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  The LearningMethods Library

Tips for Making Life Easier

from the Exploratorium of Babette Lightner

Copyright (c) 2010-2012 Babette Lightner, all rights reserved world-wide


1.  Move yourself, not the object
2.  Listen to your system
3.  Try Wholeness
4.  Listen to Yourself
5.  Cooperating with your Coordinating System
6.  Happy Solstice ! (New Year Explorations)
7.  What's the Rush?
8.  Frustration, or you can’t always get what you want but you can be cool with it



1. Move yourself, not the object

It is the time of year when many of us have projects to do that involve lifting and moving things. One of the most helpful ideas to get through this time of year without injury is the idea/practice to "move myself, not the object" When you pick an object up off the ground you are supporting it.

When you support it, the object is literally part of your system. When you move, it comes with you. This thought coordinates your system differently than thinking you are holding and carrying an object. It is a powerful shift in focus.

Several students have said, "This is like magic." See for yourself with this exploration:

a) Go over to a chair and, while thinking, "I am going to lift this chair and carry it."  Then pick it up and walk a few steps.  Put it down and step away.

b) Now go back to the chair, bend so you can grasp it gently but do not lift it yet. Take a moment to see if you are easily balanced by noticing if both feet are evenly contacting the ground and your joints are flexible. If you are familiar with my work, remind yourself of the "center of support" idea. With the chair in your gentle grasp come to standing while saying/thinking, "I stand and the chair comes with me". Then as you walk, think/say, "I walk and the chair comes with me."

c) Notice if there is a difference between lifting the chair and moving it, versus you moving and it coming with you (the "move yourself" version).

It may take going and back forth between the two versions a few times to notice a difference. Many people report that the chair feels lighter and there isn't as much strain or effort in the upper body in the moving yourself version.

At first the move yourself method may seem to take longer because it is a new idea. Once you play with it, it can become the way you work, a new way of functioning.  Have Fun Exploring!



2. Listen to your system

When you get a back-of-the-mind message like "I should stop now." Listen!  Stop for a bit. The best way to GET hurt or strained is to let the "I have to get this done now" message override the "I need to stop" message.

Learn to detect rushing. Rushing is strain. Can you do what you are doing in the time it takes to do it? "Here I am and I want to go there. I am not there yet. The distance is closing but I am exactly where I am. I am getting closer." Where you are can be literally where you are in space or where you are in how much you have gotten done. This is a subject for another month's exploration. Have Fun Exploring!



3. Try wholeness

This tip is an experiments in what wholeness means on a practical level. The theory on which it is based follows the instructions.

a) Experience what it is like to see yourself as one whole, to literally say, "I don't have a separate body I have a responsive self." If you tend to take your attention inwards to feel your body, don't for a week or two and see what happens. (That experiment utterly changed my life.)

This is NOT about ignoring sensations. Sensations are key. If you are hungry, eat, if you are tired, sleep. You get responses/sensations — you act... not your body.

b) If you have a practice that invites focusing attention internally, such as watching your breath, see what it is like to not go in to do it. You can close your eyes and get quiet, but instead of going in to feel your breath just stay open and receive the sensation of you breathing.

Sensations come to you rather than you going to find them. What happens?

c) If pain calls your attention to a body part, see what it is like to not let the part pull your attention in to the part. Try saying, "I hurt" rather than "my neck hurts". You may notice that saying, "I" rather than "my neck" invites a different, broader sense of being.

d) At that moment you notice pain instead of narrowing into the sensation and the location of the pain include more into your awareness — the sensation of the earth under you, the colors in the room, the sensation of moving. The moment you notice you are hurting, you are no longer attending to whatever you had been attending to seconds before your attention switched to the sensation of pain. You've already changed, the whole of you.

e) See what it is like to experiment with conceiving of yourself as one whole being at every given moment, exactly as you are, rather than having a body that somehow needs improvement.

Lightning and thunder is the classic example of a whole experienced as separate parts. A high-voltage discharge of electricity between the clouds and the ground is perceived by us as light and sound. Because light travels faster than sound there is a delay between what we see and hear. Experientially, lightning and thunder seem like separate events. We see one thing, hear another. Neither gives us the whole.

