Chapter 6: Max the teacher
The year 1972 was a turning point in Maxs life. His research with Ann Woolley-Hart was approaching completion. The initial experimental courses at Hampton had shown that there was a demand for relaxation techniques taught with the aid of electronic instruments. Ideas were forming in his mind how different techniques could be assembled and taught in a series of graduated courses.
The first courses began in Lyndhurst Road, Hampstead - at the home of a friend. They were popular, attracting 20 people each time, and were probably the first for which Max charged a fee. Measurements of the depth of relaxation were taken three times during the evening by Max himself because he had only one meter. He soon realised that the act of measurement was causing more change than the relaxation exercises and that it would be necessary in the future for each subject to have their own meter.
Barbara Siddall, a yoga teacher and healer, was another participant from these early days of the courses who became an important biofeedback partner with Max. She came to the classes by chance after finding a leaflet describing them in a book borrowed from her local library. This leaflet was an invitation to anyone interested in altered states of consciousness to take part in some studies. Barbara was curious and duly arrived for the group at Lyndhurst Road.
At first, the courses continued in Lyndhurst Gardens with Max and Isabel travelling to London each week from a temporary home in Norfolk, but now a more central venue for the courses was found. Because Ann Woolley-Hart knew the Rev William Baddeley, then vicar of St James, Piccadilly, Max was allowed to use the vestry of the church. Max and Isabel were certainly the first to give courses at St James, which has since become a renowned centre offering a whole range of alternative events such as lectures on healing.
Their first group, in early 1974, consisted of only five people. To attract more, they put up notices in central London advertising the St Jamess courses and it was this which brought me into biofeedback. A friend, Bob Bayford, caught sight of a notice in a record shop in Charing Cross Road and told me about it. We had little idea what the course was about except that it had something to do with electronics. It sounded interesting and we decided to try it.
We both joined the third of a series of ten-week courses which Max called Impact Seminars. Arriving at the vestry in St Jamess, we found that we were part of a group of ten people seated at tables with a meter in front of each of us. I started a second course, fascinated by this use of electronics, and by the second or third evening realised that, with my background in this field, I might be able to make a better ESR meter than Max was using. I casually mentioned this to him, unsure what his response would be. He gave a rather diffident answer, something like Oh yes, and thus began our partnership. Isabel told me later that they had been hoping someone would come into their life with just my set of skills and interests.
The first meter I produced, the Omega 1, was similar to the one Max was using except that, by the addition of a transistor, I was able to reduce the current taken from the battery and thus cut battery costs to less than one tenth of what they had been. I also added simple circuitry to measure the basal resistance so that students could note how their readings changed, week by week, during the course. This reading gave a measure of the flexibility of their autonomic nervous system and thus their ability to relax.
It was during this first course that I met Ann Woolley-Hart although it was not until much later that I realised how much research she and Max had carried out together. As I continued to design and make more biofeedback instruments, I found I could depend on her unfailing help when I needed an explanation of some aspect of physiological function. I admit that often my questions produced answers I could hardly understand and I know sometimes she had difficulty understanding my questions; nevertheless, she answered with great patience.
An instrument which caused much amusement during the early classes was the hypnogogostat. This was, simply, a buzzer that needed pressure on a button to prevent it from sounding. The training which used this machine was intended to teach the student to find and remain in the hypnagogic state, which we all experience as the moment between waking and sleeping that is accompanied by bright and clear images. Many have found this a very creative state. Edison, the American inventor of the electric light bulb, considered that many of his inventions came from this state. He cultivated it by placing a sheet of tin on the ground and holding a rubber ball in his hand, so that if he dropped it the crash would wake him up.
The hypnogogstat performed the same function. Max would give exercises in guided imagery and if the subject fell asleep instead of maintaining the hypnogogic state, the pressure on the button would be released and the buzzer sounded - waking the subject. In practice, the effect of various buzzers going off at unexpected intervals could be chaotic. It is not clear why Max stopped using this exercise but it was probably because he found that hypnagogic images are rather inconsequential and do not necessarily lead to creative reverie.
