The Vault

Experience and Experiments 

By David Gorman


As everyone who was at the recent Congress in Engleberg could see for themselves, we are starting to grow up as a profession. Not only in terms of numbers, but also in the confidence and willingness to look around us at our colleagues and to marvel at the range of talents and interpretations of this work we do. Except for a few sourpusses who held themselves aloof in the mistaken idea that their technique was the real thing and needed protecting from those who were either charlatans or fools, we all got stretched and inspired, appreciated for what we can do and able to see what we might do.

This Congress seems to me, having attended all three, the first one which was representative of the entire community—by entire community I mean all those who are sincerely exploring the Alexander work and teaching others. It is precisely those who are farthest from us in their background and their way of approach from whom we stand to learn the most. I was pleased to see so many people excited by so many different understandings of the work. We have a long way to go, both in opening ourselves up to others in our own profession and developing the potential of the work, but we’re off to a promising start that feels more solid than ever before.

It is a particularly good time for us all to be coming to this consolidation of the meaning of the work through sharing and openness because the profession has reached the ‘age’ when those who worked directly with Alexander are retiring or passing away and the mantle is passing to another generation of teachers who do not have that direct remembrance of where the work originated. We have only each other now and what we have learned from our teachers and discovered for ourselves, so it behooves us to begin to make the best of each other so that we don’t find ourselves slipping down the path to discord and dissipation of the force of the work through conflict in a way that has afflicted so many other nascent professions. Anyway, that‘s enough of a plug for tolerance and openness…

The Congress was such a fullness of possibilities that few of us were able to attend more than a fraction of the groups and workshops we would have liked. Perhaps as we read through these Congress Papers we’ll be able to glimpse at least something of what we missed and whet out appetites for Australia in 1994. I had initially decided against accepting the invitation to give one of the second generation classes because I’ve become less satisfied with the value of workshops where I show how to teach by working with others and demonstrating how I do it. It has become much more interesting for me to help others find their own way of teaching and/or what is stopping them from developing their unique and individual expression. I couldn’t quite imagine how to approach this in the time and format available.

Then I remembered what a student on my training course had said about a lesson she’d had with Peggy Williams. The student had asked Peggy what she did to get ready to teach as she was about to work. Peggy had replied something to the effect that “Why should I do anything to teach, I am a teacher!” It made me realise , of course! Why should we do things to get ready to teach if we’ve already integrated the work into our daily lives. We’re as ready as we’re ever going to be. If we haven’t integrated the work into our daily lives then we’re not suddenly going to get any better by preparing for a few seconds—we’re only going to get a little more prepared and less our normal selves. If we feel we have to get ready before coming into contact with a pupil maybe we should work a little more on integrating our ‘good use’ into our daily lives so that we actually are living what we suggest to our pupils.

So I decided to use the second generation class as a way to experiment with this issue with the various teachers and trainees who attended. We kept it simple—just splitting up into small groups, each person taking turns to come up to work on another as we ‘normally’ did, the others observing to see if they stopped and got ready. or ‘directed,’ or ‘released‘ or anything special that happened just before coming to contact and proceeding with the lesson, It was surprising for a lot of people how much they put in between them and the pupil in terms of preparation.

The second part of the experiment was then to leave out all that ‘Alexander stuff’ just to see what would happen. Here it was interesting how difficult people found it not to do their usual ‘teaching’ stuff. They felt as if they were no longer doing the Technique, or that they couldn’t possibly teach, or that they would be no good without their extra ‘Alexander armour.’ It shows a lot.

But the most fascinating (and powerful) thing was what actually happened when the ‘teachers’ didn’t do all their ‘teacherness.’ The pupil being worked with and the observing group all could see and feel the change, In their own way each person felt that the teacher was ‘more with them’ as opposed to behind their ‘teacherness.’ They felt more ‘allowed,’ more ‘space and warmth.’ It was as if the teachers, by being more themselves, allowed the pupil to be more themselves, which felt good and was appreciated. The pupils found themselves less concerned with what was supposed to happen and less anxious of what was expected of them. They were more present with the rest of group and less drawn in to some inner, physical, feeling process. All quite unexpected and interesting. Once the teachers got over their difficulty in letting go of the perceived necessity to ‘direct,’ etc., they also felt more at ease and had more enjoyment in what they were doing. They didn’t have to do the teaching, they could be the teaching. In other words, they could be teachers.

I think for many it was a surprise to realize that, indeed, they already were highly trained, sensitive beings embodying a lot more of the work than they had thought. That their preparation and doing actually kept them from their own integration. It distanced them from the pupil and from the human responsiveness between the two of them. I’m only sorry the time was so short—and that I had to miss the other classes to do my own. I think I’ll go as a ‘civilian’ next time… 


David Gorman trained with Walter Carrington and is currently a Director of The Cente for Training and Development, an Alexander teacher training school in London.

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