The LearningMethods Library
A Basic Fact and a Fundamental Question
by David Gorman
Copyright © 2000 David Gorman,
all rights reserved world-wide
This is an introduction to the User Guide
to Being Human, the owner’s manual that I used to think
they had somehow forgotten to give to me when I first appeared
here on the planet. But I have since discovered that was not
quite true. The User Guide was already in my possession;
I just didn’t know I had it. I didn’t know that all the time
it was safely tucked away inside of me, built-in and available
at any moment, just waiting for me — but hidden. It remained
hidden from me for quite a while because I was looking for answers
instead of questions. To be more precise, I was looking for
answers around me and from others, but of course not finding
them. It was only when I began looking at the questions inside
me that I began to get my own answers.
In fact, initially, I thought that I was
maybe the only one who had not received the manual, but as I
began to understand what it was and how to use it, I also saw
that many other people didn’t know they had one either. So I
have taken it as my vocation to help people learn how to find
their own User Guide and to learn how to use it so
they too can find their own answers about how their lives work,
about how to liberate themselves from their problems and how
to use themselves well in the world.
I call this work LearningMethods,
which is somewhat self-explanatory.
My experience is that there is no stopping
people once they learn how to recognize the landscape of their
own lives and begin to navigate successfully in it where previously
they had been wandering in circles, lost and wounded. Problems
they thought they were stuck with for the rest of their lives,
or worse, that had become so familiar as to be woven into their
identity or personality, begin to shift and disappear. There
are few joys like that of actually becoming free from something
that has plagued you as long as you can remember. Imagine the
sense of newness and the lightness! Similarly, there is great
satisfaction and, better yet, an enduring security in being
able to be clear about and understand what is happening in your
daily life and therefore being able to nip problems in the bud
before they send roots into your very being. It is like waking
up to your proper inheritance and seeing all of life and living
What I am describing here is a journey of
discovery into the heartland of your own life. In fact, the
most fascinating trip you’ll ever take. And it takes no time
at all to get going. All it takes to start is a decision to
look at your life as it really is, rather than as you
want it to be. Once you have hold of the thread and begin to
follow it, you will discover many things about yourself that
you will recognize were all there before, but were not seen
clearly, or were ignored, or reacted to. The extent that you
are now able to see them clearly is the degree to which you
will change. And there need be no worries about whether or not
you’ll succeed. You will change, and the change
will be for the better. And it will keep getting
better. Fortunately, there is no end. Life goes on and the journey
itself is its own reward, and very rewarding it is too.
However, the first thing you need to see
clearly is how such a journey of discovery begins, where to
get hold of the end of that thread. This is what the LearningMethods
approach is designed to show you.
In a growing number of articles, I and other
LearningMethods teachers have described this process as it is
actually used to help specific people with specific issues they
want to solve — fear of heights, chronic tension or pain, relationship
conflicts, self-consciousness and social anxiety, learning blocks,
stage fright… you name it… and there are more examples coming
(see the LearningMethods web site at www.learningmethods.com).
Those articles give an idea of how the work is used
to help people. This article will serve as a bit more of a background
explanation of why we go about it that way.
In other words, as I said at the beginning,
this is an introduction. Incidentally, I begin each workshop
with a similar introduction to give each participant some idea
of the processes we will be using and the reasons why we are
On those workshops I also stress to everyone
that it can only be through the actual exploring of
their own lives and experiences over the coming days and weeks
that they will really understand what this process is and how
they can use it themselves in daily life. Nevertheless, an introduction
does help to set the stage before the play.
The LearningMethods work, or the LearningMethods
approach if you like, arises logically from a very basic fact
about ourselves and centres around a very fundamental question.
This basic fact is basic in the sense that it is a universal
human property which, the more we explore it, the more we are
shown about how we are presently living our lives. And the fundamental
question is fundamental in that until we can answer it we will
not know how best to go about living our lives.
Since the fundamental question is a question
about the basic fact, we need to look at the basic fact first
and ask the fundamental question after. To understand the basic
fact we need to look to our own experience.