From my own experience on the way to sleep, there is another state which I am not able to differentiate from being awake. The first time my partner told me to stop snoring, I was quite indignant saying: I havent been to sleep, I am still wide awake. After a few more experiences on other nights, I had to accept that I had in fact been asleep even though my experience was that I was awake with normal awareness. Many insomniacs may be having the same experience: studies of the their EEG show that they sleep longer than they claim. It is possible that the link with creative reverie is deep relaxation rather than hypnogogic imagery.
Relaxation methods in the classes at St James included Zen breathing practice and exercises based on autogenic training and progressive relaxation, with the change registered on the ESR meter indicating directly to the subject which method was the most effective at that moment. A typical class would begin with a relaxation sequence in which Max would guide the students attention around their body. Here is an excerpt:
Relaxed, relaxed, relaxed.
The whole of my body relaxed
Relaxed and calm
Calmness all through me
Calmness in my face, calmness in my mind...
It is natural to relax. It is nature's way,
To rest, to relax, and to be calm.
It is nature's way to renew strength.
Strength of body and calmness of mind.
I feel the relaxation and the calmness all through me . . .
Next, while the students continued to relax, Max usually read a 15 to 20-minute paper on the subject he wished to explore during that session. For the beginners courses the paper might be Emotions and Health, Memory and Self-awareness or Traits of the Fully Functioning Personality. For those in more advanced courses, the subjects included The Nature of Mystical Experience, The Search for Self, or The Eternal Principle in Man.
In the basic courses, students learnt the skills that would allow them to make changes in their lives if needed. These can be summarised as clarity and imagination about the change and then the ability to achieve sufficient relaxation to allow the change to happen.
To indicate the qualities needed for good health, Max distilled a recipe from his studies which he summarised as four attitudes of mind:
- Good interpersonal relations
- Good empathy
- Openness to life and experience
- Ability to still the mind, to meditate
For the first two, check whether you believe it is always their fault when your expectations are not realised. For the third, when someone suggests trying underwater pony-trekking do you react automatically with What a stupid idea, or can you respond, following the Bible's injunction to be as little children, That sounds novel. The fourth means, in the words of Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita, to be able to still the mind when on the battlefield of life.
These early courses attracted many people who were already established as teachers and practitioners in the personal-development, meditation and healing movement. A number became closely involved with Maxs work. Among them was Nona Coxhead, later co-author with Max of The Awakened Mind; Addie Raeburn, a well-known healer with whom he later conducted research; and the author Johnny St. John, who wrote a chapter about Maxs work in his book Travels in Inner Space (ref 6-1).
Now various strands of Maxs life came together - no job, no career but a larger demand for self-help courses than he had anticipated. They looked for a permanent home again and bought a flat in north-west London.
It was during this period at Piccadilly, while he was honorary secretary of the Society for Psychical Research, that Max was visited at the society one day by two Americans, Albert Tobias and Herb Hendler. They wanted to discuss with him their vision of a contemporary school, offering under one roof subjects such as meditation, yoga, literature and Indian music. They wanted to include biofeedback classes. He was invited to become head of the Social Sciences and Humanities Department, with Ann Woolley-Hart as medical consultant. He accepted and a new chapter in his work began.
The Franklin School of Contemporary Studies opened in north London on April 1 1974, with Tobias as chairman and Hendler as executive director. Its premises were a semi-detached four-storey house, at 43 Adelaide Road, Chalk Farm. The Franklin was a miniature university - divided into six schools running morning, afternoon and evening classes covering a huge range of subjects but with no exams, degrees or diplomas. The schools titles illustrated the scope of the Franklins aims: the School of Social Sciences and Humanities, of which Max was head; School of Group Enterprises in the Arts and Advanced Learning; School of Emerging Woman; School of Understanding Tomorrow; School of Creative and Performing Arts; and the School of Self-appraisal and Development. As the Franklins brochure for the second term put it:
We have created an informal, intimate and comfortable environment where one can learn more about the issues and subjects that are important to todays society . . . We offer people the opportunity to learn more about themselves and the world in which they live, through discussion groups and seminars rather than the lecture format.
This was the new environment in which Max and Isabel found themselves, gaining both new biofeedback pupils as the school became well known and rubbing shoulders with teachers from other disciplines with whom, in many cases, they found they had much in common. For the first spring term, Max ran the introductory course in biofeedback he called Psychocybernetics, which he defined as steering ones mind towards productive goals. This was quickly followed by a second course, Psychotechnics, which concentrated on developing mental imagery.
