The LearningMethods Library
Can Our Experience Show Us The Truth?
by David Gorman
Copyright © 2003, David Gorman, all rights reserved world-wide
This is from an open talk I was invited to give at the
New Thought Church of Religious
Science in Minneapolis, MN, USA on January 30, 2003. I have taken
the liberty, not only of editing to make the spoken words and their
meaning read more easily in print, but to extend and enhance the topic.
In other words, this is what I meant to say. I have left out the question
and answer period at the end of the talk.
Rev. Chaffin: To introduce our Guest Speaker tonight, Tom Sullivan
is our host. Tom, you are our host.
Tom Sullivan: Thank you, Glen. To introduce David briefly…
David has been a master teacher of LearningMethods and the Alexander
Technique for quite some time, quite a numbers of years. I had the
privilege of taking a 4-day workshop from him and part of a weekend
workshop in Canada. I found some absolutely tremendous life-changing principles and
ideas that are both revolutionary in thinking, but as old as mankind—that
simple and that truthful. Which reminds me of Glen Chaffin and Religious
And he also reminds me of Glen Chaffin in another way that’s probably not
a good way.
They both do the same thing. If you take your absolute sureness about how
you think things work and you set that aside for a few hours or a few days
and participate, your life will change. Now, that’s when the problem comes
in. I am not entirely sure that I always want my life to change like I
think I say I do.
But, if you really want your life to change and you listen tonight for an
hour and a half… Well…
We will have questions at the end, so there will be maybe an hour of talk
and half an hour of questions.
I would like to welcome a new friend of mine, David Gorman.
David: Thank you, Tom, Reverend Chaffin.
I was casting about a few days back for the details of what I was going to
say and was hunting for a particular quotation, but in the process I ran
across a different one. This quote was by Mary Wollstonecraft, who some of
you may know about. She was an 18th century English writer but also a
campaigner for the rights of individuals and especially the rights of
women—in fact, she wrote a book called The Rights of Women. In the light
of my topic, her quote just jumped out at me. It said, "No man does
evil in order to do evil, he mistakes it for happiness".
I thought, that’s interesting! It sounds like it implies that everybody
is trying to do good, or at least good in a way that they think might be
good from their point of view.
However, it wasn’t so much the words “evil” or “happiness”
that grabbed me, but the word “mistakes”—“Mistakes evil for
happiness”? How could that happen? How could someone mistake evil for
Because that’s really what I wanted to talk about tonight. As we go
through life does our experience actually show us the truth, the way
things are? Can we count on our experience to not fool us, to not lead us
astray? If we can’t rely on it, if we started off heading for happiness
but our direction was mistaken and we ended up in evil or misery, we’d be
in big trouble.
So we’ve got ourselves a question here, a Big Question. And this is just
the question I want to play around with tonight. Can we rely on our
experiences? Can, or do, our experiences show us the truth?
Actually the quote I was hunting for was when a reporter had asked Albert
Einstein what he thought was the most important question human beings
should be asking themselves. This is, of course, the sort of question you
might have asked of Albert Einstein. And I think the answer he gave shows
why it would be him you’d ask. His answer was this: “I think the most
important question humans should be asking themselves is: Is the
When I first heard this I can tell you that his answer was not at all what
I was expecting! I don’t think I was expecting anything but it wasn’t that
for sure. However, it got me thinking. Is the universe friendly? Did he
mean friendly, as opposed to being hostile? Is it a friendly universe, a
place that we are part of, that we fit in with, that we belong in, that’s
home? Or a hostile place where we are aliens, where we are on borrowed
time and we better watch out because it could squash us at any moment?
This is not an idle question, but a profoundly fundamental one. If the
universe is friendly and we are at home and belong here, then it would
presumably be OK to just be here as we are. Phew… But if it was dangerous
and hostile, then we better watch out and be prepared to protect
ourselves, Better yet, we might want to get to work and change the world
to suit us or us to suit it. These two possibilities are, of course very
different situations with very different courses of action needed from us.
So Einstein was right. It is essential we know whether the universe is
friendly or not.
In another words, he was posing almost the same question as I began with,
namely, how could we tell if the universe is friendly or not? Would our
experiences of being in the universe be able to show us that we are part
of a friendly universe, or that there is some problem with the world or
ourselves that we have to change in order to be OK? Further, whatever our
experiences showed us, would they show us the truth? Would it be
You can appreciate this is no small question. This is a basic question of
major life-direction scale for each individual and culture on the planet.
