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  The LearningMethods Library

Almost Dying in a Foreign Language

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.


The session:

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 at this point I wouldn’t even be qualified to start…

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 that background.

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 are you…?

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, no.

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 itself?

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.

Raphael:  Right.

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?

Raphael:  Yes.

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 languageand 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 what happened.

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 get it.

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 told me.

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 probably manage.

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 eliminated.

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 first saying.

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 the curve’?

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 it best…

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 do that.

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 don’t.

Raphael:  Correct.

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 don’t you?

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?

Raphael:  Stupid.

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?

Raphael:  Absolutely!

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 it, 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.


Margaret: Where does vision come in, or making goals?

David: Something that is absolutely essential if we are to understand and solve our problems is to not forget that we are dealing with a specific situation here, not a generality. What you are asking now is about a different situation than this one. Someone with a vision of what they want or someone making a goal is not someone in the middle of emotional distress or being blocked from learning. To understand the nature of that one, we'd need to have an actual person with a vision or in the midst of making a goal and explore specifically what is happening for them.

This is why I have said there is nothing wrong with the word ‘should'. It has a perfectly appropriate use in the language. But, when you know you have a problem and you are exploring to find out what it is all about, and in that context those kind of red-flag words pop up, then you want to be alerted enough by them to look underneath and see if it is one of those kind of situations where a dearly-held idea has acquired the power to make the reality seem wrong and to stir up emotional reactions.

As Raphael can testify, these emotional reactions are not minor feelings, and they have the power to stop you from doing the very learning that, if you did it, would lead you in six months or a year into a totally different place where you wouldn't even have those feelings because Hebrew would then be as easy for you as it is for your study partner.

Raphael: You know, I think I may have internalised something that the Dean said to me once. I was required to have special tutoring by the faculty in order to continuing in good standing in the college. And the tutor, instead of helping me to learn the language just did the translation for me, so all I did was take notes. So I've had experiences where I thought I was learning but I wasn't.

And the Dean asked me one day how was it going? And I said, "I am doing a whole lot better than I was when I first got here." Which was true, because I had been learning and the more I learn, the more I learn and I do know a whole lot more and after having been a rabbi for almost 20 years I am actually a really good rabbi. I don't have the Hebrew skills that I should have, but anyway that's beside the point. I have been learning and I have been growing and it has been changing.

So I said to the Dean, "I know a whole lot more and I am doing better", and he replied, "Knowing more than what you did when you first came is not the issue. The people out there aren't going to know where you were when you started. They are not going to say, ‘oh, he is so much smarter than he was before'. They are going to have an expectation of your capabilities from the onset."

So, perhaps I have internalised that conversation.

David: Well, other people might or might not have an expectation, but what relevance does that have to you?

Raphael: Much relevance… OK, how do I explain this?

David: By the way, we are now beginning to get into the other side of what you brought up earlier about your assumptions about other people's expectations about what you should know. We didn't get into it much at the time, but the thread has led us back to it now.

Raphael: There are pragmatic realities that I am responding to. Two situations come to mind immediately. One is when I was a rabbi for a while in Manchester and I am doing a sermon dialogue which is my style. We are doing the question and answer part with the congregation and a 12 year old child who hadn't yet had her Bat Mitzvah is learning in the day school and she's asking me a question about the Talmud and Jewish law. I don't even know as much as she knows in order to ask me the question, let alone how to answer it and here I am in public.

David: You have just told us a fact. Is there a problem with that fact?

Raphael: [Laughs] The problem with that fact is that anybody who is a rabbi should not bested by a 12 year old in terms of text studying knowledge of Jewish law. But the game is to attack the rabbi and try to score points. Because the rabbi in the Jewish world is the supreme scholar. The rabbi is the top of the hierarchy.

David: "Anybody who is a rabbi should not bested by a 12 year old." So is this another idea or construct you have?

Raphael: Yes, we are back to an idea again.

David: And is it the actual reality in the entire rabbinical field that all rabbis are supreme scholars, except for you?

Raphael: No.

David: So what are we talking about here?

Raphael: We are talking about how I don't want to get clumped in with the ignoramuses who are rabbis. I don't want to be considered an ignoramus. [Laughs] OK, yeah, there are rabbis who are stupider than me. But I want to play with the big boys, I don't want play with the dumb ones.

David: So what would it take for you to fulfil that desire?

Raphael: Well, there we come to the other half of the problem. I was on my way towards the solution, but it seems that the world at large is in my way. I applied for and was accepted to study in Israel for a month this summer all expenses paid. And I was thinking, Aha, now I can learn Hebrew. I have never been to Israel longer than the time I was in the hospital. So I haven't had the experience of Israel that is so normative with my colleagues, which is to spend a year or more there.

David: Sorry, but the question I asked is what would it take for you to reach the level that you want to reach?

Raphael: Yeah, I am getting there. It takes studying and it takes studying in a environment where I won't be shamed by what I don't know and Israel is the best place to study…

David: For the moment let's just take it bit by bit. In other words, it would take you studying. It takes you learning what you don't know at this moment.

Raphael: Right.

David: Is there any way to get there without taking that step? The learning step?

Raphael: No… have to learn.

David: If you took the steps, the first step you'd learn a little bit and the next step you'd learn a little bit more and the next more and at some point you'd be on your way to where you want to go. But it appears that you run into something here that stops you from starting those learning steps.

If I heard you correctly, it appears to be those bad feelings. And what we are exploring at the moment is where the bad feelings come from. Whether they are because of these ideas of what you should have known but don't, or the ideas of how quickly you have to learn but didn't, or about other people's expectations that are stopping you from taking those steps from where you are — the simple first step that you can take?

Raphael: Yup. Yup. The shame is very powerful.

David: OK. Let's take a moment with that one. You have just said what I call an unfinished sentence. You have named a powerful experience you have — shame. But you haven't finished the sentence to say what the shame is an experience of.

What is shame? What is actually going on when you have that experience? Ashamed of what?

Raphael: This is coming back to the same place. Shame of not knowing and being shamed — actively being put down by somebody else.

David: Has there actually been somebody putting you down?

Raphael: Oh yes, all through rabbinical school. My first year instructor had a primo reputation for embarrassing people and putting them down, not unlike what happens to many doctoral students and doctoral candidates along the way. It is partly an academic game, but, yes… daily.

David: I suppose one could call it a game until you look at the consequences. It might be a game for him, but how much of a game was it for you?

Raphael: No, not a game for me, no.

David: So, at the very least we are looking at extremely bad teaching. In fact, I wouldn't even call that teaching. That's not an instructor, that's more of a destructor.

Raphael: I was well schooled in knowing that I didn't know.

David: This kind of mistreatment is a very important thing to see through, because there is certainly no end of that sort of ‘teaching' around. Probably all of us here have experienced it in some way or another. It can be very powerful stuff that can have a long-lasting effect as you can see.

But it has relatively little to do with you if someone else fails to see where you are in your learning and consequently fails to help you move from where you are to somewhere else. In that sense it doesn't reflect anything on you or your ability, but it sure says a lot about him.

Raphael: So why have I taken this in and taken this on, again and again, oppressed, repressed depressed, suppressed… pained… been deeply pained by it?

[Pause for an emotional moment…]

David: Well you have at least a little bit of an answer from what we've found here already. Because, notice, if you have those ideas that come up in the moment — those ‘I should have known', ‘I have to learn quickly' ideas — then at the very moment when you have those, they are not just ideas. There is an entire set of experiences that go with it — shame, feeling stupid, frustration. Those experiences are very real and quite powerful, and if you misattribute them and you think they say something about you, you end up actually identifying with them.

This reinforces the ‘I should know' idea so the next time the not-knowing situation happens, you think the same way and have the same experience. In that sense, the idea quickly becomes a ‘reality' — for you. After all, there is no ‘reality' like an experience, or to put it differently, there is nothing like a powerful experience to make something seem like a reality — even if it isn't.

