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Can Our Experience Show Us The Truth?

by David Gorman


This is from an open talk I was invited to give at the New Thought Church of Religious Science in Minneapolis, MN, USA on January 30, 2003. I have taken the liberty, not only of editing to make the spoken words and their meaning read more easily in print, but to extend and enhance the topic. In other words, this is what I meant to say. I have also left out the question and answer period at the end of the talk.

Rev. Chaffin: To introduce our Guest Speaker tonight, Tom Sullivan is our host. Tom, you are our host.

Tom Sullivan: Thank you, Glen. To introduce David briefly… David has been a master teacher of LearningMethods and the Alexander Technique for quite some time, quite a numbers of years. I had the privilege of taking a 4-day workshop from him and part of a weekend workshop in Canada. I found some absolutely tremendous life-changing principles and ideas that are both revolutionary in thinking, but as old as mankind — that simple and that truthful. Which reminds me of Glen Chaffin and Religious Science.

And he also reminds me of Glen Chaffin in another way that’s probably not a good way.
[Laughter]...  Sorry…

They both do the same thing. If you take your absolute sureness about how you think things work and you set that aside for a few hours or a few days and participate, your life will change. Now, that’s when the problem comes in. I am not entirely sure that I always want my life to change like I think I say I do.

But, if you really want your life to change and you listen tonight for an hour and a half… Well…

We will have questions at the end, so there will be maybe an hour of talk and half an hour of questions.

I would like to welcome a new friend of mine, David Gorman.


David: Thank you, Tom, Reverend Chaffin.

I was casting about a few days back for the details of what I was going to say and was hunting for a particular quotation, but in the process I ran across a different one. This quote was by Mary Wollstonecraft, who some of you may know about. She was an 18th century English writer but also a campaigner for the rights of individuals and especially the rights of women — in fact, she wrote a book called The Rights of Women. In the light of my topic, her quote just jumped out at me. It said, "No man does evil in order to do evil, he mistakes it for happiness".

I thought, that’s interesting! It sounds like it implies that everybody is trying to do good, or at least good in a way that they think might be good from their point of view.

However, it wasn’t so much the words “evil” or “happiness” that grabbed me, but the word “mistakes” — “Mistakes evil for happiness”? How could that happen? How could someone mistake evil for happiness?

Because that’s really what I wanted to talk about tonight. As we go through life does our experience actually show us the truth, the way things are? Can we count on our experience to not fool us, to not lead us astray? If we can’t rely on it, if we started off heading for happiness but our direction was mistaken and we ended up in evil or misery, we’d be in big trouble.

So we’ve got ourselves a question here, a Big Question. And this is just the question I want to play around with tonight. Can we rely on our experiences? Can, or do, our experiences show us the truth?

Actually the quote I was hunting for was when a reporter had asked Albert Einstein what he thought was the most important question human beings should be asking themselves. This is, of course, the sort of question you might have asked of Albert Einstein. And I think the answer he gave shows why it would be him you’d ask. His answer was this: “I think the most important question humans should be asking themselves is this: Is the universe friendly?

When I first heard this I can tell you that his answer was not at all what I was expecting! I don’t think I was expecting anything but it wasn’t that for sure. However, it got me thinking. Is the universe friendly? Did he mean friendly, as opposed to being hostile? Is it a friendly universe, a place that we are part of, that we fit in with, that we belong in, that’s home? Or a hostile place where we are aliens, where we are on borrowed time and we better watch out because it could squash us at any moment?

This is not an idle question, but a profoundly fundamental one. If the universe is friendly and we are at home and belong here, then it would presumably be OK to just be here as we are. Phew… But if it was dangerous and hostile, then we better watch out and be prepared to protect ourselves, Better yet, we might want to get to work and change the world to suit us or us to suit it. These two possibilities are, of course very different situations with very different courses of action needed from us. So Einstein was right. It is essential we know whether the universe is friendly or not.

In another words, he was posing almost the same question as I began with, namely, how could we tell if the universe is friendly or not? Would our experiences of being in the universe be able to show us that we are part of a friendly universe, or that there is some problem with the world or ourselves that we have to change in order to be OK? Further, whatever our experiences showed us, would they show us the truth? Would it be trustworthy?

You can appreciate this is no small question. This is a basic question of major life-direction scale for each individual and culture on the planet. That’s what I want to explore with you tonight. Can we rely on our experience? Are our experiences showing us what we think they are showing us? Can we can use them to guide us though life successfully or could they lead us astray into evil, or into trouble, or into danger, or into damage without us knowing it? And how would you tell? How would you know before you find out the hard way?

