All the old sages trained by Alexander emphasised the importance of non-doing, of thinking and not doing directions. My head of training Stephen Cooper was trained by Peter Scott and then Marjory Barlow, and he had a lot of work from Margaret Goldie. He was very keen on non-doing, and he believed strongly in giving directions. ‘Inhibition and Direction’ was always his answer to any questions his students asked on the technique. I admitted to him once that I had no idea what inhibition was. I wasn’t sure I’d experienced it yet. How would I know? He said, ‘If you think your directions and don’t do anything, what’s happening then?’
Some teachers don’t use directions for fear that their pupils will ‘do’ them. When asked about this in An Examined Life, Marjory Barlow said that you can’t leave out the words because you have to get pupils working on themselves; that we all ‘do’ the directions at first, instead of just thinking them, and give ourselves a headache. ‘Didn’t you?’ she asked her interviewer.
Recently I’ve been visiting a senior craniosacral therapist. His work is all about listening with his hands, and doing nothing. And his hands feel very nice. Walter Carrington, another of those sages, talked about the benefit of quiet, listening hands. While the work of my craniosacral therapist seems to be based on non-doing, he is happy to admit he knows nothing about giving directions. Whether he can get into a chair without pulling his head back I’m not sure. But he does know all about energy.
When I told him what I do in Alexander work, how I use my arms when putting my hands on people, and stand for long periods in monkey, he allowed me to show him what this involves.
I asked him to stand in the middle of the room. I needed a moment to let my neck be free before making contact with him. So I stood there, to the side and behind him, for a few seconds, giving my directions, calming myself down. ‘Wow, he said, are your hands on me now?’ He was picking up on the change in my energy and this was affecting him. ‘No, I haven’t made contact yet,’ I told him. Then I put my hands on his back and chest. If I was a trainee craniosacral therapist, he said, he’d be telling me, ‘That’s it!’ But then I sensed his head needed to go forward and up so I put my left hand on his forehead and invited it to come forward into my hand. I didn’t say anything, and I didn’t think I was doing anything, but I was thinking that I wanted to get his head to go forward. ‘Now I feel you’re doing something with your left hand,’ he said. And that was very useful.
Back at home with my next pupil, I thought to myself, ‘You know what you want to happen, in yourself and in her. Just do nothing and let the directions come out of that. Her head wants to go forward and up. You don’t need to do it for her. Just stay with your own directions and make sure you don’t do them. Take a risk, that absolutely nothing will change.’ I talked her through what I was thinking. And it went well. She said her movement, out of the chair, felt completely different.
Witnessing the value of the non-doing work of craniosacral therapists – of their facilitation of the flow of energy, without giving directions, without looking at everyday movements or coordinated use of the body – has given me more confidence and inspiration not to ‘do’ anything in the name of teaching directions. But like Marjory Barlow said, I still have to teach them. I didn’t get where I am today, as Reggie Perrin’s boss said, without the four directions. Neck free, head forward and up, back lengthening and widening, knees forward and away from each other.
One of my favourite senior teachers seemed to confirm I’ve made some kind of progress when I went to see him a few weeks ago. And he’s not one to tell you things are going well if they aren’t. He gave me a terrible time when I started on my training course in 2000 (‘What are you thinking, man?’). But in this recent lesson, when I expressed relief that he seemed to think I was going well, he said, ‘It’s in your nervous system’.
A part of Stephen Cooper is still with me when I think the directions and don’t do anything… and also when I realise I’ve failed, again, for the millionth time, ‘not to do’.