Interview with Frank Ottiwell: Inspiring the Profession
By Pamela Blanc
Published in AmSAT News , Issue No. 68, Fall 2005
FO: Yes, I did. He was a very interesting man. He didn’t suffer fools gladly, but underneath the surface gruffness was a tough love that ruled the proceedings. The gestalt concept was again about everything being a part of everything else, — each thing having its distinct aspect and yet being an essential part of the whole.PB: Claudio Naranjo?
FO: I got to Claudio Naranjo through Fritz Perls. Claudio was a gestalt therapist, though it turned out that by the time I went to study seriously with him he wasn’t teaching gestalt therapy. He was teaching many other things that you, Pamela, are familiar with from Oscar Ichazo — much of which grew out of Sufi thought and teachings. The underpinnings of Claudio Naranjo’s teaching at that time included the practice of meditations of various kinds – perhaps the ultimate direct practice of non-doing.
PB: And then Werner Erhart came on the scene. You did the EST training but Werner also had lessons with you. Do you know which came first?
FO: His Alexander lessons came first. When his assistant called to book lessons with me I didn’t like his attitude so I said, “I don’t have time.” And he said, “When will you have time?” And I said, “Well, you can call me again in a month.” And he did. And I said, “I still don’t have time.” And he called me again in another month and I thought, this is persistence, this is somebody who’s really interested. I got off my high horse and Werner started to come for lessons.PB: How many lessons do you suppose he had 10, 20, 30?
FO: Werner? Oh, somewhere between forty and fifty I should think. I saw him in three different time periods within a couple of years. He was a VERY good student. He was just very smart and thoughtful. He had studied and absorbed many things and he taught out of everything he had learned — his whole experience. I don’t mean that he copied things or stole things. It was his talent to integrate what he had learned and pass it on to people, who probably would never have otherwise contacted those things, in a way that they could “get” them. I am sure that he enriched many lives.
I’ll always remember one of the things he said: the guru is the external environment. And, that’s really exactly where I am to this day. Not only because of him, but that was a very succinct way of making the point. Alexander apparently would frequently say to people as he worked with them, “Are you seeing something?” He had a piece of colored glass in his window so people would have something to look at. You know, not looking in, but looking out and connecting with all the stimuli that bring us to life.
I think the human potential movement and the burgeoning interest in Buddhism and Taoism in the seventies and eighties helped people to see the depth and universality of the Alexander work. They helped people to see the Technique as something connected to a bigger universal and philosophical picture, one that so many of us had developed an interest in and involvement with. That this was also a period of enormous growth in the Technique seems to me to be more than just a coincidence.
People often ask me what the differences are between the Technique and this or that other method. What really interests me are the similarities. It is where things are the same that I find the bedrock of their practicality.
I’ve never specifically taught any of those things I learned in the 70s and 80s, although there is no denying that they are part of who I have become and therefore an indirect part of what I teach.
I keep being drawn back to the simplicity, the specifics and the discipline of the Technique–to the fascination of solving the puzzle over and over, and to finding the freedom to do it within the form. Alexander gave us all the clues, but in the end we still have to decipher the clues and solve the puzzle ourselves. The process continues to fascinate me–and to thrill me in those moments when it all comes together. Those thrilling moments are fewer than I would wish for, but when they come they seem to have been worth all the thought and waiting that has gone into them. I do regularly give thanks to FM, both for my working life and for keeping me silver in my golden years.
PB: You were teaching in San Francisco, collecting all of the gestalts of the day, it was the mid 70s, and Marj Barstow came along — and practically the whole training class went up to Redding, California, with you to work with her
FO: That’s right. I had been the previous weekend to see her at UC Riverside. I remember, I’m a little embarrassed about it now, that she opened that session in Riverside by saying, “Now, what is this Alexander Technique? Well, it’s all about movement.” That came as a shock to me. I thought of movement as moving around the room, so. I didn’t know what she was talking about. But it gradually became clear that she meant the primary movement of coordination and readiness, the subtle movement of the whole self that is activated by the constructive activation of the primary control. That was the first time Marj got my attention and started me thinking and working things out.
The other thing that got my attention that day was when, as we were all sitting in a circle, she came around behind me and touched me for a moment and I went UP. I had had other wonderful and moving experiences in lessons before, but I had never gone up like that. I went up and coordinated. Everything fell into place. It was a though a giant magnet has sorted everything out in me and put it in the right place – in an instant!