"And let your best be for your friend.
For what is your friend that you shall seek him with hours to kill?
See him. always with hours to live. "
The Prophet. Kahlil Gibran.
Break Down Illusions
AT as an aid for communication. AS and basic attitudes
How to Say Nothing and a Lot More Besides
Working as a psychotherapist or psychologist probably teaches you more than anything else how tightly knit everything is. You meet someone for the first time and see in him a unique combination of natural forces, social influences, history and culture: always a new variation on a well-known theme. Looking carefully at something it's easy to find the universal in an individual case.
The following letter is from a young girl with a problem which thousands share. My answer to her in fact touches on more general matters, basically something discussed earlier: the paradox of supersignificance which, in the case in question, caused particular difficulties in mixing with people, resulting in irrational fears and low self-esteem. A paradoxical approach is the overall strategy required to deal with this paradox, although the actual tactics vary for each case.
"Dear Dr. Levi,
I should have written to you a long time ago but kept putting it off. Now I realize that I'm in a completely hopeless situation. I read a few days ago that lots of people are shy, but I've never met anyone as bad as me. I never made friends with any of the girls at school not to mention any of the boys. I was frightened to go out and always hurried past anyone in the street. But I wouldn't even mind being so why and frightened of everyone if only I wasn't so stupid and tongue-tied. I don't know anything and can't understand anything. I've just finished at Tech and start work in a library soon, but I'm really no good at anything. The art of good conversation is considered a sign of intellect, - I never say a word. People say I shouldn't be such a little mouse. What should I do? I'm not very good at concentrating and I think it's because I'm just not clever enough. If only I was more sensible I'd be able to attend to things a bit better. I'm twenty and I've no one close, no good friends, not even acquaintances. I avoid everyone and loud voices or laughter get on my nerves. If only I knew why I never say anything! Mummy's the only one I can talk to about things. But as soon as there are other people around, or just one other person, my mind goes blank, I can't think clearly and I even find it difficult to follow what's being said, let alone thinking of saying anything myself! I don't understand whether I'm silent because I'm stupid or whether it's just because I'm so frightened of everyone. Perhaps it's a bit of both. I've tried AT and when I'm just at home with Mum I can relax and suggest something positive. But as soon as there's anyone else around I'm too nervous to do anything. Obviously I can't do AT either. Can I do anything to change? Why am I so terrified and is there anything that can help me?
(signature illegible.) "
"Dear Miss … ,
Right then, I'll get straight to the point, the most important thing for you to do is to let yourself be frightened.
You may find that rather surprising.
There you are wanting to stop being afraid and someone advises you to stop wanting. It's your dream to be able to mix easily and to make friends, and someone comes along and suggests you wake up.
Of course, you know perfectly well that people often get dizzy looking down from a height. Also that it's quite easy to walk along a narrow plank when it's at ground level or raised only a few feet, but that it's absolutely impossible to do the same thing if it's high up, that is, above the critical danger level. The first thing tight-rope walkers and spidermen do is to get used to or, as they say, "to forget" the height. It's hard for a beginner and sometimes takes a long time. They don't actually forget about it, of course, it's simply that, once they're used to it, it becomes part of their everyday life and they cease to notice it. They're completely indifferent to the danger and can concentrate on their work. This is necessary, you'll agree, or else it would be impossible for them to do anything at all.
So it's quite easy to see that when you're so tormented by trying to mix with people you're in the same position as an inexperienced spiderman learning the trade. Everyone around you is working away (in your case, conversing) quite calmly, whilst you're still frantically clutching at the air. There's no question of your being sensible about anything at times like that! You're attempting to walk across a plank suspended at an incredible height. The "plank" for you is the significance that you attach to the conversation: how you appear in your own eyes, how you behave and think, whether people consider you clever or stupid, and whether they like you or not. That's it, isn't it?
So now I'm suggesting that you lower the plank, that is, you learn how to be silent.
You probably think that's going a bit too far, after all, the whole trouble is that you're just too good at saying nothing! But the point is that you don't know how to be silent. I'm not talking about not conversing, but about being silent, and you can't do that properly, not when you're with people you don't know, anyway. You can with your mum.
There are at least two types of silence: easy and oppressive. We consider the former natural, the way things should be; we're not talking and we don't need to, things are just fine as they are. We fight the latter, however, we tense up and try desperately to escape it.
Have you noticed that when you're with your mum new things to say appear out of these silences of their own accord. The quality of one person's silence always communicates itself to the listener, either oppressing him or putting him at his ease.
You haven't yet realised that the most valuable thing in conversation is an ability to be silent: but with the easy silence which shows you know how to listen, a silence which lets the speaker relax.
Consequently, all you need do is make your silence easy instead of oppressive.
"Today silence is my one aim. I shall revel in Silence. I'll make it my present to other people and they'll be grateful for the respite it gives; for this peace through which their thoughts and words can flow uninterrupted. My silence will be a balm, like calm, warming waters, it will be full 0 f joy, repose and light. "
Approach people with this attitude, though not necessarily these words, and, above all, with COMPLETE FAITH in yourself; allow yourself, and even force yourself to be silent. Work at and take pride in your silence and you'll be surprised how much you'll learn, just how easily you'll make yourself and others feel relaxed. I can give you a hundred per cent guarantee that you'll not be criticised for being timid or quiet again. Enjoy your silence and let others share it. There's a lot of truth, after all, in the saying that silence is gold.
The first thing to do, therefore, is to make yourself keep quiet and enjoy being silent. But everything comes to an end sooner or later: the reserves of your silence will run dry and you'll have to say something. At that moment, quite unexpectedly for yourself, you'll discover that you really have quite a gift for eloquence and that you can think sensibly on any topic. You can already do all this but the talent's locked up inside you and will remain that way until you feel free. All you have to do is convince yourself once and for all that it's a good thing to be silent, that, whether people like you or not is completely irrelevant, and that the main thing is whether you like them. You'll soon surprise yourself: it'll seem as though a pipe bas burst inside you and a flood of words and ideas will simply gush out; in fact it'll probably be very difficult then for anyone else to get a word in edgeways!
Your mind and powers of concentration will also seem sharper. The main reason why you find it difficult to concentrate at present is not because you lack intelligence but because you're too tense the whole time and are concentrating exclusively on yourself. Your attention, therefore, is fully occupied with you, that is, you prevent it from concentrating on what it should do when meeting people, that is, on the other people, their ideas and feelings. You've never found anyone quite as bad as you because you've never bothered to observe others closely yet, although there are plenty of people with the same problem. You see them everyday but don't notice them. I'm sure that some of them even envy you just as mistakenly as you them.
You're so worried and irritated by other people because you're not interested in them and consequently don't like them: you simply haven't the time to worry about them. Don't for goodness sake think I'm accusing you of being unfeeling and egocentric, far from it. You concentrate on yourself quite unintentionally, it happens without your volition and even without your noticing it; it suppresses and limits you, concentrating your straightforward, mistrustful subconscious onto one point and one point only, yourself. Now that we've understood what happens you can start the reverse process. You'll only be able to attend and, above all, to attract other people, when you direct your full attention to them. Wherever you are and whomever you're talking to your main aim should be to understand other people, the way they see the world and the things that worry and disturb them. Ask yourself hundreds of questions about them and look for the answers in books, in others people, by observation and comparison.
In other words, try to be a psychologist. Why not, it's something you can work at every day and you'll find little more rewarding or interesting. You've already acquired
the gift of being silent and here it will prove invaluable.
So try to be silent in a different way. Neither you nor I are so naive as to think that after reading this you'll immediately become a virtuoso at mixing with people, even if you have no trouble in cultivating an easy silence to perfection. For a time you'll continue to be frightened and to feel tongue-tied, stupid, unable to follow the conversation and incapable of doing anything. Even after years of practice I just have been slightly slack and let the plank of self-interest raise a fraction beyond the critical height and I'm forcefully reminded of the way you feel. All the delights covered by the blanket term of "shyness" will be ready to take over until you get used to "heights", until, unprompted, your subconscious says to you, "There's absolutely nothing to be afraid of!"
Briefly, then, what you should do is: 1. mix with people as much as possible; 2. be delighted at every opportunity to know people and to practice socializing; 3. stop getting goals when meeting people; 4. stop being afraid of being. Remember that fear is like a cowardly dog which always runs after you if you try walking away but beats a hasty retreat as soon as you start walking towards it."
We've already come across the idea of the "plank" or the "beam". Here, however, is a slightly different slant on the universal technique for redistributing our values, a fundamental technique for any of us who wishes to end a run of bad luck in some important area of his life and to get rid of timidity and the feeling that he's stupid. In the present case it's a question of decreasing the significance of being able to mix and communicate and of increasing our interest in other people. The result of this which, and here's the rub, we mustn't want consciously, is that it makes it possible to mix and communicate!
Stravinsky said that people working in the arts are basically just doing up old ships. The same can be said of the art of self-mastery.
The following surprising piece of advice for parents is a tenet of Karma Yoga: treat your own children as though they were someone else's, that is, as through you were, say, a conscientious nanny hired to look after them. She's kind, solicitous and sensible with them, but they're still not her own children, not flesh of her flesh, not the light of her life, not the bub of the universe for her. Hindus maintain that, "A child is a guest in the house" This implies that a child has a right to be respected, that his life cannot be subjected to the wishes and plans of his parents, that, ultimately, he belongs to himself and to no one else, except the Universal Life.
