The Giving and Withholding of Consent: the Secret of “Letting Do”

So you’ve learnt how to direct – and perhaps you experience some expansion, integration and a flow of energy when you “give your orders”.

You can inhibit some of your reactions and enter into a more quiet state. Maybe you can let your head lead as you go into activity. Then now it’s time to explore the world of giving and withholding of consent: the secret of “letting do”.

I had my first real experience of this in a lesson with Margaret Goldie. I was sitting with my hands resting palms-up on the tops of my legs. She took one arm, moved it around – up and down and rotating it in a particular way that she had – and let it rest at my side. Then the brain work!

“Not you doing it!” she quietly insisted.

“You are going to give consent to letting your hand come back up onto the top of your leg, but you are not going to do it.”

I had already been having lessons with her for some years so I was not distracted by “unbeliever” thoughts. I just listened to her and followed her instructions as exactly as I could.

“Not you doing it! You are going to give consent to allowing your hand to move. Give consent and let it do it!”

Then suddenly, effortlessly – my hand floats up onto the top of my leg. How? Not, evidently, by using the familiar pathways I associated with such a movement.

It’s all there in one of Alexander’s Teaching Aphorisms:

“The reason you people won’t give consent is because none of you will give consent to anything but what you feel.

F M Alexander 1

This approach gave me new insights into Alexander’s work, in particular the similarity with aspects of Taoism.  2

Withholding consent – inhibition – is the doorway. Pass through it and experiment with giving consent to what you wish to do – volition – and then “letting do”! Allowing activity to take place using unfamiliar pathways, given that so many of our “identity habits” are embodied, challenges our sense of who we think we are, opening a door to a world which seems to operate under different laws.

 …the Alexander Technique, like Zen, tries to unlock the power of the unknown force in man.

Patrick Macdonald 3

Your early experiments might be simple physical activities – like the one Miss Goldie showed me; giving consent to a very basic movement of some part of the body, getting out of a chair, moving around from A to B or even (and this takes patient practice) making a cup of tea. As you become more at home in this new medium, you could experiment with interacting with other people. Give consent, for example, to chatting with your neighbour about the weather.4

You must learn to get out of the teacher’s way, learn to get out of your own way, then learn to get out of ITS way.

Patrick Macdonald 5

What do you find? Do you become more the watcher than the doer?

If you wish, share your experiences in the comments section or write to me.

1. Teaching Aphorisms: The Alexander Journal No 7, 1972, published by the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique. Also published in Articles and Lectures by Mouritz (1995).
2. The concept of non-doing in Taoism – Wu Wei – has been understood in different ways throughout its long history. See
3. The Alexander Technique As I See It, Patrick MacDonald; Notebook Jottings. Published by Rahula Books, 1989
4. At the time of writing we are all practising social distancing so interacting with others may have to wait.
5. The Alexander Technique As I See It, Patrick MacDonald; Notebook Jottings. Published by Rahula Books, 1989

© John Hunter 2020

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5 responses to “The Giving and Withholding of Consent: the Secret of “Letting Do””

  1. 00rjb says :

    I liked the experience of sitting there with my arm hanging at my side and giving directions, or consent with intention, but how initiate the movement? How long did it take? Could you repeat it on your own?
    I give the instruction to energize the hands and imagine helium balloons under the palms..and that works pretty good.

    • UpwardThought says :

      Hello RJB, thanks for posting your experiences here. It is very difficult to initiate the actual movement of a limb without using what is familiar or expected – hence my inclusion of one of Alexander’s aphorisms.

      Miss Goldie would often speak of the “total pattern” as opposed to the “partial pattern” with reference to Use – evidently using Coghill’s terminology. If you have not read his essay relating his research with salamanders to Alexander’s discoveries then I recommend you do so (The Educational Methods of F. M. Alexander’ by G. E. Coghill, published as a prefatory ‘Appreciation’ in The Universal Constant in Living).

      I found it helpful to think in terms of a total pattern – the organism as a whole – rather than focussing on the arm. Many habits have been accumulated during our formative years when learning new skills – which have, using Coghill’s terminology, led to partial patterns being developed whereby hand and arm movements, for example, are relatively disconnected from the whole. Local skills have been cultivated at the expense of integrity. If a baby takes hold of your finger you can feel just how connected his or her hand is with the whole body. This integrity is often lost when the child is encouraged to focus in an end-gaining way, on achieving a specific result; writing, for example.

      But the original total pattern is still there. How to access it? I think that using imagination, visualisation or “feeling” are all likely to activate the partial pattern. albeit in slightly different ways. The focus should instead be on the primary control, almost indifferent to your hand and arm. Don’t let your attention go to the sensations of your limb but stay with the brainwork. Be clear what is is you are deciding; what you are, and what you are not, giving consent to.

      Incidentally I once asked Professor B, a pupil of mine who is a scientist, to read Coghill’s essay and let me know what he thought of it. He said he found it very interesting because scientists just don’t think like that any more. Now everything is about “the cell”. More’s the pity!

  2. Magdalena Portmann says :

    “…opening a door to a world which seems to operate under different laws.” Thanks for this, John. And this: “Be clear what is is you are deciding; what you are, and what you are not, giving consent to.” I think you are showing me the answers to some of my questions, John.

  3. 00rjb says :

    Question: Miss G primed you to move your hand. Were you, are you, able to repeat that movement on you own? I suppose it would take a tremendous amount of inhibition to replicate the motion…of course, less with practice. It’s hard to believe until you figure it out for yourself. Thanks for the challenge.

    • UpwardThought says :

      Thanks for your comment. Yes, I can certainly repeat the experience on my own and exploring this approach – even after so many years – continues to give me insights into the nature of the “body-mind”.
      Interesting that you say “…hard to believe”! I think “belief” is a factor (see A clue which might help you is that we are used to recognising, kinaesthetically, certain signals related to certain movements, and if they are not there we don’t “believe” that anything is happening or could happen. We can come to recognise different signals and allow a response.

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