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Almost Dying in a Foreign Language (part 1)
by David Gorman
Copyright (c) 2002 David Gorman, all rights reserved world-wide
With thanks to the Queen of the Desert for transcription services.
NOTE: This is a record of a session that took place in a 5-day workshop. The
names of the person who brought up the issue and the other participants as well as some of the details
have been changed in consideration of everyone's privacy.
I have edited the flow of the spoken words to improve readability. Here and
there, I have added some explanations of the work and its tools that the participants had at other points
in the workshop. Aside from these edits, this article is almost verbatim from the actual session./p>
Because of the length of this article, it is primarily aimed at teachers, apprentice-teachers
and those with some experience of the LearningMethods work, though others may find it interesting to
pore through the whole piece. There will be a shorter version coming soon that just covers the main
points of the problem, the tools used to explore it and its solution.
This version is a long article (over 30,000 words) so it has been split into
part 2 part 3
Raphael: The problem I want to bring up revolves around being
less skilled than I would like to be in something that is integral to my profession and I feel a great
deal of shame and judgement about it. So this shame has tended in the past to prevent me from doing
anything about it.
I am a rabbi and I am not literate in Hebrew and one is expected to be able to access
texts in Hebrew and Aramaic in its many variations. I didn’t have much of a religious background in
my family as I grew up. I managed to get through rabbinical school but, unlike most of the people there,
I had not had the kind of education as a child that would lead to the level of work that is required
of you in a rabbinical school, so I was behind from the onset. I did manage to do enough to complete
the course work. But enough to complete the course work and feeling competent are two different things.
And also if I started at this point I wouldn’t even be qualified to begin…
David: Just before you go any further, did you say that you
didn’t have the normal background that most others might have had going into a rabbinical school and
yet you managed OK?
Raphael: I managed. It was painful and difficult.
David: So that sounds like a good thing that you managed without
Raphael: Yes, absolutely that’s a good thing that I succeeded
at what I did. That’s an incredible accomplishment and when I graduated I felt wonderful. However, it
continues to be that what I never learned I still haven’t learned and it continues to be a problem.
David: Is there a reason why you haven’t learned it? Is it
what you are saying that because of the way you feel you haven’t done the work you might have done?
Raphael: Well there are two possibilities, or more perhaps.
One is that it is awkward, incredibly awkward, to say to somebody, "Will you be my teacher and help
me break through this language barrier?" when the person you are approaching to be the teacher has assumptions
and expectations and judgments about what it means to be a rabbi and what skills I should already have.
And I have been very shamed in that process, so I stopped.
David: Just before we go on here… I’d like to check something
out here so we can make sure of being as accurate as possible… Do you know for sure that the person
you are talking about had those actual assumptions and thoughts? Have they have actually said so or
David: Just before we go on here… I’d like to check something
out here so we can make sure of being as accurate as possible… Do you know for sure that the person
you are talking about had those actual assumptions and thoughts? Have they have actually said so or
Raphael: No, they have not actually said so. I have a very
clear memory of an encounter with the Dean of the college… But to answer your question, no, I don’t
have any actual data about what potential teachers think. I have a lot of experiences about being a
rabbi and people’s projections about that and expectations and assumptions. But in that exact moment,
David: So when you mention about approaching someone, this
was not a specific person you are thinking about approaching, but almost anybody? Or is there an actual
specific person you want to approach to get the help to learn? I thought you spoke of a specific person’s
attitudes but then you said something that sounds a bit more general…
Raphael: Right, no, at this point there isn’t a specific person.
There is the barrier of assumptions and expectations and projections and my shame about it.
Another piece of this, when you asked what blocks me from learning the language,
is that when I was 17, somewhere between sixth form and college, I went to Israel and got extremely
ill with spinal meningitis and encephalitis and almost died. And I was caught in the language barrier
at the time of that illness in addition to being half conscious most of the time, so I have incredibly
negative associations with Hebrew as a spoken language.
