Healing the Rifts within Our Alexander Community at Large
“Now at first sight, all this evidence that the universe looks the same whichever direction we look in might seem to suggest there is something special about our place in the universe. In particular, it might seem that if we observe all other galaxies to be moving away from us, then we must be at the center of the universe. There is, however, an alternate explanation: the universe might look the same in every direction as seen from any other galaxy too. We have no scientific evidence for, or against, this assumption. We believe it on the grounds of modesty: it would be most remarkable if the universe looked the same in every direction around us, but not around other points in the universe! The situation is rather like a balloon with a number of spots painted on it being steadily blown up. As the balloon expands, the distance between any two spots increases, but there is no spot that can be said to be the center of the expansion.”
A Rift Resolved
At the 11th Congress in Chicago, I decided it was time to apologize to Yehuda Kuperman for what I now perceived as my arrogance at the 4th international congress in Sydney in 1994, and for my having, most likely, offended him at one particular gathering. So, I did. A 68 year old man apologizing to an 81 year old man. It’s not over, until its over.
Watching Yehuda at the 3rd international Congress in Engelberg in 1991, I was impressed with the way he moved, with his naturalness, so at the 11th congress, I encouraged Alexander Alliance students to take his classes, and they did. They were moved by Yehuda and by his work. They invited him to Santa Fe, that they might continue to learn from him. He accepted. He was moved by them, by how open they were to learning. Yehuda invited them to Israel. Robyn Avalon, Margarete Tueshaus, and Roselia Galassi, Alexander Alliance faculty members, accepted and went to Israel to study further, and also to share with them some of the way in which we work. Yehuda was moved. The Alexander Alliance is celebrating its 40th anniversary as a school in October 2020. We invited Yehuda. We hope he accepts. A rift resolved.
The Grand Illusion
I wonder. How did all these rifts within our community at large begin?
Perhaps our 1st generation teachers were each on their own planet, perceiving the illusion that each of them stood at the center of the Alexander universe. This grand illusion was so convincing, perhaps the 1st generation teachers passed their assumption onto their students, and most of their students, assumed, without question, this assumption to be the truth.
Of course, it stands to reason, that if my teacher stood at the center of the Alexander Universe, and if I stood next to them, then I too would be standing at the center of the Alexander Universe. If my teacher was special, then I too must be special. And since there is only one center to the universe, no one else, but us, could be standing at the center of the universe.
This leads to the unverified conclusion that our way is the best way, the only right way. As we know from Alexander’s findings, there is no more rigid position than the right position, no more position as inflexible, dogmatic, blind, and potentially destructive than the right position. Once we have established our position to be the only right position, we hold onto it with great gusto. And if we alone are right, then it seems only logical that everyone else is wrong. Our profession is not alone in this delusional thinking. We see this delusional thinking operating politically and theologically all over the world. We see it in every institution, in every business, in every family, within each and every soul, all over the world.
But even though Alexander recognized this universal problem, he seemed blind to it when it came to how he perceived his own work. In Alexander’s writings, I perceive a sense of superiority, a hubris, self-righteousness, a lack of humility, and I believe that, insidiously, we absorbed this attitude. Somehow, without exhaustive evidence, we continue to see our work as superior to Yoga, Pilates, the Feldenkrais Method, Gyrotonics, the Rosen Method, Somatic Experiencing, BodyMind Centering, and to every other study within the somatic field of education. We’re both inter and intra-professionally snobby. We do not stand on the ground of modesty.
The First Act of War
A person with whom I have had the honor to study with for many years was Byron Katie. Her work goes to the heart of this problem. It’s a powerful tool that cuts through self-inflation, grandiosity, egocentricity, and superiority complexes. It begins with the acceptance of the fact that we all judge other people, groups, professions, etc. The question arises, “Is it possible that our judgements are untrue?” We practice asking questions like, “Can I absolutely know that what I am believing is true is, in fact, true?” Likewise, when people judge or criticize us, we practice asking questions like, “Could they be right?” Do we really want to know the truth, or do we just want to be right?
God exists. Can I absolutely know that is true?
God does not exist. Can I absolutely know that is true?
We are in a climate catastrophe. Can I absolutely know that is true?
We are not in a climate catastrophe. Can I absolutely know that is true?
The Democrats should move to the left to defeat Trump. Can I absolutely know that is true?
The Democrats should move to the center to defeat Trump. Can I absolutely know that is true?
A human life begins at conception. Can I absolutely know that is true?
