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Without Apology

Photo: Tada Anchan Akihiro

Photo: Tada Anchan Akihiro

Babies don’t interfere with themselves.

Babies don’t judge, correct, or evaluate themselves.
They can’t make a mistake because they don’t know what it means to make a mistake.
Babies can’t fail because they don’t know what it means to fail.
Babies are moved to move. They don’t know why. What does why mean to them?

Babies want what they want. They are happy when they get it.
What they don’t want, they don’t accept. They’re honest.
Babies are unselfconscious, unabashed, and unpretentious.

We love them because we want to be like them.

Babies sit on the floor, effortlessly upright, delighted to see the world from a new perspective.

Babies stop eating when they are no longer hungry.
They immediately throw up anything they don’t like.

A baby can scream for hours without straining their voice.
Babies express strong emotions, and when the reason for doing so is gone,
They stop, and forget about the whole thing.
Babies cannot hold grudges. They don’t know what it means to hold a grudge.

Babies can spread out all their toes, even the little ones.
Babies can put their feet in their mouth and they don’t care what anyone thinks about it.

Babies fall, over and over again, don’t care, don’t get hurt, and don’t take it personally.
They just get up.

We love them because we want to be like them.

As babies,
We did not identify ourselves as male or female, or even as human.
We had no identity.
We were uncoordinated, inarticulate, illiterate, uneducated, unskilled, and unsocial.
Appearing completely selfish, we had no self.
As we ceased being babies, gradually, we became more self-conscious.
Coordinated, articulate, literate, learned, skilled, controlled, socialized and civilized.
We assumed an identity, a false identity.
We gained impressive skills,
We lost, to a great degree, the inherent qualities we had as babies.

We yearn to become unself-conscious, unambiguous, uncomplicated.
We long to unlearn, not to know, to surrender control.
We no longer want to equate our self worth with our skills and accomplishments.
We don’t want to be dictated by what others think of us.
We want to be ourselves, without apology.
We want to experience our innocence, through our maturity, to come around, full circle.
We want to be able to play again.

We want to see the world, one more time, through the glistening eyes of an infant.

From Where This Path Begins by Bruce Fertman

Not Yours. Not Mine.

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Not in a place, not in a space,
Not a person, not a thing,
Not a ping or a pong,
Not the soundless sounding of a gong.
Not a word, surely not absurd.

Don’t look.
You’ll not come across it in a book.

Don’t seek,
And you will find,
It is not yours, not mine.

It has no foes, woes, or toes.
There – off it goes!

It hates to sit.
Does not come in a kit.
Some think it illegit.
About to quit?

It’s a zone…where you are not alone.
It’s a ball…floating through us all.
It’s a climate…of refinement.
It’s a breeze…full of ease.

It’s changeable as the weather.
Totally untethered, soft as a feather,
Like a field of heather.

Nowhere does it dwell.
It’s like a well, but without the well.
Well, well, well…impossible to tell.

It is…it is…it is.

From Where This Path Begins by Bruce Fertman

My Letter Of Resignation

Van_Gogh_Museum_-_The_sower,_1888 wikimedia

At the ripe age of 64, I hereby announce my retirement. Below, you will find my letter of resignation.

June 15, 2015

To Whom It May Concern,

I have quit.

I’ve quit being overly ambitious. What I have is exactly what I want. And what I want is exactly what I have. And when I believe otherwise, then I know I am confused. That’s when I stop profoundly, get still, and wait until the mud settles and the water is clear.

I’ve quit needing to be in control. That’s what the first half of life is about. Taking your life by the horns. Exercising your will. Creating the world in your own image. The second half of life, that’s more about giving up control, letting go of your grip on things, letting go of your grip on yourself. It’s not about being willful; it’s about being willing.

