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Receptivity: The Accepting Hand:

a talk by Alex Farkas, Friends Meeting House, London, November 9th 2010. 

(A video of this talk is available here:)

 

Report By Sarah Chatwin.

  

This was a thoughtful, practical and inspiring session that wove together discussion, demonstration, questions and hands-on work.  In this report I will attempt to capture the key points that came up.  The core theme was end-gaining, albeit of a subtle variety, and the ways in which end-gaining is at odds with self-acceptance.   Alex’s own introduction to the talk sets this out best.  He wrote:

 

It has occurred to me of late that the Alexander Technique offers us an opportunity to discover and to be our true selves.  We are often burdened by the idea that when we have reached a certain goal, or when we have achieved a certain level of skill, that only then will we be happy with who we are.  And on a parallel plane we often think we must bring our students to a certain level of ability or we have not fulfilled our responsibility.  Both these ideas are a type of end-gaining albeit well-intentioned.  My talk will deal with this area of exploration and the actual application of this idea in the course of giving a lesson: how non-doing creates a power of attraction and leads us gently into a state of peaceful balance and ease of movement: how the accepting hand helps both teacher and student.

 

Alex began by recounting his experiences teaching Alexander Technique in Bard College Conservatory of Music amidst rampant end-gaining.   The pupils wanted to have knowledge but not bother with going through the process of learning it -an attitude not confined to music students.  In contrast, for Alex the Technique is an assertion of entirely the opposite values: ‘I’m here now and I don’t have to be anywhere else’. Staying true to this is the work for both pupil and teacher.  Alex described the Technique as an endless process, a revealing series of discoveries that are related to our inner states and that never stop. On this model there is no final point of arrival, no end to gain.

 

The teacher’s hand, as Alex described it, is accepting and reassuring, quieting and energising.  It encourages self-acceptance.  Humans are susceptible to each other’s states of being, so as long as the teacher is fluid, the hand has a receptive and attractive power that can invite the pupil to make a positive change, to release and experience fluidity for him or herself.  The teacher’s responsibility is his or her own: if the teacher is not fluid, the pupil won’t respond.  Alex described this attractive power of the hand as intimate but not personal.  Through receptivity and waiting, acceptance and self-acceptance, it is as if the teacher creates a vacuum which attracts and influences the pupil to find the still point at which energy bubbles up, there is release and movement follows. Once you have release, Alex maintained, everything else is application.

 

This is in no sense an end-gaining process.  The teacher is not accumulating a level of skill to have and keep, nor looking for a particular kind of change in the pupil.  Rather this is an experience of being in fluidity. Once the energy is generated it will flow by itself unless we interfere with it.  We get to a state where movement and activity seem to happen ‘without me’, they just happen.

 

Alex described how helpful it had been for him to have the application of piano playing with which to work with the Technique.  His hands become softer, the music improves and changes shape.  He said that it could help all pupils to have an activity in which they apply the Technique.  Working with musicians, Alex stressed the importance of practicing continuity of fluidity.  He described the habit of stopping and correcting each mistake as merely testing, instead of genuine practice which sustains fluidity either by not interfering with it or by recreating it moment to moment. 

 

In the context of hands-on work, Alex cited Marjorie Barlow’s report of FM using his hands as little as possible, but with a clear intention and so light that the pupil hardly knew it was there.  This is the non-doing hand, where non-doing means a doing of a very special order. Alex gave some practical pointers to create this quality in the hand: the opposition of softness and length through the fingers with opening and width in the wrist.  He pointed out that when the centre of the wrist on the back of the hand opens, there are changes in both the lower back and in the feet.  In fact Alex maintained that the wrists can be thought of as two of our five ‘necks’ -the others being the two ankles and of course the neck itself. In place of the idea of Primary Control, Alex cited FM’s earlier formulation ‘a true and primary movement’, which for him better captures the idea that once there is fluidity of head/neck, then energy flows.

 

Alex demonstrated by inviting pupils to walk a minuet.  Standing side by side, the teacher’s hand is raised to shoulder height and the pupil’s hand rests lightly on top.  The teacher is fluid and free, receiving and accepting the pupil.  Once communication is established, release become energy becomes movement and they walk. 

 

Alex was asked to describe his internal state whilst putting hands on.  Although not an exhaustive description, Alex began by noting his feet were soft and malleable, and that he had the thought of he inner side of his heels rotating forwards. If this were to be translated into movement it would lead to the feet turning out like Charlie Chaplin, but Alex was working with the direction only, so a thought or intention, not a position for the feet.  He also described an intention of lengthening in his legs.

 

In contrast with this openness and connectedness through legs and feet, Alex explained what is going on for the person who says ‘I don’t know what to do with my hands’.  In this case, the flow of energy is blocked above the wrist so the hands feel awkward.  However if the wrists are encouraged to open, it will bring vitality to the whole arm.

 

Alex was asked to say more about his understanding of the term ‘energy’.  He explained that, for him, we can feel movement and sense it as energy.  This energy can get stuck, in which case the practical thing to do is not to worry away at the stuck area but to work somewhere else.  A change in any one place will change everything, so the point of entry isn’t important.

 

To conclude, Alex said that by the end of a lesson both teacher and pupil should feel optimistic.  The Technique will not solve the problems of life, but rather put us in a better state to deal with them.  The work maybe an endless process, but it should be encouraging.  Alex stressed that the Technique is very simple, but the difficult thing is to find out how simple it is.  A few weeks after the session, I received a joke email circular featuring  ‘Sayings of the Jewish Buddhist’.  The first one read:

 

‘Be here now.  Be someplace else later.  Is that so complicated?’

 

I think Alex would approve.

 

 © Sarah Chatwin 2010

Sarah Chatwin teaches in central London. You can contact Sarah by phone 07828 636 244, by email sarah@sarahchatwin.com or via her website www.sarahchatwin.com

 

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