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On Belief Systems and Learning

A debate from the Alextech e-mail discussion group on the validity
of the premises of the Alexander Technique

Part 10

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All contributions are copyright by their authors. Note that the e-mail addresses of the participants were valid at the time of the debate but may not be valid any longer.

Section Ten
— and continues...

  1.  Brian McCullough — teaching violinists and "ironists" — July 5/98
  2.  David Langstroth — re: teaching violinists and "ironists" — July 6/98
  3.  Matt Stapleton — re: The Alexander Technique and the Gorman Technique — July 6/98
  4.  Peter Ruhrberg — re: reply to reply etc. to David Gorman, v. 2 — July 5/98
  5.  Urban Larsson — question to Peter Ruhrberg — July 5/98
  6.  Peter Ruhrberg — re: Urban Larsson's question/comment — July 7/98
  7.  David Langstroth — Judging our success or failure — July 7/98
  8.  David Gorman — re: Judging our success or failure — July 7/98

Date: Sun, 5 Jul 1998 15:45:32 -0500 (CDT)
To: alextech@pop.life.uiuc.edu
From: poised@ix.netcom.com (McCullough)
Subject: teaching violinists and "ironists"

Dear List,

For those persons on the list who took an interest in the Alexander Teachers who described their thinking while giving a lesson, I'd like to give quite an opposite methodology of working with a student.

I have observed Alexander Teachers who work with a student DIRECTLY during the student's activity of choice (like playing a musical instrument or ironing). Other teachers work INDIRECTLY with the student's activities by exclusively using chairwork, tablework, and positions of mechanical advantage (of course, through "hands-on" private lessons). The student eventually develops a "back" so that the symptoms disappear. Those teachers hardly discuss the student's perceived symptom, medical condition, or state of underperformance - the teacher knows that overall uncoordination of mind/body/emotion is what's to be looked at.

It may take quite a series of lessons (20-30) before these teachers using the INDIRECT method will work directly with a student's individual activity. The reason for this is that a student's favorite (or problematic) activity is wrapped up in emotion and personal/professional junk. The student's habits under those DIRECT usages are strong; and the lesson can become very confusing. Only after a good series of lessons working on the "basics" is a student ready to touch the instrument in a lesson.

Many students end-gain and are only interested in tips & tricks in order to do their favorite activity better.

I only took my trombone into the teacher training course ONCE in the 3-year period of teacher training. The lesson consisted of my teacher improving (or letting me improve) my conditions of use during the traditional lesson; he then walked over to my trombone lying on the floor; and *he* handed the trombone to *me*. That's it - I didn't play a note!! Lest anyone think that that teacher trainer didn't know how to work with musicians, let me say that he played in a major orchestra for years, and takes a joyful approach to practicing music every morning before the training course begins for the day. At the time, of course, I wanted to play for the teacher and have him improve my playing. But a good teacher, I believe, leaves it up to the student to figure out for themselves how to apply the Alexander Technique to their specific activities.

I believe Alexander used the indirect approach. And, every time I pick up my trombone I'm glad I have a "back" with which to play it.

Brian McCullough, Teacher of the Alexander Technique, Minneapolis, Minnesota USA

Date: Mon, 06 Jul 1998 02:01:55 +0100
To: alextech@pop.life.uiuc.edu
From: David Langstroth david@alexandertec.u-net.com
Subject: Re: teaching violinists and "ironists"

Brian McCullough wrote:
"I believe Alexander used the indirect approach. And, every time I pick up my trombone I'm glad I have a "back" with which to play it."

Dear Brian,

I am a musician in a major symphony orchestra and I too am glad of the indirect approach. In 10 years of Alexander work I have never taken my double bass to an Alexander technique lesson. The benefit to my playing (and to everything else) has been enormous!

