The Skeleton Key
Okay, most people are still confused as to what I'm actually trying to say in A Million Years and Counting, so I'll sum it up right now.
That is what I have been preaching since the first argument we all ever had. Be aware of everything around you; your mind, your body, and what you take for granted and what you don't.
Who invented this type of thinking? Frederick Matthias Alexander. It's called, of course, the Alexander technique. I am studying it in college for my acting major. The technique teaches you to improve your beings use so that you fix problems with it, like a bad back, or even paralysis(Frederick Alexander suffered a stroke in his old age that paralyzed the left side of his body, but through his own technique, he managed to regain conscious control of it all back within a year). One studying the Alexander technique is supposed to observe themselves closely to find their daily habits, which we are usually unaware of. For instance, when I type on the computer, my shoulders tense up. However, that had become such a daily happening that I never even noticed until I started paying attention to my body while I typed. One habit that many, many people do is when they stand up, they lead with the head-and-neck, when they don't need the head and neck muscles to push themselves up. One is also supposed to watch closely for mental habits, like getting nervous before an audition or recital, or thinking that you are crap when you see somebody do something better than you. Once you realize these habits, you can then progress onto learning to inhibit them, and make another choice. Believe it or not, master's of this technique can control their own nerve reactions to things.
What I have done is taken this technique a step further. I've gone beyond just being aware of my daily physical and mental habits; I've begun being aware of my decisions and also being aware of what I take for granted and what I don't. My shoulders tensing for instance---I take that for granted because I do it every time I type, so my nervous system tells me it's a normal, everyday thing when, in fact, I can choose whether or not I want my shoulders to tense up when I type. With enough focus and training, I can eventually stop taking that habit for granted, and make another choice and change that habit to releasing my shoulders instead of tensing them. Like my choice there, I have begun to question what I take for granted in everyday life, like authority.
When we see somebody with a huge, fancy title like President or Principal, what do our brains immediately tell us? That we should respect those people, right; because they have those titles? Do we actually stop and think as to whether or not those people are truly superior to us in any way? Probably not, because when we were young, we were told by somebody that people with titles are to be respected, because there are older. A child's sense of awareness is, like the child, young. Look what happens when we get older and become more aware of what we do; we look back at what we did when we were very young and go "Oh my God, I actually did that?" or "I actually wore that, ugh!" The key to human intelligence is awareness. No other living thing on this planet has this. To quote the Discovery channel: "Awareness is what separates us from the animals." We're not smarter because our brains are bigger, we're smarter because our brains have a function that animal brains don't. Animals are not aware of what they do, they just do it. We, on the other hand, can think; we can question. Going back to what I said earlier; we're told to respect people with titles because they're older and more experienced. Does age mean intelligence, though? How can that be? The human brain is the same thing it is at any age. And it makes sense that the sense of awareness can be improved in a child. An example would be the scenario is the book Ender's Game. Those children are six years old and they are aware enough to be able to think and command entire fleets of battleships in a war. It sounds unlikely, but it is necessarily impossible? None of use can really answer that with assuredness because we've never really tried to mature the sense of awareness in a five year-old because we think(and this is another thing we take for granted)that the five year-old is too young to understand. But do we know for sure? Age means nothing in terms of intelligence. Once your awareness has matured, then you're brain has the same abilities as any adults'. Experience also means nothing in terms of intelligence. We, too, take that for granted. We think that just because a person has experienced more in their life that they are smarter than us. Again, awareness is key to human intelligence. Just because somebody knows calculus better than you do or knows more history than you do doesn't mean they're smarter than you; it means they memorized more things than you did.
Where do we get this sense to take things for granted from? As I said earlier, we get it from other people. It's our habit to trust the words of older, more experienced people. Laws and rules are two huge things we take for granted. The Bible is another. I'll use a couple examples here: during one of my speech classes, my teacher got up from the circle, went over to the piano, and said "What is this?" We responded, immediately, "That's a piano." He asked, "Why is it a piano?" We all sat in silence for a couple of moments, no one able to answer the question. My teacher answered it for us: "Because I told you that it's a piano. That could be a goomba for all we know, right?" And he makes sense: calling a piano a "goomba" does not change the fact that it's still an instrument that plays music using keys and chords. You say "tomato," I say "tomato"; either pronunciation doesn't change the fact that what we're talking about is a round, red food with a stem on the top. Go back and think about what you've been told is "true" and what is not, and think: is that really "true", or do I think it's true because somebody said it was?
