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This Does Not Help

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I’m not the sort of person who figures things out for myself. When I get lost, which is often, rather than look at a map, (I’ve no smartphone), I will usually ask someone. I enjoy the encounter. I listen, understand, and then a thick fog passes by and I find I’ve forgotten most of what they just told me. I turn and ask someone else for help until, by and by, I get to where I am going. 

I don’t like reading instructions either. This does not help. What I do is ask someone to teach me how to do what I don’t know how to do. I like this. I love having people teach me. I like learning directly from a person. Is that bad? Well it is when you are sitting alone in your kitchen wanting to find a literary agent and you’ve got no idea how to go about it, and no idea of whom to ask.

So I ask the oracle.

Google.

How to find a literary agent, I ask. I am transported to AgentQuery.com. I’m reading. Whosever writing for this company is doing a great job. He or she is so personable I feel like they are right by my side teaching me just what I need to know. (Of course, I have no idea if this is true.) They teach me how to search for a literary agent who might be interested in what I am writing about. They teach me about how to write a query for a work of non-fiction. I decide simply to follow their directions, to follow them to a tee, as is most strongly suggested.

One page. One sentence, referred to as “the hook.” After hooking them, one paragraph to reel them in to wanting to know more about you and your book. A brief, pertinent bio. Thank them courteously and then say goodbye. If they ask you to include some of your manuscript, do so, and if they don’t, do not.

I did it. I followed the simple directions. Here it is – the hook, the reel, the bio, the thank you, and the first 25 pages of what I hope will be a published book that you can actually hold in your hands.

Of course, as my Alexander teachers taught me, I am not holding my breath. It seems unlikely that the first people I send a query to will want to take me on as their client, speaking on my behalf to the most prestigious publishers but, Carol Mann and Tom Miller, I hope you do.

If Carol and Tom should not, I ask all of you who read this for direction, for help. Alert me if you know of a literary agent or a publisher. Offer me guidance if you know your way around this world of books and business. And if you are so moved, let me know what you think of my little project.

To Carol Mann and Tom Miller,

As one who has held in my hands, in my arms, 15,000 people, whose primary sense is touch, who has lived life as a blind man who happens to be able to see, as one who has traveled this world teaching a simple song of physical and spiritual grace, I attempt here to lay the foundations for a theology of touch. 

What is the connection between body and being, between the sensory and the spiritual, between movement and meaning? What does it mean to be tactually literate, to have educative hands? How can we, as educators, as therapists, as parents discern how our students, patients, and children interfere with themselves, somatically and spiritually, so that we might help them suffer less and enjoy life more? Touching The Intangible – Towards A Theology Of Touch tells of the sensibilities and values those of us who teach through touch must cultivate if we are to venture beyond the welfare of the body, and into the workings of the soul. Stories; of an aging mother no longer able to lift her disabled son, of a doctor in a race against time, of an adopted child who cannot eat or smile, of a man who can’t stop blinking, of a woman in search of her real voice, stories of transformation through touch, stories pointing the way toward a theology of touch. 

Biography: Bruce Fertman

  50 years experience as a movement artist and educator. 1982, founded the Alexander Alliance International, an intergenerational, multicultural community/school dedicated to the training of Alexander Technique teachers currently with branches in Germany, Japan, America, and Korea. 30 years traveling annually throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States helping people understand and experience the interconnectedness between physical and spiritual life. A lifetime of disciplined training in Gymnastics, Modern Dance, Contact Improvisation, Alexander Technique, Tai Chi Chu’an, Aikido, Chanoyu, (Japanese Tea Ceremony), Argentine Tango, and Kyudo, (Zen Archery). Taught members of the Berlin Philharmonic, Radio France, The National Symphony, the Honolulu Symphony and for the Curtis Institute of Music. 13 years teaching annually for the Five College Dance Program in Amherst, Mass.  Taught the Alexander Technique for the tango community in Buenos Aires. 6 years teaching Movement for the Actor at Temple and Rutgers Universities. 10 years teaching annually for the College of Physiotherapy in Gottingen, Germany. Currently, lives half the year in Osaka, traveling throughout Japan and Korea working with physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, psychologists, dentists, yoga and Pilates instructors, movement research specialists, classical pianists, and with the traditional Korean music and the traditional Korea tea ceremony communities. Lives the other half of the year in northern New Mexico, hiking and writing. 

Thank you for your time and consideration. I believe I have a substantial social platform of support upon which this book could be successfully launched. I include the first 25 pages as requested. I do have a first draft of the entire manuscript ready if you should like to read it.

Gratefully, 

Bruce Fertman

http://www.peacefulbodyschool.com

Touching The Intangible 

Photo: B. Fertman

 

 Towards A Theology Of Touch

By

Bruce Fertman

Epigraph

Being blind I thought I should have to go out to meet things, but I found that they came to meet me instead…

If my fingers pressed the roundness of an apple, I didn’t know whether I was touching the apple or the apple was touching me…

As I became part of the apple, the apple became part of me. And that is how I came to understand the existence of things.

 As a child I spent hours leaning against objects and letting them lean against me. Any blind person can tell you that this exchange gives a satisfaction too deep for words…

Touching the tomatoes in the garden is surely seeing them as fully as the eye can see.  But it is more than seeing them.

It is the end of living in front of things, and the beginning of living with them.

Jacques Lusseyran – from And There Was Light

God is Reality.

Byron Katie

Foreword 

Michelangelo’s Choice

No one knows the story behind Michelangelo’s choice.

What I do know is in the Torah the story goes that God blew the breath of life through Adam’s nostrils. Breath was the vital force. When painting the Sistine Chapel Michelangelo chose not to depict the creation of Adam through this image. He chose touch, not breath. God touches Adam, and Adam begins to live. That’s closer to how it works. Two people embrace. Spermatozoa race toward the ovum. Only one will penetrate the ovum’s protective layer, allowing the genetic material of the biological father to touch, then merge, with the genetic material of the biological mother.

Michelangelo’s depiction of Adam’s creation may be more widely known than the original. Michelangelo re-conceived the creation of man in his own image. He was the ultimate creator of the human form, a man who brought, through touch, the lifeless to life.

No wonder, when I was thirteen and saw for the first time Michelangelo’s Pieta at the Worlds Fair in New York in 1964, I wept. And wept. My mother had no idea why. Neither did I. 

Now I do.

Photo: Tada Anchan Akihiro

Photo: Tada Anchan Akihiro

Was This Book Written For You?

This book is written in honor of and for…

…people interested in the relationship between physical and spiritual grace. 

…people interested in touch, but especially for people who use their hands to help others.

… people interested in the interplay between sensory life and spiritual life. For anyone seeking to live a spiritually embodied life.

…counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists of any kind who want to learn how to better listen, see, and be with their patients.

… body workers who want to learn how not to work on a person’s body, but through a person’s body. For movement artists and educators who better wish to understand how meaning underlies movement.

… all teachers who want to be better teachers, who want to learn how to quickly and deeply connect to students, how to foster trust, how to teach through the telling of stories, through metaphor, and through movement.

… performing artists, actors, musicians, dancers and singers who wish to know more about authenticity, about presence, and about inner beauty.

