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  Home > Articles > Almost Dying in a Foreign Language, pt.3

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These articles are taken from one or more sessions with a particular person. They remain true to the original work with some editing to make them more easily readable.

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Almost Dying in a Foreign Language  (part 3)

by David Gorman

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.

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 4 parts:

               part 1    part 2    part 3    part 4

PART 3 (... continued from part 2):

Don: Do you ever bring in, say, his material that he brought in? It cleared my head when you said these ‘shoulds’ and ‘have to’s’ are attached to lots of ideals and for Raphael, clearly, it was attached to the whole idea of the whole Jewish religion and the Torah and all this vast array of tradition. Is it helpful to bring that in and point it out?

David: Yes, that’s what I’m doing. What the ‘shoulds’ seem to be attached to is the idea of rabbi-ness. That’s what a rabbi is, or should be, even though we actually have one here that is not like that. And perhaps quite a few other ones are not like that either. Even if some are, that doesn’t mean that all rabbis have to be like that.

Don: I don’t know if it is only from the outside that it makes it clearer. It is clearer to me that being a rabbi is attached for Raphael with this tradition of being a rabbi. But evidently he has escaped the tradition in some ways. I mean, for instance, by not having the usual upbringing.

David: How real and true for everyone can the tradition be if there are exceptions?

Don: What I’m saying, is there any helpful way to bring this into the picture for him to bring him to an easier realisation that the should is…

Raphael: Oh, I can go on and on about my accomplishments as a rabbi — the whole shooting match. I could tell you about when I was last in Jerusalem in 1998 that I helped to create a revolution that is still going on. I can do all that. That stuff is not hanging me up. The accomplishments are not a problem. And my genuine accomplishments as a rabbi and my skill as a rabbi and my work with people, that’s not a problem. This is the problem for me. This is the place that is loaded for me.

And on the other hand, I would say just in my own defence. I don’t know if I have to defend myself, but I seem to want to… [Laughter] …a lot of the rabbis that are real text-jockeys don’t know what to do if they are in a hospital with somebody who is dying or in a ceremony with a 12 year old who is about to become an adult or at a wedding or…

David: What does that actually tell you about what a rabbi should or shouldn’t be?

Raphael: Yeah, well I have ideas about what rabbis should be and I am a lot better at the things I think rabbis should be doing except the text stuff. But maybe that’s just because I can’t do the text stuff.

David: Yet…

Raphael: Yet… yet… yet…

Carl: Would it be good LearningMethods to take a look at ‘should’ and try to codify exactly what would be an acceptable level of knowledge of text, instead of keeping it vague? Will it help defuse it a little bit or is that appropriate?

David: That’s an interesting idea. We could do that, but then notice what we’d need to be clear about. We’d need to finish that sentence — acceptable to whom? It appears that an acceptable level to Raphael is way above where he is.

Carl: But it hasn’t really been codified…

Raphael: Oh, sure it has… An acceptable level of text would be to be able to read it and understand it.

David: Acceptable to whom?

Raphael: To me. I would like to be able to read this and understand it, without going, "What does that word mean?"

David: This is a fact: you would like to be able to read it. There is another fact here — that at this particular moment you can’t. There is another potential fact — a probable and likely fact — that you could learn it given some time.

Raphael: And somebody who is gentle enough.

David: Gentle enough to…?

Raphael: To me. To not be hard on me when I am trying to learn it and say, "Oh, what an idiot you are."

David: And would you be an actual idiot, if somebody said that?

Raphael: [pause…] No, I am not actually an idiot. But that was one of the fond disparaging remarks of my childhood. One of the favourite parental put-downs.

David: Let’s come back for a moment to the territory of acceptable to whom? You are speaking as if you can have a level of knowledge that has a property called ‘acceptable’. But is this possible? Is the property called ‘acceptable’ attached to the knowledge level? Or is acceptance something individuals do?

Here’s where we are getting very much into the territory of understanding the nature of value systems as I call them. I’ll not go into it much here, except to point out clearly that it is human beings who accept or do not accept. There is no such thing as an abstracted ‘acceptable level of language’.

There is a particular level which is acceptable to somebody and a very different level which might be acceptable to somebody else. The acceptableness is a property of the person doing the assessing of the language knowledge, not a property of the language knowledge. But, boy, do we often mistake that one!

