"I can't work miracles, I've never cured anyone.
I just teach people how to cure themselves."
Help Me to Help Myself
AT in action. Commentated fragments from correspondence with readers. Individualization of AS and techniques of basic AT.
Feed-back on This Book
I'm writing this on 12th June, 1980, nine years after "Start to be Yourself" was first published. Since then there have been sixteen editions in the USSR and Europe and several new translations are at present in preparation. Over the years the book has grown considerably and seen fundamental changes: the original text bas been reedited and new material has been added. This is not simply because I've gained more experience and my ideas have matured: the readers have also had their say.
The feed-back on the book has been substantial to say the least: over a thousand letters annually for the first 3-4 years and slightly less for the remaining period. Any correspondence is a direct or indirect comment on the book's shortcomings and strong points, above all, on its relevance and it has helped me envisage the Reader more clearly. It has also introduced me to various types of people I'd never come across in my private or professional life and to numerous problems I'd had no or only a vague conception of previously. I'm therefore extremely grateful to everyone who has made his opinion known to me.
However, the kind of letters a book of this type inspires are not always just a pleasure since they also have to be answered, often at some length. Although it's always rewarding to hear of successes, it's letters offering constructive criticism which are most useful. However, if a complete stranger writes to you he's usually hoping for guidance of some sort and, in fact, most of the letters be summed up by the request, "Help me to us~ your help."
Naturally I give priority to those who, I feel, need help most and who can benefit from a letter. This is, it's true, fairly difficult to judge since a letter can easily hide or exaggerate the real seriousness of the situation. In addition to this, about forty percent of the letters request (or even demand) personal consultation as soon as possible. "Thanks to the valiant efforts of the police and fire brigade I eventually discovered your address. I need to talk to you very urgent, and will be flying to Moscow to see you when I have a few days' holiday next month. I'd be grateful if you could book me a hotel from 15-18th July since I'd hate to burden myself on you at such short notice." Letters of this type obviously receive my immediate attention and a swift reply by post. For one reason or another, therefore, I turned my hand to post-bag psychotherapy, a branch of the profession no better and no worse than any other and with its own faults and advantages. The major shortcoming, of course, is the difficulty of providing individualised help: I find I'm working almost completely in the dark with insufficient and often distorted information. Sometimes the reverse is true and the letters are longer than the book itself; but then it's often difficult to select from the mass of facts given what's really relevant. The reply to your answer is the only possible feed-back you can have and this, in turn, often leaves you guessing, whilst threatening to drag you into a protracted exchange which can sometimes promise to go on indefinitely. Dealing with people we usually come across a lack of necessary and an excess of unnecessary information. One of the advantages of epistolary psychotherapy is that it's possible to convey advice in the most concise and yet clear and effective from. It's certainly true that it takes a tremendous amount of time to write briefly. There’s always a chance of correcting a mistake in a letter, whereas during live consultation this is, of course, more difficult: psychotherapists, and firemen, are some of the unfortunates who are never allowed to make mistakes.
But, when it comes down to it, we generally reap what we sow and everything would be fine if only we always had a clear idea of what we really wanted. This is, in fact, what I'd like to discuss now that the basic techniques of AS and AT are already behind us.
This section of the book is largely composed of readers' letters and my answers. I've tried to select the most typical, abridging them in places and ensuring the writer's anonymity. There are three Chapters: the second (Chapter 11) deals specifically with AS and AT in relation to problems in getting on with people and the final chapter is concerned with autopsychotherapy in the widest sense. The present chapter is primarily concerned with individualisation of AT techniques and the difficulties and misunderstandings this can entail. But my correspondents can best speak for themselves.
"…Life's Much More Interesting Now…"
"Dear Dr. Levi,
I apologise for not writing sooner but I've been amazingly busy. Things at work and at home suddenly took over completely so there’s been no time even to think of anything else. But you, of course, are waiting to hear how my autotraining's going and if I've had any success yet. I'll try to be as clear as possible.