Best wishes,

David Langstroth

Date: Mon, 6 Jul 1998 18:20:50 EDT
From: ROSMATT@aol.com
To: alextech@pop.life.uiuc.edu, 100653.2057@compuserve.com
Subject: Re: The Alexander Technique and the Gorman Technique

I think I noticed a contradiction in David Gorman's last posting. He said that Alexander teachers should work with what the student thinks they're doing, not focus on the misuse itself. Yet he admits that debauched kinesthesia exists. Surely the student needs someone with a more reliable sensory register to guide them by alerting them to the unfortunate reality ( ie. wrong thinking) of their situation- not someone trying to guess what confused directions the pupil may be giving themselves. As Alexander noted- down is not up! The idea of the technique is inhibition- undoing the bad habits. If one is not persistently made aware by the teacher of these habits- eg. "You're still pulling down in front" or "There's a lot of tension in your armpits" ( two choice examples from my own teacher )- then the student has less chance, it seems to me of stopping doing the wrong thing so that the right thing can do itself. It seems essential to me to become more and more conscious of the actuality of one's own error so as to be able to conquer it. Focusing on the original unconscious and incorrect behaviour would seem to be a self defeating strategy. To summarise with another of Alexander's poignant observations- all we shall know in this life is when we are wrong!

Matt Stapleton, Cornwall, 6.7.98

Date: Sun, 5 Jul 1998 22:06:05 +0200
From: Peter Ruhrberg pruhrberg.at@cityweb.de
To: alextech@pop.life.uiuc.edu
Subject: re: reply to reply etc. to David Gorman, v. 2

Dear David,

Thank you very much for your taking up the chance to discuss the different possibilities for going about situations in teaching.

I have to admit that I've chosen that specific example of my lesson and the things that I included in my description on purpose, because I suspected that in this way we could best work out the differences in both doctrine and method which we use. And I think you've done a brilliant job in gathering up the different threads which arose from that lesson.

Please understand that the following reply will be far from complete and far from what both of us would probably gain if we were to talk about these issues directly. But, as this is the medium, here we go ...

I have the impression that the kind of teaching you propose is something which addresses very important issues, while the way of teaching that is generally known as the Alexander Technique, only scratches the surface of some of those issues.

I also want to say that sometimes I choose an approach which is much more similar to the one you described in your violinist lesson. There are lessons in which we don't even get close to any activity which the student wanted to perform, because the REAL ISSUE behind certain "misuses", the REAL POWER why people are doing things, and why they are doing them in the ways they are doing them, shows itself in so beautiful and powerful ways, that it would be a lost chance if I would not encourage the students to explore their "motives" for themselves.

But this all depends on the conditions present. I certainly would tend to resist the temptation to teach in just another "one way" -- which, by the way, is not what I think that you do either.

However, before I enter into a discussion of the differences in the approaches, please let me say first something about belief systems and "truth".

Something I often say to myself and my students is "belief systems are like noses. Everybody's got one."

You, David, are operating from your belief system as certainly as I'm from mine. This may seem a truism, but I think what we have to face is that the decisions which result from our belief systems will in turn determine the pathway which we follow, which in turn will determine the result(s) that we end up with.

This brings me (for a moment) to the current discussion about "truth or not truth": up to this day I have yet to meet someone in the human history who was able to prove conclusively that there is "A TRUTH" or "THE TRUTH", or that there isn't. (If there isn't anything like THE TRUTH, I think it would be pretty difficult to prove it, because that proof would be the new "THE TRUTH".) Be it as it may -- personally, I can't be bothered whether it's likely to be one way or the other, because either way it's just another opinion, or belief, that people hold and act upon, and don't agree with each other.

So putting aside the question whether there is "a truth" or not, what I have experienced in my life is that there are principles which govern the sequences of causes and effects. There are also principles which govern human effectiveness. And one of the principles that I've found to be true each and every time is that we are so wonderfully made that we have the capacity to make come true almost every belief we hold.

In fact, what I happen to "believe" is that this principle is the one which is perhaps more important than any other principle in the Alexander Technique, or in life, for that matter.