There is a parallel between our experience of high-voltage electrical discharge and our selves. I hear my voice, I see my body, I feel my body, my feelings, my thoughts. Often in our lived experience and reflected in our use of language we experience a collection of parts and perceptions. Just the expression — my voice, my body, the possessive pronoun — demonstrates this separated experience of our selves.

At first glance this seems logical. It is the way we seem to be. Yet on some level we also know that just as thunder is not separate from lightning — it is one moment experienced differently by our senses — so too, there is no me and my this or my that. There is one moment of me, one moment of being. Anatomically we can name parts. But functionally we are whole even while we can name the parts.

Recall a time when you performed the way you've always wanted to, or if you aren't a performer, a time when you felt utter joy and contentment. During that moment were you experiencing yourself as a collection of parts: body/mind/voice/feelings? 

Having asked this question of hundreds of people over the last 20 years, those moments of life are usually felt as moments of wholeness. In that wholeness you experience Being. In many cases there is a sense of inter-being, of unity not only within you but with the world around you. These moments show you there is no me-and-my-anything; there is simply you, one whole being.

As someone who has been in the dance field my whole life and in the somatic field for 35 years I have spent countless hours in exercise that essentially perpetuated the separation of me and my body. We were learning to embody ourselves (which is rather fishy when you think about it for a moment — aren't we innately embodied)?

We were learning to get out of our heads; we did body scans and spent hours going in to feel our bodies to gain body awareness. Ironically, these exercises were essentially in the pursuit of wholeness, while at the same time asking us to feel parts. I recognize that for anyone who has spent more time in thought, imagination and ideas these exercises can be illuminating and recuperative. I am sure there are people whose lives where literally saved by spending time "coming back to their body". For centuries the human body was seen as lesser than mind and in some cases as the source of evil/sin. Of course embedded in this idea is the idea of being separate parts like lightning and thunder. In this historical/cultural context it has been an incredible gift to celebrate our bodies, reclaim the miracle and beauty of sensation.

However, going in to feel our body or reclaim our body is still rooted in the same faulty body-as-separate-from-self construct. The alternative to disconnection from the body isn't to connect with the body. It is to see there is no body on a functional level.

You don't actual feel your body, you feel your functioning. (This is a fundamental point. We can look at this in more detail in future articles.) There is just one whole you that is perceiving and experiencing as a whole when you simply stop going in to feel parts.

At any moment, thought, sensation, chemicals, feelings are individual perceptions coming through different senses of one moment of being. Each sense gives us one view of one aspect of a greater whole. Like the blind men feeling different parts of the elephant. The snake of the trunk, the tree of the leg, the wall of the side, these are accurate experiences of parts. But, individually they aren't an elephant any more than a thought, a feeling or a neck is you.

When we make a part a whole we are vulnerable to misinterpretations and partial solutions. When we can interpret our experience from a construct of a whole harmonious system we are liberated from one of the great root misconceptions of our time.



4. Listening to Yourself

Can you recall a time when got hurt and realized later you'd had a back-of-the-mind thought to stop or change something but didn't? How about a time when you had a gut feeling or sensed the possibility of an injury or illness and you kept going and ended up sick or injured?

What would your life be like if you followed the guidance coming to you through your system's sensations and back-of-the-mind thoughts? Put another way, what would your life be like if you didn't ignore your system's messages?

Here are a few New Year's suggestions for discovering how wise you are if you don't ignore yourself.

1) Listen to your back-of-the-mind thoughts and gut feelings as if that flash-of-a-thought was a coming from a wise advisor. See what happens if you follow that message rather than the companion argument to ignore the thought and keep it in the 'back' of your consciousness. Bring the back-of-the-mind thoughts forward. I add a cautionary note here because for many of us the skill of dis-identifying self from thought or being clear that thoughts are just thoughts and not reality is key to clarity. Back-of-the-mind-thoughts and gut feelings are not the same as spinning, stressful thoughts. Use this tip wisely.

2) When you feel the start of an ache or pain stop for a moment and change something like the pace at which you are working. See if you can determine why you are hurting before you keep doing what you are doing. Pain is commonly caused by 'how' you are doing what you are doing. So when you change the 'how', you change the pain.

3) Take time in your day or week to be still and silent, 'to be' for a few moments without purpose or accomplishment or doing. Conceive of this in the same way you might take time to exercise or eat well. Stillness/silence is part of fitness. Fitness for life. Fitness for your whole being.

4) Ask yourself what gives you joy? If you can't answer this question decide to find out.