Good question, but how do we answer it? Well, one thing is that none of us needs to have particular qualifications to look into it. We’re all qualified just by being here together in this universe and each of us can explore it as well as the other. But since I’m the one here talking to you tonight, I’d like to share with you some of the examples that I’ve come across in the process of my teaching and what they showed me about this fundamental question.

To explore this question, I am going to start off with a particular example that comes up a lot in the sort of work that I do. I’ve been teaching for a long time as Tom said — over 25 years. I got into teaching mostly because I had a lot of problems myself when I was younger and I was lucky enough to find some people who could help me with those problems. And they made such a big difference to my life that I find it deeply satisfying to repay that by helping others. So for me teaching is a calling. The kind of teaching I do is largely helping people look at and understand, change and solve their problems. In fact it amounts to helping them learn the tools of how to solve problems for themselves.

I find myself frequently working with people who are developing skills. This includes a lot of performers — musicians, actors, dancers — who are in the position of regularly preparing for important and challenging concerts or shows. They want to produce something moving, to be able to perform their best, but are running into problems.

One particular person I worked with described how, in her practicing, she was struggling over and over to get the notes right, getting more and more frustrated. As I helped her to look closely at what she was up to it became clear she was trying to be better than she actually was, in fact she was trying to be perfect. To accomplish this she was she was concentrating like mad and trying to directly control lots of details of her coordination. But instead of getting what she wanted, all she ended up with was tension, pain, and the beginning signs of physical damage. All in the name of a good thing — wanting a great performance, wanting to make beautiful music, wanting to move the audience.

Unfortunately, this sort of problem is quite common. And yet just about every performer — in fact, everybody who is doing something involving, even just a hobby — has had the experience, sometimes when least expecting it, of finding themselves suddenly in a state where everything is working well, everything is easy, everything is whole and free, the music is playing itself or the dance is flowing and effortless… It is all just happening and you are a perfect part of a larger whole.

Can you relate to moments like that? Almost all of you have probably had moments like that yourself in some activity at some time. Even if it is just one of those days at the beach when everything just seems to be perfect. The sun is shining and you are at peace and happy in the world. You are just you, You are not a bunch of parts. There are no struggles. There is no going in to rework the past or trying to figure out the future or stewing in worry. You are just there… At one… With an expansive sense of being inseparable from everything that is around you.

In my example of working with the performer, we quickly uncovered that under all her struggling was a strong memory of several of those experiences of wonderful wholeness and ease when she was totally “in the music” and played fantastically. Now, in her practice and performance she was trying to recreate another moment like those she’d had before. And what we found, interestingly, when we dug a bit deeper was that she was trying to recreate that experience by means of going deep into all the details, concentrating on parts, and trying hard at this or that “technique”. But instead of the lovely experience she wanted, she was running into problems. Over and over. Why? What’s going on here?

Before we go on, take a moment here and now to recall from your own life any one of those experiences of wholeness and at-oneness. Interestingly enough, notice that these experiences come to you as very high-value moments. You don’t go: “Oh, no! I hope I never have that wholeness and ease experience again. That was horrible! I want to get back to that great experience of worrying!” Instead, you register these experiences as good, as wonderful. In fact, often as more than wonderful — they may be some of the most special moments of your life.

If we look even more closely at that experience, can it show us something about ourselves and the way we work, about the universe and its friendliness… or not?

Notice that one of the characteristics of such a moment is that the various qualities of the experience all appear to be connected to each other. You don’t find yourself in a moment of wholeness while at the same time also having a lot of effort, hard work and trying. Rather, the moments of wholeness and oneness come with a sense of ease. You’re not doing anything. The moment is all happening by itself.

Also notice that more often than not the wholeness and ease comes with a sense of presentness. You are just in this moment. You are not caught up in the past, or off in the imagined future. You are just here and now. And you are quite happy to just be where you are. In fact, sometimes this presentness can be so intense that everything around seems extra bright and clear, full of substance, depth and colour. Often that sense of presentness expands out and you feel one with everything else too… a kind of timeless sense of space.

In another words, the distinguishing qualities of this experience — wholeness, ease and presentness — all happen together and simultaneously.

But are characteristics actually separate qualities that just happen coincidentally to be occurring together? Or do they tell us something by looking at them all at once as inseparable aspects of the same moment? Is there significance to this simultaneousness?