Let me say this again: no matter what we believe to be true, we seem to have that incredible "power of the conscious mind" with which we can "make" true almost everything we believe.

If what we wish to gain with our belief (the "end") is achievable and our process with which we employ to achieve that end is appropriate then we can't but help achieving our end.

I'm certainly not the first who says this. In fact, isn't there on the Alexander market a book called "What you think is what you get"?

But there was another person who seems to have said something like that. Let's see:

"The physical, mental and spiritual potentialities of the human being are greater than we have ever realized, greater, perhaps, than the human mind in its present evolutionary stage is capable of realizing. " (MSI 1946, p.5f)

BUT, if it is "true" that we have the potential to eventually end up with the thing which we believed in, wouldn't it make sense that we decide to be careful with what we believe, and to choose to believe in things which might help us, and see what happens?

You see, I don't think that there is a "right way" of doing Mr Alexander's work. I don't think that there is any "right way" of learning, conceiving, understanding, or going about this work. I don't even think that there are any "right" answers.

What I certainly hold out to my students is the opportunity to study how Alexander tried to describe his work and his findings, but let THEM decide what to think about his (and any of my) statements. So I don't say what people have to believe in, but bring them into contact with facts: "look, this is what Alexander said, you don't have to believe it, but we can be certain that he did."

The following quote is again an example of the things FM apparently believed:
"After working for a lifetime in this new field I am conscious that the knowledge gained is but a beginning, but I think I may confidently predict that those who are sufficiently interested in the findings I have recorded, and who will be guided by them in any further search, will find their outlook and understanding towards the question of the control of human reaction (behaviour) so completely changed that they will see that the knowledge of the self is fundamental to all other knowledge, particularly to that which can make for the raising of the standard of human understanding and reaction essential to a sane plan of civilization." (UCL 1946, p.xxxviii)

I think that about 40 years after FM's death we certainly did make some progress, but "that the knowledge gained is (still) but a beginning".

In this connection, what does Marjorie Barlow (who calls herself a "preservationist") tells us FM thought about how to teach?

"FM used to say, 'I don't want a lot of monkeys imitating me. I want you to watch what I do, and try and understand WHY I do it, then each of you will develop your own way of teaching, your own way of imparting what you know according to your own individuality.' He used to say, 'Variations of the teacher's art.'" (at the Brighton Congress 1988) "He knew that wide variation in teaching method was inevitable and desirable ... . He expected us to show initiative and make discoveries for ourselves." (Alexander Journal 5, 1966)


Now that I have thus prepared the ground, let's come closer to the lesson we're discussing.

The most important question I have to ask you is: could you describe what you mean by your phrase "what a person is actually up to"?

I have to ask this for more than one reason.

Firstly, it appears as one of the central phrases you use, and I think I should be quite clear as to the meaning which the phrase is intended to convey, before I attempt to act upon them. (Haven't I read this phrase somewhere before?)

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, although I'm working constantly to improve my English, to me it is still a second language.

So, does the phrase "what a person is actually up to" have to do with what the person is "really" trying to achieve in his activities? Is it somewhat of a hidden agenda that a person tries to fulfil? Is it a thing that a person is trying to get at, no matter if it is either the fulfilment of some specific agenda associated with that specific activity or a sort of an expression of the whole person which is accomplished in everything they do? Is it something that people think they have to "express", no matter how high the costs may get? (Could we use for it that brilliant phrase that Emerson sometimes used, "what you are speaks so loudly that I can't hear what you're talking about"?)

Is it connected with what FM called the "primary desire", the desire with which we force ourselves to act according to our beliefs (or feelings), the desire to make real anything we believe in, even if that belief turns out to be based on a misconception? (FM defined it as the desire to feel right in the gaining of your end, and his definition, of course, is also an opinion.)

Now, even without a clear knowledge of the meaning of that special phrase, I'd like to continue, and should I come back to it, please remember that I'm conscious of my "not knowing" and please let me know in case you feel misrepresented.

