. We struggle to hold onto our adult identity as our parents continue to interact with us in the same way that they did all those years ago before we flew the nest and created our own lives.
Our friends and family see us as they used to see us, and as they want to see us. They love us, but sometimes the version of us they love may not fit us as neatly as we all hope and assume. So when they notice that we’ve changed, the odds are that we’ve metamorphosed so radically that their cherished but out-dated impression of us can no longer tally with the person in front of them. The degree of change forces them to reassess.
But they haven’t noticed I’ve changed – what should I do?
When you make changes in your life, and your nearest and dearest continue to interact with the person you used to be, you have a very simple choice. You can relinquish the changes that you have made and conform to their impression of who you are, or you can hold on to the decisions that you have made.
For a time this may be uncomfortable: there may be a disjunction between how your loved ones expect you to respond to them compared to your actual response. But which would you rather be – true to others’ expectations of you, or true to yourself?
And, just as a final thought… If you know you are changing and growing and improving, does it matter if that change isn’t recognised by others? Is the improvement any the less real for not having external approval?
Let’s commit to the process of change. Approval may come, or it may not. Discomfort may come, or it may not. But the process, if it is considered and appropriate, will lead us towards improvement. And what more can you ask than that?
*The full phrase used in the Evolution of a Technique is “analyse the conditions of use present.” But why stop at your body? Why not analyse anything around that is relevant?