This advice indubitably demands mastery of a very subtle skill. To treat people close to us as complete strangers is impossible and unnatural. However, if we cultivate this attitude we'll find the golden mean: love for a child will lose any potential possessiveness or excess. If we follow the advice of treating our friends as strangers and strangers as close friends we'll win everyone's heart.
If we want a particular project to succeed we should do everything we can to make things work but without feeling this gives us the moral right to expect positive results: we should do what we can whilst realizing that we can never have the last word in the way things turn out.
Increasing or decreasing the relative significance of something, raising or lowering the plank, is the art of controlling ourselves. Wisdom is knowing or, to be more exact, having an unerring sense of when we should do which. Can we learn how to do this? It's unlikely we can perfect the skill, but we can certainly improve it a great deal.
Forget Yourself and Be You
We moved to a different town when I was fifteen. I found I couldn't make friends with anyone at school and, although I tried to be sociable, I often couldn't think of anything to say. I'm at college now and find it just as difficult. I make myself talk to people because I feel that I can't say nothing the whole time. It's odd that in my previous school I had friends, only two, it's true, but we were very close and I was never at a loss for things to say when I was with them. But now, even when I feel I'd like to tell someone something, it never seems to ring true. I find it impossible to say anything simply. I can sense everyone's hostility and I'm sure they all say nasty things about me behind my back. However hard I try to be more interesting and to stop being pretentious it doesn't help in the least, there's a total lack of communication. I seem to be keeping an eye on myself the whole time. You're almost certain to advise me to "be myself". But I've been trying to be that for years now, although I don't know what "I" am really like. I need friends, but I don't know how to make them. I just play a role all the time instead of "being myself".
People call me egocentric and say I think about myself too much. I know that. You'll probably say I ought to think about other people more, but the trouble is that I don't know how to! I can't, I don't know how to love and can't even like people. How can I make myself like them? Even if I'm nice to someone and help them to cheer up I keep thinking how good I am and wondering how it looks to other people. I'm dried up inside, I don't feel anything at all. How can I go on living like this? ...
Miss Jane S."
I quote your letter: "You'll probably say I ought to think about other people more, but the trouble is that I don't know how to!"
You're quite right, that's my advice exactly! Your predicting my reaction shows you're sensitive to the way people's minds work, that is, you're psychologically aware. This quality is worth developing since thinking about other people in fact means that, whether you like it or not, you can't help being psychologist.
The first thing you have to do, therefore, is believe in yourself in advance.
Strictly speaking, no one can EVER be sure that he sees himself as he really is or that he correctly interprets the way others treat him or what they think about him. This is partly because we only have very limited and often distorted information and, partly, because opinions are some of the most inconstant things imaginable: today we think one thing, tomorrow another, and the day after that we acknowledge that both are correct and think up something completely new as well. Apart from that, if we're being really honest, then more often than not we're not even too sure what we do feel. Can you, for example, say exactly what you think about every single girl in your class?
Why don't you, just as an experiment, make yourself believe that people like you. You say that you had two wonderful friends before which means that you're CAPABLE of communicating and that you CAN GET ON with people. You were able to do so then because you took your friendship for granted, because you believed in it and you neither worried what your friends were thinking about you nor did you try artificially to be more natural and interesting when you were with them; consequently, you were natural and interesting when you were with them; consequently, you were natural and interesting.
It's very easy to understand what happened when you moved to your new school. Like anyone else in new surroundings who's forced to mix with strangers, you were too anxious about the kind of impression you were making. You were in a situation where the opinion of others was going to play an important role in the future. Few of us manage to remain natural and relaxed at such times and most people experience just what you describe: they're over-anxious to "play themselves", they don't know what to say and sense their behaviour doesn't ring true. At the same time, they often think they're incapable of feeling emotion.
I call this a beginner's illusion. It's only an illusion because at least seventy per cent of all these judgements passed by other people, all their sly glances and gossiping behind your back turn out to be sure imagination on your part. The beginner also often feels very transparent, as though everyone can see all his embarrassment and insincerity and can very nearly read his thoughts. In fact, however, no one even suspects what he feels and he actually gives the impression of being quite ordinary or often even slightly mysterious and a little imposing.
Your trouble, Jane, is that this illusion has got a firm hold of you now and has become chronic. You think you're attracting people's attention and that they're constantly talking about you. I'm sure you're quite mistaken, that no one talks about you more than they do about anyone else and that this hostile attitude you're convinced everyone has towards you is simply caused by your unconsciously assuming that others share your own heightened interest in and critical attitude towards yourself (in psychological terms this is called the "projection" of your personality on others, in lay-man's language, it's a question of "the pot calling the kettle black"). You have to get rid of this unconscious self-deception once and for all and as quickly as you can.
"People think I'm nice, they like being with me". This is the kind of autosuggestion you should be making the whole time.
This doesn't mean, of course, that you should be constantly concerned with yourself. The advance of self-confidence you inspire is merely a means of liberation so you can go on to learn by studying yourself.
Try to recall as clearly as possible the relations between you and your two friends and to understand why you were friends. You're likely to come to the conclusion that it's because you had common interests, a similar sense of humour, perhaps, and agreed on several important issues. You're even more likely to feel it's because you shared various feelings and moods and had a similar attitude to other people and the world in general. You're sure to find that your friendship was based on trust, a special kind of trust which made it possible for each of you to tell the others her most cherished secrets, and to believe in them as much as or even more than herself. It was also built on sincerity, spontaneity and probably something else which is difficult to describe, a certain responsiveness, a consonance of personality, or even telepathy. When you were with one of your friends you both felt at times that, without saying anything and without any effort at all, the barriers dividing you were being pulled down and you were dissolving into each other.
It's surely no accident that people have for centuries called their best friend their alter ego ("other self"). I'm sure that, without realizing it, you acted as each other's psychologist or doctor. You didn't have any more formal knowledge about psychology than you do now, but you nevertheless did an important job and thought about each other just as a professional psychologist would nave done.
There's no doubt that some people are better at this than others: even if you take two very good friends you'll see that one plays a more active role as a psychologist, one sets the tone and the other harmonises, one suffers and the other suffers with him, although all this varies all the time, of course, depending on the situation. But I want to point out that the talent for mixing with people and making friends is based on a highly developed ability to sympathise with others (an ability we all possess to some degree).
Let's us consider for a while this feeling you have that a part of you is keeping an eye on the rest of you the whole time, a feeling which haunts you and stops you acting spontaneously. You shouldn't be afraid of it, although there's no point in trying to get rid of it until it's ready to go away of its own accord. But it's still worth attempting to find out just what causes it and what exactly it is. I don't think I'm far wrong in saying it's your internal judge who works according to the principles of someone whose attitudes you share. It's the Internal Other You, that is, the essence of Other People within you which has gradually developed over the years. It's the sum of all your conversations, all the books you've read, the films you've seen, and the experience you've had. It's your moral values, your conscience, irony and self-awareness. It's you yourself.
But, since this Other You formed from your experience of the outside world is nevertheless a part of you, why is it so isolated? Why does it have its own separate existence? Why is it against you instead of fusing with you and helping you?
The answer can again be found in your own experience. The point is that this Internal Other You is constantly seeking its double in other people (that is the External Other You, the part of you reflected in other people), in order to fuse and identify with her: this is simply the way we're built and is probably one of the basic laws of human psychology. The Internal Other You was created from other real people and strives to re-identify with them. Till then, it's isolated and ill at ease and that's why it gives you a hard time. You never noticed it when you were with your friends because it could find itself in them and dissolved in them just as your disembodied reflection in a window fuses into you as you approach. Your importunate inner inspector will quit you the minute the Internal Other You starts to feel at one with someone you meet, in other words, can identify with the External Other You in them.
Sociability begins with paying attention to people, but in the right kind of way: you should neither be looking at them with the aim of finding fault, nor to compare yourself
You should forget yourself and keep your attention fixed on them constantly in the way a musician performs or listens to music. I recall that the well-known pianist, Heinrich Neuhaus, who had some great musicians among his pupils, never had any sympathy for anyone who suffered from what seems to be perfectly understandable nerves and tension when playing in public. He felt that this was a great offence to music and that it was a punishment for thinking about oneself performing music rather than about the music itself.
This holds true when you're talking to other people and, in fact, in any situation. Many of us will readily agree that other people are often too concerned with what they are themselves saying rather than with the conversation itself. But it's not so easy to find someone prepared to admit that they do nothing themselves.
The main difficulty is that its hard to see just what position we're adopting when entering a conversation. This involves a great deal: whether we're feeling hostile or friendly, critical or full of admiration towards the other participants, whether we're concentrating on ourselves or others, whether we're out to win a point or don't mind letting someone else win, whether we want to rise in people's estimation or to humble ourselves.
It's very easy to have delusions about the way we mix with others. Some people are full of energy and sociable, and sincerely believe that they've a deep understanding of human nature and are altruistic benefactors of mankind. They enthusiastically lecture, advise and persuade their acquaintances how they should live, poke their noses into
other people's business and tell long jokes at parties without suspecting that everyone is exceedingly tired of them. They simply DON'T SEE the people they're addressing and,
consequently, can't see themselves in a true light.