I am perfectly in agreement with David that I have to have a lot of certain "beliefs" in order to act as I did in the lesson. By the same token, David has to have a lot of beliefs as well which underlie his teaching method.

Now, I understand quite well that, for the core of David's argument, it is not so much important what "specific" beliefs I actually might hold, rather than it is important to learn to become clear, conscious, and finally deliberate about which beliefs I will choose in order to live a successful life, which in my case and at this time would include successful teaching. This indeed is one of the areas I'm constantly working at, and perhaps I will be doing so for the rest of my life.

But I'm not quite in agreement with his assumptions, as stated, of what my beliefs are. (To make assumptions about what other people think or believe is a thing which I'm constantly trying to avoid, though I have to admit that I'm still far from being completely successful in this regard. What I'm trying to do as far as possible is to ask other people about what they think or believe. I certainly do this not all the time, but constantly -- of course, in agreement with what I think is appropriate, be it in a lesson or elsewhere)

Now, more in detail:

"... There is an assumption that the shoulder/arm movements as you did see them WERE the problem and the reason for the pain."

Well, I'm not quite sure if I would see causal relationships as simple as this. Pain is one of the most complex issues that I've ever run into, and, not surprisingly, even the experts in this field don't agree at all with each other. (So the Alexander Teachers are not the only experts lucky enough to disagree on fundamental issues...)

But the real point I want to to make here is that I don't consider myself to be in the pain-chasing business. My experience is that pain is the last event which appears in a long chain, and the first one which will disappear. So if people come with pain, in certain circumstances I sometimes REGRET when the pain disappears during or a fter lessons. (One of the reasons for my regret is that some people, having had that experience, are likely to stop at once working out further the process that had been proven beneficial to them in the first place.)

I just don't know whether or not a certain movement behaviour is actually causing a problem (pain or whatever). It's just not part of my current expertise. But I consider my work as dependent on principles, not on whether or not students have certain specific problems. This is one of the reasons why I wrote in my article (capitals added):

"What I do in a lesson is dependent upon the conditions present and upon what the student and I can recognize as the conception (belief, belief system) underlying the thinking underlying the movement (WHICH MIGHT OR MIGHT NOT ACTUALLY CAUSE A PROBLEM)."

Now, for the next assumption:

"And there is the assumption that if she learns to move her shoulder/arm according to how it "is actually made to move", she will have solved her ironing problem."

This assumption is somewhat split. I certainly believe that there is a value in learning to move in accordance with the design of the structures involved.

But I don't think that she will have solved her "ironing problem" by learning to move her arm according to its structure, because I did not assume in the first place that there was any "ironing problem". Should there be an "ironing problem", I perfectly would agree with David that the Alexander Technique is just ONE of the tools to deal with that problem, because there might also be other causes to the problem which have nothing to do with the field that Mr Alexander's Technique is working on.

What I assume is that she would move in a certain, characteristic, HER way while ironing, and that "this [would be] the use which [she] habitually [brings] into play for all [her] activities, that it [is] what I may call the "habitual use" of [herself], and that [her] desire to [iron], like any other stimulus to activity, would inevitably cause this habitual wrong use to come into play" (UoS 1946, p.12)


"And, of course, there is the assumption that this is how the shoulder/arm is ACTUALLY "made to move."

Well, at the risk of repeating myself, I must say that the following is just ONE of many concepts that people can hold with regard to "reality". But it happens to be certainly one of my concepts.

(By the way, what I do with those concepts is very simple: I act on them AS IF they were true, and let Nature give me the answers on the experiments I undertake on the basis of those concepts, and then compare the answers I got with my predictions. If they match, I'll continue with my approach. If they don't, I'll change it. Again, please understand that I understand that even this mode of procedure represents a certain underlying belief, the belief, namely, that this procedure actually works, and that we really can find out in practice whether what we assumed as our concepts works well in practice or not, and perhaps why.)

One of the things that I also believe to be true ("except when forced to do otherwise", as FM wrote) is that we are born with a certain structure within which we are meant to live.