… people who are interested in Taoism and in the teachings of Lao Tzu.

… people who want a good introduction into what the Alexander Technique is and what it is about. 

… people who are currently students of the Alexander Technique who wish to incorporate the work into their everyday lives, and into their way of being in the world.

… people who are training to be Alexander Technique teachers or who are currently Alexander Technique teachers who wish also to learn how to impart Alexander’s work outside of his procedures, who also wish to be able to teach effectively in groups. For Alexander trainees and teachers who want to take the work beyond the body. For Alexander trainees and teachers who wish to teach more from the heart. For Alexander trainees and teachers who wish to find contemporary language for Alexander’s work. For Alexander trainees and teachers who wish to explore the relationship between Alexander’s work and spiritual life.

This book unfolds from beginning to end, leading you deeply into the work at hand. At the same time, each essay stands on its’ own.  

Table Of Contents

Foreword

Was This Book Written For You?

Part I. The Work At Hand 

Poise

The Way Of It

My Muse

Revealing That Which Is Hidden

The Blueprint

Taking Care Of The People Who Take Care Of People

The Decision

At The End Of The Road

The Hint

Part II. Sensibilities

Our Essential Task

Don’t I Know You?

How Are You?

Seeing People

In This Deep Place

The Lay Of The Land

Jiro’s Hands

Part III. Openings Into Grace

The World In A Dewdrop

One Small Gesture Of Kindness

All In A Days Work

In Blind Daylight

The Walker

In The Blink Of An Eye

The Letter

Sing For Me

A Little Lightness

On Becoming A Person

Two Worlds

Living Until You Die

God In The Palm Of Your Hand

Part IV. Meditations On The Sensory World

Intrapersonal Sensory Intelligence

God Trying To Get Your Attention

Shekina – A Contemporay Midrash On Genesis

Sensus Communis

Without Our Having To Ask

Sauntering

Touching Existence

What You Are Not

Being Fed

Contemplative Anatomy 

The Nameless Song

Why Wait?

Inside The Majesty

V. Living The Work

Softness

Love Runs Downstream

A Real Softy

Drenched To The Bone

Less

You’re Too Much

Kvetching

How To Make A Good Impression

Gravity and Grace

The Place Just Right

A Little Girl And A Little Boy

Plain Jane

The Wind And The Willows

Beyond Right And Wrong

Defenseless

Suicide Bombers

When I’m Right, I’m Right

Begin With Yourself

Where Do They All Come From

The Solution

Barely Squeaking By

Not A Second Too Late

It Cannot Be That Simple

Teaching Without Teaching

Beauty Longing For Itself

Establishing Credit

Non-Doing

Chasing After Your Own Tail

Can’t Stand The Pressure

Don’t Take My Advice

Oneness

Heaven Help Us

A Nameless Song

Me And My Shadow

Essential Goodness

Thoughtless

Unmistakable Signs

Putting Your Foot In Your Mouth

Stopping

Chill

Ready Or Not

Life On The Edge

Readiness

The Imprint

Too Late For You

A Poor Little Old Lady

Space

Out Of Nowhere

Just Between You And Me

A Big Fat Nobody

Change

Deep

Burnt Out

Death Warmed Over

Moms

Afterward 

My Letter Of Resignation

Part I

The Work At Hand

Poise

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman


Poise occurs by itself when we stop interfering with it. The hitch is we don’t know precisely how we are interfering with it because we can’t feel the interference.

What we do feel is the result of the interference, some particular or generalized strain, effort, tension, or fatigue. It’s there. We’re uncomfortable, and we don’t know how to become comfortable. We try to sit up straight, or we stretch for a while, but soon enough this lack of ease, this lack of support returns.

We go back to work with this sluggish sense of weight, this thickness we have to push through to get anything done. Or we go back to work so revved up that we don’t feel a thing for hours until we stop and find ourselves hurting, or totally wiped out.

Poise. It’s elusive. We see very young children, how lightly suspended they are, how lithe, how nimble. They’re not trying to do anything right. They’re just naturally buoyant and springy.

What happened?

Unwittingly, from the inside out, we sculpted “a tension body”, a body made of tension. 

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The Awakening Slave by Michelangelo

It takes a lot of energy to keep two bodies going, especially two bodies that aren’t getting along. While our real body is putting its foot on the gas pedal, our tension body is putting its foot on the brake. We feel un-free, enslaved by our tension. This is the opposite of poise.

Poise returns as you begin to distinguish your tension body from your real body. As you become acquainted with your tension body, you can ask it, kindly, to let go of you. As it does, your tension body generously gives you its energy, its very life. The conflict ends. You’re free.

The Way Of It

bulldogging_by_suzie_n-d81j1ps

On this particular day, in Japan, in a hospital, I am with physical and speech therapists. I have two days, fourteen hours. Two professors of Physical Therapy invited me because it has become apparent to them that, when it comes to educating physical therapists, two key elements are missing: how they use their hands, and how they use their bodies when they are doing their work. Physical therapists in Japan get a lot of theory in school. They learn a lot of specific techniques for a lot of specific problems. But they don’t have a class called Touch 101, or Movement for Physical Therapists 202. They just don’t, and these professors are beginning to wonder why. There are about thirty-five therapists in the room, about seven Alexander Technique teachers. That should work. The workshop begins.

I Don’t Know

The Alexander Technique is not a technique, not in the same way you guys learn techniques for working with adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulders or in Japan as it is known, the 50 year old shoulder), or hemiplegia (severe strokes), or dysphagia (swallowing disorders). The Alexander Technique is not a technique for anything particular.

The Alexander Technique is a field of study. It’s an inquiry into human integration, into what integration is, what restores it, and what disturbs it. It’s a foundational study. Integration underlies everything we do. The more of it we have, the easier it is to do what we’re doing.

So what is integration? You PTs help people a lot with strength, flexibility, and coordination, super important for everyone. Integration includes all of these but is, at the same time, something distinct from them. For example, a baby can scream for an hour and not lose its voice. Why is that? Why can’t a grown up do that? A baby will reach for something, but never over-reach for something. They will only extend their arms or legs so far and no farther. Why is that? Babies will work for a long time figuring out how to pick up a pea on their plate but will never distort their hands or bodies while they’re doing it. They just won’t distort themselves. They are somehow prewired, preprogrammed to remain whole, all of a piece, a flexible unit. That’s integration.

So why do we lose it? I don’t know. I don’t know a lot of things. How do we lose it? I don’t know that either, but I’ve got a few theories. What I observe is that in the process of our becoming coordinated, something happens. At some point we’ve got to learn how to button our shirt, tie our shoes, eat with hashi, (chopsticks). We’ve got to learn how to speak, how to ride a bicycle, how to write kanji. Did you ever see little kids trying to write kanji? There you can see it. Children disintegrating. Their tongues are sticking out of the corner of their mouths, they’re not breathing, their heads are hanging down, spines bent and twisted, little hands gripping their pencils for dear life. And the more pressure around learning, the more felt fear, the more the body just falls apart. There’s no preventing it entirely, no matter how great your parents are, or your teachers, or your culture. Sooner or later it’s going to happen to everyone, more or less. The fall from grace. Somehow, we’ve got to find our way back to the garden.

