WALTER CARRINGTON'S VIEWS
THE TEACHER TRAINING PROCESS
ALEXANDER'S FINAL STATEMENT ABOUT HIS WORK
Following are copies of letters exchanged between Walter Carrington and me on two subjects: the nature of the teacher training process and Alexander's final published statement (1946) about the purpose of his technique.
I had lost track of these letters when I was called away by an illness in my family, and I have only recently found them, separate from the large file of correspondence with Walter that I had saved over the years. Though I wasn't able to present them for consideration right after they were written (1995 - 96), when discussions of training requirements were quite intense, I hope that they may still hold some significance for the Alexander community since Walter's experience and viewpoints are held in high regard by many. I also include part of an earlier letter from Walter to Chariclia Gounaris that further clarifies his stance on teacher training. These letters
also reinforce points on training that I brought out in my recent article "Reflections on My Work with Frank Pierce Jones in Light of My Other Experiences with the Alexander Technique."
131 Orchard Street, Apt. 5
Somerville, MA 02144
November 29, 1995
Thanks for your letter of September 10th
, and for your advice. I think it wise, but it looks like I'm going to follow through with some responses anyway just to see if some final clarity can be gained in the whole situation over here. Then I just want to drop it all - forever. But in thinking the matters through a little more carefully, I come up with another issue that I'm hoping you might have something further to say about. Lately, in defense of their shorter "training" or their drawn-out training experience over many years, some people hold out the example of A.R. [Alexander], Irene Tasker, Ethel Webb, and [Margaret] Goldie who didn't go through the standard training that the rest of us have done. They claim since that was the case before F.M. actually began the professional training program , it still should be perfectly acceptable now as valid training. Of course, I wonder about A.R. specifically, because of the injury which left him unable to stand unsupported. It seems to me that in order to gain a fully integrated working of the postural mechanisms, it requires that you be able to stand alone, unsupported - and to be able to walk alone, unsupported. Of course, you can give someone an experience of "kinesthetic lightness," greater awareness, help them to learn to move better, etc. around the concept
of the Primary Control, but that doesn't necessarily mean that you can actually facilitate that "integrated (normal) working of the postural mechanisms"
in someone else, or even lead them towards it. Then there is also the point that Frank [Pierce Jones] makes in his book with regard to A.R. (p. 18),
saying that A.R. maintained that he needed only six lessons - in order to become F.M.'s partner to help him "develop and exploit his discovery." Today, of course, if anyone claimed that, we would just laugh in their face.
Anyway, it would help to know your thoughts if you have any time at all to write. I can imagine the subject is going to come up in print before too long at last. And Vivien [Mackie] has begun the final editing of our conversations ['Just Play Naturally'] about her study with Casals and its validation by the Technique, and that's of course very exciting too. I think Hariklia [Chariclia Gounaris] will publish it as well.
I hope all is well at Lansdowne Road and that you'll have very good holidays. Thanks again for any thought you can give to these things.
Love to you and Dilys,
18 Lansdowne Road
London W11 3LL
20th December 1995
Many thanks for your letter of 29th November. I am sorry to have taken so long to answer and, even now, I am overdue in wishing you all the very best for Christmas and the New Year (in which, of course, Dilys joins me).
With regard to the points you raise, it is true that the early teachers learnt their work on an apprenticeship basis, but then it must be remembered that their Master was F.M. himself and his knowledge and skills were unique. The "apprenticeship" that they all served was much longer than three years, and in A.R.'s case, he commenced at a very early age when the Technique was in its infancy, and he worked closely with F.M. for a great number of years after that.
F.M. always viewed the training process as a matter of apprenticeship, a student bound to a master-craftsman with of course the valuable assistance of the journeymen employed by him. I see the matter in the same light myself and I consider that three years of daily work, allowing for the normal breaks and holidays, is necessary if people are to develop sufficiently in themselves to be able to go on to gain the practical experience that they need to become "journeymen" and which can only be acquired by continual "hands-on" work.
As far as A.R.'s handicap, it is not true that he could not stand alone unsupported.
It is true that he walked with a cane, and that he usually taught sitting on a stool; but F.M. also often sat on a stool to teach and there was no doubt that A.R. could "facilitate that integrated (normal) working of the postural mechanisms" to a degree beyond anybody except F.M. himself. Yes, you may be able to give people some information and experience of "kinesthetic lightness," etc., around the concept of Primary Control, but I don't consider that teaching the Technique. A.R. definitely taught the Technique of Conscious Inhibition and Direction, and used his hands very skillfully to do so.
These are some of my thoughts on the subject and I hope that they may be helpful. They probably will not persuade people dedicated to a different interpretation of F.M.'s teaching, but in the end the results will speak for themselves.
Love from us both,
I don't seem to have made a copy of my next letter to Walter, but I think that his reply of January 25, 1996 gives enough of an indication of my main question so that readers may infer what I asked. The subject of the "Preface to New Edition" of The Universal Constant in Living had come up for me when I visited Chariclia Gounaris in Denmark and discovered that her copy of the 1946 edition contained a new preface that I had never known existed because my earlier edition did not include it.