So if you are the one doing the accepting or not-accepting, and this accepting is being applied to the level of your language knowledge, does that mean that you are not accepting the level of knowledge you have?

Raphael: OK. So we’re back again to the actual reality I’m up against. It is true, even though I am a rabbi, and I am a good rabbi, that were I to apply to the college now to go to school there I would not have a sufficient level of Hebrew to start! And that does a number on my head, that I don’t even know as much Hebrew as the students who are starting now.

David: And if you were applying now and you wanted to be a rabbi, wouldn’t you presumably do the work to learn it first before you’d get in? So is this a problem?

Raphael: Aha! Framework again… cognitive framework. The dissonance comes from my own assumptions about what I know and what I don’t know based on…. Aha… aaah…

Margaret: I don’t hear you saying that he didn’t choose a teacher well. You’re not saying that either.

David: Well, you’re right, that is sitting there too and having a good teacher would be a relevant factor in how easily and well he would learn as he’s experienced with his modern Hebrew teacher. But it is not the main issue here. You can’t begin to choose a teacher well until you have a framework that would allow you the presence to assess how the teacher is actually teaching. Is he or she a constructive, helpful teacher or an unconstructive, bullying teacher?

Because right now if the teacher said something disparaging, Raphael would see it as shaming him rather than seeing it as something to do with that teacher’s way of teaching. He would not be able to say, "This teacher isn’t accepting that I am where I am in my learning and isn’t giving me the help I need." Instead, you can bet that probably he’d be so in reaction in that moment he wouldn’t be able to assess anything about the teacher. He’d be feeling it said something about him. It would simply produce another painful experience and reinforce all his ideas about his lack of intelligence or ability or rabbi-ness.

Lisa: So, David, just a moment before it sounded as if what Raphael put out as a problem about getting into college, you restated as facts about his level and then you asked if there is any problem with that?

Raphael: Well, David said if I wasn’t already a rabbi now and I wanted to be a rabbi then I would go and study what I needed to know in order to get into the college and so what is the problem? And I’m still wrestling with him and saying, but there is a standard, and here is some proof that there is a standard. The level of Hebrew I know wouldn’t even qualify me for admission now and I am even already a rabbi.

Lisa: So there is a standard coming from this school to get in?

Raphael: Right.

Don: And he pointed the way around that fence.

Raphael: Which is back again to the learning thing and the should thing and the framework thing and that the shame is my response to an external situation but it is not inherent in the situation. It is there because I put it there… And then I get angry.

David: It is angry at…, or angry because of…?

Raphael: Because then I can distil it down to it: it’s all my fault, blame the victim, I am feeling the shame…

David: Why is there any fault here at all? Where could there be any blame? You have recognized that there is a level of knowledge about the language you do not have. That’s a fact.

You know that this is something that would be helpful for you and something you want to do. That’s a fact.

You have enough history, from the sounds of it, to have a certain sense about your ability to learn it. And that you would learn more and more over time if you got at it. That’s been true for you before and probably would be again.

I can’t see any fault or blame in any of those facts.

The blame comes in when you start to compare where you are to somewhere you are not and this somewhere appears to be your idea of rabbi-ness.

If you could just see all those facts as the simple facts they are, you could go, "Oh, here’s something I need to learn and I could start to learn it — and tomorrow, or the next day, or 5 weeks later I will be a little further along."

If you look at it, these exact same facts just described the situation you have in learning modern Hebrew which is not a problem for you. And it’s not a problem because there you have taken in and accepted all the facts around not knowing modern Hebrew and so learning it is easy and seems interesting. Why wouldn’t this be the same?

It sounds like the only reason why it isn’t the same is because of this deeply-held idea you have of what should be — an idea that does not, in actual fact, match reality. And the exact and precise extent that the idea is so deeply held is directly proportional to the amount of shame feelings you have.

Raphael: Say that again? The power with which the idea is held onto is directly proportional…?

David: The depth to which you are holding this, or the intensity, or the fixedness with which you are holding this idea is exactly proportional to the amount of reactive feeling you are having about it.

Lisa: And all those feelings are what keep you from actually taking the steps that would give you the learning that you want.

Don: What has been a very key thing throughout my LearningMethods experience and exploration, and which I keep running into, is that every time I have a symptom feeling and I relate it to my framework the way I have learned to do in this work, it always turns out that there is nothing wrong with that feeling. That feeling is totally appropriate to the framework once I have figured out what the framework is — my belief or way of seeing things…

Lisa: There is nothing wrong with the shame?