In his explanation in the schools brochure he declared: To be able to use our wonderful brain to full efficiency we must be able to know something of how it works; of memory development, emotional control, hypnagogic reverie, creative imagery and dream analysis. More important, we must know how to utilise the submerged nine-tenths, the timeless, tireless, immensely creative unconscious mind. And he quoted William James: Compared with what we ought to be, we are only half awake.
An important figure who became of crucial help to Max was Anna Wise, a young American from Alabama who had taught dance after leaving university. She had come to Britain to visit her brother for a Christmas vacation and liked London so much she returned the next summer and stayed on. A friend, who was in Maxs first class at the Franklin told her about Maxs work, and mentioned that Herb Hendler was looking for someone to help at the school. She applied and got the job as secretary three months after it opened.
Anna Wise joined Maxs second course and found that biofeedback attracted her enormously: Maxs Psychocybernetics seemed to be the most popular in the school, so I thought I ought to try it out. I soon saw why. I was enthralled not only by the experiences that I began having during his guided meditations, but also by the man himself. I was, at that time, completely unaware of the mammoth impact this meeting would have on my life.
A few months later when Hendler left, Albert Tobias asked her to become the schools programme director. Now she was in a position to invite Max to provide more advanced classes. She remembers:
One day at the end of the first year, I found myself up in the classroom talking to Max. Without forethought or planning, I heard myself say: Max, I want to do this work. All he said was Very good but that short conversation was to change my life completely. During the decade which followed, I attended every course that I could, I returned again and again to his beginning levels, continually finding new and deeper meaning in his training. I said little, listened intently and had my world turned upside down with new concepts, astounding experiences and personal growth. It was a journey that took me to the heights and depths of personal exploration of consciousness.
After the first term at the Franklin, Barbara Siddall was invited by Max to join the school to teach yoga and meditative movement, which would complement the training in his classes. In between her groups, she usually attended his seminars and deepened her knowledge and experience of meditative states. While Max was reading a paper to the class she would help Isabel to wire up students and with any problems they might have using the meters.
Isabels role as helpmate became crucial to the work. Her relaxed, friendly approach with the students allowed Max to concentrate on the teaching and the instruments and took pressure off him when necessary. While he prepared to begin the class she would be settling the students in and wiring them up. During the break she would take care of queries and again give Max a breathing space. Her expertise was developing too, into a body of knowledge that enabled her to skilfully interpret the readings and explain the meanings where necessary. Their affection for each other was obvious and as a team they were well-matched.
For the autumn term in the first year Max put two more biofeedback courses into the programme: Psychotechnics, an intermediate course to develop mental skills; and Hypnopsychedelics, aimed at students of parapsychology and psychical research. Altogether more than 40 courses were offered by the school with Maxs groups among the most popular. At the peak, running six different courses, he had 160 students - almost half of the total number attending all the groups in the school.
In March 1976, when the school had been running for nearly two years, Max reviewed the progress of his courses in the first student newsletter. Pychocybernetics, he said, was averaging 100 pupils a year but the total doing biofeedback in the second year was five or six times as many.
About 40 per cent of students have been on-going from the beginning. Two have been with us every term since we commenced; others have left and returned after a year for refresher courses. The many letters of appreciation which have been received show that most pupils receive considerable physical benefit, while a few have had dramatic recoveries from migraine, hypertension, and other psychosomatic afflictions including some who have been referred to the school by their GP or psychiatrist . . . recent classes have included almost 100 doctors, psychoanalysts, psychiatrists and clinical psychologists interested in learning new psychosomatic techniques . . .
But somehow, in the euphoria of opening and running this remarkable institution, a significant problem was never resolved. Soon after the Franklin opened, the local authority, Camden council, refused a planning application for a change of use of the premises from residential to adult education centre. And after a futile efforts to keep the school open it was forced to close. Max and Isabel quickly needed another location in which to hold the classes. Fortunately, one of the students, Belinda Marcettic, offered a semi-basement room in her house in Chesterford Gardens, Hampstead which was just big enough to hold a class of about 15 and the courses continued there.