That’s what I want to explore with you tonight. Can we rely on our
experience? Are our experiences showing us what we think they are showing
us? Can we can use them to guide us though life successfully or could they
lead us astray into evil, or into trouble, or into danger, or into damage
without us knowing it? And how would you tell? How would you know before
you find out the hard way?
Good question, but how do we answer it? Well, one thing is that none of us
needs to have particular qualifications to look into it. We’re all
qualified just by being here together in this universe and each of us can
explore it as well as the other. But since I’m the one here talking to you
tonight, I’d like to share with you some of the examples that I’ve come
across in the process of my teaching and what they showed me about this
To explore this question, I am going to start off with a particular
example that comes up a lot in the sort of work that I do. I’ve been
teaching for a long time as Tom said—over 25 years. I got into teaching
mostly because I had a lot of problems myself when I was younger and I was
lucky enough to find some people who could help me with those problems.
And they made such a big difference to my life that I find it deeply
satisfying to repay that by helping others. So for me teaching is a
calling. The kind of teaching I do is largely helping people look at and
understand, change and solve their problems. In fact it amounts to helping
them learn the tools of how to solve problems for themselves.
I find myself frequently working with people who are developing skills.
This includes a lot of performers—musicians, actors, dancers—who are in
the position of regularly preparing for important and challenging concerts
or shows. They want to produce something moving, to be able to perform
their best, but are running into problems.
One particular person I worked with described how, in her practicing, she
was struggling over and over to get the notes right, getting more and more
frustrated. As I helped her to look closely at what she was up to it
became clear she was trying to be better than she actually was, in fact
she was trying to be perfect. To accomplish this she was she was
concentrating like mad and trying to directly control lots of details of
her coordination. But instead of getting what she wanted, all she ended up
with was tension, pain, and the beginning signs of physical damage. All in
the name of a good thing—wanting a great performance, wanting to make
beautiful music, wanting to move the audience.
Unfortunately, this sort of problem is quite common. And yet just about
every performer—in fact, everybody who is doing something involving, even
just a hobby—has had the experience, sometimes when least expecting it, of
finding themselves suddenly in a state where everything is working well,
everything is easy, everything is whole and free, the music is playing
itself or the dance is flowing and effortless… It is all just happening
and you are a perfect part of a larger whole.
Can you relate to moments like that? Almost all of you have probably had
moments like that yourself in some activity at some time. Even if it is
just one of those days at the beach when everything just seems to be
perfect. The sun is shining and you are at peace and happy in the world.
You are just you, You are not a bunch of parts. There are no struggles.
There is no going in to rework the past or trying to figure out the future
or stewing in worry. You are just there… At one… With an expansive sense
of being inseparable from everything that is around you.
In my example of working with the performer, we quickly uncovered that
under all her struggling was a strong memory of several of those
experiences of wonderful wholeness and ease when she was totally “in the
music” and played fantastically. Now, in her practice and performance she
was trying to recreate another moment like those she’d had before. And
what we found, interestingly, when we dug a bit deeper was that she was
trying to recreate that experience by means of going deep into all the
details, concentrating on parts, and trying hard at this or that
“technique”. But instead of the lovely experience she wanted, she was
running into problems. Over and over. Why? What’s going on here?
Before we go on, take a moment here and now to recall from your own life
any one of those experiences of wholeness and at-oneness. Interestingly
enough, notice that these experiences come to you as very high-value
moments. You don’t go: “Oh, no! I hope I never have that wholeness and
ease experience again. That was horrible! I want to get back to that great
experience of worrying!” Instead, you register these experiences as
good, as wonderful. In fact, often as more than wonderful—they may be some
of the most special moments of your life.
If we look even more closely at that experience, can it show us something
about ourselves and the way we work, about the universe and its
friendliness… or not?
Notice that one of the characteristics of such a moment is that the
various qualities of the experience all appear to be connected to each
other. You don’t find yourself in a moment of wholeness while at the same
time also having a lot of effort, hard work and trying. Rather, the
moments of wholeness and oneness come with a sense of ease. You’re not
doing anything. The moment is all happening by itself.
Also notice that more often than not the wholeness and ease comes with a
sense of presentness. You are just in this moment. You are not caught up
in the past, or off in the imagined future. You are just here and now. And
you are quite happy to just be where you are. In fact, sometimes this
presentness can be so intense that everything around seems extra bright
and clear, full of substance, depth and colour. Often that sense of
presentness expands out and you feel one with everything else too… a kind
of timeless sense of space.
In another words, the distinguishing qualities of this
experience—wholeness, ease and presentness—all happen together and
But are characteristics actually separate qualities that just happen
coincidentally to be occurring together? Or do they tell us something by
looking at them all at once as inseparable aspects of the same moment? Is
there significance to this simultaneousness?