5) Decide to have more joy in your life. How often do you give yourself the time and energy to follow your joy? If the answer is "rarely", find some ways to do things you love to do. From the point of view of listening to your system's signals, the sense of joy and ease is one of the most powerful ways your system tells you what you need for your deepest wholeness and health.

As the great comparative mythology scholar Joseph Campbell said many years ago to his students at Sarah Lawrence:

"Follow your bliss. You'll have moments when you'll experience bliss. And when that goes away, what happens to it? Just stay with it, and there's more security in that than in finding out where the money is going to come from next year. For years I've watched this whole business of young people deciding on their careers. There are only two attitudes: one is follow your bliss; and the other is to read projections as to where the money is going to be when you graduate. Well, it changes so fast. This year it's computer work; next year it's dentistry and so on. And no matter what the young person decides, by the time he or she gets going, it will have changed. But if they have found where the center of real bliss is, they can have that. You may not have money, but you'll have your bliss."

"Your bliss can guide you to the transcendent mystery, because bliss is the welling up of energy of the transcendent wisdom within you. So when the bliss cuts off, you know that you've cut off the welling up; try to follow it again. And that will be your Hermes guide, the dog that can follow the invisible trail for you. And that's the way it is. One works out one's own myth that way."

                                       Pathways to Bliss by Joseph Campbell, p. xxiv



5. Cooperate with your Coordinating System

What kind of focus of attention allows for most skilled and efficient movement for the task at hand? The following exploratorium is an opportunity to discover for yourself the implications of different points of view regarding human movement or human coordination.

1) When practicing or learning a skill, whether it is golf, singing, or yoga identify when you give a direction to a part of your body, an internal focus. For example, say to yourself, "Bring my shoulders back or use my abs or take a breath."

2) Experiment with broadening your intention from the body part to the larger purpose of the skill, the external focus, such as where you want the ball to go, or where you want to go, or the meaning and quality of the musical phrase, or the over all shape in space of your body.

3) Compare the felt experience of these two different approaches. If you aren't familiar with the broader intention approach it may take a few goes before you can tell any difference.

The underpinning for the above exploration is the question of how your body is designed to function. Do you have a system that works best when parts are manipulated to produce results, or does it work best when the system is free to coordinate to your intention to produce results? If you enjoy a skill, answering this question can be one of the most important clarities you'll ever make. Coming to an answer to this question isn't an intellectual exercise. To truly answer it, you need to experiment for yourself and feel the differences.

Here's some information to inspire your investigation: There is a growing body of research pointing to the answer that our human system is a Coordinating System.

Coordinating System is not the term given in motor learning research. It comes to me via David Gorman's articulation of how the system seems to be designed to coordinate the billions of bits of information into action when left free to organize around intention. Personally, I think the term would be an asset to the motor learning/skill acquisition field.

The following link is to a PDF file of a paper by Hossner and Wenderoth called "Gabriele Wulf: Attentional Focus and Motor Learning: A Review of 10 Years of Research" which summarizes ten years of Wulf's research. Here is a short excerpt from the article:

"Importantly, not only performance, but the whole learning process seems to be affected by what the learner focuses on while practicing a skill (for a comprehensive review, see Wulf 2007). That is, how fast a skill is learned, how well it is retained, is largely determined by the individual's focus of attention that is induced by the instructions or feedback given him or her. The present article reviews the findings from studies, conducted over the past decade, that have specifically examined an internal versus external focus of attention. As originally defined by Wulf, Hob, and Prinz (1998), an internal focus is one that is directed at the performer's own body movements, whereas the external focus is directed to the effects that his or her movement have on the environment. As I will demonstrate in this review, there is considerable evidence that an external focus of attention is more effective for performance and learning." - Hossner and Wenderoth
[my italics].

Most of these studies are applied to sports like golf, volleyball, jumping and others. This motor learning research is confirming what David Gorman observed and articulated 20 years ago. I created the Wholeness in Motion™ movement class 8 years ago to see if it was possible to teach movement, based on my experiences with Gorman, with minimal body-part directed teaching and maximum whole system, intentional or external focus. I was using different words to describe the difference between internal focus and external focus than that of the motor learning world but was essentially asking the same question applied to Yoga and dance like movement as well a "postural" re-education. Anecdotally, and experientially, the evidence was mounting that it was not only possible but preferable to scaffold movement teaching away from body parts manipulation (internal focus) to the whole system in action (external focus) as the root pedagogical approach.