This "structure" could be described as the structural aspects of our organisms, the more physical aspects of which could (but not necessarily must) be described in anatomical or physiological terms, like "the skeleton", "muscles", "nerves", "brain", and so on. I would like to define "structure" with the term "what we have".

And there is also the concept of "function", that is, what we do with our structure. I would define "function" as "how we use what we have".

(Again, these "tools" may represent a somewhat simple model, but I choose consciously to take the simple model first and take it as far as I can, and then, if the issues I'm are dealing with turn out to be more complex than my first model can correspond to, I'll choose to come up with a new -- and perhaps, but not necessarily more complex -- model in order to explain things, and so on.)

There seems to be a condition in which we are using our structure more according to the way in which the structure is actually designed. (Again, there are more beliefs: that we can understand what this structure and this condition are actually like, that it would be a good thing to use the structure in the way for which it is designed, and finally, what a good way to get to this condition would consist of.)

What I've experienced without fail is that if people come to a growing understanding what their structure is like, that they then can use this understanding -- among other tools, of course -- in order to become increasingly able to direct their use of themselves in any activity in a way that is much more likely to work for the best advantage of that structure. This improvement can be watched by any outside observer, and it can be described either in simple, physical, mechanical terms, or we could also summarize the different things we see and describe it simply as "simplicity" or "efficiency" of movement. (These two terms certainly represent some of the positive values I hold in my teaching of the Alexander Technique.)

If anyone is still reading, we're now approaching what I consider to be the core of David's argument.

"What if her whole coordination (not just her shoulder/arm) as she normally went about ironing was a perfectly integrated coordination of what she is actually up to?"

D'accord. That's certainly one of the things I believe, too. No question about it.

"We don't know what she is actually up to in this lesson because you got her involved in changing her 'manner of use' of her shoulder/arm rather than finding out what she was doing/feeling/thinking while she was ironing."

Now, this is one of the central arguments that somebody can bring up with regard to what I believe is one of the cornerstones of Mr Alexander's Technique.

It is the first part of the first process with which FM begins to discipline his thinking (as described in his chapter "Evolution of a Technique", after the section in which he had to face the fact that "all [his] efforts up till now to improve the use of [himself] in reciting had been misdirected." -- UoS 1946, p.13)

The passage reads as follows:
"... I came to see that to get a direction of my use which would ENSURE this satisfactory reaction, I must cease to rely upon the feeling associated with my instinctive direction, and in its place employ my reasoning processes, in order (1) to analyse the conditions of use present ..." (UoS 1946, p.17)

Now, here we clearly are at crossroads, because I think we have to decide each and every time what components are essential for describing "the conditions of use" and we have to decide what is "present".

At this stage of the teaching/learning process, in order to achieve a constructive change in our lives, in many cases it may be really important to look at "what people are actually up to".

But I can also remember students which are already so involved in finding out what they are actually up to, that what they do in her activity of finding it out they are actually throwing more rocks in front of their way and wonder why they don't get any further.

What I would vote for is to get a balance in the assessment of what is actually needed for a specific situation, and to renew the assessment of what is needed every single time, that means, every single lesson and during every single minute interaction during that lesson. (This, by the way, is one of the ways I understand the word "present" in FM's passage quote above.)

"What you taught her will certainly enable her to take control of her physical system more and more as she 'learns' how her arm works, and another time in a different activity, how her legs work and another time, how her bending or breathing works, etc. And with all this learning her physical functioning will probably be a lot better."

This, again, depends on how you see it. I'm not convinced that my students get more control of their "physical system", but more of an understanding how they can choose the manner of their reaction to their IDEA of carrying out ANY activity, INCLUDING "finding out what one is doing/feeling/thinking while doing another activity." This growing understanding and learning to choose the manner of their reaction to their idea of carrying out any activity, in my experience, is certainly one of the things which will greatly contribute in learning how to less interfere with our built-in, "natural" co-ordination.

