Teaching without teaching: the indirect method of education

A couple of weeks ago I went to a lecture that attracted me through the name that the teacher gave it, he called the lecture "Developing Common Sense." In this lecture, the teacher - Rik Vermuyten - compared intellect with intelligence. We went over the elements that make up more intellectual thinking and intelligent thinking. We talked about what was the oldest, more developed and more recent way of thinking.

Intuition and instinct were talked of as parts of intelligence or common sense - they work more expansive ('more Yin')- while ratio is part of intellectual thinking, and works more restrictive ('more Yang').


At most schools the predominant way of education is developing intellect - or what the teacher called uncommon sense - which from being more restrictive, leads to a decline in creativity, growth and development of the student. If the student doesn't complement his traditional school education with other things.

 Freehand drawing exercise, as reproduced in New Methods in Education (1899), through Stephen Ellcock’s excellent facebook page

Freehand drawing exercise, as reproduced in New Methods in Education (1899), through Stephen Ellcock’s excellent facebook page

The teacher used the imagery of intelligence thinking as seeing the unity in reality, while intellectual thinking is about dividing reality - putting it boxes. Both have their uses of course, and without the latter we would not have a scientific method. But he emphasized that if you do not return to seeing the unity - the whole - in things, you give value to the differences (the boxes) - and you take these differences seriously. And that is where it becomes dangerous.

In line of the above, a recent practical read on Gurdjieff's exercises to develop self-observation and self-remembering compared knowing something with understanding something:

"Understanding is defined as the resultant of knowledge ánd being.

"When we begin to understand what we did not understand before, there is the chance of change precisely through the understanding.

"Man is a self-developing organism which means that man cannot develop under compulsion but only through internal freedom, which is one's understanding (knowledge + being) that a man can evolve."

And it is this internal freedom element that I feel is what is missing in most teaching. This teaching without telling, that attracted me towards certain people and has intuitively told me to keep away from others.

With this lecture in mind and the experiences I've had with my own teachers I started to ask myself a question I've been asking myself for a while now: which one of the teachers I've met had this 'common sense?' And subsequently,

What is a good teacher?

At the moment, I feel writer Henry Miller comes closest to defining the type of teacher who teaches (without realizing he is) teaching when describing an old friend his as a "Living Book":

"Without being in the least aware of it, I was receiving from this man my first real schooling. It was the indirect method of education. As with the ancients, his technique consisted in indicating that "it" was not this, not that. Whatever "it" was, and of course it was the all, he taught me never to approach it head on, never to name or define. The oblique method of art. First and last things. But no first and no last. Always from the center outward. Always the spiral motion: never the straight line, never sharp angles, never the impasse or cul-de-sac.
Yes, Lou Jabobs possesses a wisdom I am only beginning to acquire. He had the faculty of looking upon everything as an open book. He had ceased reading to discover the secrets of life: he read for sheer enjoyment. The essence of all he read had permeated his entire being, had become one with his total experience of life."There are not more than a dozen basic themes in literature," he once said to me. But then he quickly added that each man had his own story to tell, and that is was unique. I suspected that he, too, had once endeavored to write. Certainly no one could express himself better or more clearly.
His wisdom, however, was the sort that is not concerned with the imparting of it. Though he knew how to hold his tongue, no man enjoyed conversation more than he. Moreover, he had a way of never closing a subject. He was content to skirmish and reconnoiter, to throw out feelers, to dangle clues, to give hints, to suggest rather than inform. Whether one wished it or not, he compelled his listener to think for himself. I can't recall ever once receiving advice or instruction from him, yet everything which issued from his mouth constituted advice and instruction ... if one knew how to take it!"
- Henry Miller, Chapter Living Books in The Books In My Life

What, in your experience, are the qualities of a good teacher?

Habitual posture. Habitual emotion. Habitual thought.

