Copyright © 1996 Jeremy Chance. All Rights Reserved
The enneagram illustrated above is a remarkable symbol--no other symbol can, or ever will, encompass its breathtaking scope and truth. It is purported to be the tool that led to the invention of the decimal system.note1 In esoteric and numerological terms it embodies the law of three and the law of seven.note2 Practically it telescopes the complex structural actions of any cosmic process you could ever imagine--whether it is cooking a meal, releasing a new product, saying the Lords Prayer or dealing with an addiction.note3 In this article note4 I will illustrate one small example familiar to students of Alexander's discoveries: how Frederick Matthias Alexander's (FMA) story is a classic example of moving around the wheel of change as represented by the enneagram.note5
Study the symbol above. It contains three elements: a circle, a triangle and six straight lines. The circle represents the cyclical nature of change--death follows life, life follows death--and its progression through time. The six arrowed lines indicate the direction that inner work must take to motivate growth around the outer circle, while the triangle symbolises the three energies necessary to fuel this change process.
In-Point Nine: Our Inheritance
In the chapter "Evolution of a Technique" from The Use of the Self, Alexander begins his story at In-point 9, on the apex of the triangle in the enneagram. This symbolises the place where the vast inheritance of humanity enters our lives. Interestingly, Alexander named his first book Man's Supreme Inheritance. This 'inheritance' can come in the form of fundamental operating principles--inherited beliefs that govern our perceptions and behaviour. At the start of his story Alexander describes how he naturally:
...conceived 'body' and 'mind' as separate parts of the same organism, and consequently believed that human ills, difficulties and shortcomings could be classified as either 'mental' or 'physical' and dealt with on specifically 'mental' or specifically 'physical' lines.
An infant human being is a depository of the vast collective experience of humanity--ideas, feelings and movements initially influence our behaviour without any conscious or informed decision on our part to accept them. We are also born to a specific sex, build and height with fixed eye, hair, skin colour and other racial characteristics.
And further on from our birth--none of us had any immediate control over how we were treated in our earliest moments of life. The years of our upbringing have a powerful effect upon our adult behaviour. In this sense the Buddhists talk of 'waking sleep'--that we are still reacting as we did in our early life, despite our removal from it. We are not 'awake' to our fundamental operating principles, so we live mechanical lives, 'acting out' on these patterns of behaviour again and again. Gurdjieff stated that the vast majority of humanity had not developed much past the emotional maturity of a young child. note6 The worldly array of wars, poverty, corruption and selfish indifference is ample testimony to the efficacy of his viewpoint.
As we move around the enneagram we are embarking on a process of conscious development of our inheritance--this is the basis upon which we proceed. This is the initial source of 'energy' that starts the ball rolling. Everything that happens in our future is dependent upon what has happened in our past--it is these past actions that we seek to be free from.
In the 12-step program they have a saying about our neurotic inheritance: "You are not responsible for your addiction, you are responsible for your recovery." This is the first lesson of the enneagram, neatly summed up by the Serenity Prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Movement around the enneagram is partly a process of seeking an understanding of what can, and can't, be changed.
FIRST PERIOD: PREPARATORY PRACTICES
Change, growth and development come in the form of two distinct periods. The enneagram reflects this--it can be divided symmetrically by a perpendicular line through In-Point 9 (see diagram).
Energy for the first period comes in at two sources--from In-Points 9 and 3-- whereas in the second period there is only one source at In-Point 6. During the first period we pass through Stages 1, 2 and 4 while we complete the work necessary to prepare ourselves for us for a transformation in our being. During the second period we pass through the final Stages 5, 7 and 8. However, because our energy comes in from only one source at In-Point 6, this second period--which concerns the transformation of our being--takes longer to complete. Most of us don't ever get to finish this final move around the wheel of change.
The first period always involves enlightening our ignorance of the real issues, which are often initially disguised and manifest only in symptoms--in Alexander's case, a hoarse voice coupled with an irritation of the mucous membrane of the throat and nose. In Alexander's story the two periods were, firstly, realising that his problem was caused by misuse and determining the basic preventative directions and, secondly, discovering a successful means of implementing them.
The first period is characterised by confusion, frustration--shadows and intriguing glimpses of a 'cause' which cannot yet be understood or answered. Our understanding and language is negative--we only know what we don't want--so that our aim is conceived as essentially the absence of that. This is a false aim, based as it is on a negative and narrow perception. All that we can perceive during this early period of work on ourselves are the symptoms of something hidden to our understanding.
In Alexander's case he knew only of his sore throat, his hoarseness and, through his doctors, of the inflammation of his vocal chords. These, Alexander understood later, were the symptoms of his misuse of himself, but at the time he had no such understanding. Nor did his doctors who, on the basis of Alexander's overly long uvula, recommended surgery to shorten it. While we now know this to be utter nonsense, it was still the natural outcome of a narrow perception. Within the little world of 'the Alexander throat', cause and effect seemed clear.
At the time an aim is finally realised as a vision (Stage 8) instead of a negative (Stage 2) the conceptions underlying it will be revolutionary to us. So to aim too early for an immediate 'solution' to our problems would be like trying to cure measles by cutting off the spots--getting rid of these symptoms does not heal the cause of the disease.
FMA: "The things that don't exist are the most difficult to get rid of." note7
Stage One: Observation
The motor of conscious evolution is observation--collecting information about the concealed truths that surround us and dispelling the ignorance that perpetuates our suffering. This is the essence of Alexander's approach:
Standing before a mirror I first watched myself carefully during the act of ordinary speaking.
Alexander did not discover that the head must go 'forward and up', he noticed that it went 'back and down'--'forward and up' became the obvious counterpoint to that:
I was particularly struck by three things that I saw myself doing. I saw that as soon as I started to recite, I tended to pull back the head, depress the larynx and suck in breath...
The qualities necessary for us to develop at Stage 1 on the wheel of change are also aptly described by the Buddhist teaching of 'mindfulness.' This is our primary task, the first step towards any spiritual growth. Gurdjieff also emphasises this a calls it 'self-remembering' coupled with 'self-observation.' In fact, every spiritual teaching I have ever encountered places primary emphasis on this need to increase awareness of our own behaviour.
