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
To learn the Alexander Technique is a formidable task because the change in the use of one’s body demands such drastic mental reorientation. I don’t think the physical change can be made, except temporarily, without the mental reorientation. What does this reorientation amount to? The Alexander Technique gives me an objective standard for a sound way of using my body. If I adopt this impersonal standard instead of a habitual personal one, I stand and move in a way I consider suitable rather than the way I happen to feel like. If I feel like being crumpled up because I am miserable but refuse to let my feeling determine the way I actually sit or stand, and in fact stand freely, can it be said that I am disguising or suppressing my real feelings by an insincere pose? On the contrary, to refuse to let an emotion govern the behavior of one’s body is not to suppress it but to refuse it an effective disguise, and this in turn means that one has to face it.
What light does this throw on the particular case, in which I try to apply the Alexander Technique, of answering the door bell? The sound of the door bell puts me into a state of anxious apprehension and tension. I normally go to open the door in this tense, “tight” state. Applying the technique, I stop for a moment and consciously direct my head, neck, etc., into a freer state before I walk to the door. In trying to free myself from excessive tension, I am trying to free my body and behavior from being dominated by an objectively irrelevant feeling.
In doing this I am perhaps no nearer to knowing just what I fear at the sound of the door bell, but I become more clearly aware of the existence of this feeling of fear which has nothing to do with the present situation but has a persistent influence on me. It not only is irrelevant to the present situation, but is an encumbrance which prevents me from being alert and adaptable to the present. I believe that some such recognition, even though it may be inarticulate, of the feeling that is the motive force of the tension I try to undo, is an essential part of the release of that tension.
The importance of this step is a kind of separation of one’s self – an independent, conscious part – from deeply grounded emotional attitudes. To find out the feeling that is behind the tension does not mean getting rid of it. In the example of the door bell, I take my fear with me when I go to the door, but don’t let it go for me. In this way one may be able to separate the emotional patterns which dominate one through resolving the tensions they make; they are not put away, but put into their proper place and no longer allowed freely to take possession of one. Is this process comparable to the cure of a neurosis in which a part of oneself that has become autonomous is deprived of its excessive power?
This sort of reorganization is not made by regulating one’s body once or a few times according to a new conscious pattern. Probably only by persistent, laborious working at this does one reach the emotional background of the tensions one tries to change. But perhaps only in arriving and tackling the situation at this level does the Alexander Technique become a process of re-education. It seems to me that without this it would produce only momentary changes which could not be maintained.