David: Well, notice right away here in the first few sentences,
you have brought right out that you have a barrier which is made of assumptions and expectations and
projections, that is, things that might not be very real if we were to look more closely into them.
And your shame is somehow connected to this barrier of assumptions, expectations and so on.
This is probably very important and I’d like to explore it with you at some point.
But, since it has just come up now, let’s just deal first with that part about almost dying and having
such negative associations with Hebrew. From that experience, or rather from the negativity of that
experience, are you saying now that you see the negativity as attached to the language?
Raphael: Yes, the experience was very negative and the complication
of being in a hospital in Israel during the time of such a physical crisis was also very negative and
the language part was very negative.
David: I mean that the negativity is attached to Hebrew itself
as opposed to the fact that you didn’t understand that particular language. Would it be the same if
it had been Hungarian, Albanian, Czech or some other language that you didn’t know?
Raphael: It may have been, if it had been some other language.
But the hook is that Hebrew is supposed to be a language that I should know… The negativity wasn’t just
attached to the language, it was also associated with an entire crash for me of the Zionist dream. So
it was a whole complex of things that crashed and burned at that moment in my life, the language being
part of it.
David: By Zionist dream, do you mean ‘your dream’ as opposed
to some larger Zionist dream?
Raphael: Yes. I meant my dream. Though the larger one may
have crashed and burned too.
David: Just to be clear. What was the actual negative component
of that experience? It sounds like you are saying that it was the fact that you didn’t know the language
that was the negative thing.
Raphael: Well, I have a very clear experience of the medical
staff, between their English and my Hebrew, trying to tell me something and me understanding that what
was going to happen was that I was going to have a shot in the back. And I couldn’t figure out why a
shot in the back. Then after they did it I realized, Aha, this is called a spinal tap. But it was excruciatingly
painful, both the physical thing and the not understanding. There was a lot of fear wrapped up in it
as a young kid in a foreign country.
David: But the point I am wanting to clarify is this: for
you, is the negativity because you didn’t understand the language rather than because of the language
Raphael: Right, the negativity was because I didn’t understand.
David: This is relevant because it sounds like you have it
framed that the negativity stops you from learning it. But if, in fact, you were there in that
hospital situation and it was the not knowing of Hebrew that was negative, and now you still
don’t know it, then the possibility of having that negativity again still sits there because you still
don’t know it rather than already knowing it.
David: Which is kind of the opposite of the statement that
I am not learning it because of the negativity. In fact it is the not already knowing it that
was the cause of the negativity. That is, if you still don’t understand Hebrew now, perhaps any
negativity you have at this moment is not because of anything to do with the act of learning it, it
is because you have not already learned it!
Lisa (another student on the workshop): I’m
missing this. Can you say that again?
David: One part of what Raphael said in the beginning is to
the effect that his block of learning is connected with that negative experience, as if the negative
experience stops him from learning Hebrew. But—subject to this being accurate as we keep looking at
it—if the actual negativity of that experience came because he didn’t know Hebrew, and he still
doesn’t know it, then there is a very good possibility of having another negative experience because
he still doesn’t know it, rather than having a negative experience from trying to know it. It is the
not-knowing it that is the negative. As opposed to ‘it blocks me from learning Hebrew’,
it is the ‘not having learned it’ that causes the negativity.
In other words, if the negativity was caused by not knowing Hebrew, the solution
would be to know it so you can’t have a similar negative experience again because you still don’t know
it the next time.
Raphael: And the not-knowing is still the source of the negativity.
It compounds itself over and over again.
David: A question for you. If you did know Hebrew at some
future point, would that source of negativity disappear?
Lisa: Process question here. Time out. Are you on purpose
not bringing in the process or are you information gathering?
Raphael: What’s the process that he is not doing?
Lisa: Like could Raphael do this for himself? Again, it is
that thing that you are coming up with stuff here that I wouldn’t have come up with and he didn’t come
up with. What are you actually doing here? It’s very impressive. Is there anything you could say about
how you are hearing things or is it a process going on in you?