Yet how often is this simple truth trampled upon in our rush for difference? FMA: "Everyone is always teaching us the right thing to do, still leaving us doing the wrong thing." So often our obsession with our goal blinds us to the causes of our failure to attain it. To begin with simple observation, with mindfulness, requires patience, tenacity and ultimately, self-acceptance.
This is the grand irony of real change--it isn't possible until we accept ourselves as we are. I love to make this following experiment with my pupils for it fascinates me that in response to a simple question: "What can you observe about yourself?" a pupil will set in motion a 'cacophony' of wriggles, writhing and mutterances--yet amidst all this noise how can it be possible for them to listen to their movements accurately? The activity they generate to 'observe' themselves becomes itself the object of their observation--in the process effectively disguising anything of value that might have been discovered. This wiggling seems to be a physical expression of a language that is full of such phases as: "My neck is too tight. I don't have enough freedom through my body. I feel stiff." But these are not observations--they are self-judgements. Such pupils do not actually 'observe' anything--instead, they dream up an idealised state then proceed to criticise themselves for being unable to achieve it.
To undergo change through a 12-step programme the first step is to admit who you are (an alcoholic, a sex addict etc.) and acknowledge that you cannot control yourself, that "your life has become unmanageable". This paradox has always intrigued me: the first step to gaining power is to admit to your powerlessness; the first step to gaining control is to admit that you don't have it. So it is that you cannot change until you admit who you are and become fully accepting of that.
Without self-acceptance I have found that it is not possible to observe myself and consequently I can not change. All that is possible is for me to do is deny myself--pretend this is a good job of it, sitting up so straight and tall ("I'm not worried by that little bit of soreness in my back"). Yet while my energy is devoted to trying not to be what I actually am--where is the possibility of change?
The greater the energy that is spent on trying not to be what we are, the greater our attachment to being there. The person who tries very hard to sit up straight ("because slumping is bad!") will inevitably slump down even further when they tire of trying--giving cause for further 'failure' followed by even more energetic attempts to 'sit up.' No change will ever occur although the person may momentarily believe--in a bout of 'uprightness'--that they have changed. Their 'sitting up' is causally related to their 'slump' so that one cannot exist without the other--as their effort to 'sit up' is increased, so along with it, is their tendency to slump. I call it the 'not-slump' slump.
FMA: "I am putting into gear the muscles that hold up, and you are putting them out of gear and then making a tremendous effort to hold yourself up, with the result that, when you cease that effort, you slump down worse than ever".
And all this because we failed to appreciate what true observation is all about and set about putting our 'debauched' ideas first. The 'idea', as the enneagram shows, must come after the fact, not before it.
Stage Two: Interpretation
So the problem that prevents real observation is that our current 'idea' of ourselves is collapsed together with our observations: the idea precedes the observation and acts to filter out all irrelevancies. I am told that Alexander often conveyed to his students the wisdom of the chemistry professor who strolled around the laboratory warning his students: "Now, now--don't find what you are looking for."
Phrases such as "his neck is stiff" and "she looks tense" are expressions of interpretative thought: you don't observe 'stiffness,' you observe that "...as a person turns their head in one direction they do it by moving their shoulders and head as one unit". I can deduce from this that they are stiff but I may be wrong. The point is that the minute I am able to separate my observation from my interpretation of it, I am immediately free to explore alternative explanations for what I am seeing. It creates possibilities that previously didn't exist for me.
Indeed how many people who know their neck is 'stiff' are able to do much about it? Very few. Why? Because of this point--they have no access to the truth of the situation because they have interpreted it before collecting precise observations. Alexander's story is not peppered with such spurious 'observations.' He uses quite a different language:
Suffice to say that in the course of these experiments I came to notice that any use of my head and neck which was associated with a depressing of the larynx was also associated with a tendency to lift the chest and shorten the stature.
These are observations, very exact ones at that. He even goes on to fuss about the word 'shorten', adding in a footnote:
Although it would probably be more correct to use the phrases 'increase the stature', 'decrease the stature', I have decided to use the phrases 'lengthen the stature', 'shorten the stature', because the words 'lengthen' and 'shorten' are those most commonly used in this connection.
When we fail to be as particular as Alexander was in our observations, it renders us incapable of helping ourselves. When I understand that my neck is not simply 'stiff,'--but that my head is extended back and my neck is dropping forward and down--then I immediately have access to a course of action that was previously unavailable--I can experiment. FMA: "All we will ever know in this world is when we are wrong."
But there is a problem to overcome first and In-Point 3 is its key.
In-Point Three: Getting Help
How many alcoholics know that they should experiment with giving up that first drink, but don't? How many fat people understand they should at least give up the afternoon eclair, but won't? How many workaholics know they should spend more time with their family, but don't?
Having an interpretation of our observed behaviour should logically lead us to doing something about it--yet human experience is quite to the contrary. The enneagram explains this phenomena by interpolating In-Point 3, the second point of the triangle, between Stage 2 (interpretation) and Stage 4 (experimentation). Between these Stages 2 and 4 is the moment in the wheel of change where some form of energetic input is essential to be able to sustain the process. If not, we will remain stuck at Stage 2 for the rest of our life. How long have you been trying to solve the same problem?
The kind of assistance we receive at In-Point 3 has many forms. Often the change process is jolted into action by a shock--in Alexander's case, for example:
My disappointment was greater than I can express, for it now seemed to me that I could never look forward to more that a temporary relief, and that I should thus be forced to give up a career in which I had become deeply interested and believed I could be successful. [my italics]
Alexander's realisation that his life's dream was on the line spurred him into starting his now famous series of experiments. What about yourself? Test the veracity of this idea by examining the periods of momentous change in your own life. Was there an event which triggered off the change? It may have been a death, an accident, a marriage--something that shook you up sufficiently to trigger a difference in your life. Whether positive or negative in nature, these 'conscious shocks' act as catalysts for the major personal evolutions we have experienced during our life towards death.