Let’s look first at how wholeness and ease go together. You can go back
and refer to your own experiences while I talk about it.
When people come to me with their difficulties they are often in various
states of conflict within themselves, full of struggling and trying, with
one part straining against another. In other words, they are not whole at
all and certainly not at ease. But as we work and they begin to uncover
what they are caught in and are able to let go of their struggle, one of
the first things they report is a sense of wholeness and ease coming to
them. A wholeness where they do not even have any parts, just them. And a
wonderful sense of ease. There is nothing that they are now caught in,
nothing that they are busy doing. Just an easy being with no work and no
These two, the wholeness and the ease arrive at the same moment. Wholeness
is easy. It is happening by itself. What could this be showing you but
that you are whole? You are one. You don’t have to do anything to
be one, it happens with no effort. It is easy to be whole. It doesn’t take
any doing, any trying or struggle or hard work—it is simply going on all
by itself because that is the way you are built. It is your nature.
And if we go further and add in that other quality, the sense of
presentness, you’ll notice that it is in the present moment that all this
ease and wholeness is just happening by itself. No wonder since the
present is the only real moment there is. The past is nothing but a
succession of previous present moments which have already passed; the
future is a present moment that hasn’t come yet and by the time it comes
it won’t be the future anymore, it will be your current present moment.
So, if the very moment when you experience how easy it is to be whole just
happens to be the present moment, then wouldn’t that mean that your own
experience is showing you that you are, in fact, a whole and integrated
creature in each moment, inherently and innately? And it is easy, it takes
no work to be wholly in the present.
I put it that way because often I am working with people who, like my
example, are after those great moments of performance. But to get there,
they are trying to control their playing, control their fingers, control
the intonation, control the feeling. They end up struggling away in the
hope that if they did manage to successfully control all those parts using
all those techniques, then later on in some other future moment this
wonderful whole, easy and in-flow experience would happen again.
But that future moment doesn’t come, and if you think about it for a
moment, how could you get to easy, whole, present moments if you are
spending most of your actual present moment time digging deep into parts,
struggling to get into some other moment than this present? How can you
have ease by trying hard? How can you get to wholeness by practicing
parts? Especially if you are practicing parts and effort a lot and getting
very good at it! Then wondering why you do not feel at one and at ease
What’s happening here is that people talk with such longing about those
wonderful moments they’ve had and then turn around and do exactly the
opposite. They’ve failed to appreciate the significance of their very own
experiences. In fact, quite the opposite. Often, their interpretation is
that it’s been all that technique, that detailed manipulation of the
parts, that somehow had produced wonderful experiences. And then, since
their techniques do not often deliver them the experiences they are after,
they make the further interpretation that those experiences are rare and
hard to get to. In other words, they were having the experience, but
missing the meaning!
But looked at closely, and more accurately, the experience itself show us
that wholeness, ease and presentness is our natural state, our human
heritage, not something that has to worked hard for over many years.
But is this experience showing us the truth? Could it really be true that
we are actually whole and integrated just as we are in this moment without
doing a single thing? In fact, could it actually be true that we have
always been whole and integrated creatures, but just didn’t know it? Could
it be that the reason why we were not whole and easy and present already
was not that we hadn’t reached that exalted plane yet, but that we
are somehow constantly interfering with our simple in-built natural state?
Well, there’s one way to find out. Stop the interferences and see if the
natural whole, easy, present state reappears. I cannot think of any other
way to prove it, so a great deal of the work I have been doing for the
last number of years has been just that. When people come in to me with
those kinds of problems, I can help them identify and then stop doing all
those add-on techniques, all that effort and that manipulating of parts. I
can help them stop trying to do something now that is not what they
want in order to get something later that is what they want. And
then we can see if that wholeness and ease just comes right back… in this
moment… right now. Not in some future moment, weeks or months from now
only if I developed my skill at this or that technique… but right here and
And if this is indeed what happens (and it is), and then it happens again,
and it happens again and again, then these experiences must be showing us
something about our nature, something that’s hard to refute the more times
it happens. Something very big!
But the fact that people can have these easy, whole, present experiences
many times and still turn around and do the opposite, also shows us that
these experiences don’t show us very much unless we take in the meaning of
them. It’s no good having the experience over and over if we don’t know
what it is an experience of.
Let me leave this territory for the moment and explore something
different. But store what we found here so we can come back to it in a
The next example occurred many years ago, very early in my teaching. It is
in fact a common event when people change a long-standing habit, and I had
seen it before, but this was the first time it really sunk in for me what
I was seeing.