David: Yes, there is a process, and I was going to go through
it all before explaining the process I was using so we’d have the material already out there to understand
the explanation. Sometimes it makes sense to point out process tools right at the beginning of using
them so the person is aware of how it is being used. Other times you need the material to come out first
to have something to point out. This is one of those.
I am pointing out that I heard a statement—‘the shame prevents me from learning
the language’—and then an example of how his illness gave him negative associations to the
language. The process was to explore that more to see if that is really an accurate way of interpreting
So far, as we look closely at it, it is turning out to be almost the opposite. Raphael
is certainly feeling that because of that painful, fearful experience he is blocked from learning Hebrew…
Raphael: I assumed I had an emotional block that prevented
me from learning the language because it is wrapped up with so much pain for me personally.
David: …And it probably is wrapped up in pain, but in the
way you are saying it, it is like it is the language that’s the source of the problem. And yet
when you look closely at the situation, the source of the negativity was not having the language.
Don (another student on the workshop): I
David: In other words, the negativity didn’t come from Hebrew,
it came from not having Hebrew, And in that sense your emotional experience is quite justified,
but you’ve mis-attached it to learning the language. It is actually attached to not having
learned the language.
Lisa: My question is, David, you heard a sentence. I would
like to go back and see what it actually was that clicked for you to say, "Wait a minute that doesn’t
match what he said at the beginning." I just missed that. I just wondered how…
David: Well, I was just taking in what he said and the process
was to see whether that was an accurate statement. The implication or the sense of the sentences seems
like he was saying that he was attaching the emotional reaction to the language.
Margaret: Lisa, Aren’t you asking how he could do that for himself?
Lisa: Yeah, and I was just asking how David did it for himself.
And how I could do it for myself. What happened there so quickly that you got to something that I wasn’t
even onto myself or even hearing. What was the framework that you were listening with? And you just
David: I suppose for me it is about listening carefully to
what is being said and seeing if I can understand it from that person’s point of view. At the same time,
I’m taking in the situation he is describing and understanding it from my own point of view. Then any
mismatches between the two will stick out.
In other words, I’m seeing it from his point of view and asking myself, "I can see
why it would be a fearful situation, but why would that give me negative associations to the language
itself? Why would it contribute to stopping me from learning the language?" Which sounds as if it is
what he was saying.
Raphael: We have got into a piece of it, but we haven’t resolved
the issue yet for me.
David: No, of course not, we are just beginning. And this
is just one aspect of the block. The other side of it, at least that we’ve uncovered so far, is this
territory of your assumptions about others and the expectations and assumptions you think others would
have if you asked them to help you.
Don: What I notice is that the problem presents itself to
the subject, that is, me or whoever, as a glom, as a unit. Like there is this big, bad feeling
for me around… whatever. And it is really hard to get objective and pick it apart, as to what is bad.
And the skill is in picking that glom apart. When I listen to Raphael, I, like Lisa, am still caught
up in the glom of his, "Oh, I don’t know the language, I’m supposed to know the language, I’m blocked
from learning the language."
That’s the whole big, bad feeling and I just empathetically got caught up in that
immediately. I can’t see my way through that at all and I can’t pick out, for instance, that one little
piece of contradiction in terms and see the significance. To me it just seems normal, like that’s the
way you use the language, learning a language, you know.
Lisa: And I think it is just a really good point because I
do too. I think the way you are trying to help us to see is how to even begin to hear the words that
we are using ourselves and think, "Gee, is that really accurate" and actually listen to ourselves.
David: Exactly. I’ll explain some more.
I have an advantage from having done so much of this work that I see certain patterns
over and over. One of these patterns is the misperception or the misattribution of the reaction we have.
That is, we attribute the cause of the reaction or symptom to something that is not the actual cause.
I work with a lot of musicians and actors so there’s a common example of ‘auditions
make me nervous’. The person is attributing their nervousness to the audition as if the audition
caused it. However, if you look closely at what is going on for that person, it is not the audition
itself that is making him nervous. It is his ideas that he has to do well and win the audition, combined
with his doubt that he won’t because he’s setting himself up to have to play much better than he can
These ideas are causing the nervousness, not the audition itself. And this is easy
to prove because when those ideas are not there, for instance when the person goes to an audition more
as a lark and doesn’t care about the outcome, then he has no nervousness.
