Tag Archive | stopping

Lessons with Miss G: #10, Some Meaningful Tittle-tattle

Stories about Miss G abound. They are interesting, often humorous and give some insight into her individuality. Sometimes they demonstrate her capacity to lay bare something in the person with whom she was interacting. Here are a few that I heard, first or second hand, over the years.

A newly qualified young teacher from Israel came to have a lesson with Miss G. As was her wont, she spoke throughout about the need to “stop and be quiet; pay particular attention to the head, neck and back”.

The young teacher, not knowing Miss Goldie’s ways and probably thinking that she was holding out on him, could only take so much of this before interrupting her and saying:

“Miss Goldie! You do realize that I have just completed three years of full-time teacher training, so I think I know the basics.”

“Oh!” said Miss Goldie. “Three years! I see. Well I have completed sixty-three years of training, and I still have to remind myself. So where does that put you and your three years?”

* * *

I heard one story from Marjory Barlow.

A pupil of Marjory’s said to her one day that, having benefited so much from his lessons, he felt a deep appreciation for Alexander and his work and he wanted to know where he was buried so that he could take some flowers to the grave as a token of his gratitude.

Marjory told him that Alexander had in fact been cremated and that she did not know what had happened to the ashes but, thinking that Margaret Goldie would certainly know, she would try and find out.

Another of Marjory’s pupils, an Alexander teacher, was also having lessons with Miss G, so Marjory asked this person if she would, next time she saw Goldie, ask her if she could shed any light on the fate of Alexander’s ashes – adding that it was best not to mention Marjory’s name.

Sure enough, the next time this person was having her lesson with Miss G, she said that “a friend” had been curious about Alexander’s ashes and  wanted to know what had happened to them.

“Well!” replied Miss G in a minimalist and dismissive manner, “There are lots of people who want to know all sorts of things!”

Several years later another of Miss G’s pupils was able to supply the missing end to this story. It seems that she had her lesson directly after the pupil who had asked about the ashes, and Miss G had made some comments to her about the incident. She, Miss Goldie, with one other person – most probably Irene Stewart – had scattered the ashes in a place which she said she would never reveal.

* * *

A friend of mine from Mexico would visit London regularly to have lessons with Miss G – sometimes seeing her twice a day. One year she was staying with me while Erika was visiting, and told us a lovely story when she got back from her lesson. By that time Miss Goldie had stopped teaching at the Bloomsbury Alexander Centre and was seeing just a few pupils at her home in Richmond.

I wanted to take her something nice as a treat and went into a delicatessen that was just round the corner from Goldie’s house. It seemed like such an intimate local area that I felt certain that the staff would know who Goldie was and what she liked, so I went in and asked a man who was serving what he could recommend for Miss Goldie.

“Miss Goldie?” he said. “You know Miss Goldie? Wait a minute!”

The shopkeeper then went to the door, put up the ‘closed’ sign, locked the door, pulled the blinds down and invited me into the back room for tea and biscuits. I was a bit worried but he seemed harmless so I agreed. He then interrogated me for half an hour about Miss Goldie, this mysterious woman who had been coming into his shop for years and about whom he knew nothing at all. I told him what I knew and then went off for my lesson. Of course, I told Miss Goldie all about the incident, and she roared with laughter.

When my friend got back to my apartment she could not wait to tell Erika and me this wonderful story.

“It was all so surrealistic!” she said. “I felt like I was back home in Mexico. I can’t believe that such a thing could happen in England.”

* * *

Miss G usually did not have a fixed fee and asked new pupils to consider how much they valued what they were learning before deciding what they wished to pay for their lessons. She had apparently been known to tell some people that they needed to pay more, whilst from others she would refuse to take any payment at all. The issue really was one of valuation rather than money. One story I heard examples a never-to-be-forgotten lesson given to a young man.

Young Mr X was asked, after his first lesson to give some thought to what he wanted to pay. He made the mistake of “trying it on”, however, and said he wanted to pay her her five pounds.

At his next lesson he was told, as soon as he arrived, to remove his shoes and lie on the table.

Miss Goldie arranged his head on some books and then left the room to go and have a cup of tea.

After half an hour she came back and told him to get up and go because the lesson was over.

“But you haven’t done anything” protested the young man.

“Well” she replied, “you wanted to pay five pounds, so you have had five pounds worth. Good day!”

