When I first started studying with Judith Aston, the creator of Aston-Patterning, I was struck with her approach to the challenges with which her students or clients presented her. “Hmmm…” she would say. “I’m curious if…” And then she would proceed to deconstruct a complex task into smaller pieces- always from the position of curiosity- remaining mentally flexible so that, while informed by her past experience, she could also modify her hypothesis to best match the needs of the person in front of her.
I have used that same method with my own clients, and have found it to be beneficial in many different ways. It keeps me mentally fresh, open to new information, and excited to decode the unique needs of each individual.
Fast-forward to my own music-making.
Recently, I encountered a technical challenge that has bedeviled me for about the last 20 years: I have a tendency to hesitate at the beginning of exposed solo passages (for you non-musicians, this is where you start to play just the slightest bit later than the timing of the piece requires). And for the first time, rather than automatically starting to deride myself for this weak spot in my playing, I found myself interested in the “why” and “how” of the hesitancy, but purely from a place of curiosity rather than judgment. What was happening here? How was my air different in an initial entrance as opposed to just at the beginning of a new phrase? So I started to play with it. “Hmm… I wonder if…”
What a different experience from nit-picking the problem to death, trying to force myself to play correctly! To be clear, I’m not saying I was suddenly able to fix the issue entirely, but I did experience a freedom in my attitude to that challenge which has eluded me over the years. By coming at it from a place of curiosity, I opened myself up to different approaches than I had previously considered. And, since it was my curiosity that was leading me, if something didn’t work, it was fine. It just gave me another bit of information, and my inquisitive mind and I could move on to the next thing. No biggie.
I was left questioning why I never considered using this technique in relationship to my own challenges before, when it came so naturally in my work with others. And I think it’s because, from a young age, I was convinced that to get really good at something, you had to be tough on yourself. And, for me, being “tough” translated into beating up on myself.
I think it’s time for a mental rewrite.
Returning to my experiences as an Aston-Patterner: I often talk with my clients about how important it is that our mental language accurately reflects what we want to create (for example: working to “stand up straight” can create a different result than focusing on maintaining a relaxed neutral stance). And so, when I considered it dispassionately, I had to admit that beating myself up never really got me anywhere; I may have felt like I was holding myself to a high standard, but in reality, I was only holding myself down. Thus, I’m going to work on changing my internal definition of tough to “uncompromising.” For me, this wording indicates tenacity and forward momentum… which- surprise, surprise- correlate to being intensely curious.
So give it a try in your activity of choice. Is the way you approach challenges holding you down? If so, when you encounter something that needs work, consciously say to yourself, “Hmm… I’m curious if,” and see if it changes your point of view. Warning: this only works if you actually are curious. You still have hard work in front of you! But now, you no longer have to wallow in what doesn’t work, but can instead focus on discovering what does. Good luck!
Amanda Farasat is a staff member of the Anshutz Health and Wellness Center, where she helps people release long-held tension and pain patterns, while also teaching them how to use their bodies with greater ease and efficiency.