Bulldogging

Have you ever been to a rodeo? (I’ve now moved from standing in a big circle with everyone, into the center of that circle.) I haven’t, but sometimes when you walk into a bar in New Mexico, which is where I live when I am not living in Japan, you might look up at the TV and see one. A rodeo’s a contest where cowboys and cowgirls show their skill at riding broncos, roping calves, and wrestling steers. These are practical skills ranchers need in order to roundup cattle, to count them, or brand them. (I’ve chosen this example for the PTs because it’s profoundly physical, strongly kinesthetic. It’s also exotic, and people like that.)

It so happens that Marjorie L. Barstow, the first person formally certified to teach the Alexander Technique, and my mentor for 16 years, took Frank Pierce Jones, a man she helped train to become an Alexander teacher, a classics professor at Brown University, an East Coast intellectual, a man who would never find himself at a western rodeo, except for on this day, when Marj wanted to show him what the Alexander Technique was all about.

Okay Frank, in a minute a big, mean, steer is going to explode out of that gate, and out of the gate next to it, a cowboy on a horse is going to burst out, and that cowboy is going to do his best to lean over, grab that steers horns, dig his heels into the dirt, and take that steer down. And that steer is going to do his best not to let him.

The gates open. Frank watches. He sees the cowboy lean over, take the horns, snap them back, jam the back of the steers skull into his massive neck while twisting that neck to the side and bringing that steers head to the ground. The steer, unable to stay on his legs, crashes to the ground.

What did you see Frank? Not too much, Frank says. Keep watching Frank. They watched, and as they watched, little by little Marj got Frank to see exactly what was happening. You see Frank, the cowboy snaps the steers’ head back, and jams it into his neck. That compresses his entire spine. Now the steer can’t breathe. His front legs begin to buckle. His pelvis tilts under. His hind legs can’t get any power, any traction. That steer’s got nothing left. The man’s in control now.

There’s one last cowboy to go. Looking down at him as he sits on his horse, Frank can see that this cowboy doesn’t look well. He’s slouched back in the saddle, the horse’s head is dropped way down. Maybe he was out late. Maybe he drank more than he should have. The gates swing open, the steer gets the jump on him, the cowboy catches up, leans over, grabs the horns but can’t seem to snap the head back. Rather than the horns going back, Frank sees them rotating slightly forward, the neck looks enormous, the steers’ ribs are widening as air fills his huge lungs. The steers’ body seems to be getting longer, his front legs are dropping under him, his pelvis is out, his tail is up, his haunches powerful, his back hooves driving him forward like a train. Meanwhile, the cowboy looks like a flag flapping in the wind. This time around, the steer’s in charge.

Now that’s the way of it, that’s how it works, that’s what we’re after, Marj says. We’ve got that kind of organized power in us too. We’re just interfering with it all the time. That’s what Alexander figured out.

And that’s what I mean, I say to the class, when I use the word integration. I mean that naturally organized freedom and power that’s in all of us.

I can see I’ve got everyone’s attention. I’ve been telling this story as much with my body as with my words. I see that everyone’s been sitting for a while, so I say, Okay, enough sitting. Why don’t you stand up. The second they start to stand up I tell them to stop and just stay where they are. 

Don’t move a muscle. Where are your horns? I mean, if you had horns. Are they rotating forward or are they rotating backwards? My eyes see one guy whose head is pretty jammed into his neck. I walk over and kneel down on one knee in front of him. I invite everyone to come closer so they can see us. I scoop his head lightly into my hands the way my grandmother would do to me when she greeted me, and I gently tilt his imaginary horns forward. His spine surges up. Everyone can see the power filling his body. That’s the steer, I say. 

I guide his weight over his sit bones, then over his feet, and without any effort, he floats to a stand. How was that, I said? Smiling, dazed, he says, “Zen zen chigau! Totally different! I floated up without any effort.” “Well, I say, that’s what happens when the cowboy gets off your back.”

Now here’s where it gets interesting. We’ve all got a steer inside of us. I call that your mammal body. And we all have a cowboy inside of us. That’s your acquired body. And sometimes our acquired body works against our mammal body. There’s a conflict in there. We’re fighting against ourselves. And it can get dangerous. The steer can get hurt, and the cowboy too.

Now our cowboy can’t take us down by our horns because we don’t have horns, and besides, the cowboy is not outside of us. So how does the cowboy within us bring us down? Well, instead of coming at us from on top of our heads, he comes at us from below our heads, from our necks. It’s like he’s hiding there inside our neck, looking up, reaching up, and pulling our skull back and pressing it down into our spines. That’s not the only place where he hangs out, but it’s definitely one of his favorite places from which to operate.

Here’s what’s very cool. Our mammal body has got a lot of energy in it. And our cowboy body does too. Now if they’re going at each other, they’re using up all of our energy, and that’s the energy we want to be using to get on with our lives. If we can get the energy of the mammal body and the energy of the cowboy body to harmonize, to work together toward a common purpose, if we can get them both working for us, not busy fighting against each other, then just imagine how much energy that would free up.

And that’s why it felt so effortless standing up. Not only was the cowboy off your back, the cowboy was actually helping you get up! So you’re going from having almost no available energy to stand up, to having a surplus of energy to stand up. Now, that’s exciting. Imagine what it would feel like to work with patients with all that organized energy, what it would be like to move through your day like that.

(Glimpses into what it looks like as I work with physical therapists.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vkn2NsuBWiI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAdOjLVztSk

Over the next half hour, I do this with about ten students. I make a point of always catching a person unaware that their horns are pulling back. Don’t move, I tell her. You’re perfect just like that. Okay, I’m going to be the cowboy. I place my hands around her head, but this time I put a slight pressure with my little fingers against the back of her neck and take her more into her “disintegration pattern,” gently getting her throat to bulge forward and down, which immediately tilts her head back, collapses her chest, and tucks her pelvis under.

Now, I’m going to have a change of heart, a conversion. I’m a cowboy who decided to change his ways. My new mission is to free the steer, free its power. Finding the potential spring in her spine, I guide her back into her “integration pattern.” (I don’t use any Alexander jargon. I don’t need it.)

Supporting teachers, I call out!  It’s time to give everyone this experience! I can sense a bit of panic in the air. I know what they’re afraid of. Don’t be afraid of taking people down, I say to them. Do it., but do it slowly and gently. It’s good for them. It’s good for everyone. We want to get springy down there. When you buckle a person’s neck forward and press their heads gently into their spines, it’s an intelligent response for the body to go into a collapse pattern. If the spine is too rigid and can’t do that, there’s a problem. So take people down, softly, and get them to know what’s happening down there. Lead them down in a way that makes their spine springy. Load the spring. Fill it with potential energy. Then take the pressure off it and let the spine spring back up. Get to work. Have fun.

By the end of the first morning we are off to a good start.  Everyone’s got a clear idea of what the work’s about, what the workshop is about. They’re beginning to be able to see what the cowboy within looks like, and what the steer within looks like. They’ve all felt the power of their mammal body when the cowboy is working for it, and the weakness of the mammal body when the cowboy is working against it.