Let’s look first at how wholeness and ease go together. You can go back and refer to your own experiences while I talk about it.

When people come to me with their difficulties they are often in various states of conflict within themselves, full of struggling and trying, with one part straining against another. In other words, they are not whole at all and certainly not at ease. But as we work and they begin to uncover what they are caught in and are able to let go of their struggle, one of the first things they report is a sense of wholeness and ease coming to them. A wholeness where they do not even have any parts, just them. And a wonderful sense of ease. There is nothing that they are now caught in, nothing that they are busy doing. Just an easy being with no work and no effort.

These two, the wholeness and the ease arrive at the same moment. Wholeness is easy. It is happening by itself. What could this be showing you but that you are whole? You are one. You don’t have to do anything to be one, it happens with no effort. It is easy to be whole. It doesn’t take any doing, any trying or struggle or hard work — it is simply going on all by itself because that is the way you are built. It is your nature.

And if we go further and add in that other quality, the sense of presentness, you’ll notice that it is in the present moment that all this ease and wholeness is just happening by itself. No wonder since the present is the only real moment there is. The past is nothing but a succession of previous present moments which have already passed; the future is a present moment that hasn’t come yet and by the time it comes it won’t be the future anymore, it will be your current present moment.

So, if the very moment when you experience how easy it is to be whole just happens to be the present moment, then wouldn’t that mean that your own experience is showing you that you are, in fact, a whole and integrated creature in each moment, inherently and innately? And it is easy, it takes no work to be wholly in the present.

I put it that way because often I am working with people who, like my example, are after those great moments of performance. But to get there, they are trying to control their playing, control their fingers, control the intonation, control the feeling. They end up struggling away in the hope that if they did manage to successfully control all those parts using all those techniques, then later on in some other future moment this wonderful whole, easy and in-flow experience would happen again.

But that future moment doesn’t come, and if you think about it for a moment, how could you get to easy, whole, present moments if you are spending most of your actual present moment time digging deep into parts, struggling to get into some other moment than this present? How can you have ease by trying hard? How can you get to wholeness by practicing parts? Especially if you are practicing parts and effort a lot and getting very good at it! Then wondering why you do not feel at one and at ease very often…

What’s happening here is that people talk with such longing about those wonderful moments they’ve had and then turn around and do exactly the opposite. They’ve failed to appreciate the significance of their very own experiences. In fact, quite the opposite. Often, their interpretation is that it’s been all that technique, that detailed manipulation of the parts, that somehow had produced wonderful experiences. And then, since their techniques do not often deliver them the experiences they are after, they make the further interpretation that those experiences are rare and hard to get to. In other words, they were having the experience, but missing the meaning!

But looked at closely, and more accurately, the experience itself show us that wholeness, ease and presentness is our natural state, our human heritage, not something that has to worked hard for over many years.

But is this experience showing us the truth? Could it really be true that we are actually whole and integrated just as we are in this moment without doing a single thing? In fact, could it actually be true that we have always been whole and integrated creatures, but just didn’t know it? Could it be that the reason why we were not whole and easy and present already was not that we hadn’t reached that exalted plane yet, but that we are somehow constantly interfering with our simple in-built natural state?

Well, there’s one way to find out. Stop the interferences and see if the natural whole, easy, present state reappears. I cannot think of any other way to prove it, so a great deal of the work I have been doing for the last number of years has been just that. When people come in to me with those kinds of problems, I can help them identify and then stop doing all those add-on techniques, all that effort and that manipulating of parts. I can help them stop trying to do something now that is not what they want in order to get something later that is what they want. And then we can see if that wholeness and ease just comes right back… in this moment… right now. Not in some future moment, weeks or months from now only if I developed my skill at this or that technique… but right here and now.

And if this is indeed what happens (and it is), and then it happens again, and it happens again and again, then these experiences must be showing us something about our nature, something that’s hard to refute the more times it happens. Something very big!

But the fact that people can have these easy, whole, present experiences many times and still turn around and do the opposite, also shows us that these experiences don’t show us very much unless we take in the meaning of them. It’s no good having the experience over and over if we don’t know what it is an experience of.

Let me leave this territory for the moment and explore something different. But store what we found here so we can come back to it in a little bit.

The next example occurred many years ago, very early in my teaching. It is in fact a common event when people change a long-standing habit, and I had seen it before, but this was the first time it really sunk in for me what I was seeing.