When I was little my father was always getting drunk and ending up in fights. Up to sixteen I didn't know what it was to sleep through a night undisturbed or to have the day go by without a drunken scene. All this naturally made me very timid and withdrawn and totally incapable of living on my own. I had an irrational fear of everything and everybody, particularly anyone in authority, and made myself ill worrying about trivialities. This had gone on for years when I read your book.
"I chose one of the formulas you suggest:
Hot and heavy body,
forehead quite cold.
I'm usually very lazy and rarely have enough patience to keep at something for a long time. But I’ve been practising AT every day for over a year now and don't find it difficult at all.
I must admit that I've made fairly good progress. Nothing outstanding, of course, but not bad, considering what I was like when I started. Most important of all, however, is that I find life easier, and much more interesting. I can mix now without any trouble too.
Another amazing thing is that I realized what was causing my headaches. I was simply working too hard. Everything's fine now.
All these letters are of interest partly because they may contain something particularly relevant to us and also because it's valuable to think from time to time about the way other people live and to see how psychotherapy works.
The letters are from people of various ages and professions and with very different backgrounds and interests. Even though their intellectual level and attitudes vary tremendously they all share the desire to feel they're in control of themselves.
"I Can Do So Much More Work Now…"
"Dear Dr. Levi,
I made a big effort to find out your address and have eventually put pen to paper.
First of all I' d like to say that I feel my experience proves that if you really want to overcome tiredness all you need do is practise AT: analyse yourself carefully and choose the best formula to fit your mood and aims.
I've been practising Hatha Yoga for over eighteen months now from a very basic textbook which is little more than a set of daily routines. I've worked out twenty-eight poses for myself and concentrate on being calm and relaxed. With the help of rhythmic breathing I've learnt how to be composed in any situation.
When I get home from work really exhausted I do the following:
I lie down, relax and then listen to the tape I made. This has a passage lasting for seven to eight minutes with the basic idea that "warm, heavy body, cool forehead; perfect calm." I take pleasure in concentrating on my breathing. I reach a state close to Nirvana.
Using your formulas I intensify my sense of calm and relaxation. Then I listen to some music; a slow waltz at first and then other tunes gradually getting fester and faster. Whilst the music's playing I let my imagination wander and try to feel warm, heavy and perfectly calm. Then I go on to a few yoga exercises and finish off with music.
The surprising thing is that I can now get so much more done.
I've been practising AT with the tapes for nine weeks now whenever I have to work at home, and can achieve much more than I could before.
I realize that the important thing now is how long I can make these states last, but I know I mustn't get carried away and must be particularly careful to rest. Even without the tape recorder, however, that is, when I'm at work, I can concentrate much better than I could previously. Eighteen months of yoga and AT have made me much more relaxed and calm.
"Some of the correspondents have worked out interesting AS and original combinations of AT techniques. Even if none of this seems very relevant at a personal level it may be encouraging and will at least show just how much can be achieved, despite initial difficulties, if we're prepared to work at our personality. The hopes and mistakes of others can often be very instructive. However good the advice and however much you'd like to trust your doctor's experience entirely, you alone can decide what's best for you: objectively being yourself is a science; subjectively, however, it's an art.
A Hopeless Case, Or Growing Again
(How to be tall, beautiful, successful, etc.)
"Dear Dr. Levi,
There's no point in wasting paper beating about the bush. You've probably already guessed from my handwriting that I'm no one special, although I dream of being famous. I'll come straight to the point. I'm twenty-three and only four feet eleven. I daren't even go near women, I'll spare you the details…
Is there any way I can increase my height? I realise I don't sound very serious because I ought to tell you a lot more about myself. I'm not expecting an answer which will change everything, but it's so important for me…R. "
I've only just received your letter and I'm sending you an immediate reply which can change everything. The details you spare me are very understandable: I, like you, and (as I've discovered subsequently) fifty, if not a hundred per cent of the population have at some time or other gone through more or less the same kind of thing. Like you and many others, I fruitlessly tormented myself for a long time until, in fact, I eventually understood or, to be more exact, felt at an emotional level, that all the "independent variables" we're born with, including our height, are irrelevant compared with our more important development of another kind. This is something we acquire; it has nothing to do with genes, hormones, achievement, and certainly not our size.
