This collection of 10 articles features three main visionaries, exceptional beings with their fingers on the pulse of the Universe. They go beyond the limits of subject matter to touch the unconscious mind profoundly which leads to realizations of the true self, the true nature, and to new ways of being.
Human beings each have at their disposal a legacy from their ancestral lineage. This determines how we look and act, our pre-dispositions, our imprints and our self-image. Social, cultural and educational conditioning is then applied to this blueprint, so that the only aspect of ourselves that we can realistically change is self-education, how our imprints and pre-dispositions lead us to edify ourselves.
It is this aspect of change or growth that the three visionaries featuring in the series addressed. They believed above all in uncovering the true nature of the individual behind the various masks worn to enable them to fit in and to secure approval, and in empowering the individual to learn for themselves, to develop their own voice, and to step forward and use it.
They did not set themselves up as gurus or masters, but instead as facilitators and enablers. They remained neutral in terms of allegiance to spiritual or religious traditions, but they were altruistic and sincerely motivated to liberate people from their manacles.
- Behind the Masks: Moshe Feldenkrais and Buddha insights
- The Average Man: (Feldenkrais follow-up)
- Man’s Supreme Inheritance : F.M.Alexander and body re-education
- The Means Whereby (Alexander follow-up)
- Jiddu Krishnamurti: Introducing Krishnamurti
- Krishnamurti: Going Beyond (J.Krishnamurti follow-up)
- Visions of Human Freedom: (all three compared)
1: Behind the Masks
Moshe Feldenkrais and Buddha Insights
Moshe Feldenkrais greatly influenced my personal development as a balanced person of the universe. But he was not a religious man, and never to my knowledge admitted to being on a spiritual pathway. He was a passionate biologist, above all an academic, as his copious research work will attest. I hope in this series of articles to be able to show how certain geniuses appear in the world to point the way indirectly to ‘enlightenment,’ ‘emptiness,’ ‘grace,’ ‘oneness,’ or in non-religious terms, true and lasting happiness, call it what you may. Such beings could perhaps be termed emanations, and are not contained by any of the many faiths and life philosophies which exist in the modern pluralistic world. These visionaries have their ears constantly held close to the pulse of the universe, and possess the ability to reach deep into the mass of the iceberg of our minds below the tip; in other words, into the unconscious mind. There is undoubtedly also some mystical or karmic link if we are drawn to them and they can touch us deeply.
Let me introduce this phenomenon a little more before I outline Feldenkrais, his work, and his profound influence on me. I write as an unattached energy of the universe with a variety of religious, spiritual and philosophical experience, which I have now shifted beyond into a state of Oneness.
SELF-IMAGE. Speaking as a life-long educator and seeker myself, I have come to realize that human beings learn best indirectly, some would say perversely, at the side or in a meta position. They are so aware of and sensitive to their self-image within their community or society, that they either become easily self-conscious, always requiring a witness, or conversely they retreat from the public eye altogether and fix their self-image so it can never change. Unfortunately, this obsession with self-image can seriously distort the sincerity of our intentions in everything we do in daily life. We see this clearly in children who are aware that their parents are watching them and so show off to impress them. I believe that such preoccupations can scramble our intentions and impede our sincerity with ourselves. To become spiritually aware and integrated into the universe, we need to let go of our self-image because there is actually no ‘self.’ It is a delusion of the mind, and some say the root of all suffering.
In today’s secular and diverse world, as we become more and more remote from our divine origins, our behavior in the world is often driven by ulterior motives. We reinvent ourselves in human terms according to our social status and self image, and in so doing put down layers of fear and pride, repressing our true nature to live up to the expectations of others. We are not content with the resources we have been endowed with, always seeking something better or bigger or more stimulating, always slightly unhappy and strongly attached to status and material goods. The inevitability of loss drones away in the background like a perpetual TV, so we are restless and always on the look out for distractions.
ATTENTION. In a diverse world, there are varying levels of attention according to the situation, which affect our psychological lives. In social groups, most of us desperately seek approval and attention from others before we can be truly happy. Then in a learning situation, if we are approached head-on by a teacher or method, we unconsciously throw up barriers, and then may not be able to assimilate the matter we are being taught. In this situation, there is perhaps too much direct attention and many tangible expectations, and when coupled with a high risk of failure we may feel scrutinized and vulnerable. Many of us have developed a consumerist attitude to learning, and fail to see acquiring new skills and knowledge as an end in and for itself.
LEARNING INDIRECTLY. Humans have become perverse in this way, but we can pick up many things unconsciously and indirectly while rejecting the limelight of performance and minimizing our risks. I first realised this when I was a student of Feldenkrais. I was studying his body-re-education techniques in a group and with an individual teacher seriously, though there was no pass/fail element, and I was fairly successful in assimilating these techniques. But in fact, I was aware that I was being touched in a much more profound way by this interaction than the surface subject matter. I was only able to grasp this much later. It is as if the moment has to be exactly right to fully assimilate what we are learning. This depends first on our motivation, and then on our experience and wisdom.
INDIRECT INFLUENCES. We encounter so many influences as we move around our busy lives. We can often feel the power that ‘story’ can exert, that films and art have. Their effects on us are perhaps not quantifiable, but the mass of the iceberg beneath the water consisting of all of our experiences, our thoughts, our feelings, our conditioning and culture, can be touched in this indirect way: I believe it also stores our karma and virtue or merit. It is in fact beneath the surface that the greatest transformations take place, and this is also where we can encounter and engage with the mystical. From experience, I am certain that we truly learn the knowledge that leads to wisdom at this deep level, in, what oriental philosophies call, a state of ‘no mind,’ ie. no conscious mind.
Feldenkrais deeply understood these aspects of humans. His techniques developed from his passionate interest in Judo and eastern martial philosophies, and the malfunctioning of the human body. He wanted to enquire deeply into the non-chronic, non-life threatening aspects of human existence, which appeared to have no medical origin, could not be diagnosed or labeled. Why did people experience prolonged aching and stiffness, which had no medical cause? Why did they have unsubstantiated problems with their joints, or lack of energy? If they had no serious health problem why were they not completely ‘healthy,’ troubled in some way, frustrated or negative, restless, and so on. He based his enquiries on the fact that the body and the mind are the same – the mind-body continuum; in other words, that every thought we have affects every cell of our body in some way. To me, 30 years ago when I was a Feldenkrais student, this idea was quite a revelation, whereas nowadays it is fairly common knowledge.
The Feldenkrais system of exercise is famous and transformative, but this article in not the place to describe it (see: http://www.feldenkrais-method.org/;www.feldenkraisinstitute.org/;www.feldenkrais.com). Rather it is interesting in terms of our human faith or belief system, our fully opening the awareness or consciousness through body work, while looking at the human body-mind continuum as a whole entity. He viewed such troublesome imbalances as positive ‘dis-ease’ (the original meaning of the word) with the possibility of easing, as opposed to the more modern negative ‘disease,’ a disorder threatening human life in some way, which requires medical treatment based on medical research. Without doubt, his exercise system eased my petty discomforts, but in addition opened up a whole universe, which had previously been concealed to me. In other words, his work touched my subtle mind, my unconsciousness, my cosmic energy, the mass of my iceberg below the surface, and I was enabled to make deep changes as a result.
Feldenkrais’ based his system on his expert knowledge and observation of biological organisms, but he also had many social theories, which in my view form a rationale for human effort beyond that of the ordinary mind. His principal idea was that the most important thing to most human beings was their self-image and how others viewed them. He analyzed self-image as composed of 3 parts:
- The inherited self – handed down through our ancestry, which is impossible to change except by brain washing or cosmetic surgery. Our physical make-up and our predilections and tendencies; and along with this our karma and virtue inherited from ancestors.
- Education – imposed from our societies, cultures and communities. This can be changed, but it is essential if we wish to fit into the large social/cultural/religious group we are part of.
- Self-education – what we choose to teach or assimilate ourselves, or what we consciously allow through our filters. There has been a revolution in self-help culture in modern times. Of course, this part is influenced by our inherited self in terms of proclivities and tendencies, often referred to as ‘imprints.’
It was the third part that Feldenkrais was most interested in, so unlike many teachers, he did not cultivate any dependence among his students. He devoutly believed that he should teach them how to teach themselves so that they could change their ‘dis-ease’ through their own effort and belief in their own powers. Therefore, from this aspect, his teachings come under the general heading of ‘re-education.’ Feldenkrais believed that we could strip away the onion layers of conditioning we are subjected to as adults living in developed societies, so that we could return to our original unblemished state, to the perfection of a healthy child. That the busy materialist mind was apt to create a continual negative inner dialogue which interfered with our natural endowment; in other words, our true nature or Buddha nature. (see my previous article: ‘True Nature’ – https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/article-4-the-true-self/) As a result of our becoming increasingly isolated from nature, he suggested that we had developed a tendency to discard our natural state, almost as if it were some kind of handicap.
In religious terms, this kind of independence and self-direction was and still is also strongly indicated in the teachings of Buddha and other spiritual leaders, as well as visionaries like Jiddu Krishnamurti and F.M.Alexander, two iconic figures in my own development. Our faith, our belief system, is exclusively ours, and no-one else can experience it the way we do; no-one can have the insights on our behalf. In spiritual terms, oneness and our receptiveness to our own voices in chorus with those of the universe, we are a human channel for the wisdom of the universe, and therefore must put aside our ‘self’ because it does not exist. It is merely a notion of the deluded mind. In the same way, no-body can talk us through regaining our own natural elegance and integrity, which we lose because we lose contact with our divine origin and nature. Finally, a teacher can facilitate these transformations, but it is we who must directly apprehend a need to change, then make the effort and so receive the insights, which in turn generate wisdom. We have a special and unique mission in life, and only we can carry this out.