But an event by itself, no matter how shocking, is normally not sufficient to keep the change process ticking over. While it may initially catalyse us into action, unless this urge is fed from another source, our efforts will soon peter out until we find ourselves back at Stage 2 again with all our old familiar problems.
To sustain change, support is necessary on an ongoing basis--this may take the form of: seeing a therapist or attending a group regularly; joining an Alexander training course; becoming part of a 12-step community; working with challenging partners; taking on a religious commitment--anything involving a positive force outside ourselves that constantly calls our actions into question. It is too simple really--so simple that very few of us ever realise how utterly essential it actually is. It is asking for help and so often this is the greatest stumbling block we have.
In-Point 3 is about humility, it is about surrendering ourselves to be supported by the hands of trusted others.
In the enneagram of a healthy childhood our parents are situated at In-Point 3-- encouraging us to take risks and discover the world for ourselves. The dysfunctional family goes towards explaining why many individuals fail to develop emotionally beyond the life of little children.
So, with some kind of support structure set up in our lives, we are ready to start making the experiments that will lead us towards real change. It is only at this point that the work on ourselves truly impinges upon our inner lives. It was only now that Alexander pulled out his mirrors and really began his work...
Stage Four: Experimentation
What does it mean to experiment on yourself? An answer to this is to be found in Alexander's own successful experiments. What is fascinating about these is that they inevitably involved him in giving things up--yet the common idea about human experimentation comes across as a doing one, e.g. "Try something new, do it differently". Alexander's method, long before his discovery of inhibition, was a 'non-doing' approach:
...I argued that if my hoarseness arose from the way I used parts of my organism, I should get no further unless I could prevent or change this misuse.
How many times have you seen another person attempt to correct a perceived postural fault by assuming a new 'correct' one? Alexander didn't try to put himself right--such as the person who pulls his shoulders back and sits up straight. Yet, isn't that what most people do?
As we will see, at this stage of the enneagram it is a wrong effort to attempt to implement a new behaviour. A new behaviour will evolve from the loss of the old--something will fill the void. Try to get there too quickly and all that happens is that the new behaviour is grafted upon the old--distorting them both. Often we mistake this for change. Alexander comments on this:
For I saw that an immediate response was the result of a decision on my part to do something at once, to go directly for a certain end, and by acting quickly on this decision I did not give myself the opportunity to project as many times as necessary the new directions...
Here's a practical example of this: I want to give up my obsession with sweets and junk food and lead a healthy life. A healthy life, I think to myself but then, by "acting quickly", I proceed to rush to my "certain end" by buying good foods, reading up on all the newest health diets, converting my friends and embracing every 'healthy' possibility I can. Where are the "preventative directions"? Now the habitual excess that lead me to eat bad foods has redirected itself into an obsession about health. Haven't you met people like that? Nowadays, it is called a 'positive addiction.' However, I have not given up my 'unhealthy' behaviour, I have simply redirected it into another sphere--it looks 'healthy' but a real change, based on experimentation, has not occurred.
People 'cure' bad backs this way. Indeed, most medical and para-medical practitioners still advocate this pseudo-method of change to their patients in the form of 'postural exercises' and positions to 'hold themselves correctly.' Alexander teachers are well familiar with this kind of stone-age nonsense. Other people make these pseudo-changes by putting on accents, wearing hip clothes or just "trying to talk proper-like." Whenever you meet a person like this you are usually struck by their artificiality--intuitively you know them to be in the act of disguising their true nature.
Line from Stage One to Stage Four
If you refer to the inner line between Stages 1 and 4 on the diagram you can see that the arrow points towards Stage 4--this indicates that the correct source of material for conducting experiments (at 4) are our observations (at 1). Look now at the line between Stages 4 and 2--here the arrow moves towards Stage 2 but pseudo-changes are, as we have seen, driven by endgaining 'ideas' (at 2). Uncannily the enneagram predicts that this kind of effort is against a true method of change, that is, against the direction of the arrow between Stages 4 and 2. Such pseudo-changes are being driven by our fantasies (at 2), not our observations (at 1), and as such are a wrong effort. The changes gained by this method are not real, they are imagined--they fill our minds with delusional thought, smothering the truth of who we are. Positive affirmations--currently the rage around town--mostly operate in this dysfunctional way, creating far more problems than they can ever solve.
However, this pseudo-approach to change can seem successful, often permanently so. People may be happy with that--so be it--but the new behaviour, grafted upon the old, requires continuous effort to stay functional. Eventually this 'effort' becomes habitual, resulting in a state of permanent excessive tension and energy loss and, later, new 'complications' seemingly unassociated with the old. It all probably leads to a much earlier death.
The important point here is not to confuse the nature of true experimentation in our human behaviour with those other kinds of efforts based on endgaining ideas directed towards 'trying to do something new.' If this isn't clear to us we can waste decades trying to solve our problems and having very little success.
Real experimentation is bland, frustrating, tedious and unexciting. It inevitably fails and requires constant perseverance, tremendous commitment and unending dedication, even genius, to succeed. This is why it normally will never occur without some sort of support structure at In-Point 3, supplying the energy necessary to continue your efforts. Alone, you'd just never keep it up. That's why we have churches, 12-step groups, spiritual communities and the like. At this point faith is not required--we do not have to 'believe' in anything. As we shall see, faith will come later in the process--all that is required for now is your involvement in the community and an open-mind...
For example, the first question any member of 12-step program will ask another who is slipping back into old behaviours is: "Are you doing meetings?" Meetings supply the energy necessary to continue the great experiment of giving up the thing that is your obsession. Which brings us to understand the essence of experimentation in relation to human behaviour--giving things up, sacrificing, letting go of attachments. Surprised? Of course not, it's all very simple.
But it is not appealing! The giving up of destructive behaviours begins with laying open the deep scars, sorrows and attachments that first prompted our destructive behaviours. But, just as compassion can arise within us at the instant we understand that another's anger towards us is caused by their deep hurt, so does understanding the true nature of our pain dispel our ignorance and diminish its power to influence our behaviour.