I was saved from total despair by observing other people, at first with a purely selfish interest. My case was similar to yours and I tried to find people with the same or an even worse physical "defect" (not realising at the time that the only thing wrong was that I lacked self-respect) so that I could at least feel I wasn't bad after all, I took a lively interest in inferiority complexes of all kinds, and naturally came across people who were very short. I tried to understand how they dealt with what I considered the stigma that nature had placed on them.
I was amazed to discover that some of these unfortunates didn't seem to worry about their affliction, they didn't have an inferiority complex and were neither particularly self-effacing nor bitter. On the contrary, they seemed to be as relaxed, uninhibited and self-assured as anyone and, if anything, even a little more energetic, well-coordinated, organised and alert, like Jacks-in-the-box ready to spring out at any moment. They also seemed to be successful in a variety of ways, including with women. The strangest thing
of all was that quite often they tended to look taller and more imposing than their fellows of apparently average height. Some people with a stunted, skinny and unprepossessing exterior nevertheless manage to dwarf all around them: Napoleons among generals.
You probably already know that a large number of famous people were short: among the first to spring to mind are Lermontov, Toulouse Lautrec, Charlie Chaplin, Stravinsky, Glinka and, of course, Napoleon. Although unnaturally short and extremely ugly, Tallyrand, was one of the major Don Juans of his time, as well as being a top politician and diplomat. There are a lot more examples of famous people who were short, but that's not the important thing: it's not necessary to do anything outstanding. After all, though hard work and ability are important for getting things done, results are also an "independent variable" and always depend to some extent on blind chance, particularly when creative work is concerned. As Einstein himself admitted, there was a certain amount of luck involved in his working out the theory of relativity. I know some people who, considering the circumstances of their lives, are truly great although they'll never win world renown; some of them are very short people of giant proportions.
The point is that they don't allow themselves, even subconsciously, to consider that their height, or anything else for that matter, could possibly be humiliating: the concept of humiliation simply doesn't exist for them. They treat everyone as their equals whether they're tall or short, a boss or a subordinate, adults or children, clever or stupid, kind or embittered, and this lends dignity to themselves and those they are with. They're born aristocrats in spirit and, although they are fairly few and far between, I consider them quite ordinary people who are nevertheless great.
Do you realize that we alone can set a value on ourselves and that none of our vital statistics (either physical or mental) have anything to do with it? Anyone who considers himself better than others errs just as seriously as someone who believes himself inferior, whatever his "objective proof" may happen to be. The whole point is that there is not and cannot be any objective proof: there's plenty of evidence to show that everything's relative and depends solely on which scale of values you adopt.
An individual's attitude to himself, that is, what he REALLY IS for himself, is inevitably communicated to and influences others. Anyone who, deep down, feels himself "inferior" to others will never win respect or love and would never believe it even if someone did fall in love with him. Anyone who sincerely feels himself "better" than others and who is so sure and calm that he finds no need to prove it either to himself or others, may excite admiration, delight, hate or envy, but he'll always remain a solitary figure among his fellows.
You should bear in mind that people pay most attention to height and any other physical attributes for only the first two or three second after meeting. From then on everything depends on how you behave and converse. Anyone who can't make himself and, consequently, others forget about some unfortunate physical feature, his profession, age or social position, (or a lot of others things besides) is still not a fully-fledged human being. As children, however, we always seemed to be what we wanted to be.
Take a look at any ordinary child of three or four before he's forced himself into the vicious circle of making judgements and comparisons and taking sides. He's achieved nothing as yet, and may never do so. He's neither good nor bad, insignificant nor great, clever nor stupid, strong nor weak: he's no one and everyone. He's small but it doesn't matter. He's free and spontaneous because he doesn't know yet that people are classified and categorised by their follows: he considers everyone equal and feels as good as anyone. He unconsciously values himself infinitely highly: he is the Universe. And he's quite right to do so. His innocence is more valuable than any achievements or talents because it is life itself. We accept this without question and would never think of valuing a child simply as the sum of his vital statistics. He's not important because someday he may be a famous professor or sportsman. A child exists and has absolute values; he is a human being and neither great achievements in the creative arts, a brilliant mind, exceptional talent nor outstanding beauty can ever outweigh this simple fact.