We, as humans, have a quite
remarkable characteristic. We have an in-built
set of responses that allow us to register
value. These responses
show us the value to us of any situation we are in,
any person or relationship, any object, sight or sound,
even thoughts. This value register operates on a scale
— a range of feelings with neutral in the centre that
goes in one direction to pleasant,
good, great and
and in the other direction to unpleasant,
bad, horrible and
Each of us has our own value scale, so you can substitute
your own words to match the experience of your own personal
Life delivers us experiences covering the
whole range on this value scale. We automatically register not
only the positive or high-value responses, but
also the negative or low-value responses as our
experiences pass through the value register. However, there
is an important fact to notice about these two directions on
the scale. They are not equal, and they are not equal in several
The most obvious difference, almost too obvious
to mention but important nonetheless, is that there is an
inherent bias in this value scale. We align the scale
so good is up and bad is down. That is,
good is good. We like it and we want it and will tend
to go towards it. In the same way, bad is bad. We don’t
like it, don’t want it and will try to avoid or go away from
it. Quite natural, isn’t it? And obvious. No one has
to tell us this. It is a direct experience/response. But the
point I am making is that the value scale has a directionality
built into it — away from the bad and toward the good. And this
directionality means that situations and their respective value
experiences naturally invoke in us intention and
This inherent bias leads us to the second
and more practical difference between the two. By practical
difference, I mean a difference in what happens in real-life
We go about our lives doing this and that,
and if our experience is somewhat neutral, that is, we are just
doing what we are doing without feeling particularly good or
bad, then we will probably just carry on doing whatever we are
doing. Similarly, if we are going about our activities and are
feeling quite good, there will be little to do at those moments
except to appreciate this and keep on enjoying. No change is
desired or required. Often we don’t even experience the
high-value feelings as separate in any way from the activity
or situation, so everything blends together into a oneness and
we “feel good being here”, or “we enjoy doing this”.
But, on the other hand, if we are in the
middle of something and we begin to experience some low-value
feeling — a pain, a tension, anxiety, frustration, fear, or
some other tangible negative symptom — then we are definitely
no longer in oneness or wholeness. Instead, we notice these
experiences as events themselves sticking out from the background.
“I have a pain”, “There is a tension”, “I’m feeling very frustrated”,
“I’m very nervous”. And this is not OK to us. We do not want
to just carry on. We want to change.
Notice how an interesting sequence cascades
out from the moment of experience — from attention to sensation
to interpretation to intention and then to action:
— by their very nature, these
experiences draw our attention and bring us awake
in the moment from whatever we were doing,
— from the very moment we ‘wake
up’ to the sensation of these symptoms we register
them as negative or low-value. That is, on our in-built
value scale, they are definitely way down there on the scale
— we don’t like them,
— and our almost immediate
interpretation of these moments is that we feel that ‘something
— so we naturally find ourselves
with an intention to change,
— by taking action in some
way to make things OK again
In other words, as human beings, we are very
sensitively tuned to notice the existence of
That is, we have an in-built problem detector.
On top of that we have a consequent powerful
urge to correct these problems. This much seems obvious, but
sometimes the most obvious things we take for granted and so
have only a superficial idea of what is happening. It is all
too possible for this superficial idea to be misconceived —
with potentially serious consequences — if we do not look closely
enough at what is happening to understand it fully.
The most common misunderstanding which happens
— and it happens all too often — is that we mistake this marvelous
human sensitivity for the problem itself. That is, we mistake
the wake-up call (the symptom) as if it was
the problem (“this neck tension”, “my stage-fright”)
and immediately get busy trying to get rid of the symptom (to
release the tension, to breathe and let go of the nervousness).
From the moment of being brought to awareness by the symptom
we cast about for what to do to end it and get back to the way
things were before (or to somewhere even better). If our way
of changing things works for the moment to rid us of the symptom,
we feel successful and are happy — for the moment.
But what happens if the problem
returns a day, a week, or a month later? We’ll try to get rid
of the symptom again. And if we can’t manage to do this on our
own? We go to an ‘expert’ to have him or her do it for us. If
one expert can’t relieve us, we search out another. If whatever
technique or method we’ve applied doesn’t work, we’ll try another
But if these low-value experiences do return
regularly, can we really say we got rid of the problem each
time? Or would it be more accurate to say that these on-going
low-value experiences are actually the symptom of an on-going
problem? Looked at this way, do we really know why
we have this symptom? Or what it is a symptom of?
To use an example, is it accurate to think
that you have a tension problem if you keep getting
rid of the tension but it keeps coming back? Perhaps the tension
is not the problem; it is a symptom of the problem. Or more
accurately, the tension is the experience of the problem,
but it is not the problem itself. It is the experience of the
state of response or state of reaction that the problem has
sent you into.
So the question is not: “How do I get rid
of the tension?” The question really is: “Why do I have this
tension? What is causing it? What might I be up to that changes
my physiological state to one which I experience as tension?”
