A Mandala of Mindfulness
How could an understanding of FM Alexander's "primary control" assist a mindfulness based approach to health management for people living with chronic pain, stress or depression?
This research project has developed from my own personal story and I include myself in it as a participant observer. It has elements rather like a tapestry at this stage of its development, a process of weaving of threads to build a larger picture of a whole scene or story. I am sharing in this paper a scene of work in progress and seeking feedback to enhance the further development of this project.
I am using the image of a mandala to help illustrate the interweaving themes: when I advertised my project seeking interested participants I called the notice "A mandala of mindfulness". Mandala comes from the sanskrit word to mean "a circle" and is found in Hindu and Buddhist art. It has become prominent in modern psychology through the work of CG Jung as a symbol of the integration of the self.
As a form a mandala has a central focus. In this research that is mindfulness.
The outer edges and body of the circle are formed by facets of that centre - distinctive qualities which together with others combine to make an effective whole. FM Alexander's teaching stands on its own merits as a complete system. It can, however, usefully be applied to different activities. Alexander discovered it while wishing to solve a speech difficulty as an actor/reciter. One of his most famous pupils, Aldous Huxley, commented in a letter to another pupil in 1942:
"That this art discovered by F.M. can be combined with other arts of physical, mental and spiritual education seems to me obvious; and if it doesn't seem so to dear old F.M., that is because he manifests the defects as well as the merits of a completely one-pointed mind" (Bloch, 2004: 159).
A mandala has the possibility of movement within it - images and sections of the design can change and move around. It is this aspect which drew me to it in regard to this project. I wanted to engage the interest of potential pupils, and I also knew that what I was inviting them to was still forming, as indeed was I a student just beginning to teach the Alexander Technique.
Aspects of this mandala include:
1) Alexander's discovery regarding the value of conscious control being employed to influence how the brain and nervous system organise movement. In this paper I will be looking in particular at his understanding of "primary control" and closely connected to that Alexander's understanding of "faulty sensory appreciation".
2) Mindfulness as a strategy to help live with chronic poor health. This has developed over the last 30 years in the world of medicine and clinical psychology.