The man was a dancer and he had come to me with tension and back pain and because of this was unsure if he’d be able to carry on dancing. As soon as I saw him I could see why he had such back problems. Like a lot of dancers he had taken up a posture with his shoulders pulled back and his chest lifted up, all of which was achieved by arching back with a lot of holding. The spot where he had the back pain was exactly the focus of where he had crunched all this arching and pulling-down into his spine.

So, with the kind of work I was doing at that time I put my hands on him and showed him where he was held and helped him let go. Soon he began to release here and there and let go more and more of his usual postural pattern. From my point of view he unfolded in front of my eyes. He came up out of that arch in his back into being much more upright and much more free. His breathing opened up and his hips and legs released and I thought, “What a wonderful change!” It was such an immense and quick change that I was truly expecting him to turn to me and exclaim about how much better he felt.

But almost as soon as this change happened I could see him begin to pull his shoulders back and crank right back into the same old habit. I was so surprised that I stopped him and asked him what on earth he was doing. What was going on for him that he would start going back into what we had just gotten him out of? He said right away, “Oh, but this is horrible! I just feel so bent over forward and totally out of balance!

It made me realize that we had very different experiences of what had happened. From my point of view, with my training and skills, I could see his habitually arched-back posture and how this was harming his back, and how he’d just emerged from that strain into a beautiful upright freedom. But he had his own interpretation. To him the change was horrible and felt bent over. Because of that it was the last place he’d ever dream of staying.

His posture was such a habit for him, such a constant, that it just felt normal. He was so used to it that he hardly knew he was doing it. In fact, to him, it was almost the badge of his identity of being a dancer. Therefore the change I’d facilitated felt so unfamiliar and so wrong to him that he was just going back into something that felt more right. Of course, he would have got the back pain again soon enough, but at that moment the change ‘felt wrong’ and his habit ‘felt right’. I won’t go into more details about how he ultimately integrated this change because for our purposes here what’s important is how the experience was interpreted differently by each of us.

He wasn’t really bent over at all. Anyone standing there could see that. He could look in a mirror and see that for himself. He was, in fact, more upright than he was before. But he thought he was totally bent over. Here was the same event — his postural change — but two completely different experiences of it. So what could be going on here that his experience could be so different from mine? And so distorted from what had actually happened? Does this show us that our experience doesn’t tell us the truth and can fool us? Not exactly. And to understand why we need to look a bit more closely at what happened.

His normal way of standing was somewhat bent backward and tightly held — you have to hold tight to maintain that kind of posture. The change was a release of that holding and therefore a consequent straightening up. So after the change he was more forward than he was before and a lot more free. Because he was so used to his habit it had come to feel normal and so this change felt to him like a change forward in a bending sort of way. And because he felt so free now as well as much more forward, he felt as if he was unbalanced forward and therefore felt the need to pull back into his normal ‘secure’ balance. In other words, he was interpreting the experience as telling him about the position and state where he had ended up after the change. To him these feelings were describing where he was at that moment — way forward, way bent and instable.

But that’s not what our postural sensory system is set up to do. It doesn’t tell you where you are. It primarily tells you about the changes that take place. When you come into a room you notice a smell because it is new, but after a while if it doesn’t change you won’t notice it any more. You notice changes because a change means that something different has taken place and you may need to take action to deal it. Change is important information. Unchanging things are not so important because presumably you have already taken whatever action you need to.

So, let’s look at his postural change from this point of view. After his letting go, the change was that he had moved forward in a bending sort of way — relative to where he was before. That was true. And he was much more free than he’d been before. That was also true. So the experience was, in truth, telling him what had happened. It was telling him about the fact that there was change and which direction the change was in and that it was also a change towards more freedom.

Even more importantly for him, the experience was not just telling him about the change that took place but also about where he was before. He is now more forward in a bending way and more free, so before he was more tight and backward in the opposite bending way, which is exactly where he was and what was happening in his habit. He’d had the experience alright, but he’d been misinterpreting it. Therefore, his misinterpretation and his consequent reaction to go back into his familiar feeling had the effect of locking him into a dangerous habit that was giving him pain.

But when seen clearly, his system was really sending him an important message: “You are tightening backwards and you are having pain. When you let go of the holding you release forward out of that and are more free… and the pain goes away”.

This is another example that shows us something about our nature — in this case, how we are set up to detect changes and uncover habits. But at the same time we have another part of our answer about the fundamental question of whether our experience tells us the truth.