Of course, the experience you are having is definitely very real, but it is not about what you think it is about. It is not at all an accurate description about your intelligence or your ability to learn, but it is certainly a very real experience.

A moment ago you said a very interesting thing when you said, "I am a very good rabbi, I just don't know the Hebrew." But then contrast that with your statements about what a rabbi ‘should know'. And yet here you are a rabbi, and a very good one by your own admission. You just have this particular territory of your Hebrew knowledge that could be improved.

Now take in that you have had a number of actual experiences in the past with that instructor (and perhaps other ones) who did say very direct and belittling things to you. You thought they shamed you and put you down.

But it is an interesting thing to consider that they didn't see the situation accurately either. They thought you should be somewhere more knowledgeable, when in fact reality at the moment was showing them (and you) that you were here not there. Unfortunately though, rather than do their job of helping you move from where you were, they ‘put you down'.

However, can you really put somebody down if where you are putting them down to is where they already are? It's only a ‘down' from their inaccurate expectations of some sort of ‘up' where you weren't.

But because of your ‘should' ideas and these painful past experiences, every time you hit another moment when you don't know the Hebrew, you feel as if someone is putting you down or judging you even when you may not know exactly what they are thinking. This, of course, stirs your emotions up again and reinforces the feelings and the ideas.

Raphael: Well, then I have the internal jury…

David: But if you feel the same sort of shame and put-down-ness from your internal jury, then you're really saying that now your own thinking has the ability to reinforce this circle and stir up the emotions you go through because of it, even when there's no actual external person putting you down. Nothing except your own framework of thinking.

You may not have an answer for this and there may be no way to know without trying it, but here's a question for you to think about. What might happen if that internal jury was not there judging according to the ‘should'? If instead you simply recognized, "Oh, here is the level of my knowledge", and for instance when your study partner says it is easy, you might say back to him, "Well, it's not easy for me. It might be easy for you because you had a different background that I didn't have."

Notice, in that situation there is no one putting anyone down and no one being put down. There might, in fact, be sympathy from him, or understanding, or who knows what. That would be a very different situation.

In other words, you are right, you have the internal ‘jury' which reconstructs it as if the same thing was happening again, when in fact no other person has done anything, outside of your own thinking.

Raphael: No other person is currently doing anything. They have in the past, and they may quite easily in the future.

David: But they may not. Notice your framework doesn't acknowledge a ‘may or may not'. So you don't get a chance to actually find out. With that framework you automatically assume it is déjà vu all over again and automatically jump to the conclusion of being shamed and put down and so out come all those emotions and feelings again, even before it happens.

Raphael: Yes, but there really is an external reality. When I go to rabbinical conferences or a study session and they don't hand out a translation, I am lost.

David: That's a fact. One implication of that fact, as you said before, would be to do the study so that in six months or a year from now you wouldn't be so lost. End of the problem.

Raphael: I acknowledged that studying and learning the language is a remedy to the situation. But I don't live in such a world where I can simply immerse myself in the study of Hebrew for a year, and even if I could, I don't think a year's immersion would bring me to the level where I should be at.

‘Should'… I know, I heard the should.

David: Good. That's why I'm pointing it out each time, so that you will begin to hear it yourself on your own.

Well, I just picked those figures of six months to a year out of the air. But the point is, whatever you could do would be an improvement from where you are now and whatever you can do after that would be an improvement again. You would be doing that which is actually possible. Is there anything else that is actually possible?

Raphael: Yes, I could continue to avoid situations that require text study.


David: Yeah, you could do that. But would that solve anything? Other than to keep the same lack of knowledge there that would keep you from your desire, as you called it, to ‘play with the big boys'? It would preclude the movement of learning, and it sounds like as long as you keep those other ideas intact then any time a similar situation came up, you would feeling the same shame — of being an impostor rabbi.

Raphael: And we still then come back to the emotional reality which in most cases prevents me from asking for help. So let me follow though with another concrete one. I have been given this opportunity to study in Israel this summer. Given the situation, I don't know what to do. The anxiety is building…

David: Let's just go back to when you said the emotional reality stops you. What exactly is the ‘reality' part of the emotional reality that prevents you from asking for help?

Raphael: OK. So the possibility is that I will go to Israel for this program and that I will stay a second month and study. A friend of mine is the assistant director at a school in Jerusalem. She has suggested that I would love that program; the teachers are great, and you take a language exam and they assign you to a level. So I wrote back and I say, so tell me…

[pause] Sorry… emotions…

Am I really going to be able to study there, or will the teachers shame me for what I don't know?

David: You are speaking as if the teachers might shame you. How can a teacher shame you?

Raphael: Been there, had that.

David: The teacher can say certain things, but the shame is your response. I can think of a situation where the teacher could say the same thing to someone else who just happened to have the same level of knowledge — or lack of knowledge — that you have, but that somebody will not have any experience of shame.

James: So you are saying, David, that a teacher could have the intention to shame somebody else but it is the actual taking in of that shame and accepting that attempt to shame you that causes the experience of shame?

David: Yes, well sort of, depending on what you mean. Notice the implication here is that the shame is caused by the teacher. "The teacher is shaming me." But does the shame come from the teacher, or does the shame come from the idea that I should already know this?

It doesn't even matter if what the teacher said was, "You should know this, are you an idiot or what?" Take my example of someone with the same lack of knowledge as you who goes into the same situation. The difference is that this person doesn't have the same set of ‘I should' ideas as you do. This person is in the same classroom and he knows what he knows and he also knows what he doesn't know and he knows he needs to learn.

Then if such a teacher said, "You should know this, are you an idiot?", he wouldn't feel shamed, he would just say, "Well, I'm sorry, but I don't. That's why I am here for help. Will you help me?" With a subtext of, "Either you are going to help me or you're not. And if you are not going to help me, what kind of teacher are you?"

So the teacher may be saying whatever they are saying with whatever intent they may have, but our person wouldn't be feeling ashamed unless he also had some idea that he should know something which he doesn't know.

What's the shame in knowing what you know and not knowing what you don't know? That's just where you're at. That's why you are there — to learn.

It's essential to see this clearly, because otherwise you will be taking it into yourself as if you have done something wrong. But if you look closely, any teacher who would say something like that has a big problem. They've done something virtually unforgivable as a teacher — to make a student feel bad for being where they are. Their job is to help you, not to make you feel bad.

But when they've come out with rubbish like that, you tend to see it as something wrong with you. You don't see it as something that they did and talk to them about it, or get out of there, or complain because that's extremely bad teaching and it's abusive to boot.

And by the way, it doesn't say a single thing about you, but says a huge amount about them.

Raphael: So shame is a response to a perceived situation, or to an actual situation. Nobody can shame me unless I allow them to shame me.

David: I would say nobody can shame you regardless of what you do. Shame doesn't came from them. It comes from your ideas that you shouldn't be where you are.

Put another way, use my example again… If somebody went into that same class who knew exactly what he knew and didn't think he should be anywhere else, and knew what he didn't know and who was there to learn, why would there be any shame? Where would the shame be, no matter what anyone else said? How can you be shamed unless you feel that you are somehow somewhere you shouldn't be?

The bad teacher didn't cause the shame, though they are making the same mistake as you are of thinking you should know what you don't. Unfortunately, it is exactly that kind of attitude and statements from others that bring up the shame feelings in anybody who has this idea that they should be somewhere they are not.

To prove this, all you would need to do is change the way you see the whole thing and you wouldn't feel any shame at all, no matter what someone else said. You'd simple recognize what they said as very unconstructive teaching that isn't helping you learn.

Do you see the point I am making?

Raphael: I see the point, and as a teacher I understand that it is the job of the teacher to teach. And my experience in seminary and upper level educational experiences is that there is a culture of who knows the most, who has the most, who is the cleverest, who is the best writer, who is the whatever — a kind of academic machismo, if you will.

