Walter - headTalks by Walter Carrington, in July 2001

(from notes taken by Erik Bendix)

July 20th:

Sherrington said that any pathway in the brain leads eventually to muscle.

In the sending of nerve impulses, or in the “projection of messages”, if a pathway is occupied with sending a faulty message, there won’t be room in it for its correction or change.  The wrong message has to stop first.  Then the new message must be repeated until the unknown becomes known.  You need a reconditioning experience.

It has been claimed (in the U.S.) that the Technique can be taught without hands-on experience.  If someone taught me about what it is like to stand on the Great Wall of China, I could imagine it very vividly, but actually standing on it would still be a rude awakening to something quite unexpected.  It is the same with the Technique.

You communicate through your hands the state of how you are.  It is like putting jumper cables on a flat battery.  You can’t do it if the battery you are working from is flat too.

  • You can’t do it this way and that way at the same time.
  • It is easy to think that you have stopped when you haven’t.
  • It takes time to experience what will enable you to understand how habits are formed.  If we react too soon, we give consent to existing habits and so make change impossible.
  • How much do any of us truly reason?  Reasoning takes time.  Unless there is time for it, there won’t be any reasoning.
  • Physical jerks or calisthenics is brainless activity.  The brain is not engaged.  Such activity works best when thinking of something else.
  • Postponement of activity, instead of really stopping activity, will not succeed in changing its underlying direction.
  • How much repetition people need in order to learn differs from person to person.
  • Find out how we interfere with the primary control and then say no to that.
  • It takes observation and thought to know what you have been doing wrong.  How do you stop?  Then how do you proceed?
  • We are only secondarily interested in the projection of new messages.
  • The right thing will do itself, but it can benefit from a little encouragement.  You can benefit from a little encouragement.
  • You must be sure you have stopped the misdirection before you get involved in change and improvement.
  • This work calls for a broad reasoning attitude.


July 23rd:

When our movement and activity outruns the neural messages we send to initiate them, we are forced into a reliance on habit.

Stutterers generally run ahead of themselves, preparing themselves and their mouths to speak not the next word coming up, but the one after that.  If in saying “good day” you are preparing for “day” when you are trying to say “good”, you can’t speak.  You have set yourself an impossible task.

“Conscious orders” is not just about words.  It is about thoughts, and sorting them out into right relationship with each other.

Inhibition is the potentiality most in need of development in humankind.  F.M. writes that remarkable changes are possible if a pupil can inhibit even moderately well.  Even stopping briefly, applying the brakes a little, will help.  People often despair when they find out how bad they are at inhibiting.  Don’t be discouraged.  Just practice stopping.

Inhibition is a positive neural message or impulse to stop.  It requires both memory (remembering the sequence), and awareness (recognition of what is happening).  The Technique is one for the development of control of human reaction.

Gurdieff said we go through life like sleepwalkers.  Indeed, we are too ready to respond to stimulus without exercising choice.  The nature of our reactions is determined by the nature of our functioning, and hence our use.  F.M. gives the example of someone who habitually loses their temper.  Their anger reaction habit will persist until a new stimulus is received.


July 24th (Walter was substituting here for Jane’s anatomy lecture):

Lord Lytton was a pupil of F.M.’s as well as a friend.  He had a large estate north of London.  One of his workers took ill, and only wanted to see the vet, not the doctor.  When asked why, he said “if ‘ee can tell you wots th’ matter wi’ ‘em as can’t speak it, ‘ee must be better ‘an ‘im ‘at can’t.”  That is, vets must be very observant, since their clients can’t speak.  Such skill in observation seems less and less required of ordinary doctors.

Walter read from an 1860 book by a William Percival called “12 Lectures on the Form and Action of the Horse”:  Voluntary movement is essentially different from that of machines.  Its power of movement is created or generated:  a self-moving machine.  In muscles reside the source of such motion.  Dead meat is devoid of this ability.  There are 8 muscles in the horse’s tail: 2 flexors, 2 extensors, 1 muscle for each direction of lateral swipe, and 2 to press the tail against the rump.  If the flexors are cut, then every extension of the tail becomes a full extension.  Such full extension is often not to be resisted even by the strongest man.  The strength of a horse’s tail movement is taken as indicative of the horse’s overall strength.

If a muscle is semi-contracted and semi-relaxed, it is in a state ready to do work.  This is muscle tone.

Muscles work by contraction.  When they stop contracting, they don’t immediately restore to full length.  They generally stay where they are, unless there is some force that pulls things the other way again.