David: The shame is exactly what anybody would be feeling who holds that same sort of belief.

Don: And the tricky thing is to figure out the framework structure that keeps me locked in that feeling. And indeed when I figure that out about some feelings, I am no longer locked in that feeling because the cognitive level has crumbled or altered or shifted enough that the feeling simply doesn’t come up.

David: When you call it cognitive, I know what you mean. What crumbles the old framework is simply the fact that you are cognitioning, cognitizing, cognizing… what’s the word…? recognizing... that you are recognizing that what you thought was causing the feeling is not what is actually causing the feeling.

In Raphael’s case, it is not his lack of Hebrew that is causing those feelings. It is the idea that he should know more Hebrew than he does that is causing that feeling. The more we explore it, the more I can’t see any way around that.

Don: But what is different in my experience from other therapies I have done is that there is no attack on the feeling in terms of trying to adjust the feeling or trying to make me feel better. There is really just an exploration about what reality is and whether I am understanding it correctly.

David: Exactly, you’ve got it.

Why would anyone want to change the feeling? The feelings are your responses. They are just the symptoms. But the symptoms of what…? Responses to what…? Instead of changing the feelings, I’d really want to find out why I’m having them. Why am I caught in this? Why is this happening?

If I can discover what is happening — what the situation is and how I am thinking and the way I interpret it all — then I’ll be able to say, "Of course, if that’s the way I usually see the situation, no wonder I would be feeling what I am. Who wouldn’t?"

But, you’re right. The main point of this work is to find out whether the way you see things is accurate or true to the actual reality, or have you misconceived it? If you could take in what’s happening more accurately, would you feel the same thing? If you hit that situation with the unconstructive teacher and see it for what it is, and if instead of feeling that you have done something shameful, you saw bad teaching, would you feel the same thing?

Carl: So is it recognition alone, does that do the work?

Raphael: No!

David: Well, hang on, have we had recognition yet?


Margaret: So how do you know what is reality then?

David: Well, that’s simpler than it might seem if we stick just to this context and review what we have found. For instance, [to Raphael] is it a reality that you have the level of Hebrew that you have… and no more? That is, you know what you know and you don’t know what you don’t know. Is that a reality?

Raphael: I may be underplaying the skills that I do have, but I don’t know as much Hebrew as I need.

David: At the moment when you look at some Hebrew, is it the reality that you don’t have the level of knowledge to know what most of it is, instead you have a lesser level of knowledge?

Raphael: That’s correct.

David: When you are looking at some other Hebrew and you do know what it means, then that’s a reality?

Raphael: Yes.

David: Is it a reality that you see the benefit or the advantages of having that knowledge, which you currently do not have?

Raphael: Yes.

David: In other words, it is a reality that you have a motivation, a reason why knowing Hebrew would be helpful to you. You seem to recognize that. And is it a reality that you want to gain that knowledge?

Raphael: I definitely know I want to have the knowledge. Do I know for sure that I want to go through whatever is required of me in order to actually gain the knowledge? I am not 100% sure because then I run into my belief structure that even though I am perfectly accomplished in English to a very subtle level that perhaps I really can’t learn a foreign language.

David: Perhaps and perhaps not. But at least you might want to find that out before you make such assumptions.

The closer we look, the more we uncover the degree to which your idea of learning the language is full of these reactions and full of assumptions about other people’s expectations and misconceptions that you could be shamed by others, and so on. One thing this implies is that you might have a very coloured idea of the difficulty of learning something. Especially when you put into the picture your opposite experiences of learning modern Hebrew. That doesn’t appear to be so difficult, does it? You said that it was interesting?

Raphael: My current experience? Well I had a breakthrough a few weeks ago which was that I came to the place where I was frustrated and in the past have chosen to walk away. This time instead I went to my conference and brought a book and a tape with me and listened to the tapes and looked at the books and actually really studied — really studied every day. I skipped a few sessions of the conference and studied Hebrew instead and I actually broke through a different level and I felt excited about it.

David: So what does that tell you about your ability and your interest to learn?

Raphael: Oh, I am definitely an idiot!


Raphael: No, what that told me is that if I give it attention and daily-ness and effort, that I actually can learn and it can be exciting to chase the knowledge.

