This journal entry contains all three parts of my final project for Carnegie Mellon University’s “Designing Narratives Across Media” course, taught by Professor Ahmed Ansari. Sharing it here because I like it and because it could serve as an entry point to anyone interested in world-building or the Alexander Technique.
Selfism, Process Post 1/3: The Alexander Technique as a Cosmology
After several thought experiments as well as several actual experiments, I am now committed to the cosmology that I intend to bring to life by the end of the semester. This cosmology is Selfism.
Because every good cosmology needs a good origin story, in this first process post, though I will make some direct references to Selfism, my main focus will be on describing where Selfism came from: The Alexander Technique.
The Alexander Technique
The Alexander Technique is a system of well-being.
Or at least that’s one definition. The truth is, like most profound practices, the Alexander Technique is extremely hard to define, but in the face of that challenge the above definition does a pretty good job.
Others might define it as a technique that teaches you how to improve your posture. Still others might define it as a technique that teaches you how to sing. I define it as a method of using one’s Self well, but more on that later.
In the meantime, here is F.M Alexander, the founder of the Alexander Technique, giving us his definition:
Thanks, F.M. Alexander; that’s the best definition of the Technique I’ve ever encountered. It captures everything the Technique is in a succinct manner, without forcing it into a narrow definition to make it more appealing to one audience (e.g., people with lower-back pain) or another (e.g., singers).
And the reason why an appropriate definition of the Technique such as Alexander’s must not be limited to a single realm is that the focus upon which the Technique works is as all-encompassing as can be: the Self.
In Pedro de Alcantara’s brilliant book Indirect Procedures, he opens his guide to the Technique by clarifying that the Technique is not physical, just as it isn’t mental. Rather, the Alexander Technique works upon the Self; the integrated totality of the person, inseparable from Nature.
As far as the Technique is concerned, there is no body and there is no mind. There is one Self, and this self includes and integrates both body and mind along with all else that makes a human being a human being.
I can feel this getting too conceptual, so, to counteract the force of theory with the complementary force of practice, here are two of the main practices of the Self that make up the Technique.
1. “Forward & Up”
At this point, this is my mantra. I cannot even attempt to estimate how many times I think, write, or say these words to my Self on a daily basis, and for good reason.
“Forward and up” is most easily understood as a postural device to keep your body in a healthy position, but it is also much more than that. For now though, let’s limit ourselves to the purely postural perspective of the phrase. But first, here’s some visual aid!
Ah, nothing like a visual aid! This image perfectly illustrates what forward and up means. By “thinking” the head forward and up, one lets one’s neck be free, and one’s spine as a consequence, which lets the Self be in its natural, free state.
Teaser: “Forward & Up” is at the core of the value system of Selfism!
2. Constructive Rest
Constructive Rest is the go-to position of the Alexander Technique. To learn why, try it.
Place a book or pillow under your head so that your spine, neck, and head are neutral. Bend your knees comfortably as illustrated in the wonderful visual aid to the left.
Now, breathe. Place a hand or both on your pelvis as our visual aid drawing is doing. Feel your breath through your hands. Close your eyes. Feel your ankles and how close they are to your neck. Observe any areas of tension.
This is Constructive Rest. A pose which allows the body to connect with the rest of the Self, allowing the whole of the Self to rest.
Pro tip: If you sometimes struggle to fall asleep, as I sometimes do, get into constructive rest position on your bed before going to sleep. Direct your energy toward resting, not toward falling asleep.
Teaser: Constructive rest is at the core of the spiritual practice of Selfism!
That, in essence, is the Alexander Technique, or the parts of it that most clearly influence Selfism. If you’re interested in learning more about the Technique, feel free to contact me; I’m happy to discuss the most life-changing practice I’ve come across.
For my next process post though, I’ll shift focus from the Alexander Technique, and to the cosmology that derived from it: Selfism. More specifically, I’ll describe Selfism, the world that developed around it, and how I’m bringing this world to life.
See you then!
Selfism, Process Post 2/3: An Overview of the Cosmology of Selfism
After reading my Process Post 1 on Selfism, you’re probably asking yourself things like “What is this cosmology?”, “What kind of world developed around it?”, and “How are you bringing this world to life?”
Or maybe you’re not.
But if you are, then you’re in luck, because in Process Post 2, I will address each of these questions. In 3, 2, 1…
What is Selfism?
Selfism is a cosmology that takes the principles of the Alexander Technique, which are meant to help individuals improve their use of their Selves, and expands those same principles to the entire universe.