Even if we are not on a so-called spiritual path, the majority of us wish to transform ourselves to improve the quality of our lives, to rid ourselves of suffering, pain and loss. This is mistaken according to Feldenkrais who was adamant that with the right kind of training, we can re-educate in order to return to our original liberated state; if you like, our divine origins when we were pure and spiritually awake. I believe he provided an ingenious way of distracting the mind from its indulgences, its negative tendencies, so that we can get in touch once again with our innate sacredness.
We are basically creatures of goodness and light, so if the self-serving ego is displaced or dissolved, we naturally think about the well-being of other people which prevents absorption in ourselves. This has been the message of most of the spiritual leaders throughout human history, and I believe pre-history. It links to the way we receive input from the outside world, ie. education. Indirectness leads to wisdom; whereas, directness can feather the bird of the self-image and ego.
Feldenkrais’s second pivotal social theory concerned masks. Through working on the gross and subtle energy of the body regularly from the body-mind continuum or bridge, he believed that we could take down the mask we had painstakingly crafted to be able to fit quietly into large social groups, and then eventually discard it forever. In order to be a functional part of society, we need to modify our behavior and ways of thinking, as we have basically deteriorated into egocentric and secular beings. But society is capable of knocking our dreams out of us in the name of containment, of harmony, both of which are themselves positive things. However, if we hold on to resentment or anger or envy as a result of this containment, keeping them buried, then in order not to let them show, we learn to hide them behind our social masks. Most people are very rarely completely honest because they will not risk losing the approval of others. In my experience, body-work allowed me to become the person I truly am, and I was no longer afraid of being honest or being ostracized.
So, by wearing masks, we repress our true nature. We craft masks, sometimes painfully, to suit the situation, but when we take our masks down we vent our frustration and repression alone or with our closest partner of family member, and perhaps resort to substance abuse or crime, sexual perversion or corruption, any means of getting back at someone for our suffering in losing our true nature. We become moral cowards and lose our original voice and our special mission, which only we can carry out. Eventually, that loss provokes us to make the mask permanent so we can never take it down. It becomes who we are – our status, our level of fame and success, the perks and popularity associated with these things, etc. We are attached to the permanence of this life wearing the mask, so we no longer look behind it or even try to take it off. In spiritual terms, we are blind and deaf, cloistered and listening only to our inner dialogue scripted for us by our peers and celebrities, by the gods of drugs and intoxication and coca cola, and by the media and Conglomerates.
Putting on our masks to better cope with difficult social demands blocks our self-honesty, blocks our true nature. We become skilled social performers, masters of deception, etc., but at the same time, we chase like mad people after illusory happiness and contentment. I learned gradually and painfully to discard the mask of the self, but of course many social occasions occur when unconsciously we may put it in place again. This is the spiritual training we need to undertake if we want to find true and lasting happiness, and take up our unique mission in human life. If we look to the well-being of those we love, putting it before concern for ourselves, then the universe, our divine origin, will protect and nurture us.
My work with Moshe Feldenkrais’s techniques moved me to commit myself to finding a state of true honesty with myself, which would in time become the basis for negotiating both the visible and the invisible worlds. I encountered his work by chance through my connections with F.M.Alexander, another visionary with his ear constantly on the heart beat of the universe.
2: The Average Man
In this series, to repeat the main theme, I will write about three charismatic innovators who have strongly influenced my spiritual growth despite the fact that they were not spiritual masters. Feldenkrais, the movement specialist, the focus of Article 1 (ref:http://wp.me/p3O6mn-iG) will again be the focus of this second article as so much came up from the writing and the reflection afterwards. I would like to unzip some of the denser parts of the last article to give a wider perspective.
Feldenkrais, like Alexander and Krishnamurti, were able to see the bigger picture of human life. It is common for the human body to be alluded to as a microcosm of the universe. Indeed, Feldenkrais was interested not in the gross detail of the mechanics of the body per se, though that was his speciality, but more in the overall affect of the human organism, and how that organism fitted into the ecology of the universe and societies, how it could be balanced naturally. Mainstream medicine treats local symptoms with drugs or surgery often without taking the whole organism into account; this is reminiscent of the blind man trying to describe an elephant, which he is touching, to get an impression – how can he ever know the whole entity? In the same way, if we each create a universe in our minds and immerse ourselves in it, asserting the self and the ego, how can we ever know the actual natural universe.
Feldenkrais, through his tireless work with human microcosms, which were out of balance, pointed out the importance of self-image as a key factor in dis-ease if that self-image was not acceptable to others or to the self. But then, as he went on to explain, the self-image was often appropriately masked for different social situations in order to fit in, or out of fear, or even lust. The habitual wearing of such masks would inevitably affect the anatomy of the whole organism, and thus the links with the true self, the natural self, would gradually be damaged, and then finally break. At this point, the mask or masks would be impossible to remove, so that the natural self was lost forever. It is easy to see that this notion has huge implications in spiritual terms.
Living in societies and communities in general, because there are hierarchies and a variety of contrasted self-images at work, Feldenkrais suggested that we are likely to become very passive. The analogy here is with sitting using a chair with a back. If we always lean against the back of the chair, then the muscles supporting our spine are made gradually redundant, so we cannot any longer sit comfortably in a chair without a back. In daily life, if we listen to our ‘superiors,’ our so-called leaders, saturating our minds with reports from the media and the enormous output of the work of mediocre writers at large today, then we never use our own voice, our own ideas, and it is never expected of us to speak out because everyone worships the literati and broadcasting agencies in power. Those who do step forward and offer innovative ideas and notions stand to be either embraced in the pantheon or rejected out of hand.
This passiveness is observable in religious and spiritual circles too. Especially in organized groups, the majority part of such training is to dislodge the self-serving ego, cultivate modesty and humility, assuage sensual craving, and so on. However, because we are already wearing social masks, once the self-serving ego is dissolved, we may become numb, dull, afraid to express our true nature, afraid to make our unique contribution. Of course, thankfully there are the few giants of the religious/spiritual spheres who stepped forward to innovate, following their mystical directives. I believe Feldenkrais had an insight into letting go of all the synthetic selves the intellectual mind is capable of creating to become One with the universe and with our original and divine nature. In less grand terms, perhaps we need to ask how we can be really honest with ourselves and follow our instincts to find our unique human mission. How can we step forward when people’s expectations of us are non-existent, and in all probability misguided? How can our true nature thrive if we are entirely dependent on the approval of others, controlled by the dictates and wisdom of the few, expected to just merge into the masses, put on our masks, and stay quiet?
Feldenkrais was important, and continues to be important to me exactly because he did not rely on other people’s expectations or views, and had the courage to step forward without masks and use his own voice. He was not afraid of criticism or competition because he knew without equivocation that we are each completely unique, so there is no danger of being a carbon copy of someone else. I believe he was motivated to do this from a position of equality with all beings, not tolerating any superior or inferior labels. After all, his passion was self-education leading to re-education, so he therefore had no doubt in his mind that everyone was capable of teaching themselves and changing themselves without leaning on specialists and following others to the letter. It is as if his body-work system could ignite a dampened divine spark and make it burn hot in the unconscious mind.
As mentioned in article 1 (see ref. above) it is curious to reflect on why certain things/people/ideas appeal directly to us, and others do not. As Feldenkrais pointed out, our ancestry, our inheritance down through our lineage, is the part of us we cannot change except by surgical means or brainwashing. It is our DNA on the physical level, which creates a version of the original template of our line, and is complete with ‘imprints,’ as they are called by some. Cueing into such imprints is important because they may enable us to pick up on part of our mission and go forward with it, which probably will be of benefit to civilization if we have tested our self-sincerity.
Each individual consciousness fits perfectly into the greater entity like a piece of a giant mosaic: it therefore goes without saying that the whole will be balanced if every part is placed in position. To make your own piece fit is a question of listening to your own heart and following that instead of the expectations of others; of going out in the storm and experiencing it, rather than sitting inside and watching it from a closed room.
Imprints? Propensities? Proclivities? Call them what you may. They exist in all of us, passed down through the spirit of our ancestors and related spirits. Spirit is pure and indestructible energy; aspirations, passions, shortcomings, mistakes, etc., all of these human lessons, are plugged into our DNA blueprint, our karma as Buddhists refer to it. By way of an example, my maternal grandmother was the kindest, most loving of all people I had ever met as a child. I aspired to having the grace and integrity that she had, and to be able one day to have her magical presence. She was a devout Catholic all her life, but she revealed to me before she died that there were some aspects of the Catholic religion she was not in agreement with. This disturbed me, a concern given my closeness to her which imprinted itself on my unconscious mind.
Thirty years later I had the incredible opportunity to go to live in the Eastern Pyrenees, high in the mountains between France and Spain, in western Europe. As I settled into my new life in a deserted medieval village there, I could sense a deep and fascinating energy. The Cathars, (ref:https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/category/interfaith/the-cathars-the-church-of-love/) a medieval sect of authentic Christians, had lived in the mountain fortresses all around built originally as wartime refuges; They were being hotly persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church of Rome, my grandmother’s religion, as heretics, and were eventually eradicated by being burned at the stake en mass.