David: So near as you can tell, the reality you experience in the moment when you are not caught in your shoulds and their reactions is quite a different reality than when you are. However, when you are caught up in moments of the ‘I should have’ idea, then it has a great deal of reality for you.

And yet how could it be a reality that rabbis — implying all of them — should have that level of knowledge, when we have a number of actual rabbis that don’t. What kind of reality is that? We have an interesting situation here where you can say at one point that you are a very good rabbi and yet at the same time your other idea says that you aren’t even a rabbi. So spot the mistake. Something doesn’t match in this picture.

Raphael: There is a dissonance. There is a built in dissonance. So I am going to run right out and find myself a Hebrew teacher and not feel ashamed… he says, laughing…

David: Ashamed of what?

Raphael: Ashamed of…

David: If you knew all the Hebrew you ‘should’ know, why on earth would you be going to a teacher?

Raphael: Right, but we have already acknowledged that I don’t know all the Hebrew that I want to know.

David: So where is the shame? You are just where you are, that’s all. And you would be going out to somebody to get help to move to where you want to get to.

Raphael: I know. That’s what you think sitting over there. But sitting over here I’ve got it hard-wired in, it seems.

David: No, it may seem hard-wired, but it’s not unchangeable. As I said before, to the extent that it is that fixed is the extent that you are stuck in it. And the degree of fixedness is the extent to which you take the ‘should’ as reality — "It really is what should be." As long as that stays fixed, you can’t move on it. Until you can question whether ‘should be’… says who? And, of course, until you can take in the actual reality more accurately.

Raphael: OK. In the beginning of this seminar you suggested that it was possible with this work to not only deal with the symptoms that arose, but to actually be free from the problem itself through recognizing — now I am making this up because I don’t remember exactly what you said — through…

David: If you find the actual cause and change that, then you won’t even have the symptoms. If the thing no longer exists, how could you have a symptom of it?

Raphael: OK. Well, the thing that doesn’t exist for me, the symptom is shame.

David: And what is it a symptom of?

Raphael: It is a symptom of misattribution of a cognitive glitch.

David: A ‘misattribution of a cognitive glitch’. That’s a great way to put it. Well, notice that the way you’d been operating was that the shame was the symptom of not knowing Hebrew when, as a rabbi, you should. That it was a symptom of not being the rabbi you should be.

As we looked at it, we’ve been continually coming up against the possibility that your experience, which you labelled shame, doesn’t actually come from this, but comes instead from the idea that you should know Hebrew when in actual fact you don’t.

And it comes not just because that is an idea instead of the reality, but because the idea is held as a should — that is, a fixed determination of what reality should be. But since the reality of your knowledge is not what the idea says it should be, you end up assuming that something is wrong with you or wrong with where you are and you feel shame.

What we’ve found now by exploring closely is actually quite a different point of view — that your symptoms come from the mismatch between your idea and the reality, not from the fact that you don’t know Hebrew.

It is very easy, when you think of it, to imagine somebody who could be in the same situation of not knowing Hebrew with the same teacher, but who does not have that idea that they should already know it. That person would hit the moment of not knowing and have no shame whatsoever. So how could the shame possibly come from not knowing Hebrew? When here is a person who doesn’t know the language and he is not ashamed.

Raphael: OK. So assuming that, I know from where you sit it is true. But from where I sit, assuming it is a hypothesis that my framework of ‘shouldness’ is the problem, how do I ‘unshould’ the ‘shouldness’?

David: I can only say what I said before, that you see that it is not the actual reality. It is only an idea, a conceptual framework and a false and inaccurate one.

Raphael: Right. No, I get it. I mean I get it now with you, here in this place. Remove me from this place and jettison me three weeks ahead in the game.

David: Three weeks ahead… Where, doing what?

Raphael: Where, doing what? Sitting at my desk trying to read a text in preparation for my phone call with my study partner.

David: Would there be some difficulty in this? There you are reading the text and are we assuming it is one of those moments when you look at it and you don’t know the text?

Raphael: Yeah.

David: Then the facts are the same. The reality facts are: "Oh, I don’t know that passage. I can’t go very far with the meaning of it because I don’t know the words. So, let’s see, can I learn something about it? Can I do the study, make the effort and then I’ll learn it? Or maybe I can get someone to help me." In your modern Hebrew class, you’ve already had a good experience of getting someone to help you.

With this way of seeing the facts, now or later on your own, is there some place where shame comes in? Because, in this way of thinking, I can’t see where it could come in.

