Lessons with Miss G: #8, Hands
A friend of mine went for her first lesson with Miss Goldie. Being from out of town, my friend was staying in the house of another teacher in London. When my friend got back to her digs, her host asked her, curious about the lesson with Miss G, “What were her hands like?”
My friend, to her and her host’s surprise, heard herself saying “Oh, she didn’t use her hands”.
She later explained to me that of course Miss G had used her hands, but what she experienced in the lesson was not about “hands”; it was about what was going on in her brain and nervous system.
Another colleague, speaking of his lessons with Miss G, once said that “she grabbed your throat with her bony hands and you thought she was going to throttle you, but in time you learned to love those hands”.
Some people I knew, quick to judge according to their own criteria, never returned after one lesson – not finding the soft, direction-giving hands they associated with learning the Alexander Technique.
It is true that Miss Goldie did not ‘give directions’ in the way most of us were used to. Sometimes she hardly used her hands at all – just a light tap from time to time as a reminder to ‘think in activity’; at other times she might be very firm in indicating a direction – particularly to the back.
My own impression was, like my friend’s, that the hands were almost incidental; there was a contact on another level taking place which called forth a different quality of attention.
She told me that Alexander, speaking of his students after the training course one morning, complained that ‘They are all in such a hurry to use their hands. I’m waiting for the one who isn’t”
© 2013 John S Hunter
Lessons with Miss G: #7, Stopping
To come into Miss Goldie’s teaching room was to enter a space of quiet presence – another world, in a way; one in which there could be some insight into the hidden laws which control human reactivity – and the possibility, if just for a moment, of becoming more free from them.
The form of the lesson did not seem so different from any classic ‘Alexander turn’; you stood in front of a chair; you might sit down and stand up; you could be taken into “monkey” or work through “hands on the back of a chair”. But there was no mistaking the fact that the medium (of the procedures) was not the message; the work was about what was happening in one’s brain (a place where, it is worth remembering, there is no sensation); moreover parts of the brain which seemed to be stubbornly resistant to being accessed and activated.
In the early lessons there was little outer movement – perhaps a centimetre backwards or forwards in the chair – but there was movement; the movement of thoughts, of nerve-impulses, of energies normally well below the radar. It was a revelation to see just how much of the unnecessary was taking place.
She showed us young teachers that sensations, be they ones of muscular release or of directed energy (depending on the school where one had trained), did not on their own address the great problem which – to Alexander – was at the heart of his work; human reactivity. It became clear that FM’s concept of ‘Man’s Supreme Inheritance’ did not only mean going through life with a more upright posture, a lengthened spine, a feeling of gravity in the pelvis or of contact with the ground, or any other kind of sensation – however subtle; it was the developed capacity to make choices and decisions; “the transcendent inheritance of a conscious mind” 1
And the key? Stopping!
“Stop doing your thing”, she would say again and again. “Quiet throughout, with particular attention to head, neck and back! Not you, doing your thing!”
She held out the promise of a kind of ideal: one in which ‘stopping’ meant the absence of interference with the workings of the organism at a very deep and fundamental level; not just muscular tensions but habits of thought, uncontrolled emotionality, attitudes, the functioning of the internal organs – everything.
She said once, rather enigmatically, “If we could stop – really stop, all our difficulties would simply disappear!”
1. Man’s Supreme Inheritance, FM Alexander. Chapter III, The Processes of Conscious Guidance and Control. Published by Mouritz, London 1986.
© 2013 John S Hunter
Lessons with Miss G: #6, “My Way”
“Quiet throughout, with particular attention to head, neck and back” came the familiar mantra from Miss G, as she gently tapped the back of my head with one finger.
After a minute or so (one’s sense of time was very different in her teaching room) she asked me, somewhat incongruously – and almost in a tone of curiosity, as if we were chatting over a cup of coffee, “Have you heard of an American singer called Francis Sinatra?”
“Yes Miss Goldie,” I replied, wondering where she was going with this.
“Then are you familiar with a song he recorded entitled ‘I Did It My Way’?”
“Yes Miss Goldie”, my attention dancing now between the anticipation of what might be coming next and the call back to the quiet energy that flowed, under her touch, between my head and spine.
“Well …” she said, stepping back so I no longer had that external reminder to ‘not interfere with head, neck and back’, her voice rising now in a crescendo “… he got it quite wrong you know! It’s not about doing it your way. It’s doing it your way that’s got you into the mess you’re in today.”
I’m saying to myself, “Don’t react! Stay quiet! Head, neck and back……”
“You want to stop doing it your way. Not your way”, her voice quietening now, her hand coming back to my head/neck area. “Not your way, but Nature’s way.”
I began to see that inhibition and direction are two aspects of a way of being; they are inextricably linked.
© 2013 John S Hunter
Lessons With Miss G: #4, The Table
In one of my early lessons she asked me to take my shoes off and get on the table. This was a narrow couch up against the wall in one corner – and there it stayed.
There seemed to be several telephone directories under my head. Miss Goldie sat at the top of the table and I had the impression that she was just pulling my head. But unexpectedly at some point my back came with it and lengthened out.
“Do you see?” she said. “Head forward and up and back lengthen and widen are part of the same thing.”
I didn’t see, but I felt a new sensation in my spine.
Then something quite odd happened. I had by this time become deeply quiet; my body almost in a meditative state but my mind still alert. She had a finger lightly touching one knee. My eyes were half closed so I couldn’t see her, but while her finger was still on my knee, as if by an act of simultaneity, both hands arrived at the back of my neck. The sensation in my knee was still so clear that I was, for a moment, very confused. How could she be in two places at once?
After about 15 minutes she asked me to get up, reminding me that it was “still part of the lesson” and to put my shoes on.
It was the only table-turn I received in twelve years.
© 2013 John S Hunter