This, in essence, is Selfism. When applied to the entire universe of Selves instead of to one individual Self, the principles of the Alexander Technique take on a new life as they come to shape the way the whole world works.
But what does this world look like?
What Does the World of Selfism Look Like?
Very different from the world we live in. Let’s explore what makes the world of Selfism different by exploring it’s three main components: Nature, Bodies, and Community.
- Nature in the world of Selfism is exactly as it is in our world. What’s completely different is our relationship to it.
- Just like the Alexander Technique teaches individuals to regard their Selves as integrated, with no separation of mind and body, for example, the world of Selfism perceives no separation between man and nature.
- Cities are seamlessly integrated with nature, so that it is impossible to make a distinction between rural and urban.
- “Crimes Against Nature” (as postulated by the laws of Selfism which I will describe in Process Post 3) are considered to be as serious, if not more serious than “Crimes Against Humanity”.
- Little, if any, conflict arises over nature, since the entire world is integrated with it, and to engage in conflict over it would be nonsensical, and, well…unnatural.
- Due to the integration of humans and nature, the air, water, and earth of this world are light and clean, which, in turn, has a substantial effect on humans.
- Thanks to the nature of Selfism, humans enjoy the timeless benefits of being in nature, which, in this world, amount to an extremely low incidence of illness, and high levels of well-being among the entire population.
- Per the principles of the Alexander Technique, humans don’t see the body as one half of the mind-body duality as Descartes would say, nor as a corpse carrying a soul as the stoics would say. Rather, the humans of Selfism see only the Self, which integrates everything that makes a human a human.
- Since only the all-encompassing Self is perceived beyond any subdivisions, any illness that might afflict what we call the body or what we call the mind, is interpreted as being an irregularity in the Self, and is therefore treated from all angles, which leads to a supremely healthy population.
- The humans of Selfism also see the Self when faced with an animal or with a tree; an animal or a tree is everything that it is, just like a human being.
- Many studies of the Self actually come from humans’ careful study of animals in motion, since they haven’t been exposed to bad habits of the Self and are living in accordance with their nature.
- Beauty is not a matter of facial features or any other purely external factor. Rather, beauty in Selfism depends on someone’s integration, meaning, how fully are they incorporating all of their Selves in the use of their Selves. While evidence of integration can be perceived externally (e.g., integrated posture, coherent speech and deeds, strong boundaries, ease of use), it is more often than not felt internally.
- Just as integration is revered, a lack of integration is discriminated against, and so one of the main challenges faced by Selfism is how to keep moving Forward and Up as an integrated society without falling into elitist tendencies.
- Small-sized, sustainable, tight-knit communities are highly-valued.
- The basic family unit consists of two parents, four grandparents (if possible), and several mentors from outside the family from inside the community; this structure provides ample support and education to all.
- The size of the local community must not exceed 100 members and the basic family unit must not exceed 10 members, so as to ensure that deep, meaningful relationships are constructed, at least during each person’s early childhood; that said, communities are fairly open and allow visitors and exchange-members, perhaps even permanent new members if sustainable.
- Every person has two “jobs”: one which is determined by the community, and one which is determined by that person’s Self; the former encourages empathy and collaboration, and the latter allows for freedom of creative expression the fulfillment of individual potential.
- The community values the good use of the means of production rather than the means or the production themselves.
- Selfism calls for the integration of the Self and of the community, which cannot be separated, given that a fully integrated Self must be fully integrated into his community, or else he is not yet fully integrated.
This is, in essence, the world of Selfism; the world I plan on bringing to life.
How Will I Bring Selfism to Life?
In bringing Selfism to life, I will, apropos, use an integrated approach, which will come together in digital form as a web-page.
On one dimension, the physical, I will create models of tools used by the humans of Selfism (hint: one of these tools relates to Forward and Up; another related to Constructive Rest), and I might include additional physical elements.
On another dimension, I will write a sample of the main legal document underpinning Selfism. I will also create additional representative writing samples that capture the world of Selfism.
And on yet another another dimension, I will create a piece of simple, expansive music that captures the essence of Selfism. Interestingly enough, this piece of music is that which is performed during community rituals.
Which rituals am I referring to? In Process Post 3, I will make one final foray into the intricacies of Selfism, by describing its Rituals, its Art, its Technology, and additional elements of its world, as well as give a final overview of how Selfism will come to life.
See you then!
