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 The LearningMethods Library

A Basic Fact and a Fundamental Question

by David Gorman

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 differently.

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 using them.

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 value register—a 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 ecstatically wonderful and in the other direction to unpleasant, bad, horrible and absolutely unbearable. Each of us has our own value scale, so you can substitute your own words to match the experience of your own personal scale.

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 different ways.

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 purpose.

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 moments.

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 is wrong’,

— 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 'problems'. 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 one.

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 change?

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 question:

Do 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!).

Next part.
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 is happening?

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.

Final part.
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 something!

— 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 you need.

— 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 is.

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 fundamental question.

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 it.




There is small biography of personal details about the author below.

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About the Author

David GormanDavid 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 body-work practitioner.

E-mail:     Telephone: +1 416-519-5470
78 Tilden Crescent, Etobicoke, Ontario  M9P 1V7  Canada   (map)