Their Own Story

I want to tell them about their own countries story of the ox and the ox herder, about the boy who finds the wild ox and tries to tame it, and has a real hard time of it, how they both end up exhausted. I want to tell them how, if they just hang in there for forty years, the ox and the ox herder will come to trust one another, like one another. The fighting will stop. But I decide not to go there.

Have a good lunch. Get some fresh air. Move around. Rest a bit. Come back ready to work.

Doumo arigatou gosaimashita, thank you very much, I say, bowing, grateful after all these years to still be teaching, grateful there are young people out there interested in what I know.  Doumo arigatou gosaimashita, everyone repeats, happy and energetic.

zen oxherd picture

Mounting the ox, slowly I return homeward.

The voice of my flute floats through the evening air.

Tapping my foot to the pulsating harmony of the world around me,

In rhythm with the beating of my own heart.

My Muse

If you look closely at some of the large figures on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, you may notice something peculiar. A good number of them have books in their hands. It seems they want to read. Often kids are bothering them. Perhaps Michelangelo also wanted to read but was always being interrupted. 

When I was a modern dancer, I wanted to read too, but I was either in technique class, or rehearsing. I remember seeing a bumper sticker that read, I’d rather be dancing. I knew, straight away, that person was not a dancer. If they were a dancer their bumper sticker would have read, I’d rather be reading.

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There was one figure on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel that mesmerized me, that possessed me, that became my muse, and eventually the logo for my community/school, the Alexander Alliance. She was the Libyan Sybil. When I began using her image as the logo for the Alexander Alliance, students wondered why, why the Libyan Sybil? And as I often do, and did then, I answered their question with a question.

Michelangelo_the_libyan

The Libyan Sybil 

Why do you think?

She’s beautiful.

She’s strong.

She’s poised.

She’s got a great back.

She’s spiraling.

Once I feel my students have seen what they are going to see then, if there is more I want to direct their attention toward, I will.

Notice how Michelangelo figures often appear androgynous. I like this. Often as men undo their culturally acquired masculine holding patterns, they feel more feminine. And as women undo their culturally acquired feminine holding patterns, they feel more masculine. I move people away from their acquired gender bodies and into their mammal body, the body that men and woman share, their human body.

She’s got a beautiful synergetic flexion of the hips, knees and ankles. We want that happening in conjunction with an expanding back that is emanating power through the arms into the hands, and through the spine and into the skull. And the Libyan Sybil has got all that going for her.

Something else I love about the Libyan Sybil is her upper appendicular skeletal system, her arms. They remind me so much of my mentor’s, Marj Barstow’s, arms when she worked with us. Marj’s scapulae were wide. Her shoulders were neither up nor down, more just out and away, one from the other. Her elbows and wrists were articulate. Her elbows were ever so slightly back and out, creating room between her arms and torso, while her wrists were going in slightly toward the mid-line, exactly as you see here as our sybil holds her very, very large book. Marj’s arms always looked natural and elegant. Her hands looked at once easy and powerful. Really, Marj’s arms were just like the Libyan Sybil!

Then there’s that exquisite spiraling throughout her body that you’ve noticed. Let’s look more closely at what is going on there. There’s a descending spiral, and an ascending spiral. The descending spiral begins with the head and eyes. Something’s got her attention; something’s turning her attention away from her book. The descending spiral is primarily concerned with orientation. Your orientation begins to change. You hear something, or you see something, and your orientation to the world shifts. You can see this descending spiral happening in some of our other readers too. Go and take a look.

Now what about the ascending spiral? From where is that initiating?

From her hips.

Lower.

From her left foot.

Lower.

From the ground.

That’s what it looks like to me, from the ground, and then sequentially up through the body. So if the descending spiral is about orientation, what’s the ascending spiral about?

Maybe action. It’s helping her to hold up the book.

Power to do what she’s doing.

That’s how I see it too. Maybe she was oriented more fully toward the book and then something got her attention and Michelangelo caught her just at that moment of transition.

Why would he want to do that?

Because it looks cool.

The cool factor is very important. The Libyan Sybil is a super cool figure. Just imagine how cool the Sistine Chapel was when the first people ever to enter that room looked up and saw these huge three dimensional figures almost falling out of the ceiling. Painting was not Michelangelo’s thing. He was a sculptor. He was forced to paint the Sistine Chapel. So he discovered new techniques for making his two dimensional figures appear three-dimensional.

Michelangelo likes that transitional moment because change is taking place. But you don’t know what she’s really doing or why. It’s mysterious. Is she opening the book or closing the book? 

There’s action. She’s in motion. He’s not just painting form, but motion, coordination, emotion, drama. He’s a motional and emotional anatomist. He’s a storyteller.

Now when you really think about it, there aren’t two spirals. There’s just one. Imagine you are holding a wet towel. Get your scarf, or your coat, or a towel, and try this. Hold it in your hands and turn your top hand gently in one direction as you counter that action by gently turning your bottom hand in the other direction.

Imagine turning it so gently that no water is squeezed out of it. When we wring out a wet towel our spiral turns into a twist. An area is created where both movements oppose one another and stop each other, creating torsion. But if the spiral is gentle enough, and if it moves through the whole towel, there is no conflict, there is no blockage, there’s just one integrated spiraling motion occurring in two complimentary opposing directions.

The Libyan Sybil, for me, is the symbol of a person who can gracefully transition, change direction, change opinion, adapt, without losing poise, without disturbance. Imagine being a parent who is trying to do something, like read, or cook, or pay the bills and your two young children have just started fighting with each other. How are you inside of that transition? How gracefully can you shift your attention? How do you adapt to changing circumstances?

Revealing That Which Is Hidden

Let’s 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 is he feeling, and what specifically tells you what he is feeling?

He’s panicking. His eyes are bugging out. It looks like he’s gasping. Even his hair contributes to this sense of panic.

Worried. Something about how his forehead is raised and her eyebrows are dropping down.

Dreading something. I really don’t know. I feel it through his whole body. Maybe it’s in his back and neck and shoulder. And the way his upper lip is pulled up. Something bad is happening. 

Really sad. It could be the angle of his eyes, or the tilt of his head or the sunken feeling in his chest. 

Feeling hopeless. The chest and eyes.

Feels threatened. It looks like he wants to get away. He’s looking back but his body is trying to go forward. Maybe.

Images are like Rorschach tests. We project our inner life onto outer images. Why else would we all be interpreting what we see differently? Let’s compare the Ignudo to the Libyan Sybil. Tell me what you are seeing and the feeling it creates.

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The scapula’s moving down and out and around the ribs. It looks strong and graceful.

The spine looks long. The neck is not compressed or shortened. It creates a feeling of balance and elegance.

The eyelids are lowered; forehead and eyebrows relaxed. That makes her look calm and objective and in control.

The mouth is closed. It makes her seem observant, self possessed. 

The head, instead of tilting back, is tilting ever so slightly forward. I don’t know, she feels dignified.

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. There is no fear. She’s quietly confident.

It’s amazing. The figures are completely opposite in almost every way.