* * *

© 2014 John S Hunter

Equilibrium: Rights and Responsibilities

“They will see it as getting in and out of a chair the right way. It is nothing of the kind. It is that a pupil decides what he will or will not consent to do” 1

FM Alexander

In contemporary times, particularly in the West, many people have a sense of entitlement; the words ‘human rights’ are heard all too often. But what about ‘human responsibilities’?  Not on a global, national, regional or even local level, but on a deeply personal level.  Am I or could I be responsible for myself?

Take some situation in your life about which you find yourself inwardly complaining. (Best to start with something small.)

Stop!

Coordinate yourself!

Consider your options! Doing nothing at all, carrying on in the same way or what I call “The Monty Python Option”, i.e. doing something completely different.

You may think you have no options, but try and find some- even ones that you would in no circumstances do such as, perhaps, letting people down or being reckless (if you need some help with this you could always read The Diceman).

Then make a choice!

You may find that you choose to do the thing you are already doing, but now you are doing it because you chose to do it and, hopefully, in a more coordinated way. No one else to blame. Your choice, your responsibility!

This experiment can be a step towards taking responsibility.

It’s so interesting that in English we have this expression “take responsibility”. In all Romance Languages it is “assume responsibility”.  The language reminds us that it calls for something active.

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).

© 2014 John S Hunter

Tips4Pupils – Stopping and Inhibition; similar but different

I see ‘stopping’ as an umbrella term, which includes several different inner processes, one of which is

“… inhibiting a particular reaction to a given stimulus.”1

If I am in an agitated state, rushing, trying to do several things at once, end-gaining, unaware of my physical body – I can stop. Stopping means ceasing unnecessary activity, be it physical (muscular), emotional, nervous or mental. Miss Goldie called this ‘coming to quiet’: “Quiet throughout, with particular attention to head, neck and back“.

Stopping can be tried at any time one becomes aware of unnecessary “doing”. Sometimes, depending on the degree of agitation, we may not be able to ‘stop’ unless we withdraw for a time – even lie down. At other times it needs only a few seconds, just to remember to organise oneself. It is a psycho-physical calming down. Erika described it as “Clearing the clutter out of your mind so that you can make a decision”

As ever with Erika, “a means to an end and not an end in itself”.

Inhibition is on another level and is much more difficult – practically impossible without some experience of a quieter, more integrated (directed) state. It demands presence, awareness and a free attention at the point in time and space the stimulus is received. It is the key not to inaction but to new experiences – even true spontaneity.

Inhibition can only take place at one very specific moment; the one in which a stimulus is received. Yes, we are all receiving stimuli all the time, but I am referring to “inhibiting a particular reaction to a given stimulus.” This process takes place at “brain-thought level”, as Miss Goldie would express it, and not in the body. If the messages get into the nervous system, it is too late to ‘inhibit’. You can, of course, send countermanding messages, but that creates conflict; having energised nerve pathways, you are then trying to prevent muscles from responding. That is not inhibition, it is freezing – and is one of the causes of what is sometimes referred to as ‘the Alexandroid syndrome’. If you are too late to inhibit, then you can, of course, try and stop, i.e. come to quiet, clear away the clutter from your mind and make a fresh decision.

Neuroscientists inform us that when a stimulus is received, many reactions take place before we have become aware at a conscious level of the stimulus. That may be so; consciousness need not concern itself with everything. Nevertheless, there are certain key patterns of neural activation which take place by dint of being the paths of least resistance, and there is a micro-window of opportunity to ‘stay mentally fluid’ as stimuli begin to impact, and allow options to appear. This happens very quickly – almost in a different time-scale. It is a high-energy state in which the wonderful possibility of ‘the new’ appears, with all its freshness and at times, in the face of the unknown, a degree of trepidation.

One pupil expressed the dilemma very well:

“It is as though I step out of a prison. look around me and see that I am free. I could do anything I want. Then I turn around and step back into my prison.”

How much safer is the known!

Alexander did though see his work as evolutionary in scale. It takes time to get used to living in a new medium, as the first land creatures must also have experienced.

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). “Boiled down, it all comes to inhibiting a particular reaction to a given stimulus.”