If somebody is misperceiving where their reaction is coming from then they have no
actual way out of the problem. Take my audition example. When you think the audition is causing the
nervousness, then there are only a few ways out. One way is to stop doing auditions, which sort-of works,
but ends up severely limiting your professional possibilities, so that’s not really satisfactory. The
other way is to do something to get rid of the nervousness reaction—take some pills, do some breathing,
some relaxing or releasing exercises, etc. But this is just a coping mechanism because the reaction
comes back again the next time and you have to do the coping mechanism each time. Only when you can
perceive the situation accurately and therefore find the actual cause, can the problem be completely
So, because of my experience in helping lots of people uncover these misattributed
reactions, I am constantly attuned to hearing when someone says ‘this’ is causing ‘that’, and to asking
myself if the stated reasons can actually be what is causing their experiences. Or to put it another
way, I’m looking at the actual situation they are describing and asking myself if what was said is an
accurate way of describing that situation.
So, Raphael, in your situation here, we have a number of elements, if I can put it
that way. You did get sick. You were in hospital in Israel. You did have a problem with the language.
And it was a very painful and difficult time. Those are all facts.
But the way you have organized them in your understanding appears to be—and process-wise,
this was what I was checking out—that the difficult emotions had come because of the language,
as if some characteristic of the language itself was stopping you from learning it.
So I’m thinking, first of all, how does a language cause something like that? The
language is not causing it to all the rest of the people who speak Hebrew. So how could it be in the
language? This is really just the application of a certain amount of reasoning or logic.
I can see that there certainly was a difficulty for you, but I’m asking myself if
the language itself can possibly be the element that was causing the difficulty? If you already knew
Hebrew when you became sick in Israel would there have been that difficulty? Probably not. So when I
look closely at the situation in the hospital, I can see that it wasn’t the Hebrew that caused you the
problems, it was more the fact that you didn’t know Hebrew.
Then I can see that it would be a very difficult situation to be as sick as you were,
going through all that treatment and not have an understanding of the language of the country you are
in, whichever language it might be. In other words, your fear and emotion was quite justified in that
situation. It is a frightening and potentially dangerous situation to be in. And you sure wouldn’t want
something like that to happen again.
So, like anyone would, you now have a powerful memory associated with the whole situation
to help you steer clear of going through it all again. That’s a good thing. But it would be quite important
to really be clear what precisely it was you didn’t want to go through again. That is, as we looked
closely, it doesn’t make sense to attribute that fear and emotion to the Hebrew language or to learning
Hebrew. Instead, what you might not want to go through again is being in a situation where you are
not knowing the local language. So it would be quite important to be clear that if the negativity
is caused by not knowing Hebrew, then that would be a powerful reason to learn it, not
a reason not to learn it. So it turns around to be almost exactly the opposite of what you were
Lisa: Thank you, David that’s really helpful. This is what
I was asking for.
Carl (another student on the workshop): So
would it be fair to say that you are listening as much to what the person is saying as to
how they are saying it, or their use of language in describing it.
David: Absolutely. I am not so concerned about the language
or words per se but more at what the language is pointing at. What is the understanding the person
has that these are the words with which they are attempting to express that understanding? I want to
get at their understanding or point of view, not the actual words.
If, for instance, Raphael’s actual understanding of that situation was that it was
the Hebrew language that caused him difficulty, then you can appreciate why he might not want to learn
it. But when we explore the situation we find that there appears to be a misunderstanding of the situation—a
misunderstanding which, in fact, is still causing the problem because he doesn’t see it clearly. So
it is essential to be able to comprehend the situation more accurately in order to know what needs to
change to eliminate this problem.
Carl: But you’re not paying a particular attention to the
language in order to do that?