Although very little is known about them in detail, I could feel such pure strong energy in the region, and so I spent a lot of time visiting the famous sites so that I could absorb more of it. I lived there for about 6 years on and off and then returned to my country of birth. Then, I had a series of haunting dreams about my beloved grandmother and the Cathars, and realised there was a connection. During this period, I was involved in the Buddhist teachings having moved on from Christianity, my birth religion. But I could never forget the Cathars and went on researching them, while continuing to have the same kind of troubling dreams.
Some years later, I received various communications about the Cathars by email, which was rather unexpected. One of them really startled me because it announced the dates of the Cathar revival predicted before the remaining Cathars were destroyed, 700 years in the future. New Cathars would be born on certain dates in the mid 20th century, and to my amazement, my birthdate fell within the predictions. Again many dreams and visions in meditation made it clear to me that my grandmother had been a Cathar, not a Catholic, and that I connected with that essence in her. The creed of the Cathars, the Church of Love, (ref) is something I have always dreamed of being reinstated as the single world creed, as I believe it once was when we were truly sacred beings. This was an imprint, which I was determined to examine, to test, beyond all logic, so I can carry my legacy forwards while spreading the Cathar mission and bringing hope to our troubled world.
Feldenkrais was passionate about education, and in particular self-education. As I mentioned, the unconscious mind, the vast mass of the iceberg below the water, is what we need to touch if we are to learn deeply. Again, I find an analogy with spiritual practice here; we may read many exalted texts, attend lectures, fill our minds with as much information as we can about the creed or master we have been drawn to, but until we are touched, moved in our depths in some inexplicable way, way beyond logic or reason, then we cannot assimilate those theories and knowledge and apply them in our every day lives. They remain in the domain of the mind, not of the heart.
Another way of putting this is that the map we may look at of a region or country is not the actual territory. It is a representation, merely an interpretation of that physical location. Until we experience the place first-hand, until we interact with its energies, we cannot say we ‘know’ it. This experiential aspect of learning is so important, and largely not taken into account in mainstream education. If we are motivated to feel what we are learning directly instead of at the side, in a meta way, then there is a great chance it will genuinely touch us and rearrange something in our unconsciousness. The unconscious mind is a vast storehouse of all our experiences, our conditionings governed by culture, gender, age, social rank, etc. We cannot change it directly except by hypnosis, brainwashing, lobotomy, and other radical means, but through subtle and indirect means as through meditation, appealing to the higher self, body-work, art and artistic expression, etc., it is definitely possible.
Feldenkrais through the notion of re-education, along with Alexander and Krishnamurti, believed that by putting aside our attachment to conditioning, going beyond all barriers imposed on us by societies, organized groups, and consortiums, we could strip away the multiple layers until we uncovered our true nature, and allowed our divine spark to burst into flame once more. Feldenkrais termed this ‘organic nature.
When describing the general education system’s dual function of suppressing non-conformist tendencies and the discarding of spontaneous desires, he says:
Every aspiration and spontaneous desire is subjected to stringent internal criticism lest they reveal the individual’s organic nature.’ (P6,Awareness Through Movement, Penguin,1972)
An example, which is close to my heart as a teacher, concerns the methods employed of teaching/learning English in Japan where I live and work. Traditionally, English has been taught here using the translation method, ie. words, phrases and sentences are translated doggedly into Japanese, the emphasis being on meaning through the medium of Japanese. But how can we ever expect to learn a foreign language if we translate everything into our mother tongue? Once we are no longer beginners and we have a basic vocabulary and rudimentary grammar, we have to experience the language we are trying to learn, for and of itself, directly, avoiding translation but employing synonyms, of which English has a huge number.
The translated language is theoretical, like the map mentioned above: it is not the actual territory of that language. So, until students of English can experience success in communicating or reading or writing in English without a Japanese map, there will be no true experience of that language. Direct experience of a language, its culture, its context, the way it feels, is the only way that language will truly be integrated into the unconscious mind. And this is why studying in English-speaking countries is the most effective way for total immersion in English.
It is the feelings about and awareness of what we are leaning that truly touch us, not the subject matter itself. With body work, the technicalities of anatomy and physiology do not matter as much as the more invisible aspects of the experience of that learning.
In terms of learning, it is also important that we immerse ourselves in the process of learning, or acquiring whatever we are trying to acquire, rather than craning our necks to see the results or the proofs of success. The process is akin to focused listening, whereas the results are more visual in quality. Process is becoming absorbed deeply in the moment as we are when we are truly listening, no matter how long it takes. When we are totally absorbed in the process, there is nothing else. We become that which we are learning, not separate from it, not a consumer. This lack of separation means we are empty of ego, empty of the self. What we actually absorb in this way can be wide, can be true wisdom, not simply subject matter. Such an absorption is like meditation, a dipping into the vast invisible dimensions; in fact, the mystical.
A human body carrying out a series of carefully worked-out exercises in a totally absorbed state, empty of meaning or logic, not conscious of results or outcomes, it surely a mystical episode. We can touch the invisible, the magical, we can take our places in the universe, we can envision ourselves moving freely without effort on the face of the Earth, under the infinite sky, becoming the human link between the planet and the Universe. Humans, endowed with divine love and divine missions, surely fill this role so perfectly if we have not lost touch with our true, our original, our ‘organic’ nature. This is the way of ‘no mind,’ which forms the foundation of oriental martial arts and philosophies, and with the disengagement of the intellectual mind, which creates its own reality continually, we return to our state of pure energy motivated by the essence of unconditional love.
Although never referred to as such because of his scientific orientation, Feldenkrais’s body-work system and his theories about man and movement, bring about healing. This is an indirect benefit of his guided processes, which are logically reasoned and substantiated to be palatable to the scientific community and to entrenched mask wearers. But in terms of deep change and attention, a healing definitely takes place. Incidentally, the word ‘healing’ comes from an ancient German/Dutch origin and means ‘whole.’ In other words, Feldenkrais was addressing the whole person, beyond any restrictions imposed by society or nationality, and beyond any limited intellectual concepts such as time or space. He was devoted to easing people’s physical condition, but part of that easing, given the oppressive and controlling societies we are forced to inhabit for economic and survival purposes, is the realization of our potential beyond what is required by society. In other words, to make our original nature shine so that we can live with joy and have the courage to be completely sincere with ourselves first and then with others.
Many urbanists have become so materialistic, so attached to everything that we believe makes us who we are, status, gender, wealth, etc., that we regard nature and those who live in harmony with nature as uncivilized, backward, or handicapped in some way. We have reinvented ourselves as a species apart because we have succeeded in taming nature and harnessing it for our specific purposes. In the act of taming nature, we have not only damaged the organism of the Earth and its ecosystems, but destroyed the ancient wisdom of indigenous peoples. In this severing with the inheritance of the Earth, the average person has reduced their range of human skills, focusing only on gross intellectual and ‘success’ skills, and ignoring as scary or voodoo those utilizing the subtle energies, such as prayer and meditation, telepathy, healing, alternative medical practices, shamanism, etc.
In fact, Feldenkrais himself, in the introduction to his major work, Awareness Through Movement (1972), admits that his opus is addressed to the average man, adding,
…..that is, to the man who thinks none of it concerns him.’(p9)
Man’s Supreme Inheritance
Every thought we have affects every cell of the body
F.M.AlexanderEvery thought we have affects every cell of the body.Alexander, like Feldenkrais, was a body re-educator and a visionary. He also realised how crucial it was for people to be happy and comfortable in their bodies, and for them to find their true nature and live according to it. Unlike Feldenkrais, he was not a scientist but an artist, so having both of them in my life has provided an element of great balance. Feldenkrais was interested in organisms in movement, while Alexander was fascinated by stillness and the power of the mind and hands. He was a healer, and he came to teach others because he healed himself. His story in brief will follow, but first, my introduction to the Alexander technique.
I remember so clearly the first Alexander lesson I had. Alexander preferred the terms ‘lesson’ and ‘pupil’ even though he, like Feldenkrais, was handing over techniques for body-re-education, not cultivating a following. So, from that point of view, they were very similar in their determination that people should be independent and have the resources to change and heal themselves. In other words, they were both devoted to the notions of self-realization and self-education. The foundational position for Alexander work, and the position of ultimate rest for the ‘head-neck-spine,’ known as the centre of primary control of the body, is called the semi-supine.
One lies directly on a hard surface, ie. the floor or a table, and rests the edge of the skull on 2 or 3 centimetres of paperback books. This is not a relaxation exercise, so there should preferably be silence, and no soft covering under the length of the body. The hard surface provides stimulation, the books the same, because only when the body is stimulated, can we interact in a meaningful way with gravity.
Alexander made a clear separation between relaxation and body work, encouraging pupils to utilize their full concentration to visualize the body and make changes inside it. Feldenkrais movement sequences are learned to bring about changes to reveal the natural self; whereas Alexander taught how to harness stillness to gradually return the body to its natural state.
Lying in this position of optimum rest for the central headquarters of the body, the spine, and gathering the energy of the mind to attend to areas of tightness and distortion, was such a relief to me in my busy life when I first started the Alexander Technique. Although, unlike other people I knew, I did not seek out the technique due to illness or accident. I was a professional musician and teacher at the time, interested by Alexander work applied to performance and stage fright among my students, as well as to my own performance skills. As I employed it more and more often in my own teaching, I could see before my very eyes, performers casting off layers of artificial conditioning, of negative suggestions and fears of criticism, which were often the result of old-fashioned teaching methods designed to induce fear.