We can, perhaps, adopt any one of three approaches when entering a conversation.
The first is best called "isolation" and is what we see most of the time on buses and trains, at work and at home: someone is surrounded by other people but isn't paying them the slightest attention. He's engrossed in his own affairs and is totally indifferent as to whether others notice him or not. This is what actors call "public solitude" rather than communication. It's a common enough attitude which will never help you understand other people.
The second we shall call the "stage": someone knows, sees, or thinks that others are paying attention to him: a child asked to give an answer at school, a teacher standing in front of class, a woman welcomed home from work by her family, a young lad who starts pushing through a crowd, a woman wearing a new dress, an actor in a play. The person in question feels either elated or uncomfortable, depending on whether be thinks he's earning approval or criticism. In either case, however, he feels divided. On the one hand he's dependent on the surrounding world and looks for imagines or comments about himself; on the other, his attention remains fixed on himself: he's worried if he's doing something wrong, what he looks like or if he's succeeding and wastes considerable energy playing out his role whilst remaining conscious of being under constant observation. Clearly, even if he acts his role brilliantly he can still see others only very dimly and perceives them merely as an approving or disapproving accessory to his own self. Anyone on this "stage" is, therefore, unable to understand the wishes and points of view of others.
The third approach is that of "address" and it can take two forms.
The first is straightforward observation. 'A' looks at and studies 'B', trying to understand him whilst remaining at a distance, that is, as a detective might investigate the accused or as a biologist examines some new microbe he comes across.
The second form involves sharing another's experience. 'A' doesn't simply observe 'B', he actively sympathises with him and tries to make his own thoughts, breathing, heartbeat, movements and attitude harmonise with 'B' 's mood. This is the way a fascinated audience watches a successful actor, or good friends or people in love relate to each other.
In this case you can forget yourself when talking to others. You're accepted as you are and there's no need to prove yourself: you're not playing a role and your attention is focused outside yourself, on the Other Person.
In practice, all these approaches overlap and change as a matter of course. In general we seek company with our fellows in order to see others and to be seen. However, some of us are evidently more anxious to observe, others to be observed (or not to be observed which comes to the same in the end), whilst others are completely indifferent and isolated. Some of us are cold observers, others warmly sympathise with anyone in trouble.
Clearly, therefore, you now have to try to change your attitude towards mixing with people from the "stage" to one of "address", that is, to one of observing and sympathising with others. The question is how this should be done.
Here's a simple but fascinating exercise which you can practise anywhere and at any time. Suppose, for example, you're sitting in the underground or on a bus and there's someone opposite you engrossed in his newspaper. Start to study him. People are used to being quietly observed by their fellow travellers so there's no need to worry: the important thing is how you look at him. Your attention should be directed on him alone. Though concentrating, you should be completely relaxed and shouldn't be trying to understand, guess or find out anything about him. On the contrary, you should simply open yourself up to the flow of his thoughts as manifested in his pose, movements, facial expression, breathing, etc. Let everything flow calmly into you. You'll find that this approach, rather than a tense effort to "penetrate" someone's mind, is the most effective way of Observing. Lazanov, a Bulgarian scientist working on suggestion, calls this the spectator state since it's how we sit watching the TV, a film or a play; it's how we make ourselves ready to share another's experiences and to be receptive to new information. Don't be afraid to relax and open yourself up. If you should suddenly want to imitate the person you're concentrating on, to frown as he does or to tap your fingers impatiently on your bag, don't fight the desire, but don't cultivate it specially either.
Don't be surprised if you suddenly want to stand up for no apparent reason: the person opposite you has nearly missed his stop, suddenly jumped up and is hurrying to the door.
Some of my patients who have difficulty in talking to people have used variants of this exercise with significant results and now find it much easier to mix. If you are not frightened to let the personalities of people you meet everyday impress themselves on you in this way without trying to resist them, you find much less difficulty in talking to people. You understand them better and more quickly than before and they are correspondingly warmer to you. Once you've made this your usual attitude you'll realize that all the right words, ideas and feelings just seem to appear of their own accord without any effort on your part.
You write that you don't know how to love and can't even like people and want to know how to force yourself to do so. It's about as hopeless trying to make yourself like someone as it is to turn winter into summer. However, it's easy and extremely important to develop an INTEREST in others. The one reason why you don't know how to like people and haven't fallen in love with anyone is because you've never taken a real interest in anyone. Interest is a very useful attitude to have towards people and one with no strings attached. You can take an interest in friends or enemies or simply in strangers and you'll be sure to gain from the experience. Interest doesn't presuppose liking, but liking or love presupposes interest, just as soil exists without plants but plants don't without soil. Many people, however, claim to love someone without being interested in him; in such cases they're not in love with a person but with an idea, an image, a figment of their own imagination which, as a rule, leads to bitter disillusionment.
You may well object that parents know that they're carefully studied by their children, that any teacher has no doubt that he's closely observed by his pupils, that doctors feel they're examined by their patients and psychiatrists that they' re being psychoanalysed themselves by tee people they're psychoanalysing. Whether we're friends or enemies, old or young, clever or stupid, we study each other every day. (How many times do you hear phrases like "I know him," "I don't know him", "Just wait, you don't know me yet".) This is all quite true, but the amazing fact remains that few people are really interested in others, without an ulterior motive, at least.
Become a secret psychologist. Every day, whether you're talking to people or not, keep repeating to yourself the following ideas, soak them up and make them central to your way of thinking:
"I neither know anything about people (or a particular, person nor understand them (him) but I want to do so. I'm longing to do so and from now on I'm going to concentrate exclusively on Other People. That's the most important and the most interesting thing of all for me now. Every day I shall ask myself dozens of questions about other people and I'll try to understand everyone I meet: what keeps someone going; what his values are; what he wants; what he's aiming for. What's his character like and what's he good at? How does be sleep? How does his mind work and what does he feel about things? What's contradictory in his behaviour? What's just superficial and what's for real? Which parts of his character bas he inherited from his parents, his work and other external influences and which are innately his own? What does he think of himself and what does he pride himself on? What field does he hope to excel in and what does he really want to do? When is he insincere and when natural and frank? Why does he relate to people in general and to that person in particular in the way he does?
When is he realistic and when is he deluding himself? What's his life likely to be like in the next few days and in the long-term future? What does that gesture, smile, remark or silence of his mean? In what ways is he like other people, a certain person, myself? Do I already know someone else like him?
Every second of my attention is directed exclusively on an Other Person and his attitude to me is interesting only because it shows a little more of his character and not for any other reason."
Be a secret psychologist and start today. You are probably wondering: why all the secrecy: why should you try to conceal the fact that you are studying people?
The point is not to be underhand, but tactful since it can be extremely annoying if someone keeps trying to understand you deeply. However, if you simply pay attention to others, you will begin to understand and soon be surprised at the mass of things you unexpectedly discover about others and yourself.
I was recently lucky enough to be introduced to the head of a kindergarten, a warm, energetic and charming woman who, perhaps, is more ready to sympathise with others than anyone I've met before. "I never did like children", she said in passing. "What do you mean?" I exclaimed, surprised. "Just that, I never liked them, that is, until I started to work with them."
When Necessity Isn't Enough
A Few Special Cases
Water is necessary for human life: we can't survive two days without it. It's necessary, but is it alone sufficient to sustain life?
You'll probably think the question ridiculous since it's so obvious that we need other things too: air, food, and a lot more besides. However, the fact that we need these additional things in no way undermines water's absolute significance.
The difference between necessity and sufficiency seems quite plain when we're dealing with concrete things, but the concepts tend to be confused when we start to consider things we can neither see nor feel but which are none the less real for that: our mental processes. Some people understand that AT is necessary for them; but they find it difficult to accept that AT alone is insufficient to solve their problems. "Ah, so you've admitted it at last, AT's insufficient! So what's the point of going on about it any more?"
Once again this desire for a universal panacea; once again the refusal to accept that life is complex. Many of us are quick to lose faith in a realistic treatment simply because it doesn't provide unrealistic results. On the other hand, however, it's equally counterproductive to lay all our stakes on AT as our one chance of salvation, to see it as a golden key to all the doors of happiness, since wild hopes of this kind can also take their revenge: AT itself becomes supersignificance No. 1 and we leave ourselves open to the paradox of supersignificance with all its usual little tricks.
Let's consider a few letters of a less inspiring nature than most of those quoted previously. One of the correspondents started experiencing a ringing in his ears and a pounding at the back of his head whilst practising AT; another thought something was affecting his breathing, panicked, called an ambulance and spent some time in hospital; a third found he had spasms in his left leg whenever he tried relaxing, "I've had to give AT up, but I don't see how I can manage without it…"
All these unfortunate cases exhibit the following common "symptoms": the aim in practising AT is not clearly defined and too superficial a preliminary self-analysis; excessive attention paid to particular exercises at the cost of an overall understanding of the nature of AS;
a narrow-minded, unimaginative approach;
deep-seated mistrust in general and subconscious fear during AT combined with an overriding desire to "overcome" himself at all costs;
a fair amount of egocentrism and a lack of real interest in life and other people.