"BUT, she will not have found out IF there was something in the way SHE was going about the ironing that her system was letting her know was not constructive. By she I mean not what her arm/shoulder functioning was, but what the human being was up to."

Here we will have to decide about another central issue of teaching anything, in particular Mr Alexander's technique. It is whether or not there has to be something present that "her system was letting her know was not constructive", or an "ironing problem" or a "problem with (fill in the blank)" in order to teach or to learn the Alexander Technique. In other words, here we have to decide to which degree in our teaching Mr Alexander's Technique is really meant to be preventive.

But we also would have to decide once more about the issue of "unreliability of feelings". My favourite example in this connection is: how are we to evaluate the students which come with no pain at all, but stiff like broomsticks in their movements, and almost painful to look at, and really painful if they run into me accidentally? What if they begin to learn to discipline their mind according to the different steps of accomplishment which Mr Alexander wrote down in his "Evolution of a Technique" (beginning with the passage on p. 17 which I quoted before), therefore begin to stop to exert unnecessary muscular contractions against themselves during their activities, and THEN begin to experience severe pain in practically every activity or situation? How would we evaluate this phenomenon according to the teaching model that David holds out? (Please understand, that I don't think that things are "one way or the other," and that I don't believe that David thinks it, either. What I'm trying to avoid is just that building up of the misconception that it HAS TO BE "one way or the other".)

"Instead she will have learned to override her 'innate' coordination in favour of a learned one."

This is an assessment with which I clearly disagree, because (again, as I see it) what you believe to be an 'innate' co-ordination, I think is in fact a learned co-ordination.

This is because I honestly believe that nobody does anything which really doesn't make sense to him/her. Consequently, I believe that we have developed every single movement behaviour that we make for a very good reason. And one of the almost universal reasons I have found in my teaching is that at the time we did that movement behaviour for the first time, it WORKED. We had success with it. because we had success with it, we tend to believe that it was appropriate for the purpose (even if it was not, as seen by outside observers). And so we tend to use this behaviour AGAIN when it comes to deal with a situation which we experience at least as similar, rather that finding out anew each and every time which "means" would best serve the purpose. In this way we often have success IN SPITE of what we think we should do in order to be successful.

What you describe as 'innate' coordination, the co-ordination that Alexander Teachers are likely to see in "non-alexanderized" people, has several elements in it: our natural co-ordination, influences of injuries or/and diseases, and a third part which, in my view, Mr Alexander's technique is designed to address. This third part is the learned ideas which we impose on ourselves about what we have to do in order to perform any activity or to accomplish any given task.

If, by acting on those learned ideas, we limit -- in everything we do -- our capacity to improve our general standard of health and performance, then wouldn't it make sense to question our learned ideas on which we have based our thoughts and actions, and to put aside the ideas and thoughts which have proved to be non-helpful and limiting, and to learn in their stead new ones which now make more sense to us?

"In any case the purpose here is to correlate the physical/functional organization (what you see and she feels as pain) with her inner life, her attitude, her beliefs, etc. In order to actually find out what, in any correlation, there is, one needs to NOT jump in and use your 'Alexander' tools to fix things up..."

As I said before, I'm certainly willing to agree with you that in certain cases your 'David Gorman' tools are more appropriate and therefore will work better. But I think we have to decide about which 'tools' to choose EACH AND EVERY TIME. This is one of the things which I would understand by FM's phrase "variations of the teacher's art."

"... if we have even the possibility that there is nothing that needs fixing in the organization or coordination, but rather in the whole lived construct, then we have a very different kettle of fish. ... If she found where and how she was misconceiving reality, she would have learned more, and the physical functioning of her body would take care of itself, as it was doing before ..."

Again, I couldn't agree with you more, David. This, in effect, is what I'm really trying to do in each and every case in my lessons, even if my lessons sometimes (as in the example I chose) may look very different from the one you described with the violinist.