The way Alexander created his Technique and the fascinating interfering mind-sets that he observed and then set about changing to make them more natural, is inspiring. Like all visionaries, the main topic of this series of articles, he had the determination to search doggedly and persevere through great hardship, to ease the dis-ease that many people experienced in their lives.
He was born in 1869 in Tasmania, and worked as an actor or reciter, and soon became established as an elocutionist. However, it is significant that as a child he suffered from acute respiratory ailments and then went on to embark on a career, which relied solely on his respiratory stamina. We could say that there was strong karma ripening in Alexander, and that mastering his breathing was part of his destiny.
In those days, a reciter would perform alone for long periods of time, without any electrical means of projection of the voice, so great stamina was requisite. In addition, the style of acting and posture was stiff and rather military. One can imagine Alexander standing ram-rod stiff, the head held high, jaw protracted, the knees locked back, the arms in tension by the sides, wearing his formal evening dress, on a dim stage illuminated by gas lamps or candles. It is perhaps predictable that it was not long before he became hoarse and lost his voice entirely, which was a major problem as far as his livelihood went. He then set about finding medical treatment for his condition from the best larynjologists, none of whom could find the cause although they of course could treat the symptoms.
So, as this failure of the voice went on occurring even after rest and all manner of medicine and balms, Alexander concluded that there was something he was doing as he performed which was causing the blocking of the voice. He became determined to identify the exact cause for himself by closely observing his performance techniques. He set up a series of mirrors which allowed him to see every part of his anatomy as he stood in reciting position, and eventually he realized that the problem lay in the way he pulled back his head, and raised his jaw, so shortening the back of his neck and constricting his larynx.
At last he had the solution to his personal problem which was to lower his jaw and lengthen the back of his neck so allowing the larynx to relax and lie in a natural position. There were no further problems with his performance, but in addition he realised the importance of his discovery and its implications for performers and for anyone with a dis-ease, and set about teaching others. This is another feature of a true visionary – the Buddha, Christ and other spiritual leaders, etc – who are not content to become enlightened for their own benefit, but generate true bodhicitta (see my article:http://wp.me/p3O6mn-6K) in order to lift all sentient beings out of their suffering. Of course, many may say that Alexander craved fame and power by developing his technique, but having studied his works, I feel strongly that this is not the case. His motivation was I am certain pure.
Lying in the semi-supine is a perfect preparation to receive the hands of an Alexander teacher working to encourage release of tension in the areas of primary control. This position allows refuge from the constant bombardment of gravity when we are vertical. The low back is often a cause of pain and dis-ease because we generally do not get the correct type of rest during long busy days.
In the semi-supine position, with the legs bent at the knee and the feet flat on the floor, the low back can naturally and gradually release downwards, thus using gravitational forces to advantage. The stimulating surface, which supports and helps release the length of the spine, gradually supports the low back also. This process usually takes about 20 minutes. As the low back returns to its natural shallow instead of pronounced curve, the other natural curve of the spine at the level of the neck correspondingly softens and drops downwards.
Once the spine is functioning more naturally, the arms and legs, which are connected by nerve fibres into the spine also, begin to lose the excessive tension needed to sustain long periods without refuge from gravitational pressure. The elbows soften and increase their contact area with the supporting surface, as do the soles of the feet. Eventually, the whole skeletal system starts to change and the breathing deepens, all of which has a profound effect on the way the mind works.
Of course, it is difficult for some people to slow down or end their habitual patterns of anxious thought and inner dialogue, in order to simply be, breathing naturally and lengthening and widening; in other words, recovering from excessive gravitational stress. But once the mind slows down in tandem with the breathing, it can begin to appreciate the changes which are in progress, and to build up experience of well-being, which it then craves.
I remember when I started to crave this sense of balance and this quality of mind and attention. It seemed that nothing else mattered during my time lying in the semi-supine and the following lesson, so that I could focus myself in order to recharge my energy. This meant that I could go back into the vertical better prepared to avoid undue compression and exaggerated curving or tightening.
At a physical level, this became a marvelous resource which I could access any time independently of teachers or doctors, etc. But at the mental level, there was a new sense of balance and a realization that reality was here and now, exactly in each second as my mind voyaged around my body acquainting itself in a novel way. It became clear to me that Alexander had uncovered a way of complete meditation into the body.
On the spiritual level, many things happened: I became acutely aware; the tears flowed freely as I released into my natural state; a sense of pure joy arose as I was able to simply be. I felt as if I was a plant or animal in a state of harmony lying on the face of the planet, under an infinity of blue sky, breathing and filling with light which flooded into compressed areas of my body. Both my uniqueness as a fully functioning organism, and my role in universal terms, became so clear.
As a Buddhist seeker, while working with my Buddhist Alexander teacher Don Burton, I realized that unwittingly Alexander had opened up a route to emptiness, mindfulness and the revealing of Buddha Nature. (see: http://wp.me/p3O6mn-cF;http://wp.me/p3O6mn-ck) He was not a self-confessed religious man, but his determination and vision made it possible for anyone to aspire to polish their Buddha Nature, and in the process to ease the body, relieving it of discomfort and pain.
The body work can speak for itself along with the healing hands and attention of the focused Alexander teacher, but in addition there are two psychological facets of the technique which can help us to change our ingrained and often detrimental patterns. The first is the notion of end-gaining; and the second, inhibition.
END-GAINING: STAYING WITH THE PROCESS
From his observations of himself in an array of mirrors, Alexander realised that sincere intention and motivation were the key to using the body naturally. In other words, actions usually start from thoughts, so if our thoughts are pure and altruistic, overflowing with the love that we can embody, then our skeleton and muscles will move smoothly and beautifully. Also, if that sincere thought is carried into an action, then that action constitutes a process, and if we give our full attention to that process, the outcome will take are of itself. Conversely, if we are not sincere and we are only focused on results and outcomes, perhaps the process will break down and the outcome will be flawed.
In Buddhist terms, this has parallels with emptiness and Buddha Nature; in other words, the realization that the self-serving ego, the self that is created by the mind and imposed upon the natural self, always needs a witness and usually an ongoing dialogue. In terms of performance or martial arts/sports, etc. this is known as the condition of ‘no mind:’ if we want to execute a skill efficiently and smoothly, we should not allow the synthetic mind to interfere in that process. We can see excellent examples of bodies functioning without the critical mind with its negative tendencies in the animal kingdom and healthy human children.
Take the example of serving tea to someone. If we are under the control of our negative mind, or if our mind is visiting another time or place other than the present one, we are likely to spill the tea or drop the cups, etc. If however, we are serving tea with loving thoughts, standing in the shoes of the recipient, then our bodies will behave naturally: for example, the teapot will be lifted in harmony with the gravitational force exerted on it, and the body will accurately measure its weight; the wrist will tip the spout of the pot smoothly and accurately so that the tea is poured efficiently, and it will stop the flow of tea easily and accurately, etc. Eventually, the tea cup or its saucer will be lifted and moved through the air to be placed elegantly within reach of the recipient, etc. Such a seemingly simple process is complex, but the body has all the skills it needs to execute it perfectly.
Of course, when it comes to intricate processes like virtuosic piano fingering and velocity, or outstanding sporting or dancing feats, the absence of ‘mind’ and a state of emptiness, is essential. The skill itself and the skilled executant should be in complete balance and harmony. Invariably, Alexander teachers use the example of a ringing telephone to illustrate this point.
We habitually react to the ringing of a bell, which by its very nature signals something about to happen. In the case of the phone, we hear the bell and usually tighten all our muscles in order to answer it, so we often ignore the process of preparing properly to answer it. Modern life is filled with such kind of compulsions and external stresses, which we are expected to react to without question. This idea neatly leads to the next of Alexander’s seminal ideas, Non-doing/inhibition.
NON-DOING/INHIBITION: CHANGING HABITUAL REACTIONS
Human beings are conditioned in order to live in social groups and to control the possibility of anarchy and total destruction, and so we are trained as children by parents and schools, to develop the correct habits and responses. In order to change such habits that may be executed badly and be causing physiological or psychological damage or detriment, Alexander proved that we can inhibit such a habit and so change it or eliminate it totally. Again, answering the telephone mindlessly is a good example.. We can inhibit this by mindfully preparing to get up to answer the phone, and if we do this many times, we stand to change that habit from the negative to the positive.
Mindfullness in Buddhist terms has similar possibilities. If we focus on the moment and our sense of now and here, we can eliminate fears of the unknown and regrets about the past. We can train to fully realise that there is no moment except this one; and that any other moment is a product of the mind. Living in the centre of the moment is something we do quite naturally, but modern life prohibits it. This is our true nature; to live in emptiness always from the position of our higher selves. We can observe this disposition in children before heavy conditioning starts, and also in indigenous peoples who spend their life-time in close contact with nature.
Animals can be tamed or trained by humans beings so that they can be controlled or domesticated. But humans are basically animals and so they also are trained in order to live in densely populated societies. Such training can repress or even replace one’s true nature, a notion which motivated Feldenkrais and Alexander to re-educate the human organism.
Spiritual training can help us to live harmoniously with awareness, and to allow altruism to be a driving force in all that we do. If we can allow ourselves to be exactly what we in essence are – breathing, loving creatures with higher consciousness – then we have an improved chance of regaining our balance as a species, and of in turn balancing the organism of the planet of which we are each a vital component.