That is why I juxtaposed them. You’re beginning to see how I see because you are recognizing the specific physical traits that express, (press out), the emotion (to move outward).

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. 

So what was that like?

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

Many heads are nodding in agreement.

Head poise 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. That is why a head is called a head. It’s in charge. 

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. Caught in the middle.

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. And his right scapula is rising up toward his ear.

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

That’s a good one. It is good to kinesthetically feel what you are seeing. That’s what I call embodied seeing. 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 expressive. 

Yes, and because, first and foremost, I want you to see a person’s beauty. I haven’t seen a person who wasn’t beautiful in 35 years. And often, the more distraught the person is, the more beautiful. And through that beauty I want you to sense a person’s humanity. And only then do I want you to drop concern yourself with a person’s anatomical structure.

Life is not 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, inviting us to read, and to learn.

Michelangelo_the_libyan

——————————

Again, my thanks for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Bruce Fertman

http://www.peacefulbodyschool.com

 

 

Enough Is Plenty

Sitting by Chimney Rock overlooking Pedernal Mesa.

Sitting by Chimney Rock overlooking Pedernal Mesa.

There have been years in my life when I have felt inspired, creative, exuberant; distressed, deflated, depressed; centered, sensible, devoted, disciplined; selfish, recalcitrant; lonely; hopeful, hopeless, fragile; tenacious. But until now I have never had a year, not one I can remember, when I have felt at peace with myself, with my life, content.

Will this contentment last? Maybe. Maybe not. For now, I will rest within it and quietly proceed to live out my days. For now, now is enough, now is plenty.

Peace,

Bruce

 

The Binding Spell

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

 There is so much to be seen when one reaches the point of being able to see.

F.M. Alexander

Because I often do my work in groups, my trainees get to watch me work with lots of people. They see I‘m not working solely with a person’s body. They see that, at heart, I am not a body worker.  They see a person who works with people’s beings through their bodies. They want me to teach them how to do that.

Teaching my trainees about their bodies and about how to move well is fairly straightforward. Teaching my trainees how to use their hands effectively is more challenging, but doable. Teaching my trainees how to see people has been surprisingly difficult. But it is getting easier. At last I’m figuring it out.

When I was nine years old my friend asked me, “Why do you stare at people?” I said, “I don’t stare at people; I look at them.” He didn’t agree. There was no way to know I would become a person who made my living staring at people. I prefer to think of it as beholding people, holding people’s beings in my eyes and heart. That’s a big part of my job. How does one behold a person? Here’s what I do and, more importantly, what I don’t do.

Just as some psychiatrists have devised terminology for different psychic forces, i.e. Freud’s ego, id, and superego, or Berne’s parent, adult, and child, or Perl’s, top dog, underdog, my observations tell me there are also physical forces worthy of their own names. Once you know the names for these physical forces, I refer to them as “bodies’, you can begin to see these different “bodies” at work within a person’s physical body. Eckhart Tolle’s “pain body” is a good example. Once you can see these bodies within the body, you begin to understand why people hold themselves the way they do, why they move the way they do, and sometimes why they feel and behave the way they do. Suddenly you are no longer only seeing a person’s physical body. You are seeing a person.

Many somatic oriented educators first see what I call “the postural body.” When looking at the postural body we look for the relationships between parts of the body, one to the other: the relationship between the head and the neck, the ribs and the arm structure, the spine and the pelvis, etc. We look for hypertension and hypotension, we look for asymmetries, curvatures, twists and torcs. We look for how people are pulling themselves down, lifting themselves up, pressing themselves in, pushing themselves out, holding themselves back.

All well and good, but this is not where the act of beholding begins. Beholding is not observing; it’s not that objective. Beholding is personal, felt, empathetic, intuitive, and profoundly subjective. And very much so, esthetic.

I begin esthetically. It may sound odd, but initially I look at people as if they were living sculpture, frozen in time, under a binding spell.  I behold their sculptural body. When we look at sculptures of humans we don’t look at their posture. We see expression. Expression means the visible manifestation of thoughts and feelings. To express literally means to “press out”; thoughts and feelings are somehow pressed out from within, onto the physical body. We sculpt ourselves from the inside out.

Let’s practice seeing the sculptural body right now. Here are photos I took of human sculpture. I love human sculptures because human sculptures let me stare at them for as long as I want. When you look at these photos immediately you will see the sculptural body: thoughts and feelings pressing out into the body, the body frozen in time, under a spell. And immediately you will know the difference between seeing the postural body and seeing the sculptural body. As you look at these photos with your eyes, allow yourself to kinesthetically empathize with what you are seeing. Take the image into your body.

Photos Of The Sculptural Body

 

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

 

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Seeing the sculptural body is easy. It comes naturally to us. Unconsciously, we do it all the time. It’s only a matter of learning to do it consciously.

When I introduce the Alexander Technique to people I will often work with a student in front of the other students. This makes most people a little nervous. Most people do not like people staring at them. They feel people are criticizing them, finding fault, judging them. They may feel people don’t like them, or reject them. That’s why, as a teacher my first task, before I begin using my hands, is to create a space that feels profoundly safe. I do that by teaching everyone how to see sculpturally.

My job is to transport my students out of the world of right and wrong. As Rumi so beautifully said, “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field; I’ll meet you there.” But how do we bring a person into a field beyond right and wrong? How do we bring ourselves into that field? To what field is Rumi referring?

The sculptural body lives within the realm of art. There is no right and wrong art. It’s a thoroughly subjective world. I get my students to see, right away, that people, no matter what they are doing, no matter what they look like, sculpturally, are esthetically beautiful. There is composition, proportion, perspective, contrast, balance, color, light, shadow, line, texture, structure, ground, space, shape, depth. I haven’t seen a person who wasn’t beautiful in thirty-five years. And the more distressed, often the more beautiful. It’s a matter of learning how to see esthetically.

Esthetics means to appreciate. It also means to feel. That means esthetics is really another word for beholding. Once my students have entered this world of beauty, this field, the feeling in the entire room shifts. You can almost hear it…safety all around. Carl Rodgers, originator of client-centered therapy, knew what it meant to behold someone. Rodgers lived in the field beyond right and wrong.

“One of the most satisfying experiences I know is just fully to appreciate an individual in the same way I appreciate a sunset. When I look at a sunset…I don’t find myself saying, “Soften the orange a little on the right hand corner, and put a bit more purple in the cloud color”…I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch it with awe as it unfolds. It is this receptive, open attitude which is necessary to truly perceive something as it is.”

Look for sculptural bodies in parks, on subways, at airports, in cafes. They are everywhere. If you are a somatic educator the sculptural body is a good place to begin. The postural body lies within the sculptural body, but now it can be seen in context, as a physical manifestation of something much more significant, and much more beautiful.

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As a person changes under my hands, the sculptural body changes, and the student’s see it. They see it clearly. They feel it. Often they are emotionally moved. They are no longer seeing people’s bodies. They are seeing people, people they suddenly feel they know, because they are beginning to know them, because the person they are beholding is emerging, as if through a fog. A binding spell, cast long ago, lifts, fades, and is no more.