I know myself that, for anyone who feels himself disadvantaged by nature, there's nothing worse than the sympathy of "normal" people. Their magnanimous condescension and studied tact appears as a mask of hypocrisy poorly concealing their superiority. Outright contempt is better than their intolerable concessions: a "kindness" which invites revenge.
I stopped feeling sorry for people, and first of all myself, the moment I realised this. If someone out of luck bewails his fate, then let him do so if he's stupid enough to really consider himself unfortunate! I lost all sympathy for this attitude, feeling that if things go against us it's an excellent chance to prove our fighting spirit. I noticed that among nature's unfortunates there were just as many principled and unscrupulous people as among the population at large, although the former group tended to attract more extreme representatives of both types. I know some people who in many ways seem to be overendowed with gifts: intelligence, good looks, stature, success and recognition, and yet they lack something on a purely human level: they have an invisible defect.
The first piece of advice I'd like to give you is not to begrude time spent on meeting and talking to people from all walks of life and of all ages. Try to find people who are also short or have some other visible physical disadvantage but who don't let it worry them in the least, a really ugly woman, say, or a hunchback. Observe them and try to understand what gives them their moral strength. Take a good look at any two people and you'll see that there's almost invariably some inequality: one is taller than the other, perhaps, or one's young and healthy, the other old and ailing. Thus, at some time, everyone (apart from the spiritual aristocrats I mentioned earlier) has felt more or less the same as you.
Once you've found an unconcerned unfortunate, try to act him.
The stage is inside you and you are the audience. Tell yourself one day that: "I am HE! I am HE! I'm Like That!" Simply order yourself to be like him and you'll see that it works.
Don't let anyone else know what you're doing and when you finally realize that you've achieved your aim, you, too, will forget that you were just acting to start with.
You can also secretly pretend to be one of your tall friends or someone of average size, anyone who's self-assured and at his ease.
It's important to remember that the aim is not just to recreate your model's appearance, the way he behaves, talks and moves, but to imitate the kind of person he is. Try to assess his whole character immediately. Imagine what really makes him tick, his temperament, his attitude to the world and to himself, and try to feel the same things yourself.
You have to transfer his subconscious mind into your subconscious. Everyone does this every day if we only look a little below the surface. As small children we start imitating what other people are really like: their feelings, ideas and experiences constantly flood through us and, without realizing it, we build our moral values on their principles; we're sustained by them just as plants are by water and light, and animals by plants and other animals.
Whether we like it or not, our personality is a cocktail of the personalities we've appropriated, a composite and ever changing mixture with a unique taste and smell. Our personality is like a solvent: some components dissolve quickly and easily, whilst others more slowly and with difficulty.
In fact, this simply means that what we're aiming at is to consciously control something which already happens of its own accord. When we "appropriate" someone else's personality we don't, of course, run the risk of losing our own identity; we remain ourselves, although we've changed nonetheless. Imitating external characteristics will simply help you to go to imitating the person's character, the way he thinks and feels. You'll only be able to achieve this if you believe that you really are he and only then will you change psychologically and physically. The AS will eventually take effect and you'll be a New You. This is the great moment when you actually become the person you wanted to be and appear as you wished: you've acquired a new self-image. Having suggested to yourself that you're tall, you'll feel tall and other people will inevitably feel the same!
You needn't restrict your choice of models to real people: a literary character or one you think up yourself will do equally well. If, for example, you imagine you're Gulliver amidst the Lilliputians, you'll be sure to feel and behave in a completely new way: you'll gradually become benevolently self-confident, mildly indulgent, attentive, slightly grand and careful. Remember and store away all these sensations and keep trying to make them more vivid and intense. Convince yourself that you're surrounded by little children (which, strictly speaking, is not far from the truth) and you'll be kind and confident. With this foundation you'll assume a cheerful, indulgent and understanding attitude towards anyone who considers you inferior in height, intelligence, or any other way. You can easily pardon them for being so condescending and stupid since they see only superficially, whereas you understand the essence of things.