Non-doing is another Alexanderian term, which basically means stillness as opposed to inertia; so many of us have to work hard to eradicate the traces of doing because our lives are so busy and stressful. We produce too much adrenalin through fear and desperation to meet society’s high requirements, which becomes trapped in the body. Alexander teachers can only work to aid release and return to a natural state, if the pupil is non-doing. Insights into this technique from the teacher’s point of view, can take this comparison with spiritual training to another level.
In addition to perfecting skills, the Alexander Technique can bring about magical changes in people who are emotionally blocked or chronically sick, which is the healing element of the technique. I trained as an Alexander teacher for 3 years and worked to develop the non-doing qualities of my hands. Traditionally, an Alexander lesson begins with the pupil sitting and standing into and out of a straight-backed chair; the Alexander teacher positions him/her self behind the chair. Then, non-doing hands are placed lightly around the back of the neck, and gradually, with instructions, freedom and mobility are facilitated. However, the pupil needs to also be non-doing, succumbing to gravitational pressure, which means not helping the teacher in any way.
This is achievable only by letting go of the mind, by trusting the teacher, and by removing any end-gaining or human struggling. Both the teacher and pupil need to access their higher selves in order to activate the level of awareness needed to bring about deep changes and releases; and both can work on their own unconscious minds during this process.
As Feldenkrais did, Alexander found a way of touching the unconscious mind, the mass of ice below the surface, to bring about lasting changes and stimulate new aspirations, by accident and without any spiritual training. Many people I know who were opposed to direct spiritual training or membership of a religious group at a conscious level, were easily touched by this kind of body work to create new awareness and to become a bigger spiritual vehicle. In the same way as Feldenkrais’s system, Alexander training touched trainees indirectly, addressing their higher consciousness and often leading them to be open to more direct spiritual notions of the invisible world.
It would seem that Alexander, following his own higher self, created a system that would appeal to modern humans who have created their own synthetic worlds with their minds, and who have become isolated from their own hearts. His Technique meets trainees as their world, providing a way to use the energy of their minds to heal their ills and change deeply within.
I have witnessed so many people removing their masks during lessons, and then one day, taking them off forever. Once the principles of the Technique are assimilated and multiple experiences of freedom in the area of Primary Control are stored in the unconscious mind, then we can become our own teachers heightening our awareness of ourselves, and working to be our natural selves while living often unnatural lives.
4: F.M.Alexander follow-up:
The Means Whereby
Through the simple act of lying in the semi-supine position and the focusing of the mind inside the body with a global general knowledge of anatomy and physiology combined with positive energy, we can make deep changes in our being.
This is surely a wonderful opportunity. But modern people seem so heavily conditioned to use their minds exclusively for intellectual end-gaining tasks and achieving, and forcing their bodies to the gym or over-stretching at the yoga meeting, that they often find this idea a waste of time and energy. This meditative reflective use of the mind seems alien, perhaps vague and a little frightening to many. Today’s successful ‘winner’ image is a citizen who is highly intelligent in terms of intellectual skills, and physically fit, slim, super-confident.
The idea of being able to take your own well-being into your hands, by using your own resources to perform detailed quality control, is both too simple and arrogant to some. We have learned to depend almost entirely on and to abdicate responsibility to specialists and professionals, who are paid to look after us. Our infrastructure in developed cultures demands that our health and education are taken care of by experts, and so controlled and uniform to enable societies to function relatively smoothly.
But such uniformity can become a straitjacket. It can stifle all creativity and originality. It also drives us to lose contact with ourselves, our inner magical energy which is entirely unique. Like Alexander did, we lose our voice, defer to batteries of experts and strutting egos, instead of keeping confidence in our own unique mission and gifts.
So, the process of restoration and re-establishing the spiritual connection with our divine energy can begin by lying in this foundational semi-supine position. It is important to take time away from our busy lives in the ordinary world to recharge and realign ourselves. Alexander work, as I have mentioned, was a large part of my spiritual rebirth, and it was during these daily sessions of lying on my back that I started to realise that my mission was to attend to my well-being until I reached a point where I could devote myself to the well-being of others, without resentment.
So, in addition to the physical easing and opening out of the body, we can learn to be truly honest with ourselves and take down our social masks more and more often. Of course, all body work is experiential, so what you read here of my experience and knowledge has to be tested for yourself, and assimilated to fit your own unique spirit and energy.
Gravity is a wondrous energy which allows us to keep our feet on the earth and our heads reaching up into the sky. However, to enable this pressure is needed. The force of gravity is a massive force to contend with every moment of our waking lives, and it can take its toll if we are not vigilant.
Scientists claim that during the evolution of the human species there was a crucial moment: this was when four-legged ancestors decided to stand up, to survive more efficiently, to fight, to defend themselves, to pick superior fruit from the higher branches of trees, and to widen their horizon as their unique consciousness developed. It is ironic that as we stood up, most of our horizons shrank and we became trapped in a prison of our own making, the intellectual mind.
Those of spiritual persuasion are more interested in how our unique consciousness enabled our complex skills to carry out our divine missions, to stand with open arms and to share love unconditionally in human form.
When we first start to lie in the semi-supine, sheltering from the pressure of gravity, we must commence to adopt an attitude of non-doing. In other words, we inhibit (another of Alexander’s technical words) the desire to do anything at all. The way we are trained for daily life is intense because we are taught to constantly attend to the stimuli surrounding us in order to be a valued member of our social groups and communities, to be seen as ‘caring’ or ‘mature,’ as ‘polite’ an ‘considerate,’ etc. Of course, at root, we are all of those things naturally as we arrive in physical life from the goodness and blessings of the invisible world. But in social and group situations our egos may start to develop, and we may become competitive and arrogant, taking on some of the more negative emotions produced by group dynamics and the often overwhelming expectations of others and authorities. So, it may be difficult at first to change that continual pattern of reacting to our environment.
A good example is the ringing of the telephone, as I mentioned in the last article. We react to the ringing of the bell, and so often we develop a muscular tightness, over tensing muscles and ligaments, exerting extra stress on our bodies. Much of this may be created by the expectations of others around us to answer, and also responding to the person ringing, and we need to be able to deal well with this common demand made on us many times during the average day. But, with Alexander re-education, we can learn how to use exactly the appropriate muscular tone and ligament tension so that we do not induce any extra stress on the already gravitationally challenged skeleton and musculature.
Another good example of this over-exertion can be seen in the seemingly simple act of holding a glass or a cup full of liquid, which we desire to drink. This is something most of us do several if not many times a day, so we do it mindlessly, without thinking usually. Physiologically it is a complex series of actions if we analyze them carefully, but it all starts from the natural impulse to drink liquid, and often in a social setting like afternoon tea or cocktails. If we can identify the second such an impulse appears, which requires being mindful, then we have a good chance of noticing that we are overusing the body, especially in respect of our grip of the cup handle or shape of the glass. It is important that we do not spill the contents of the receptacle, but because we are performing this action according to the expectations of those around us and to our intensive training in infancy, we become quite tense and squeeze the cup handle or glass very tightly.
Also, because our hands and arms are over-used often, we have lost their connection with the spine. If we look at the typical drawing of a human being made by a child, we can see that most of us perceive the arm to commence at the edge of the torso at the level of the shoulder, and this is substantiated by the lexical item ‘arm.’ But we must remember that the word we use to refer to something is not the actual thing referred to, far from it.
In actual fact, the arm connects into the spine by a series of nerve and muscular links. So, if we remain mindful when we make this simple action, we may be aware of our spine as we extend the arm, and then the delicacy of the sense of touch as we pick up the vessel. Added to all the anatomical details of picking something up well, we can add static electricity, which is generated between the skin of the fingers and the material of the drinking vessel, which helps to make them adhere together if there is not an excess of tension.
The human body is a magical and highly complex organism, but it is only a means whereby we can act in the world so it is important not to become too attached to it. If we take an inert object in our hands mindfully, our bodies will adjust to the weight of that object. If the tea cup or glass is full or empty, the body will automatically measure the weight and make the appropriate muscular, ligament/tendon and skeletal and adjustments. But how often are we really mindful? ‘Mindful’ means to be entirely present with all your awareness and energy; in the now and here, in other words.
Imagine yourself pouring all of your attention into what may be construed as a mundane action such as taking a cup of tea in your hands. We are generally so distracted by a social situation, or by the style, colour and design of the cup and saucer, or by the quality and condition of the tea – everything except allowing the body to utilise all its miraculous complexity to take the cup and saucer skillfully, beautifully, smoothly.
This kind of one-pointed way of living is what spiritual adepts focus on so that they are never separate from their actions. They minimise the information which they need to compute during executing such a complex action. Of course, most of us do not live in a monastery but in a chaotic relentlessly busy life where every moment is spoken for and at a distance, or indirectly.
However, despite the way we live in modern life, we can decide to have islands of total absorption scattered through our days. During my Alexander training, I realized that especially when I was executing mundane habitual actions, I could gather all my attention, lengthen my spine, let my head go up into the sky, my heels sink down into the earth, and block all information influx so that I was not distracted from being absorbed utterly in using my body. It felt so releasing, so wonderful. I actually could sense that my body was a superb manifestation of my unique energy, my divine origins, and that this energy, which had temporarily taken on this potentially beautiful form of the human body, was eternal, full of love and purity and goodness. This could be interpreted as a spiritual realization, as I later found out, but at the time, it was such a relief to allow my body to work in its innately beautiful way.