Willing to be wrong, which means I’ve quit having to be right all the time. I don’t have an opinion about this, and I don’t have an opinion about that. I’m old. I don’t have the energy to butt heads. Besides, it’s funny how often it turns out I am wrong! It’s really helpful to have a lot of people around me who know better.

I’ve quit having to be good looking. Sure people sometimes tell me, especially in Japan, that I look like Richard Gere, (minus the hair). But, in reality, I look more like Bernie Sanders. I’m no longer lean and mean. I’m pudgy. I’m getting crusty on the outside, but supple on the inside. On the surface I’m looking old, but deep within I’m finding my innocence through my maturity.

I’ve quit having to earn money to justify my value. I know my self-worth, and it’s got nothing to do with money. Poverty is having nothing left to give. I’m giving away what I know as generously as I can. Sometimes I make money doing that. Sometimes I don’t.

I’ve quit having to be a star. I know what it’s like to be a star that has lost its constellation. It’s like being nowhere, lost in space, spinning in utter darkness. Existence is co-existence. To be means to be with other people. Less celestrially speaking, I’ve changed from being a pitcher, to being a third base coach. I stand on the sidelines, speaking in code, discreetly tipping my cap, pinching my nose, and pulling on my ear. I want others to make their way to home base.

I’ve quit feeling responsible for the lives of my grown children. That was a tough job to give up. Loving my children; that job I will never give up.

I’ve quit taking myself personally. Whatever people see in me, I know they’re seeing themselves. I know I’m just a mirror, and that others are mirrors for me. I know we’re only reflections of one another.

I’ve quit acting like a donkey with a carrot dangling in front of my nose, forever enticed by something I’m never going to get. I’ve quit chasing after the carrot of enlightenment.

I don’t dance. I quit being a dancer, not modern, not tango. No twisting again. One day I woke up and after 40 years of doing Tai Chi everyday, I just stopped. And I don’t miss it at all. I don’t identify with being a good mover, nor a movement educator. I’ve quit identifying with my coordination. I don’t care about being physically fit. In fact, I’ve quit identifying with my body at all. I’m a big, not so fat, no-body. For a long time I thought I was a somebody, somebody special. But now I know better. I’m finally free from that illusion. Free at last. Free at last.

Know that, though I resign from my previously held, long-standing position, I still love my work.

I hereby throw myself, with renewed vigor, into my life as an “Alexandrian,” as a “Barstowian,” and as a “Fertmanist.” I throw myself into my life, into my destiny, with joyful abandon. I throw myself, I scatter myself, into the world like Von Gogh’s sower of seeds; what grows, grows; what doesn’t, doesn’t.

What Walt Whitman declared in Song Of The Open Road, now I too can declare:

All seems beautiful to me,

I can repeat over to men and women,

You have done such good to me I would do the same to you,

I will recruit for myself and you as I go,

I will scatter myself among men and women as I go,

I will toss a new gladness and roughness among them,

Whoever denies me it shall not trouble me,

Whoever accepts me he or she shall be blessed and shall bless me.

Photo: B. Fertman, Pedernal, Coyote, New Mexico

Photo: B. Fertman, Pedernal, Coyote, New Mexico

 

Yours truly,

Bruce Fertman

P.S. Where This Path Begins by Bruce Fertman

Nothing Else To Say

efg_24.197.2_283230_03

Words. They’re important. They’re worth thinking about. It’s worth taking the time and finding the precise word or words that express your truth. It’s worth visiting those words over and over again, as your understanding of what is true changes, and then changing those words, once again, until they express your truth as it lives within you now.

Certified. This word lacks beauty for me . Certified US Beef. Certified mail. Certified gluten free. Perhaps it has something to do with my having grown up in Philadelphia, a city founded by a Quaker, William Penn. It remains the only state where you don’t need a priest or a rabbi, or a government to certify that two people are married. What you need is a community. It’s your community that knows you, who recognizes you, and who cares about you. And it’s your community that supports you. A marriage has little chance of surviving in a vacuum. And so does an Alexander teacher.