The Dwelling Place – A Contemporary Midrash On Genesis For Children And Grown Ups

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

In Honor of Rebbe Zalman Schachter-Shalomi – (August 28, 1924 – July 3, 2014)

There was once a little girl and she was terribly bored. There was nothing to do, and not only was there nothing to do, there was absolutely nothing at all.

On the first day…

Since there was absolutely nothing, the little girl whose name was Shekina, decided quite confidently that the first thing she needed was space. “Nothing is nothing, she thought, but space is definitely something. It’s open and it can be filled.” She was surprised how easy it was to create space. Just like that.

Shekina liked space. It made her feel free. For quite a long while that was enough for her. Then one day she felt the need for something else, something a little more substantial though she didn’t want to lose the sense of space she loved so much.

On the second day…

Shekina created moisture. She was proud of herself for coming up with such a good solution. Her creation still felt infinitely spacious and yet now, it also felt full. She closed her eyes sensing the coolness of the moisture upon her skin, and as she did she saw a darkness as vast and as beautiful as the space she had created. The little girl rested within this moist coolness and safe darkness for a long time. She enjoyed being creative.

On the third day…

Feeling mischievous, Shekina awoke with a sparkle in her eyes. She wanted an adventure. She decided, in one fell swoop, to create the opposite of space though she had no idea what that would be. And so she did. Every thing in the world that ever would be, appeared. She hadn’t realized she had inadvertently created time, and she had no idea of just how many things that would be, but then again she had made a tremendous amount of space. To make sure she had indeed created all the stuff of the world, she made light to shine upon everything she created.

Suddenly there was utter chaos, and it was exhilarating. Some things were moving slowly and some things were whizzing by dangerously fast, so fast that sometimes things would collide into one another, creating loud sounds. She had never heard sounds before.

All this commotion was awesome, a little scary and at the same time wonderful. But after a while Shekina began getting dizzy. Nothing ever stayed in the same place! Something would appear that she loved and then, in a flash, it would be gone, never to be seen again. Or worse, something would smash into what she loved and it would shatter into a million pieces.

On the fourth day…

Shekina was still dizzy. She didn’t want to get rid of anything she had created. She didn’t even know for sure whether she could de-create something. Then she came up with another original idea. She decided to create gravity and the ground and the moment she did everything, literally, fell into place.

She couldn’t believe how good her world now felt. It was as magnificent as her first experience of space. Every thing was sitting comfortably. Every thing was at rest. Every thing was settled and seemed entirely happy exactly where it was, and exactly being what it was. The stars found their place in the night sky. True, there was an occasional star that would without notice dart across the sky and vanish. But for the most part the stars stayed put. There seemed to be a pattern, as if the stars had arranged themselves. The more Shekina gazed at the stars, the more patterns she saw. She wondered, “Were the patterns there to be found, or am I imagining them?” There was a peaceful stillness to the mountains and the rocks. Again it was quiet and she was no longer dizzy. There was some logic to where every thing was, but Shekina did not yet know what it meant for something to be logical.

Even with all the stuff now filling her world there still seemed to be an equally infinite amount of space. And there was still plenty of moisture. In fact, by creating gravity and the ground, some of the moisture had concentrated fallen, making oceans and rivers and waterfalls. The contrast was perfect; the strong, still silence of the mountains and the rocks combined with and the constant motion and comforting sounds of the waves, streams, and waterfalls. Her world was singing its own song. From where she did not know, winds spiraled, moving the clouds and the trees. Her world was dancing its own dance.

Everything looked beautiful to her. Suddenly Shekina realized that, since she had started creating, she hadn’t been bored for a second! It was as if she had discovered the secret to happiness. She was content for what felt like eons.

On the fifth day…

Shekina noticed she had not had an original idea in a long time. And then she did! Out of the blue another idea popped into her head. She wondered where on earth these ideas came from. She thought, “What if I could create creatures who had entirely different ways of perceiving and experiencing this beautiful world I have made?” So she created creatures that could see her world from above, and creatures that could see under the water, and creatures that lived within the ground itself, and creatures that lived in the trees. She created creatures that lived where it was hot and creatures that lived where it was cold, creatures that could see, and smell, and taste, and hear and touch the world she had created, all simultaneously experiencing the same world differently. “Why, she thought, that would be like creating millions of worlds inside of the one world I created! That struck her as quite clever and efficient.

Shekina spent a long, long time watching all these creatures and comparing one to the other. She loved watching all the creatures making their resting places…dens, lodges, lairs, hives, nests, burrows. They were all so original, such creative creatures! “I see. I am like my creatures and my creatures are like me!” Just like them, I’ve made a resting place, a dwelling place, a home. Again she sensed a logic to her world but still she did not know what that meant. Soon this was to change.

What was making her world go round? What made the creatures in the air able to be up there when all the other creatures rested on the ground like everything else? Why did some creatures eat other creatures? Most amazing to her was how these creatures seemed to come and go. New creatures would appear while older ones would disappear. Creatures tended to be small at first and then got bigger, and the trees too. What was that? The questions seemed endless.

Another idea popped into her head, but she was not sure whether it was a good idea or not so she did not act upon it right away, which she thought was very mature. She loved the world so much as it was, even if she didn’t understand it. “My world seems to understand itself, she thought. It knows exactly what to do. Maybe I should stop here. This feels complete. Everything works. It’s beautiful. It’s interesting. Who cares if I don’t understand it?” But the questions kept coming. They were beginning to make her uncomfortable, sometimes even unhappy.

On the sixth day…

Shekina decided to take one of the creatures she had created and make them capable of thinking about her creation. Personally, she did not want to think too much about it. That wasn’t her thing. She didn’t feel very smart, just very creative. Besides, there were just too many questions. The little girl became very serious and thought, “If I were to make every individual creature of this particular kind of creature able to think maybe, eventually, this creature would be able to answer my questions.”

And so even though the little girl felt a funny feeling in her stomach, she went ahead and did it anyway. She thought, “Well, how am I going to find out if this is a good idea or not if I don’t try?” There seemed to be something logical about that too.

She mustered up her courage and made it so this one kind of creature could think and then right away she realized these creatures would need to be able to communicate their thoughts to one another if they were to be able to figure things out together, and so she created a bunch of languages because she thought a bunch of languages would be more interesting than just creating one.

On the seventh day…

Without noticing it, (she had been so, so busy), Shekina was growing older. She had seen a lot, and done a lot. She began feeling tired, something she’d never felt before. “Perhaps it would be good for me to rest a while and spend a little time not creating,” she thought. Shekina spent a long while simply gazing at her creation. “It’s good, she thought, very good.” She loved her world. Sleep was spreading over her as if she were being covered with a soft, warm blanket. She thought, “I think the world will be okay for a little while if I don’t watch it.” Again there was that funny feeling in her stomach, but before she knew it she had fallen fast asleep.

This brings us exactly to where we are now.

Shekina remains asleep. As she sleeps our thinking creatures have been busy trying to figure everything out. They’ve found a lot of answers to a lot of her questions. On this front, they are doing very well, even though there remain far more questions to be answered than the ones they have answered because each answer they come up with seems to create new questions. These creatures may be busy for a long time, maybe forever.