Until it truly and deeply dawns on us that
the symptom is not the problem, we won’t even be able to begin
to ask ourselves the really important question: “What IS
the problem?” What is actually causing this symptom?
Until that time, we’ll just be busy trying to get rid of the
symptom… over and over using whatever coping mechanism we can
find. Until we take the time to ask ourselves what is the
problem, and until we know what the problem really
is, how can we possibly bring about an effective and permanent
So, when I say that our marvelous sensitivity
detects the existence of any problem, whereupon we have a natural
urge to correct it — this is true. But we need to make sure
that we haven’t missed out the step of knowing what the “it”
is before we can successfully correct it.
This is where we come to our fundamental
we, as human beings, have the possibility of gaining sufficient
information through our own channels (our own senses, perceptions,
and awareness); and do we have the in-built ability (or
intelligence, for lack of a better word) to understand
the significance of this information; and can we then make appropriate
choices and changes so as to guide our own lives constructively?
Before going on, it is worth looking at this
question in more detail to be sure we understand what it is
asking. It actually has three parts. Can we get the information
we need? Can we understand that information? And can we apply
this understanding to our lives?
First part first.
Do we, as human beings, have available to us enough information
from our own senses, our own thoughts, our own feelings, our
own reactions — in short, from our own daily, lived experience?
This means enough information about what is happening at any
moment — information which is available to us directly through
our own conscious awareness and memory
so we don’t have to get it from something or someone else.
If we are going to be able to work out our
problems we need to know what is going on. What is
happening here? Are we capable of registering or perceiving
the information we need? Or on the other hand, is it possible
that at least some of the information we would need is simply
beyond our perceptions?
This is crucial, because if we cannot perceive
the information we need, we’re in big trouble right away. We
simply would not be able to know what’s happening until we’re
already experiencing the results, like the busy little ant motoring
across the road oblivious of the car about to run over it (and
oblivious afterwards too!).
Do we have the intelligence or the capacity to understand
reliably the information we do have? Can we appreciate the
significance or the meaning of what is happening
so that it makes sense to us and is accurate to what
It is evident that all of us are already
coming up with immediate and automatic interpretations of the
situations and events we find ourselves in. Underlying these
interpretations of the moment, we also have more general, sometimes
unspoken, beliefs or constructs about how things work. But are
all these interpretations accurate and reliable? Is it possible
for us to question our own ideas and beliefs and if we did,
would we be able to tell when they are true to the facts or
when they are misconceived?
Of course, to answer this, means being able
to discern what our actual understandings and beliefs are. It’s
not enough to have them sitting in the background, taken for
granted, pretending to be ‘reality’. It is not enough to be
seeing things a particular way while at the
same time not knowing that we see them that way.
There is another side to this middle part
of the fundamental question. Not only do we need an answer to
whether our intelligence can uncover what our beliefs and understandings
are and find any flaws and misconceptions in them, but can this
intelligence also come up with more accurate and true understandings?
Can we not only understand why we have the problems we have
so we can say, “Oh, now I understand
why that’s happening to me”, but can we also say, “and
now I see the solution too." We
need to stop doing such-and-such so the problem won’t
happen. Or we must make this different
choice at this moment which will allow things
to be better. Or even, now that w
see things more accurately, we will no longer react that way
in those situations.
The answers to this central part of the fundamental
question are also crucial, because if we don’t have built in
to us this reality-assessing intelligence, we’ll just
be stuck in the vicious circle of our faulty constructs with
no way to question them or see through them.
If we were able to come to a more accurate insight of why we
had the problem and what to do about it, could we then make
the appropriate choices or necessary changes in our lives so
that things would in fact work better for us? That is, could
we actually carry out those choices in real life? And if we
could, would they actually make our lives better?
An answer to this part of the question is
also essential, because, no matter how accurately we take in
what is happening and no matter how intelligently we understand
it and know what to do, if we cannot act in the face of the
pressure of the moment, the inertia of habit, the fear of the
unknown, or our expectations (personal or societal), then the
first two are useless to us in any practical sense.
But think of it! If it turns
out that you do possess these capabilities — the availability
of enough information to know what is happening, the understanding
of the significance of that information, and the ability to
act on that understanding effectively — then you have something
above rubies and diamonds — in fact, above all value!
You have the ability to learn and change.
And you would have the ability to do that
learning and that changing precisely how it is needed
and exactly when it is needed. You would be able to
live your life, freely and securely, knowing that if you did
run up against any problems, you would have an actual way to
understand what the problem is, do what is needed to change
and have things turn out better. And this would not only apply
to any problems you have, but would also allow you to keep pace
with a changing world. And you would be able to work all this
out for yourself without having to rely on other people who
may or may not know what they are doing. Plus, you get all of
this for free because it is all built-in!