David: Well, I would say it is more an academic insecurity. The way you have just described it is how it may look from the outside, but think where that attitude comes from on the inside… It must be coming from some insecurity or tiredness or frustration which is sitting squarely in those academics.

Alastair: Where are we now in term of process?

David: In the larger sense we are exploring to help Raphael see what it is that is stopping him from doing the learning of Hebrew. The learning which, it seems inescapable, is the only pathway that would lead towards what he wants. Knowledge of the language would be very helpful in what he does but he doesn't have it at this moment, and in the real world you can only get it by getting it step by step. But something appears to be blocking him from taking those steps, and we are exploring what that is.

So far it appears to be his own conceptual framework that's stopping him. Under that framework we are seeing a number of places where there are misattributions or misperceptions of the feelings — experiences that are not quite about what he thought there were.

Margaret: You don't include history at all? The history of an adult saying to a child, "You're naughty when you do that." People have had that experience of directly being shamed: "You are a bad person for doing that, you are bad, that's a bad thing to do, don't do that again." The feeling has some history and that's not important for the process?

David: Oh yes, and I acknowledge that. I'm the first to acknowledge that this is huge stuff. But notice, is what the adult says actually accurate? Are you actually bad? Is the kid bad because he took the cookies? Or do we have an adult here who is mistaking the whole situation?

Where is the badness here? In the child or in the act? Seems to me that the act of taking the cookies may have been bad, especially if he was told not to. But the child himself is not bad. So the second way you phrased that may be more accurate: "That's a bad thing to do, don't do that again." That's something a kid could learn from and maybe change his future actions.

But the first one: "You are a bad person for doing that." What can a child do with that if they take it in? Probably end up thinking his very nature is bad? Get into a struggle trying to change himself? And how does he do that? Try to be good? But if he's come to believe he is bad, that doesn't change him into being good. He's just a bad kid trying to act good…

Margaret: But that feeling is sometimes overwhelming for a person who is not able to see that?

David: Yes, it certainly can be and often is. But in what context is it overwhelming? That is, why does it become overwhelming for that person? If you look closely, is it only overwhelming if you do actually take it on that maybe you yourself are bad? This is what we've been looking at here. That could certainly be overwhelming, especially for a youngster who is dependent on being loved, not being rejected for being bad.

However, if it was stated accurately by the parent that your actions of taking the cookie may have been bad, then that's just a small matter of what you did for a few moments and can be opened up as a learning moment so that you can simply change your next actions. If it's just your actions and not you who is bad, why would it be overwhelming? Especially if love for the child is shown all the way through and it is just disapproval of the actions.

In Raphael's case, what's to be ashamed of in not knowing something? It even makes sense that he wouldn't know it, given his background. It's just a fact. Mind you, it is an awkward fact for him because he's put off learning it for quite a while now, and it will get more awkward the longer he puts it off.

Raphael: Bingo.

David: But nevertheless, it is still a fact. And an important one we cannot avoid.

And if we're looking closely here it also becomes unavoidable that your overwhelming feeling of shame — not as it was years ago but as it is reinforced and recreated at each moment — comes from your framework that this is actually about you, about your intelligence or your learning ability. Isn't this clear from the number of examples when this feeling comes up and there isn't anybody else there at all except for your framework of thinking?

It's essential to realize that the power of these long-standing problems is not because of the past. It's because it has been recreated each time since that it is still powerful now. Or to put it slightly differently, every time that you re-experience it powerfully, it is not the past that is causing it anymore, it is your current misperception or misattribution that is responsible.

This is not a theoretical idea of mine, by the way. We've seen it right here each time by just exploring closely what you are actually thinking in that present moment.

If your ‘I should know it' idea and that resulting feeling hadn't been recreated and reinforced over and over again in each present moment, the whole thing would have be long forgotten. This is another of our wonderful human characteristics — the ability to forget things that are no longer relevant to us.

Raphael: You know, right now the feeling gets in the way of being able to hear you. Literally it is like the fog. The shame that comes up from that old habit — the feeling is so intense — that I can't even hear what you're saying.

David: Yes, I can appreciate that from my own experience and from working with others, so there is no rush to get to anywhere here. We can take all the time in the world and say it as many times as necessary and go over it as much as we need.

Margaret: So you are modelling this non-shaming learning…

David: Yes, I suppose I am. You're very perceptive.

Don: I see a real confrontation of ideas between David and Raphael as to what is an accurate picture of reality here.

Raphael: It is not a confrontation of ideas I am resisting. What I am hearing, and of course I may not hear it correctly, but what I am hearing is that the shame is not coming from the outside, it is coming from the inside. And if it is coming from the inside, then I ought to be able to change it.

David: You can.

Lisa: What is the it?

Raphael: The shame. The shame is coming from the inside not from the outside, But then I get a little angry. I think that you're not really hearing me.

David: Understandable, but here's a chance to go over it again. If you went into the situation where some teacher was saying to you, "You should know that, you are a rabbi!" And if, in that situation, you were to say, "Well, I am a rabbi, and I don't know that, and I am here to learn — that's where I'm actually at." Where would the shame be in that?

Raphael: If I could see it that clearly there would be no shaming in it.

David: That's where we are headed — for you to see it that clearly. In fact we are already almost there. Notice that what I just said was simply describing the facts. You are a rabbi. And you don't know as much Hebrew as you need. And you do want to learn. Those are simply facts. I am not saying anything other than facts.

And another fact is that you are there to get some help, hopefully. As opposed to have somebody telling you that you should be somewhere where you are not.

This is important because if you are actually going into a potential learning situation like that and you happen to be carrying around these kind of ideas and feelings where you could feel shamed by someone, then you are in a very helpless position. In a very real sense, you're justified in being afraid of that situation because if those heavy-duty emotional reactions really could happen and you had no control over whether it does happen, and if it was that overwhelming for you, then who on earth would want to put themselves in that kind of situation?

Raphael: Yes!

David: The anxiety is quite literally justified… but only if the way you see it is the true and actual reality that was there.

Raphael: I think it is the reality that is there, and I think that what you are suggesting is that my individual response could ameliorate that reality.

David: No, not at all. What I mean is that if that really was a reality that some outside person could make you ashamed, you'd be justified in being anxious. And you do happen to think that this is the reality. But everything we are uncovering here shows that this is misconceived. It is not the reality. So, I'm not after you changing your response. I'm after you seeing clearly what is the reality. Then you won't even have that response.

It is true that when a teacher has acted toward you that way, you have had a shamed feeling. It might well be true that those kinds of bullying teachers are quite common, but how does that force you to feel ashamed?

Like my example before, I can easily imagine another person with a very different attitude who could go into the same situation with a teacher like that and end up with a very different set of feelings — no shame at all. The same teacher ‘does' the same thing to both of you, yet the two of you have different responses.

When this happens, how could it be the teacher who causes the shame? That is impossible. It can't be. If the teacher caused the shame, then it would happen to everyone they act that way towards. But the feeling of shame doesn't happen to this other person because he has a different point of view.

So it's the point of view that causes the shame, not the teacher. I can't see any way around that one, can you?

Raphael: No, well, I don't know. I don't know. I want to learn, teach me.

I've grappled with this one. Victor Frankel basically says similar things to this, that no one can take away your humanity from you unless you allow them to. He was responding to his experience in the camps in World War II. The Nazis could take away everything from him except his control over his response to the situation. I think that he is brilliant, and I think I would have crumbled long since. I think there are people in the world who rely on being able to create a certain reaction and I am hearing you say that the response of shame is my response and that I can unlearn that response to a given situation.

David: See, this is where you have it turned around for yourself. You believe it is a response to the situation, and as long as you do, you'll have that response. They go together.

But what I'm showing you is that the shame is not a response to the situation. It is a reaction to the framework you have that you should be somewhere else in your knowledge than where you are. It is the inevitable feeling you will have if that is the framework you bring into those moments when the reality is that you don't know the language but the idea is that you should. Anybody carrying that idea into that situation would have the same sort of reaction.