Thirty five years ago, when Martha and I first founded the Alexander Alliance, we chose to award graduating students by giving them a document called a Statement Of Recognition. The words had meaning. The words matched what was happening. A person who had studied deeply, who had made a real commitment, was being recognized by their teachers, their colleagues, and their students. Perhaps most importantly, by the students they had begun to teach. The reason why I say most importantly by their students is because, ultimately, it’s your students who decide whether you are a teacher. No students. No teacher. If anyone certifies a teacher, it’s their students.

Marjorie Barstow didn’t certify us. She didn’t believe in certifying us. She didn’t believe it was necessary. She would say when asked if she certified teachers, “No, I don’t, however, some of my students have gone on to become excellent teachers of Alexander’s work.” She wanted us to know when we were ready to teach. Yes, there was a day when Marj said to me that she thought it would be good for my learning, if I began to teach more. But that was a suggestion. The decision was mine to make. Yes, she did write a letter saying I was a good Alexander teacher, but that was simply a letter of recommendation for a position I was applying for in a university theatre department.

And so it was, in this spirit, in Marj’s spirit,  that I chose the words I did for the document Martha and I gave to our graduating students.

Years have gone by. Almost three hundred people have graduated from the Alexander Alliance International. I felt it was time to look again at our Statement Of Recognition, and surprisingly, the words still rang true. But something was missing. In the original document I ended by saying that the graduate was “capable of imparting Alexander’s work to others.” I have changed this to, “and has made a commitment to imparting Alexander’s work to others, respectfully and benevolently.” Knowledge is not enough, not in our work. In Judaism we speak of possessing a “heart of wisdom.” That’s what I want to see from my students; that their knowledge of Alexander’s work emanate from the heart.

Soon another crop of students will graduate from the Alexander Alliance Germany. Their Statements of Recognition will read:

Germany Certification

Graduates. Open your hands and give. Really, there’s nothing else to say.

 

 

 

Leaving Myself In Your Hands

Guan-Yin-Close up

Bill Coco

“Show me how to do that?” And I would. I would stop my own workout and teach someone how to do what I had somehow figured out how to do, like a front somersault, or a reverse kip up on the rings, or circles on the side horse. No wonder I missed making the Olympic Team. I was busy coaching. Looking back, it’s clear; I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I was supposed to be learning how to use my hands to guide someone into balance, to indicate exactly from where to initiate a movement, in what direction, and with what quality of impulse; to punch it, or snap it, or swing it, or draw it out, or press it up, or let it go. I was supposed to be developing my ability to use language to facilitate coordination.

Unbeknownst to me, I was supposed to become an Alexander teacher, but when I was twelve, and first began using my hands to teach other kids how to move well, I had no idea what that was. As gymnasts we used our hands to help each other as a matter of course, and sometimes as a matter of life and death.

My first coach, Bill Coco, gave me my first experience of educative/nurturing touch. “Okay Bruce. You’re going to do your first back layout with a full twist. I want you to show me your round off. Remember no more than 3 preparatory steps, one back handspring, block with your feet so you transfer your horizontal power vertically, hands reaching toward the ceiling. Don’t look over your left shoulder until I say, “Look,” then wrap your arms quickly and closely across your chest, and leave the rest up to me. Got it?” “Got it.” My faith in Bill was total.

One step, round off, lightning fast back handspring, block, reach…”Look,” I hear Bill say! I look over my left shoulder, wrap my arms across my chest, and there’s Bill’s big hands, soft, light, around my hips. I’m suspended, my body laid out in an arch, weightless, floating two feet above Bill’s head. I’m ecstatic. Bill’s hands spin me to the left, and the next thing I know my feet have landed squarely on the ground. “There you go Bruce. Your first lay out with a full twist. You did 95% of it on your own. By the end of the week it will be yours.”