Or to put it the other way, for shame to come in at those moments how would your thinking need to have changed?

Raphael: Oh, man! We’re right back at it, aren’t we? "I don’t know this. Why don’t I know this? I should know this. What an idiot I am!" There we go — fast track. Let’s ice up the toboggan run so that it gets faster.

David: You are by no means, of course, the only person in the universe caught in the grip of this one. The vicious nature of the circle is because of the powerful fixedness of that idea, the very ‘shouldness’ of it.

Raphael: So how do you unfix it?

David: We are going around again, so I’ll say it again. I don’t know any way except for you really to see that your idea of ‘reality’ is misconceived. It is not where you actually are. I’m speaking of the shift in emphasis from putting the ‘should’ on the idea to having what ‘should’ be on what actually is. For one reason and one reason only: because it is what actually is!  Is there some problem with what is?

Lisa: Why does it work better to see what is?  In other words, why should somebody see what is?

David: Because it is!

But you want specific reasons? Put yourself in the place. If you just saw things the way they were and didn’t have the idea that it should be anything else, you’d go, "Here I am. I don’t know this."

Which is a fact. You do not know it. If that’s where you are at and that’s what is. Unavoidable, undeniable fact.

Then what is better about it is that you won’t have all those emotional reactions because it would make absolutely no sense to try to be anywhere other than where you are. And from where you are you’d actually be able to learn. If you learned even a bit, you wouldn’t be where you were any more. Wouldn’t that be better? It is just a fact.

At this point in our work, however, I am not entirely sure that Raphael has really seen that the idea that you ‘should know that’ is not true. That it is an abstracted and misconceived framework. And I mean really experience its unreality, not just as a concept… But we are getting closer and closer.

Raphael: I am seeing that the idea I have that I should have the knowledge is causing me the pain and the anguish, but you have not yet convinced me that I am not supposed to have it.

Lisa: I knew there was a problem there.

David: This is what I was saying. Until you can call into question the whole ‘shouldness’ of it, you will still hold that idea. As long as that idea is intact, is there any way to meet the actual reality without that reaction?

Raphael: Well I was wondering about the question of intention. If I can react differently in the moment to the moment that seems like it could chip away at the connection I have.

David: But how would you find yourself with different feelings than you do?

Raphael: Not find myself with different feelings but there is a moment when I am going to pick up a prayer book or a bible or a text that I am going to be reading. It is not something that I encounter in my everyday life unless I do it on purpose. So there is a moment when I could habituate myself to creating an intention…

David: What would that be?

Raphael: I am not sure. Something like: ‘be gentle’, ‘be easy’, ‘hang in there’, ‘relax’, ‘don’t worry’, ‘don’t get frustrated’ ‘ you are not an idiot, you’re smart’. I don’t know. But something that would remind me to try to approach the experience differently.

David: The experience of what?

Raphael: The experience of encountering the Hebrew language.

David: Notice the experience you had is the experience you had because of that idea. If you had a different idea, you wouldn’t have the experience.

Raphael: No. Is that true? Oh, God!

David: Well, take that example again of somebody who hits the same moment, picks up the prayer book and says, "I don’t understand this, well that’s the level of my knowledge and I want to learn, so I better do some work on it." What experience are they having with that framework?

Raphael: Lots of people have the experiences of being shut out, shut down.

David: But the person I have just described, not somebody with a different idea. The person, in fact, who would be approaching that moment the same way you appear to be approaching modern Hebrew — without the expectation that you should know it.

Raphael: So you are suggesting that we have experiences without valence, without any emotional coloration?

David: No, not at all. I am suggesting that you have the emotional coloration you have because of the way you are seeing it. If you saw it differently you wouldn’t have that emotional coloration. You would have a different experience with its own emotional coloration, one that was not negatively emotional. Your new experience might be interest in learning. It might be whatever it would be. It would be a different experience. It would not be without emotion, but a different emotion.

When you are learning modern Hebrew and don’t know something, what experience are you having there? It is a different one. It is not a hugely negative, shameful or negative. It is another sort. Same situation, but different expectations around it. The should-ness is missing and you are having a different experience.

Raphael: OK. Now what?

David: Well there really isn’t anywhere to go further from this. It just sits there like the 2000-pound elephant waiting to really be taken in.