David: Well, yes, but only as a map to the territory, which
is the person’s understandings and interpretations. My experience, and I invite you to keep aware of
this too to see for yourself, is that on the whole we express things pretty accurately to the way we
perceive and understand things.
But it is important to check it out, because occasionally it isn’t accurate. Sometimes
people say things and you ask them if that is really the way it is for them and they think back to the
actual experience for a moment and realize that, no, it is not actually what their experience is. But
when that happens, it is usually news to them. They didn’t really know that their experience was different
from the way they said it was. They had been carrying an idea around that didn’t match the events, but
without knowing it.
Most of the time though, we do express things pretty accurately to the way we perceive
and understand things. But that doesn’t mean that our language and the understanding it is expressing
is accurate to the real events it is referring to. So you constantly need to keep your ears open for
the language people use in order to reveal how they are thinking and understanding, and then correlate
how accurate that understanding is to the actual events described.
You can see from this that, at the very least, you want to keep asking yourself if
what you are hearing seems to make sense to you and keep checking out whether the words match the actual
experience. And if the words are accurate to the way you are understanding the experiences, is it actually
the way things work? Is it true?
Raphael: So we are still in the thick of it, however, as far
as I am concerned. That was a very useful insight. Then comes the contrast with my level of sophistication
with the English language and the fact that no matter how much I learn I am still way behind the curve
in terms of the Hebrew language.
David: Can I interrupt here for a ‘process’ moment to point
out another of the tools or processes of this work? We’ve got an example of what I call a ‘code word’
or ‘code phrase’ here—‘behind the curve.’ By code phrase, I mean a term that refers to some experience
or situation or process in your life. You may know what you mean by that phrase, but what it is referring
to is not explicitly spelled out.
Why I call these code phrases is because sometimes when we do take the time to explicitly
bring out what they are referring to, we get information that is very valuable but that was unavailable
to us while it stayed implicitly buried behind the code phrase.
So, let’s see what comes out when we explore this one. What do you mean by ‘behind
Raphael: Well, I could try to describe it or give you an experience
I had. Which would you like?
David: Whichever you think will describe it best or explain
Raphael: OK, I signed up for the very first continuing education
for rabbis that my seminary has done and there was a face-to-face retreat and now throughout this year
we have a commitment to study texts with a partner over the phone. So we started with psalms which were
fairly easy. The latest text, the text I am working on right now is Bacchia Vechuda who was thirteenth
century. I looked at the text…
Just a footnote here: Hebrew is a consonantal language. There are no vowels when
you write it, unless you are either a little kid or an immigrant. So the text that I had has no vowels.
If you don’t know what the word is you can’t read it correctly. If you know what the word says you can
read it. It is sort of circular.
…So I pull the text off the internet, I download it and print it out and I say to
my study partner, "Oh, it doesn’t have any vowels." And he graduated from the rabbinical school about
three years ago and he went straight through from elementary school so he is probably twenty years my
junior in age. He looked at it and he said, "Oh, that’s fairly easy Hebrew", and he just read the first
couple of sentences out loud. I have been working on those texts and it had taken me about four hours
to do six sentences and I feel stupid! And I feel, why am I even bothering…
David: With that example in mind, can you say what you mean
by ‘behind the curve’?
Raphael: This is what I mean by behind the curve. That the
expectation is that I should be able to access this text and to read it. Yes, there would be some vocabulary
that I didn’t know and I could use a dictionary, but it wouldn’t be nine out of ten words in a sentence.
I would be able to read it, get the gist of it at least and then back up and do the detail. And I can’t
David: There’s something you just said that is very important.
It’s my job to help you recognize things like this, so I’d like to take a moment to point out what it
was and fill you in on why this can be a very important tool to help you investigate this problem. As
we go along, I will take every opportunity to point out these process moments and explain the tools
you can have available when you are investigating an issue of your own.
The one I’m speaking of at the moment is a very common one and is what I call a ‘red-flag’
word. In this case, ‘should’, as in ‘I should be able to access the text and read Hebrew’.