Line from Stage Four to Stage Two
You experiment because you do not understand the true nature of the problem you have. Observe the inner line that moves between Stages 4 and 2. Experiments have the purpose of enlightening you on a problem you do not understand. The idea arises out of the practice, not the other way around. Again--Alexander:
As I was unable to answer these questions, all I could do was to go on patiently experimenting before the mirror. After some months I found [line from 4 to 2] that when reciting I could not by direct means prevent the sucking in of breath or the depressing of the larynx, but that I could to some extent prevent the pulling back of the head.
The value of real experimentation is that it reveals to you the hitherto hidden elements which have prevented the experiment from being successful. Experiments fail--it is in their nature to do that. For example, Edison's discovery of the light bulb constituted, say, 9,999 instances of failure. When, finally, he did succeed and the light came on with the 10,000th try--there was no longer any need to experiment! Success brings us to Stage 5 of the enneagram and that is no longer in the nature of experimentation.
Our failures deliver our successes--the discoveries (the inner line from Stage 4 to Stage 2) which in turn generate ideas for new experiments (moving from Stage 2 back to Stage 4 outside the circle).note8 The inner lines, then, describe the intuitive process that will drive our more logical progression around the outer circle of the enneagram.
This is a subtler aspect of the enneagram: it shows how progression around the wheel of change occurs through a marriage of the logical and the intuitive. The outer circle--or logical processes--represents change as it occurs within the constraints of time. Alexander's description of his progress uncannily dovetails with the order of points on the outer circle of the enneagram. note9 However, the inner lines--or intuitive process--is the power behind this logical process. The intuitive process exists outside the constraints of time so, for example, the vision of a future that does not yet exist becomes the cause for its own result.
Line from Stage Two to Stage Eight
Up until this moment in the wheel of change our research has been confused, happening in starts and stops and is often discouraging--being as it is so necessarily full of failure. However, persistence pays off and a day comes when we suddenly have a 'vision' of what is possible, a 'profound insight' into what we are actually working with. This moment of discovery is symbolised by the line which runs across from Stage 2 to Stage 8. Anyone who has undergone therapy or has had a spiritual experience can appreciate the power of these 'insights.' The pieces of a puzzle fall together and we finally realise many things about ourselves that we previously did not understand--in that moment the power of our habit is instantly diminished.
Listen to a person's language regarding their behaviour and you will hear that their understanding of themselves (Stage 2) is inextricably linked up with how they want to be (Stage 8). In fact, it is impossible to conceive of a 'bad self' without the vision of the 'good self,' and this is the primary explanation of the link between Stage 2 and Stage 8.
Yet conceiving of a vision for yourself is not to be at Stage 8--it merely gives you an impetus to get there. I might think out (Stage 2) what kind of behaviours I want to have (Stage 8) but there are many steps (moving around the outside circle of the enneagram through Stages 4, 5 and 7) to take before I will be actually be like that, if ever.
As the enneagram shows, the significance of this moment (the inner line from Stage 2 to Stage 8) is that this 'insight' moves you across to the left side of the wheel of change into the second great period of work on your Self--that of transformation. The evolution of Alexander's work on himself was grounded in this approach. The time did come for him to attempt a transformation--but only after he had laboriously identified what he was doing. FMA: "You can't do what you don't know, if you keep on doing what you do know."
Prevention creates a void, an emptiness which can be filled by a new richness, by new possibilities, and it is at this moment that our real transformation begins: the second and much harder move around the left side of the wheel of change.
SECOND PERIOD: TRANSFORMATION
Alexander's shift from the preparatory right side to the transformational left side of the enneagram was a paradigmal shift between two universes of conception. In the beginning he was a man with a "faulty voice mechanism", in the end, a visionary with a message for all humanity to heed. So--whatever happened in between?
Alexander's story neatly illustrates the divide between the two sides of the enneagram--firstly, he discovers the preventative directions then secondly, he determines how to carry them though into practice.
In this he clearly moves between two paradigms of perception. Initially he exists in a Cartesian, Newtonian world where mind and body are separate entities, where cause and effect are considered in separation. He talks in terms of the fault with his "voice mechanism," as though it is somehow separate from himself--a part to be fixed so all will work well again:
From this I was led to conjecture that if pulling back my head, depressing my larynx and sucking in breath did indeed bring about a strain on my voice, it must constitute a misuse of the parts concerned. [my italics]
In the second half of the story his perception shifts into an Einsteinian view of the world where everything is relative to everything else:
It is important to remember that the use of a specific part in any activity is closely associated with the use of other parts of the organism, and that the influence exerted by the various parts one upon another is continuously changing in accordance with the manner of use of those parts.
The first period of a change process is represented on the wheel of change by In-Points 9 & 3 and Stages 1, 2 and 4, the second period by In-Point 6 and Stages 5, 7 and 8. In the first period of change the overriding focus is on the behaviour that is harmful--in Alexander's case, his hoarse voice. Our initial perception is narrow, never grasping the real truth of the situation. Our understanding is in terms of negatives--all Alexander initially wanted to do was to stop losing his voice so he could get on with his career. Think of your own 'problems'--it is usually in terms of the negative: "I wish I didn't drink so much, gamble like this, eat so much etc." As work proceeds, an understanding evolves of an entirely different notion which moves us--through the inner lines from Stage 2 to Stage 8 and then into Stage 5--to where we arrive and begin this second transformational move around the wheel of change.
What brings about this change is an awakening to the enormity and profundity of the change being called for. Anyone who reaches this second period and completes it--and very few of us ever do--will experience a fundamental change in the whole situation of their lives. Alexander was no exception to this. From being an everyday actor working in the colonies he transformed himself into a visionary genius, if a tad eccentric, gaining fame at the centre of the British Empire.
Getting Across the Wheel to Stage Five
The Inner Line from Stage Two through to Stage Five
One of the chief obstacles to work on ourselves, during this second period, is laziness. Perhaps we have learnt a few things, redirected some of our behaviours more positively and, well, generally things are going better and the desperate nature of our situation--which originally prompted us to start work on ourselves--has now been alleviated and our drive to continue is consequently weakened. We start slipping back to Stage 2 again--this is very easy to do.
