A Remarkable Encounter
by Ben Kreilkamp
Copyright (C) 2002 Ben Kreilkamp, all rights reserved world-wide
A Remarkable Encounter
In May of 2001 I had an encounter with a teacher which changed my life
in significant ways. The teacher was David Gorman. My Alexander teacher, introduced me.
I was reluctant to take David Gorman's workshop. It was hard for me to spare the money, and I
have a natural distrust of authority of all sorts. The workshop involved sitting in a room with
a group of people several hours a day and talking with an expert about our problems. That sounded
to me like therapy. Over the years I had become disaffected with therapy. It wasn't that
I didn't have any problems. It was more that I felt I understood my problems all too well and
I didn't see there was much point in talking about them. I had grown resigned to living with them
as well as I could.
Thus it was only at my teacher's urging that I agreed to participate, and I signed
up for just two days of a five day workshop. The first of my two days, I sat mostly quiet and
watched David work with two different people. My take on his teaching was that he was helping
them look clearly in a rational manner at problems which seemed to me 'emotional', or 'psychological'.
It looked to me more or less like therapy as I'd known it. It wasn't at all clear to me that the
people had been helped by their talk with him. The next day I brought up a problem that seemed
to me unfixable. I'd been living with it for years, and the therapy I'd tried had done nothing
to alleviate my suffering. I described my problem as 'long-term chronic low-level depression'.
It seemed the most basic of the problems I faced, perhaps the linchpin of my difficulties in life.
There was also some desire to challenge the expert. David seemed so confident of himself.
I thought, Here's something you can't help. For my part I had no expectation of any relief.
My depression seemed to me fundamentally 'irrational'. I had come to the conclusion that it was
a chemical imbalance of some sort, and thus would not be affected by any rational exploration of it.
In fact, as I told David, when I was able to be 'rational', there was no problem, because then I wasn't
depressed. I had been suffering from these depressed feelings for most of my life, now well into
my fifties, some forty years by my reckoning.
David talked to me and asked questions for about three hours. Afterwards all
I noticed was that it had been an interesting time, a very interesting time, but I felt no different.
We had simply gone over in some detail my experiences of my depression, and sometimes David had questioned
my perspectives. It was not at all apparent to me that he had told me anything new, much less
that anything had changed for me. Soon enough, though, I became aware that indeed some sort of
shift had taken place. As I've put it since to others, I was having the same depressing and hopeless
thoughts, but my perspective on them had changed. My attitude had also changed. These same
thoughts no longer made me feel bad. It later grew evident just how radical the shift was.
Over the next days and weeks it became clear that I was indeed no longer depressed. This change
was even somewhat bewildering. With my new attitude, I started to feel like a different person.
The objective conditions of my life hadn't changed, and there remained plenty of things that I struggled
with. After all, feeling depressed for many years, I'd dug myself into a number of holes that
didn't disappear overnight, but I no longer experienced that generalized sadness that made everything
harder to deal with.
Occasionally the change could surprise me. Some weeks later I found myself
in the middle of a garden party and realized that I wasn't ill at ease. This may not sound like
much, but for me it was startling. I'd grown used to having to manage something close to panic
in groups of people, even friendly people. I hadn't thought to associate this unease in social
settings with my depressed feelings, my general sadness. In the meantime other problems have arisen.
Not surprisingly, my life had been structured around my depression in such a way
that I avoided any number of issues that now confronted me more directly. At least one friend
has stopped talking to me. I'm not sure completely why of course, but I do know that I'm no longer
inclined to carry on some of the sorts of conversations that we used to enjoy together. For my
part I can no longer deny certain questions I had left unanswered for years. All in all it has
been a very interesting, and more than somewhat unsettling, experience. However, I would never
trade this new life for my former existence of trying my hardest to control an uncontrollable sadness.
My current life is far more interesting, if not always more pleasant.
Nothing prepared me for the difference LearningMethods would make in my life.
