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'There is only endurance, and pain.’ So wrote John Aubrey in 1638 on being caned at school. His coping strategy was ‘to go to another place in my head: the bank of the brook at Easton Pierse, or the tree-lined riverbank at Broad Chalke, where I count the flowers and arrange their names in alphabetical order.'

He adds: ‘I do not, I will not cry out. I am not in this scene; I am somewhere else, with the soothing sound of water running by.’ Of the violence repeatedly meted out to him, with its rhythm of blows he says: ‘It is the grammar and rhetoric of violence. A language I will not learn, though the whole school seems to speak it.’

He was twelve when he wrote this. The language is clear, as are the lessons learned of how to cope with the repeated and predictable violence of his school; by resisting crying out; by protecting himself, by going elsewhere in his head, distracting himself from what was happening in the present moment; of a strong and clear decision not learn the ways of violence that he was being subjected to.

It is the kind of story that therapists are wont to return to when they hear it. There is much rage and violence in the world of many different kinds that we are all subjected to. We are all also capable of violence; rage is hardwired in, but then so is love and we are all capable of that too. What matters is what we do with each, and John Aubrey made a clear decision of the kind children often do, of saying 'no' to something and therefore of saying 'yes' to something else, to other things, other interests already present in him. Other interests which form the basis of his later occupations as a gentleman scholar, collector of antiquities, early archaeologist and inventor of modern biography.  These interests are already present in his surviving writings of this time collected by Ruth Scurr in an altogether fascinating biography of the man using his own words.

This saying of 'no' and then 'yes' is of as much interest to the psychotherapist, as the Alexander Technique teacher in me. There is an element in each practice, as in all practices of growth that allow for change, of saying 'no' to something, suspending or inhibiting being the professional words my practices have chosen to systematically use, in order to say 'yes' to something different to make our way forward, to have a full and on-going experience of living, and living as well as we can.

There is another matter here, one that first made me think of writing this blog, one that connects to my last blog and the Theatre of War, which I started to write about there. Which is that words can speak across centuries, in Aubrey’s case nearly five centuries, in Sophocles case 2500 years, with a clarity missing in the jargon of mental health and diagnosis. Both men found a way to language and to speak about what was unsayable in their experience and their culture. So it is in therapy, which is a way to language that allows someone to begin to name their experience, to speak about what was unspeakable at the time, which is invariably not without emotion, but allows them to face their history, their past which is intruding on the present, and curtailing their future. And in that place of facing their experience and finding breath, is where real speech about ourselves starts, and life can begin to course again. Alexander work is invaluable in helping to find the stillness to face the unfaceable and good therapy is an act of language finding together in conversation and autopoiesis is the end.

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