In Alexander's case it was quite clear that as he resumed his reciting career during the ten years of his experiments, he did not need to continue his experiments for the sake of his acting career. Unlike us, the difference with Alexander is that he didn't stop at Stage 4--he carried on beyond that point.
Very early on note10 Alexander's informs us that:
A further result which I also noted was that with the prevention of the misuses of these parts I tended to become less hoarse while reciting, and that as I gradually gained experience in this prevention, my liability to hoarseness tended to decrease. What is more, when, after these experiences, my throat was again examined by my medical friends, a considerable improvement was found in the general condition of my larynx and vocal cords.
Unlike Alexander, after a certain time we 'stop' the work on ourselves, cut down or cease the visits to our therapist or our attendance of meetings falls off as the gradually improved circumstances of our lives distracts us. Because of this there is no longer any input at In-Point 3, which remains essential for the far more difficult development symbolised by the move through In-Point 6 from Stage 5 to Stage 7. So, before we know what has happened, we find we are up to our old tricks again.
But in Alexander's case, that did not happen. Why?
Again the enneagram answers this question by showing us the necessity that, to get to Stage 5 from Stage 4, we must also follow the direction of the inner lines from Stage 4 up to 2, across to 8 and arriving at 5. Alexander clearly explains to us why, even after he had effectively neutralised his hoarseness, he was able to continue his whole investigation (see diagram below):
I began to see [Stage 1] that my findings up till now [Stage 4] implied the possibility [Stage 2] of opening up an entirely new field of enquiry [Stage 8], and I was obsessed with the desire explore it [Stage 5]. [italics mine]
It is clear that Alexander had a 'profound insight' that moved him way beyond his original starting point and inspired him to continue. The key here is the causal relationship that inspiration has to work on our Self. In working on our Self one of our primary obstacles is laziness--of either an active nature (being distracted by meaningless activities) or passive (we just can't be bothered thinking about all this "stuff"). In Buddhism laziness is said to be countered by faith, aspiration, enthusiasm and flexibility. Inspiration--of the kind Alexander wrote about above--is a source for all of these.
Faith is generated by the empirical realisation that the process we are involved in is yielding insights--"Hey", we think, "this is working!" Out of our excitement arises the aspiration to enthusiastically exert ourselves to apply our insight in an open-minded, flexible manner--each success becoming a further cause for inspiration.
Alexander's expression "...obsessed with the desire to explore it" illustrates clearly the prime motivating force that inspiration supplies and why there is a line running from Stage 8 to Stage 5. You can't have a clear idea of the direction you must take [Stage 5] without a vision of the possibilities this 'vision' holds for you--this is the meaning of the line running down from Stage 8 to Stage 5--it is motivating you to maintain your consciousness of the work necessary at Stage 5.
FMA: "The experience makes the meat it feeds upon."
Arriving at Stage 5 with a direction to pursue does not equate with being able to 'give directions' in an Alexandrian sense--that is a Stage 4 activity. At Stage 5 'direction' has an entirely different meaning--not just freeing our neck and lengthening but appreciating and counter-acting the many factors that influence us to do otherwise so that our 'direction' includes the strategies we are developing to harmonise all these conflicting demands. For example, the tension in my neck may be an expression of a belief I have that I am too short--if I use my aversion to this self-conception to motivate my efforts to free my neck ("I'm not going to stay like this--I will use the Technique to make myself taller") I will be using my old habit to change my habit and it doesn't work that way. note11
So this moment isn't small--it is profound. Alexander himself talks in epic terms when he has reached this point in his own investigation:
I saw that the search for this knowledge would open out an entirely new field of exploration and one that promised more than any that I had yet heard of, and I began to reconsider my own difficulties in light of this new fact. [italics mine]
At Stage 5, the nature of the change process is that we are no longer seeking an answer to our problem as we have it--we are "in [the] light". It's just that we seem incapable of acting upon it! One of Alexander's favourite quotes was that of St. Paul in a letter to the Corinthians "The good that I would do, I do not. That which I would not do, I do." The important point is that by this time Alexander was in no doubt that these 'directions' he had developed were absolutely necessary to make a change--an evolutionary change in his thinking processes no less, something that all humanity could benefit from--yet he could not find a way to maintain them beyond the stimulus to speak.
One day in the kitchen with Marjorie Barstow, after knocking my hand on a cupboard, I remarked upon my overwhelming difficulty in maintaining her concept of 'delicacy of movement' in all my daily activities. I shan't forget her reply for it stays with me to-day: "Oh yes," she said "delicacy is a whole new way of living." Up until that time I had never considered that freeing my neck successfully in an ongoing sense would involve a transformation of such ontological magnitude. To-day it is abundantly clear.
So the inspiration, the understanding that--yes! this is the answer, this is what I must do--does not of itself translate into its actualisation. We still must move from Stage 5 through In-Point 6 to arrive at Stage 7 and, in the process, all manner of unforeseen obstacles present themselves. In Alexander's case he wrote of this moment:
I set out to put this idea into practice, but I was at once brought up short by a series of startling and unexpected experiences. ... Over and over again I had the experience that immediately the stimulus to speak came to me, I invariably responded by doing something according to old habitual use associated with the act of speaking.
Similarly we may be in an abusive relationship. We may have tried to improve the relationship--by discussing things, taking a different attitude or approach until finally we slowly realise that it is time to get out--no question about it. But we don't get out. We stay on, and on and on, things getting worse but still we don't leave--we are stuck at Stage 5. Why?
Because to leave is unknown to us--we have no experience of that so it is impossible for us to generate the reassurance that we feel we need before we act. We keep wondering: "Where will I live? How will I eat? Can I survive?" and so remain in a bad situation because of this fear of the unknown.
This is where God helps. Or, as they say in 12-step programs 'your higher power'. This can be anything accepted in faith: an object of devotion that offers us a reassurance and comfort that is otherwise impossible to generate. So the third and final energy--the most delicate of all--enters our being at this point to motivate the movement from Stage 5 through to Stage 7. Call it 'faith', Alexander called it 'inhibition'.