I've been studying it closely in the time since, with both my own and others' problems. In fact
I've made something of a nuisance of myself among my friends trying to get them to tell me about their
problems to see how this process might help. As I've puzzled through all this, one question has
come up more than once. How depressed was I to begin with? It is impossible to say.
I do recognize I've met any number of people who seem to me more depressed than I was. On the
other hand, several therapists over the years seemed to agree it sounded to them like depression, or
perhaps dysthemia. One recommended Zoloft, which I tried briefly. Whether we call
it depression or not, whatever it was affected every part of my life: my career, relationships, parenting,
virtually everything I did. Some days and even weeks it seemed to paralyze me as I cut back on
most activities trying to avoid exacerbating the unhappiness. The frustration of living with these
feelings led sometimes to terrible anger. Doing even routine tasks could seem overwhelming.
I had grown used to living with this sadness when I had my encounter with David Gorman.
At the time, the change I experienced with LearningMethods appeared to me some sort
of happy miracle, a mysterious, almost fairy-tale transformation. Now, after quite a bit of study,
I no longer find the process so strange. The way it worked for me did indeed feel sudden and even
weird, but that's just the way it worked for me that once. With other problems working on my own
or with David's help, the process has not been at all as sudden. Whether this was a matter of
the specific problem or my readiness to be rid of it or whatever the difference was, I can't say.
There is perhaps inevitably an element of chance in how it operates in any given situation. I've
now seen LearningMethods work in a great variety of ways. Sometimes it operates very gradually.
With some problems it has not seemed to work at all, not yet at least. (For instance my sweet
tooth still bothers me, even though I've seen David work successfully with a similar food issue.) With
other problems the change has been so easy and transparent that the person didn't even notice anything
happened. This, of course raises the question of whether LearningMethods did make any difference.
It's all very curious, and for me there's been no way to prove anything about it beyond trying it out
again and again. Pretty soon one can draw one's own conclusions about whether it's valid and how.
The method itself is both straightforward and highly adaptable. Since all it amounts to is a clear
and methodical look at one's own experiences, it is safe to say that each person will respond to the
process in a way unique to that specific person with that specific set of circumstances. Far from
miraculous, LearningMethods is a very practical set of tools for freeing ourselves from many of the
problems we find ourselves entangled in.
The LearningMethods Process
LearningMethods is David Gorman's trademarked name for the process he has discovered
and developed. The process grew out of his work as an Alexander teacher and trainer. From
my experience of the Alexander Technique, which helped me some years ago with a severe lower back pain,
LearningMethods seems entirely different. For instance, unlike Alexander work, LearningMethods
is nearly all talk with very little hands on work. Once I watched David work with a person whose
foot had been chronically injured for more than ten years and he didn't touch the foot or even look
at it closely. His entire attention was on his conversation with the person whose foot hurt.
Later, the foot did indeed improve dramatically. As with my case, this healing seemed to me at
first mysterious, but over time, as my understanding has grown, it has begun to seem less and less so.
It seems the problem with the hurting foot was a matter of how the person was using it, and this information
was actually rather easily available in her own descriptions of her experience. One might also
add that the crucial information about how she used it was really only available through talking to
her. Any number of healers of all sorts could look at the foot with any number of different understandings
and treat or train the foot a thousand different ways and still miss the crucial point of what the person
was doing with her foot.
The LearningMethods process is designed to look at any personal problem clearly to
see what is causing it and may or may not be done about it. Thus it applies to any problem anyone
may have, from the hurting foot or strained hand to relationship difficulties or psychological issues
such as phobias or eating disorders. The process itself amounts to little more than an extended
conversation with the teacher about one's problem. David works mostly in groups, but this LearningMethods
conversation is also possible one on one, or, as one learns its techniques, with oneself alone.
It is, by the way, a stated aim of the work to teach each person the process itself, thus avoiding the
need for continuing 'expert' support. This independence is one of the great benefits of the work
which distinguishes it from many forms of therapy. There are therapies which try to differentiate
which problems are 'psychological' and which 'physical', and therapies that delve into one's unconscious,
and therapies that cultivate a myth or explore some sort of mystery, such as the power of one's dreams.