Observing people has always been one of my favorite pastimes. I enjoy setting myself down with a book in a local café, pretend that I'm reading and then take a look at how the bartender is stressing out over clients, how people are enjoying or disliking listening to the story of a friend, people fighting verbally in cycling traffic, awkward situations of people meeting an old friend they would rather avoid today, other observers realizing you're also observing, all of that... I love it and every time it teaches me something.

Recently, this fascination of observing people's daily behavior has gotten a bit more specific through the stuff I've been reading and the teachers I've met formally and on the streets. My observation has shifted towards the physical behavior of people: the postures they hold, hand gestures they use, their facial expressions, what parts they are holding when walking, etc.

What I try to do often, is when a certain posture intrigues me is try to mimick it and observe how it makes me feel or what I associate with that posture.

I have been focusing my attention on different closed and open positions - both static and dynamic - and what they communicate to me, and maybe communicate in a universal way that everyone intuitively understands.

Better than to explain it, you can test for yourself with some of the artworks, pictures and videos by either putting yourself in these postures or observing your first associative thoughts with the postures. Observe some of these paintings for example:

Nick Cave's posture and facial expression during this song:

Compare this to what the following communicate:

Or Jack Lalanne "working out his face" and Henry Miller's general playful open posture and mannerisms all over his documentary:

Also, one example everyone probably has heard of, is the test of the 'fake smile' research where they showed that holding a stick between your teeth - creating a fake smile - showed "physiological and psychological benefits from maintaining positive facial expressions during stress."

Further, one of my "street" teachers once shared with me that he used simple coordinative movements to relax people who were suffering form high stress and tension in a psychiatric hospital.

George Ivanovich Gurdjieff in his "Work" spoke about his method of using movement as a way to bring about certain thoughts and feelings:

"You ask about the aim of the movements. To each position of the body corresponds a certain inner state and, on the other hand, to each inner state corresponds a certain posture. A man, in his life, has a certain number of habitual postures and he passes from one to another without stopping at those between."

A student of Gurdjieff, Jerry Brewster, in his Loft Tapes of group work sessions, explains it in a compelling vicious cycle of our habits. He shares that

"Our habitual postures are connected to habitual emotions and habitual thoughts in a strange dance - if you have a certain association, then you take a certain posture and have a certain feeling, so it's very difficult to think anything new, to feel anything new, or to sense in a new way - if you try to change it's impossible because each center is supported by the other two."

Further, if beyond the intuitive understanding of this you want a scientific backing of this subject, Stanley Keleman has spent a lot of research on this topic that he named Emotional Anatomy.

 Image from Keleman's Emotional Anatomy.

Image from Keleman's Emotional Anatomy.

Jerry Brewster talks about the importance of struggling with these habitual reactions physically, emotionally and mentally to make a change - to break this habit loop:

posture > emotion > thought

thought > posture > emotion

emotion > thought > posture

Brewster proposes that, "if I can interfere with a posture then I find I'm free of both the emotion and the thought tied to that posture."

The first thing is to become aware of our postures we go back to when we have certain thoughts or emotions - this is where Gurdjieff claims that the problems lies because we do not know what our habits are but to me this is also where the fun part begins: from observation, you start to observe what your habitual postural habits are and start to play games with it.

Gurdjieff suggests that

"Taking new, unaccustomed postures enables you to observe yourself inside differently from the way you usually do in ordinary conditions."

Therefore ways of using this knowledge in your daily life could be:

  1. to play through self-observation with your postural habits and the associations and identifications you make with these
  2. you can practice open static postures and dynamic movements to create the effect you'd like to evoke

For both of these it would mean that you will need to become aware ("to stop sleeping") of your existing habits, and in best case that an honest and caring (group of) partner(s) helps you to become aware.

A couple of examples of the work of people I've met who promote this practice using movement as a tool I shared below.

Moving Beyond Movement Practice: Experiences Of A Client With Autism

What follows is a conversation with Brent during one of our sessions. Brent is a person I have been working with for a while now who has been diagnosed at a young age with autism.

