Tommy’s teaching

Monday, May 11, 2009 by Jeremy Chance

Reprinted from: May 11, 2009 by Jeremy Chance after the Japan workshop.

“I will never try to know you, I will always try to see you.”

Writing now after witnessing the final workshop of Tommy Thompson in Japan, and hugely impressed by the way Tommy has given a voice to Alexander’s discoveries in a way that totally accords with the Buddhist view of Self – the lack of anything inherently existing from it’s own side. In my comments below, I may be misrepresenting Tommy’s viewpoint, so please hold the idea that these are my impressions of Tommy’s ideas.

Tommy’s view is that there is no “number one” as Marj often cajoled us: ” ‘Who is the most important person here?’ The student? No. The Teacher? Yes.” For Tommy, there is no number one person – there is a relationship, an interdependency between you and I which creates us from moment to moment in the “ongoing, forever moving present, which is the only place where change can happen.”

Tommy uses his hands to “disperse your commitment to who you think you need to be” so your Self truthfully emerges moment to moment, depending on the conditions present. His version of inhibition revolves around this idea: we have an “identity” that we are “committed to”. In Buddhist terms I consider this to be the concept of a fixed, inherently existing Self. That inside me there is a ‘Jeremy’ that I am committed to. This idea of a fixed ‘Jeremy’ (and that is all it is, an idea which is given life by tensional habits that interfere with the natural function of primary control) is merely a habituated summary of the person I think I need to be. In Tommy’s terms (as I interpret it) this habituated identity is built on the false notion that I can not be who I am being in any moment, but instead must manufacture a person that I consider you need me to be. And the primary ‘others’ are my parents or primary care-takers, followed by peers, cultural customs, the lure of advertising and all the other influences that are telling me day and night who I need to be to realize happiness.

What a wonderful way of giving voice to Alexander’s notion of Self. It neatly sidesteps the whole conversation of ‘body’ and ‘mind’. It is interesting to note that although Alexander himself did talk about “psycho-physical” unity, so imbedding this duality in the creation of a new hyphenated word, he also insisted that there is only a “critical moment” into which our “use” of our “Self” enters moment by moment. This holistic way of considering the work morphs into a new language that Tommy devised to guide people into a new experience of who they consider themselves to be—by “dispersing their commitment to who they think they need to be” which is their habituated self.

However, a different kind of duality starts to emerge in that the “Self” is created not only by environmental conditions, but by vows, decisions, promises, intentions, goals and the like which abide within our consciousness of ‘self’. These are not such material things, but they are real in the same way that thoughts are real. As Mother Teresa put it: “Love is not a feeling. Love is a decision.” So who I am, emerging as I am moment to moment, is partly shaped by the “other” – which includes other people and environmental conditions – and partly shaped by these “ideas & promises”. Are these in the same nature of “belief” as in “I know myself” or do they differ?

I do think there is something different between, say, a vow not to kill any living thing and a belief that there is no God. Both exist very thinly within my consciousness, but one is actionally directive in nature, the other more a basis for making decisions – a premise upon which to build a vow, rather than a promise to behave in a particular way.

Anyway, fascinating as this is to me, I am off the point. The idea I started out presenting as another kind of duality within this model is the distinction between “doing” and “being”. Tommy says that “intention dominates our action when we move in the direction of the focus of our attention”, and in so doing “leave where I am” or “sacrifice my being”. This is Tommy’s version of Marj’s “I am number one.” I do not need to leave where I am to follow the focus of my intention, I can preserve a quality of being while doing whatever I am doing. Whenever I do depart from this quality of being, I am “endgaining” as Alexander put it, or “letting the focus of my intention dominate my action”, as Tommy puts it.

From this comes the idea of “attention” – Tommy is primarily interested in observing this, asking the question: how is the person’s attention interfering with the efficiency of primary control? Tommy does not observe the “use of the self”—he remarked that that is only “periphery” to his interest—instead he observes the person’s attention: what kind of relationship do they have to their intention/activity? This is of paramount importance, because we are always existing in relationship to someone or something else.

So from this evolved a whole series of exercises involving touch that totally reminded me of the days of my training in London, an approach I ultimately rejected as a training director for I think that it ‘objectifies’ the person I am working with. In this kind of relationship, my partner slowly ceases to be who they truly are, instead slowly becoming “a human being I am touching” – i.e. they are no longer really that human being (i.e. Yumiko, Nao, Ryo etc.) but instead they are the “person/body/thing” I am using to practise how I place my hands on another. Of course the trainees all love this approach – must people do. Only Shigeko (that I know of) got the same uncomfortable feeling that I always got back in the old days of my training.

Anyway, I am definitely in a minority is disliking this way of training teachers, and I am happy to let other teachers pursue it, providing I don’t have to either be involved, or agree with them. After awhile the atmosphere of the workshop got a little spooky, with everyone going into this prolonged silence while they considered how they were using their hands in touching the other person. Innocent enough, and hard to see why I object to it, but basically everyone got out of touch with the real world that was all around them. There was an atmosphere of operating within this cocoon of ideas.

However, to argue against myself, I do think there is a need to understand the “technicalities” of teaching—including that of touch—but I would tend to introduce this exploration of touch as part of an ongoing lesson, rather than separate it out into its own activity. However, we do need to explore and know the component ideas that make the whole experience possible. An example of this is in knowing how a person is using themselves. While it is wonderful to look firstly for the infinite potentiality of our pupil so we are “being present to being in relation to something that is bigger than our desire”, my question is: how do we see such a thing? Perhaps we don’t, perhaps we do – I have no real answer to that. But I do know when it is not there, because I can see how a person’s co-ordination is expressing their idea that has fear, ignorance and attachment within it. This is what I see, what I understand is the possibility available beyond that.

Tommy reminds us that we are working with that person’s potentiality for becoming other than what they are currently committed to being – this is so much preferable than working with a person’s “habit of use” in the negative sense. We don’t work with the habit, we work with the potentiality – and I appreciated the reminder of a lesson once learnt that I was due to hear again!

However, I also know that (for me) what lets me understand a person has some kind of ignorance, irritation or obsession operating within them—and that is causing them a harm they do not want—is the detail of my observation of their “habitual” use. Often a tiny gesture or aberration has been my only clue to uncovering a profoundly deep idea that needs undoing for a person to move into a new idea of the possibility of their Self…

And perhaps my need to do this highlights one of the key differences of my own work: rather than give the experience, I seek to introduce an experiment within a person’s thinking so that they can give themselves a new experience of who they are. Tommy uses his hands to support a person “dispersing their commitment to being who they think they need to be”. Tommy’s idea of inhibition involves this: withholding definition of who I am committed to being to allow in new information that informs the experience I am having of me. It is a truly wonderful approach, and helps me learn another way of communicating to a student in a situation that calls for it.

However, from my side, I am still curious to find the activity that doesn’t let the old habit take place—that is chosen and thought out by the student, not constructed by the intervention of my hands. This experiment is set up before my hands touch. My touch is not there to open up choice, or to allow a person to accept information other than the information that their habit is committed to, although that can certainly happen; rather my hands are there to give confidence to their new choices, to support the possibility that a person is courageously asking of themselves. We are not waiting until the confidence or support is there, we are jumping over the cliff where habit is no longer living.

Anyway, Tommy’s work has been fabulously stimulating, causing me to question and re-decide about fundamental aspects of my own work: to change some of my long held ideas, to confirm others and, most importantly, to continue to allow myself to receive new information of any kind in the exciting adventure I call life!

If he comes to a theatre near you – get some tickets!