The passage I referred to in my letter to Walter is:
The basic connection of my technique with education, re-education, rehabilitation, and prevention in general has been stressed by responsible workers in these fields, who have thus given evidence of their recognition of the means-whereby employed in my technique for bringing about those changes in the use of the self which, because of the close association between use and functioning in the self, are essential for the success of any endeavour to bring about a lasting improvement in the control of human reaction. Indeed, success in such an endeavour is essential if the peoples of this world are to develop that attitude towards and understanding of one another's failings and better parts which is necessary for cooperation and goodwill in national and international affairs. But such a fundamental change in human reaction as this calls for is one which man's efforts have failed so far to bring about. I can claim over fifty years' experience in acquiring the knowledge necessary to enable me to help those who have come to me in the belief that I can help them to improve their reaction to the stimulus of living. This experience causes me to conclude that man's failure to make a fundamental change in his reaction is due chiefly to the unnatural and unscientific conception on which his attempts have been based [, that is,] man's concept of the organism as "spirit," "mind" and "body" in his attempts to make changes and improvements in himself...
18 Lansdowne Road
London W11 3LL
25th January 1996
Many thanks for your letter. You may certainly quote from my letter of December 20th if you wish to do so.
With reference to the New Preface to UCL [The Universal Constant of Living], I agree with you that his [Alexander's] phrase "reaction to the stimulus of living" can be compared to "attitude to life"; but he always preferred to speak of "process" rather than a state or condition, so he used the word "living" rather than "life" and "reaction to stimulus" rather than "attitude." As you say, the whole passage is very important and was probably one of the last things he wrote, certainly that he published, expressing his considered view about the Technique. I agree with you that it should be reprinted in one of the journals so that it does not escape the notice of people familiar with earlier editions of his books. Of course Jean Fischer is going to produce a new uniform edition of the four books (we hope) and it will certainly find its proper place in that.
I am fascinated by what you say concerning an old Jewish tradition: I had never heard of this and shall certainly enquire into it further.
It would explain a lot about some familiar reactions, and as you say, always to take a pessimistic attitude is so contrary to all that we're trying to promote. F.M. himself was the eternal optimist and it was this attitude that kept him going through the darkest days of the war - it was indeed his manner of reaction to the stimulus of living!
Please forgive this rather hasty response, and do keep in touch. Love from us both (we are both well but very busy!)
Walter's earlier comments to Chariclia Gounaris reinforce his above letter to me on teacher training of December 20, 1995:
18 Lansdowne Road
London W11 311
3rd September 1983
Dear Hariklia [Chariclia],
. . . I certainly do not think that someone who has only had private lessons can claim this as an extra qualification, at least, not in the sense of a qualification to teach the technique. Obviously, if you are learning let us say the flute you would be glad to go to a teacher who had had Alexander lessons and therefore, presumably applied the principles of the technique in his own work. Therefore it would be reasonable for the [flute] teacher to announce that he had had [Alexander] lessons and worked on those lines. However, this teacher would expect you also to have had Alexander lessons yourself and if possible to be continuing to have them so that if he encountered technical problems in teaching you he would be able to discuss this with your Alexander teacher and gain help in that way.
A great difficulty lies, as F.M. used to point out, in the fundamental difference in principle between Alexander teaching and most other forms. We teach "non-doing"; they teach "doing". To learn to "do" - and you cannot play an instrument without "doing" - without interfering with your primary control is very difficult. You have to learn "non-doing" first of all and then continue to practise it as a basis for your "doing". Teachers of anything who have not had Alexander teacher training themselves are in a very difficult position. But even teachers of a skill or art who are also trained Alexander teachers often find it better for their pupils to have their Alexander lessons from a different [Alexander] teacher so that they themselves can devote their time to teaching the technique of the instrument, or whatever. . . .
F. Matthias Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living
(London: Mouritz, 2000 ), pp. XXVII- XXIX.
Permission to quote letters by Walter Carrington courtesy of the Estate of Walter H. M. Carrington. Copyright 2017.
Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living
, p. 108.
Frank Pierce Jones, Body Awareness in Action
(New York: Schocken Books, 1976), p. 18. Later published as Freedom to Change
I had only remembered that A.R. had a riding accident that left him bedridden for a long time, that his doctors believed he would never be able to walk again, and that he had to walk with the aid of a cane.
Alexander, The Universal Constant in Living
, p. XXVII.
I had referred in my letter to the Yiddish/English word "kenahora," which a trainee of mine had used once when I had just given him some hands-on work that had made a very positive change in the working of his Primary Control. I remarked on how good the change was, and he quickly replied, "Oh, I'll probably lose it in a little while." I asked him why he took such an unpositive attitude about the improvement, and he told me that his remark was a "kenahora." Apparently the word is used to denote the warding off of a curse from something good that is happening or is about to happen or when one gives or receives praise or a compliment.
Quoted with permission from Charclia Gounaris. March 1 2017.