But let’s say, at another moment you do actually pick up some Hebrew reading, a week from now or whenever you have your next telephone meeting with the person you are working with. If you are looking at the material you have got and you hit one of those moments where you don’t know it, then what?

Raphael: Then I have to decide whether I risk saying something or pretend that I know it and keep on going.

David: What might happen if you pretend that you know it and keep on going?

Raphael: Well, in aggregate I don’t increase my knowledge. I do in aggregate increase the sense that I am a fraud, and I do increase the emotional responses that I’ve already always had…

David: Good, you’re getting that part.

Raphael: …But I don’t know that risking serves anything.

David: Let’s look at it. What precisely would be the risk?

Raphael: Now we are back to the same thing. Ha ha ha!

David: And it’s so important that you see that! What exactly would be the risk if you say to someone else where you are?

Raphael: The risk is exposing myself to his judgement and to my judgement.

David: Well let’s take those one at the time. If you were to say where you are — and notice, what you would be saying is in actual fact where you are — and if he had some sort of judgement… By the way, what sort of judgement are we talking about?

Raphael: He’s stupid! What other judgement is there?

David: …If he had a judgement like that, what does that say about him?

Raphael: It says he is just normal, typical… They are the people of my universe, the people in my family, the people in my college, the people in my seminary, the colleagues I have. They are the people of my universe.

David: How many times have you actually risked this? Have you risked this with your study partner?

Raphael: Yes, I have.

David: What has been your actual experience?

Raphael: What has been my actual experience? My actual experience was that he unpacked the word for me and showed me the grammar that I was not seeing.

David: So does this sound like the universe, as you call it, where everybody relates with judgement? Or reacts as if you are stupid? Because his response doesn’t seem like that.

Raphael: Are you telling me that my own experience doesn’t match my assumptions about my experience and my interpretation of my experience? That is what you are telling me.

David: No, I am not telling you. This is what you are telling us. I am simply pointing it out to you.

Raphael: Oh, God! And I am supposed to be able to do this by myself?

Lisa: Not today!

David: But you could start, at times like this, to actually listen to and register the things you say. Then you could ask, "Is that actually accurate? Does that even match my own experience? I just said risking? What would I be risking? Here are these two things I said — risking or pretending. What would I be risking?"

If you could really take the time to ask yourself, out would come all this stuff you just said about risking his judgement. You could then ask yourself, like I did, if that actually matches your experience? "Have I ever risked this? If I have risked it, what happened?"

If you do this, as we just did, you will quickly find, not only that you have been nurturing an idea of how universal that judgement and reaction would be, but also, and more importantly, you’d also find that your idea doesn’t actually match your own experiences of what happens when you have risked it.

Of course, you may also find that your idea has matched reality a few times when you’ve run into bad teachers. But, if you also took the time to look closely at those times, as we did before, you’d find that you mistook your experience of shame as being feeling ‘shamed by’ somebody.

Gradually as you gained skill at using these tools, dare I say ‘learning methods’, you’d work it all out. But first you have to learn about the tools and how to use them.

What you can start to do right now is to see that your actual experiences, when you really look closely at them, are showing you that you are not living in the sort of world that you somehow thought you were.

This happens a lot with people and I always find it a very odd thing when we get down to exploring it. Here we are, having actual real experiences of the way the world is and the way people are, yet we also have these ideas which do not match. And so we don’t really see the reality that is right in front of us — instead we hang on to the idea. Even though it doesn’t match our actual repeated witnessing of the events as they unfolded all around us. Very odd when you think about it!

But it makes it understandable why you’re kept locked in these kind of problems. Because no matter how many experiences you have, if that idea of the way people are judgmental stays dominant, you won’t even notice the real experiences. If you don’t notice them, they can’t possibly change the idea. Even though you’re having those actual experiences, you’re not taking them in. Or put another way, you’re having the experiences, but missing the meaning.

So you can’t unfix it and get out of it until you have a way to uncover those kinds of ideas or beliefs and go, "Oh, this is really the way I am thinking!" And you need to register that the moment when you do perceive things that way, is also the moment when you get those reactions. The reactions are coming from your thinking, not from the ‘real’ world. It can’t be coming from the real world, because the real world isn’t really like that.

This is really big stuff. An ability to take in reality is essential to being able to live free from problems.

Raphael: So why does it feel like a risk then? The actual reality is that I don’t know Hebrew and if I am asking someone for more information, more information comes if I ask. How is it a risk?