"And is that all?" I can hear you saying to yourself. It's certainly the main thing, but there are other approaches as well: a diametrically opposed one, for example.
Even after we've used up all our hormone reserve for growth we can still grow a further 1.5 - 2 inches. There's no point in deluding ourselves that in your case this is a particularly significant increase, but it's nevertheless worth trying, especially since the exercises have a psychological as well as a physical effect.
The physiological technique is fairly straightforward and more symbolic than anything else. You don't have to be a doctor to see that our joints are generally bent a little. Look at your hand at the moment and you'll see that your fingers are half bent and that your hand is certainly not as long as it could be. In fact, our personalities are generally not stretched to the full in the same way. The spine contains thirty-two joints, so that if you can straighten out each of them by only one twentieth of an inch you'll "grow' by about 1.5 inches. It's possible to make this increase permanent since, although our bodies are fairly stubborn, they ultimately submit to persistant demands and it'll gradually become second nature to you to hold yourself up straight (consider how the hands of a pianist or a carpenter, and the legs of a ballerian or a jockey are adapted to their way of life). So, stand up straight! Standard exercises on the horizontal bars and the rings help since the body inevitably stretches under its own weight. Here are a few special exercises. 1. Sit on the floor with your legs stretched straight in front. Take hold of your toes and start to pull your trunk forward and down, bending your back from the pelvic region and trying to keep it concave. Extend your arms from the shoulders and widen the elbows, using them as levers. Place your forehead on your knees.
2. Lie on the floor face downwards, keep your feet together and toes pointing. Place your hands palms down on the floor by the side of the pelvic region with your fingers pointing to your hand. Press your palms down on the floor and raise your trunk, gradually straightening your arms. Contract your buttocks, tighten your thighs and stretch your head back. Think up our own exercises too.
But that's not all, either. When you've got used to doing these exercises and even enjoy them you can go on to the next stage, that is, to practising them in your imagination (whilst still continuing them physically). It's best to do this for 6-7 minutes before going to sleep or immediately on waking. Run through in your mind's eye exactly what your body does and feels when you do the exercises, and repeat either to yourself or out loud: A more obedient body each day. Everyday it tries harder to grow. Every muscle wants to help growth. Every nerve, blood-vessel, muscle and cell is working to make me taller. Growing from day to day. New strength flowing through my body; Growing.
Repeat this AS and improvise, concentrating on the semantics not the style. Speak in a calm, authorative, self-assured and even slightly indifferent tone, as though you're stating a fact. You know that you're growing; you don't even have to give an order because it's happening of its own accord: the result is guaranteed.
You're now ready to start growing again and you'll see how everything has been working towards this. The extra 1.5-2 inches you've gained are, of course, insignificant: you could have obtained the same effect simply by wearing high heels, although now you can do both. The extra inches mean nothing per se but they will nevertheless give you a significant indirect boost by improving your own opinion of yourself. They less a measure of length than a tribute to your will-power. Moreover, you’ll have gained a lot through your experience of mixing and talking to people and from the psychological exercises which will stand you in good stead in other situations, your imagination and sense of humour will be sharper. Your personality has thus developed and this growth will help others as well as you yourself.
Once you're genuinely self-sufficient and confident you'll feel the whole world of relationships is open to you and you'll not be frightened of going up to talk to anyone…"
This letter itself calls for comment. Some time ago I decided on two working definitions of a "failure". The first is someone unnaturally short, for example, a brilliant chess player or telepathist, who desperately wants to play basketball and disregards anything else; or a Don Quixote who sets his sights on the world championship boxing title; that is, someone who has incorrectly chosen, or not even chosen but simply unconsciously accepted, a supervalue (love, his life-style or profession) which is diametrically opposed to his own nature. The second definition is someone who lets himself feel he's a failure.