What's the solution?
Simply to correct everything listed above and to stop treating AT as a panacea. There's no point in giving AT up if you feel a need for it, just approach it differently. If during certain exercises you experience an unpleasant sensation which is subsequently repeated, then there's no sense in stubbornly battling on; reassess your aims and try different exercises. AT techniques are infinitely flexible.
If your body reacts badly to your paying it too much attention, then don't: simply suggest general calm and devise a formula fitting the state of mind you hope to achieve. Indirectly this will have a positive effect on your body.
A few nervous diseases are exceptional in that specific symptoms of the illness can come to light during AT exercises. For example, a woman suffering from diffuse encephalomyelitis found that she suffered cramp in her calves when suggesting heaviness, and headaches when fixating the forefinger of her left band, although there was no side effect from the right. Evidently this case illustrates the disease's peculiarities in transmitting nervous impulses. I suggested that, instead of static concentration, she used dynamic methods of relaxation like "the sliding pendulum" with massage and AS of lightness. This soon gave positive results and she felt much better and could move more easily. Even serious cerebral diseases do not preclude AS if it is carried out in a sensible manner.
"You're Calm, He's Calm…"
"Dear Dr. Levi,
I'm eighteen and, at the moment, I'm working as a lab technician in a local school, although I'm going on with chemistry at the Tech. I read your book a few months ago and was immediately interested by AT. You see, up to three or four years ago I was tremendously shy, neurotic and irritable.
I'm now doing AT to keep fit and generally to improve the way I feel mentally and physically. I suggest that I'm healthy and calm, and that my heartbeat's strong and steady. I do AT twice (sometimes only once) a day: before going to sleep at night and mid-afternoon. I find I can't concentrate very well in the mornings. I do micro-AT when I'm feeling tired or tense.
Relaxing helps my anxiety a great deal.
To relax I say "You're calm and relaxed. Your muscles are like jelly". It also helps if I talk to myself as though I'm someone else, for example, "You're calm, I'm calm, he's calm". I say this a few times very slowly and with pauses. I always relax my face first because I've very tense around the eyes, especially my left one. I can manage to smooth the tenseness away with my hands, but it all comes back as soon as I stop. When I'm relaxing my face I say "my face is calm, my skin's smooth, my forehead's cool, my cheeks are soft and warm". To get my breathing right I breathe out through my nose and mouth together, getting gradually slower so I calm down.
When my face is relaxed I suggest warmth and heaviness all over my body. It took me six weeks to do this. During AT itself I suggest that "I'm calm, unhurried, I'm not frightened of anything, I' am alert but calm, I'm feeling well".
Every week I review all I've done and decide what to do the following week. I also try to determine what I really feel about recent events. AT is now essential for me and I can see that it's a good way to train your will-power and get peace of mind.
I'd be very grateful if you'd advise me how to get rid of the tension in my face.
Here are some more exercises for relaxing your face: shut your eyelids and move your eyes very slowly up and down and from side to side; open your eyes and gaze out into the distance; suggest to yourself, "I'm smiling slightly to myself"; consciously relax your lower jaw and your eyelids will relax involuntarily. Don't be upset if these exercises don't seem to have any effect, simply concentrate on general relaxation and it'll right itself. It would be very helpful if you could find out exactly what it is that makes you so tense; then you could work at avoiding it altogether with AT and self-analysis. These facial tensions may be so persistent because you're still anxious about something: you may not feel completely comfortable with other people yet, or you may still be far too dependent on others. However, judging from the progress you're making I think everything will soon come right. I hope you'll find AT a help for life!
"…The Second Me Still Puts Up
the Occasional Fight…"
"Dear Dr. Levi,
I've been like this for a long time now. Looking back, I can see it all happened very gradually. Shyness was partly to blame and probably a lot of other things besides. It's finally reached the stage when I'm frightened to go anywhere on my own, even to work or just down the road to the shops. I can't travel in connection with my work unless there’s someone with me and even then it's a terrific effort and I'm always totally drained for some time after I get back home.
I'm just terrified the whole time that something's going to happen to me: I'll suddenly go mad, or have a haemorrhage or heart attack in the street. It is all rubbish of course, but it's been like this for ten years now.
I don't think I can stand it any longer. I simply haven't the strength to go on struggling. It's a tremendous effort every morning to get to work in the first place and then I'm constantly on edge in case I can't get out of inspecting a building site on my own (I'm a senior construction engineer). After all, I can't tell anyone what's the matter can I! It's so ridiculous!
I can feel there are two people in me. The First Me understands everything and knows exactly when I should do. He realizes that it's all just an obsession and that there's nothing to be afraid of and keeps telling me I should just go out on my own and stop being frightened about nothing. But the Second Me always stops me: he's terrified of something the whole time.
Do you think I can overcome this? I so want to be free of it all and to be a person again.
I've just been offered promotion. It's the perfect job for me but I can't take it! I realize there’s just no point because it would involve my travelling round the country from time to time.
I've consulted various psychiatrists and even had a course of hypnosis about nine years ago. This helped me understand what the trouble really was but the obsessional fears remained.
My wife persuaded me to go to the doctor again five years later, and went with me. I just tell her I get very bad headaches because I daren’t tell her the whole truth.
The doctor gave me some tablets but after talking to him I realized that nothing's really going to help me. The tablets had no effect whatsoever. Please help.
"Dear Mr. B.,
I think you're extremely brave to have kept up fighting for so long; you'll never give in now, you can be sure of that.
Clearly the Second You is a neurotic who needs help, whilst the First You should be supported as much as possible.
You can continue to try different drugs under the supervision of your local doctor (preferably not the one who depressed you so much). There's no point in losing
your faith too soon in either tablets or people and the more things you try the more chance you have of hitting on the drug that works; once you do, you'll need only very little. But don't worry if nothing seems to be right: it's not vital.
The main thing is to let the understanding part of you take full control. His mistake up to now has been that he's been in too much of a hurry; he's wanted to break the
Second You at one go. But this neurotic's too cunning, strong and sharp for that: first of all you'll have to lull him into a sense of false security. Be satisfied with very
small victories at first: a short walk from home, just down the road in the evening, say, but on your own. Go a little further away each day.
Don't expect wonders overnight, but don't despair if you have any failures either. Every new bit of progress will be easier than the last. I'm sure you'll succeed in sorting yourself out.
Relaxation will help: free your muscles and your breathing and suggest warmth in your whole body well before you start anything that's going to be difficult. Go out alone protected by your relaxation!
Be diplomatic, be an understanding psychotherapist: don't try persuading yourself that you're not frightened, that it' s all rubbish and that you should be ashamed of yourself. Try to accept that your fear exists and look on it objectively as an interesting medical case. It's very important to describe to yourself in words exactly how you're feeling at any moment. You shouldn't be too frightened or ashamed to tell someone about your problem: there's absolutely nothing to be ashamed of and it always helps to get things off your chest!
"Dear Dr. Levi,
I wanted to tell you the good news as quickly as possible. I went on the first trip in my new job and won! I was just a little frightened on the first day but the rest of the time I felt quite all right.
I've been doing deep relaxation every day for over three months now: a short session often minutes before work and then forty minutes when I get home in the evening. Going for a walk in a semi-relaxed state is a real joy! I stopped taking tryptosol a month ago.
The second me still puts up the occasional fight, of course, but I've got him more or less pinned down now.
AT's given me another chance to live!
Mr. B. "
Prepare for a Rainy Day
Many of us do this in a variety of ways: children who take an interest in anything and everything under the sun; couples who have several children; people who collect things, keep pets and have hobbies; someone devoted to the arts or science or who has any real interest; even people we often criticise for a lack of staying-power, dilettantism or a frivolous attitude to life.
The idea's clear enough: everyone needs an emergency supply of things which have significance for him. Anyone who's optimistic has a range of things he values and he can easily hop onto another when one fails him. Those of us who are rational or phlegmatic choose something of supervalue with the cool eye of an experienced housewife deciding which carrots to buy, and then carefully preserve it in a jar of common sense. It's not so easy, however, for people of a melancholic or choleric turn of mind. For them, everything is serious and for keeps, and the pendulum of their emotions is predisposed to extremes. If something of supervalue for them (love or their work, for example) ends in disaster, they're likely to suffer from what in psychiatry is called "depressive veil".
The supervalue turned sour sweeps through their minds like fire, instantly consuming from within everything that was important to them before. Things get out of perspective and their aims, spiritual needs and interests disappear: they lose all reason for living.
Wisdom is the skill of knowing how to play games of self-control. It's the courage to make up your own reality and to believe in it without delusions, just as children and actors manage to believe sincerely that their play is genuine, that it is reality. We all need fantasy and illusions. The important thing is that we are in control of them, not the reverse, and can use them to be ourselves.
It would be hard to estimate just how many of us are victims of their imagination and how many of their lack of it, or to establish which is the greater tragedy, a fateful supervalue turned sour (a negative supervalue) or a fateful absence of any positive supervalue. I was recently talking to a young girl of eighteen who'd very nearly succeeded in her suicide attempt after she'd been jilted by her first boyfriend. I immediately imagined him as a complacent lady-killer off to his next conquest although, in fact, he was simply a very conceited young lad who'd suddenly remembered he ought to be studying for his exams. The diagnosis was that she was a perfectly normal girl with a "serious attachment", that is, her conscious mind had simply been limited by being concentrated on the supervalue of her feelings for the young man until she finally got everything totally out of proportion. It's hard to know what to advise in such cases: you can hardly tell someone to be a bit more careful in choosing whom they love.