I say maybe forever because it seems that thinking as much as these thinking creatures do brings with it strange side effects, something the little girl could not have predicted. One of the side effects is that these creatures seem not to care very much about the other creatures or, for that matter, about anything the little girl created. The thinking creatures seem so busy thinking and trying to figure everything out they don’t notice how beautiful everything is, how everything works together, how well it all takes care of itself.

As Shekina sleeps, the world continues on its own course without her. It is up to her thinking creatures to be like her, to be creative, and to keep the dwelling place safe and beautiful. I know sooner or later Shekina will wake up, and when she does I wonder what she will find and what she will think about it. I am sure the moment she awakens another idea will pop into her head.

After all, Shekina is a very creative little girl.

Moving Ideas – October 24-25, 2015 – Zürich  

photo by Bruce Fertman

photo by Bruce Fertman

An Introduction to the Alexander Technique

By Bruce Fertman

 The Alexander Technique

Whether we are dancing, hammering a nail, singing a song, working at a computer or walking to the store, we possess an inherent capacity to move freely and naturally. Moving naturally promotes ease, power and expressiveness.

Unwittingly, we often interfere with our inherent design. Poise, grace and ground give way to effort, tension and fatigue. The Alexander Technique gives us practical knowledge of the principles governing human coordination. The Alexander Technique teaches us how to be, at once, relaxed and ready, soft and strong, light and substantial, firm and flexible.

Through study, we become capable of redirecting excessive effort into useful energy. As we become more effortlessly upright, we also find ourselves coming down to the ground, to a place where we can function simply, comfortably and appreciatively.

Who This Workshop Is For

This workshop is for anyone who has a body. If you want to learn how to be more comfortable physically, how to move more easily and pleasurably, then this is a good workshop for you. People who require especially fine coordination also find the Alexander Technique enormously helpful – performing artists, musicians, martial artists, athletes, movement teachers, bodyworkers, physical, occupational, and speech therapists often study with Alexander teachers.

Photo: Tada Anchan Akihiro

Photo: Tada Anchan Akihiro

About Bruce Fertman

Bruce has been teaching people how to move well for 50 years.

His training is extensive: 16 years of training with Marjorie L. Barstow, the first person certified to teach Alexander’s work; 8 years of study in Tai Chi Chu’an with Cheng man Ching’s six senior American students; 8 years of training with Shuji Maruyama, apprentice to Ueshiba, founder of Aikido; student of the Uresenke School of Tea in Kyoto, Japan under Iemoto Soshitsu Sen, 15th generation grand tea master; studied Argentine Tango with Pablo Vernon and Gustavo Naveira. Currently studying Kyudo, Zen Archery in Osaka, Japan.

In 1982 Bruce Fertman founded the Alexander Alliance, a network of schools devoted to preserving and evolving the work of Marjorie L. Barstow (1899-1995). The Alliance conducts teacher-training programs in the Alexander Technique in Germany, Japan and the USA.

Annually, Bruce introduces the Alexander Technique to people in Europe, Asia and the USA. He is author of Where This Path Begins, Renderings of the Tao Te Ching.

When Bruce teaches, he is the embodiment of his work – attentive, sensitive, beautiful, coordinated, ready, calm, and unified.

His pace, and patience, his quiet confidence allows people to unfold and open, layer by layer. He is a profoundly human man, completely real. In Bruce’s class, you feel as if you are sitting by a deep, soft lake.

He works devotedly with his hands, like a loving sculptor. The superfluous falls away, leaving only life’s inner vitality, effortlessly expressing itself through you. His touch is like a butterfly settling down on the very turning point of your soul. And then you know, “That’s who I am, that is who I could be.”

– M. Tueshaus

Alexander Teacher / Tango Teacher / Equestrian / Germany

Workshop Details

No prior experience necessary.

People of all ages welcome.

Limited to 20 participants.

Date: 24./25.10.2015, 10am – 6pm

Organizers and assistant teachers:

Magdalena Proyer and Johannes Gassner

Location: Technopark Zürich

(close to train stop Zürich Hardbrücke)

Course fee: CHF 280.- (Students CHF 200.-)

Workshop language: English

(partial translation to German possible)

To register call +41 (0)78 888 16 64

or write to Alexander.Technik@gmx.ch

Individual lessons (CHF 100.–/45ˈ) can

be arranged on Monday, 26.10.2015.

To learn more about Bruce Fertman,

the Alexander Technique and

the Alexander Alliance:

http://peacefulbodyschool.com/

http://www.alexanderalliance.de/

Out On A Limb

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Photo by: Anchan of Elisabeth Walker

I’m going to go out on a limb here.

Because I love Alexander’s work so much, and because over and over again I have seen people’s inner beauty unveiled through this work of ours, it has saddened me for forty years now to see so few images of Alexander’s work that are strikingly beautiful. When the work is working within someone I see a person who is peaceful and powerful, still and moving, relaxed and ready, light and substantial. But click here at Google Alexander Technique Images and see what you see.

https://www.google.com/search?q=alexander+technique&es_sm=91&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0CAkQ_AUoA2oVChMIkIDS_5m7xwIVy3Q-Ch0Q-Qon&biw=1468&bih=956

I see that the Alexander Technique is something medical, like chiropractic treatments. Next I pick up something about posture and body mechanics and exercise. Then I see photos of some old, dressed up guy with a smirk on his face. And yes, something about getting up from a chair the right way. That’s about it.

It’s easy to be critical, and it’s another thing entirely to take on the problem and offer something better. That’s what I’ve done my best to do. Whether I have succeeded in the eyes of our profession at large, I don’t know. It’s hard to know how others see. When I look at the photos below I see a dynamic relationship between student and teacher. Everyone is awake and energized. They are not void of emotion. No one looks stiff or unnaturally symmetrical. I see beauty that is not cosmetic. I see beauty that lies within the person and emanates from the person. I see this both in the student and in the teacher. This as one of the hallmarks of our work.

“Moses laying his hands on Joshua may be compared to one candle lighting another, no light is lost to the former.” -Rabbinic Midrash on Numbers 27:18.

Can you see it? The teacher is lit, and the student is lit. They are at once one flame and two flames. This is partner work at its best, be it Alexander work, or Aikido, or Contact, or Tango.

What do you see in these photos? Do they strike you as photos that give you a glimpse into Alexander’s work? It’s pretty much impossible to get photos like these of yourself teaching unless you are skilled at teaching the work in groups and in teaching the work through myriad activities. All the teachers in these photographs either were or are capable of imparting the work in these ways. It’s important to note that Elisabeth Walker and Marjorie Barstow, both first generation teachers excelled in these ways of teaching – both great group teachers, both great at working in activities. Of course one of my obligations as the director of the Alexander Alliance International, and as a ‘young elder’ member of our Alexander community at large, is to insure that these skills are not lost. We all have our jobs to do. This happens to be one of mine.

Perhaps the images that appear when we Google Alexander Technique are exactly the ones the Alexander community at large wants, images that convey a technique that is medical, corrective oriented, definitely about the body, about posture and body mechanics, and apparently a form of exercise, in which case my photos are way off base.