[To the group:] I am sure you can all relate to this sort of thing yourselves.

Lisa: It's not like you're trying to change the response in a indirect way. It's understanding what it is a response of…?

David: Yes, yes. Showing you that with that framework of ‘I should…', you will have that reaction every time and…

Raphael: Can you say that again? Anybody with the same framework… And the framework is: ‘I should…'?

David: Anybody hitting the situation where the reality is what it is and yet they think it should be something else — in this particular case where you don't know something but you think you should — would have a similar reaction because of that ‘should' framework.

By the way, we are still exploring the process tool of red-flag words and why they are important to catch. Because if you don't wake up to them you can't explore under them enough to start to see how accurate or inaccurate your ideas and points of view are to the situation.

Notice when we caught the red-flag words and did a little systematic digging, we quickly found that the problem is that you are attributing the shame feeling to the ‘not-knowing Hebrew (…when you should)'. As we explore around it more the question gets raised: can that feeling of shame be coming from not-knowing Hebrew or is it coming from the fact that you think you should and yet you don't?

Because, as you said yourself when I asked you before, "If you hit that moment and didn't have that ‘I should' idea, would you have any feeling of shame?" And you said something like, "I don't know, I might have feelings of excitement about learning or I may not want to learn, but shame it is not one of the feelings that might come up. Excitement or interest or boredom maybe, but not shame."

Lisa: Also the power of the should is that it seems the reality then becomes unacceptable. That this should is the only acceptable thing. It is not that you say that you don't want to learn or, yes it would be great to know Hebrew. It's ‘I should', which makes the reality of where you are actually at unacceptable. I'm clarifying this for myself, but I can ask it as a question: when you are at the level you are at with your Hebrew and you have this idea that you should be at a different level with it, how does that ‘should' idea then make the reality seem?

Raphael: My experience of this dilemma is not a cognitive one. My experience of the dilemma is not that I hold an idea of a certain level of achievement. My experience is that I open a prayer book and the habit of my childhood of just having to try to make the right sounds is dominant as opposed to connecting to the page and the words as an actual language. So that I don't experience the language as a language. I experience it as a set of sounds that carries me somewhere.

My experience when I prepare my weekly Torah study for the students is that I don't access the Hebrew language, I don't access the text of the Torah, of the Bible, in its original without using English. My experience when I try to do Talmud which is mostly in Aramaic, or these texts that I am studying with my partner over the phone, is that I am illiterate. I can't access the language.

My experience in the Hebrew classes that I am taking now at the college is a different kind of experience altogether, which is an interesting one that somehow, since I am able to say quite easily, well, I am a rabbi but I don't know modern Hebrew. The study of modern Hebrew is not quite so loaded for me, so I am actually being able to learn the language and use all kinds of vocabulary that I had accumulated over the years and bring into this experience of the modern Hebrew.

And I am having Aha moments with grammatical things like how you do the definite noun phrase. I didn't even know what a definite noun phrase was few weeks ago, but now I have learned what a definite noun phrase is and when I see it I can get it. But primarily my experience is that I am illiterate. And I am a very literate person in English and I hate being illiterate in Hebrew!

So that's my experience. But what David is suggesting to me is that the emotions of shame come from a cognitive framework of ‘I don't know but I should know' and therefore I feel ‘arrrgggh'!

But I am not having that cognitive experience of the idea of shouldness. I am having an actual experience of not being able to penetrate a text when I am used to being able to access the written word. And the written word — not only in Hebrew but in the Jewish tradition — is vastly significant.

David: But if you are having an experience of not being able to penetrate it, how does shame come into that?

Raphael: I'm stupid… because I should be able to… Ahhh! [laughing]

David: You see, you're starting to catch the red-flag words.

You say, "I'm stupid because I should be able to…", but look really closely here. I propose to you that the feeling of stupid comes because of that idea.

"I'm stupid because I should be able to…", as opposed to, "It is simply a fact that this is the level of my knowledge at this point."

Notice you just described a situation where your framework is more accurate and accepting of the facts — that you don't know modern Hebrew — so you can go ahead easily. It is interesting to learn and you progress. And there is no shame. On the other hand, the framework that you ‘should' know the rabbinical Hebrew when in fact you don't know it, gives you the shame and stops you from progressing.

If you had the same attitude as you do with the modern Hebrew, is there any reason when you think about it, why your other Hebrew learning wouldn't be just as interesting and you would also be progressing?

I think what Lisa was saying, or at least the opposite side of what I understood, is that if you didn't have those ideas of what you should do, where would you be but accepting where you are? Here is what you do know and here is what you don't know. You would accept that this is where you are, since it is, in fact, where you are. You could then move from where you are to the next step.

Raphael: OK! I give up. I agree. The problem is my cognitive framework. Now what? How do I unwire it? It seems to be infused in me like a tea bag in water.

David: Yes, I'm sure it is and it's something that has been probably reinforced many times and it has been reinforced all the more powerfully because there are huge emotions that go with it.

There is nothing like an actual experience to make something seem real, especially if you misattribute the experience as if it has to do with your level of knowledge, your intelligence, or your stupidity — until you actually start to believe that you are that. But the point here is not specifically how to disengage it, the point is to actually see that it is only an idea you hold — an inaccurate idea. It is not the reality!

You know what you know and you don't know what you don't know. That's the reality. And your idea is not just an idea. It is a particular sort of idea. It is not: "Oh I don't know this, but some other people do" or: "I don't know it, but it might be kind of nice to." It is: "I don't know and I should know it."

If you really pause a moment to think of the implications of this kind of should. What you are saying is that there is something wrong with the situation as it is because it should be a different situation. It shouldn't be this one. It is exactly saying, ‘This reality is wrong to be this way, it should be or has to be another way."

Literately, it is a fixed idea. You are holding on to that idea very, very strongly as to what should be, and judging reality as being wrong because it isn't what should be, and then going through big emotional reactions because of this. That's the very essence of this problem.

But reality is what it is — you learn at the speed you learn; you don't learn any faster. To the degree that the idea is fixed, the idea will be held onto in the face of repeated experiences that show you that reality is not what the idea says. And in spite of having these experiences over and over, you never get to take in what reality is because the idea is always making reality seem wrong. Consequently the idea gets more fixed and every time you hit that situation, reality seems wrong again and isn't what it should be and this generates the shame and frustration experiences, which as long as you interpret them as being caused by not knowing the language, will reinforce you to experience it the same way the next time…

Do you see how it works? Soon you end up where the idea acquires more ‘reality' than the actual reality. And you are stuck in an endless series of trying to change the reality to match the idea, which would be very wonderful if you could manage it. But notice, reality seems to be most uncooperative in matching itself to your idea. And through all of this, it has never occurred to you to really look at these two and see which one is real and which one is an idea. So you've been truly stuck in it.

If you had the tools to explore it carefully and get outside the preconceptions as we are learning to do now, then you'd easily see what is real and what is the idea. This is what unfixes the idea from seeming like the reality you think it is. Then, rather than trying to get reality to change to suit your ideas, you could perhaps operate the other way around and let the idea shift to match the reality. Then there'd be no conflict and no reactions and no problem.

Raphael: And so I'm now wanting to resist you completely. I am seeing in my peripheral vision Rebecca stretching and I'm thinking of all the dancers I've known where there was a certain level of physical flexibility in the body and strength and endurance and grace required in order to be a dancer. If you put ten people in front of an audience you would probably have the audience saying that x-percentage of them really were dancers and x-percentage hadn't quite got there yet. I think that with the Hebrew there is a reality there. The parallel of putting myself on stage as an accomplished performer and I am not!

David: Why are you putting yourself on stage as an accomplished performer when you are not?

Rebecca: Because I'm a rabbi!

David: But you're not being the rabbi that you are, you are trying to be some rabbi that you are not.

Raphael: I know, but rabbi-ness like dancer-ness has a certain set of implications to it.