The man was a dancer and he had come to me with tension and back pain and
because of this was unsure if he’d be able to carry on dancing. As soon as
I saw him I could see why he had such back problems. Like a lot of dancers
he had taken up a posture with his shoulders pulled back and his chest
lifted up, all of which was achieved by arching back with a lot of
holding. The spot where he had the back pain was exactly the focus of
where he had crunched all this arching and pulling-down into his spine.
So, with the kind of work I was doing at that time I put my hands on him
and showed him where he was held and helped him let go. Soon he began to
release here and there and let go more and more of his usual postural
pattern. From my point of view he unfolded in front of my eyes. He came up
out of that arch in his back into being much more upright and much more
free. His breathing opened up and his hips and legs released and I
thought, “What a wonderful change!” It was such an immense and quick
change that I was truly expecting him to turn to me and exclaim about how
much better he felt.
But almost as soon as this change happened I could see him begin to pull
his shoulders back and crank right back into the same old habit. I was so
surprised that I stopped him and asked him what on earth he was doing.
What was going on for him that he would start going back into what we had
just gotten him out of? He said right away, “Oh, but this is horrible!
I just feel so bent over forward and totally out of balance!”
It made me realize that we had very different experiences of what had
happened. From my point of view, with my training and skills, I could see
his habitually arched-back posture and how this was harming his back, and
how he’d just emerged from that strain into a beautiful upright freedom.
But he had his own interpretation. To him the change was horrible and felt
bent over. Because of that it was the last place he’d ever dream of
His posture was such a habit for him, such a constant, that it just felt
normal. He was so used to it that he hardly knew he was doing it. In fact,
to him, it was almost the badge of his identity of being a dancer.
Therefore the change I’d facilitated felt so unfamiliar and so wrong to
him that he was just going back into something that felt more right. Of
course, he would have got the back pain again soon enough, but at that
moment the change ‘felt wrong’ and his habit ‘felt right’. I won’t go into
more details about how he ultimately integrated this change because for
our purposes here what’s important is how the experience was interpreted
differently by each of us.
He wasn’t really bent over at all. Anyone standing there could see that.
He could look in a mirror and see that for himself. He was, in fact, more
upright than he was before. But he thought he was totally bent over. Here
was the same event—his postural change—but two completely different
experiences of it. So what could be going on here that his experience
could be so different from mine? And so distorted from what had actually
happened? Does this show us that our experience doesn’t tell us the truth
and can fool us? Not exactly. And to understand why we need to look a bit
more closely at what happened.
His normal way of standing was somewhat bent backward and tightly held—you
have to hold tight to maintain that kind of posture. The change was a
release of that holding and therefore a consequent straightening up. So
after the change he was more forward than he was before and a lot more
free. Because he was so used to his habit it had come to feel normal and
so this change felt to him like a change forward in a bending sort of way.
And because he felt so free now as well as much more forward, he felt as
if he was unbalanced forward and therefore felt the need to pull back into
his normal ‘secure’ balance. In other words, he was interpreting the
experience as telling him about the position and state where he had ended
up after the change. To him these feelings were describing where he was at
that moment—way forward, way bent and instable.
But that’s not what our postural sensory system is set up to do. It
doesn’t tell you where you are. It primarily tells you about the changes
that take place. When you come into a room you notice a smell because it
is new, but after a while if it doesn’t change you won’t notice it any
more. You notice changes because a change means that something different
has taken place and you may need to take action to deal it. Change is
important information. Unchanging things are not so important because
presumably you have already taken whatever action you need to.
So, let’s look at his postural change from this point of view. After his
letting go, the change was that he had moved forward in a bending sort of
way—relative to where he was before. That was true. And he was much more
free than he’d been before. That was also true. So the experience was, in
truth, telling him what had happened. It was telling him about the fact
that there was change and which direction the change was in and that it
was also a change towards more freedom.
Even more importantly for him, the experience was not just telling him
about the change that took place but also about where he was before. He is
now more forward in a bending way and more free, so before he was more
tight and backward in the opposite bending way, which is exactly where he
was and what was happening in his habit. He’d had the experience alright,
but he’d been misinterpreting it. Therefore, his misinterpretation and his
consequent reaction to go back into his familiar feeling had the effect of
locking him into a dangerous habit that was giving him pain.
But when seen clearly, his system was really sending him an important
message: “You are tightening backwards and you are having pain. When you
let go of the holding you release forward out of that and are more free…
and the pain goes away”.
This is another example that shows us something about our nature—in this
case, how we are set up to detect changes and uncover habits. But at the
same time we have another part of our answer about the fundamental
question of whether our experience tells us the truth.