I guess that makes Bill Coco my first Alexander teacher. He taught be how to lead with my head and let my body follow. He used his hands exactly where, and only when needed, and only with the amount of force necessary. Bill looked like a boxer, more often than not with a fat, unlit, cigar in his mouth, disheveled, sported a sizable beer belly, seemed like a tough guy, and deep down was the softest, gentlest, hugest teddy bear alive. He died when he was forty. I was fifteen. But he passed on to me exactly what I needed, and no doubt he did for a lot of Philadelphia kids like myself.

Bill Coco

Bill Coco

And so it went. Teacher after teacher, teaching me exactly what I needed to learn to get exactly to where I am now; a person who knows how to use his hands to bring people into balance, a person who knows the language of movement, and pretty much a soft, gentle teddy bear of a person, minus the cigar.

But were my teachers only teachers? What else were they to me? How did they really pass onto me what I needed to learn? There are teachers, coaches, counselors, instructors, educators, professors, rabbis, priests, role models, idols, heroes, and mentors. We’ve got different names for people from whom we learn, people who pass on knowledge and skill to us, who bring out knowledge and skill from us. But what is the name for those teachers who pass themselves onto us?

It’s important for me to know what, and who I am to my students if I am to best serve them, if I am to pass on to them the best in me, if I am to leave myself in their hands. Sometimes I am teacher, father, friend, coach, holy man, enemy, sometimes mentor, advocate, adversary, role model. I am exactly, at any given moment, who my student perceives me to be, and needs me to be. I know I am, in essence, none of the roles I assume. I am the person who assumes them.

Marjorie Barstow

Marj Barstow was many things to me, which is why she made such an impression. Most importantly, she was a mirror into my future. She was the manifestation of my potentiality. I could see in her what was lying latent within me. And so I watched, and I listened as if my life depended on it, which it did.

She was not a holy person, not a guru, not a mother, Boy, did she not mother us. She was not a technique teacher, not a coach. She was an artist who showed us her art, over and over again, a kinesthetic sculptor. Humans were her medium. And sometimes horses. (Marj had trained world champion quarter horses.) Sometimes I think she really didn’t care all that much about us as people. She was not a person-centered teacher, as I am. She was a technique-centered teacher. She used us to work on her technique, on her art. That was okay with us. We benefited from her artistic obsession.

Marj inspired me. Her work was astoundingly beautiful, mesmerizing, like watching a master potter spin a clump of clay into a graceful bowl.

Marjorie Barstow working with me.  1977

Marjorie Barstow working with me.
1977

More than anything in the world, I wanted to be able to do what she did. I watched her work day after day, year after year, but I didn’t just watch her with my eyes alone. I watched her kinesthetically. I watched her with my whole body and being. I developed a kind of synesthesia. I was taking her in, at once, through all of my senses. It was like I was swallowing her whole. I “grokked” her.

When I was in college and read Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, I knew that was how I needed to learn. “Grok” means water. To grok means to drink, to drink life. Not to chew it. Not to break it down to understand it. At the moment of grokking the water and the drinker become one substance. As the water becomes part of the drinker, the drinker becomes part of the water. What was once two separate realities become one reality, one experience, one event, one history, one purpose.

Marj didn’t break things down. Marj didn’t teach us how to use our hands. After we would watch her for a few hours Marj would say something like, “Okay. Let’s divide into smaller groups. Bill, Barbara, Don, Bruce, Martha, and Mio, go and teach for a while. (Or it could have been, Cathy, David, Diana, Catherine, and Pete.) The teaching just happened. We could do it. It was as if we were riding Marj’s wave. We were grokking her.