During this time I was also working extensively with singers in private practice, through residencies, as well as through the VoiceCare Network. A few voice teachers began to shift their approach toward teaching with a Coordinating System perspective. Together we are seeing results of not only fine skill acquisition and retention but students gaining autonomy as artists and confidence as learners. Granted this is anecdotal, but it is enough evidence to suggest that a study in the application of the Coordinating System to arts education would be well warranted.

The key isn't really in examining these anecdotes or studies; it is asking yourself how do you go about your practices, teaching, coaching, artistry, or sport. Almost every movement class I witness, from aerobics to Yoga to personal trainers, is embedded with the manipulating point of view. It is how we have understood body and movement. Many classes are wonderful and important and life saving for people. My goal in writing this and in teaching is to invite the possibility that what is already lovely can be fantastic and give even greater benefits when more aligned with how we actually function. The fact is focusing on a specific body part and particularly trying to align it or put it in a better position interferes with the freedom of the whole to be able to most efficiently coordinate movement. Our system is too complex a system to think we can tell parts what to do. Someone says, "Your body is perfect and this class teaches you to be free," and in the next sentence asks students to, "lengthen your neck, open your chest, drop your tail". All of these directions are part driven and override the fantastic ability of the system to function in open suspension and to freely coordinate action.

What you feel is the way you go about action. You don't feel your body per se; you feel your current state of functioning. That is why you can feel heavy and strained in one moment and open and light in the other. You feel your current coordination. So how you go about an exercise completely determines which muscles fire, which lengthen, which move. Two apparently same movements will elicit very different coordinations depending on how you approach it.

Let's say the movement is to touch your head. If you simply touch your head, like you are scratching an itch, your movement will be different than if you instruct yourself to take your hand to the top of your head and move your fingers back and forth on your scalp.

Try the exploratorium below for yourself, then read on...

Coordinating System DemonstrationExploratorium — Coordinating System Demonstration

Scratching an itch is an external focus with a single intention that allows the whole system to coordinate the movement. Taking your hand to your head and moving your fingers is a parts-based internal focus in which you are focusing on the hand moving to your head. Almost anyone doing this experiment will feel the ease and effortlessness of the former and the greater strain and "arm feel" of the latter. These are not the same "exercise". In other words, when you exercise you are exercising different things depending on how you go about the movement. THIS HAS HUGE IMPLICATIONS FOR ALL MOVEMENT TRAINING AND EXERCISES FOR REHAB!

The question arises. "What do we do when habitual patterns have organized the body in a harmful way?" The Change in Action section below addresses this question.

Change in Action - Changing a Walking Pattern or the Hot Cup Theory of Changing Habits

A major portion of my teaching these days is on the road doing residencies or workshops. It is wonderful to introduce new people to this material. The only downside is that sometimes I don't get follow-up time to see how it is being interpreted in action. I was lucky this year to have spent a week at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee in the music department, (thank you, Sharon Hanson). There were several students with whom I worked in Milwaukee in February who then came in July to the VoiceCare Network "BodyMInd and Voice" course. This article is the story of one of these students. She had participated in several choral and conducting classes I was teaching during the UW residency and then was scheduled for a private session. During that session I asked her what she'd like to work with that would support her art. She said that knee pain and some back pain gets in her way. We started with a simple diagnostic tool I use to assess overall coordination by having her walk, the goal being to see why it makes sense her back hurts. Indeed her habitual walk was a slight leaning back that focused forces on her lower back and knees, a common cause of pain. As we explored further, that global pattern was evident in singing and conducting. I took her through some explorations to awaken her awareness of the sensation of the habit.

As we ended the lesson, I asked her what she understood she would explore on her own. She said what most people say after they've had a contrast experience in which a new way of going about things feels good and better. She said something like, "I'm going to practice walking over my support and looking around." Her focus at that moment was on practicing the new, better way. Logical, right? From my years of experience this "improvement approach" will soon turn into another fixed position and often a state of mind that there is something wrong with her walk (or worse with HER) and she needs to directly fix it.