© 2013 John S Hunter

Being with Erika: #10, A Lesson in Stopping, London, 1993

Whenever Erika was staying with me I was always keen to get her to talk about her insights into the Alexander Technique and the key individuals involved in its discovery and transmission. Sometimes this became a distraction from actually ‘entering into the moment’.

Erika taught me a lesson, without words and without touch.

After dinner one evening I was washing up. Erika picked up a tea towel and began to dry the dishes. I was impatient to go and sit down and talk about the Alexander Technique. Erika was living it. The more I rushed, the more contrast I sensed between my movements and the freedom with which her arm would appear from somewhere behind me and pick up a plate or bowl or cup. But still I carried on along my furrow of end-gaining.

Then the hand stopped appearing. I turned a little so I could see her in my peripheral vision. She had “stopped”; not ‘frozen’, not ‘paused’ but ‘stopped’. Sometimes when one was with Erika, one became aware of her thought processes. She had stopped, and was giving herself a choice. I felt at that moment that she was perfectly free to put down the tea towel and simply walk out of the kitchen, or to remain quiet and still, or to carry on drying the dishes. She chose to carry on.

By now I had got the message; not only about my own rushing, but more critically about the difference between ‘pausing’ and ‘stopping’. Stopping opens a door into other options.

Even a seemingly mundane activity like ‘doing the washing-up’ could be a medium for teaching.

© 2013 John S Hunter

Other Posts on Being with Erika:

#01, London 1985 – Annual Memorial Lecture
#02, Brighton 1988 – Key Note Address
#03, Melbourne 1991 – “Come for lunch!”
#04, Melbourne 1991 – Tea Ceremony
#05, Melbourne 1991 – Jean Jacques by the Sea
#06, Back in Melbourne, 1992
#07, “Where did you train?”, London, 1993
#08, “It’s all the same”, London, 1993
#09, “Making the Link”, London, 1993
#11, Hands, London 1994
#12, “Yes, but you’re worrying!”, London, 1993
#13, “Nothing special”, London, 1994

Being with Erika: #09, “Making the Link”, London, 1993

I can no longer be sure of the chronology of all the following events as, after such a long time, the occasions Erika stayed with me for one or two weeks, spanning a period of some five years, have mostly blended into one.

It is interesting to record, however, the way she addressed some of the difficulties young teachers were having – rarely related to a technical question about ‘hands-on’ or what we normally think of as ‘use’, but something more existential.

To one she suggested taking up a craft, perhaps even getting a loom, recognising this person’s need for a creative outlet.

Another teacher who came told her of his constant planning inside his head from the moment he woke up in the morning. She got him to sit beside her and watch together in silence the planes flying into Heathrow airport in the distance. He told me later how, at some point, he felt the ground appear underneath him and all his tensions and worries just drain out of him; he ‘stopped’ – and came into being.

Some did come with very definite questions about this or that ‘procedure’; not being open to other possibilities, they missed an opportunity for another level of self-discovery.

One came with a question which was to capture very succinctly a problem which many had. “How do I make the link between what I have learnt in my training course – and do with my pupils – and my own ‘everyday’ life?”

I personally felt it important to pursue this theme of “making the link”; it also gave me some insight into Erika’s comment “all about teaching“.

© 2013 John S Hunter

Other Posts on Being with Erika:

#01, London 1985 – Annual Memorial Lecture
#02, Brighton 1988 – Key Note Address
#03, Melbourne 1991 – “Come for lunch!”
#04, Melbourne 1991 – Tea Ceremony
#05, Melbourne 1991 – Jean Jacques by the Sea
#06, Back in Melbourne, 1992
#07, “Where did you train?”, London, 1993
#08, “It’s all the same”, London, 1993
#10,  A Lesson in Stopping, London, 1993
#11, Hands, London 1994
#12, “Yes, but you’re worrying!”, London, 1993
#13, “Nothing special”, London, 1994

Tips4Pupils – Pausing is not Stopping

A pause is not a stop; they are quite different. A pause implies that one is going to do the thing, but not yet. A stop has no such implication. We are free to do something else.

If you press the pause button on an old-fashioned cassette player, the motor is still engaged but with, so to speak, the brakes on; as soon as you release the button the machine can only continue in the same direction it was going. If you press the stop button, other options become available; you can rewind, fast-forward, record or even remove the tape.

Real stopping means giving oneself real choices.

But take care! With choice comes responsibility.

© 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