The format of the classes was by now well established. Originally at Piccadilly and during the first term at the Franklin, there had been only one session per week lasting about one and a half hours over a period of ten weeks. Now Max changed to two sessions per evening spread over a five-week period. The design was the same - a relaxation sequence, a paper describing the work of the evening and finishing with guided imagery. But between, there was half an hour of a different kind of relaxation - for tea and biscuits where everyone could get to know each other better.
Max was tall and well-built, with thick steel-grey hair and his presence in the class was powerful yet curiously unobtrusive. Before the class began he might be conferring with Isabel, checking his notes quietly in a corner, or greeting those he knew well with a hug and friendly laugh. Once everyone settled into their chairs, the room became quiet and the session began. His voice was the focus. One student, John Steele, wrote later:
Max had a distinctive appearance and presence. His skin seemed to emanate a mellow golden glow. His aura radiated a Zen-like serenity. His voice was soothing and easy to listen to. His eyes seemed to have an oriental look about them. I often had the impression that an Eastern sage had reincarnated in this Englishmans body.
Steve Margolis noticed that when the tea break came in a Ki Aikido class he also attended, the teacher and highest-ranking students would be served first and this seemed right and appropriate in that context. But in the biofeedback classes Isabel miraculously remembered what each student wanted from a wide choice of herbal and ordinary teas as well as coffee; Max would receive his last of all in a plastic cup. He clearly thought that this was right and appropriate.
The ESR meter seems so simple, yet it can tell you a lot about yourself. A response from which we all suffered was the reaction when Max had got us into deep relaxation, then checked how well we were doing. One by one the needles bounced over to the right as he passed by.
Margolis recalls: In the classes, I was always aware of when Max was looking my way, even if I had my eyes closed. Often and particularly in the early days, I would feel self-conscious and even more so when I realised that my meter was broadcasting my self-consciousness. On one occasion, Max spent a long time watching my meter. Every time it registered any embarrassment, he quietly said: Here and now. Here and now. It took me an hour but I got it in the end. As Steve says, it took us a long time to get over that obstacle but it was a real test of whether our relaxation was unshakeable.
Many of us tried to control the meter - that is, to make ourselves relax - but the meter showed the contradiction of saying: I will relax. I will belongs to the sympathetic (responding) branch of the autonomic system and relax to the parasympathetic (letting go). The only way to progress was to ignore the meter, do the prescribed exercise and then look at the meter to see if there was any change. If you try to control the meter, it might begin to show relaxation; you react with a mixture of relief and fear that you might not be able to keep it up, the meter registers this by moving in wrong direction. Later, when we could relax while watching the meter, in effect receiving anti-biofeedback, we knew our relaxation was ready, in Maxs words, for the battlefield.
Biofeedback machines were key tools in Maxs courses for developing self-awareness, and especially so for Western males who for the most part have been taught by their culture and upbringing not to examine or trust their feelings. Because of their acceptance of technology, they might gingerly concede that the meter was trying to tell them something about themselves.
During the second session of the class our levels of relaxation were much deeper, due in part to increased group empathy and also more effective because students now had let go any emotional problems of the day; or were simply feeling less tired after the journey to the class.
Sometimes the changes students experienced happened quickly and dramatically. One student had been working on an encyclopaedia for three years. During the first two classes her ESR meter reading was completely stuck, indicating an inflexible autonomic system. Then in the middle of the third she gave a loud guffaw, the needle swung wildly and suddenly she had got it. I saw her face light up and she looked years younger, as though a heavy load had fallen from her shoulders. It is very magical for the person leading the group when that happens. As Max would say: It does not matter whether you can understand it, can you do it?
Another student who experienced a similar transformation was a doctor who could not bring his meter needle back to normal after relaxation exercises. Not being able to perform this a simple task that everyone else in the class seemed to find easy upset him because, as a doctor and also as someone interested in alternatives, he felt he should have no difficulty. At last, in a flash he realised what the problem was: letting go of his doctor label. He let out a wild cock-a-doodle-doo, the needle woke up and hit the end stop. He had no further problem with bring the needle back.
Sydney Crawford was another student who suddenly found that his meter needle became mobile. With his permission I would like to recount the story. Many a Thursday evening Sydney was there - we called him Samadhi Sid because he went to sleep in every meditation. Then one day, he called me over: What does this mean? he asked, pointing to his meter. The needle was zooming all over the scale. I looked at his face and saw him as if for the first time. His skin was smooth and he seemed 20 years younger. He had got it. He began teaching relaxation techniques soon afterwards. I am getting goose pimples typing this. As these stories demonstrate, it is difficult to deny the evidence of the meter, which will indicate directly what is happening within our own body.
