Wednesday, January 31, 1996

"Paying attention" to our speech

In answer to a comment about the need to *not * to pay attention to our speech in order to be fluent...

I'd say yes and no. Yes, of course, and that's precisely how we learn to speak
in the first place! We all experience long beautiful stretches of fluency.
That's also how we learn to sing, dance and recite acting parts... but ...
there is "something else" going on here that can challenge any zen master. To
use John's downhill skiing example, it's as if the mountain suddenly became
alive and sprang a mogul right in our path. Or, in Viki's piano example, as if
your finger suddenly became paralized on a passage you know extremely well.

The implication is often made that it is precisely the effort to control that
causes these stumbling blocks. While it is certainly true that focusing on the
lowest levels of detail of any motor skill causes problems I DON'T THINK this
is the fundamental cause of stuttering.

We pay undue attention to where we are going BECAUSE we are prone to falling. We ARE NOT prone to falling because we pay undue attention to where we are going!!!

Now, I have found that I can act internally to keep the mountain from becoming
"alive" and springing huge moguls in my path. Only small ones seem to appear
unexpectedly these days and I can usually handle them. If I find that they are growing in size I stop, take a breather, wait a few seconds for the mountain to calm down, then I start down the mountain again. This form of "monitoring" (or control) focuses not on what I am doing (words, breathing, sillables, whatever...) rather on how my whole body is feeling. In time this process has become less and less "conscious",... yes, more zen-like.

Again, the zen part is not in ignoring how I am turning on those skis - I was already very good at ignoring it, and still I fell... -, rather in tapping into some additional skills fluent folks can simply ignore. I have no idea how this translates biologically. Am I training new speech pathways? Am I producing extra amounts of some brain chemical? Whatever it is, I am firmly convinced it's not as trivial as learning to formulate speech without "paying attention" to it. I'll say it one more time: We pay attention BECAUSE WE STUTTER - We don't stutter BECAUSE WE PAY ATTENTION.

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