About a year before Marj died I had a dream. Marj was dying. She was in her bedroom, in her house in Lincoln Nebraska, a room I had never seen. “Bruce come sit next to me.” I did. Then slowly Marj pulled the corner of her bedcover down and asked me to lie down next to her. I was shocked, but I did as she asked and gently slid by her side and covered both of us. Then Marj said, “It’s okay Bruce. Now I am going to breathe you for a while, and she placed her mouth on my mouth and began to breathe into me. I could feel her warm breath entering and filling my lungs. I could feel my breath entering into her lungs. In total darkness, we breathed together for hours.  And then I woke up. I got out of bed, picked up the phone, and called Marj. “Marj, are you okay? I had a dream about you and got nervous.” “Bruce, don’t worry about me. I am fine.” “Okay Marj. Sorry if I bothered you.” “No, you didn’t bother me. Thanks for calling.” “No, thank you Marj.”

I’m still thanking her.

Rebbe Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

What was he to me, a rabbi, a teacher, a spiritual father? Marj gave me my craft, my art, my vocation. Rebbe Zalman taught me how to teach, how to sit quietly with people, as if they were in my living room. He showed me that it was fine to be silent, that it was okay to take the time I needed to think, and to wait until I had something worth saying. He taught me how to tell a story. He taught me to be unafraid to look into people’s eyes. He taught me how to think metaphorically. He taught me how to listen to my still, inner voice, and follow it. He taught me how to listen to the inner voices of others. He taught me how to bless people, and how to be blessed by them. He taught me that I could never know one religion unless I knew two, and actively encouraged my interest in Zen Buddhism, in the Christian Mystics, and the Sufi Poets, and in the teachings of Lao Tzu.

Rebbe Zalman

Rebbe Zalman

One day Rebbe Zalman entered a classroom at Temple University where I was taking a graduate course on Martin Buber and the Early Hasidic Masters. Rebbe Zalman enters the room, walks across the room to the other side, stands in front of a large window and looks out at the day. After a minute or two he turns around, walks to his desk, sits on the top of his desk, crosses his legs, closes his eyes, tilts his face up toward the ceiling like a blind man, and begins gently rocking from side to side, bending like grass in the wind. He begins singing a niggun, a soft melody that repeats itself and has no ending. At some point we begin singing with him, singing and singing without end, until we feel as if we are altogether in one boat, floating upon an endless melody, down a endless stream. Rebbe Zalman’s voice fades out, and ours with his, until we’re sitting in a palpable silence. Eyes closed, his rocking slowly getting smaller and smaller. And there in the stillness, in the silence, we’d hear, “That reminds me of a story.”

And Rebbe Zalman would begin to tell us a story, and within the story there would be another story, and within that story another story, until we were transported, like children, into another world. And when we’d least expect it, at a particular point, the story would end. No commentary. No discussion. Class was over. We’d leave knowing those stories were about us, about our very lives. Rebbe Zalman didn’t have to give us any homework. He knew those stories would be working within us until next week. Marj Barstow and Rebbe Zalman were transformative educators, par excellence. They knew how to educe, how to lead us in, and then how to lead us out, out of ourselves, into places unknown to us.

A Modern Day Bodhisattva

Many years later I met a woman, another modern day bodhisattva, another person who inspires, who teaches through example, who knows how to bring out the best in people. I spent hours, years, watching her work, watching her lead one person after another out of their confusion; I spent years grokking her, absorbing her through my pores, into who I am now.

11th century Guanyin statue, from northern China

11th century Guanyin statue, from northern China

Again, I see there are no accidents. We meet exactly the teachers we need, exactly at the time we need them, so that we may become exactly the people we were meant to become.

Aaah, but that is another story.

Your True Face

Ninety percent of the time I work with people with their eyes open. I want them to see the world, and be in the world. At the same time, when people first experience deep kinesthetic lightness, often their eyelids close naturally, as if they were holding a flower under their nose, and letting its sweet scent rise up into their being. This also happens with advanced students too, when they experience, for the first time, a truly new freedom within themselves. I hope you enjoy this short video. I welcome your impressions.