Rational arguments lack conviction and any advice seems trivial when someone has a supervalue, when he's in love, or has some other reason for living. When, however, someone has nothing of particular importance in his life, he's filled with hopelessness. There's no point in anything for him, no point in living. The realization that the meaning of life is to a large extent a matter of our own choice can be our salvation at moments when despair threatens.
A Strange Charm, or Thanks in Anticipation
(From a letter to a patient)
"…In an earlier letter I mentioned that we actually suggest to other people the way they are to treat us: we subconsciously EXPECT them to treat us in a certain way and they consequently do. This exchange of non-verbal, subconscious communication takes place faster than we can think.
Experiment a little and you'll find out for yourself how this works. Before going to meet people at various times tryout either one of the following AS:
1. I know you don't have a very high opinion of me. I'm not expecting anything other than ridicule and I shall try to answer you in the same spirit.
2. I know you're fond of me, I'm infinitely grateful to you and enjoy your company. You'll soon realize that both are equally effective when you're on neutral soil, that is, when you're meeting people for the first time and no one knows anything about you (for example, you enter a train compartment with three total strangers in it). Your mood immediately creates an atmosphere and you can feel people respond in the same vein. You'll also discover that, if strong enough, your AS can, in fact, alter an existing atmosphere: it can ruin an excellent relationship or help you smooth over an ugly confrontation.
Irrespective of anyone or anything, the important thing for you to remember, feel and believe is:
A source of energy!
A radiating source!
When you meet someone you immediately fall within the range of his psychological radiation, and whichever of you has the stronger mood will set the overall tone of the conversation!
If you watch carefully it's not hard to see that some people are entirely dependent on the mood of those they're with. Others, on the contrary, are independent and stable and they, therefore, do the influencing. Consequently, the stronger the AS you make, the less dependent you are on others and the greater your influence. Everyone creates his own charisma and shines with his own sun. The more powerful the source, the more impressive the light:
A source of energy and light!
The secret of people with charm who are easy to get on with and who always seem to be in the company of equally pleasant, generous and helpful people is that they instinctively make a positive AS in advance which creates a welcoming atmosphere. The sad fact that people who are themselves nervy, defensive and generally hard to get on with are unfortunate in their acquaintance can thus be explained by their expecting an unpleasant reception. It's only possible to see and sympathise with other people if you're well-disposed and direct a welcoming warmth to them: only then can the floodgates of communication swing open. Anyone with a defensive attitude (even if he appears to be smiling sweetly) is simply physiologically incapable of correctly assessing the mood of the people around him and will invariably distort their reactions.
I observed four well-known comedians in order to discover the secret of their charm which manages to hold audiences spellbound. I also wanted to find out why I was still drawn to two of them although I basically dislike their repertoire. I eventually understood all four of them overflow with the assurance that they'll be well received, although they have no reason to expect success: THEY THANK THE AUDIENCE IN ADVANCE. They begin their act with what we logically expect to come at the end and walk on stage with a happy, triumphant smile of success, with an expression of reluctance at parting and a promise to meet again soon. (This is the technique we use for crossing marshy land, that is, we first of all lay down a plank and then start to move ourselves. The element of moral blackmail in the phrase which we so often find in written requests or enquiries, "Thanking you in anticipation", is also reminiscent of this approach.
I wanted to find out what these four comedians were really like and how they related to people offstage. I discovered one of them was just the same cheerful extravert he was on stage; two of them seemed to be fairly ordinary without any special charisma; the fourth, however, the most talented and popular of them all, was apparently cynical and egocentric in his personal life. At the time I thought that he'd simply managed to perfect his profession, but it may, in fact, be that he's really being himself on stage and the rest of the time he's hiding behind a defensive mask. In any case, I continue to marvel at his performances and when watching him I still find it impossible to accept that he's not being sincere. I know from my own experience that when you're convinced in advance that people are going to like you and blindly believe what you say then your expectations will soon be realized. If you fall in love with someone recklessly, naively, without expecting anything to come of it and without hoping to awake reciprocal feelings you end up being loved unconditionally in turn. Life seems to smile on those who believes everything will go well: all we need to do is to be bold and forgetful of ourselves. If, like Orpheus, we hesitate and look back, then we're lost completely.
A Way Out at Hand
I feel psychotherapy shouldn't need advertising: it's chief aim should be to rid people of their illusions and to help them to calmly and bravely face the reality of their life. The same obviously goes for a psychotherapeutic book. I least of all want to seduce the reader with the inevitable benefits AT will bring and to close his/her eyes to the difficulties involved. Consequently, all these tales of success are simply intended to show by using some examples that progress really is possible and how it can be achieved. (I could, in fact, publish a whole book of such letters, especially since I receive even more telling of only partial success and requesting guidance as how to progress further.) There are, of course, letters of a different kind, far fewer, it's true, but they exist nonetheless and I'd quote them here too if I weren't conscious of the need to protect the feelings of the more mistrustful readers who are always a little too eager to take everything as personal criticism, to be infected by others' misfortunes and to fall victim to negative AS. Ninety-nine people pass by the familiar NO WAY OUT signs without a second thought other than, perhaps, mild annoyance at having to carry the shopping a little further; for the hundredth, however, it's the last straw: he/she understands that the inoffensive information is addressed to him personally, proving beyond a shadow of doubt the hopelessness of his situation. For the sake of this one per cent, therefore, signs should be more considerate, pointing out that the WAY OUT is TO THE LEFT or TO THE THE RIGHT: that A WAY OUT IS AT HAND.
I doubt very much that any book can satisfy everyone. This book is criticised by some for "being too short and far too complicated; by others for being too long and elementary. I feel both views are justifiable since there's always room for improvement and everyone has his own criteria for judgement. I'd even say that I probably know better than most just how far and in what areas it falls short of its aims.
However, if we ignore all the book's actual faults, whether I'm aware of them or not, then the remaining reasons why it's been unable to help or at least to help sufficiently well some readers can be summed up in the following way:
1. Poor reading. See Chapter 1, "How not to read this book". However, there may be other reasons why, with the best will in the world, we fail to assimilate material: bad concentration at the time of reading; simply the inability to comprehend the information and apply it to ourselves; poor general education needed to put things in perspective. This is, of course, unfortunate, but then books are written to be read over and over again.
2. The problems covered by the book have no or only distant connection with ours. In such cases as, for example, constant failure to find work we like or a satisfactory partner in marriage, an old and bitter rift between parents and children, an incurable illness or disablement, the book can only help us to reassess our attitude towards the situation. A change in attitude can, of course, lead to a change in the situation itself.
3. We may incorrectly or only partly understand ourselves, others and our problems and consequently we put all our efforts in the wrong direction. For instance, not realizing that the roots of his depression and his fear and difficulty in talking and getting on with people lie in his egocentrism, ignorance of others and lack of interests, someone may well decide be simply lacks "push" and personal "charisma" and hastily try to suggest these with the help of AT, usually with little success. In order to help fairly frequent mistakes of this kind I have consistently added to this section of the book.
4. Careful reading and a realistic view of ourselves and the problem but our condition at the given moment is such that we simply require help of a different kind (see chapter 1, "unallayed darkness" and "rare flashes of light"). This doesn't mean that the book is unable to help at all, not at the present critical period, perhaps, but it can subsequently, when other treatment begins to take effect.
5. We're set on outside help and do not want to help ourselves. The most hopeless category of all, on a par with those who refuse all help. However, I try not to assign anyone to this group until I've tried everything to awaken in him a desire for independent action and faith in himself.
"I Said to Myself: I Can Do It"
"Dear Dr. Levi,
I'm 28 and work as a fitter for an engineering firm. I haven't started practicing AT regularly yet because I'm not sure I've enough will-power to discipline myself sufficiently well. I'm frightened of letting myself down… But I must have read your book at least 5 times and go back to it the moment I feel my life's getting out of hand. It's already helped me change totally in some respects. My family life and work still leave a lot to be desired but I'm much more sure of myself now and much less affected when things go wrong than I was earlier; I can get myself back to normal more quickly, too, and I seem to be more open-minded about things and more understanding with other people. After all, we’re basically so very much the same!
The major boost to my self confidence came from my giving up smoking and drinking. Before I used to get stoned at least three times a week and was beginning to feel I needed to: when I hadn't had a drink for a time I started feeling tense, irritable, depressed and incapable of holding a normal conversation. So I decided to stop. The New Year before last I said to myself: "I can do it", and I didn't have a drink the whole holiday, to everyone’s great surprise, of course, although I was probably the liveliest one of the lot. I haven't had a drop for over a year now although I've had plenty of opportunity. I feel a completely different person. My memory and powers of perception have improved enormously, I've rejoined the English evening classes I'd stopped going to and have started a bit of sport again (swimming and weightlifting), though not regularly, I'm afraid. I'm still not organised or self-disciplined enough for that. I'd like to be really decisive and throw in my work because it doesn't interest me in the least and never has. Then I'd like to apply as a mature student for a biology degree, but I don't reckon I'd be able to cope without AT. What would you advise me to start an AT course with (I'm sure you've understood me by now) and what should I pay most attention to?