Selfism, Process Post 3/3: The Wunderkammer of Selfism
Welcome back, Professor Ansari, or other person who stumbled into this post; this is my last Process Post documenting the process of bringing a cosmology of my own creation, Selfism, into the real world!
That said, picking up right where Process Post 2 left off, here is more on the cosmology of Selfism, more specifically: its Rituals, its Art, and its Technology.
More on Selfism
- The first ritual that all citizens in the world of Selfism must go through is the water session. In the Alexander Technique, a “session” means 30 to 55 minutes working on the Self, usually with the help of a Certified Alexander Technique instructor; the water session has the same purpose and length as a standard session, except that it is consists on one of the elders of the community working on a baby’s Self after he or she has gone through a water ritual similar to a baptism.
- Every morning, the citizens of the world of Selfism recite The Daily Directives (think of it as a prayer), which is also recited in unison at the beginning of all communal gatherings. These are The Daily Directives:
Let the ankles be free.
Let the knees be free.
Let the hips be free.
Let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up.
Let the back lengthen and widen.
Let the shoulders move away from the spine.
Let the arms move away from the shoulders.
Let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up.
- Before going to sleep, the citizens of the world of Selfism all go into a constructive rest position, through which they practice deep breathing and release any unnecessary tension accumulated throughout the day.
- The concept of art being specialized is foreign to the citizens of the world of Selfism. The idea of only certain people being painters, or musicians, or performers is as ludicrous to them as the idea of everyone being all of these things might be to us. However, it is important to note that good use of the Self underpins all artistic disciplines; if one lets one’s Self see well, one will be able to paint; if one lets one’s Self breathe well, one will be able to sing, and so on. Since Selfism espouses good use over all else, everyone has the ability to make art; if a person chooses to specialize in one art form over another, it will be due to an authentic preference, not to any artistic limitations.
- Art is a vital part of all communal gatherings, as it is present both during many rituals, in the form of music, rhetoric, and performance, and during exclusively artistic events, which communities hold on a daily basis to allow the members of the community to express their selves. Think of it as a great Open Mic Night, every night.
- The left-brain, right-brain dichotomy does not exist in Selfism. Since art is in everyone and everything, it in no way stands in opposition to anyone or anything, including more scientific, economic, or managerial interests and pursuits. Rather, given that Selfism captures the unity of the Self, art can only add the overall Self, so a scientist who is also an actor will be considered to be more integrated than an equally-skilled scientist who does not let his Self be artistic. This concept has an impact on the technology of Selfism.
- There is no place in the world of Selfism for technology that does not promote good use of the Self. For example, imagine a phone that was capable of texting and using social networks, and imagine someone in the world of Selfism invented it, someone named, I don’t know, let’s say Mr. Jeve Stobs. Well, if in order to use this phone you were prompted to sacrifice your good use by bending your neck and letting the head fall forward and down, then this technology, by law, would be made illegal. Mr. Jeve Stobs could still create this phone for research purposes or curiosity, but he would not be allowed to distribute it, unless he could redesign it to promote good use.
- The only technology that can be distributed in the world of Selfism is that which promotes good use of the Self by either reinforcing good habits, helping to inhibit bad ones, or directing the Self toward even better ways of being. Examples would include musical instruments, electronic devices which facilitate business practices without precluding good use (imagine a personal computer that freezes anytime it catches you slumping over your chair, letting your head fall forward and down, or misusing your Self in any other way).
This is the essence of the Rituals, Art, and Technology of the world of Selfism.
Over these three Process Posts I’ve explored the origins of Selfism in The Alexander Technique, the basic elements of Selfism, and some more specific elements of Selfism. All this exploration has, at last, allowed me to decide what I will create for my final project: The Wunderkammer of Selfism.
The Wunderkammer of Selfism
The Wunderkammer of Selfism will contain the following items:
- A recitation of The Daily Directives to be followed and integrated instantly by any listener, adorned with original music which implies the simplicity, the clarity, and the openness of Selfism.
- A set of tools used in the world of Selfism to engage in Constructive Rest and to keep in mind the mantra of “Forward & Up”.
- Several written documents demonstrating some of the organizational intricacies brought about by Selfism, as well as some of the laws that underpin them.
As of now, these will be the elements contained within my Wunderkammer. There might be some adjustments, small additions, or small subtractions, but my intention is to create all of these objects and integrate them into a single digital space, which will then be presented as my final project a week from now, transporting all who interact with it to the world of Selfism.