All beings have the potential for beauty and elegance if they can decouple their intellectual measuring/judging/assessing mind. Of course we need these extraordinary skills to live in a modern world, which has been constructed by the intellectual mind to enable us to live in huge social groups reasonably successfully, but we must not lose contact with our unique divine nature at all costs, because, the world badly needs our goodness and our positive light.
Our human potential is something invisible, but its realization in actions, which will help others and make the world a glorious place of balance, will make it highly visible. The great spiritual masters tell us that we each create theworld with our minds, and that we are reflected in the world and the world is reflected in us because we are not separate from it. As we can see from the example of picking up a drink either mindfully and mindlessly, we have a penchant to become distracted by everything that is intellectual about the things in our world, but that information is not the object itself. The map of an area is not the territory; you must go to that place and experience it to know it directly. This is the basis of meditation: experiencing direct reality not using intellectual data to create a synthetic, abstracted version of that thing.
This invisible world is made up of non-doing-energy: energy which does not consciously ‘do’ things. Feelings and sensations are a large part of the invisible world, and they simply occur outside our control often. These energies are concrete and universal, unlike those of the visible world, which are abstract and interpreted according to each individual mind. In other words, we do not ‘do’ feelings or sensations. We simply acknowledge them or act on them, or alternatively hide them.
It is non-doing that will provide the greatest opportunity for sheltered rest from the bombardment of gravity, and for closing down the mundane mind so that the higher mind can fill any and all spaces. In addition, this is the best state for preparing to receive the non-doing hands of a highly trained and sensitive Alexander teacher/facilitator. If the Alexander subject is still distracted by the visible external intellectual abstract world, he or she will not be able to entrust the Alexander teacher with their entire body. He or she will not be able to let go, to release their limbs, to receive the non-doing messages which are sent through the hands of the teacher.
An introductory lesson will consist of the Alexander teacher sitting at the head of the pupil lying in the semi-supine, and first focusing him/her self on non-doing. Then when the right moment comes, non-doing hands will be lightly applied to the back of head-neck area of the pupil, and he/she will start to talk and listen to the non-doing mind of the subject, either out loud or silently. The words and the soft hands will be encouraging of lengthening the spine and deepening the breath. It is easy to see that the teacher will encourage non-doing above all else.
Gradually, once the process of lengthening has started, the teacher may move to one side, pause, prepare, and then very softly take the pupil’s hand, and then the arm. It is at this point that the subject may be tempted to help the teacher, but it is easy to see that this will interrupt the non-doing process. So, the pupil must let go of the entire weight of the arm so that the teacher can take it over and encourage the arm to lengthen too. And so, this process will continue, the teacher always returning from the limbs to the head, until the subject is truly lengthened and widened also.
This process will be repeated lesson after lesson until the re-education of non-doing is complete. The unconscious implication of a real letting go of the body that we usually hold on to so tightly for numerous and various reasons, is a real letting go of the mind, and a realisation that the intellectual aspect is only one of the miraculous ways we can use it. There are countless other ways.
As we explore the aspects of our higher consciousness in this way, we will probably eventually encounter reality, as I did. We are no longer building our own version of the world, but are equipped and receptive to embrace reality. We can throw away the map and actually feel our feet on the ground and our skin in the atmosphere of that territory.
This is the visionary Alexander; without any knowledge or experience of meditation or work with the higher consciousness, he designed a technique, which allows us to interface with the invisible world, and to strip away all the mental and emotional constructs to reveal our true nature, what some call our Buddha Nature. Such work can purify negative karma and reveal healing abilities and many other skills we have lost contact with. Interestingly, the invisible and ancient skills such as clairvoyance and telepathy, only work with concrete data; in other words, with direct experience.
In Buddhist terms, the Alexander teacher must be empty of ego and doing in order to be effective, to be a pristine channel untarnished by ego or self-serving. The direct experiencing of emptiness can lead the pupil also to become empty during sessions, and to then take that integrity and calmness out into their daily lives.
Sitting in and out of a Chair
Alexander began his teaching career by spending most of the time guiding people to sit in and out of a chair. He deemed sitting and standing, which we do perhaps hundreds if not thousands of time each day, one of the most difficult actions of all to execute in a non-doing way. Moving backwards to sit down often causes tightening in the low back and excess strain on the spine, and standing up from sitting can cause a stiffening of the neck and shoulders, and extra strain on the legs and arms. He also observed that most chairs were not designed for efficient sitting or standing.
One of the problems of this action is that we interfere with arms and shoulders and use our legs stiffly, and these interferences are exacerbated by badly designed seating. Once we are seated and desire to stand up, we often exert too much muscular and ligament/tendon stress and too much intellectual energy. Sitting and standing is an art which if we leave ourselves alone we can execute beautifully and without effort. It all depends on our primary control. We must lead the upward standing movement with the head, and allow the body to follow effortlessly, and lead the downward sitting movement with the pelvis, allowing the rest of the body gently down using gravity to advantage.
Learning how to move smoothly and efficiently in the field of gravity is the re-educational aspect of the technique. We can use our energy so much more efficiently than we do mostly. The domination of the intellectual mind and thus arrogance causes us to think we know best, but Alexander realised that was not the case. We are apt to squander our personal energy in the same way that we squander the Earth’s energy.
Another vital spiritual notion in this respect is that it is only the hyper-active intellectual aspect of the mind which can make us separate from the Earth. In reality, we are each an intrinsic component of the universe, and if our minds are operated in a balanced way, then we will be able to be a positive influence on the environment. We are well aware in today’s world that the Earth and its environment are wildly out of balance with dramatic global warming and climate change. So it is logical to assume that if vital components of the universe with unique higher consciousness and power potential like humans are balanced and not tyrannized by their negative emotions and limited non-supple mind, they will be a balancing influence on the whole organism of Earth.
We have the choice of each taking responsibility for our well-being on the basis of the idea that every thought we have affects every cell of our bodies. If we fill our minds and bodies with negative emotions and damaging stress, then we will in time manifest those things in our cellular and skeletal being.
Emotional anatomy is a phenomenon we can observe if we watch people around us. Stanley Keleman (see illustration:http://www.alexander-technique-london.co.uk/somatic-emotional-therapy-the-work-of-stanley-keleman/) is a leading expert on this phenomena. The posture and movement style of people is a direct expression of their minds, unless they are spiritually trained or informed about the continuum of the body, mind and spirit.
Up to this point in Visionaries, the pulse of the universe has been demonstrated by the body-workers F.M.Alexander (1869-1955) and Moshe Feldenkrais (1904-1984). This re-educational work manifested as most unexpected and spiritual guidance through opening up different ways of using the mind inside the body indirectly, based on the fundamental that body and mind are one continuum. With their insights, they have reached into me and many of their devotees, way below the tip of the iceberg of the conscious mind, leading me to realizations of the true self, revealing my true nature, and so on to new ways of being in daily life.
Most overtly spiritual trainings for adults advocate new beginnings, wiping the slate clean, replacing and relinquishing, purifying and burning away existing negative karma or sin, and so becoming entirely transformed. This radical perfectionism implies that what we are and have become throughout our lives up to the point of transformation, is not acceptable, is flawed, soiled. Indeed, that we have made far too many mistakes to repair and that there is nothing worth salvaging.
We are urged to give things up, to change our views, to let go of everything and everyone so that we can become something or someone new, and that this can be brought about only through hard discipline and control, in addition to taking a long time. In fact, to make this possible we must dedicate our lives to undoing all that has been done so far in order for us to find an ultimate freedom from all sufferings and eternal joy. But, what if we are already divine emanations of purity, and our links to the gods are in tact? And what if in fact we are gods with unique diamonds inside us that have become submerged under the world’s sufferings and delusions? To use a worldly analogy, perhaps we can be stripped down, oiled, cleaned and polished, and so perform like new instead of being discarded and replaced by a new model.
What if our “imperfect” voices are needed in the world, and we have simply given in to the hordes of enviers and critics, becoming increasingly passive in the world, inert, fixing ourselves into our separate virtual worlds, never to glimpse reality again? That the various masks that we create and wear on appropriate social-professional occasions, can no longer be removed. In other words, our status – gender, relationship, education, profession, reputation, class -, indeed all the badges that mark us out from others in some way, making us members of a group, has become embedded as our false reality.
Both Alexander and Feldenkrais worked to empower anyone, regardless of status, to take control of their true being, by peeling back the layers of conditioning and mind-shaping from external sources, kicking the habits and breaking up the patterns, until we no longer interfere with the natural perfection we are endowed with as neonates and infants. Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986), Indian philosopher, mystic and thinker, reaches into us in a similar way, passionately encouraging us to sing with our own voices instead of imitating those of others, to believe in ourselves instead of the mediocre who have been promoted to the ranks of indoctrinators, so-called leaders, and to step away from groups, even from the family, to find true freedom.
Krishnamurti offered no body-work to walk out of our minds towards, and no meditational focus to lose ourselves in. He above all insisted that we must know ourselves intimately and unconditionally accept exactly who we are at this moment, not deluding ourselves with ‘we used to be,’ or who ‘we might be if only….. .’
Krishnamurti made it very clear at the outset of his work in the public eye, that he wanted to avoid all status, all badges, and refused the guidance of all leaders be it religious, scholarly, political, or sovereign. He lived his life moving around India and English Speaking nations, casteless, nationality-less, religion-less and philosophy-less, lodging with friends or staying in cheap hotels, carrying all his possessions in one small suitcase. He willingly spoke to groups of people who followed him devoutly as a philosopher, as spiritual leaders have always done, and gave advice to politicians and religious/spiritual leaders only when consulted. But always he made it completely clear that he was not a leader.