A human life begins at six weeks. Can I absolutely know that is true?
A human life begins at birth. Can I absolutely know that is true?
We discover that, not offense, but defense is the first act of war. When someone attacks us, there is, as yet, no conflict. The conflict begins when, instead of thinking about what they are saying, instead of inquiring into whether or not what they are saying could be true, we reactively defend our right position. If one person is hard, and we are hard, that person will feel hard. If one person is hard, and we are soft, that person will feel soft. If the bed is hard and our bodies are hard, the bed will feel hard. If the bed is hard and our bodies are soft, the bed will feel soft.
Making room for the possibility that we may be wrong. “Let’s hope something goes wrong,” says Alexander. Immediately, as soon as we allow a little room for doubt, for not being sure, for the I don’t know mind, the body becomes freer and more flexible. We become freer and more flexible.
One of my favorite films is entitled, Doubt. Here is the plot from Wikipedia.
In 1964 at a Catholic church in The Bronx, New York, Father Brendan Flynn, (Philip Seymour Hoffman), gives a sermon on the nature of doubt, noting that it, like faith, can be a unifying force. Sister Aloysius, (Meryl Streep), the strict principal of the church’s parish school, becomes concerned when she sees a boy pull away from Flynn in the school courtyard. She instructs her Sisters to be alert to suspicious activity in the school.
Sister James, a young and naive teacher, receives a request for Donald Miller, an altar boy and the school’s only African-American student, to meet Flynn in the rectory. Donald returns to class visibly upset, and James notices the smell of alcohol on his breath. Later, she sees Flynn placing an undershirt in Donald’s locker. She reports her suspicions to Aloysius.
Aloysius and James confront Flynn. Flynn denies wrongdoing, claiming Donald had been caught drinking communion wine and that he called him to dismiss him as an altar boy. James is relieved by Flynn’s explanation, but Aloysius is not convinced. Flynn delivers his next sermon on bearing false witness and gossip. James later asks Flynn about the shirt he put in Donald’s locker, an observation she kept from Aloysius. Flynn explains that Donald had left the shirt in the sacristy, and that he put it in his locker to spare him additional embarrassment.
Aloysius meets with Donald’s mother regarding her suspicions and is shocked by her seeming disinterest in Flynn’s alleged abuse. Mrs. Miller admits that she would turn a blind eye to the abuse, if it existed, in order to keep Donald in a school that will better his socioeconomic situation and to further protect him from his physically abusive father; Mrs. Miller confesses that she knows Donald is gay, and she fears that his father would kill him if he knew about what happened with Flynn.
Aloysius confronts Flynn and demands his resignation. She claims to have contacted a nun from one of his previous parishes who corroborated her suspicions and threatens to visit his previous appointments and contact parents. Flynn agrees to request a transfer and delivers a final sermon before departing.
Some time later, Aloysius tells James that Flynn has been appointed to a more prestigious position at a larger church. She admits to having lied about contacting a nun at Flynn’s former church, but believes his resignation is proof of his guilt.
She then breaks down in tears, saying to James,
“I have doubts…I have such doubts.”
This last scene is, for me, one of the most powerful moments I have ever seen in film. This moment when, a person who was absolutely sure she was right, and who acted on her rightness, finally realizes she is unsure, very unsure, that she could be completely and utterly wrong, was life changing for her, and for me.
From Generation to Generation
Our 2nd generation teachers are now our elders. Already there are 3rd, and 4th generation teachers, and soon to be 5th generation teachers. Some say, it takes at least three generations for the families of those traumatized by war to recover. Genesis teaches us this as well.
Adam and Eve experience a major trauma.
1st generation. Cain kills his brother Abel.
2nd generation. Isaac and Ishmael reconcile, but never speak to one another.
3rd generation. Jacob and Esau reconcile, and do speak to one another.
4th generation. Joseph and his brothers reconcile, speak to one another, and Joseph invites all his brothers to live with him.
We learn that healing is possible. Family unity is possible.
Blessed are the Meek
Meek, that is, unassuming, soft, pliant, gentle, humble.
We know, as Alexander teachers, that softness, gentleness, and pliancy is not weakness, but strength. Blessed, in old English, means bliss or happiness.
Isn’t this, in essence, what our work is about? Strength through softness. This most delicate and deep refusal to use force? This great and utter undoing. This becoming unfixed, unbraced, unblocked, unmasked, unchained, unassuming, unaffected, unshielded, unforced, unadorned, untied, untangled, unpretentious, unbiased, unburdened, unbroken…