There are a number of different categories or groups of these red-flag words and
in each category there are a number of words similar to each other. In this particular category are
ones like ‘should’, ‘ought’, ‘must’, ‘have to’ and so on. You can probably
appreciate the sort of similarity between these words.
The other categories also have words with a shared similarity to each other but with
different significance, for instance the group of ‘maybe’, ‘possibly’, ‘might be’,
‘could have’, etc. There are other categories too but it is not so important right now to list
the groups that don’t apply to this piece of work at this moment.
The reason why I’ve come to call them red-flags words is not because of the word
or phrase itself. All these words have plenty of perfectly appropriate uses. But when you are exploring
through one of your issues and you are trying to understand it, it is important that you are tuned to
every nuance of the way you are thinking and perceiving so you can catch any misperceptions or misconceptions.
So, in the context of exploring a problem, if you hear yourself use one of these
red-flag words and wake up enough to register it, you can then ask yourself, what am I really saying
here? What goes on underneath that? Surprisingly often, when you do take the time to dig underneath
into what you are thinking and how you are seeing things, you will find clues that help to clarify or
solve the problem. So let’s dig into this a bit and see what we find.
When you said that your study partner thought the Hebrew was very easy and you thought
you should have known it, the question I want to ask you is: did you actually know it?
Raphael: Did I actually know that there is a level at which
I should be?
David: When you are saying, "I should be able to read this
text." Were you actually able to read it?
Raphael: No, I was not.
David: Then notice the situation here is that you have
an idea that you should know it and at the same time there is an actual reality that you
David: Also notice that these two appear together. That is,
your idea of ‘should know’ comes up at just those moments when you don’t know. You carry this
idea around implicitly most of the time, but it actually surfaces as an experience when the idea doesn’t
match the hard reality.
Raphael: But the idea is not something I made up. There is
a standard that exists. I don’t know how to concretely say what that standard is, however. And I’m not
saying that I have to be a Barishnikov if I am going to call myself a dancer, but I do have to be able
to spin without falling over when I am dancing on the stage.
David: So if there is a standard of knowing Hebrew, then why
Raphael: Why don’t I know this Hebrew? Ummm…
David: Let me ask it slightly differently…
By the way, process-wise, we’re still following through in this subroutine of code
phrases and red-flag words and why it might be relevant to explore them…
So, leaving aside just for now whether there is an actual standard, nonetheless at
that moment when you have the idea that you should know this but the actual reality is that you don’t—how
do you feel?
David: So is that the moment when that shame comes up?
Raphael: Frustrated… shame… stupid… not a real rabbi… if I
was a real rabbi…
David: And if I heard you correctly earlier, it is this whole
experience and these feelings that then block you from getting down to the learning?
Raphael: There are some things about the learning itself that
I don’t know how to do. I’m hypothesising, I’m guessing, that there is a way to learn a language that
I haven’t learned and that I am doing it wrong. I continue, as you said earlier, to repeat the same
thing that’s not working but it’s the only thing I know how to do.
David: You may not know how to learn it on your own, but if
you just went to somebody whose job was to teach you…
Raphael: There’s the hook.
David: Is there a reason why don’t you do that?
Raphael: I have begun to do that this year actually, so I’ve
started to break through it. Some information here: I’m taking a beginning modern Hebrew class at a
college with a senior student who is an Israeli, a speaker of Hebrew. There are 5 college students plus
me in the class. I am auditing it. I’m learning things about the language and about language that I
don’t know, like nouns, verbs, all that stuff. It is slow, but it is helping. That’s one. The senior
student who is teaching it is very considerate and he is not judging me that I am supposed to already
know this, so it’s very helpful.
David: But it appears that somebody is judging you?
Raphael: Well, there is at least an internal jury that is
doing the judging…
David: That’s right. Now go back to those other moments you
first spoke of. What you said then is that it is the negative feelings that come up that have blocked
you from going ahead from where you are and incrementally gaining the knowledge. I am just pointing
out the connection that at the very moment when you are faced with a situation that shows you the limits
of your knowledge and offers the possibility of learning, these feelings get in the way and stop you.