David: Notice you have another idea here — of what rabbi-ness is. Are you saying that if whoever is in control of assigning and/or taking away rabbi-ness knew where you were they would take it away?

Raphael: No, they can't!! haha!

David: So where did you get this idea about the definition of rabbi-ness, especially when you see that there are other rabbis that don't even know as much as you do?

Raphael: But those are reform rabbis and I am not a reform rabbi.

David: Ahh, does that mean you're an unreformed rabbi then?


Raphael: My apologies to any reform rabbis who might be listening. Many of them are much smarter than me and have more skills.

David: Let me just say something here on the process level. Something I can speak about from my teaching experience and which I think is important to mention now.

We were working this morning with someone else whose issue was being caught up in a circular problem — where his way of seeing things takes him around and around in a circle. When somebody is caught in such a circular issue, the problem more often than not isn't one of avoidance or resistance, though that may also be there in some cases. It is more that somebody is truly caught in something that they can't see their way out of. They are in a maze. They are in a labyrinth. Every time they think they are heading for the exit, they end up over here back in the circle with the symptoms again. It is the nature of that one until you work out how to escape from it.

Don: Yes, and the intention is to get out of the maze, it is just you miss the door every time.

David: Eventually through exploring and exposing these vicious circles, you'll know the nature of them and understand how you keep caught in them and how to liberate yourself from them.

Here we've uncovered another bit of it. The very essence of this circle is that the ‘should' thing seems more real than the reality — literally. Reality does seem wrong and you are not the only person in such a circle who is going to keep on insisting that the way you see it is a reality and that you really should know it. That's why you are caught in it, because you have such a degree of forceful fixedness on the ‘should'. If you didn't have so much certainty in the ‘it has to be like this', you wouldn't be caught in a circle and it wouldn't be vicious.

I already know this from helping others, so I know that this is what is going to happen. That in our process here we do need to go around it all more than a few times because you do really need to take in the degree to which you hold the ‘it should be like this'. We don't say these words for nothing. "It has to be like this", and you really do think that is the way it should be.

Lisa: And it should already be that now, it's not like something for the future…

David: Yes, these are real words, with a real meaning for him.

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…

Alastair: 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.

Alastair: 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 just saw 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 keeps 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 others 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 am I 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?

Alastair: 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 what 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 though 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 actually is what 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 an 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 the 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 moments 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 a 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   popup 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 though this particular guy Maimonides who was a heavy hitter. note1   popup note1 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!


David: If you are not even interested in that whole ancient text territory, does that mean that, in fact, that territory is not as relevant and important to you as some other territory?

Raphael: Yes, in fact, that's true. It was true when I was studying in rabbinical school and it continues to be true.

David: Is that not a valid point of view? One that could also be stated to somebody who might have a different emphasis. If that's really your point of view of what's important, what does it matter what somebody else's point of view of what's important is? I am asking that as an actual question…

Raphael: I'm not an academic in the field of Jewish studies who is studying a piece of the 4000 years worth of tradition that I am most interested in and becoming expert in that, but I do carry a responsibility by becoming a rabbi. By choosing to be a rabbi, I do carry the responsibility of passing on the tradition, even though in my passing it on I automatically interpret it. I automatically filter it through my sense of self — my present moment self — which is different than who I was 20 years ago.

David: If that's your sense of your responsibility, then why not carry it out?

Raphael: Because I am a tired middle age guy and there is only so much I can keep learning and knowing and passing on. That sounds kind of lame.

Because I can't know it all. That's true. Nobody can know it all. I am happy to look it up for you. I'll tell you next week. How's that?

David: Why can't they look it up themselves?

Raphael: I am happy to tell you how to look it up. Go, leave me alone. Go learn it yourself…

Lisa: Ask if there's anyone in the congregation who knows.


David: Yeah, there's a little 12 year old girl up in Manchester who knows…

[More laughter]

David: There's something else too, when you are talking about passing on a 2000-year old tradition. There may well be a tradition and the tradition needs carrying on if it is to be kept alive. But do you have to be the one that does that particular text part or are there others who could do that bit — the ones who are interested in it? As you put it, can one person do it all or is it a shared thing?

Raphael: It has to be shared.

David: So if it has to be shared, and some people take on some parts of it and other people take on other parts of it, which sort of elements would make more sense for you to take on? The things you are interested in and think are important or the things you don't think are important?

Raphael: Well if you put it that way…


David: If we all took on the responsibility to do the things that we are the most bored by, that would be good, wouldn't it? That would really be equal.

Don: Well somebody's got to do it.

[More laughing]

Raphael: I am almost angered by some of the stuff I'm reading now. That's not necessarily boredom. That's the question.

David: Angered by parts of the tradition you mean?

Raphael: Yes

David: Maybe certain parts of the tradition shouldn't be passed on. Depending on what we mean by tradition, certainly some parts of some traditions shouldn't be passed along, unless we want the same things happening now that happened in the past.

Don: Can I ask you a question?

Raphael: Of course! I am a rabbi, you can ask questions.

Don: Are there texts that you are deeply interested in knowing how to read in the original?

Raphael: Yes. I could read traditional texts that I am interested in. This is like, do you want to read Aristotle or Plato or Shakespeare or Beowulf, that's what we're talking about. But the question is not which writers and what is their viewpoint on the world and what would they say, for instance, about women, but are you able to read the text, are you able to look at the printed squiggles and decipher, decode, translate… Forget about whether or not you like it — can you read it?

David: Let's take a little step back to see where we've come to. Process-wise, as you go through these things you want to be assessing whether the territory that has been revealed is sufficient to cause this problem. There may or may not be something more that emerges later, but in a very practical sense in terms of a piece of work, you've then found something that you can work with.

And in this piece, there is a huge territory in what has come up — in these ‘shoulds' and the idea of rabbi-ness. This is big stuff.

For the rest of you, if you can put yourselves in his place and think, "If I was the one who was in this situation and who had these ideas and these experiences, would that be sufficient to generate the same feelings and stop me from learning?"

One of the main characteristics of this circular thing is that by its very nature it is hard to pin down. By its very nature it will go around like that, which is quite different than some other kinds of issue where you really can get a focal point and follow it straight through to a resolution.

But in circular problems we inevitably keep going back to the same places because that is the way they work. There is no escape from that one until the illusion is seen through. It is just a question of bringing out the central misconception and revealing it again and again in all its detail, until the person themselves begins to make the connection. It is like the penny starts to drop when they can see it for themselves: "Oh yes, I do see it now — when I have those thoughts again, I have those feelings again and that moves me onto the next part… Aha!"

I say it that way because I've run into these circular problems a lot. It is in the nature of it as a piece of work that it takes longer in terms of time to go through. I find them quite interesting, in fact, because often it is very subtle and slippery and even with my experience, it takes me a number times going around the circle before I go, "Hang on, aren't we coming back to the same thing again? There's something circular here."

Of course the main point is not my understanding, it is to help the person whose issue it is to understand what they are caught in. Showing the circularity is an important part of understanding what reinforces the issue. But I agree with Raphael, though, that the main element is what stops him from learning. And this seems to be that red-flag ‘should' — how the world should be, compared to how it actually is.

Alastair: This is really very powerful, because it keeps, really courageously I think, just going right back to it and back to it.

David: I think I know what you mean. We have more days coming up here, and one of the advantages of having a number of people sharing those days is that you will witness a number of different issues, which are really quite different issues with quite different problems with potentially quite different solutions.

Don: What I have been working on for some months in terms of using this work myself is coming to a practical approach in my life that is not run by ideas of my life but run by the experience of my life.

This whole question about how change happens is quite curious for me in terms of what happened with my problem when you helped me get rid of it in one session because it is just mysterious. I've experienced a couple of little things like that on my own where I've gnawed at it and worked on it and worked on it and been rigorous, but I can't say at the end of it that I know what I've done. But then something happens and I realize, oh this is very different and I am not any longer caught by that. I can't really say that those ideas and explorations that I went though added it up to that uncaughtness, but somehow it happened.