PART II The Libyan Sybil – Revealing That Which Is Hidden

I am going to compare our Libyan Sybil to another figure, one of the Ignudo figures, one of the twenty naked, muscular figures on the Sistine Chapel. Let’s take a look.

Ignudo_02_detail_s

What do you see?

Another androgynous person.

The ignudo is freaked out.

Worried.

Dreading something.

Really sad.

Feeling hopeless.

Maybe he/she is hearing something scary, feels threatened, and wants to see what it is.

Images are like Rorschach tests. We project our inner life onto outer images. Why else would we all be interpreting what we see differently?

So what are the physical, the visual cues that tell you she’s feeling the way she’s feeling? What do you actually see?

Her eyes of way open, bugging out.

Her eyebrows and forehead are raised up.

Her mouth is open. Maybe she’s gasping for air.

Great. What else. (I say, what else, a lot.)

Her head is tilting back and jamming down into her spine.

Her right scapula looks like it’s bulging out and retracting in toward the mid-line and up a little.

Wow, you guys are getting good!

Now let’s compare the Ignudo to the Libyan Sybil.

efg_24.197.2_283230_03

The scapula’s moving down and out and around the ribs.

The spine looks long. The neck is not compressed or shortened.

The eyelids are lowered; forehead and eyebrows relaxed.

The mouth is closed.

The head, instead of tilting back, is tilting ever so slightly forward.

Yeah, instead of looking over the shoulder by flipping the head back, the Libyan Sybil is tilting the head forward and rotating around; two ways of looking over the shoulder, but they’re so completely opposite.

Go ahead. Try both ways and see if it changes how you feel emotionally. Do your best to do exactly what they are doing. And once you have them let yourself gently, slowly, softly transition between one and the other.

They get to work. I sit back and watch. Again, getting to know my students. Frank Ottiwell, a wise Alexander teacher I learned much from, once said to me, ‘Bruce, our job is not so much to help our students, but to get to know them.’

So what was that like?

It’s amazing. When I take on the Ignudo, I become scared. I start to panic. And when I become the Libyan Sybil, I grow calm, and I feel mature.

Many heads are nodding in agreement.

Now what Alexander discerned was that when this head poise is happening it has an organizing, integrative influence, a governing influence throughout the entire body/self. And when this head poise is disturbed, disturbance happens throughout the whole body/self.

So lets look one more time.

What do you see happening to the Ignudo figure’s body?

Michelangelo-ignudo

It looks really uncomfortable. The head is looking back to the right, but the right arm and upper torso is twisting to the left, and the pelvis is falling back and looks weak. His body looks stuck, disorganized, and confused.

His head is in front of his torso and his right arm too. And maybe that’s counterbalancing his torso falling back.

He looks really compressed in his chest and belly, and his mid-back looks like it’s pushing back with a lot of force.

When I look at him, I notice I’m holding my breath.

Why do you think I sometimes choose to teach people about the body through art instead of through strictly anatomical drawings?

Because they’re beautiful?

Because sometimes people get a little scared around pictures of skeletons?

For some people who are not academically oriented, it might feel like studying, like it’s going to be difficult, like there’s going to be a test.

They’re images of humans that are not alive, not whole, not living.

Yes. And because I want you, first, to see a person’s beauty. I haven’t seen a person who wasn’t beautiful in 35 years. And usually the more down and out, the more beautiful. And through that beauty I want you next to see a person’s humanity. And only then do I want you to drop down into the physical structure of a person.

Alexander’s work is not, as I understand it, primarily about how we use our bodies. It’s about how we are being in ourselves. So I want you to begin by seeing a person, how a person is, how a person is being, in their entirety. That’s what Michelangelo could do. Profoundly.

Perhaps now you may see why I fell in love with the Libyan Sybil, and why I chose her as our school logo.

It is said she has the power to “reveal that which is hidden.” Perhaps she ‘s turning toward us, opening the great book for us, and inviting us to read, and to learn.

Michelangelo_the_libyan

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