Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Opening Pandora's Box

In 1998-99, after completing a 3-year Alexander teacher training course, I followed in the footsteps of my Alexander Head of Training, Ray Evans, and trained at INPP Chester ( as a... what? A developmental practitioner. A specialist in developmental re-education. A reflex inhibition therapist. A vestibular re-educator. A teacher of developmental movement. A specialist in the diagnosis and remediation of aberrant primitive reflexes. A neuro-developmental therapist. There is no adequate label. Peter Blythe, who founded INPP more than 30 years ago, once commented that INPP's field of work was in the middle way between medicine and education.

My intention in going to train at Chester was not to get a professional qualification and to work in the field; I just wanted to deepen my understanding of this secret knowledge Ray seemed to have about the vestibular system and these deep and mysterious things called primitive reflexes. The training, however, involved taking some people through reflex inhibition programmes as case studies, and one thing has continued, in a small way, to lead to another. Thus, over the past ten years directing "The Middle Way Re-education Centre," I have been increasingly unable not to see the truth of Ray's contention that "It all comes back to the vestibular."

I wrote an article endeavoring to highlight the importance of the vestibular system and the vestibular reflexes, posted last May to my Middle Way blog:

Nobody has seemed to realize how important that article might be in clarifying the true meaning of the Buddha's teaching for the modern scientific age, just as I was very slow to recognize the very profound relevance to my own situation of what Ray was alluding to.

To be honest, mind you, Ray was never very good at talking about the primitive reflexes. Ray was a wide seeker and connector, and he tended to go off at tangents. My real inspiration to do the training at INPP came from a talk that an INPP-trained developmental practitioner and former schoolteacher, Jane Field, gave to a small group of Alexander teachers. Jane was very good at talking simply and clearly about the primitive reflexes. I also remember Jane arriving late for the talk, hot and very flushed -- demonstrating to us what an aberrant Moro, or baby panic reflex, really meant in practice.

Peter Blythe was even clearer than Jane. I learned more about the reflexes in my first week up in Chester from Peter than I had learned in the previous three years under Ray. Peter Blythe's father, Henry Blythe, had been a stage hypnotist, and Peter in his early years had been a chorister. There was something hypnotic in Peter's use of his voice; he could hold your attention rapt while he lay bare what he called "the building blocks of human living."

In training us as developmental therapists, Peter said our job was to be like car mechanics, fixing the nuts and bolts of the human mechanism. He recommended that, when working with adults, we should point them in the direction of psychological counselling to help them deal with the process of change. I never bought into that recommendation. I have never been drawn to talking therapies. The challenge, to me, has always been to find teachers who could really teach me something. So far I haven't come across any psycho-therapist who seemed to fit the bill. I have met several Alexander teachers, in contrast, who definitely fit the bill.

Peter used to say that it was a devil of a job to test Alexander teachers for residual primitive reflexes, because their compensatory mechanisms tended to be so well honed. But I am sure Peter could sense, as Ray seemed to be able to sense during my Alexander teacher training, the deep underlying weaknesses in my vestibular system. Peter told the class, somewhat disoncertingly, that if I came to him as a prospective client/patient, he would discourage me from undertaking a reflex inhibition programme for fear of "opening Pandora's box."

This came up in the course of some Alexander work yesterday. An Alexander teacher who I was working with, in my bare feet, commented how turned out my little toes are. She said that when people hold in their fear, the little toes also tend to be held in, but my toes show the opposite tendency. That seemed to make a kind of sense.

In Alexander work we talk a lot about "allowing." But Alexander teachers, in our deep human fear of being wrong, are very easily liable to turn allowing into just a tiny bit of its opposite, i.e. controlling, manipulating, organizing, arranging.

In the background, I seem to hear the voice still resonating -- compassionate, feisty, vibrant, alive -- of the late great Marjory Barlow, FM Alexander's niece. "Listen, love. There is no such animal as being right. There really isn't. Being wrong is the best friend we have got in this work. Being prepared to be wrong is the golden key."

To she of the jewel in the lotus, a true bodhisattva of compassion:

Om mani padme hum.

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