Since people often tend to consider complexes nothing more than plain jealousy, it would seem reasonable to suggest that no one can be truly happy as long as any inequalities continue to exist in the world, even if it's only a little mouse whose tail is (or he/she thinks it is) shorter than those of his/her fellows. To ignore and smother in impersonal optimism people who feel hard done by is inhumane and can even be dangerous.
Some cases of misfortune are fairly mild, others glaringly obvious. Some of us are cursed by nature even before their birth; others are cursed by fate, also for some unknown reason and by an unknown hand, and suffer great disasters in their lives. Fate tends to heal its own ills, but if a cure doesn't appear to be forthcoming, then we struggle out of our trouble ourselves or write to "problem pages" or a psychotherapist. The advice given in such cases is often aimed at showing us how to shake our fists at fate, how to change our attitude to things and to become different people.
Some problems really seem hopeless whichever way you look at them: there doesn't seem anything you can do even with psychotherapy to actually change certain facts of life: for example, your height, age, IQ, character and mortality.
I began considering myself an expert in hopeless cases when I first realised, or once again learned through my own experience, the truth of a very old and very simple but nonetheless wise piece of advice which is often ignored: if you can't change a situation, then change your attitude to it. (A popular version of this is, of course: "If you can't beat them, join them!") Sages have for centuries maintained that people suffer because of their attitude to something and not because of the thing itself: it's always our attitude which causes the torment.
Even purely physical pain can be seen as the attitude of the body, namely of the subcortical pain centres, to an external influence. In the terms used earlier we can say that suffering is a negative supersignificance and, consequently, that a reduction in significance will reduce the suffering correspondingly. If you recall, subconscious significance doesn't always correspond to conscious value (the broken shoe lace when you're hurrying for a train, the glass of water in the desert), although it does for the young man writing the letter. For him, his height is of supervalue by conviction and of supersignificance because of the way he feels: he's like someone starving who's surrounded by people he knows have just had a good meal. Clearly the one way for him to gain peace of mind is to reduce the value of his vital statistics (in his conscious mind) and then their significance (in his subconscious). He has to mentally quit the game which he's guaranteed to lose and where any victory would in any case be insignificant and illusory. He needs to concentrate his aims and wishes on attaining the one absolute value: moral integrity.
When I reread my letter to R I began to nave doubts as to whether I was correct in suggesting exercises to gain a virtually insignificant increase in his height. They are, after all, aimed towards the supersignificance I'd only just discounted: why bother to stretch and straighten up if it's not worth paying any attention to your height?
I decided to leave this obvious contradiction, however, since we're made up of illogicalities of this kind and we simply have to accept them as a fact of life. An aging woman who's decided affairs are definitely a thing of the past for her nevertheless continues to care for her looks and avoids admitting her age; someone who knows be has a terminal illness and only a few months to live carries on with his morning exercises and still conscientiously cleans his teeth three times a day.
Reason is not in full sway over our attitude to a hopeless situation. Although suffering is natural, all living things avoid it if possible: anyone who's capable of accepting a certain amount of suffering shows great, strength of character.
When someone close to us dies, the circumstances are impossible to overcome and suffering is inescapable. There's no way any of us can change our attitude concerning the death of someone we love, but the torment is intolerable and the bereaved seeks some kind of support. In such cases a psychotherapist bas no right to tell him to reduce the value he attaches to the deceased, to forget, to take his mind off things or anything similar. Nothing can help except courage and patience. Nothing except, perhaps, temporary relief from the unbearable pain through drugs, AS or immersion in work: you can't advise someone not to suffer. Both the doctor and, in his heart of hearts, the bereaved himself know that, if there's to be any kind of life in the future, then that's how things have to be: however great the loss, no suffering can last forever, nor does it have the right to do so. Attitudes change, at least quantitatively, if not qualitatively, and pain gradually subsides. This should be allowed to happen naturally.
No one bas yet suggested a better maxim than "l want to live in order to think and to suffer".