However we are going to put into practice what you propose as more helpful in teaching, our success will depend on what we decide about how to put into practice also the following advice of Alexander:

"... where ideas that are patently erroneous have already been formed in the [student's] mind, the teacher should take pains to apprehend these preconceptions, and in dealing with them he should not attempt to overlay them, but should eradicate them as far as possible before teaching or submitting the new and correct idea." (MSI 1946, p.87)

I’d like to add these short concluding remarks.

Because I see myself unable to evaluate your learning method from the stated principles alone upon which it is based, and because I'm curious by nature, obviously my next step will be to see and experience myself your work in operation at some time in the future.

Thank you very much for sharing and letting me share our mutual "belief systems". (Why am I getting the impression that this exchange, too, is perhaps part of your learning method?) Please let's continue the constructive dialogue.

All the best

Date: Sun, 5 Jul 1998 22:46:38 +0200
From: "Urban Larsson" urban.larsson@nacka.mail.telia.com
To: alextech@pop.life.uiuc.edu
Subject: question to Peter Ruhrberg

Dear Peter Ruhrberg,

Since I am reading and enjoying yours and David Gormans conversation, I might just as well pop in to make a comment on the last mail that you wrote:

Your recent contribution (v.2) is somewhat difficult to understand for me. It seems to me that you might not have decided for yourself wether you are in a "learning situation" or not... By being a learner (I believe) you would need to take mr Gormans suggestions and explore them for a little while AND leave your own statements for the time being while making the experiment suggested, and than (after the experiment is made) draw your conclusions and share with us.

I am very curious to read more about how you regard the differeces after you have made the "different" experiment. (From everything that has been written so far on this Forum about the differences between "Alexander Technique" and "Gorman Technique" it might be possible for you to begin a change even before attending a workshop. Good luck!) (I will go to Mr Gormans workshop tomorrow.... after that I might have changed my mind....) however, thank you for contributing in an interesting way and sharing your ways of working.

best wishes,

Date: Tue, 7 Jul 1998 10:22:41 +0200
From: Peter Ruhrberg pruhrberg.at@cityweb.de
To: alextech@pop.life.uiuc.edu
Subject: Re: Urban Larsson's question/comment

Dear Urban,

on 06/07/98, you wrote:
"It seems to me that you might not have decided for yourself wether you are in a "learning situation" or not... By being a learner (I believe) you would need to take mr Gormans suggestions and explore them for a little while AND leave your own statements for the time being while making the experiment suggested, and than (after the experiment is made) draw your conclusions and share with us."

Let me tell you where David and I are in our discussion.

In his most recent response to my account of my lesson, 04/07/98, David Gorman wrote:
"Since [Peter was] responding to my invitation to correlate:

"people's actual thoughts/feelings/actions, AS EXPERIENCED BY THOSE PEOPLE, with the physical/functional coordinations AS SEEN BY ANY OUTSIDER."

and to:

"bring forward what you have found and how it relates to what makes sense to do to help someone. AND how you feel this relates to the 'Alexander Technique' as it is usually practiced."

Now, "we can debate the interpretations."

That's exactly how I see it.

I felt that I did more that once the experiment of correlating student's experiences with my own observations (in the way I understand it). That's why I reported my "ironing" lesson. I chose an example of a lesson which I think was different from David's violinist lesson in some significant ways.

David and I are now in the process of debating the interpretations. I see David and me as colleagues for the moment, not as teacher and student. Therefore I've decided to be NOT in something you've called a "learning situation" for now. The purpose of my last (long, and somewhat complex) contribution to the debate was

1) to make clear that I certainly appreciate the importance of what people (students and also teachers) BELIEVE is true,

2) to show that I now can see more clearly some of the differences in principles, beliefs, and basic premises underlying his teaching method and my own,

3) to correct some of his assumptions about my assumptions,

4) to state that I still think that David's method is more based on Mr Alexander's technique than not, and

5) to say that solely from the basic principles and premises which he told us in his article (and subsequent discussions) I cannot tell whether or not his practical method in teaching is something that would I like to do.