David: More information probably would come. Once in a while you might get a funny reaction from people. But even if that happened a few times, what is the risk? What are you risking?

Raphael: The same old stew. Risking revealing that I don’t know something.

David: But that’s already a fact. What is the risk in that? That’s a fact.

Raphael: But I am supposed to know it!! [Laughing]

David: The circle’s getting smaller now and quicker to come around. You see how it works?

Raphael: So I would say I got this with mother’s milk, I’ve had it so long.

David: Yes, and now that we are getting down to the core of this framework it’s worth investigating every little aspect of it.

So, why would you feel like it’s a risk? Well, if you have the idea in all those ‘not-knowing’ situations that you are going to get what you are calling judgement, of course it would feel like a risk. Remember what Don said about the feelings being appropriate to the framework. There’s nothing wrong with the feelings. They are an actual and valid response. As long as you’re clear that your feelings are not a response to what is actually happening. But they are a direct and accurate response to what you think is happening.

Now when you take in how your study partner actually responded, does it seem like the same risk as you were thinking it was when you were thinking of all that judgement? Is the risk the same?

Raphael: No, it is not at all the same risk as when I was actually being graded and my ability to graduate depended on other people’s sense of my skill level.

David: Well, if you actually didn’t have the skill level needed to graduate why on earth would you graduate? You shouldn’t. But since you did graduate, presumably you did have the skill level and your teachers recognized that.

Raphael: I squeaked. I was just over the edge.

David: You may just have squeaked, but you were over the edge. And that’s all the more reason, since you’ve known for a while what knowledge you are missing, for you now to be the responsible one and learn it. After all, it is to your advantage and you are the one who knows what you need. You may or may not need help with it, but if you do, why not go ask somebody?

Again notice the other side of this. How does it make sense to be feeling that it is a risk to acknowledge where you are? Which is an odd one when you think about it, because you are there already anyway. How can you be risking anything when you are already there? You can’t lose something you don’t have. You can’t be put down to a place that you already are. All you can do, literately, is move upwards from there.

Lisa: You might get responses from some people, though…

David: You might get responses, but notice you wouldn’t want to mistake those responses for something about you. You will probably get the response from many people, as you have from your study partner, saying, "I can help you with that", while some others will say, as they have, "What, you don’t know that?"

But if those last ones said that, what would that show you about them? Does it really say anything about you at all? You are exactly where you are, whatever they may think and however they may judge it. But it doesn’t say anything about you. You already know where you are.

It certainly does say something about them, however. About their ideas, their fixed ideas, about what they think ‘should’ be.

Raphael: I still want to argue with you. I know that you are an accomplished teacher and founded this work and you teach other teachers. So you must have an idea about what it means to be a LearningMethods teacher and how much about this you have to know and how much about that. I am kind of making it up because I don’t know this work. But there must be things that form a standard.

David: I certainly have my sense of what would be necessary for somebody to know before I would certificate them as a teacher.

Raphael: So, a standard. Even if they didn’t know this standard, even if someone was a wonderful person and a good student and on their way of knowing that but did not yet know it, you wouldn’t then certify them as a teacher under your auspices.

David: That’s correct.

Raphael: And that’s not an arbitrary idea that they held about whether or not they knew enough. There really was something that you as the gatekeeper of LearningMethods know.

David: Do you mean just like there is something, presumably, that the gatekeepers to your rabbinical school knew, which is why they certificated you?

Raphael: Hmmm.

David: But there is another important element here of my assessment of anyone’s competence to teach. In fact, I think it is one of the most important elements.

There is a baseline of things that I need to see someone knowing or being able to do before I would sign off on them, as it were. And one of the most important of these things I need to see is their awareness of, and acceptance of, where they are in their knowledge. Especially that they know the limits of their knowledge — what they don’t know — so that they can keep on growing and learning from where they are. Because, of course, without that, they are not going to go any further from where they already are.

In terms of the future teacher, this element is of far more importance than any of the others. No matter where they started at graduation, if they have an ongoing knowledge of what they need to learn, and willingness to do so, they can make up for any deficiencies they may have had when they became teachers and they will inevitably get better and better as time goes on.

So there are two things a qualified person should have. One is the baseline knowledge which, assuming there was any kind of competence at all among your rabbinical trainers, you did have, otherwise they wouldn’t have given you a diploma that says they’ve seen that you have the skills. The other is the willingness and ability to keep on learning afterwards to deepen and develop your knowledge and wisdom. This is what we are working on now.