In-Point Six--Inhibition (Faith)
Think of this--when do those chores get done that require an effort against our habitual tendencies? Like writing an article or the dreaded spring cleaning? It gets done when a pressure external to us forces our hand: the ubiquitous deadline; cleaning the house for our mother--in-law's first visit; some event or person whose very existence gives cause to our actions.
On a profounder scale, the enneagram illustrates this simple fact of human existence. If you refer to the symbol you will see that this next point on the enneagram--In-Point 6--is the third and final apex of the energy triangle--this means that before we can move from Stage 5 through to Stage 7 we need another intake of energy. This is illustrated by such phrases as "I must summon up the strength..." or "...find the courage to..." In each instance there is a sense that an 'effort' is necessary and the enneagram shows us that the energy to motivate this 'effort' comes in at In-Point 6--a kind of energy that infuses our being to produce the profound ontology of understanding that occurs at Stage 7. But of what substance is this energy made of?
If, as the 12-step program teaches, this is the period when we say to ourselves: "Let go and let God" such an act requires faith that there is a God or Buddhas or Shiva--whatever object of devotion you adopt--to give us the grace we need to make this dangerous and threatening change. Are these objects then the source of this energy? The energy seems to come from being released from doing whatever it was doing before we 'inhibited'--hence our energy seems to come from generating this 'nothingness', something that should appeal to all Buddhists at the very least. It seems in nothing we find everything--even God.
For those that react negatively to such words as devotion or faith, it might be expressed in simpler terms of belief in the goodness or rightness of the human spirit. His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, expresses this view most elegantly:
I consider human affection, or compassion, to be the universal religion. Whether a believer or a nonbeliever, everyone needs human affection and compassion, because compassion gives us inner strength, hope, and mental peace. Thus, it is indispensable for everyone.note12
Whatever the intellectual underpinning--there is an "inner strength" that needs to enter us, by way of our faith in something, to supply us with the impetus necessary to undertake the momentous change we are about to undertake. So-- let us call it simply 'faith'.
But what, after all, is faith? What are we trusting? The question defeats the very notion that gives rise to it for, if I must question faith, then by definition I don't have it. Faith is self-reverential and admits no intruder and yet, as a power for transformation, has no equal. History is littered with the stories of extraordinary achievements by ordinary people filled with faith.
J.G. Bennett in his booknote13 about this kind of enneagram--as opposed to the popularised enneagram of personality types--states that In-Point 6 is the hardest point on the enneagram to understand. Certainly my experience confirms this.
The Line from Stage Five to Stage Seven
What was Alexander's notion of this faith? He called it trust:
This meant that I must be prepared to carry on with any procedure I had reasoned out as best for my purpose, [i.e. the move from Stages 5 to 7] even though that procedure might feel wrong. In other words, my trust in my reasoning processes to bring me safely to my 'end' must be a genuine trust, not a half-trust needing the assurance of feeling right as well. [Alexander's italics]
The flip side to all this is that, while faith enters in at In-Point 6, something else is going on along the inner line between Stage 5 and Stage 7--this movement is about loss, it is about allowing a void to open up in our life by losing our attachment to ways of being that have become, because of their familiarity, comfortable. For those of you who have gambled or suffered from substance abuse, this moment can mean giving up a whole circle of friends who are associated with the destructive behaviours. Or it may mean coming to terms with feelings of inadequacy or nervousness--being willing to drop the behaviours that disguise these uncomfortable emotions. From an Alexander perspective, pupils often express themselves as feeling "too tall, too commanding" as though from this place they will not be loved by others. After all--why do we need faith? It is because we feel we are losing something--our current life, much as it might torture us, is also all we know. And so we hang on.
Yet it can become even more tortuous to remain stuck at Stage 5 in the change process--we understand what's going on and what must be done, so the longer we leave making the necessary change, the more inclined we will be to force ourselves backwards into denial and ignorance. We can easily go backwards and undo all the good work we have done--even at this later stage of the process. Still, it is hard to conceal truth once we have recognised it--it goes to explaining why so many religions urge us never to abandon refuge in their doctrines and practises, never to turn our back on their teachings. To do so is far worse than if we had never begun.
So while the move itself from Stage 5 to Stage 7 is about letting go, it is our faith or trust that supplies us with the strength of grace to take this frightening step. And when finally we do truly cross over into the void it is, to our vast surprise, not a void at all, but a world filled with love and lightness, an empty space filled with light...
People talk about 'debauched kinaesthesia' and 'faulty sensory perception' but, if our senses are as bad as everyone seems to claim they are--why would we persist with Alexander lessons? Why does anyone? Because it feels so good-- isn't that our primary motivation to keep returning for more? Through the hands of a skillful teacher we can occasionally experience ourselves as we truly are, not as we imagine ourselves to be.note14
Stage 7 is about both loss and freedom. The loss can be great, but in its place we experience freedom--a glorious feeling of well-being and openness to the world. Sometimes I think Alexander teachers exclude feelings, even dismiss them, yet without feelings we cannot make distinctions between good or bad-- without feelings, Alexander could not have possibly determined ease from stiffness. Stage 7 is about gaining a reassuring experience of freedom and this freedom becomes a source of human happiness and creativity.note15
But did Alexander have such a reassuring experiences? Was he shown the way through experience? No--at least not at the order of magnitude I am discussing here--and there's the rub for us. Alexander was so phenomenally successful precisely because he didn't begin the work with the kind of 'experiences' that we begin with. It was for us that Alexander skillfully evolved a technique for delivering these 'experiences' of the change which we are attempting to finally implement on our own. This is a 'double-edged' gift as these 'wonderful experiences' become addictive--we start to rely upon our teacher to deliver them. Look at all the fuss that goes on in Alexander training schools about "getting my turn from the teacher". It is disheartening.