The thing that both of these examples (and many others like them) show me is that it isn’t really about the experience we have, it is how we interpret it. In fact, as we’ve seen, it isn’t really the experience we experience, if I can put it that way. It’s the interpretation that we experience. My student’s interpretation of being bent over forward made him feel that he was that way — in spite of the “reality” of his uprightness. The raw sensations he had were true, of course. The sensations are just what they are. They were his nervous system picking up actual factual changes and events. But his interpretation made his experience of those sensations either accurate or inaccurate.

We’ve also seen that it is very possible for people to have experiences over and over and completely miss or mistake the meaning of them. Like the musician who may have that oneness experience several times a year but miss the meaning and in trying to get it back ends up getting caught in the exact opposite — lots of interfering details and unnecessary struggle day after day.

From these examples, we can see that we not only need to know that what we experience is our interpretation, but that, because of this, our interpretations need to be questioned for validity. We need to have some way to assess the truth of our interpretations. Otherwise, all too easily we can end up slipping down a pathway that leads to, I am not sure you’d want to call it evil, but certainly trouble or damage or pain or other problems. Symptoms that can make a person feel not only that the universe isn’t friendly, but that their very own system isn’t friendly. It can lead them to think that something’s wrong with their system and they better try to fix it, when what needs fixing is their misunderstanding.

But note well, if people who are misinterpreting their experiences started to think that the universe was not friendly, we’d have to ask, which universe is that? If they are misinterpreting how the universe works, then it is as if they are trying to live in a universe which is not the one they are in. Their unfriendly universe is an illusion. It has no more reality than their misconception.

I can go further. If they are trying to live in a universe which is not the one they are in, could this be why their problems are happening? That is, because of their misconception they will be going against the way the universe works or the way they work and therefore they will experience problems.

On the other hand, if those same people, through learning, can see through their misconceptions and begin to act in accord with a more accurate and true interpretation, and their problems disappear, could that be because they are now understanding better how the universe works and therefore are operating more in line with the universe? When they align themselves with how things really work instead of going against them, then things work better.

These are not minor questions. Reality is going to stubbornly be itself whether you misinterpret it or not. If you go against it, it is a lot bigger than you are, and when you run into it, it hurts. But if you can align yourself with Reality and go along with it, then you have all the power of the universe on your side.

So it is vitally important for you to work out accurately what your experience is showing you. You are having the experience, but is it showing you this or is it showing you that? Is your interpretation or understanding of your experiences accurate? There is possibly nothing more important to get clear about.

Thus, not only do we need to recognize that what we experience is the interpretation of our sensations, we need to know what that interpretation is. What are your beliefs, your way of seeing things, your ideas of how you and the world work? And we need some way to assess the validity of these beliefs, ideas, constructs — how true they are. So how do we do that?

Well, there is a tool that I have been using all the way through this talk without saying too much about it — the humble but mighty question. We can call our beliefs into question. Once we know we have interpretations and that they may be accurate or inaccurate, we can question and explore them to find out which it is.

Incidentally, have you noticed that in most of the western languages a question mark has the shape of little hook, like a fishing hook? If you have a question and throw that question mark out into the unknown and then reel it back in you might find information and answers attached to it.

Questions are extremely powerful ways to focus your awareness and bring your intelligence to bear. Especially when they are driven by curiosity, that is, the real sincere interest and desire to know the truth of how things work.

And by the way, there’s more to this desire-to-know-the-truth thing than first meets the eye. We all have existing interpretations and understanding of the world and our experiences. When people have problems there are often misinterpretations present that lead them into actions which cause the problems. My years of teaching experiences show that the misconceptions that are central to their problems are often part of dearly-held beliefs and ways of seeing things in which the person has a lot of pre-existing investment.

Thus, if you sincerely want to know the truth of things, you must be prepared to go into your questions to really find out what happens, regardless of whether it turns out to be the way you already think things happen or the way you want things to be. In fact, to the extent that you have problems, you already have grounds to suspect that your understanding of how things work may be flawed.

So it would be important to be able to uncover how you currently think things work and doubly important to put a question mark on those interpretations. Is this really true? Is my belief and my understanding accurate or am I mistaking something along the way? Am I working against myself and against the way things work?

I can give you an example of what I mean, this time in somewhat less physical territory. I’m often dealing with people who have strong ideas about the ways that it would be good for them to be. They have a standard for themselves, whether it is some wonderful way of playing, about how much work they should be able to accomplish each day, or even some saintly way of being in the world. They have defined this standard as a good thing. Then they’ll come to me and say, “I’m under such a lot of stress and no matter how much I try to do the right thing, I constantly feel like a failure. I have such high expectations of myself and I try but I can’t quite reach that standard. I’m starting to think maybe something’s wrong with me! And then I get even more stressed.