David: It is a funny one. You may not know the exact mechanism by which the change took place. You may not even be able to say with any degree of certainty that in any one time the process you went through actually caused that outcome.

Though, we can definitely see that in following this process over enough times we do get relatively consistent kind of changes taking place. And so, something must be going on here, even if we don't know exactly by which mechanism it is achieved.

Sometimes the change is quite obvious and you can see it in an actual activity like the person was doing with their martial arts yesterday. These ones are quite different and very concrete. However, at other times, the main learning comes as a realization that gives you a different point of view on experiences that you have.

So it appears to be in these vicious circles. In these, the point is just to get everything out there on the table clearly enough to see the circularity of it. That you can begin to see that there is something about this whole thing that keeps you going around in circles so that it can't get resolved. The point is to bring you so that you no longer perceive each of those steps as being somehow real, but rather see them as steps that drag you back and reinforce the circle.

This takes the power out of them. That habit can only keep going so long as it can convince you that it is ‘reality'. Even at the moment that you can question it and begin to suspect it, it has lost its main hold over you.

We could probably stop relatively soon now. We've gone as far as we can go for today with this piece and we'll see where Raphael is with it tomorrow or the next day when he's had some sinking-in time.

We're at the end of our red-flag subroutine now. Pretty much everything we uncovered came out of noticing that red-flag word ‘should' and all that was implied in it. I hope you can see how valuable it has been to be able to wake up to it and follow it like a thread off into the unknown. Eventually that thread ravels through the whole issue and led us here.

We've done two days out of five and we've had three pieces of work. I would like, of course, the opportunity for everybody in those next days to have an opportunity to bring up something.

Going through more and more pieces of work will highlight some of the kinds of traps that keep us in our problems. We will have more and more shared moments to have a basis upon which to see what happens when we bring our attention systematically and rigorously to the problems we have.

Of course, one workshop may only show you one example of a particular sort of problem. But there's nothing we can do about that unless we want to make up non-existent problems. I get to see the whole range of examples because I see them over and over again in different workshops, and those of you who have been here a few times will be expanding your experiences of what's underneath these issues.

It was interesting for me, and a surprise, when I started to exploring this way years ago to find that there were not an infinite number of problems. It soon became clear that there was a relatively small handful of quite common issues that came up over and over. And conversely, a relatively small handful of tools needed to change things.

We've had a number of those tools come out already and you'll have more opportunities over the next days to recognize them and learn how to use them.

So let's finish for today and if any thoughts or insights come up for you tonight we will start tomorrow morning by looking at them.


Follow up — next day:

Raphael: I did do some studying this morning and last night, and I did notice that I had much more of a curiosity of what the words meant and far less of what an idiot I am that I don't already know this. So, a shift has begun, certainly.

And also, I don't know how this came in, but I have somehow developed more compassion for myself because I am reading the translations in the English and this stuff is fairly impenetrable even in the English! So all the more so how difficult it is in the original language because it is not my language. It's like reading Aristotle.

The stuff that I am working on right now is very complex philosophical material coming from a entirely different world view about the body and the soul and God and all that stuff. And I don't necessarily understand it in English, even if I understand the words.

David: Entirely different writing style from that period too.

Raphael: Absolutely. Right now I'm at least not going, "Ahhhhhh, what an idiot!"

It reminds me that at the time when I went to my particular rabbinical school we were required to get a Masters degree in a non-Judaic discipline in a separate institution in order to qualify for graduation. I got my masters in counselling from another university, which was Catholic, so I'd go from all day in Jewish world, take my yarmulka off and drive across the city and go to the world of the crucifixes and collars. I remember thinking, "Oh, this will be a piece of cake, at least everything is in English." Just because it was in English doesn't mean that studying masters-level material in any field was easy.

David: Notice some things here, if I can recap a bit from yesterday. I'll use an image. Here you are in the landscape of your life like a explorer or a discoverer. You are where you are at the moment, knowing what you know and not knowing what you don't know. But you used to think, "Oh, I should be way over there on the top of that mountain way out ahead of me, five miles away, and I'm still here down on the plain with all these things I have to get past in order to get there."

If you have the framework, ‘I should be way up there on that mountain', notice all the stuff that you have to get through to get there. There's a huge amount of it and you can see why you'd be thinking, ‘Oh, I am stupid. I don't have all of that.'

What you are now experiencing sounds quite different. Now you are more just where you are and in front of you there is the next tree or the next little stream you have to cross. Is that such a big deal? That's not a big thing and you don't have to feel stupid because you are only trying to do that little bit at that moment.

So, of course, if you have your old point of view it makes sense that you would be thinking and feeling those negative things. But now your changing point of view is automatically giving you a different set of experiences and therefore different thoughts and feelings. You are starting to take in your own experience and it is showing you something different. It is no more, "Gee, I'm stupid." It's, "Oh, I can see that. That's kind of interesting. I have just learned that bit."

Raphael: And the mountain loomed so large that you fool yourself about how far you have to go to get even to the base of the mountain because it's so huge and you see it from so far away.

David: And you also only tend to see the mountain, you don't really see all the nice stuff around you at the moment. What you already have — the butterflies and the fish and the little Hebrew words jumping in the stream…


Follow up — second day after:

Raphael: I continue to have different experiences when I am studying now and it is really quite phenomenal.

David: Tell us. It sounds interesting.

Raphael: Well, it is not unlike writer's block. That is, staring at the empty page you get negative feelings about that. Staring at a Hebrew page I used to get a whole set of feelings about it — shame, frustration, embarrassment, judgement about my innate intellectual capacities. And now I am simply bringing curiosity to it: "Well, how does this work." It is just a language. I can decode this. I can decode English to an incredibly subtle level and tune into myth and poetry. I love that stuff.

So it used to be a frustration about not being able to do it. And I am not feeling ashamed anymore about it. I am not feeling ashamed about it sitting by myself with it.

The universe operates in interesting ways. I used to live here in this city, I grew up here so I have a few friends that are still here and yesterday I called this friend who was very intensely involved in my life for the three or four years before I went to rabbinical school. She didn't answer my phone call, and, OK, she is a little spacey and we see each other once every two years even though I come here regularly…

Anyway, she got my phone message at 5:30 yesterday morning in Heathrow airport on her return from Israel so she connected with me yesterday here when she got back and we said we'll get together later. She is also a PhD psychologist. So went we got done with all the catching up we started talking about the work I did yesterday.

I tried to describe it in the abstract which didn't work at all. So I said, "Oh well, I'll tell you what I did." To the best of my abilities I recapped what happened although I was so inside it I really don't know what happened, but I do know the outcome of what happened. She was totally intrigued by, a) the fact that I was ashamed and embarrassed and, b) the fact that my Hebrew skills were as small as they are because I had covered it up and she had no idea.

She was just fresh from Israel so about every sixth word was Hebrew because if you are fluent the process doesn't completely switch over yet. She said a couple of words that I don't know. I actually was able to ask her what the words meant that I didn't know. And she just simply said what they meant. Or then once in a while she wouldn't know and I would say, "Well is it related to this?" And she would say, "Oh yeah, you are really getting the language. It's the same root, but no, it is not that form, it's this form and it's colloquial."

I don't know, now I am just rabbiting on. But we were talking and I was saying, "Oh, that's got a mapiq in it." And she would say, "Huh?" And I said, "Oh, that's the little dot inside the letter that indicates whether it's locative." And she said, "Huh?"

So she doesn't know grammar either, but she's fluent in Hebrew… And she's not dumb… Except that I know a lot more grammar than she does…

Then I said, "Last week I finally understood the definite noun phrase and how you form it." And she went, "Huh?" And I said, "You know, the definite noun phrase where you put a he in front the word and then the word that follows because the adjective in Hebrew follows the noun, but in English it precedes the noun."

And she is going, "I don't know this stuff." And I said, "Well, I didn't know it either, but don't I need to know this?" And she said, "No, you don't need to know this kind of stuff! Just go there and learn to speak it!"