LearningMethods does none of that. In the LearningMethods conversation, one looks at the whole
person from the individual's point of view. One simply looks directly at the single whole person
acting in the world according to that individual's own best understanding of the world. It is
a very down-to-earth, plainspoken process, using as much as possible the individual's own words, and
looking very carefully and clearly at those words to understand their significance.
Words can tell us many things. The language a person uses points to the person's
own experiences and also points to the person's interpretation of those experiences. The differences
between these two can be crucial. On the one hand there is what actually happens to a person in
a given situation, what they actually do and have done to them, and on the other hand there is the way
a person interprets that same situation. The differences between the two can be crucial to distinguish.
They can point to misinterpretations by the person that can be important factors in any given problem.
That said, the primary focus in the LearningMethods conversation is on the person's actual experiences
of the problem. This is because those experiences are in fact the real life context for the problem.
It is also where one must look for any possible solution. The specificity involved in looking
at one's own experiences, often in considerable detail, is an essential element of the LearningMethods
process. The point is not to help a person find a new 'better' experience, but to look at the
experiences one is already having in whatever life one is living and to try to understand them accurately.
That is where the problem exists, and also where the very real possibilities inherent in the person's
actual life exist.
The emphasis in LearningMethods is always on those 'very real possibilities'.
There are of course possibilities that occur as dreams, or in any of a great variety of imaginings one
might engage in. Then there are these other 'very real possibilities'. These are the possibilities
that are quite connected to, one might say embedded in, the life one is currently living. LearningMethods
does not deal in vague or theoretically attractive possibilities. There are many unknowns in the
world, and of course one may always win a lottery of some sort, which might solve some problems, but
when one looks clearly at what one is currently experiencing, the ground is much firmer for finding
an available solution. Paradoxically the solutions one might find in the real life one is currently
living can be quite surprising, unlike anything one might have ever imagined as an escape from the problem,
better even than winning a lottery. In my own case, one of the great and surprising benefits of
my transformed view of the world, is a much more solid and palpable engagement in the world as it exists
right in front of me. In my efforts to escape my unhappiness I had spent a lot of energy trying
to imagine a better world, using such things as 'affirmations' and hopes that were little better than
wishes to win some jackpot. As it turns out now, the real world is much more interesting than
the 'possible' worlds I had been imagining. Looking for escape, I had overlooked those 'very real
possibilities' available in my real life.
Now, after more than a year observing the process at work in many different instances,
I can understand much better what made such a difference to me in that talk with David. Piece
by piece he encouraged me to look clearly at how I went about things in those life experiences which
I had grouped under my term 'depression'. As we looked at those bits of information from my life,
he brought to my attention various perspectives of mine that affected my ways of seeing and doing things.
What these amounted to were quite concrete examples, drawn from my own life, of the conceptual frameworks
I used to make sense of the world. Using my own descriptions of my experiences, he helped me see
how I was interpreting my life. As it turned out, some of the notions by which I was living my
life were in fact simply misconceptions. What David was doing, bit by bit over three hours, was
helping me to a more accurate understanding of my own life. When the re-ordering of one's life
turns out to be as basic as this was for me, a conversation that took three hours no longer seems long.
In terms of what was accomplished it was quite short, and the transformation since, in the weeks and
months following, has seemed sudden compared to the years that I spent suffering from my misunderstandings.
To give an example of my misconceptions, one source of my difficulties was a form
of unrealistic idealism. This was the phrase I used initially explaining my problem to David.
This unrealistic way I had of looking at things touched on many aspects of how I dealt with life.
To take just one of those aspects, I had a belief, often a wish, that life could or even should be easier,
better, more pleasant, than it in fact is. Thus when I ran into something unpleasant, such as
every morning when I looked at my daily list of tasks that didn't particularly interest me, I felt bad,
because I wished my life were different, better than that. I had, by the way, already studied
similar ideas with therapists from Cognitive Therapy. This was one reason I was so surprised at
the changes that came over me after my talk with David. In my view David hadn't told me much that
was new. I already knew theoretically that this idealism as I called it was both inaccurate and
also that it was one source of my suffering. I already understood, intellectually, that this sort
of thinking might tend to make me unhappy. Evidently it was one thing for me to understand such
a thing theoretically, intellectually, and quite another thing for this same understanding to have a
practical effect on my life in the moments when I was feeling bad. Somehow I needed that understanding
in the very moment when I faced that 'depressing' list in the morning.