Maybe something’s wrong with them? But it’s not them, it’s their ideas. They have an idea or belief that there is some real standard that they should live up to, that they have to live up to, or else something is wrong, probably wrong with them. Of course, it would be lovely if it was achievable for them to reach their standard. But then, of course, they would not be having the stress and the ongoing problem.

But notice the problem you have if you can’t manage to reach your nice-sounding ‘high standard’. You keep the interpretation that there is a standard that has to be reached and so feel bad when it isn’t. But if you were able to call this belief into question and look closely with a curiosity as to what is really happening, what would you find?

First you’d see that you do indeed have this idea of a ‘high standard’ of the things it would be good to achieve. You’d see that consistently you fail to meet it. If you looked closely you’d see that what you can actually manage when you are just being yourself and doing the best you actually can is consistently different than your idea of what you think you should do. And you’d see that when you fail to meet this high standard you feel miserable.

As long as that ‘standard’ is there and as long as you think you should meet it and as long as you fail to meet it, you will feel miserable. And you will consistently fail to meet it because it is beyond what you can actually do, try as you might.

However, if you called into question your belief in your so-called ‘good standard’ or your ‘high expectations’, you’d have a chance to see that reality is showing you over and over what you can actually do — how well you can play your instrument, how much work you can get done in a day, how much of a saint you can really be. Your own experiences are showing you this information every day, day after day, but you had not been taking it in.

You’d also be able to see that what you can manage is the reality. It is a direct measurement of your own abilities. The ‘standard’ you had held so fixed is not a reality. It is an idea, a belief, a hope. In the face of the actual reality, how good an idea is it? In other words, is it the too-low level of your accomplishments that makes you feel terrible or is it having that standard set at a level up above your actual ability that makes you feel terrible? If it cannot be reached and just ends up causing misery, maybe something is wrong with the idea, not wrong with your abilities, let alone you the person?

Instead of keeping the nice-sounding standard as a fixed idea and constantly trying to change reality to match the idea… and failing, you might want to consider unfixing the idea and adjusting it to match reality. You would then see if that works better for you. You might feel better. You might be able to function better. You might, in fact, be able to play better, help more people and accomplish more work when you are not feeling miserable most of the time!

So far in this talk I’ve gone into lots of examples with no small amount of detail. Now it’s time to pull it together. Where have we got to with our “can our experiences show us the truth” question?

Well, we saw in looking at those wonderful wholeness-ease-presentness moments that our experiences can tell us some very important truths about our nature — that in the unending present we are whole creatures and it is not only easy to be so, it is also very pleasant. This sounds like a friendly universe, doesn’t it?

But… we also saw that in order to understand this truth we can’t just luxuriate in the nice feeling. We must wake up and look closely at what we are feeling. We must think and put things together. We must go past just the feeling itself to the meaning of the feeling.

And we saw that it is also our nature to perceive changes more than steady states and how our experiences are telling us important information about what we are getting into and where we have come from so that we can take the appropriate action. This also sounds like something that would happen in a friendly universe.

But… We saw too that to get at the truth of our experiences we need to be aware of our interpretations and be able to question their validity. The experiences themselves are direct responses to the way things are and are telling us the truth about what is happening, but only if understood accurately.

The fact that our experiences seem to carry some pretty important and essential information for us, of course, is undoubtedly why they come to us consciously, knocking at our attention, as opposed to somehow occurring below the level of our awareness where they are no help to us.

We have also seen how it appears that when your understanding or interpretations of your experiences are inaccurate, you are inevitably going to run up against how the universe works, causing problems for yourself and experiencing symptoms of one sort or another.

Having problematic symptoms may sound like a bad thing, but, in fact, it is the best thing that could happen. These consciously-felt symptoms are wake-up calls to alert you that you may be misconceiving how things work and therefore operating against the universe. They are wake-up calls to look, learn and change. Wouldn’t you say that having such a timely alarm mechanism is more evidence of a friendly universe?

We’ve also seen how it becomes very important to uncover what your interpretations, beliefs, or ideas are, and call them into question to test their validity. But how exactly does one do this uncovering of one’s interpretations and beliefs?