So I'm trying to wrap my head all around this grammar stuff that I don't even understand in English, as the doorway to the language, and here is somebody who is totally fluent in it, totally acculturated to it, completely thinks in it… dreams in it... And she doesn't know grammar! So what…?

But my first encounter at rabbinical school was this absolute *&%@# professor for whom grammar was the thing, and if you didn't know grammar he would just really rip into you. And it's not only about shame, it's about competition. I made that other leap.

There is a tremendous amount of competition about who knows what, and can you quote it, and where's the source and who said it first. So the feelings of shame are not just in the framework in which I first spoke about them, but the piece about competition is really important — which I haven't explored yet but it just sort of went ding, ding, ding. Anyway my inner landscape is shifting, quite a bit.

David: It may have been implicit in what you said, but you said you were able to ask her about the words you didn't know. Is that different than you would have done before?

Raphael: Yes, I would have pretended that I knew them. I wouldn't have asked because I would have been embarrassed to ask because I would have been ashamed that I didn't know, so I would have not found out. But now I understand that the not-knowing isn't a problem. It was wonderful! It was delightful!

James: What went through your head at that moment?

Raphael: Oh gee, I think I will ask what it means. What a concept!

David: In a way it is kind of obvious…

Raphael: Totally! Like, duh, what's the matter with this picture!

David: It's obvious when you see it from the other side. But the old framework puts you in a place where it is virtually impossible to see it. And it's impossible to learn too, either because you are overwhelmed with these negative feelings or because the whole thing is preconceived in a way that the last thing you'd do is ask and learn something. Instead you'd cover up.

But with a different framework, suddenly there is curiosity, there is interest. You ask, you learn. You gain new insights like that grammar might not be the most important thing. Learning is bursting out all over the place so it's a reinforcing circle, a constructive circle…

Raphael: Positive reinforcement!

David: And this is reinforced now because it's fun, it's interesting and you're getting somewhere, and that's makes it easier the next time.

Raphael: Very exciting, to be excited about it! Wooo!!

David: You see that can happen quite quickly — one or two days. It just means breaking though the illusion and seeing… Seeing what…? What did we do that other day?

We spend the major amount of the time going around and around, showing each time how the way you had attributed those negative feelings to the not-knowing Hebrew just wasn't accurate. Instead each time around, the cause really turned out to be the ‘I should have known' ideas.

Raphael: Right. Absolutely.

David: That's the thing that causes the feelings. Once you get can past that one, or detach from that one, the whole thing starts to crumble.

Don: You are saying that after he detached from the ‘I should', ‘I have to'? And how did he do that?

David: Put the other way around, notice every time that ‘should' thought is there with the power of ‘I should have known this already', the feelings will be there.

Raphael: All by myself, with nobody else in the room I use to be able to make the circle happen. Now I don't want to, so why would I?

Don: What's your experience of how you detached from that, from ‘I have to', ‘I should'?

Raphael: What's my experience of it?

Don: Yes or your thoughts about how that became detached. David says it is very important and I can see why it is very important. I was wondering how you achieved it?

David: Can I say something? Personally, I think it is immaterial how that happens. Or rather, there are two answers. I could tell you precisely how it happened in the sense of the means we used and that's precisely and exactly what we did that afternoon. We just kept at it and kept at it, round and round the circle. That's manifestly how it happened. We can play the tape back and hear it there and we can do the same thing with another person and it would probably happen again.

Don: By keeping at it? By keeping at the one idea of the should?

Raphael: There is an internal connection I had between the cognition and the feeling bundle. And what I have experienced though a system of logical questions about what actually is happening, is that there was a disconnect made… No, it frayed, it didn't disconnect.

What happened in the experience here was that a fraying began between the ties that bind the cognition and the feeling bundle. And what happened by myself later is that the tie broke because it had been weakened, because I was able to notice what was going on, because I kept at it, because I have a phone call planned for Thursday afternoon with my study partner so I am still looking at the text.

David: I think you said it beautifully there — the fraying between the ties that bind the cognition and the feeling bundle.

These circular things keep rolling, and have the power they do only because we do believe that that's the way that it is. As long as it can convince you it is a reality, you are subject to the belief and there is no way out of it.

What I am doing is helping you do an exploration to find the mismatches between the idea and the actual reality and then embark on a calling-into-question in such a way that something about that mismatch is planted in there that can't be refuted each time we go around. In this case it was the question, "What about the person who, in the face of the disparaging teacher, is not affected because they don't have any ‘should' ideas and they can see it as the teacher's stuff?"

That question sits there like the 2000-pound elephant of unavoidable fact in the pathway of the circle and each time around you are going to run smack into it. There's really no way around it because within your circular framework it is that disparaging teacher who is doing the shaming so it would be impossible that this person wouldn't be shamed, yet here he is not being shamed. And the only difference between him and you is that he doesn't have the ‘should' idea. How can this be?

As you can see from the other day, I had to plop that elephant down there quite a few times and you had to run into it quite a few times, but since it cannot be refuted, and provided it is not ignored, then sooner or later the whole edifice of the framework will begin to crack, or fray as you put it so nicely. Once it can no longer succeed in pretending to be reality and once doubt about it enters, it is doomed.

Raphael: I can tell you where the fraying begin. The fraying began with the question, "What does it have to do with the Hebrew language? If you would have been sick in Hungary, would Hungarian be the problem? You had this traumatic experience of illness and were almost dying in a foreign language and couldn't communicate, but would you continue to have a thing about Hungarian? Would you still be pissed about Hungarian?"

So that was the first question that began to fray the cord which was such a tightly-bound bundle.

Don: What to me was actually the most mysterious part of that was after the first paragraph from Raphael right away you put the question, "Well, you say the problem comes from the language, but is it the language that is problematic or not-knowing the language that is the problem?" And that was so surprising to me that you went at that little piece.

David: Let me see if I can explain why that stuck out for me. When you are working with your own issue or helping someone else, you're tracking the precise details of that particular content. And you want to recognize when you have a situation where your beliefs or constructs have gone past the territory of ‘belief' for you and entered the territory of ‘reality' with quote marks around it. Only, normally, you don't know it has quote marks around it — you think that it is ‘Reality' with a big ‘R'.

Unless you are able to question the validity of your belief, nothing will change. Instead you will be trying to find ways to cope with this ‘reality'. However, by the very nature of these circular frameworks, it's not so likely that you yourself will be able to question your own beliefs. You are so caught in the illusion that it is probably the last thing you would think to do. You saw how much I had to keep at it in the face of Raphael trying to convince me it really was a reality.

So, until they learn how to do it for themselves, most of the time someone caught in such a circle will need help from another person who is tuned to recognizing mismatches and who can then begin to question it with them, "How can this possibly be the way that you think it is?"

That's a process of questioning where you are going to have to look at it closely enough to see what's really happening, to get past the insistence or past the assumption of reality. In the beginning, you're going to need someone who is skilled at keeping at it until the seed of doubt is planted and begins to take root, until that huge elephant of fact is firmly squatting in the pathway and won't move.

That serves the purpose of jarring you out of the illusion. Once you can call it into question and you yourself are able to look at it clearly it won't take you long — it wouldn't take anybody long — to actually see that everything isn't what they thought it was.

Don: Right. I've experienced that.

David: And then the whole thing rapidly falls apart because it can only keep going as long as long as it can convince you that it is a reality. Once there is a slightest crack in it, it will sooner or later spontaneously break apart and disappear. Here is where there is an analogy with that example I often use of being in a train in the station and thinking you are starting to move when it is actually the train beside you. Your first interpretation breaks down as soon as sensory information comes in that violates it. The violation of your interpretation that you are moving is the fact that you look though the windows of that train and the station isn't moving.

So when even just the slightest fact can be brought in that violates your circular interpretation and if that fact stubbornly cannot be refuted, then your interpreting system can no longer keep up that old interpretation because something doesn't match it and cannot be fitted in, no matter how many times it tries. And it will try many times as you saw.