Why do we take so many things for granted? Because in this world, we have to, to survive. We can no longer live however we want. We have to have money; we have to buy everything these days. Think about the job you have or have had; do you work there because you want to or do you need the money? We have to give in to power, or else we'll either lose our jobs, get locked up, or be killed. For some reason, we have to have luxuries, lest we be ridiculed by the people that do. Our world no longer centers around just doing whatever you want; it centers around being the "best" and living up to someone else's expectations and following someone else's rules. The second reason we take so many things for granted is because we habitually let ourselves get distracted from using our own awareness. We don't want to have to think and make our own rules, we want other people to do it for us, because it's easy on us that way. That's where government comes from, and leaders come from. We follow rules obediently, sometimes blindly, because we want something in return, usually a reward. That's why we like things like liquor, weed, cigarettes, cocaine, and heroine, because they take away our sense of awareness for short periods of time. To quote a new play that I saw recently, "I thought so much about not drinking that I started drinking." Addictions come from desperately wanting a couple of those "short periods of time" for days, weeks, and months on end. In return for liking those things, we get the reward of being drunk, having fun, getting high, and, depending on where you go and who you're with, having sex. And some people will do anything to have those addictions, for their own reasons. Not all addictions are substance-based though. I am, myself, addicted to listening to music. I love my music. Laws and rules are something else that attempts to control our awareness. When someone with the title of President signs a law, do we ever not follow it? Some of us don't, but a majority of us do whether or not we really like the law or not. Our habitual thinking tells us that the only people who can abandon a law is Congress, but the truth is that if we, the people, don't give a law power and respect, then it won't be effective at all, and thus abandoned. What we get distracted by is the illusions of power, money, and luxury. The thing we let ourselves get distracted with the most, though, is the illusion of respect, our most common habit. Why do friends lie to defend each other? Because they respect and like each other enough to make sacrifices. Why do people very rarely speak their opinions of another person to that person's face? To be polite and respectful. Why do we clap for a performer even when they stink? Because it's more respectable than saying "you suck." Why do we try to have good manners? Proper respect. A great deal of what has to do with truth has to do with showing "proper respect." Respect hides one's opinion of the truth and, at times, the actual truth, and sometimes the truth can be disrespectable. Simon on American Idol for instance; a lot of people don't like him, because instead of being respectful, he speaks his honest opinion, and what we habitually think is that people like him are wrong for being completely honest. The illusion of respect also varies on different people. History has its famous quotes, though some are more famous than others for a reason that we take for granted. Let's say two people, Adolf Hitler and George Washington, said the same hypothetical quote about letting people have freedom. Our habitual thinking would immediately put more credibility onto Washington saying it, because Washington fought for freedom, and Hitler killed six million people and more. However, does Hitler's actions change, in any way, the message and/or the validity of the quote? Again, "tomato", "tomato"; two different pronunciations, still the same object. Respect gives us the illusion of favoritism. If Hitler says something about freedom, we don't pay him any attention; if Washington says the same thing, than we're all ears, even though the quote hasn't changed.
How do we increase our awareness? The Alexander technique says that you can start with learning to inhibit your habitual thinking; don't take things for granted. Question all of your decisions and ask yourself if your choice was made off of what you habitually do, or what you really want to do. Ask yourself these questions(they are the first words of every huge paragraph in this essay): who, what, when, where, why, how. Be aware. Think. This next part is something I am personally tacking on: be responsible. You have the power to make your own rules; just because, in reality, there is no set moral code doesn't mean you can't make a personal moral code for yourself; however, it is only for yourself. You cannot force your code on any one else's, because everyone is entitled to having their own individual rules; yours are not the "true" human morals, there are just yours. Same thing for right and wrong, in terms of opinion; create your own system of what is right and what is wrong and voice it if you feel the desire to, but don't put yours above anyone else's. Other people are just like you; they have their own rules, and therein their own opinions, and you have yours. One is not below the other, one is not above. People are going to disagree with you. Learn to be able to take it and go on doing what you want to do. Also, and again this is personal advice, create responsible systems. Try and shape your morals around not causing chaos. Most of the people today who do make there own rules tend to be criminals, which is why most people who question laws are swiftly silenced(that's something else we take for granted: we think that because criminals openly question laws with their own rules that anyone else who does that is a criminal as well, even though they may be responsible enough not to commit murder, possession, thievery, etc.). In my opinion, a moral code should center around not harming anyone(disrespecting someone is not harming them, as people tend to think, yet another thing we take for granted. Again, learn to take in someone's opinion without punishing them simply for disagreeing with you). My final piece of advice; don't let your fears outweigh your morals. Don't let fear rule your thoughts and actions; don't be afraid to try new things, even if you are criticized for it. Experiment with your awareness. You can learn something new everyday.
It was the end of my speech class a couple weeks ago. Our teacher asked us what we were feeling inside us right now, what we discovered in class, and what we were going to practice. As the circle broke up and we went to go get our books, our teacher told us "Go home and break some rules, guys."
I grinned to myself.
Then I picked up my stuff, and headed for my next lesson in the Alexander technique.
Be aware of what you take for granted.
Sincerely and whole-heartedly,