Such dependence also leads to a form of emotional 'Alexander abuse' where the teacher sets him or her Self up as the all-knowing one and the pupil is demeaned, told to have feelings that are 'unreliable'. This is a gross distortion of Alexander's actual viewpoint. Alexander never told us not to notice our feelings, nor did he ever intend us to teach that our feelings are inherently wrong--if that were really the case, upon what basis do we distinguish ease from tension? If you read him carefully you will come across the word 'appreciation'--"faulty sensory appreciation". It is our 'interpretation' (at Stage 2) that is at fault, not the direct experience we are having (at Stage 1). The person who feels, after a good Alexander lesson, that they are 'leaning forward' as they stand is, in fact, 'forward'--forward, that is, from where they habitually stand, which is back. Their feelings are not wrong--it is how they interpret them that is at fault.
Another problem that this glorification of the experience throws up is that the work can easily cease to be truly educational--instead it becomes overwhelmingly therapeutic, with a vast majority of the lesson undertaken passively by the pupil in a semi-supine position. There is nothing inherently wrong in this--indeed, I think it can be seen in a positive light--but it will rarely, if ever, lead to the truly transformational change that Stage 7 is about. In fact, everyday Alexander work rarely reaches such levels of profundity. However, we all have enough knowledge of times when such amazing transformations have occurred that our faith in the work remains solid. This is inspiration at work.
So the experiences we gain at Stage 7 are the result of a profound letting go, facilitated by our trust in the process (In-Point 9), our teacher (In-Point 3) and, more often than not, our faith in a higher power (In-Point 6). If, however, we try to hold on to our experience, and our idea of it, we immediately rob it of its essence--freedom. This not only happens at the level of movements--we become 'Alexandroid' like--it is also reflected at the level of our thought--we can quickly and easily descend into dogma and righteousness. How can trying to hold on to an idea of our experience result in this negative outcome?
To 'hold' needs an object and so sets up in our mind a duality. But in this moment of freedom what we have actually achieved is the absence of what we had--which is achieving nothing. How can you hold on to nothing? You can't-- you can only hold on to 'something' and, once you've done that, 'nothing' is gone and with it, your freedom. Marjorie Barstow: "You'd better talk about a 'preventing', because if you talk about a 'keeping', you will stiffen." note16
So, as soon as we 'know' at Stage 7 we cannot be there any more--it contradicts the essence of Stage 7. FMA: "You all want to know if you're right. When you get further on you will be right, but you won't know it and won't want to know if you're right" and "When the time comes to trust your feeling, you won't want to use it." Or Marjorie Barstow: "So you are learning less and less about yourself and more and more of what is possible". I've always puzzled over these aphorisms and this is the closest I've come to understanding them.
Just as being at Stage 5 is more than just 'giving directions' so is being at Stage 7 more than the feeling after a "good lesson". It is a profound moment--where we come to experience of our true essence. Which leads to a final vexing question--does the Alexander work imply a morality?
The freedom experienced at Stage 7 does, I feel, reveal to us a little of the true nature we have in common with each other. Everyone reports a similarity of experience at Stage 7. What we gain at Stage 7 is a "little bit of nothing"--that is, preventing ourselves from doing the thing that is harmful to us--so, as Marjorie Barstow puts it: "All you'll get is the absence of what you had." note17 This "little bit of nothing" is usually experienced as something gentle, affectionate, even loving--whoever felt like hurting someone at the same instant they experienced the happy freedom of an exceptional Alexander lesson?note18 In this state can emotions such as anger, jealousy and pride co-exist? This blissful condition we all occasionally experience at Stage 7 may serve to confirm that the essence of our human spirit is, at the very least benign, and at most benevolent.
So, on this basis, it is possible to argue that at Stage 7 a whole new work commences on ourselves--one directed towards having an interest and compassion for others. It is as if a universe of new possibilities appears that never existed before. FMA: "There is so much to be seen when one reaches the point of being able to see, and the experience makes the meat it feeds upon."
This last quote of Alexander's goes to explaining the line from Stage 7 through to Stage 1. Another journey begins, a new seeing--bringing with it a whole new order of challenges and questions. The last step in the 12-step program concerns helping others and it is often my thought that our second turn around the wheel of the change concerns compassion and the selfless loving of others. The fruits of Alexander's life is certainly a testimony to this idea--his work has bestowed a great gift to humanity and has, and will continue to do so, relieved untold numbers of people from suffering. Indeed, even animals are beginning to benefit from Alexander's pioneering work.note19
Stage Eight: Integration
This is the time of completion. It is also the time of leadership. A person that has reached this level of integration in a change process serves as a leader to others--Alexander being the case in point. They become a living illustration of the possibilities available to others who have not been able to succeed in the same way. They are the 'old timers' who speak up at 12-step meetings and are more deeply involved in 12 stepping--reaching out to others who are still in need. They are the rinpoches, the high priests that inspire us to work on ourselves.
The differences between Stage 7 and Stage 8 are twofold. Firstly, at Stage 8 the new behaviour has come to feel normal and natural while, secondly, it is no longer a struggle to maintain this new condition--there is almost no chance now of 'slipping back'. As we saw in our discussion of getting to Stage 7, one of the stumbling blocks to implementing change is, paradoxically, the change itself. Our habitual tendency is towards the familiar. FMA: "Change involves carrying out an activity against the habit of life." However, we do eventually come to a time when the change comes to feel familiar.
Think of learning a language. After the long period of gaining a vocabulary and learning to communicate, there is still a phase where we find ourselves reverting to our natural language when tired or upset. We can speak easily, and to others it seems to have no effort attached, but to us it is still an effort, still not a natural thing. We still think and dream in our old language. We may still find ourselves moving back and forth between the two--sometimes translating from one language and back into the other.
However, if we persist, while especially 'preventing' ourselves reverting back to our mother tongue, a strange thing happens--we begin to think in the new language all the time, even dream in the new language. It becomes a part us, one that we are unlikely ever to undo. In fact, this change can become so complete, that we may even forget how to say things in what was once our mother tongue. And also--at this stage it is easy to teach others.