Therefore, I'd like to go to one of his workshops and experience it in operation. IN HIS WORKSHOP, I CERTAINLY DECIDE TO BECOME A STUDENT as long as the workshop goes, because I then will see it as David Gorman's workshop, not our present debate about different experiences in our experiments.

Could that help clear things up?

Thank you for your interest.
Peter Ruhrberg

Date: Tue, 07 Jul 1998 01:58:50 +0100
To: alextech@pop.life.uiuc.edu
From: David Langstroth david@alexandertec.u-net.com
Subject: Judging our success or failure

Dear List,

In giving lessons in the Alexander Technique what is the aim? Obviously there is a desire to improve the student's conditions, but I hope most will agree with me that the more important aim is to give the student the means to change their own conditions.

Thus we would hope that a student would gain from her lessons not just "improvement", but an understanding of the means to improve herself, and crucially, the means to judge her efforts, to know when she is succeeding and when she is not.

In all the plans for self-improvement, The Alexander Technique is unique in having an entirely rational criteria for judgement. If you have inhibited and directed correctly then you can judge that you have successfully completed a constructive act towards your self-improvement, no matter what it feels like. In fact it is likely to feel wrong in any number of ways. You don't rely on your feelings to know whether you're getting it right.

In other methods of self-improvement what criteria is the student given to judge their own efforts? Feeling? In the case of David Gorman's method, if the student experiments with their beliefs how do they know when they have found the one which doesn't work? Is it because it feels better when they abandon it? Does the pain go away? Do they feel lighter? Is this a reliable criteria to be using? If he's had years of Alexander experience the teacher may be saturated with an understanding of use which enables him to make these judgements in the lesson and guide the student's thinking, but is the student gaining this criteria to judge her own efforts? And, how will future generations of teachers be able to make such judgements? Will they depend entirely on what the student says feels better?

What is special about the technique is that it gives us a rational criteria to judge our efforts. It does not rely on searching for what "feels like" improvement. This unique criteria to judge our success or failure is in my opinion of such central importance that we cannot state it often enough.

Best Wishes to all,
David Langstroth

Date: Tue, 7 Jul 1998 03:49:20 -0400
From: David Gorman 100653.2057@compuserve.com
Cc: alextech@pop.life.uiuc.edu
Subject: re: Judging our success or failure

To David and list,

David Langstroth writes on July 7th, 1998,
"In other methods of self-improvement what criteria is the student given to judge their own efforts? Feeling? In the case of David Gorman's method, if the student experiments with their beliefs how do they know when they have found the one which doesn't work? Is it because it feels better when they abandon it? Does the pain go away? Do they feel lighter?"

No, it is not through feeling, though someone's experience of operating under their normal 'reality' construct will change to a very different way of being when that construct changes. The change for people is that they can now directly see how deluded their previous set of beliefs was.

Example: a person who suffered from fear of flying and had huge nervousness for days before a flight, discovered that it wasn't just an experience of fear she suffered--she always started to imagine some disaster (the plane crashing) just before she felt the fear. When she could really take in that she was IMAGINING IT--IT WAS NOT HAPPENING, it became clear to her that she was reacting to her own imagination not the reality of what the plane would do. Now, she can perceive right away whenever she starts imagining and she KNOWS that these imagining are not real and she does not have a fear of flying--in fact she rather enjoys the take-off now.

The criteria for her is not that she feels better, it is that from her new knowledge, if any thoughts about the plane which might come back, she can tell right away that they are not true. She sees through the delusion of faulty appreciation, the same way that someone on a hill looking down at a hedge maze can see easily how to get out, but when they were in it there completely trapped.

David also writes:
"The Alexander Technique is unique in having an entirely rational criteria for judgement. If you have inhibited and directed correctly then you can judge that you have successfully completed a constructive act towards your self-improvement, no matter what it feels like."

I have a question for you. How, in your understanding, does a pupil know when they "have inhibited and directed correctly"?


Continued in PART 11...

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