Well, as we just saw, you don’t have to look everywhere and at every waking moment in your whole life. Your own nature provides you with an alert to the exact moments to look into and question. Whenever the problem shows up you will have a symptom. That symptom — the tension, the pain, the anxiety, the stress feeling — is a wake-up call. It is not the problem itself, merely the symptom or sign of a problem.

Is that why the symptom shows up when it does and not 5 minutes earlier or two days later? Could it be that it shows up then to alert you that something has just been going on that is problematic so that you will wake up and begin to look into it and question what’s happening, what you are thinking and how you are going about things?

So whenever you get the wake-up call of the symptom, you could be alerted to ask yourself, “How do I understand what’s happening now? How have I interpreted the experiences of the last few moments? What do I think is going on here? How do I think things work here?

What you are looking for is to be able to bring right up to consciousness your ideas of things in the same way that you would attempt to describe and explain to someone else what your experience was and what it meant to you, as in: “This happened, and I felt this and I think it is because of … Oh, I see, that’s what I think!

With a bit of practice, it is not that hard to be able to uncover and become more and more aware of your own ideas and beliefs, even the ones that previously you didn’t even think of as beliefs, but just the way things are.

Even if you are becoming aware of your constructs, beliefs and interpretations, how would you know whether they are accurate? Would you have any way to be able to assess whether you were on the right path or were being lead astray, whether the problems you experience are because of your misinterpretation of the way things work, or because you are actually in an unfriendly universe?

I’ve thought about this a lot and as far as I can see, there is only one way. You’d have to have the ability to spot any mismatches between your ideas and the actual reality. And luckily for you, you just happen to have another tool or property built right into you that can do just that — the ability to pay attention.

You can direct your attention. Not to everything all the time, but when you are the recipient of one of those wake-up calls of a symptom and you are alerted, you can quite consciously and carefully take in your experiences and register your interpretations. And then you will see over a bit of time what exactly these experiences are showing you.

This is when you need to keep your ability to pay attention hand-in-hand with your questioning curiosity and burning desire to know things as they are. Together these will help ensure that you don’t jump to conclusions, that is, assuming you already know what your experiences are showing you before you’ve actually got everything out on the table and so you stop looking. And these together help ensure that you don’t carry a pre-existing bias into your exploration and then only try to find what proves it.

Instead you can pay attention as systematically and rigorously as possible; actually taking in as much as you can of the facts — the events you go through, the situations your problems occur in, the sequence that things happen in, the physical and emotional responses and reactions you have, and so on. Then you can correlate these facts to your thoughts, your ideas, interpretations and beliefs on the matter. In effect, getting it all out on the table, and then comparing to see if your ideas really match the facts of what’s going on.

After all, we are exquisitely sensitive creatures. We have an unending and incredibly rich flow of experience, feelings, emotions, and sensations. Plus we are construct-creating creatures. We have, as human beings, this amazing ability to think and perceive, to interpret, to understand the significance of, or get the meaning of our experiences rather than just to have the feelings without understanding them.

Think for a moment of what life would be like if you didn’t have that ability. You would just be living in… What would you be living in if you had experiences but no ability to understand what they were experiences of?

You’d just be existing, stuck in the present moment. At first glance that might seem like kind of a good thing. A little while ago we were saying, “Oh that lovely present moment experience, yummy.” But you’d just have to really cross your fingers and hope that it was indeed a friendly universe, because you would be stuck there in that moment. You would have no ability to understand what your experiences were showing you. Maybe things have changed on you. Maybe this friendly universe is moving and changing and what you used to do doesn’t fit anymore. You’d just have to keep on living it until it seriously didn’t fit. Then like many other creatures maybe you’d go extinct because the world changed around you and you didn’t even see how it was changing and therefore couldn’t adjust and adapt. Needless to say, it’s a fairly important ability, this interpreting, understanding ability.

This raises an important question, of course. I am often asked, “If this conceptualizing part of us is so important, how come it can be lead astray into misconception?

Well, the fact that the world regularly changes means that we need to be flexible and adaptable. As things change, our interpretations need to change with them. Because change and evolution is always novel and unexpected, we cannot have a vast stored-up repertoire of possible interpretations to choose from, so we must be able to directly perceive the novel changes in the world, recognize what is happening and realize or formulate new understandings. In other words, if misconceptions occur it is not a fault of our interpreting faculty, but of our failure to keep paying attention and to keep questioning and assessing the accuracy of our interpretations.