The thing that both of these examples (and many others like them) show me
is that it isn’t really about the experience we have, it is how we
interpret it. In fact, as we’ve seen, it isn’t really the experience we
experience, if I can put it that way. It’s the interpretation that
we experience. My student’s interpretation of being bent over forward made
him feel that he was that way—in spite of the “reality” of his
uprightness. The raw sensations he had were true, of course. The
sensations are just what they are. They were his nervous system picking up
actual factual changes and events. But his interpretation made his
experience of those sensations either accurate or inaccurate.
We’ve also seen that it is very possible for people to have experiences
over and over and completely miss or mistake the meaning of them. Like the
musician who may have that oneness experience several times a year but
miss the meaning and in trying to get it back ends up getting caught in
the exact opposite—lots of interfering details and unnecessary struggle
day after day.
From these examples, we can see that we not only need to know that what we
experience is our interpretation, but that, because of this, our
interpretations need to be questioned for validity. We need to have some
way to assess the truth of our interpretations. Otherwise, all too easily
we can end up slipping down a pathway that leads to, I am not sure you’d
want to call it evil, but certainly trouble or damage or pain or other
problems. Symptoms that can make a person feel not only that the universe
isn’t friendly, but that their very own system isn’t friendly. It can lead
them to think that something’s wrong with their system and they better try
to fix it, when what needs fixing is their misunderstanding.
But note well, if people who are misinterpreting their experiences started
to think that the universe was not friendly, we’d have to ask, which
universe is that? If they are misinterpreting how the universe works, then
it is as if they are trying to live in a universe which is not the one
they are in. Their unfriendly universe is an illusion. It has no more
reality than their misconception.
I can go further. If they are trying to live in a universe which is not
the one they are in, could this be why their problems are happening? That
is, because of their misconception they will be going against the way the
universe works or the way they work and therefore they will experience
On the other hand, if those same people, through learning, can see through
their misconceptions and begin to act in accord with a more accurate and
true interpretation, and their problems disappear, could that be because
they are now understanding better how the universe works and therefore are
operating more in line with the universe? When they align themselves with
how things really work instead of going against them, then things work
These are not minor questions. Reality is going to stubbornly be itself
whether you misinterpret it or not. If you go against it, it is a lot
bigger than you are, and when you run into it, it hurts. But if you can
align yourself with Reality and go along with it, then you have all the
power of the universe on your side.
So it is vitally important for you to work out accurately what your
experience is showing you. You are having the experience, but is it
showing you this or is it showing you that? Is your interpretation or
understanding of your experiences accurate? There is possibly nothing more
important to get clear about.
Thus, not only do we need to recognize that what we experience is the
interpretation of our sensations, we need to know what that interpretation
is. What are your beliefs, your way of seeing things, your ideas of how
you and the world work? And we need some way to assess the validity of
these beliefs, ideas, constructs—how true they are. So how do we do that?
Well, there is a tool that I have been using all the way through this talk
without saying too much about it—the humble but mighty question. We can
call our beliefs into question. Once we know we have interpretations and
that they may be accurate or inaccurate, we can question and explore them
to find out which it is.
Incidentally, have you noticed that in most of the western languages a
question mark has the shape of little hook, like a fishing hook? If you
have a question and throw that question mark out into the unknown and then
reel it back in you might find information and answers attached to it.
Questions are extremely powerful ways to focus your awareness and bring
your intelligence to bear. Especially when they are driven by curiosity,
that is, the real sincere interest and desire to know the truth of how
And by the way, there’s more to this desire-to-know-the-truth thing
than first meets the eye. We all have existing interpretations and
understanding of the world and our experiences. When people have problems
there are often misinterpretations present that lead them into actions
which cause the problems. My years of teaching experiences show that the
misconceptions that are central to their problems are often part of
dearly-held beliefs and ways of seeing things in which the person has a
lot of pre-existing investment.
Thus, if you sincerely want to know the truth of things, you must be
prepared to go into your questions to really find out what happens,
regardless of whether it turns out to be the way you already think things
happen or the way you want things to be. In fact, to the extent that you
have problems, you already have grounds to suspect that your understanding
of how things work may be flawed.
So it would be important to be able to uncover how you currently think
things work and doubly important to put a question mark on those
interpretations. Is this really true? Is my belief and my understanding
accurate or am I mistaking something along the way? Am I working against
myself and against the way things work?
