An Education

by Stella Weigel

Alexander could not have been clearer: “In those cases where the psycho-physical mechanism is imperfect and functioning more or less inadequately, we cannot expect the best results in the conveyance or the acquisition of knowledge.” (CCCI)

My own education paid full testament to this in providing me with all the necessary tools of a confirmed end-gainer; I developed poor psycho-physical use in a most expert fashion.

My late father struggled to obtain his education. He grew up in war-time Germany and was called to military service on the Eastern front while still just a boy. He eventually studied chemistry and became a chemist and academic lecturer. 

The overriding memory I have of my own education is one of struggle, but of an entirely different nature than my father’s.  My education was designed to improve my intellect, but there was never any attention paid to my condition of use, or the reasons for my reactions, or any observation of the link between use and reactions.

All the groundwork for what was to continue throughout my entire education was laid as early as my primary school years; “worried” and “anxious” are words used frequently in my school reports.

Further, it occurs to very few [parents] to consider whether, in this process of “education” (i.e., in certain specific directions), the child’s fear reflexes will not be unduly and harmfully excited by the injunction that it must always try to “be right”, indeed, that it is almost a disgrace to be wrong.  (CCCI).

I attempted to obey instructions, achieve results, and meet the ever increasing demands “made by people who (were) guiding themselves by an unreliable and delusive sensory appreciation.” (CCCI).  This all took its toll.  The evaluation, “could do better,” became all too familiar and seemed to constantly announce my unfulfilled potential.  I dreaded sitting any tests or examinations, convinced that in spite of all my hard work I could only fail, that I had already failed.

There was little hope of taking my time to think.  Just the idea of taking an exam was the panic button inside of me which, once triggered, led me to rush and think all too quickly.  I was no different than Alexander’s golfer who failed at every attempt to keep his eye on the ball.  Time and again I would try to do my best, be left disappointed at the outcome, and lacking in self-confidence.

…every attempt on the part of the child to do something new or to acquire knowledge makes a psycho-physical demand, and (…) the child’s efforts, when judged on a general and not specific basis, will always be in accordance with the standard of psycho-physical functioning of its organism.  (CCI).  

I also remember a loving father who helped me with my schoolwork as much as possible, especially when he saw me struggling.  He educated me during our summer holidays, when we would travel to more remote corners of Western Europeand to marvel at its beauty: the landscape, culture and history.  My father taught me respect, curiosity, an enduring appreciation of the arts, and the importance of human relationships and communication.  He encouraged me to discover a desire for learning and questioning.  He taught me the importance of determination for when the going got tough.  Above all, he wanted me to live my life to its full potential.

My fear of failure was a subconsciously self-imposed response to expectations of achievement.  The awareness of my father’s educational and academic achievements, no doubt, provided me with a strong stimulus.   But I was not taught to STOP and question whether in fact this fear-response was based on reason, until I studied the Alexander Technique.

The Alexander Technique offers a unique opportunity to begin to observe, question and learn to consciously control one’s physical and mental reactions in relation to stimuli; to attend to the “means whereby.”   Lessons provide a non-judgemental, non-end-gaining environment in which to develop this practice.

My father’s specialization, chemistry, is the physical science of matter and the changes that matter undergoes during chemical reactions.   I believe my father would have been absolutely delighted to see how much my physical matter has changed as a result of changes in my own reactions and vice versa. John Dewey states in the introduction to CCCI,

Mr Alexander has found a method for detecting precisely the correlations between these two members, physical-mental, of the same whole, and for creating a new sensory consciousness of new attitudes and habits.  It is a discovery which makes whole all scientific discoveries, and renders them available, not for our undoing, but for human use in promoting our constructive growth and happiness.

Guest Blogger Stella Weigel lives in London and is an Alexander Technique teacher trainee at The Constructive Teaching Centre, the world’s oldest and largest Alexander Technique training school.

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