I suppose it might be wonderful if we did live in the kind of a universe where we were guaranteed to always have exactly the right and most accurate interpretation. I suspect, though, that there is probably some reason why that wouldn’t work, or some way that it would get us. In any case, that is not the actual universe we live in.

While we are talking about truth, many people think that there is another way to get to it. They go to somebody else, some expert, some book, some external belief system. But, if you did that, how would you know that they are right? What if the expert is wrong? What if they have misinterpreted? It doesn’t take much looking around to see that there are many ‘experts’, most of whom are saying different things. They can’t all be right, can they?

Plus, no matter who or what you consulted, would you not still need some way to assess for yourself the truth of what was said? Because if those sources were wrong, but you didn’t know it, you would end up using their misconceptions and taking action in your life accordingly. Wouldn’t you only find out when it is a bit too late that maybe they were wrong? So whichever way you look at it, it is still essential to have a way to assess the truth for ourselves.

Luckily for us, as we’ve seen, we do have a way. We can take in what our experiences are telling us. We can know that there is an element of interpretation in these experiences and we can call them into question to assess how true they are, and then we can pay close attention to what really happens in order to answer that question.

Interestingly, when we look closely it does appear that our experiences can show us the truth, but not automatically and not ‘for free’. You have to keep on the ball, and keep paying attention and keep questioning. You have to stay alive and stay curious and want to know the truth.

I’ve been talking now for a while, so I’m going to finish with another question, one that follows on from the implications of our first question.

Even if we come to understand our experiences more and more accurately and this allows us to keep on getting closer and closer to the truth, how would you know when you got there? Would there be somebody popping up saying, “OK, you’ve found it, you can stop now?” Would there be a tablet of stone coming down? Or the test results coming back marked “A+”? Probably not.

But if we look closely we do in fact have a way to know when we have got to the truth of the way things are, or at the very least when we have got close enough to the truth to be just as good for all practical purposes.

Mind you, this way is based on an assumption. In fact, it might be quite a big assumption, but it is an assumption that’s hard not to make. And this is that there really is a ‘reality’ out there that is common for us all. That the universe does work according to certain laws and principles, and that we work according to the particular facts of our physiology and our nature. As opposed to the opposite assumption which is that ‘reality’ works any way you want it to. If you believe it works one way, it does work that way for you, and if someone else believes it works another way, then it works that other way for them.

Lots of people do believe in these magical individual universes, but notice a very interesting fact here. When you get up to leave here and go out the door, are you all going to go out the same place? Is there a real world out there? Is there a door the same for all of us or are some of you going to disappear through the walls and some others just disappear?

If there is really is a world out there and it really does work a particular way, then we also work a particular way and we don’t work other ways — in spite of however much we might like to. Then we do have a way to tell when we have arrived more or less truthfully at the way things work. And that is when they work!

When you are using your understanding of the way things work to guide yourself and are operating on the basis of the way you think things work, and they do work, could that be because you are operating in line with the way things work? You might not want to say you have hold of the absolute Truth, but you could make a good case that you have, for all practical purposes, come close enough to the truth to thrive and flourish.

Now that’s a friendly universe!


There is a small biography of personal details about the author below.

About the Author

David GormanDavid Gorman has been studying human structure and function since 1970. He is the author of an illustrated 600-page text on our human musculoskeletal system, called The Body Moveable (now in its 6th edition and in colour), and numerous articles and essays, including the book, Looking at Ourselves (2nd edition in colour).

David has been working with performers (singers, musicians, actors, dancers and circus artists) for over forty years. He is a trainer of teachers of LearningMethods and of the Alexander Technique and has taught all over the world in universities, conservatories, performance companies, and orchestras; for doctors in hospitals and rehabilitation clinics; and in training courses for Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, physiotherapy, osteopathy, massage & yoga.

Over the years, his changing understanding about the root causes of people's problems led him to gradually extend his Alexander Technique teaching into the development of a new work, LearningMethods (and an offshoot, Anatomy of Wholeness about our marvelous human design), which is being integrated into the curricula of performance schools in Europe, Canada and the United States by a growing number of LearningMethods Teachers and Apprentice-teachers.

Since 2010, David has been running online post-graduate groups for Alexander Technique teachers and groups for those who want to learn to use LearningMethods in their own lives, as well as those who want to integrate the work into their existing professional work as a teacher, therapist, medical or body-work practitioner.

E-mail:     Telephone: +1 416-519-5470
78 Tilden Crescent, Etobicoke, Ontario  M9P 1V7  Canada   (map)