So we took a bit more time to clarify that the entire purpose of the contrasting experience was less about what she "should" do to be right and more about feeling the sensation of the habit and naming it accurately. This also experientially shows her what an amazing signaling system she has. Her body is fine. She just needs to know how to read the signals. It is kind of like when a child touches a hot cup, you don't have to tell her to not touch the cup again. The bad sensation takes care of that. This is a way of turning the invisible habit into a hot cup. Her assignment was to: 1) Be awoken more quickly to the sensation of habit; 2) Stay in habit a bit and ask a few questions, like, where do I feel pressure? Strain? Force? Where was my attention just then? After getting a broader sense of the moment and the sensations of habit, all she needed to do was let herself come out of it. There wasn't a specific "better" to get to; it's just a letting herself move out of the strain. In this way the change is happening from her awareness of the "not good" which is incredibly powerful property of her system. As she learned to read that signal the "good" does itself! There is nothing wrong with her body or her. She just needed a little experiential information update to understand and cooperate with her system's built-in compass.

When I saw her in the summer she wasn't walking in habit. I asked her about it and she reported much less pain in her back and knees. I asked her what she had done, and she beautifully described doing the above process which at the time of that first lesson was foreign to her and didn't even make much sense. Why wouldn't you just go for the improvement? Noticing habit and staying there can feel like a waste of time at first. But she stuck with the "hot cup" approach. She became clear that her job was to be specifically aware when she found herself in habit, which then allowed her system to change itself. As she learns to apply the approach to herself she is learning how to apply it with her students.

The bigger benefit to observing habit was her discovery that when she was walking and thinking about other things she tended to go into habit. As she was more awake to the world around her, she was no longer in habit. Both were possibilities and both had effects on her. In this way the "hot cup' approach gives a person tools to continue to learn about their patterns on their own. "Why does it make sense I find myself leaning back? Oh because I'm off thinking about my next task." As she began to be clear about the relationship of her focus of attention to her physical habit she could simply use the sensation of strain to choose where she wanted to put her attention - on thoughts or on the world around her. There was no need to remember to be right or present or anything; just using her built-in sensory system/compass to make choices.

In the end, once habit is revealed, your job isn't to change it so much as to redefine it in terms of sensation. This isn't walking, this is leaning back. As you shine a more accurate light on it, the system will shift away from the "heat" toward less "heat".

The heart beat of my work these days isn't to show people an optimal way to function as much as reveal to them how beautifully their system is already designed to guide them to optimal functioning by helping them understand the signals the system gives them through sensation, thought, and feelings. Wholeness in Motion™ and LearningMethods™ are a means to navigate with your built-in compass which in the end is a much more reliable guide than any externally acquired guideline, be it postural instructions or life rules.



6. Happy Solstice !

Sometimes the simplest choices have the deepest results. Here are a few explorations to enrich your New Year.

EXPLORE DOING THE FOLLOWING, as if your health and well-being depended on them, (it just might):

If you want to know the reasoning behind the suggestions read on.

1. LAUGHING OFTEN — There is neuroscience, immunology and psychology research looking at the health effects of laughter. A fascinating body of research comes to me from Leon Thurman, one of my mentors, a groundbreaking voice educator and a brilliant synthesizer of neuroscience.

Jack Pettigrew discovered, by accident, the effects of laughter on interhemispheric switching in the brain, a key theory in understanding bipolar disorder. Here are links to articles about his work:  http://cogweb.ucla.edu/Abstracts/Pettigrew_01.html and http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1444-0938.2005.tb06662.x/pdf.

There are many general articles, like the one below, discussing various studies on laughter and health: http://women.webmd.com/guide/give-your-body-boost-with-laughter

In the spirit of self-knowledge and embodiment your experience is more than enough. You can find out if your life is more or less enjoyable when you laugh more.  Is your health and well-being in any way effected when you laugh more often?

Thanks to Katharine, who said she was choosing to laugh more often. Her story inspired me to do this experiment.

2) DOING SOMETHING YOU LOVE - TAKING TIME FOR JOY — There is an article in Dive Training magazine, (September 2011) called Your Brain on Scuba. It is full of scary statistics about how Americans don't take time for fun.

Here are some highlights: Americans average 13 days off per year, English 26, Germans 27, French 38. Several studies found that the "most significant predictors of heart health was whether women took vacations." For men, another study found that, "Men who took vacations were 21 percent less likely to have disease than those who didn't and 32 percent less likely to suffer heart attacks."