I can give you an example of what I mean, this time in somewhat less
physical territory. I’m often dealing with people who have strong ideas
about the ways that it would be good for them to be. They have a standard
for themselves, whether it is some wonderful way of playing, about how
much work they should be able to accomplish each day, or even some saintly
way of being in the world. They have defined this standard as a good
thing. Then they’ll come to me and say, “I’m under such a lot of stress
and no matter how much I try to do the right thing, I constantly feel like
a failure. I have such high expectations of myself and I try but I can’t
quite reach that standard. I’m starting to think maybe something’s wrong
with me! And then I get even more stressed.”
Maybe something’s wrong with them? But it’s not them, it’s their ideas.
They have an idea or belief that there is some real standard that they
should live up to, that they have to live up to, or else
something is wrong, probably wrong with them. Of course, it would be
lovely if it was achievable for them to reach their standard. But then, of
course, they would not be having the stress and the ongoing problem.
But notice the problem you have if you can’t manage to reach your
nice-sounding ‘high standard’. You keep the interpretation that there is a
standard that has to be reached and so feel bad when it isn’t. But
if you were able to call this belief into question and look closely with a
curiosity as to what is really happening, what would you find?
First you’d see that you do indeed have this idea of a ‘high standard’ of
the things it would be good to achieve. You’d see that consistently you
fail to meet it. If you looked closely you’d see that what you can
actually manage when you are just being yourself and doing the best you
actually can is consistently different than your idea of what you think
you should do. And you’d see that when you fail to meet this high
standard you feel miserable.
As long as that ‘standard’ is there and as long as you think you should
meet it and as long as you fail to meet it, you will feel miserable. And
you will consistently fail to meet it because it is beyond what you
can actually do, try as you might.
However, if you called into question your belief in your so-called ‘good
standard’ or your ‘high expectations’, you’d have a chance to see that
reality is showing you over and over what you can actually do—how well you
can play your instrument, how much work you can get done in a day, how
much of a saint you can really be. Your own experiences are showing you
this information every day, day after day, but you had not been taking it
You’d also be able to see that what you can manage is the reality. It is a
direct measurement of your own abilities. The ‘standard’ you had held so
fixed is not a reality. It is an idea, a belief, a hope. In the face of
the actual reality, how good an idea is it? In other words, is it the
too-low level of your accomplishments that makes you feel terrible or is
it having that standard set at a level up above your actual ability that
makes you feel terrible? If it cannot be reached and just ends up causing
misery, maybe something is wrong with the idea, not wrong with your
abilities, let alone you the person?
Instead of keeping the nice-sounding standard as a fixed idea and
constantly trying to change reality to match the idea… and failing, you
might want to consider unfixing the idea and adjusting it to match
reality. You would then see if that works better for you. You might feel
better. You might be able to function better. You might, in fact, be able
to play better, help more people and accomplish more work when you are not
feeling miserable most of the time!
So far in this talk I’ve gone into lots of examples with no small amount
of detail. Now it’s time to pull it together. Where have we got to with
our “can our experiences show us the truth” question?
Well, we saw in looking at those wonderful wholeness-ease-presentness
moments that our experiences can tell us some very important truths about
our nature—that in the unending present we are whole creatures and it is
not only easy to be so, it is also very pleasant. This sounds like a
friendly universe, doesn’t it?
But… we also saw that in order to understand this truth we can’t just
luxuriate in the nice feeling. We must wake up and look closely at what we
are feeling. We must think and put things together. We must go past just
the feeling itself to the meaning of the feeling.
And we saw that it is also our nature to perceive changes more than steady
states and how our experiences are telling us important information about
what we are getting into and where we have come from so that we can take
the appropriate action. This also sounds like something that would happen
in a friendly universe.
But… We saw too that to get at the truth of our experiences we need to be
aware of our interpretations and be able to question their validity. The
experiences themselves are direct responses to the way things are and are
telling us the truth about what is happening, but only if understood
The fact that our experiences seem to carry some pretty important and
essential information for us, of course, is undoubtedly why they come to
us consciously, knocking at our attention, as opposed to somehow occurring
below the level of our awareness where they are no help to us.
We have also seen how it appears that when your understanding or
interpretations of your experiences are inaccurate, you are inevitably
going to run up against how the universe works, causing problems for
yourself and experiencing symptoms of one sort or another.
Having problematic symptoms may sound like a bad thing, but, in fact, it
is the best thing that could happen. These consciously-felt symptoms are
wake-up calls to alert you that you may be misconceiving how things work
and therefore operating against the universe. They are wake-up calls to
look, learn and change. Wouldn’t you say that having such a timely alarm
mechanism is more evidence of a friendly universe?
We’ve also seen how it becomes very important to uncover what your
interpretations, beliefs, or ideas are, and call them into question to
test their validity. But how exactly does one do this uncovering of one’s
interpretations and beliefs?