Throughout this period Max never taught once without using the meters. Without the confirmation they provided, some might have decided that it was only his personal opinion that they needed help with their relaxation or meditation practice. He often had the experience of demonstrating to other groups and finding that the group leader also needed guidance. To many of us it was a surprise to find out how little our intellect knew about the state of our mind or body. Recent studies have shown the harmful effect our emotions can have on our immune system. Many of us keep our cars in a better state than our mind.
Maxs intention was always to help people to discover their own abilities and resources. It was the key to his teaching. In the first seminar of every beginners course, before introducing the idea of altered states of consciousness, meditation or breathing practices, he devoted the evening to instilling in his pupils the fundamental idea that they could help themselves. The first step, he explained, was being able to achieve states of very deep relaxation - a possibility in the safe surrounding of the group.
It was through Barbara Siddall that Max began to give weekend courses on behalf of the Wrekin Trust, which was set up by the British educationalist Sir George Trevelyan. Sir George had already inaugurated weekend courses on New Age themes at Attingham Park, Shropshire, the adult education college where he was the principal. Gazing from his office window one day at a local hill, The Wrekin, he realised this could be the perfect name for an educational trust to pursue his vision of providing courses to help people to explore the mind, body and spirit. Later Malcolm Lazarus joined him as course organiser and many more courses were introduced so that something was available most weekends on subjects ranging from colour therapy to dowsing and the Kabbala. Barbara had met Malcolm Lazarus in 1975 on a pilgrimage to St Michaels Mount in Cornwall, so she was well acquainted with the Wrekin Trusts work. He and Sir George were invited to the Franklin School to meet Max and so began another co-operation which lasted many years.
Max and Barbara Siddall gave many Wrekin Trust courses together at East Hampstead Park, in Berkshire, structured so that half the group attended the biofeedback session while the other half did yoga or a creative art workshop, then changed over. There was a shortage of suitable rooms but they were always fortunate with the weather so that the yoga could be held outside on the lawn. These joint weekends were very popular, with as many as 60 people attending.
Someone who attended these courses for many years at Chesterford Gardens was Sandra Stein. She became very involved with Maxs methods, Zen, the meters, the explanations and the imagery. Finally she began to teach from her home in Northwood, Middlesex and this experience was invaluable after Maxs death: she and Isabel continued running the courses together for a couple of years. Stein died in June 1993 but left a wonderful legacy to the Maxwell Cade Trust - all the tapes of the courses that she had diligently recorded over many years.
Max emphasised that inventiveness and originality apply to every aspect of our lives. Many of the students who attended his courses had artistic talents which often had not been exercised since their youth. Others were and still are well known as painters, sculptors and writers who discovered that the classes could enhance their creativity or help them find a way out of a creative impasse. That this source of riches permeates every facet of work and leisure was illustrated by many reports: I get on better with my wife (husband, boss); I found myself a better job; I am taking a course on writing, something I have always wanted to do, and so on.
Maxs courses woke up the gifts of imagination. This was demonstrated abundantly by the haiku exercise which he gave to the participants of his Thursday evening group - experienced students who had taken his courses over a number of years. The haiku, the ancient form of Japanese poetry which originally had 17 syllables, expresses a mood, a feeling or an emotion. With the group in deep relaxation Max would read a haiku. Here are two examples:
The mists come;
The mountains fade and vanish;
The tower stands alone.
Plum blossoms start to fall
Upon the lute.
Max would ask each of the group to bring along to the next session their impression of the haiku he had read. The work could be in the form of another haiku, a model, a sculpture, drawing or painting, or anything else. The following week the students would crowd round the table, eagerly examining each others contributions. The effect was profound. People who had not touched a paintbrush since school found depths of artistic creation they had not suspected. Even experienced artists were often surprised at the new directions which were revealed. The art gallery on the biofeedback room walls at Chesterford Gardens was always decorated with exotic paintings and drawings that spoke eloquently of gifts that had been waiting to be discovered or further explored.