The world expected him to be a ‘World Teacher,’ but he denied that he was a teacher of any kind, and disbanded all organizations that supported this idea. Instead, he reasoned with individual psyches, encouraging them to initiate an immediate and self-initiated revolution inside which could never be brought about from external sources, and especially not from the influence of spiritual, religious or political leaders. He refused to accept any promises of inner revolution ‘tomorrow’ or ‘next week,’ insisting that time rendered them dead, inert.
Most of the organizations he associated with still exist and are strictly non-profit making, including several independent schools based on his revolutionary view of education. Despite his death almost 30 years ago, his supporters continue to transcribe the thousands of talks he gave, group and individual discussions he participated in, and writings, into a variety of media formats and languages. But he insisted that everything he said and wrote belonged to the world and not to him personally, and so there were to be no copyrights or publishers contracts, and no financial gains.
As mentioned earlier, Alexander and Feldenkrais committed themselves to body re-education, unconsciously touching the unconscious mind deeply, almost wordlessly, inadvertently, while Krishnamurti openly committed himself to courageously living the messages he delivered to the populace. There was no structure, no technique, no system, simply a mask-less man in constant revolution. He used his body as Buddhas and wandering Holy men have done traditionally to live out his ideals, but he found a way to do it without retreating from the world, from societies, and going to live in a cave for dozens of years. He ensured that his life could never be imitated by disciples or communities of the chosen few, because he found a way to live out his true nature, developing that part of him through re-education of the mind without any teachers or doctrines, and increasingly beyond all conditioning. Some called him the next Buddha, Maitreya; others, the modern Messiah.
The story behind his life started when he was 14. His extraordinary being first came to the notice of a prominent Theosophical teacher, Charles Webster Leadbeater, known as a clairvoyant, who on first meeting Krishnamurti said, he ‘was amazed by the most wonderful aura he had ever seen, without a particle of selfishness in it.’ In retrospect, 75 years later, he described young Krishnamurti as a vessel with a large hole in it, so that whatever was put into it, went through, leaving nothing behind. In other words, an empty vessel, the final ambition of most spiritual aspirants. However, Krishnamurti had neither undergone spiritual training, nor received any teachings or initiations. He was chosen to be the World Teacher by this organization, which set about preparing him.
Then, at the age of 27, he had a life-altering experience in USA. He himself later described this first as an awakening, and then as longer bouts of this experience appeared, as the process, which occurred frequently throughout the rest of his life until he died. He described these events in more detail in various ways: the benediction, the immensity, the sacredness, the vastness, but most often as, the otherness or the other. It all started with an acute pain in his neck, which worsened over the next few days, and seemed to witnesses like a loss of consciousness, though he himself assured everyone that he had never been more aware of his surroundings in all his life. He claimed that he experienced amystical union during this time, writing in his notebook after such an acute episode the next morning.
…woke up early with that strong feeling of otherness, of another world that is beyond all thought…there is a heightening of sensitivity. Sensitivity, not only to beauty but also to other things. The blade of grass was astonishingly green; that one blade of grass contained the whole spectrum of colour; it was intense, dazzling and such a small thing, so easy to destroy…. (1)
Krishnamurti wrote extensively about being ‘an individual,’ of setting humans free from society, from their various confining communities and religions, from their conditioning, and from their own minds. It seems that his outbreaks of ‘otherness’ represented his first steps towards becoming a liberated individual himself. It was after the process started, or that he became aware of it, that he made a decision to refuse his ‘Coming’ as the World Teacher. He said the following in 1929:
“I maintain that truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. That is my point of view, and I adhere to that absolutely and unconditionally. Truth, being limitless, unconditioned, unapproachable by any path whatsoever, cannot be organized; nor should any organization be formed to lead or coerce people along a particular path….This is no magnificent deed, because I do not want followers, and I mean this. The moment you follow someone you cease to follow Truth. I am not concerned whether you pay attention to what I say or not. I want to do a certain thing in the world and I am going to do it with unwavering concentration. I am concerning myself with one essential thing: to set man free. I desire to free him from all cages, from all fears, and not to found religions, new sects, not to establish new theories and new philosophies.” (2)
These selfless ‘insights’ are offered, whether we accept them or not, in much the same way as those of Feldenkrais and Alexander, as well as the original teachings of the world’s great spiritual leaders, who were also reluctant to become ‘teachers,’ or ‘leaders.’ Krishnamurti makes is abundantly clear that there is no compulsion, persuasion, to take him seriously because essentially it is up to each of us to find truth for ourselves, and that there are definitely no universal paths leading there. ‘Insights’ are dynamically different to theories or philosophies because there is no element of indoctrination, or attempts to separate groups away from other groups. Krishnamurti did dedicate his entire life to ‘setting man free’ exactly as he promised, with all of his energy.
As he approached old age and became weak, his associates wereforced to understand that there would be no successor, and all the insights he had been privileged to share would die with him. He emphasized that he was merely a conduit for universal teachings and that the people he addressed and had contact with throughout his life could approach that energy and gain some understanding, but only “if they live the teachings.” He likened his life to Thomas Edison’s, the inventor of electricity and its derivatives, implying that he did the work and now people only needed to flick the switch.
Of course, in this series, it is impossible to go into all the aspects of what he refused to call ‘his teachings.’ preferring to use the phrase, ‘the teachings,’ so as a teacher myself, having pledged to impart skills and information to others, I would like to discuss Krishnamurti’s revolutionary notion of teaching and teachers. As mentioned, we can observe this trend in the work of Alexander and Feldenkrais also, ie. the idea that we must essentially teach ourselves, and that self-education is our only choice for real change. It is also a seminal notion of one of the world’s greatest teachers, the Buddha. The system of teachings he created has at its core the understanding that all humans are unique ‘individuals,’ and consequently no one person can learn what another does in the same way. Understanding this deeply, he presented what was to be ‘learned,’ his insights, in as broad a way as possible so that there would be something for everyone. Other renowned spiritual ‘leaders’ or gurus did the same using parables or meta-stories to bring about real changes at a deep unconscious level.
Krishnamurti realised that most of us have cut all ties with nature, living in artificial environments, using our bodies to earn a living and recover from it in our leisure time, to take care of our responsibilities, and to vent or to bury our dreams often by using substances to alter our conscious state. The hallmarks of formal education on the whole are similar characterless classrooms, huge blackboards or white boards, cheap furniture, in fact, a utilitarian environment in every way. Electric lighting, and artificial cooling/heating systems create a highly unhealthy environment to work in both for students and teachers. Students like workers usually have to force themselves to go to their classes, threatened by parents, fearful of not earning the credits they need, they often time-watch during the class, some unable to disengage themselves from their mobile phones, and when the end of class finally comes, their faces light up and they run off to meet their friends.
Another way of seeing these synthetic ways of being is that there is little or no integration in our lives: we put on our uniforms and masks to go to work or school, and we put on other uniforms and masks when we rest: the former demands high tension and is driven by massive stress loads, and the latter seems to have no tension at all, which might be called ‘oblivion’ in some cases, and the desire for the complete absence of stress or external demands. We dutifully go between states, behaving in appropriate ways to keep harmony, rarely able to follow our true nature or inclinations.
Perhaps very few people are able to enjoy their work or study in the same way as they enjoy their leisure time, and working and studying for the populace are inevitable to provide financial buffers so that leisure time can be enjoyed to the fullest. Alexander referred to this as ‘end-gaining’ and lack of ‘inhibition,’ while Feldenkrais saw it as a misplacement of attention, ie. on the improvement of properties or disposition instead of on the natural process of life, on what he/she does and how, while who does it becomes of ever decreasing importance. The modern developed world requires that the majority of us earn a living mostly by working for others, or to obtain qualifications to be able to work, for the majority of our time.
As with working, we mostly fail to integrate learning into our lives. We study hard for the most part to gain the credentials to enable us to acquire status, respect from others, and knowledge or expertise, which will lift us above others, make us superior. Krishnamurti realised that schools and universities and other formal places of learning were simply a holding measure for large societies, and that therefore, students were instructed what to think and how to imitate their teachers in order to contain them. He came to call the conflict or contradiction an individual experiences and eventually becomes immune to in our traditions of conventional education, ‘friction’ or ‘contradiction,’ and asserted that the root of this conflict was desire – the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of pain.
Conflict is a state of division, of separation, a walk into a ‘corridor of duality.’ (3) It exists usually when there is comparison, not just between inert objects, but between people, between today and yesterday, between what has been and what is. Educators mistakenly hope that through comparison with others, students will evolve, will grow, will become more intelligent, more beautiful, etc. But this separation between the learner, other learners and the learned, greatly fragments reality. He said,
“To see what you actually are without any comparison gives you tremendous energy to look. When you can look at yourself without comparison you are beyond comparison….”(4)
He also viewed any kind of separation as violence, as discrimination, which is why he lived the way he did. He desperately sought ways of communicating non-violently in a kind and open way, of sharing himself with others without attachment or violence. Especially in the sphere of self-conscious learning, this separation probably comes from fear, which people in general are constantly trying to escape from-fear of failure, of being unintelligent, of making a fool of yourself through your ignorance, and a million other fears. But there is actually no escape from fear because we cannot separate ourselves from it, and once we accept that it is part of us and that there is nothing we can do about it, it disappears. It is, like most of the ‘things’ in our lives, merely a concept, a theory generated from words and thoughts.
