Letters To A Young Teacher – Continued…
Here’s a question: When there is an absence of fear, what opens up for you? What presents itself?
Teach from there.
Right now I think curiosity arises when there is an absence of fear. But the curiosity is from the absence of fear, not the path that works with fear when it’s present.
I see what you mean. When you are not afraid, you are in touch with your curiosity. No problem. But what you are wondering about here, (what you are curious about because you are not afraid), is what path do you take when you are afraid. How do you cope with your fear when you are afraid?
Fear, trepidation, anxiety are emotions I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, particularly in regards to the technique, and teaching the technique. How do I work with those emotions when I am teaching, and experiencing them? What do I do in the moment? Those aren’t necessarily questions I expect anyone to be able to definitively answer, but they’re questions I’ve been posing to myself.
Finding a good question to pose is key, and you’ve found one.
When I’m working with a student I’m able to continue despite my fear, but it becomes more overwhelming when I’m putting my hands on a teacher.
Ah, yes. Why is this? Why do so many of us get scared when working with a teacher? Alexander had a hunch. That we want to be right, recognized as good, praised, liked, approved of. That we don’t want to be seen or judged as wrong, untalented, stupid, slow, bad. That we don’t want to be unvalued, unappreciated, rejected. We all want to please our teacher, (or our mom, or dad, or any authority figure), and we’re afraid we won’t.
Of course, if the teacher tends to be overly severe, destructively critical, unkind, unskilled at giving constructive feedback, our task becomes that much more challenging. But not impossible. And if we are also overly severe, destructively critical, unkind, and unskilled at giving constructive feedback to ourselves, or to the teacher, then our task becomes that much more challenging. And this is how so many of us are toward ourselves and others in situations like these.
So what to do when, there you are, afraid, and working with a teacher. There’s a lot of ways into a solution. But let’s see if we can keep it simple.
You know that quote from Rumi, Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there. How can we get ourselves into that field? Because inside of that field lies less fear. Erika Whittaker, the person who studied Alexander’s work longer than any human being, even Alexander, told me once that Alexandrian inhibition was decision. I did not get this for quite awhile, and then I did. You make a decision like, “Next week when I work with my teacher my decision, my hearts desire, is to live inside this field of no rightdoing or wrongdoing. You can’t make the decision lightly. You’ve got to sit with it, inside of it, maybe for days. This decision has to sink down to the bottom of your soul. Then, as Alexander said, you do your best to stick to that decision against your habit of life. When you are living inside that decision, even for a minute, inside of that minute, you are free, free from your fearful life habit. That’s a huge accomplishment, reason for a party, I tell my students. If you’re with your teacher, and you fall back into your pattern, no problem. It’s another moment of opportunity. (Alexander referred to this as “the critical moment”, but I prefer calling it “a moment of opportunity.) You might, in that moment, even let your teacher know what you are working on. Why not? (One of my favorite questions.)
Marj Barstow had another approach. Marj’s magic sentence, when we noticed some interference, be it mental or physical, was “What would happen if….. then fill in the blank….if I let my neck be free…or if I un-gripped my neck…or if, just for a moment, I let that stressful thought fall…or if I gently shifted into the field beyond right and wrong….or if I allowed myself not to have to be good at anything…or if I simply became curious…and then went with that, and found out what it would be like?
Elisabeth Walker was a master at putting a student at ease when they were working with her. It was because she was always playing. She told me she disliked the term Alexander Technique, too technical, too serious. She didn’t like the term Alexander Work, too hard, too heavy. She’d say, “Let’s play, let’s do some Alexander Play.” That was her field beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing. You couldn’t make a mistake when working with Elisabeth. Curiosity is another way into that field, and a good one for you. I wonder what would happen if…It’s a good one for me too.
When I got nervous working with Elisabeth she’d say to me, “Bruce, have no doubt!” (in my potential). And knowing you, having worked with you, I say to you, “Have no doubt!” You are talented, skillful, intelligent, and you love the work. It’s the love for the work that will carry you through. You can trust that. I trust it. I have no doubt that, with practice, you will, we will, become ever better teachers. You are already able to help people, and you will be able to do so more deeply over time.
I fall into my habits of harsh doubt and self criticism. My mental habits are much more difficult to change than my physical ones, though I can see how they affect one another. But the mental habits are wily, like whispers that I don’t even know I’m hearing. I’ve had less experience working with them directly, as I had my physical tension. It might be an interesting experiment to purposefully place myself in situations where I know my mental habits will be challenged and triggered, so that I can become curious about how to inhibit/redirect them. That’s a difficult task to set for myself. I’d rather find I’ve inadvertently tightened my neck than begun to believe the whispers. I find a tight neck easier to deal with. But what a possibly fruitful journey that could be.
Yes, like whispers I don’t even know I am hearing. It will be an interesting experiment, and it will be a fruitful journey. Ultimately, the only habits that do us in are stressful mental ones, our distorted thoughts and beliefs. Alexander said his work was about how we react to stimuli from within and without. It’s rarely something out there that pulls us down. Your teacher is not scaring you. Your thoughts are scaring you. In the end, it’s the thought that needs to be questioned, and allowed to fall away, making space for a thought or an attitude that’s more constructive. Use what you know about releasing and redirecting a stressful muscular pattern. You know how to do that – give yourself time to identify the distorted thought or belief, see it for what it is, accept it, question it, get to know it, then, without effort let it fall, and redirect all that goodness.
Open your time frame. You’ve got your whole life to hone your craft. And remember, it is not your teachers who certify you; it’s your students.