In the article they correlated vacation with pleasure. Doing joyous things is good for health. It is also good for happiness. "Studies show experiences can make us happier than material things." Frequency of experiences is more important than intensity.

This relates directly to the fundamental question underlying my work: Does your system give you accurate signals to guide you?  If so, is it possible that joy, fun, and pleasure are reliable guides to show you what is good for you? This is a radical proposal in a culture with a history of marginalizing joy as frivolous, at best, and selfish, at worst. It seems that the Calvinist/Puritan perspective may be bad for your health.

Barbara Fredrickson is a pioneer in the investigation of positive emotions. Here's the link to her Positive Emotions and Psychophysiology Lab: http://www.unc.edu/peplab/. The following link is to a research center here in Wisconsin, Center for Investigating Healthy Minds: http://www.investigatinghealthyminds.org/. We have years of research into illness. These two centers are in the forefront of researching health. (Thanks again to Leon for the Fredrickson lead.)


   Just try it.

4) LEARNING POEMS BY HEART — No science for this one, just personal experience in the depth of relationship that happens when a poem is in my heart.

                  Climb Mount Fuji,
               O snail,
                  but slowly, slowly
                                        - Issa



7. What's the Rush? or How Rushing Slows You Down

Do you ever find yourself in a rush? Can you describe the feeling of rushing? Rushing is often confused with speed. Rushing isn’t the feeling of being fast; rushing is the feeling of being ahead of yourself.

Slowing down in a rushRushing is the feeling of being where you are not!

The tension and grip of rushing interferes with speed. It also causes the tendency to knock into things and have minor accidents since your attention is somewhere else--out ahead of you. Friday afternoon is the most common time for workplace injury. Moving quickly requires freedom of movement, ease and balance. It isn’t at all what rushing feels like.

People often work with me to address physical concerns. Many times the cause of the symptom has less to do with what they know about the body than how they are going about life. You can be the Master of Body-mechanics and if you are rushing you will move inefficiently. You cannot be physically efficient and rush. It is impossible because your body is always in the coordination of what you are up to with your intention and attention, both of which are ahead of you when you rush.

It can seem impossible not to rush. Once a you feel the uselessness of rushing and experience the ease that is speed, it can practically change itself. A student described rushing on her way to work. She said, “I noticed I was in a rush and asked myself, 'Do I need to rush?' The answer was, ‘no’. I wasn’t even late! So I just stopped.” How often are you rushing erroneously?

The next time you find yourself in a rush:

— Notice the specific sensations of rushing: tension in your jaw, gripping in your body, being off balance.

— Notice what your focus is on. Are you ahead of yourself or thinking about what is coming nest: the next bite, already in the car, what you'll do after you read the e-mail...?

— Ask yourself if you need to go quickly now?
    — If no, then just stop rushing.
    — If yes, then notice where you physically are and where you want to be. Say to yourself
        “Here I am and I am on my way there. I am getting closer with each step.” In a
        demonstration I have people see the distance closing as they walk to the destination. If
        you are doing a task, like stacking firewood, say to yourself I am loading this piece and
        this piece and so forth. This isn't about slowing down, it is about being where you are
        even as you hold the intention to get where you are going.

— Lighten up to move quickly. Find out how quickly you can move rather than move as fast as you can. The later framework tends to invite a rush.

Do you often have more to do in a day than is possible to get done? Do you even know what is possible? This is a setup for stress and rushing. The stress isn’t the problem. The stress is the sensation of trying to do the impossible. Your body tension is NOT the problem; it is a wonderful signal alerting you to what your are trying to do.

Your idea that you can get so much done in a day is the problem. As my teacher, David Gorman, says, “Nice idea, wrong universe.” The sooner you align your idea/desire with reality, the easier life is.  



6. Frustration, or you can’t always get what you want but you can be cool with it

Annoyed, frustrated, mad – this family of feelings is a territory of stress. This article gives you a simple tool to help you diffuse the annoyance, frustration or anger reaction and turn it into a more productive response. Over time people who have used this tool have reported becoming less frustrated, gaining clarity and making productive choices sooner. Physically, this translates into less headaches, tension and stress.

The Cupped Hands Gesture Tool:

— Step 1: Wake up in the moment and identify the feeling. “I am frustrated.”