But eventually, and usually sooner rather than later, the old inaccurate interpretation will just spontaneously fall apart and a new possibility will arise to take its place. And, by the way, the new interpretation will be more accurate or more true because it will have taken account of this new and more accurate fact.

You really only need one undeniable and inescapable experience of something different for things to change — for instance where you were able to ask your friend about the meaning of those words and didn't feel all that shame. After this, you simply cannot maintain a certainty about the old ‘reality' any more because something just happened that is impossible in that reality.

Then, of course, the thing that really gets change moving is that once you've got the crack in there, and actually start to see things more accurately, you automatically start to have difference experiences. And with actual new physical and emotional experiences, then it is off and running because once you look at those unknown Hebrew words and go, "Oh, this learning is kind of interesting", you've got curiosity and interest there instead of shame.

Shame catches you up in your own emotions, drags you into a repeat of the past and forces you into reaction to your own experience. It begs for avoidance and pretending you know which blocks your learning.

But curiosity and interest take you out of yourself towards the language and the meaning and draw you on find out more. The more you follow your interest, the more you then get nice experiences like new insights, discovery, learning, accomplishment and so on. These reinforce the new approach further and so on… These new experiences also serve to disprove the old ideas that you are stupid and a slow learner.

There's nothing like a positive experience to get us wanting to go towards it. Problems we want to go away from, but high-value experiences are just as powerfully reinforcing, but in a good way.

Think for a moment… In another few weeks or a month or two looking back on it, you are going to go, "Whoa, how could I ever have seen things that way — this seems so obvious now."

Raphael: It already seems that way. And I've been stuck in this… I started rabbinical school in the late 70's and I was sick in Israel in the early 70's.

David: And yet, of course, when you are caught in it, it doesn't seem obvious at all because the other ‘reality' seems so self-evident. If you get a chance to listen to the recording of this piece, it will be quite interesting I am sure. You will see the number of times you tried to convince me it was true…

Raphael: "No, I refuse to acknowledge what you are saying!!" You're right.

David: So there is that intense power that keeps it rolling because of the belief reinforced by the reaction experiences. But, lucky for us, these things can be cracked apart very easily really.

Lisa: Easily? It didn't seem that easy.

David: Well, easily… What are we talking? A few hours and a few words, versus thirty years of problem. We are not talking five years of weekly therapy, we're talking an afternoon.

Of course, we can't say yet that you've completely solved your problem here. That will only become clear in the next weeks and months. And, by the way, I'd be very interested in hearing how it goes for you.

However, you can see that by using these tools, most of the time it is not a big deal to find what the cause is in the first hour. Sometimes the working through spontaneously changes the whole issue, like this one did. Other times, the resolution is a further practical thing that people need to meet in their daily life over a bit of time before becoming actually liberated. But when it happens, it is a liberation. You simply don't have that problem anymore. It just won't be there. It is gone. You don't need any coming back for further help in this matter. You are free.

Raphael: And it only costs some money.

Lisa: That's right, what a deal!

David: Ah, and you've got a bonus because the money also covers all the other learning in the other four days of the workshop.

Raphael: It is just phenomenal! And I'm interested too to see what happens. It makes me more curious about the things that I brought up the first morning which I thought were going to be easier to deal with, but I figured that as long as I was going to be here, I may as well go for the gold. And I'm glad I did.

So thank you very much. And I am curious to hear the recording because I only have a vague sense of what took place.

David: Raphael, I think it's wonderful what you've come to.

Raphael: Here's something else that is also very interesting—my rabbi head is now moving into place...

We're coming into spring and the next holiday is Passover which is this whole mythical structure about freedom. I'm going to the city where I had my first pulpit and had some wonderful and some extraordinary difficult experiences. And I am going back not to my pulpit, but one of the members of my previous congregation sort of started her own thing, so I am going to go for a gig for the Sabbath before Passover and I will be talking about freedom and liberation.

I had in my notes when you were talking, I don't remember, I think it was the first day, the very first day you were talking about looking for the cause that will evoke long-term change versus coping in the moment by using techniques to diminish the symptoms but they will come back. And I made myself a little paradigm — interestingly enough, in Hebrew words—about the structure of freedom which I learned from my teacher.

The skeletal structure of the freedom myth as articulated in Exodus is first there is a problem and then there is a crying out. The problem was slavery, the people cried out to God. There was a response. God sent Moses — the instructor, the guide, the leader — and Aaron and Miriam in to the people who were having the problem. The problem got worse — more intense — and then they came out, but the coming out wasn't sufficient. They were out of the immediate situation — the slavery — but then they got up to the Red Sea with the Egyptian army behind them and the sea in front of them, so total block.

Something happened that shifted their cognitive possibility — that they were completely trapped and were going to be annihilated — and what happened, according to one of the rabbinical interpretations, is that somebody had the courage to go into the water and the going into the water made it split. And then they got through and the water closed over the army and they were free.

But they were not free yet because they were just a band of slaves who didn't know what to do with their freedom. So they wandered for a long time before they get to the goal which was the land. But in the meantime they would bump into a problem and say, ‘What's the matter, why did you bring us out here? What, there weren't enough graves in Egypt? We could have died there just as well as going though all of this and then dying. And beside there we had fresh fish and there were leeks and there were cucumbers.'

So the negative circle… They were out, but what do they want? They long for the slavery. They want to go back…

So I am putting what you are talking about with what my teacher taught me with what I got and I am going to have my gig!

[Everyone is laughing…]


Follow up — By e-mail 11 days later:


Hope you are well.

I continue to have important learnings from the work that I did with you and am getting very curious about what the recording will "reveal" to me when I listen to it.

I'm off to Manchester tomorrow.


Follow up — By e-mail 23 days later:

...The recording arrived while I was in Manchester, and I have not yet had an opportunity to listen to it. I want to be able to give it my attention.

I can tell you that I continue to experience my "relationship" with Hebrew differently. It is much easier to say 'I don't know' or 'that's interesting, I hadn't thought of that connection before' . . .

Don't know if I'm going to Israel this summer or not. Plans are moving ahead so that we can go, but won't make a final decision until early May.

Thanks, again!


Follow up — By e-mail 5 months later:

...My experience of the Hebrew language has changed since our work together. Some of it is very subtle, but just like some of the natural healing arts, subtle is extremely profound. My understanding of the language, especially its grammatical structure, has deepened and things that used to perplex me no longer do so. I seem to have more vocabulary too, without really trying. The most profound change however remains my attitude. It has shifted from shame and embarrassment to curiosity and excitement when I make a connection or understand something that I didn't used to.

It was truly revelatory to learn that "not knowing" is simply "not knowing" and that teachers are supposed to teach. Sounds awfully simple, but it is revelatory nonetheless.

Look forward to hearing from you!


Follow up — By e-mail 15 months later:

...My relationship to Hebrew has changed significantly in that I am more relaxed, its easier to say "I don't know" and to try to figure it out, I'm teaching/studying with some college seniors this year and it is delightful, they are teaching me as much as I am teaching them.

Also, I have decided that I really no longer care enough to dedicate the time and energy it would take to learn Hebrew at the level that I would want to actually have . . . so I'm going to pursue the study of massage therapy instead, much more fun, much more interesting. Don't know what I'll "do" with it, but who cares? It's enlivening to have something new and different to study.



So, after that one session Raphael is not only free of being locked in the circle of shame and judgment, he is no longer stuck in the idea that he has to and should master Hebrew at a high level.

In fact, he is now free to explore the things he wants to do, not what he thought he should do.


There is a small biography of 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.

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

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


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. Perhaps wisely for his times, he also suggested that until better explanations came along, the biblical explanation was the one he intended to follow.
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    Telephone: +1 416-519-5470      78 Tilden Crescent, Etobicoke, ON  M9P 1V7  Canada  (map)

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