My good friend Renate Hoffman, who trained in London – first with Patrick Macdonald and then with Misha Magidov, lived in Munich. She was a pupil for many years of Margaret Goldie and revisited London often to continue having lessons with her. Renate was very keen to meet Erika, who spent many of her childhood years in Munich and still had friends there. Erika had also maintained for many years a correspondence friendship with Sydney Holland’s daughter Mary; Erika and Mary, who ran a training course in Munich, had never met. The conditions all seemed very favourable for organising an “Alexander trip” to Munich with Erika, and so Renate set to work to arrange things while Erika was in Europe again in 1995.
We visited two teacher training courses, at each of which the tea break proved to be a feast, and Erika finally met her correspondent Mary Holland.
There was also a weekend of workshops for teachers. One never quite knew what to expect from these events. Even though I had by now been to numerous such gatherings, they were always different. She never planned what she was going to do. To break the ice, she often began by recounting her own early experiences with her Aunt Ethel Webb (she loved to imitate Miss Webb saying “Keep your length, Dear!”). She was, so to speak, feeling her way into the situation, gauging where people were in themselves , how they might be getting in their own way and seeing what they needed.
It is a curious fact in the AT world, however, that we use the same words to refer to different processes and experiences. Renate told me that she overheard two of the participants discussing their reactions to the first morning of the workshop.
“I think we are doing that already, aren’t we?” asked one.
“Yes I think so” said the other. “I think we’ve already got it.”
“Yes I agree. We’ve got it. We don’t really need to stay for the rest do we?”
Another participant, let’s call her “X”, who had picked up some crumbs from Marj Barstow’s table at one of her Swiss workshops, came face to face with her nemesis when she insisted on the importance of slumping.
It is true that some Alexander students and teachers fall into the trap of trying to go up at the front (which can lead to a phenomena knows as the “£10,000 chest“) and to maintain such a posture at all times. Marj would often remind people that slumping is not per se a bad thing; it is part of one’s flexibility. She would even invite students to “have a little slump” before directing up out of it and into movement.
The aforementioned participant at Erika’s workshop had latched onto Marj’s point in a distorted form, concluding that slumping was good and that this was some kind of Alexander esoteric knowledge that Marj had transmitted to her. But Erika was having none of it. Although I had heard her say many times something similar to Marj, Erika recognised the misconception in the participant and confronted it (see also Note 2 in Traps, Pitfalls & Culs-de-sacs: the £10,000 Chest).
“Erika was fantastic” Renate told me afterwards. “She was like a Zen Master. She wouldn’t let X off the hook. X insisted that she was right but Erika just laughed and told her she was wrong; she had misunderstood.”
For X this was like a koan. She found herself in an impossible situation. She would have to let go of her misconception or ……… Or what?
In the end her misconception, together with her sense of feeling special, was more precious to her than the opportunity to move on. She decided to leave.
It was touching to watch others, more open, allowing their understanding to be transformed – if only momentarily – especially when Erika put hands on them and they had the experience of a different quality of energy flowing through them. A moment can, after all, be short in “outer time”, but deeply significant in “inner time”.
Yet it was the more informal times that were the most delightful and illuminating. There were dinners at Renate and her husband Peter’s apartment, full of light and serious conversations; there were trips to Munich’s wonderful Konditoreien.
Walking past the Opera House, she reminisced about her childhood, telling us about the “Opera Line”. It seems that in the 1920’s it was already possible to ring the operator and ask for a direct connection to live performances.1
Erika introduced us to Munich’s artistic community at a party. She had kept in touch with people there who fondly remembered her from their childhoods fifty, sixty or seventy years before, It was a sight to behold when they, already themselves no longer young, came face to face with someone from the distant past – but still so full of life.
1. Thanks to Pia Quaet-Faslem for contacting the Bavarian State Opera, who confirmed that the Théâtrophone was in use there until around 1930 when radio broadcasts made it redundant. See Wikipedia: Théâtrophone
© 2014 John S Hunter