Congratulations! Giving up smoking and drinking is a great personal victory. I disagree with your saying that you haven't started AT yet: you're already using it intuitively, subconsciously, to help what you're trying to achieve consciously. I'm delighted my book has been able to help you. Re-reading it you've assimilated positive information which your subconscious has then taken control of, thereby strengthening the positive values you'd discovered on your own. You already use a lot of AT correction in your attitude to yourself and others and it's not that important that none of this fits into routine practising: the results are the important thing.
If, however, you've decided to practise AT regularly then I think that, apart from muscle relaxation, you'd find it useful to concentrate on the Echo-Magnet. This will help your future studies in particular. You'll find the need for any other particular exercises or techniques will appear as you go along. Trust yourself, you're ready now to do a lot and you can already manage much more than you think.
"Don't Be Afraid, It'll Pass"
I fell ill shortly after the birth of my son. I just seemed to break down completely, with a psychological disorder and trouble in with my heart, stomach, liver and kidneys. The slightest movement gave me intense pain. I couldn't sleep. (I'll omit the details, V.L.). I had four years of nothing but doctors and hospitals. I must have taken everything and tried everything… I lost my job, of course, and went on sickness benefit; my husband left me and the baby had to spend periods in a home since I just couldn't cope. I made two attempts on my life. Psychotherapists tried hypnosis but, apparently, I'm not a good subject. They kept telling me to pull myself together, but couldn't actually tell me how I should go about doing so!
Your book literally saved me and I'd like to explain how. One day only two weeks after I'd started AT I was successfully suggesting warmth and heaviness for only the second time when I suddenly felt as though I was floating away. I experienced a pleasant kind of fear and, for a few moments, a sensation of being totally divorced from my body. Then I felt I was being lifted up on a soft cloud and I could hear in the back of my head a man's low, familiar voice whispering, "Don't be afraid, it'll pass". (A hallucination perhaps?) After that I must have dozed off for what seemed a long time, although when I came to it was only half an hour later. I was amazed to find that all the unpleasant sensations I'd had in my stomach and chest had completely disappeared and the pleasant heaviness, a bit like the weakness I'd felt after giving birth, lasted for the rest of the day. My kidneys started working properly. For the first time in four years I went to sleep without sleeping tablets, the minute my bead touched the pillow, in fact, and I slept deeply for ten and a half hours. Next morning I felt like a new person: a magic lightness that was almost too good to be true! Later in the day I began to get a little tense and to have a few doubts about what had happened. So I tried "warmth and heaviness" again and again floated off. I then felt I was being lifted on a cloud but this time without any fear and without the voice: I just dissolved in semi-oblivion. After that there was the pleasant weakness again, although less marked, and an amazingly clear head. That night I slept soundly for eight hours and woke up feeling full of energy and eager to get down to some work... From then on I reduced the periods of relaxation to 15-20 minutes; the sense of floating and rising began to weaken and soon disappeared. I simply felt a deep pleasant drowsiness and a sensation of being only half conscious which wasn't like ordinary dozing because I was aware the whole time of a benevolent force controlling my mind and body. I know that this is the power of AS I acquired thanks to your book. (…)
I'm now back at work and am enjoying looking after my son. I'm trying to avoid other aspects of my personal life for a while yet, although a few opportunities have arisen. I go swimming three times a week and, whatever the weather, every weekend I take my little boy to the woods which are fortunately very close to where we live. I do so wish that everyone who's now going through the same nightmare as me could have the chance to learn about all AT can do!
This didn't demand much of a reply. It contains a fairly typical description of deep self-hypnotic relaxation and autogenous discharge which brought release from continuous nervous tension. The Voice wasn't a hallucination. It was the concentrated internal expression of something N had been desperately striving towards in her subconscious mind for a long time: the subjective formulation of her AS which may have been involuntarily joined by other suppressed desires. This is a case of someone curing herself of a serious neurosis accompanying depression and various severe physical disorders. Deep relaxation induced a cathartic crisis similar to those preceding recovery from serious infections; after this N's mind and body began to intensively reestablish their own natural balance.
Misunderstanding the Pendulums
"Doctor, what about our pendulums? In your book you say that after feeling cheerful we're bound to be miserable, after laughter they'll be tears, after jubilation, panic, and after "!!!" they'll always be "…". So what should you do? Try to feel as little as possible the whole time, just in case? I was always a little inclined to do this before but after reading your book I've been terrified to feel the least bit happy, to laugh or even smile, I'm frightened of loving anyone and I've forgotten what it is to be cheerful: I'm hopelessly depressed. I'm wondering if I might have got something wrong? Please help.
Yes, you have misunderstood things a little. It's true that if our pendulums have swung into a sphere of positive emotion or tone, then a deflection in the opposite direction may follow and the magnitude of the swing may be reflected. But this is only a tendency which is affected by a lot of other things as well. We all possess very powerful mechanisms for regulating these swings and this makes it possible to neutralize them and hold them from other extreme, thus allowing us to feel quite normal and lead an ordinary life. These regulators work automatically, that is, unconsciously, or we can control them consciously if we like by AS or by changing our routine.
Remember that "pendulum" is only a term, an analogy. Our biopendulums are infinitely more complex than purely mechanical ones; they can remain in one sphere for only a short time, even if we're holding them there consciously. For example, it's quite understandable that the better we sleep the more alert and energetic we can expect to feel when we wake up. However, if we sleep more than we need then we'll wake up feeling very tired and lifeless for quite some time and will be tempted back to bed if not actually to sleep.
The main thing, however, is that our mood and tone are not determined by physiological factors alone but also by our attitude to life, ourselves and, indeed, to the role physiology plays. Although we to some extent depend on our pendulums they depend on us, too, and we can regulate them even if they're set off balance by illness or an irregular life-style. AT is one of the methods we can use to harmonise them and you can find out how to do this by reading and re-reading my book. Whether, till then, you should avoid happiness for fear of "retribution", and reject "!!!" because of the risk of "…" is a purely philosophical question. We usually have to pay for everything in life in some way or other, but how much and for what is a matter of personal taste: I, for example, am always prepared to pay a high price, but only for something of quality. In other words, I'm in principle willing to accept both joy and sadness and decide each case on its own merits. The fact that panicking is philosophically indefensible is an infinite source of jubilation for those of us who have understood that it's the result of muddled thinking and poor self-confidence. I sincerely hope you can learn to stop being frightened of love, happiness and laughter, especially since they're not always that common as it is.
Self-Hypnosis with Tapes
"Dear Dr. Levi,
I'm a spinster of 53 and a heavy smoker. I suffer from spasms of my blood vessels and heart. I shan't bother you with all the details, I appreciate that I need to learn how to relieve these spasms without drugs (I'm allergic to most things) and must give up smoking. I believe that auto-suggestion can work and am very responsive to the spoken word. I'd be very grateful if you could tell me how I can best hypnotise myself using tapes. How much time should I devote to auto-suggestion and what are the best formulas to use? Can I do the taping myself or is it better for someone else to do so?
Here, as you requested, is the most effective way of hypnotising yourself with a tape-recorder. Think carefully about the text of the formulas first, write them down and finally tape them.
A plan for practising:
Suggestion of deep relaxation (it's particularly important for you to concentrate on warmth: "relaxed muscles, free breathing, right band warmer, left band warmer, legs warmer"). 5-7 minutes.
Pause for 3-5 minutes for the suggestion to take effect (with slow background music if preferred).
Goal-orientated suggestion ("legs always warm, heart beats evenly, full of warm blood. Tobacco means nothing: calm without cigarettes, joy at clean air"). 5-7 minutes.
Pause 5-10 minutes (music of your own choice if you like).
Suggestion for coming out of relaxation ("tone improving. Active!"). 1-2 minutes.
The whole tape should last for approximately 30 minutes.
You can read the text yourself if your voice doesn't annoy or depress you in any way. If it does, then ask someone whose voice seems suitable to do it for you (you might prefer a man's voice; your doctor's perhaps). It's as important for the voice to be pleasant, or at least acceptable, as it is to have apt formulas and to have good concentration. The formulas should always be pronounced slowly, calmly and distinctly, in an even, assured tone and with slight pauses between phrases but not too long-drawn out. Try to avoid personal pronouns such as "I" or "you" and be as impersonal as possible; "relaxed body, legs obedient, supple"; avoid using negatives ("don't do…") and also the use of the future tense: you're describing a present state. The volume should be a fraction higher or lower than normal speech. I'd advise you to change the tapes after 10-12 hearings or to do 3-5 variants and listen to them in turn.
With confidence in your success,
Get Your Nerves on Your Side
(a letter and commentary)
"I was to read a paper at an important seminar. I'd decided exactly what I wanted to say and knew the material inside out. I knew that if I was going to make a good job of it I'd have to be calm, that is, I'd have to get over my tongue-tying nerves. But I needed more than that. I'd also have to be confident, motivated and a little inspired; I'd have to feel that I had everything under control and that I could think quickly and be resourceful. Overcoming my nerves was only the first stage: you need to be dynamic for public speaking, not relaxed.