Before we started the session he came with his usual “I don’t feel like it to today.” After 5 minutes of struggling to balance on a wooden ball, he shook it off and we went for it. We worked a little bit on expanding the breath and internally sensing the body, looking for what kind of spontaneous movements he wanted to do.

Then we went to the park to observe how nothing in nature is perfect or symmetrical, therefore perfectionism is maybe not so natural. While observing how ugly the tree was in front of us this season, we did a standing practice where we ‘protected our fire.’ After doing about 15 minutes of this practice he said to me:

“it is wonderful to notice that you can look at your fire, but also beyond it, and also to the left, to the right, but it is too easy to fall into just looking at it from the front and forgetting all that is past!”

Screen Shot 2018-03-14 at 12.38.25.png

Yes, Brent has a remarkable way of expressing himself so I will let him do the talking. Here is a transcript of his recent thoughts on our way of working together:

“You have to learn to let go.” These are the words they have been telling me since the beginning. You have to live more in the moment. You have to learn to accept. But these are one those things that you cannot communicate in words… It just is not possible!

For example, one week ago I had a quarrel with my girlfriend. Some things had happened in her life and finally she will now do some of the things I once advised her to do, but of course not because I told her: because she  now has had a couple of experiences through which she understands it herself and realises it is like this and that, not because someone else told her - through her own experience!

And that is something I noticed in my experiences with psychiatry, there you totally do not get this. There you receive the experiences of other people or “we are psychiatrists or psychologists and we know it should be like this.” But this does not help me because I cannot just accept it like that! A human being has to discover it himself, I have to have the experience myself to know: “this indeed is the way!” Frustrating!

I really find it regrettable that I was not able to do something like this when I was 11. Because I really have something with movement I’m now realizing. There are people who do not have any affinity with movement but I do and I easily make connections through movement and subsequent reasoning in my head so for me it kind of is the perfect combo. I do notice now that I can move my body and at the same time deeply put in multiple things and connect them as you do in your way of working.

167 Likes, 15 Comments - Olivier Goetgeluck (@goetgeluck) on Instagram: "Coordinating with Brent. Brent is autistic. He was one of our first members in the early days of..."

But I really wish that when I was 11 and had fits of anger, that there was someone who said “come, let us use these things for something else and let us ‘physically reason’ how you are feeling.” I find it a bit sad that I only find out about this later in my life but it is what it is and maybe it also is no coincidence. Maybe I had to have those other lesser experiences to realise that this does work for me to then… who knows… do something with this myself to help others.

Besides, I also do not really know if this way would work with the autistic people of my group where I live because maybe they would not find enough connections with the movements. Because I tried to explain “how do I define what Olivier does?” and then there comes ‘movement’ and… It just is not easy to put it into words.

For example, a couple times they did yoga sessions with the group but in the end everyone fell asleep and that is not the purpose. One girl of the group did tai chi but it gave her stress. But that is, I think, all because they do not find anything beyond it, they do something and yes they do it, but they cannot pull it out of its context and bring to to their own context. And that is so unfortunate.

Also disappointing for me is to observe that very little of the autistic people I know work on themselves. Few go to a therapist, and this by the way is also a form of therapy for me. Little work on developing themselves causing them to remain stuck in the same bubble.

Waves of the ocean, extremities of my body

The waves crashing at the extremes of the big pond of water as the expression of the core of the whole. The outside, exterior appearance an expression of the inner going-ons, together forming the whole without form.

Wholeness coming from the dynamics of the thing, the constant changing with and of the all. Seeing the whole in the form of the one, and from the one understanding the whole. The one in transit, in flux, streaming, flowing as it always will: communicating in this way the laws the whole entails. Universally see-able, deep attention making it noticeable, observable and obvious at each and every moment.

 Playa Transito, Nicaragua

Each that is part of this whole, a product of its functioning by the same laws as each and every other thing in it and of it. Man is as nature, is of nature, is nature and nature is in man.

What do the waves tell me? I am the whole pond in myself, what are my waves wanting to crash to the extremities of my body?    

Written in Nicaragua, Playa Transito, 2017

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