Let me put it in a different way, as a question. If at those moments you didn’t have
the idea, "I should know this, I’m stupid for not knowing it", would you feel differently?
David: What would the difference be, roughly speaking, as
near as you can tell?
Raphael: If I didn’t have the whole set of ‘shoulds’ because
I am a rabbi—if I leave that part aside—I could choose whether or not I thought that Hebrew was an interesting
language to learn at all. I could choose if I wanted to learn it, and I could either be excited about
the learning or say I don’t want to do that, I would rather go learn how to kayak.
David: You are now speaking about choices you might make,
I was actually asking about the difference in how you might feel emotionally at that moment when you
hit the ‘oh, I don’t know this’ if you didn’t have the ‘I should know it’ idea.
Raphael: I don’t know. It could either be the excitement of
the pursuit of learning, or I don’t care whether I know it or not. I could be excited instead of scared
or ashamed, for instance.
David: So near as you can tell, you probably would not
have those ashamed or fear feelings that go with the ‘I should’. But when that ‘I should know’ idea
comes in there you end up having those particular emotional experiences.
Raphael: Yes, and then comes up the question of what kind
of learner am I and what assumptions do I make about how quickly I have to catch up and I do actually…
David: Excuse me, but let me point out you just said another
red-flag word from the same group as the ‘should’.
Raphael: OK, what was it?
David: Have to… How quickly ‘I have to’…
Raphael: Well, there you go. There’s my learning thing.
David: If we take a moment to look under this new red-flag
word too, does this mean that you have another idea? An assumption of how fast or how quickly you
have to catch up and learn it?
Raphael: You bet.
David: And can you actually learn as quickly as you assume
you have to?
Raphael: No, that’s what is so frustrating.
David: Here is the characteristic problem hidden under that
particular set of red-flag words—that we have these ideas of what should be or has to be.
If you think for yourself about those situations, you’ll see that those words, that
way of framing things, only come up in the moments in which the reality doesn’t match the
idea. You don’t say to yourself, "Gee, I should eat salad tonight and you know, I actually
want to." You only say it when you think you should eat salad but you actually want to
eat the french-fries.
One big reason why you need to wake up to these kind of red-flag words is that when
you do go and dig under them you’ll find your constructs or beliefs or ways of thinking. In this case
they reveal that you are labouring under an idea—in fact a very fixed idea—that you think that
reality really should be like this or has to be like this.
The other big reason to look under the words, is to take in that your own experience
is showing you that it is not like your idea says it should be. And this is an interesting thing
to take in. Your own actual experience of what happens is showing you over and over that reality is
not like your idea. In other words, you’re simply not taking in what your own senses are showing you!
And this is exceedingly important to know. Without the wake up of the red-flag words
you wouldn’t think to look deeper and so you wouldn’t uncover this knowledge. The words would instead
make the same ‘sense’ they had always made to you and you’d just breeze right past, still failing to
see that you are holding onto fixed ideas that just don’t match your experience of reality.
We found the same sort of thing in looking behind the ‘have to’ red-flag words. That
you do not actually learn at the speed that you think learning has to take place at.
Now to make the point again… Notice, when you have that idea of how fast you have
to learn and then your actual speed of learning turns out to be slower, how do you feel?
Raphael: Not great!
David: You can see how having such a fixed idea about the
way things should work or have to work when the way they actually work is different, sets you up for
those highly negative emotional reactions.
You have been tending to put the blame for the reactions on the fact that you are
not learning fast enough. But does it belong there? Is it really the ‘not-learning as fast as I have
to’ that makes you feel bad? Is that the cause of the bad feeling?
In fact, when we got under those red-flag words it appears that the cause of the
bad feeling is that you have the idea that you should learn faster than you actually do. This is what
causes the bad feeling, not the actual speed you’ve been learning at. Like the ‘I should already know
it’, here we have another of those patterns where, when you look closely, you can see the misattribution
of the feeling to something that is not what really causes the feeling.
Carl: What’s being misattributed then, specifically?