I used AT to relax and managed to calm down completely. I then went on to autosuggestion on more or less the following lines:
1. General preparation:
1) "I'm calm and relaxed,
I'm calm and imperturbable, I'm calm and concentrated, I'm calm and organised,
I'm calm and confident,
I'm calm and determined. "
2. Special preparation:
"I feel elated.
My thoughts are clear and precise.
My voice is distinct and expressive. I sound sure of myself.
Each word carries weight and conviction.
I have a good contact with the audience, they're in my power, they're well-disposed towards me.
I control space and time.
My reactions are instantaneous.
I'm ready to deal with any silence or with any surprise questions.
I'm a great success. I spoke brilliantly. Right, off I go…"
Unfortunately I lost contact with the audience even before I stepped up onto the stage. I've no idea how, but those accursed nerves of mine came flooding back and submerged all the brilliant formulas I thought I had managed to enter into so completely. For the first time ten minutes I muttered something in a hopeless monotone, swallowing words, losing the thread of the argument and sensing the whole time that the audience's attention was already far away: I made a complete hash of the whole thing. What should I do now? It's not going to be easy to forget this spectacular failure. It's just one more argument for not having any confidence in myself. Once again my prediction that everything would go wrong proved correct. My accursed subconscious: I must have done something wrong…"
Quite right, the formulas couldn't have been better but for some reason they just didn't work. I know what this is like myself; you can clearly picture your brilliant success beforehand, but when it actually comes to the crunch you go to pieces, you're suddenly no energy left to fight and you put up a pathetic show. The opposite also happens. Some people almost faint with nerves before they have to appear in public but, in some incomprehensible way, they manage to pull themselves together at the vital moment and everything goes perfectly. In either case you can never explain what happens and why it should turn out as it does.
It would perhaps take the experienced eye of a psychologist to notice that there was something missing from your AS of self-confidence, some note of determination, perhaps (the tone which is lacking, for example, from the furious yapping of a little dog which is always too terrified to actually bite). Only a very perceptive observer would recognize in this confidence a frantic attempt to compensate for something, that is, your subconscious trying to hide from you the fact that the opposite is really true. Your "confidence" was either just for show, to fool yourself, not other people, or else it was simply so superficial that it just heaped fresh fuel on the doubt which was smouldering quietly away inside you and which flared up wildly as soon as it felt a breath of reality. When people are nervous in advance but actually give a good performance on the night it's probably because they've a core of very genuine self: confidence hidden deep down inside.
"Now the only thing for me to do is to go back to square one as though nothing had happened, as though I hadn't failed. I mustn't let my confidence flag for a second. I must delve into the recesses of my mind and try to remember what it feels like to succeed. Even I've had a few successes though only minor ones apparently no one's a complete failure all the time! There's no point in religiously repeating formulas if they're not backed up by a basic faith in yourself and the belief that you can succeed. I ought to anticipate and enjoy the taste of success now, before it happens. I must cultivate the belief that I can succeed and try to appear in public as often as possible…"
K.D., university lecturer.
This is more like it. If you recall the discussion of supersignificance and supervalue you'll understand much better how the writer of this letter really feels. His is a typical case of a paradoxical state; thanks to mental and physical relaxation, will-power, toning up, and AT which took his mind off things, he managed to suppress his subconscious fear for a time: "I mustn't do that on any account", the fear of failing, of winning the criticism of those around him and, most pernicious of all, the fear of being afraid.
He has the right approach but this isn't enough on its own: the scales are still weighted too heavily against AT and some kind of additional support is needed, that is, he should try to understand the problem at an intellectual level and this will ultimately help him to alter his attitudes.
If you've ever observed people and yourself in situations which involve something of supersignificance, you may have noticed that success is most likely when we're in either of two, apparently contradictory, but nevertheless in some ways similar moods.
The former can be defined as 'self-sufficiency": you act as circumstances dictate and are fully aware of the importance of your actions for others. You're alert, organised, dynamic and, of course, nervous. The real you, however, the you deep down inside, doesn't identify in any way with what's being done or felt and isn't associated with any approval, criticism, victory or failure. You seem to be two totally different people. The first one acts, fights, reacts momentarily and delivers a passionate speech, whilst the second says nothing and doesn't even observe what's going on: he is completely indifferent, he's simply existing independently and the only thing which could possibly cause him any concern is if his individuality is threatened in any way. He feels that the first part of you, the one who's busily active, is obedient and can be safely left to get on with the work. (Do you recognize the feeling?) Surprising though it may seem, people often manage to run great risks in this divided state of mind. Many top actors experience something similar, feeling that, at one and the same time, they're both fire and ice, that they've entered into their role completely whilst being totally divorced from it.
This state, which I shall call the solitude of inner strength, or ultimate inner independence, is the normal state of mind for some people: strong, solitary individuals who never open themselves up totally and who are always self-sufficient. This is their self-defence against a paradoxical state of mind with its unpleasant consequences. I'm not going into the question of whether it's a good or a bad thing to be like this; these people, who are inevitably solitary because of their inner division can, depending on the principles guiding their active half, be either charming or rather terrifying.
The other kind of temperament is quite different and can be defined as "fusion" or "selflessness". This state of mind means that someone doesn't exist for himself: it's not that he's at one with himself, he simply doesn't exist as an individual, whilst at the same time he feels himself a part of everyone since he's conscious of a higher force acting through him. Great orators, artists, musicians, ancient prophets and fanatical fighters for a cause have probably felt or feel something of the kind. This is the feeling which makes people fight for their land or their family and which, in the guise of love, dictates so many lives. There's no place for worrying about evaluations, nerves or results here; a selfless state of mind is elemental and impulsive. You may have already decided what seems more natural for you. One thing's certain: it's much easier to do anything difficult when you forget about yourself completely.
But to get back to practical psychotherapy. It's probably nothing new for you to learn that it can sometimes be useful to use up tension in advance: let it run its course early so that it won't spring out like a jack-in-the-box at the worst possible moment. Actors often suffer acute attacks of nerves before going on stage. In these cases the anxiety is not concealed: the actor is simply warming up.
I sometimes get a patient to try to relive as realistically and to explain as vividly as he can the states he's hoping to overcome; fear of going out into the street, for example, or anxiety about his health. Quite often this condition then paradoxically disappears.
Some advice, therefore, for anyone who gets very nervous:
relaxation and AS well in advance will help you to reduce your anxiety to a tolerable level. When things start getting difficult, try to stay relaxed. This will help you to maintain the clear differentiation between value and significance you can make when you're not under pressure. Not losing sight of this evaluation will in turn help you to relax.
don't try to stop getting nervous, or you'll simply be deluding yourself and compounding your worry. You're not aiming at eliminating anxiety altogether but at winning it over to your side.
"To Find the Right Chord"
"Dear Dr. Levi,
Five years after successfully submitting my Ph.D. dissertation I find I'm still very nervy and depressed.
While I was on holiday a few weeks ago the doctor advised me to take up AT when I returned home.
Since then I've been trying to do so on my own and can more or less manage general relaxation and can dilate my blood-vessels in my hand until I feel pulsating; sometimes I can keep my nerves in check.
But I've no idea how to go about trying to control my mood: I'm deeply depressed most of the time and feel everything's completely hopeless. I've tried imagining something pleasant, smiling at myself in the mirror and reasoning that nature has really been very kind to me, but I still can't trick myself into feeling any different. Even all the many things I have to be thankful for seem fairly insignificant, boring and ephemeral.
I just don't seem to be able to find the chord which will give the right emotional tone.
I'd be very grateful for any advice you can give.
"Dear Miss M.,
I think a course of psychotherapy and prescribed drugs will help you to deal with yourself. Ideally you should have a few consultations with a psychotherapist (perhaps with sessions of suggestion) whilst taking a course of mild tranquillisers.
Talking will help you to discover the source of your protracted depression: it's very difficult for you to do this on your own because the real causes always try to remain hidden in our subconscious mind oppressing us at their leisure. Becoming aware of the basic trouble won't necessarily eliminate it but it will make it possible to start readjusting yourself.
These states seem to be your normal state and to last forever but this is only your imaginations in fact they come and go like bad weather. At present, however, you're just remembering all the rainy days and forgetting about the sunshine in between.
When you're feeling depressed it's hard to accept this at an emotional level but it's nevertheless very important to be aware of it rationally, even if only as an abstract concept. You won't be deceiving yourself by doing this, on the contrary, the pessimism and melancholy are deceiving you at the moment.
So don't be shy about going to a doctor and try to help him to help you.
With this support and if you continue AT things will be sure to improve, especially since you've already had success with your exercises so far. I'm sure you're already well aware that AT is simply a technique and has nothing to do with your personal values or philosophy of life.
If you're interested in your work and, as you say, nature really has been kind to you, you really do have a lot to be thankful for, then you're just passing through a difficult phase and a course of drugs and consultations with your doctor will give you all the help you need. This will provide a good basis for you to go on with AT on your
"Dear Dr. Levi,
I seem to be much better now. I've been taking tryptosol for a few months. I use a poem for my AT:
Soft silence fills the house and steals with twilight shadows
through my room
to pause by dappled walls
of shining streetlamp glare
as cooling breeze wafts welcome fragrance
through my window;
restful bliss, release from cares,
tranquility of evening understanding,
peace, full harmony,
as flying freely with my drifting thoughts
and breathing lightly,
You may think it silly but it really does help. I've even reduced the number of sleeping pills I need. I wish you all the very best. It's probably not great poetry; I just thought it up for myself.