Well, as we just saw, you don’t have to look everywhere and at every
waking moment in your whole life. Your own nature provides you with an
alert to the exact moments to look into and question. Whenever the problem
shows up you will have a symptom. That symptom—the tension, the pain, the
anxiety, the stress feeling—is a wake-up call. It is not the problem
itself, merely the symptom or sign of a problem.
Is that why the symptom shows up when it does and not 5 minutes earlier or
two days later? Could it be that it shows up then to alert you that
something has just been going on that is problematic so that you will wake
up and begin to look into it and question what’s happening, what you are
thinking and how you are going about things?
So whenever you get the wake-up call of the symptom, you could be alerted
to ask yourself, “How do I understand what’s happening now? How have I
interpreted the experiences of the last few moments? What do I think is
going on here? How do I think things work here?”
What you are looking for is to be able to bring right up to consciousness
your ideas of things in the same way that you would attempt to describe
and explain to someone else what your experience was and what it meant to
you, as in: “This happened, and I felt this and I think it is because
of … Oh, I see, that’s what I think!”
With a bit of practice, it is not that hard to be able to uncover and
become more and more aware of your own ideas and beliefs, even the ones
that previously you didn’t even think of as beliefs, but just the way
Even if you are becoming aware of your constructs, beliefs and
interpretations, how would you know whether they are accurate? Would you
have any way to be able to assess whether you were on the right path or
were being lead astray, whether the problems you experience are because of
your misinterpretation of the way things work, or because you are actually
in an unfriendly universe?
I’ve thought about this a lot and as far as I can see, there is only one
way. You’d have to have the ability to spot any mismatches between your
ideas and the actual reality. And luckily for you, you just happen to have
another tool or property built right into you that can do just that—the
ability to pay attention.
You can direct your attention. Not to everything all the time, but when
you are the recipient of one of those wake-up calls of a symptom and you
are alerted, you can quite consciously and carefully take in your
experiences and register your interpretations. And then you will see over
a bit of time what exactly these experiences are showing you.
This is when you need to keep your ability to pay attention hand-in-hand
with your questioning curiosity and burning desire to know things as they
are. Together these will help ensure that you don’t jump to conclusions,
that is, assuming you already know what your experiences are showing you
before you’ve actually got everything out on the table and so you stop
looking. And these together help ensure that you don’t carry a
pre-existing bias into your exploration and then only try to find what
Instead you can pay attention as systematically and rigorously as
possible; actually taking in as much as you can of the facts—the events
you go through, the situations your problems occur in, the sequence that
things happen in, the physical and emotional responses and reactions you
have, and so on. Then you can correlate these facts to your thoughts, your
ideas, interpretations and beliefs on the matter. In effect, getting it
all out on the table, and then comparing to see if your ideas really match
the facts of what’s going on.
After all, we are exquisitely sensitive creatures. We have an unending and
incredibly rich flow of experience, feelings, emotions, and sensations.
Plus we are construct-creating creatures. We have, as human beings, this
amazing ability to think and perceive, to interpret, to understand the
significance of, or get the meaning of our experiences rather than just to
have the feelings without understanding them.
Think for a moment of what life would be like if you didn’t have that
ability. You would just be living in… What would you be living in if you
had experiences but no ability to understand what they were experiences
You’d just be existing, stuck in the present moment. At first glance that
might seem like kind of a good thing. A little while ago we were saying, “Oh
that lovely present moment experience, yummy.” But you’d just have to
really cross your fingers and hope that it was indeed a friendly universe,
because you would be stuck there in that moment. You would have no ability
to understand what your experiences were showing you. Maybe things have
changed on you. Maybe this friendly universe is moving and changing and
what you used to do doesn’t fit anymore. You’d just have to keep on living
it until it seriously didn’t fit. Then like many other creatures maybe
you’d go extinct because the world changed around you and you didn’t even
see how it was changing and therefore couldn’t adjust and adapt. Needless
to say, it’s a fairly important ability, this interpreting, understanding
This raises an important question, of course. I am often asked, “If
this conceptualizing part of us is so important, how come it can be lead
astray into misconception?”
Well, the fact that the world regularly changes means that we need to be
flexible and adaptable. As things change, our interpretations need to
change with them. Because change and evolution is always novel and
unexpected, we cannot have a vast stored-up repertoire of possible
interpretations to choose from, so we must be able to directly perceive
the novel changes in the world, recognize what is happening and realize or
formulate new understandings. In other words, if misconceptions occur it
is not a fault of our interpreting faculty, but of our failure to keep
paying attention and to keep questioning and assessing the accuracy of our
I suppose it might be wonderful if we did live in the kind of a universe
where we were guaranteed to always have exactly the right and most
accurate interpretation. I suspect, though, that there is probably some
reason why that wouldn’t work, or some way that it would get us. In any
case, that is not the actual universe we live in.