In my case it took David, with his method and the techniques that comprise it, to
help me look from a more realistic viewpoint in the depressed moments of my life. First he brought
me to a clear understanding that my unhappiness was inevitable given my perspective. If I compared
the present moment to a 'highlight' of the past, then the present moment is inevitably going to look
not so nice. Then he helped me see my perspective was critically flawed. Truly those 'highlights'
of the past were not an accurate picture of what my life had once been. I was comparing apples
(highlights of the past) to oranges (real moments in the present). Finally, and most importantly,
his teaching somehow brought this knowledge out of the intellectual or theoretical plane and brought
it to bear on my actual life as I lived it. This was why the change I experienced, which was extreme,
was not felt until I hit the moments of my life when I would have expected to feel depressed.
I found myself waking up to my best understanding in my real life, in those exact moments that used
to 'depress' me. Progressively over time my misconceptions have more and more been supplanted
by the more accurate understandings. As those replaced the misconceptions, the bad feelings simply
That is only one example of the several ways David managed to unravel my depressive
mindset. Also, it sounds more complicated to explain than it seemed in practice. At the
time, the conversation simply flowed by for me like a straightforward, if intricate and fascinating,
discussion. It was a talk with someone who was curious about how I was experiencing my life.
After that, the fresh perspectives he brought to my attention played themselves out in a happier, easier,
freer life. Of course not all problems disappear so conveniently. Life is complex and as
I've described, new problems have arisen for me from the changes this process has brought about, and
some other problems have been more persistent. The LearningMethods process remains, though, as
a most reliable way for me to deal with the problems I encounter.
Background and Theory
As straightforward as it is, and as simple as its techniques can be to apply, the
LearningMethods process is backed up with a lot of knowledge, particularly about human function and
design. David Gorman's research in those realms is quite extensive and elegantly simple in its
conclusions. It began, it would seem, with anatomy. Early in his career he compiled a six
hundred page study of anatomy, still in print, called 'The Body Moveable'. This was the springboard
for much of what he's studied since, as he's moved on from his Alexander work into developing LearningMethods.
There are doubtless many other similar theories in the world. I recognize parallels, for instance,
with the teachings of Buddhism, Taoism and Cognitive Therapy. To offer one example, David is particularly
clear and precise concerning the mechanics of how the 'mind' and the 'body' have evolved as one self,
without the separation implied by those two words we often use. As many others have noted, much
suffering may result from the myriad misconceptions inherent in this theoretical 'split' between the
'mind' and the 'body'. That split is of course only theoretical. At least that is what it
is until someone tries to put that misconception into practice, whether consciously or unconsciously.
At the point someone starts to act on one's body as if it were somehow apart from one's mind, this mere
theory can easily become literally actualized in all sorts of unnecessary suffering. It may become
an effort to divide oneself somehow. Since one isn't in fact divided, this effort can cause real
strain on an extraordinarily complex system designed to operate as a single coordinated unit.
This was true in the case of the woman with the hurting foot. Naturally enough
from her viewpoint, she was looking at the foot that hurt as the problem. She, along with many
healers she sought out over the years, neglected to address how she was using the foot, or if they did
ask her about that, they somehow missed the essential information. Somehow the problem remained
for her a 'physical' problem. Her foot hurt, but she was missing the point, misinterpreting this
symptom, thinking the problem was in this foot that hurt. The foot became in her view a 'bad foot'
or an 'arthritic foot' or a 'weak foot'. This set of misunderstandings, that her foot was somehow
separate from the rest of her self, that its pain meant there was something wrong with that part rather
than pointing to a coordination of the whole self, all this led to more misuse and more pain.