When the suboccipital muscles stop contracting, the weight of the head can restore them to length.  The weight of the hanging arm will cause the arm’s muscles to restore to their length.  This is why we say to leave the arm alone.  This is even true for the weight of the hand and thumb.

If a muscle starts from full length, the resultant contraction is more efficient and precise, and less energy is needed for it.  Being shortened and pulled down is very tiring – a lot of energy is going to waste.  Let’s get muscles to full length before we use them.

Stretch receptors are embedded in muscle, and act like strain gauges in engineering.  They measure how much a muscle is stretched, and activate muscles to pull against the stretch.  So as the weight of the head drops forward and up, the stretch receptors create tone and elasticity and springiness in the extensors of the neck and head.  If you allow the weight of your head to operate, it will make your muscles ready for anything.

Harm comes when muscles are called upon to act when they are not in tone and not ready.


July 26th:

You can get very irritated by someone’s deportment.

People have too quick and unthinking reactions.  End-gaining often gets worse as people’s lives progress.

Man hasn’t adapted to his changing environment and relies on instincts that have long since outlived their usefulness.  He is often governed by fear of change.  Without coming into contact with the unknown, we can’t make changes in ourselves and in the world.

The big change in the last 100 years has been the development of power tools, electronics, computers, etc..  Previous to this, all the world’s work was done by muscle power and the brain power of learned skill.  These hadn’t changed in a very long time.  Kids on computers now learn in an extraordinarily different way.  They don’t have the same needs to cultivate memory.  With the old tools, you had to learn the least expense of energy that would get the job done.  Power tools often have indirect effects on you.  A pneumatic drill, for example, can take possession of you when it transmits its vibration to you.  If you hold it more elastically, you can absorb more of its shock

F.M. pointed out that the problem of change is made more difficult because man’s sensory appreciation and standards of awareness are going down.  Perhaps this is not so true in specialized areas like surgery, though surgeons find the newer technology at least as stressful as the old, maybe more.

People’s interpretation of their own motives is so often off.  The assumption is that people messing up aren’t paying enough attention or aren’t trying hard enough, or thinking enough.  The truth is that people try too hard already.  What is needed is to get them to quiet down, perhaps to stop altogether.  Rather than the effort of end-gaining, make use of a pause to look and think and then apply your conclusions cautiously, checking if you were right.  Find the means whereby and apply it. First off, stop trying at all.  Then only proceed along lines of economy of effort.


July 27th:

This all began with F.M. in front of a mirror.  We all find ourselves occasionally in front of a mirror.  He did it more observantly than most.  What did he see?  A human on two feet, standing on a narrow base of support.  He saw he wasn’t doing it well.  He could see that, even though it felt quite natural.  It took him a long time to discover what he was doing that gave him voice trouble, and then a long time to change what he was doing.  We don’t really know how long it took until he was not interfering any more with his natural standing.  Nearly everyone’s standing attitude is peculiar to himself or herself.  It is quite a step to apply elementary mechanical principles to a person’s standing attitude.

If you aren’t in balance, you are in danger of falling over, and you will do your best to avoid that.  How does it come about that we are in this situation?  You can debate about how we got here, whether through God’s will or evolution or whatever, but here we are!  We need to be supported in balance in such a reliable manner that we aren’t about to topple.  Balance is connected with every other function we have.  If you think you are teetering on the brink, you will surely hold your breath.  Neck tension produces eye tension and leads to eye strain…etc. The tensions that arise from insecurity interfere with all our workings.  If we had been too bad at balancing, evolution would have finished us off long ago.

We ought to know the principles of the mechanics of balance:  we need to keep our full height and width.  People are meant to stand tall and to have width across the shoulders, chest, and hips.

What we are used to feels natural.  We generally do what we like, what’s free and easy and comfortable.  If we don’t realize that our mechanics are distorted, what feels right is within the distortion.  We feel in accordance to how we are.  The changes brought about by the Technique will feel novel.  Whether you like them or not is another matter.

It all centers on the neurophysiology of the postural mechanisms.  When people are out of balance, they have poor posture and when they have poor posture they are out of balance.  From a scientific point of view, we are dealing with postural behavior: our ability to stand and move about freely.  It is a shame that what has been found out scientifically has been so neglected.  Postural behavior is an unfaced problem.  People know they should be standing better, but they haven’t learned what F.M. did: knowing how to stop.  Knowing how to stop is the practical key to the Technique.

We have the correct solution to a problem that most people haven’t recognized.  Until they do, they won’t be interested in the answer.