You see what I meant at the start about having
your very own User's Guide to Being Human? What more
could anyone ask for? Of course, this is all true if, and only
if, these abilities actually do exist in us, and if
we can learn how to use them effectively.
On the other hand, if it turned out that
we do not have this kind of inborn learning intelligence, we
are in deep trouble. Because if you and I don’t have this ability,
then who does? And even if someone else did have it, but you
didn’t, how would you know that they did? How would you know
whether their understanding and the consequent actions they
recommended would work for you? Or even be safe for you? To
know this, you would still need some way to assess for yourself,
with your own information, whether or not their perceptions
and conclusions were reliable. Otherwise, you would just be
stuck following them and hoping that it all works out. But you
wouldn’t know whether it did or not until it was too late.
This one is important, because it doesn’t
take too much looking around you to see that there are many
people out there who say that they know, but who are offering
interpretations that are radically different from each other
and who are proposing ‘solutions’ that are also totally different.
They can’t all be right, can they? So how could we possibly
choose what to do, safely and reliably, if we had no in-built
ability to tell for ourselves?
If it turns out that we can’t accurately
perceive and reliably understand what is going on; that is,
if it turns out that there are in-built flaws or limitations
in one area or another of our learning system, then… well, I
don’t know what we can do. Probably the best thing would be
to cross your fingers and pray. At the very least, we’d all
need to huddle together in our darkness and compare what each
of us thinks is happening in the hope that we can patch together
something workable between the lot of us.
Therefore, it is not just important, but
literally life-and-death essential, that you are able to answer
this question. This is why I call it a fundamental question.
The direction of the whole rest of your life hinges on the answer.
If you do indeed possess such a marvelous inheritance, then
it is of utmost importance that you learn how to use it to your
advantage. And that you learn this sooner, rather than later.
So — big question! And LearningMethods
is the way to answer it.
When I say the way to answer it,
I don’t mean that you can only find the answer through this
work. That would be quite presumptuous of me. But whether you
use this method or some other one, or work it all out for yourself,
you’d still have to follow pretty much the same path to end
up at the answer, because there is only one way for you to answer
this fundamental question.
And the reason for this will be obvious if
you think of it for a moment. The only way to answer the fundamental
question of whether we have all these properties within us is
to go about living as if it was already true. This means to
put it to the test by sticking strictly to what the question
is asking you and seeing if the resulting insights do indeed
work for you: Only then could you say you had really learned
— Do you have enough information
available to you from your own experience — your own thoughts,
feelings, reactions, sensations, and perceptions of events around
you? The only way to find out to is to systematically explore
the information that is actually consciously available to you
(rigorously excluding vague assumptions, guesses, fantasies,
hopes, inaccurate hindsight, other people’s projections, etc.)
— get it all out on the table and then see if it tells you what
— Is it then possible to be aware
of the beliefs and interpretations about these experiences which
you actually do have at this moment? If you were to look clearly
at the information you do have and compare the interpretations
you also have, could you tell if they match? Is the way I’ve
been seeing things an accurate interpretation of those facts?
— If there is a mismatch, is it
possible to take in the significance of your experience and
come to a new insight into what happened which is more accurate?
Well, the only way to find out is to take in all the information
and look at your interpretations to see if they are accurate
to that information, then if there are mismatches to allow yourself
a few moments to stay with the information you found and see
what new understandings and interpretations arise.
— If you do end up with a changed
perspective from your new understanding of events which has
new implications for how you go about things, are you then able
to make the appropriate choices and carry out those changes
in your daily life and does that resolve or change the problem?
Again, the only way to find out is to actually meet those moments
of real life and see what you can manage and what the outcome
No other way will really answer the fundamental
question. Anything else and you won’t really have made the experiment.
Notice, also that you cannot get more direct than this as a
way to go about it.
Now if you think for another moment, you’ll
realize that there is also only one practical way that you can
go about this process of putting the question to the test. It
can only be done by exploring the actual experiences you have,
the particular beliefs or interpretations that are there for
you, and the specific actions or reactions that actually take
place. This cannot be done in theory or in general or by mixing
up what happened one time with that from another time. It can
only be done by looking at what really happens for you in some
distinct moment of your real life.
An obvious implication of this is that to
be able to explore any of these individual real moments in that
actual moment when it is, of course, freshest and most full
of information, you would need to notice that moment for yourself
and recognize it as one of those ones in which you could put
the question to the test.