This became a maze for her, and her wandering endlessly in search of a solution reinforced her problem,
as her use of the foot kept hurting it. In fact, it's completely possible that her attempts to
'fix the foot' were themselves a part of what kept hurting her foot. For her, it took a conversation
with David to point her in the right direction, out of the maze of misuse.
In the LearningMethods model, when problems arise they often come about when we are
trying to use the self in a way that's not the way the self was designed to be used. It seems
to be true that each of us is designed to operate as a single coordinated unit. This is one of
those elegantly simple premises on which David Gorman's work is based. This truth, about the unity
of the single self, is common among many different teachings. However many know this in theory,
though, it proves easy enough to forget it in crucial practical, real-life moments. It may be
forgotten, for instance, when someone recommends a treatment, such as Zoloft, intended to treat the
body's 'chemistry' as if it were separate somehow from the mind's 'thinking'. It is forgotten
when someone treats her foot like something separate, a damaged part, not as part of a whole but simply
another part among a collection of parts. That can lead to trying to fix the foot alone, as if
it were a shoe, say, with a hole in it, that one can leave at the shoe repair shop, unconnected to one's
pants or hat. What LearningMethods provides is a clear and reliable way to determine if it is
the design that is failing, or our understanding of how it all works together.
To sum up, the tools developed by LearningMethods to help our understanding of our
wonderfully evolved systems are simple enough. They involve looking systematically at one's thoughts,
feelings, reactions, beliefs, responses and all the aspects of our actions and experience as it is actually
lived from one's own perspective. These tools can be learned gradually as one deals with specific
problems in one's life through conversations with a trained teacher. They can be used immediately
as one learns them, in a conversation with oneself, exploring one's own issues and problems. The
primary aim of the work is not to cope with a problem but to liberate oneself as much as possible from
that problem. All it takes is the willingness to face one's problems head on and ask the following
questions: What is causing this? Is there anything I can do about this? Is there anything
I am doing already that helps create or sustain this? After one looks, thoroughly and rigorously,
at the problem, the problem will often be solved, but if not one almost always has more information
for a deeper exploration. In addition one learns this rather wonderful process for oneself, to
apply to other problems, so that one can continue to improve one's life without any continuing 'expert'
help. Along with these personal benefits, it is, as one friend put it, 'plain interesting' to
see how we humans work, to learn how ideas and beliefs inform intentions, how our systems coordinate
to carry out those intentions, and how our responses to the world around us are affected by the notions
we have of that world. As well as being interesting, it can be surprising and even thrilling to
find how many of our problems we can be rid of.
Want to read more about my journey?
I wrote another, shorter, article on the LearningMethods work and how it helped
me, called "Just Ask the Right Questions", which was
published in Phoenix, Vol. 23, No. 2 (February 2003).
How to Learn It
David Gorman gives workshops of two sorts: those that 'open' for anyone to come and
learn about their problems and his process (see Calendar of events), and
'teaching' workshops, for people interested in teaching this process to others (see
Teacher training page). There is another sort of workshop he calls
Anatomy of Wholeness, in which he lays out his understanding of the structure
and design of the human being, and applies that understanding to a variety of contexts, practical, pedagogical
and otherwise. So much of the LearningMethods work was developed with performers of all sorts,
and so much of David's background is in the study of anatomy, this study of human structure and design
is a natural companion to the problem-solving applications of his LearningMethods process.
Now there are a growing number of licensed LearningMethods Teachers (see
Teacher List) who also give workshops (including myself and others in the
Minneapolis/St. Paul area), work with people privately and teach in various universities and conservatories
(see list of where the LM work is taught).
There is a small biography of personal details about the
About the Author
Kreilkamp has been an actor, playwright and director. After the session he describes above,
he became fascinated with the LearningMethods work and decided to enter teacher training to learn how
to help others escape from their problems.
Ben is now one of the six certificated and licensed LearningMethods
Teachers in the United States. He lives and teaches in the Minneapolis / St. Paul area of the USA.