— Step 2: Take one hand and make a cup gesture in front of you. That hand holds the current reality or situation like “The tire is flat.” Say the current reality as simply as you can.

— Step 3: Do the same gesture in the other hand and fill it with what you wish was true like “I wish the tire wasn’t flat.”

— Step 4: Clarify–I am frustrated because I wish the tire wasn’t flat. The flat tire isn’t what is making me frustrated. Frustration is the feeling of my wishing for a different reality than the one that is. (If you don’t quite see it like this or find yourself saying, ”But...”   see the in-depth section below.)

— Step 5: Make a choice based on the current unpleasant but actual reality.

In time you may notice you have more choices when you aren’t blaming the tire, the situation or another person for your reaction. As you use the cupped hands gesture to remind you of the mechanics of your frustration or anger, you’ll begin to get clarity sooner. You won’t even need all the thinking, just the gesture will remind you to explore accepting the unpleasant reality versus continuing to fight reality. “Yes, the tire is flat. I will miss the ferry. Now what? Fix the flat. Look for a camp ground. Take ferry tomorrow.” (This is a true story. It was fantastic not to get bent out of shape because the current reality wasn’t what I wished it was. The day wasn’t ruined. It was different.)

Why the Gesture:

In my teaching I am using gestures as shorthand for complex ideas with excellent results. Initially, a person needs to clarify and understand an issue or problem. That is what LearningMethods™ does brilliantly. Applying the clarity is what people do on their own. It is what makes real change. People used to find it hard to remember the new clarity in the heat of a moment. The gesture approach seems to help people apply a new complex idea in the moment they need it. It is a powerful tool for changing habitual reactions and embodying a new way of seeing reality. See next paragraph for more information.

Mechanics of Frustration, or Revealing Your Perspective

If Step 4 above is unclear to you, I invite you to deconstruct frustration. Choose a simple situation when you are frustrated. Take apart the elements of the situation. Don’t believe what I am saying. See if you can tell what the elements of frustration are.

Does it break down into:
   Here’s reality.
   Here’s my wish.

I want my wish to be reality or for reality to match my wish. Note what this idea feels like.

If you stop wishing reality to be different than it is, does your sensation change? Put another way: If you accept the unpleasant fact of the current reality does your response change. "This is reality. I don't like it. It is as it is at this moment." Insisting reality should be your wish, not what it actually is, equals frustration. Accepting the unpleasant fact isn't joyous, but it does let you stop fighting reality so you can deal with reality as it is. It allows you to stop blaming, kicking or shouting...

At the moment of frustration your perspective is wanting reality to be what you wish it was. Your response is to your perspective or idea, not to reality. On your own it can be challenging to see your perspective. Your perspective often feels like truth; perspective is hard to see. Your thoughts and ideas seem like reality. Can you see a thought or idea as just that? “This is my thought, my idea, my perspective, my framework, my filter.(there are many words for this).” It is like deboning a fish, you make a little separation between you and your thinking in a moment of emotion. You begin to see that emotion is the sensation of your thought – it is one coordination of your being. Your chemistry, your structure, your thinking, feeling is all one coordination. For convenience we divide ourselves up into mind, body, emotion, but we are not divided in our functioning. This is the heart of LearningMethods™ which is NOT about having any particular state of being. It is just the opposite. It is about letting yourself have any reaction and learning from it. You learn to understand your reaction, you understand yourself, how you work and how you are navigating the world. You don't have to improve your reaction, just understand it. Improvement or change happens from understanding.

This article is not advocating never getting angry or frustrated. Reactions are the way your system is designed to show you HOW YOU ARE SEEING THE WORLD. They are essential for navigating life. If you don’t like how you are feeling or in other words, the sensation of your perspective, find out what your perspective is. Usually when there is an unpleasant sensation the problem isn’t in the reality it is in the perspective you have; this is hopeful because perspectives are easier to change than reality.

At the VoiceCare workshops this summer the cupping gesture became a kind of wake-up game. We used it to help each other. So when someone sang and it didn’t come out the way they wished and they got frustrated, someone else would do gesture with one hand and say "Reality"; gesture with the other and say, "Wish". The annoyed person would laugh and say, “Oh yeah! I’m wishing.” Suddenly he was with reality and simply sang again or made an observation that could help with the next time.