Raphael: I have a piece of paper that says that I am wise and a teacher of Judaism.

David: And what tools do you have to keep getting wiser and wiser and more and more skilled from where you were? As I said, unless the school or the people assessing you were completely incompetent or were not seeing the person in front of them, you did have what was necessary to get by, even if it was close.

Raphael: Yes I did. That’s true.

David: So if that is the hurdle beyond which you can call yourself a rabbi, then you are one.

Now you yourself have recognized that you have a limit, or rather an area in which you could learn more, except you are running into this block in going ahead and getting that learning. This is the whole stuff we are exploring, which hopefully, of course, you will get through so you will be free from having these experiences again.

Raphael: Yes, this one’s a block. There are a lot of things I have learned since I left rabbinical school. Who wouldn’t? You have to, because it is not possible to teach everything that needs to be known. In terms of walking into a hospital room, dealing with hospice patients, dealing with kids, dealing with elders, dealing with parents… oy vay… board meetings… There’s a million things that I’ve learned lots and lots and lots more about and I continue to learn lots and lots and lots about it. I don’t have the knots in my kishka about it.

David: Notice you said that you have learned a lot more about these things than some people who have spent their time in a different direction, learning all the Hebrew or the ancient texts or whatever else.

Raphael: Yes, I just don’t care that much about what Maimonides says.note1

David: If you don’t care that much, why is it important?

Raphael: Because I can’t do it!

David: Yet…

Raphael: Yet…

David: If you wanted to, you could at the very least begin to see how well you could learn and if you did that you certainly would find out if you can learn Hebrew and at what speed that learning occurred. But it appears that you have, for a lack of a better term, a framework or way of seeing things, a way of hitting those moments, that causes such a reaction that you can’t then take those steps.

It is very important that you understand these things. Not only so that you can get free from it personally, but also, to the extent that you can understand it, you’ll have the possibility as a teacher of helping somebody else to also get free from it. Because this is not small stuff. And a lot of people are suffering under similar things and need help.

Raphael: It is not just that I can’t do it. It is also a whole philosophy about being a Jew and being in the hierarchy, you know, the whole… So it is not just that I can’t read it in the original, it is that I don’t really care that much about how the Aristotelian ideas moved into Judaism and the interpretation of Jewish law through this particular guy Maimonides who was a heavy hitternote1. The whole system of thought doesn’t intrigue me and doesn’t appeal to me and I don’t really care that much.

David: So what’s the problem in that?

Raphael: Yes right, what is the problem? I don’t remember anymore.

David: If what you are actually saying is that that is not that important to you…

Raphael: I still would really like, when somebody says to me when did Maimonides live or what does Jewish law say about blah-blah-blah, or what do Jews think about ya-da-ya-da, that I have a cognitive basis out of which I can respond and say, well if you were to look in such-and-such a place it says so-and-so, rather than feeling like, "Oh my God, I don’t know the answer to that question. I’m failing yet again!"

David: OK. It is one thing to know those things and you might, if you are interested, learn them. But if in fact they are the ones asking and they are the ones interested, do you have to know it in order to tell them where they can go to learn it for themselves if they wanted to?

You say that you are not even interested in it. Why would you want to know something you are not interested in if there are other things you would rather do?

Raphael: Because I am supposed to…ha ha! I am a rabbi. There is a certain body of knowledge I am supposed to have mastered.

David: Says who?

Raphael: I don’t know. I don’t remember any more who said it.


David: I can tell you one person I have heard say it.

Raphael: Who might that be?

David: One of those wise rabbis…


Raphael: It really can’t be this vicious a circle can it? I like his vicious circle better [referring to a previous piece of work]. It was his!


 ... Article continued in part 4 ...

part 1    part 2    part 3    part 4



(note 1)  Maimonides — Moses ben Maimon, 1135-1204—was a great Jewish philosopher who, among many other things, argued that what is most rationally convincing here and now, however much it may go against tradition, is the way we must use our God-given intelligence to understand the natural world. He also suggested that until better explanations came along, the biblical explanation was the one he intended to follow. go back to text


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

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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.

For the last 6 years, 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 and work, as well as a group for those who want to go on to train as LearningMethods teachers.

E-mail:     Telephone: +1 416-519-5470
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