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Studying with Ruth Matter
by Stefan Laeng-Gilliatt

This article appeared first in the Sensory Awareness Leaders Guild Newsletter, Summer 1996.

     I studied with Ruth Matter between 1992 and 1994 after I had already been studying for a few years with other people offering the work. I worked with her in private classes, mostly weekly. The following is an attempt to show Ruth Matters approach to the work. The quotations I use are form the notes I took after each class, when I was on the train back from Zürich to St. Gallen. They might not always repeat her words exactly but give a good picture of my classes with her. Sometimes I was tempted to use other words that appealed more to me but then I decided to stay as close as possible to her use of language. To translate from Swiss-German into English is quite a challenging task. Sometimes there is more than one word ore one way to translate a phrase. I tried to find the words that seemed most appropriate to me. Other people might find different words.

     So let me begin with a quotation: “Functionally appropriate behavior (zweckmässiges Verhalten) is the basis and the main theme of Jacoby's work. It means to let our organism function according to it's nature, without willful interfering.”
     I sit on a stool. My hands rest on my thighs, one hand with its palm facing up, ready to receive a sandbag or a ball. My eyes are closed, my feet standing on the floor. “Most of all being there for the first moment of contact is important.” Ruth Matter is sitting next to me on a chair, her voice is clear and deep, her questions leave no time for daydreaming. She places a sandbag on my open hand. “What happens at the first moment of contact with the sandbag?” - “And what happens then, in the hand, in the whole organism?” - “What becomes clearer in your connection to the ground?” Ruth Matter wouldn't let me hesitate for long. A piercing “Hmm?” would soon demand me to report what I was experiencing.
     My first impression of Ruth Matter was of an old dignified lady, slow but decided in her motions, her presence asking for respect. First I thought she was almost unfriendly, because she only said what was absolutely necessary. Her gaze was mostly lowered, but when she spoke she was frank. When I told her about my training in Gestalt Therapy and my meditation practice, she asked: “So our work is not most central in your life?” I guess I convinced her that it was important enough, so that she would accept me as her (probably last) student.
     Ruth Matter takes the sandbag away. I turn my hand and let it come to rest on my thigh again, before I turn it up again to receive another object, a ball or another sandbag. Throughout the experiment I keep telling her what my experiences are. This asks for my full attention. At the same time I have to learn to become  very precise in my reports as there is not much time to elaborate on experiences. Ruth Matter liked to begin a session with a simple experiment like this, to give one the opportunity to arrive and become ready.
     “For every task, consciousness has to arise, we must become ready for it in order to fulfill an act without interfering with the organism’s innate ability to function. Becoming conscious of a task is not a question of thinking, it doesn't happen in the head only, but in the whole organism. We need to give time for the organism to become permeable and tuned in for what becomes acute. We do not have to turn to anything, but we must allow what wants to happen in this process of becoming ready.”
     “We must become composed, calm for what we attempt to do in order to allow functionally appropriate behavior (gelassen = composed, calm. The German word 'lassen' can mean both 'not to do' or 'to allow').” “Every task has its tuning effect (Einstellwirkung). We become ready for something. We cannot just be ready, but we become ready for something. What can we feel happening in us when we intend to do something? What becomes conscious? What happens in preparation for it?”
“To be centered and quiet like this (bei sich sein), doesn't mean to be isolated, but to be in the world and in contact with what surrounds us.” Ruth Matter did not have a wide range of different experiments to offer when I worked with her. Her approach was very systematic, precise. “It really doesn't matter what we do. We may turn a hand or come to lying or carry something. The questions always remain the same:

    C Functionally appropriate behavior, the non-interfering, allowing willingness for an action to occur.
    C Then functionally appropriate motion (zweckmässige Bewegung). The conditions for functionally appropriate motion are:
     1) To be in contact with the ground. Without the ground we can accomplish nothing.
     2) To be in contact with the weight (mit der Last) that is to be moved.
     3) To be in contact with the pull of gravity (mit den Zugkräften) and go with or against  this traction.”

     Another simple task, one of her favorite experiments, begins with me lying on the floor, knees bent and my feet standing. I tilt my pelvis and let it come away from the floor. By and by, through using the floor as support, I let my whole trunk up to the shoulders rise so the spine can come somewhat to hanging. After a while I let myself sink down slowly and come into new contact with the floor. “You could become a specialist for back problems with just little experiments like this. So much nonsense is being practiced today. Of course we do not necessarily have to work on the back for this but let the back benefit from any task we have.”
     Ruth Matter was a very private person. She was not unfriendly at all, she just did not say much and wasn't interested in Smalltalk. When she was working with me, her face was always radiant and with an almost invisible smile as she joined into the experiment. At the end of almost each session she would show me a picture of Heinrich Jacoby, her face lighting up as she would ask something like: “Isn't there an amazing grace in the way he squats and feeds the squirrel?” She was truly devoted to Jacoby and seemed almost like a girl when she spoke about him with great adoration. She could also be very generous. After my first year with her she didn't want me to pay her for the weekly classes, because: “I don't need the money. Most important for me is that the work will be passed on.”
     Of utmost importance for Ruth Matter was what was happening in the belly: “Could you gradually become aware that in preparation for a task there occurs a change in tonus (eine Straffung) at the end of the out breath, originating in our center, the belly? It spreads out through the whole organism and especially toward the floor. Can you feel from there that something returns to initiate the inhalation and the action?” I could not feel that, I have to admit. I could never really experience this and that was often a struggle, because this was the crucial point in her work: ”Because from out of our belly we live!”
     At the beginning of a session Ruth Matter always asked me to report what had become acute of the questions we had been working with, since we had last met. One day I told her - I had been working physically very hard - that I was trying to find some time during the day to recover, maybe do a little experiment to have a chance to renew. She looked at me almost surprised and said: “Why would you need that? You could constantly allow renewing while working!” “For the organism to regain its freshness is of crucial importance, for example, how the arm sinks after an action such as carrying and putting down an object (der Rückweg). The claim that people wear out through their work should be examined newly from this standpoint. Gindler sometimes said that this was her most important discovery. She called it 'phase two' (Ettappe 2) of an action. The weariness so many people complain about would not have to be a problem if we would allow for the tonus to rebalance (abklingen lassen) instead of becoming flabby.”
     At the end of a session Ruth Matter usually asked me: “And, do you feel serene now?” When I said yes, she would smile and lower her gaze and say: “You see, that is our work!


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