Dysfunctional Workplaces:

One of the most common locations for frustration is in dysfunctional workplaces. Using LearningMethods I’ve worked with many people to navigate such situations. In essence the work helps you stay as healthy and functioning as you can even in challenging situations. The cupped hand gesture is only one step, there are certainly other tools for other stresses.


   Dog Training by Christine Albert Carnes, Veterinarian

In the August 2011 Stones in Water Journal, Babette wrote about singers studying with her: that after a session they frequently would describe what they learned as “hold my body in this new way.” It was, Babette described, a common response, but not quite the one she was looking for. What she really seeks is for a student to understand how her body works, so she can accurately interpret her sensations and make useful choices rather than just impose some new rule without knowledge or criteria. It comes down to getting to know yourself. That really got my attention, because it is advice that probably applies to everyone, in every field of endeavor.

Mine is dog training, and this is the story of how “Stones in Water” ideas apply to my work. There are many sources of dog training information: books, television, classes all give you pointers on the mechanics of how to get a sit, a spin, a loose-leash walk and a host of other skills. Some are gentle to the dog, some not so much so, but even among the kind ones, very few take into consideration what I consider the actual starting point of successful dog training: how does this dog feel? How is the relationship between you and your dog at any given moment? In order to be in a place where learning can occur, a dog must first feel safe. Can you tell when your dog feels safe?

Imagine this scenario: a young pup is put in the car (which may be scary if she hasn’t gone on many car rides), brought to a strange facility, and into a room with a bunch of other dogs and people. And THEN she is asked to do the hardest intellectual work she has ever been asked to do and her people are annoyed when she doesn’t get it right fast enough. Now imagine this instead: the dog training instructor sends you instructions before class ever starts that read: figure out what high-value treats are for this dog. Then take the dog out on a leash. Allow her to check out her world, but the moment she glances at you, say “yes” and give her 15 of those high-value treats, one at a time. Disengage, let her check out her world, and repeat. As time goes by you can use fewer treats, but you always want to reward heavily. Do not make kissy sounds, call the dog or otherwise nag the dog. You are waiting for an offer of attention from her, and when it comes you are making sure it is the best idea she ever had. Practice this the week before class, in increments of about two minutes. Remember to ask yourself, “Can I tell when my dog is calm and feels safe? Can I tell when my dog is ready to learn”

I couldn’t tell you what your dog’s high-value treats are, or when you can switch from 15 treats to fewer, and how many fewer. Those are some of the “know thyself-know thy dog?” questions. But I can tell you this: treating the dog as if she is an intelligent creature, with options that might not include paying attention to you, respecting that, and making it worth her while to pay attention to you….all that begins a whole new adventure in dog training. If training doesn’t feel smooth and easy then look to your dog. Are you attending the fundamentals? When you have the basics in place training feels wonderful!


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There is a small biography of personal details about the author below.


About the Author

Babette Lightner developed The Lightner Method™ giving voice to her synthesis of 40 years of teaching and studying human design, movement and well-being. She has been a Movement Educator for 40 years, a Certified Alexander Technique teacher for 30 years and a LearningMethods™ teacher for 20 years. She is an adjunct faculty member at the College of St. Benedict's and St. John's University, where she is developing a Body Mind and Performance class based on The Lightner Method. She is a long-standing member of the faculty of the VoiceCare Network and she has an on-going, twice yearly residency with the Vocal, Conducting and Choral program at Western University in London, Ontario.

For ten years she taught in the Professional Actor Training Program and Music Department at the University of Minnesota. Lightner has lectured and taught for many universities, institutions and organizations including the Guthrie Theater, Sister Kenny Institute, Balk Opera Music Institute, Taipei National University of Arts in Taiwan, and with the internationally acclaimed a cappella group Rajaton.

Her explorations into human movement have taken her around the world, from dancing with a folk dance troupe in the villages of South India to performing with a post-modern physical theatre company in the warehouses of Boston.

She is the author of Your Inner Compass, Pedagogy of Empowerment, Coordination of Being for Conductors and other articles that elucidate how your magnificent system can work for you rather than against you. She wakes up grateful each morning because seeing people awed by their own capability is like witnessing a miracle every day.

Babette Lightner
River Falls, Wisconsin, USA
Tel: +1 612-729-7127    web site: www.LightnerMethod.com


    Telephone: +1 416-519-5470      78 Tilden Crescent, Etobicoke, ON  M9P 1V7  Canada  (map)

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