This is a transcript of a speech given by Dorothea Wallis to STAT in the 1950s. Wallis argues that, “However important the part of conscious thought and control in the Alexander Technique, they are only aspects of a whole personality and not independent entities … for education is a matter of the whole personality.”
Note: For posting convenience, “Habit and Choice” has divided the speech into three parts, and created sub-titles for each part.
HIDE OR SEEK
By Dorothea Wallis
Unfortunately, one’s excessive tensions are not produced by one single emotional force which once discovered can be put out of action. One probably can point to one source of all undue tension, a basic insecurity of the personality, but this rather than being one feeling is a condition, more or less unchanging, from which grow the many different emotional attitudes which produce tension. To apply the Alexander Technique seems to be an endless task of meeting and disarming these many different attitudes rather than drastically discovering one “dragon” and staging a valiant fight to free oneself from it. The one emotional cause – which has been called ontological or existential insecurity – is a fundamental state like being very tall or small. One cannot alter one’s tallness, but if it makes one stoop one cannot stop stooping and admit one’s size. Similarly, one probably cannot help being insecure but if it makes one afraid and hesitant, or aggressive at every turn and correspondingly “knotted-up” and tense, one can perhaps, by resolving the physical tension, stop taking the fears at their face value and recognize their underlying cause. The insecurity, like the tallness, remains, but one can come to live with it rather than for it.
The ultimate source of tension may be recognized implicitly in Alexander’s concept of “end-gaining,” as the evil his technique is intended to counteract. He urges that in whatever we do, whether getting out of a chair or hitting a gold ball, we must concentrate on the “means-whereby” rather than the end. What do we do when we are “end-gaining” – which undoubtedly we do a lot of the time, from working for the “eleven plus” to making the right conversation at a party? We are not so much concerned with what we are doing as with how we show up. When Alexander’s player is intent only on his ball rather than the way he deals with it, his anxiety is to prove himself to be the good player that he needs to be to satisfy himself. When the housewife strenuously scrubs her kitchen floor the strain comes from trying to live up to her own high standards rather than the difficulty of the job.
The “end” in “end-gaining” is always to reinforce a weak self. “End-gaining” is characteristic of the insecure person – which perhaps most of us are to a greater or lesser degree – who finds it necessary to look for confirmation of himself in whatever he does. To be “end-gaining” means to use oneself with excessive tension. The tension arises from the effort of justifying or proving oneself in the world instead of simply being part of it. If one can be in oneself and not forever reaching out to make up for what one is not, then one can do things for their own sake and does not “end-gain.” In the end, Alexander’s standard for the balanced regulation of the body, to be and work at its best, is the standard of a whole, sound person.