Patrick Macdonald: #5, “It’s Just Happening”, Lewes, 1990
Patrick Macdonald did not, in those later years, speak very much when teaching, but he knew the moment when a few words could help to either induce helpful self-questioning or make something clear.
I recall two such incidents which took place during my last period of study with him.
I was working on one of my colleagues. Mr Macdonald was watching and reminding me with a gesture of his thumb to “take her up!”. Then something shifted; that recognisable change in state occurred in which everything begins to flow. Mr Macdonald leant over towards me, looked me in the eyes and said, very simply and very directly in a quiet but firm voice– as if confiding something both important and personal:
“That’s right! Never mind about her! You look after yourself!”
Then the moment was over. He changed, stood back again and in his usual voice said,
“Go on then, take her up! Your job is to take her up.”
But I wasn’t fooled. Something that I had already at certain moments tasted was now understood; that experience will always stay with me.
In my last lesson with him I remember asking him, when I felt myself moving freely in and out of the chair,
“Who is doing this, Mr Macdonald? You or me?”
“Who do you think is doing it?” he replied.
“I don’t know”, I said.
A minute or so later, when something had really got out of the way and a finer energy was flowing, he asked:
“Who is doing it now?”
“Nobody is doing it,” I replied. “It’s just happening.”
“That’s right,” he said. “It’s just happening.”
And again, at that moment – something was understood.
© John Hunter 2015
Thank you for this, John.
It is still one of the most difficult things for me – not to care whether ‘it’ will happen or not. To just work on myself, unconcerned whether I will ever get the pupil out of the chair. That fear that it might never happen. I am still working on that point – that fear, the not being bothered by it, just carrying on working on myself and be taken by surprise. What aI fear most is that this might go on and on for hours….that I would run out of time. That I would have to admit failure.
However, I did recognise one of those moments – observing Ellie Ribeaux working on a trainee (I visited the Ribeaux Training School after I qualified as a teacher at another school). The trainee Ellie was working on was working on another trainee, to get her out of the chair. At some point, ‘it’ happened. I looked at Ellie – and saw her face light up – beaming – no words were needed. I knew then that I had witnessed a very special moment.
Thanks for your comment Magdalena. I recognise what you speak of. When those special moments come, they can be transformative. There is, however, also a danger – and one which most teacher-trainers will be familiar with; that these moments. or “states”, are sought for as ends in themselves. I found it both illuminating and extremely helpful when Erika told me of Irene Tasker’s dictum: “The Alexander Technique is a means to an end, not an end in itself.”