David: Well, if you go back to when he said, "I feel bad
in that moment because I should know this and I don’t." Then, from your own experience ask yourself
directly, if you were the one saying that would you be attributing the bad feeling to the not-knowing
it? As in:
"I feel bad because I should know this and I don’t."
Or if I rearrange the words to get more at that meaning:
"I should know this, and I feel bad because I don’t."
As if the not-knowing is what is making me feel bad. But is that what’s actually
causing it? If you were in a moment when you didn’t know but you didn’t have any idea about what you
should know, would you feel bad?
In other words, is it more true that the ‘I should’ idea is what is causing
the bad feelings. Would it be more accurate to put it:
"I don’t know this, but I feel bad because I think I should."
Of course, if I don’t attribute the bad feeling to the idea, I’ll never look at the
idea and question its validity. In fact, the nature of these patterns is that the idea of what should
be happening gets reinforced each time I experience it and so gets stronger and more fixed. And
once the ‘shouldness’—the requirement of it having to happen—attaches to the idea, it tends to make
reality somehow wrong because it isn’t what it should be.
With that kind of preconditioned and ever-more-fixed idea carried into each moment,
of course, it makes perfect sense for me to keep trying to change the ‘wrong’ reality to match the ‘right’
idea or getting upset if it doesn’t. It would never occur to me to look closely enough to register which
one is real and which one is merely an idea—and an inaccurate idea at that!
If you have ever experienced such a fixed idea, and who hasn’t, you’ll know how powerfully
it sets you up to react in the same way to the next moment. Only when you can wake up enough to come
into the present moment, away from all the reinforced preconditioning, can you tell the difference between
real and not-real. Strange as it sounds.
And only when you can actually experience which one is real, would you consider the
possibility of changing the misconceived idea to match the reality. After all, how can reality be wrong?
It is just what it is.
... Article continued in part 2 ...
part 2 part 3
There is a small biography with some personal details about
the author below.
Read other articles by David Gorman and other
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About the Author
David Gorman developed the LearningMethods work out
of over 40 years of research and teaching experiences. His background is in art and science and
a fascination with exploring human structure and function. In the early 1970s he spent many nights
dissecting and drawing in the human anatomy lab. In 1981 he published an illustrated 600-page
work on our human musculo-skeletal system called The Body Moveable (about to enter its 6th edition) and in 1996, a collection of
articles, Looking at Ourselves (now in its 2nd edition).
He happened upon the Alexander Technique in 1972 and was immediately intrigued
by its power for change. After training as an Alexander Technique teacher with Walter Carrington in London, David has
been teaching that work since 1980, becoming well-known worldwide
for his innovations to the work and notorious for challenging the orthodoxy of the profession.
He has been invited to teach all over the world in universities, conservatories and training colleges,
at conferences and symposia, and with performance groups and health professionals.
In 1982, his teaching was revolutionised by his discovery of a new model of
human organisation — Anatomy of Wholeness — with its
profound implications about our in-built natural tendency toward balance, ease and wholeness. He
extended these insights into a new way of training teachers of the Alexander Technique and from
1988 to 1997 in London, England he trained 45 teachers.
His experiences with his own students and in other training groups made it clear
that a huge part of our chronic problems lay not in the 'body' but in our consciousness and habitual
way of seeing things and how we misinterpret our daily experiences and then become caught in reaction
to these misunderstandings. At this point it also became apparent that his discoveries revealed
new premises which in turn implied new teaching methods, so David developed the LearningMethods
work to teach people how to apply their in-built intelligence and clarity of perception to their
daily experience in order to understand their problems, solve them and more successfully navigate their
Since the beginning of this new work in 1997, David has trained a growing number
of LearningMethods Teachers, many of whom are now teaching the LM work in universities and conservatories,
and he has now begun a new modular training program
for LearningMethods, Anatomy of Wholeness and the Alexander Technique, pioneering new ways to learn and teach via online
Telephone: +1 416-519-5470
78 Tilden Crescent, Etobicoke, Ontario M9P 1V7 Canada (map)