The results did not always come easily. Steve Margolis, recalls:
I always dreaded these haiku exercises as my painting skills are primitive to say the least. Once the haiku was about the moon, a lake and the wind. I hoped that nobody would notice that I wasnt doing anything and started doodling on my piece of paper. After a while I scribbled: No clear reflection in a ruffled mind. Looking at it, I decided it wasnt too bad but I couldnt possibly hand in a doodle-ridden scrap of paper when everyone else was handing in works of art.
I had just started to copy it neatly on to a clean piece of paper when, before I could stop her, the student next to me collected my piece of paper and handed it in. Max examined each picture silently while I sat cringing with embarrassment. When my turn came he smiled saying: Ah, this persons got it. I felt awkward, surprised and also a little pleased. But shouldnt sartori be attractively packaged?
Judy Corbalis, a writer, says:
I still remember how worried I was the first time he set this homework and I still clearly reflect the haiku, Twilight Flower Fields. The day before the class I hadnt come up with a thing so that night I fished around in a drawer, found some coloured inks I'd bought for my son and sat down to produce at least some evidence that I'd tried. I kept gazing at the haiku,
Twilight flower fields,
Moonrise in the eastern sky
Sunset in the west.
I waved a pencil uselessly over the A4 sheet, then took a brush and dug it into the ink pot. Suddenly I knew I wanted to draw poppies and at the same time realised what the haiku was saying. It was a revelation. I couldnt stop painting until really late and went to bed enormously satisfied with myself. The pictures meant something personal to me; Max had made it possible to express myself in a different way. It was an incredibly liberating experience.
Margaret Jordan, who wrote on Maxs biofeedback teaching as part of her BA thesis, on English with religious studies, gives her impression of haiku, with a poignant outcome:
The few haiku exercises that I had done the previous year had been drawn hurriedly (just to have something to take to the class) and badly drawn because I do not have any natural technique. I always felt a bit disappointed at not giving more attention to these and I decided to spend most of the day before the next class carrying out this right-brain exercise. I bought lots of coloured Pentels and paints and sat down to play. All afternoon I chuckled happily to myself as I absorbed the haiku and transferred it to paper.
The result was by no means a work of art but I was satisfied with it and looked forward to showing it to Max. When I arrived at the class, I was told that he had died a few days before. After the shock and sadness, my first reaction was shame at not having made a better attempt earlier but then it seemed to me that Max had in some way influenced my state of mind that afternoon and revived my sense of fun while I painted.
Starting during the more advanced courses at the Franklin School, Max and Isabel would often introduce a psychic experiment. A favourite was that Isabel would bring a number of objects from home, one of which would be shown at the end of the evening. At some point during the class, after a deep relaxation exercise, everyone would try to draw the object due to be shown. Then, at the last moment, Isabel would choose the object. There were often accurate hits as drawings correctly anticipated the object revealed.
My own experience at one class was that I drew a conical shape with something fuzzy on top of it. In fact I reached the future a minute too early: Isabel lifted a waste bucket from the floor, put it upside down on the table and placed the object on top still wrapped in a cloth ready to unveil at 10pm, at the end of the class. My drawing was accurate although I had no idea what I had drawn. This impressed me more than if I had actually got the object because Isabel could have already decided which object she was going to show and conveyed this to me by telepathy. I am sure she would not have thought to transmit the shape of an upside-down rubbish bucket with a cloth on top, so it seemed to me that I had genuinely anticipated the object but drew it 30 seconds before it was due to be shown!
Another time, I had introduced a friend to the group. At the end of the meditation exercise everyone was asked if they had any images. People were answering: patches of yellow, yellow flowers, daffodils. At least five of the group got quite clear pictures that were nothing to do with the guided imagery that Max had given. Finally, my friend suggested that he might be the cause because, having no experience of meditation, he had kept himself occupied by reciting to himself Wordsworths poem, Daffodils. I was extremely embarrassed at having wrecked the meditation by introducing a stranger into the group but both Max and Isabel were delighted at this example of group empathy.
Such unexpected outcomes often set off gales of laughter. No wonder that one student, Margaret Jordan, wrote in her university thesis that Maxs groups must have been the noisiest, liveliest meditation classes in London.
6-1 Travels In Inner Space. Johnny St John. Gollancz 1977.