But this is no problem at all because, remember,
we have our basic fact.
The basic fact is that you have a built-in
value system that detects when things are not working well and
sends you the wake-up call of a symptom — some low-value experience
that grabs your attention (tension, soreness, discomfort, anxiety,
etc.). It is this wake-up call that alerts you to the fact that
now is one of those specific moments in which you can raise
up the question and bring all your own tools to bear on what
is happening. As a process, it is not only absolutely direct,
it is also extremely simple. You don’t have to figure out or
go looking for which moments to explore, they will come to you
and knock on your attention in a way you cannot miss. Could
there be any simpler way?
So the approach embodied in the LearningMethods
process is both absolutely simple and unerringly direct
— it uses the basic fact to lead you to the fundamental question
and then uses the fundamental question to answer itself. This
is your User Guide at work again.
If, after systematically meeting enough of
these moments and putting the question to the test, your answer
is, “Yes, it appears that I do have all those properties
within me”, you will have discovered the most incredibly
important and powerful knowledge about yourself and I can guarantee
that your life will never be the same.
We could stop at this point, since you cannot
really know which way to proceed until you have your own
answer to that fundamental question. But I cannot resist inviting
you to speculate on the implications of "yes" answers to the
It is obvious as you look around you that
we are, each of us, already taking in lots of information from
our experience. It is equally obvious that each of us is always
making interpretations and coming to beliefs about these experiences.
Sometimes these interpretations or constructs will be inaccurate
and misconceived and so the reactions we have will be inappropriate
and the actions we take based on them will be misguided and
lead us into problems. Clearly, there is no shortage of this
already going on.
But, if we do have such an inherent learning
system, and most importantly, if we learn to use it,
then we have a way to automatically detect any inaccurate
interpretations or misconceptions through being woken up by
the symptoms of the problem they cause. We could then systematically
explore what is happening until we find the flaws in our constructs
and come to a more accurate way of seeing things and thereby
be able to navigate more successfully through reality.
In other words, our construct-creating nature
may misconstrue things occasionally — who’s perfect? But no
matter, because we would have a self-correcting system
that would detect these errors and alert us so that we could
seek out the information needed to come to a more accurate understanding
that would bring us back into line with the way things work.
Hey, presto… Learning!
Notice another wonderful thing here. You
do not have to know the whole user manual before starting out.
You don’t have to know because if you go against the way things
work, your in-built context-sensitive help system will
pop up and alert you so you can bring your intelligence to bear
on your experience and work out that section of the manual,
learning how things really work in that territory of your life.
Once you are back in alignment with how things work, the problem
disappears and the help system folds itself away until next
time. Can you imagine anything better than that?
Well, in fact, it is better than that. There’s
an extra bonus. Your User Guide isn’t a generic one
giving fixed prescriptions for what to do as if we humans were
all the same, living in a timeless world that doesn't change.
Your guide is uniquely yours; personalized just for you. It
grows and evolves with you, being written and re-written where
needed, so you can meet any moment, no matter how different
from the last, and still be alerted by your own system when
learning is needed to navigate with what is best for you — your
very own User Guide to Being You.
Now all you have to do is to learn to use
There is small biography
of personal details about the author below.
About the Author
David Gorman has been studying human
structure and function since 1970. He is the author of an illustrated 600-page
text on our human musculoskeletal system, called
The Body Moveable (now in
its 6th edition and in colour), and numerous articles and essays, including
the book, Looking at Ourselves (2nd
edition in colour).
David has been working with performers (singers,
musicians, actors, dancers and circus artists) for over forty years. He is a
trainer of teachers of LearningMethods and of the
Alexander Technique and has taught all
over the world in universities, conservatories, performance companies, and orchestras;
for doctors in hospitals and rehabilitation clinics; and in training courses
for Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, physiotherapy, osteopathy, massage & yoga.
Over the years, his changing understanding about the
root causes of people's problems led him to gradually extend his Alexander Technique
teaching into the development of a new work, LearningMethods (and an
offshoot, Anatomy of Wholeness about our marvelous human design), which
is being integrated into the curricula of performance schools in Europe, Canada
and the United States by a growing number of LearningMethods
Teachers and Apprentice-teachers.
Since 2010, David has been running online post-graduate
groups for Alexander Technique teachers and groups for those who want to learn to
use LearningMethods in their own lives, as well as those who want to integrate the
work into their existing professional work as a teacher, therapist, medical or