Indeed, we habitually make images, concepts, ideas, and so rarely experience anything directly. If we experience fear directly, not at a distance, not looking on as a disembodied witness, we realise we are the fear and that it is no longer important. It is fear of the fear that breathes life into fear and prolongs and intensifies it. In a similar way, if we realise that what we are learning is part of us, not something separate, a commodity to be bought and negotiated with, that we have to acquire, thenperhaps we can live without conflict or desire, or friction, and we will one day walk out into the light of reality and true happiness.
If we take on the theories of teachers, scholars and so on, and then try to see the world according to that so-called expert, how can we possibly understand ourselves in a concrete way? How can we possibly feel as Freud felt, or Anne Frank, or dead heroes of the Russian Revolution? In the same way, how can a student feel as his teacher does about the topic in hand? So, this constant searching outside your own mind for what you should feel or fear, means you are never present, right now and here, slap bang in the middle of the moment, your moment.
Even the concept of time creates fear: fear of the future, of the past, of an entirely delusional but tyrannical chronology. ‘Time’ is a process of the mind, which we have hung names on to to fix it, and which we either become afraid of or desire. In fact, the rickety structures of time and space are simply ideas which we put where we know we can always find and control them, outside us. We think that we cannot live without them, but they are simply another delusion to separate us away from the still silent constantly moving totality of reality.
The basis of the entire western educational structure is thinking and all the activities related to this mightiest of distractions from reality. It creates friction to separate us away from our truth, and kills everything, categorizing and classifying into time frames. Thought is a dead thing: once is has come about, it is finished, and yet we run courses in creative thinking, in logical thinking, and so on. According to this idea, it seems that Descartes, the principal philosopher of Existentialism, was a Master of creating such conflict – ‘we think therefore we are?’
Krishnamurti was certain that if we confront something immediately without the interval of ‘fictional’ time, which allows for the deadening of thought, there is no fear. It seems that we have become addicted to separations: we apply thought to menial actions, to future plans, to learning from mistakes, which causes us to never directly sense the full view. We hide ourselves behind a flickering screen of images and words and beliefs instead of being now and here in each moment; instead of being ‘me’ in ‘choiceless awareness’ or ‘alert passivity,’ as he called this natural state.
‘Living in the present is the instant perception of beauty and the great delight in it without seeking pleasure from it.’ (5)
In other words, we should stop relentlessly seeking and just consolidate the gifts we are already endowed with, revealing our diamond, our true nature. The intellectual mind is rarely still, and during its intense development as an incisive tool, has become acquisitive, ever-curious, determined to have unending pleasure and to at all costs avoid pain. But if we stay still, silence and beauty and love need no interpretation, no special conditions, for they are constructed from the same fabric as we and the natural world are.
Education has always prized itself on repetition as a means of learning. But how can we humans ever repeat something knowing that it can never be identical: enter the age of machines! If we can accept this without desire, without attachment to making it concrete, there will be no more pain or fear, just pure joy. If we look at something beautiful, a flower, a bird, a child, the natural reaction to it is polluted by thought! Why do we have to think about the beautiful, confiscating it behind the screen, chewing over the delight of it and manufacturing pleasure. Joy is a natural emotion or energy; human beings can never manufacture it.
It is clear that our mode of being in the modern developed world is literally driven by the dead thing thought and its associated subcategories – by beliefs, by images, by experience – all of which are out of time, and so we forget how to walk, how not to interfere, how to live with our true nature, how to be truly and immediately happy. The beautiful tool of the intellect was never meant to dominate all our human moments; it was meant to be just one implement in a huge box of extraordinary tools. Sadly, the other tools have rusted and no longer function.
One of those rusting tools is called Love. It is an essential in the process of educating, as it is when we cultivate the earth to produce beautiful flowers and vegetables. Because of the dividing screen of words, images and beliefs that keeps reality at bay for most of us, we have even turned Love into desire and lust, and a reason to manufacture pleasure. It has become a commodity which we expect value for money from, and it can quickly turn to hate if conditions are not met. Krishnamurti said with passion and in the light of his own life,
‘When desire and pleasure are not associated with love, then love is intense. It is, like beauty, something totally new every day……it has no today and no tomorrow.’ (6)
If we bring this natural kind of love into learning, then the commodity ‘knowledge’ loses its cardinal position, and instead we have a wonderful excuse to interact with others, to mix our unique energies together to create something stunning and original. We are each essentially energetic beings of awareness and sensitivity, so if we let our energy free by moving away the separating screen, stripping away all the props acquired to hold us together, we will come upon our true nature and be able to use our own voice. All this will be possible in a dimension beyond time and space, where there is no conflict, no friction, just the smooth glow of reality. In this state of being, there is no sense of otherness, only the eternity of love, ‘the real, thesupreme, the immeasurable,’ the love of who we are in this very moment without tomorrow or yesterday, both lover and loved, without separation.
Krishnamurti was exactly able to live in this way, and he inspired others to find their own template and versions of freedom. He did not allow himself to become attached to anything or anyone, so there was no friction in his life, nothing sticky to impede the flow of energy. Humans make limitations and obstacles for themselves on a daily basis, but if we let go and truly love each other while living without disturbing anyone else, we can jump over them, even kick them away, to find ‘the immeasurable.’ It is all around us and inside us if only we cease shattering it into a million pieces with our bullying intellect. The following story well illustrates the view the three visionaries of this series, Alexander, Feldenkrais and Krishnamurti, were able to lead people to in their divers ways, with their unique energies and templates, with no other subject matter than human life.
‘A young woman flees from war into a foreign country. She has no money and no way of earning any, so she sleeps in the market place on a doorstep, washing in the public fountain and begging for scraps from the tradespeople. Then a wealthy woman and her maid notice her as they buy vegetables and take her home with them. As she devours the food and drink they provide, they tell her that she can earn her keep there by posing as an artist’s model. She is shocked and asks if she must pose naked. The Madame of the household assures her that it is easy work that she herself once did, and that her husband is the artist in question and she can vouch that he is honourable. The girl agrees nervously and is taken on foot to her new accommodation on the mountainside in the artist’s studio.
The artist is a sculptor, his three-dimensional female pieces in all shapes and sizes, covered with dust sheets, decorate the studio. After a night’s restless sleep in this remote location, daybreak comes and the sculptor arrives to start work. He is gruff, businesslike, asking her to sit in the light from the window and remove all of her clothes. She is reluctant at first, but something makes her feel safe with the aged sculptor, his mop of white hair and large moustaches, his steady selfless eye.
They work together everyday in silence, she learning to maintain her position for long hours while he sketches and makes small clay models of her in various poses. Sometimes he is frustrated and destroys what he has drawn or modelled, but their relationship develops and he gradually begins to talk to her about his passion for the natural world and his love for human nature. They know nothing of each others’ pasts or future plans, and never gossip or make worldly talk.
Occasionally, they move locations out into the forest or higher up the mountain-side. He paints her in oil on a large canvas by a small mountain pool where she swims when resting, catching a young trout for him by hand. One day, she joyfully treads his new batch of clay for the life-size piece he will make of her, her coarse laughter contagious.
The work is going well, the beautiful image of her emerging each day from the wire and rag structure covered in brilliant white plaster of Paris, but for the finishing touches he needs to actually touch her. He must make sure finally he has all the curves in the right proportion. For the first time, he fingers her young flesh standing behind her, her wide shoulders, the back of her rib cage, the curve of her voluptuous calf, with his eyes closed with no single desire. He wants nothing from her except to touch the shapes Nature has endowed her nubile body with, and she, closing her eyes also, wants nothing from him. There is an intensity and a newness in this act; it is uninterrupted, timeless, two templates intersecting. Now he can finish the piece.
One day, the sculptor comes to work earlier than usual to find the model is stretched out on her bed naked, sleeping. He enters her room, which he has never done before, and sits delicately on the edge of her bed. She opens her eyes and looks up at him, he looking intensely into her eyes. Then, she slowly reaches her hands up towards his face, and closes her eyes to touch it lightly, tenderly. He sheds silent tears to be touched.
The sculptor’s wife’s relative has become sick so she must go to nurse her, and as the war is over, the young model needs to get her papers in order in the nearby city. Both women leave the sculptor alone simultaneously, parting affectionately and due to return soon. Back at his studio, with the help of workmen, the finished piece is carried out of the dark into the bright air. He watches it intently as it is carefully moved around, as it comes to life.
The bearers position it in front of the studio beside the most magnificent view of the mountain peaks and ancient forests, and he sits, unable to take his eyes off it against such a backcloth. He takes his knife to smooth a little plaster on an elbow, the curve of the pelvis, the nape of the neck, then finally he is satisfied. He backs away and sits at his table, looking down momentarily to cut a slice of bread. He lifts the crust and drizzles olive oil on it, taking a bite, still staring expressionlessly at his creation. He is neither pleased nor displeased with it, because he is not separate from it, or from the model. In the same way, he is not separate from all of the glories of Nature which surround him, and which are his seamless reality.
The crust of bread finished, he stands and walks calmly into the studio to bring his rifle. The sound of the shot rings out into the crystal air.‘
(1) Krishnamurti’s Notebook, 1976, Part 3
(2) J. Krishnamurti: The Open Door, biography of Krishnamurti, by Lutyens, M., 1988
(3)(4)(5)(6) Freedom From the Known, 1969, p140, p75, p175, p160