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Alex Through the Looking Glass, (with apologies to Lewis Carroll)

What Did Alexander See in the Mirror? A talk given by Shaike Hermelin as part of A Tribute to Patrick Macdonald  held in London in February 2011.

(First published in STATNews, September 2011)


It is probably safe to assume that without the mirror and FM's discoveries, we would not be meeting here today. However, the general trend among teachers, and even in some training courses, is either to ignore the mirror completely, or to give it a very minor place in the teaching of the Technique.

We say "seeing is believing", for the eyes constantly convey information to the brain.  We do not exactly see with the eyes, but through the visual cortex at the rear of the brain.  It's about the size of your fist, and there sits a collection of information, memories, our imagination, dreams, etc, which have a connection with vision.  Even when the eyes are closed, the cortex continues to see and work.

From our point of view we are dealing with the use of the self.  The problem is that we don't quite "know" ourselves, even though we may be certain that we do.


So there are many different aspects to knowing and seeing.   Often we look without seeing and see without looking.  Alexander said we mainly look in the mirror because we are concerned about some tiny blemish.  But how we stand and contract our neck, we may not see.   So we can make a mountain out of a molehill, while ignoring what is really important.


A pupil said to me "When I look at my back in the mirror it looks quite unfamiliar to me".  When I ask pupils to stand in front of a mirror and say "What do you see?" they may not notice anything, and moreover may feel embarrassed. (I find that people have great difficulty looking straight into their eyes in the mirror).  As we look, I can draw their attention to the fact that their head is tilted to the right or left, that one shoulder is higher than the other, that they are leaning more on one leg than the other, etc.


In other words, we have lost the "map" of our own body in our brain.  We have lost the sense of where up and down are, of depth, and the connection between front to back and back to front.  However, calm conscious looking by itself can start to bring about a change.

We can "see" where we put everything, for instance, in a drawer at home or at work, but we don't "see" the neck, such an important part of the body.  If we can't see it, even in our mind, it means we have no communication with the part that connects the head to the body.   To talk about the neck without seeing it is like talking about a place without actually having been there.  Alexander spent nine years observing himself, until each part of his body became clearly connected in his brain.  This is the original job of the brain to "look" after ("see") the rest of the body.


The observation renews and strengthens the connection between the cells of the brain and the related parts of the body.  All our lives we are engaged with external objects.  Much of our education is based on learning and memorizing from books, sitting for examinations and receiving the relevant certification—and of course it's important to acquire a profession.  But our habits of life—this connection between the head and the body—are still left untouched.

Because the eyes and the brain are connected, each part of the body can be seen by the brain— as Alexander said "One after the other and all together".  He himself went straight from the doctor to the mirror.  What did he expect to see? (What an indication as to the type of person he was — he turned to mirror while looking for an answer to his problem.)

At the beginning he saw nothing, but continued to look, as he wrote "very carefully".  This is what defines looking in the mirror —"very carefully" and without an aim.  And then he started to see.

Every time he reached a dead end, as he wrote in The Use of the Self —"I went back to the mirror" and he found the correct way to continue from there.  The last phrase occurs about fourteen times in the book.  "I sat in front of the mirror days, weeks and months, observing myself and giving directions. One day I found myself stnding up effortlessly."

When someone came to Alexander and complained they couldn't do something, he said "You cannot do it your way, but I offer you a completely different way.  All you have to do is to listen to me".  If we don't look, we rely on feelings, and we now know we cannot rely on feelings.  The moment we consciously look, we are not reliant on our feelings and we let our brain wake up without judging, just looking.


Alexander looked in the mirror for himself and not for us.  In The Use of the Self he wrote about the process he underwent so that we can understand what we have to go through.  He gave us the plan. As Alexander said, "If you want to do what I do, do what I did".  He also said, "From the moment a person comes into a room and walks towards a chair, I can see the whole history of his misuse". 


Alexander talks about incorrect conception.  In other words, the instrument that is my body doesn't convey to me the right information, and therefore I am unknowingly misusing myself.   Therefore the first thing we have to do in raising the standard of sensory appreciation is to sharpen the mind through the visual connection.


When we look, the change doesn't happen immediately, because of what Alexander calls "our wandering mind".  But if we look slowly, carefully, and with no intention, we allow time in our consciousness to change the old pattern. Then something starts to happen.


So, the brain makes the decision, organizes the means, brings the primary control   into order which enables the force of lifethat which is above thinking to flow.  We don't do the flow —we cannot do it.  We can by thinking activate the primary control and then the force of life can work for us, giving us energy, joy and health.  All we have to do is to enable it to work for us.


 © Shaike Hermelin 2011



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