"Flowers and Pornography"
"Dear Dr. Levi,
I've just finished reading "The Art of Becoming". There's nothing really new in it, of course, it's mainly just a collection of out-moded truisms although, I must admit, it is fairly interesting in a few places. At an ideological level, however, the harm it can do is indisputable; you seem to be offering AT as a same kind of psychological surrogate to solve problems which should be judged by moral and social considerations. How can your ridiculous AT help someone who isn't prepared to sit back with a mindless Buddha smile and accept the maliciousness, stupidity and falseness of his fellows; someone who can't simply live for the moment protected by a convenient psychological panacea; someone who can't relax in the total absurdity of existence? Someone who's going to live and die without the least idea WHY? I consider AT to be one of the cheapest forms of escapism, that is, speaking perfectly frankly, spiritual onanism. I'd like to think that you yourself don't actually believe in this humiliating form of self-abuse and that you were certainly not "being yourself" when you wrote the book. However, many, I have no doubt, will be eternally grateful for the easy comfort you so generously afford.
Letters like this are fairly rare. This author obviously has a talent for expressing his thoughts with some force and it's only to be regretted that in the present case at least they happen to be not entirely relevant.
"Dear Mr. A.K.,
I'd first like to thank you for your criticism. I don't claim that my book is saying anything startlingly new and I'd be the first to admit that it's far from perfect. However, even books which are far better than mine can never have a 100% guarantee of having a beneficial effect: we shouldn't forget that the reader, like the writer, is not perfect and is not beyond reproach in the way he perceives the text.
One shortcoming is the deep-rooted opinion among some readers that anyone who has decided to write something, especially if he's giving advice, must necessarily be advocating some kind of surrogate or ideology. If, for example, he's following the evolution of the bottle from Adam to Noah inclusive, then he is bound to be promoting alcoholism and is clearly in the pay of a major distillery; if he's writing about flowers then he's advocating pornography since flowers are, after all, the sexual organs of plants, and there's no getting away from that.
What basis do you have for alleging that I suggest anyone should "Sit back with a mindless Buddha smile and accept the maliciousness, stupidity and falseness of his fellows"? "Live for the moment protected by a convenient psychological panacea"? or "Relax in the total absurdity of existence"?
There are no recommendations of the kind in the text and if you've managed to read them between the lines I'd be grateful if you'd indicate exactly where I, like you, am categorically against AT being used as a means of escapism and I also condemn all types of spiritual onanism (although I take a more liberal stand regarding physical forms since it has been conclusively proved that it is perfectly harmless to health). I don't, however, deny that, if one tries hard enough, AT can be used for the above aims, and I'd like to express my gratitude to you for the conclusions you've been able to come to on the matter."
As you can see, not all the letters I receive are the ideal accompaniment to my morning, but then some of my replies might not improve their addressee's muesli too much either. I consider letters of this kind as negative feed-back which is vital for maintaining contact with The Reader. As, unfortunately, happens fairly frequently, this particular reader has confused means with ends and mixed up various conceptions and problems. Once again I'd like to stress: AS and AT are essentially tools of APT and nothing more. They are mere techniques which, in themselves, have nothing to do with philosophies of any kind. APT itself, however, cannot be distinguished from our personal philosophy and A.K. is quite correct in saying that neither AS nor AT can help someone who doesn't understand what the aim or meaning of his life really is. Any teacher of APT is equally powerless to help either directly or indirectly in such cases.
"Dear Dr. Levi,
I've a good friend who has unfortunately contracted a brain disease. Surgery is useless and would even be dangerous. The illness could develop into an incurable form of meningitis. Everything's made much worse by the fact that my friend was told by someone that he has at most two years to live. (I'm the only one he's told about this.) I've tried to convince him that this is ridiculous, that it's just a misunderstanding on his part because the remark wasn't referring to him in the first place, but it doesn't do any good. He gets terrible headaches almost every day and this, of course, never lets him forget the threat for very long. Once or twice a month he bas a serious attack and is dashed off to hospital.
I've managed to persuade him that AS can help him recover.
I decided to write to you in the hope that you'd help by giving the best possible AS formula for my friend. He's read all your books so that your signature at the bottom of a formula would mean a great deal, especially since he's very impressionable.
"Dear G. W.,
I'm acquainted with the illness your friend's suffering from and I can assure you and him that there's absolutely no question of his living "at most two years"; that's complete rubbish. There's no reason why a young man shouldn't make a full recovery. Whatever the diagnosis, AS will, if not actually give a complete cure without the help of other treatment, at least significantly relieve the symptoms and speed recovery.
A formula: (in a morning immediately on waking; once or twice during the day; at night before going to sleep);
sure of recovery,
mentally and physically stronger,
a clear head,
complete calm, a calm and fresh head,
I'm getting better.
During attacks take usual steps and use this AS.
Well done, G., for writing to me, all my very best wishes! You can show this letter to your friend and pass on my sincere wishes that he'll soon have plenty of courage and firm faith in recovery.
"Dear Dr. Levi,
Your letter couldn't have been more effective; the first results are already making themselves felt: thanks to the AS my friend's much more calm now and in better spirits. He still gets headache but finds it easier to put up with them. The sharp and unpredictable changes in his mood which were fairly frequent in the past are more rare now. Most important of all, your letter convinced him beyond a shadow of doubt that he'll get better.
I'd like to thank you so very much for myself and my friend for your help when it was so very much needed.
As times, unwilling to write a great deal about themselves but wanting to know the truth about their problem, people write about their 'friend". Whether this was so in the present case or not I don't know and it's not important. It's a good illustration of the benefit received from suggestion and AS working in conjunction.
Let's make sure things are clear. AS is one of the most universal means of self-treatment and self-improvement based on faith. It does not preclude the use of other means to achieve these ends, although it is nevertheless a necessary element of success. AT is one of the most harmless and sometimes the most effective of medicine and is a powerful force when combined with any other treatment either as the fundamental or only as a supplementary means of recovery, or for solving psychological problems of various kinds.
"… The Main Thing Is to Catch What
Dear Dr. Levi,
I've been practising AT relaxation exercises for over a year now. I live in the Far North in very severe conditions: summer temperatures rising to plus 35˚C with the added delight of mosquitoes, and winter temperatures falling to minus 45˚. I work twelve hours a day in summer, and eight in the open in winter. In conditions like this you naturally get very tired both physically and mentally.
I felt much better after only three months of AT. After five, I could manage a five mile run after work and felt excellent. I can relax completely now for short periods and do AT exercises and mini-training several times a day. I pay special attention to relaxing my face and eyes but haven't bothered with my breathing because of my running. I neither drink nor smoke and this may help me get on so well with AT. I'm able to relax completely: at first I used to fall asleep before I was properly relaxed but don't have any trouble now. After one or two months you won't see any great improvement: you need to do a lot of serious training first. The main thing is to catch what you're feeling. Concentrate on yourself one hundred per cent. You won't manage everything at once, but you mustn't give up. Relaxing is a very personal thing and you have to work to find what suits you best. Once you've discovered how to relax your muscles and have experienced the joy of doing so, you'll never think of giving it up.
Letters like this are very encouraging and are obviously an excellent advertisement for AT. But that's not the point: the important thing is to show what AT really can do and to give concrete advice for specific problems. After all, this book would be quite superfluous if no one had any difficulties.
" Dear Dr. Levi,
I'd like to tell you about my experience in inducing heaviness and warmth. I've managed to maximise both in any muscle or group of muscles (for example, those of my left hand and chest), with the help of massage pads you can buy in any sports shop. I've been giving myself a full massage for six months now and have kept this up after starting your "relaxation scales". After only two weeks I took special note of what I was feeling after I'd massaged the left side of my chest and discovered a sensation of deep relaxation and warmth in my muscles. My "Eureka!" was restrained solely by the fact that it was 3 am and everyone else in the house was asleep.
I'd be interested to hear your opinion.
M. A. .Engineer."
"Dear M. A.,
Excellent! Massage + AT = health + good spirits. You've experimented and made an important personal discovery as a result. I wish you further success in the future.
P S. Thank you for the s. a. e. kindly and very thoughtfully enclosed."
"Dear Dr. Levi,
I've now worked out a regular pattern for my exercises: with the help of AT I relax and get myself ready to do some keep-fit exercises and feel my brain activated by the feed-back from my muscles. After a shower I feel fit for anything (although I'm 55). Thanks to you I've realized that it's impossible to feel so fit and not be in a good mood. Every morning I do 15-20 minutes of AT, 15 minutes massage, 20-25 minutes of exercises with dumb-bells, a hot and cold contrastive shower and the ''Black Sea treatment". (I sponge myself all over with sea salt, available from any chemist's and dissolved in water, and imagine I've just had a swim in the Black Sea). Variants are possible: for a change
I sometimes imagine I'm on holiday on the Baltic, although I can't claim to have tried the Mediterranean yet since I've never been there.
M. A. "