While we are talking about truth, many people think that there is another
way to get to it. They go to somebody else, some expert, some book, some
external belief system. But, if you did that, how would you know that they
are right? What if the expert is wrong? What if they have misinterpreted?
It doesn’t take much looking around to see that there are many ‘experts’,
most of whom are saying different things. They can’t all be right, can
Plus, no matter who or what you consulted, would you not still need some
way to assess for yourself the truth of what was said? Because if those
sources were wrong, but you didn’t know it, you would end up using their
misconceptions and taking action in your life accordingly. Wouldn’t you
only find out when it is a bit too late that maybe they were wrong? So
whichever way you look at it, it is still essential to have a way to
assess the truth for ourselves.
Luckily for us, as we’ve seen, we do have a way. We can take in what our
experiences are telling us. We can know that there is an element of
interpretation in these experiences and we can call them into question to
assess how true they are, and then we can pay close attention to what
really happens in order to answer that question.
Interestingly, when we look closely it does appear that our experiences
can show us the truth, but not automatically and not ‘for free’. You have
to keep on the ball, and keep paying attention and keep questioning. You
have to stay alive and stay curious and want to know the truth.
I’ve been talking now for a while, so I’m going to finish with another
question, one that follows on from the implications of our first question.
Even if we come to understand our experiences more and more accurately and
this allows us to keep on getting closer and closer to the truth, how
would you know when you got there? Would there be somebody popping up
saying, “OK, you’ve found it, you can stop now?” Would there be a
tablet of stone coming down? Or the test results coming back marked “A+”?
But if we look closely we do in fact have a way to know when we have got
to the truth of the way things are, or at the very least when we have got
close enough to the truth to be just as good for all practical purposes.
Mind you, this way is based on an assumption. In fact, it might be quite a
big assumption, but it is an assumption that’s hard not to make. And this
is that there really is a ‘reality’ out there that is common for us all.
That the universe does work according to certain laws and principles, and
that we work according to the particular facts of our physiology and our
nature. As opposed to the opposite assumption which is that ‘reality’
works any way you want it to. If you believe it works one way, it does
work that way for you, and if someone else believes it works another way,
then it works that other way for them.
Lots of people do believe in these magical individual universes, but
notice a very interesting fact here. When you get up to leave here and go
out the door, are you all going to go out the same place? Is there a real
world out there? Is there a door the same for all of us or are some of you
going to disappear through the walls and some others just disappear?
If there is really is a world out there and it really does work a
particular way, then we also work a particular way and we don’t work other
ways—in spite of however much we might like to. Then we do have a way to
tell when we have arrived more or less truthfully at the way things work.
And that is when they work!
When you are using your understanding of the way things work to guide
yourself and are operating on the basis of the way you think things work,
and they do work, could that be because you are operating in line
with the way things work? You might not want to say you have hold of the
absolute Truth, but you could make a good case that you have, for all
practical purposes, come close enough to the truth to thrive and flourish.
Now that’s a friendly universe!
There is a
small biography of personal details about the author below.
About the Author
David Gorman has been studying human
structure and function since 1970. He is the author of an illustrated 600-page
text on our human musculoskeletal system, called
The Body Moveable (now in
its 6th edition and in colour), and numerous articles and essays, including
the book, Looking at Ourselves (2nd
edition in colour).
David has been working with performers (singers,
musicians, actors, dancers and circus artists) for over forty years. He is a
trainer of teachers of LearningMethods and of the
Alexander Technique and has taught all
over the world in universities, conservatories, performance companies, and orchestras;
for doctors in hospitals and rehabilitation clinics; and in training courses
for Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, physiotherapy, osteopathy, massage & yoga.
Over the years, his changing understanding about the
root causes of people's problems led him to gradually extend his Alexander Technique
teaching into the development of a new work, LearningMethods (and an
offshoot, Anatomy of Wholeness about our marvelous human design), which
is being integrated into the curricula of performance schools in Europe, Canada
and the United States by a growing number of LearningMethods
Teachers and Apprentice-teachers.
For the last 6 years, David has been running online
post-graduate groups for Alexander Technique teachers and groups for those who
want to learn to use LearningMethods in their own lives and work, as well as
a group for those who want to go on to train as LearningMethods teachers.
Telephone: +1 416-519-5470
78 Tilden Crescent, Etobicoke, Ontario M9P 1V7 Canada (map)