From Stage 8 our legacy moves into In-Point 9, becoming a part of humanity's inheritance and forever changing the lives of the people who follow us. Alexander's work has now become part of that inheritance. All great teachers leave behind them a trail of influence that extends far beyond their own limited life spans. Could Bill Wilson and his friends have ever known what an extraordinary effect their 12-Step programme would have in the world of today? Now there are 12-step programmes called Narcotics Anonymous, Gamblers Anonymous, Eaters Anonymous, Sex & Love Addicts Anonymous, Fundamentalists Anonymous and so forth.
In the same way it is natural to expect Alexander's work to flower into many different plants--each one being seeded by the life of that previous to it in an unbroken chain reaching back a century to those innocent experiments conducted by a desperate young Australian actor who used his craving for fame to fuel an iron determination to overcome his adverse circumstances.
Jeremy Chance is the Editor and Publisher of DIRECTION, an international Journal on the Alexander Technique. He trained at the School of Alexander Studies in London, qualifying in 1980 and later undertook extensive post-graduate work with Marjorie Barstow from 1986 to 1992.
P.O. Box 276, Bondi, NSW 2026 Australia
Tel: 02-9665.3364, Fax: 02-9665.1578,
E-mail: Direction Journal
(1) See The Harmonious Circle by James Webb, Thames and Hudson: London (1980) for elucidation on the origins of the enneagram and, specifically, how it came to be part of Gurdjieff's teaching. go back to text
(2) See P.D. Ouspensky's In Search of the Miraculous, first published in New York in 1949 for a fuller discussion of the functions of the law of three and the law of seven. go back to text
(3) See Enneagram Studies by J.G. Bennett, published by Samuel Weiser: USA (1983) for a study of nine different enneagrams, including those mentioned in the text. There is also a valuable introduction where Bennett discusses some of the general aspects of the enneagram that is the basis of this article. For a discussion of the change process in overcoming an addiction see "The Anatomy of Addiction" by this writer in DIRECTION Journal, Vol 1 No 9, pp.343-345 go back to text
(4) This article is based upon the workshop I gave at the Congress--most of what appears in this article was probably said during the workshop but, as I didn't prepare a paper to give it, I offer this as my after-the-fact recollection. go back to text
(5) The workshop was based upon the chapter "Evolution of a Technique" from Alexander's book The Use of the Self, published by Victor Gollancz: London (1985). Unless noted otherwise, all indented quotes in this article come from this chapter and the reader is encouraged to read it in its entirety for an understanding of the context of all the quotes given. Further quotes in this article from this chapter will not be referenced. go back to text
(6) See In Search of the Miraculous, op. cit. go back to text
(7) Alexander, F.M, "Notes of Instruction", The Alexander Technique: the essential writings of F. Matthias Alexander, edited by Edward Maisel, Thames and Hudson: London (1974) All further quotes preceded by the notation "FMA:" come from this source and will not individually referenced. go back to text
(8) The astute reader may well pick up what seems to be a contradiction--in that I argued previously that to move from Stage 2 directly to Stage 4 was a wrong effort, yet here I am arguing the opposite! However, close examination will reveal that this isn't the case as there are two roots to Stage 4--one is directly along an inner line from Stage 1 to Stage 4, the second along an outer line around the circle from Stages 1 through to Stage 2 and then, relying on In- Point 3, through to Stage 4. By moving around the outer circle you are also getting to Stage 4 but by first going through Stages 1 and 2 while depending upon the energy at In-Put 3 to finally get to Stage 4--this is a correct method. Switching from the outer circle at Stage 2 to go against the arrow down the inner line to Stage 4 is a way to get there and is widely done--but it doesn't work, there is ample evidence of that. However, launching into a discussion of that, and of the distinctions between the two correct moves is beyond the scope of this article (as a discussion of this could easily fill another article by itself) so my readers are left to ponder for themselves the significance of these three alternative routes. go back to text
(9) As I have taught the Enneagram many people have puzzled over the fact that, on the enneagram, direction precedes inhibition whereas in practise it seems the reverse is true. But this is not true in the process of discovery for how can you inhibit a thing that is not recognised? First you must be able to identify the thing you intend to prevent. However, can the "preventative directions" exist without the recognition of that which they "prevent"? 'Forward and up' is, in actuality, only the 'prevention' of 'back and down' so you must, as Alexander did, first identify 'back and down'. This all means that the discovery of an appropriate 'direction' must precede that of any 'inhibition' which a reading of Alexander's story does verify to be the case. go back to text
(10) This quote occurs on page 8 of Alexander's 29 page chapter on "The Evolution of a Technique", op. cit. go back to text
(11) This is based on an aphorism of Marjorie Barstow: "You are trying to use your old habit to change the habit and it doesn't work that way" noted by the writer during the summer of '86 in Australia. go back to text
(12) The Dalai Lama, Dimensions of Spirituality, Wisdom Publications: Boston (1995) go back to text
(13) Enneagram Studies, Bennett, J.G., op. cit. go back to text
(14) This is based on comments made by Tommy Thompson in an unpublished talk: "Working with Emotional Releases" in London, October, 1989. He writes: "Most people, when you take them somewhere, which is different from where they were, they say something that equates it with a feeling. The only thing they are experiencing for a brief moment in time, is the absence of where they have been. But no sooner than that brief moment passes, do they describe a feeling to it, and no sooner than they have done that, do they put themselves to where they feel themselves to be." go back to text
(15) Based on a teaching by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama where he writes: "Freedom is the real source of human happiness and creativity", Words of Wisdom, Margaret Gee Publishing: Sydney (1992) p.23 go back to text
(16) "Marjorie Barstow's Aphorisms", DIRECTION Journal, Vol 2 No 4, pp.16-18. go back to text
(17) Ibid. go back to text
(18) Of course many people will argue that some Alexander experiences are not pleasant at all--they can release great waves of repressed anger or tears. Of course this is true. However, it is not necessary to go into a lengthy discussion of this as it doesn't change my point that, at other times, we have all experienced some form of happy release. It is only those experiences that I am discussing at this point. go back to text
(19) See "Working with Mr Spooks" by Sally Tottle in DIRECTION Journal, Vol 2 No 1, p.13 where the author recounts her experience of giving Alexander hands-on work to horses. go back to text