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 en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_wei
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