What do you see? What do you want? Tell me. I’d like to know.

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Photo by: Anchan of Lucia Walker and Anne Johnson

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Photo of Robyn Avalon

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Photo by: Anchan of Midori Shinkai

Marjorie Barstow

Photo by: Fran EAengel of M. Barstow and B. Fertman

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Photo by: Anchan of Akemi Kinomura

Photo by: Anchan of B. Fertman

Photo by: Anchan of B. Fertman

Photo by: Yoshiko Hayashi of Anchan

Photo by: Yoshiko Hayashi of Anchan

The Thread – Graduate Talk to German Alliance Graduates 2015

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The Thread

This graduation talk might strike you as egocentric, but it isn’t. It may sound as if it’s about me, but it’s not. It’s about you.

If you want to know what I know, you must do what I did. – Mr. Alexander

Let me tell you what I did, just in case you should want to know what I know.

One. I found my primary teachers. I found my Alexander community. You have all done that.

Two. I read Alexander’s books, barely getting through them. The Use Of The Self was the most helpful. Dewey’s introductions to Alexander’s books were thought provoking. As far as Alexander’s own writings, I mainly studied the cliff notes, and for me that was Ed Maisel’s, The Resurrection of the Body, later entitled, The Essential Writings of F. Matthias Alexander. It was Ed Maisel who introduced me to Marj Barstow. But the book that helped me the most was Frank Pierce Jones, Body Awareness In Action, the name selected by the publisher to help make the book sell. Frank wanted to entitle it, Freedom To Change. I had to buy a second copy of Frank’s book because I had underlined the entire first copy, continually, to the point that the pages were in tatters. I wrote in every margin, on every page, throughout the entire book.

But mostly I read philosophy and psychology and theology and poetry looking for Alexander’s principles everywhere, and I found them. Off the top of my head there was, Zen and The Art of Archery by Herrigel, The Four Quartets by T.S. Eliot, Discourse on Thinking, Heidegger, I and Thou, Buber, Novalis, Blake, Huxley, The Sabbath by Heschel, On Becoming A Person by Carl Rodgers, The Unsettling of America by Wendell Berry, Transactional Analysis, Eric Berne, In and Out of The Garbage Pale, Fritz Pearls, From Frogs Into Princes, Bandler and Grinder, Siddhartha by Hesse, every translation I could get my hands on of Lao Tzu’s, Tao Te Ching, The Way of Chung Tzu by Thomas Merton and pretty much everything else Thomas Merton wrote, Teachings of Meister Eckhart, Heraclitus, Zen and Japanese Culture by D.T. Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginners Mind by Suzuki Roshi, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, and Meditation In Action, by Trungpa Rimpoche,

There was The Natural Way To Draw by Nicolaides, Drawing On The Right Side of The Brain, Edwards, there was Rumi, and Mary Oliver, Emerson, and Thoreau, Gandhi’s writings on non-violence. There was Oliver Sachs. The Diamond Sutra, The Heart Sutra, Sensitive Chaos by Theodor Schwenk, Songlines by Bruce Chatwin , The Book of Tea by Okakura, Sensory Awareness by Selver and Brooks, The Thinking Body, Mabel Todd, Human Movement Potential, Lulu Sweigard, Taking Root To Fly, Irene Dowd, The Hand by Frank Wilson, James Hillman’s, A Blue Fire, John Dewey, Education As Experience, Krishnamurti, On Education. The Absorbent Mind by Maria Montessori.

Read. And if you are so moved to, study figure drawing. It’s great for developing your eye.

Three. Just as I didn’t only read about the Alexander Technique, I didn’t only study the Alexander Technique. The first time I called up Marj, in 1976, to ask her if I could come to her winter workshop she asked me, ‘What do you do?” I said, “I study the Alexander Technique.” She said, “Is that all? Is that all you do? You must do something else. What else do you do?” “Oh, well, I mumbled, I’m in graduate school majoring in modern dance. I dance with a modern company. I study tai chi, and aikido.” “That sounds more like it. Sure, you can come and study.”

What did I study: Theology: Judaism, Christian mysticism, Zen Buddhism, Taoism, Western European philosophy, Chinese and Japanese philosophy, philosophy of esthetics, cybernetics, deep ecology. Psychology: transactional analysis, gestalt therapy, rational emotive therapy, Jungian therapy, psychoanalysis, neuro-linguistic programming, the work of Byron Katie. Community Development. Movement Arts: swimming, diving, gymnastics, ballet, modern dance, contact improvisation, tai chi chu’an, aikido, chanoyu, ideokinesis, Alexander technique, tango.

That which is hateful to you, do not unto another: This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary – go study. – Hillel

Beware of Alexander fundamentalism. Beware of purism. Sure the Alexander Technique has a lot to offer other disciplines, but other disciplines have a lot to offer us. Remain wide open to other Alexander teachers from other branches of our Alexander tree. An open mind is a beautiful mind. Remember the Alexander Technique is not about itself. It’s about living your life.

Four. At some point, I began teaching, prematurely. I wanted to find out what I could do and what I couldn’t do. I had an instinct for teaching. I trusted that.

In the beginning, I taught Movement for the Elderly as part of the Senior Wheels East Late Start Program – a program that took food to poor, elderly people. We had a few community centers in dangerous, destitute parts of Philadelphia for those who could get themselves to a center for lunch and for some classes. Many were ex-mental patients kicked out of an institution and left to try and survive on their own. America. The land of the free, and all that.

I taught an Ideokinesis class at the “Drop In Center,” a free university inside of the university, and I taught a movement class in my living room, based on a movement series I had developed. I assisted my Tai Chi teacher. In the summer I taught dance classes at my university, where I was getting a master’s degree in modern dance and movement re-education.

In everything I did, I used my hands. I tried. I pretended I knew what I was doing. I did my best. I learned as I went along. On the job training. American style I guess.

When in class, no matter how advanced you are, take that class as if you were a beginner. When teaching, no matter how much of a beginner you are, practice as if you were a master. Cheng-man Ching.

Five. I graduated from graduate school, and sent my resume to two hundred schools. I received a hundred and ninety-eight rejections. But I landed a half time job teaching movement for actors at Rutgers University, and a half time job at Temple University, also working with actors. At Rutgers I taught two classes five mornings a week, thirty in one class, fifteen in the other. Three afternoons a week I taught a three-hour class for ten students. I did this for six years.

I used my hands a lot. I was still studying with Marj seven weeks a year.

So I say to you, somehow, find a way to use your hands a lot. Keep your Alexander mind, eye, heart and hands in shape. Love, persistence, and practice are most important. Talent is not that important.

Six. Martha and I decided to adopt our first child and quite irrationally, at the same time, I quit all my jobs, and decided I was going to start my own school. I told my Dad and asked him if he thought I was crazy. He said I wasn’t at all. He said, “You will have to succeed, and you will succeed.” And I did. In part, thanks to him.

I don’t know who you are, but someday I hope some of you will begin an Alexander School, that someday you will also train teachers. Maybe your school will even be an Alliance school. It’s possible. I had no idea when we started our little Alexander School in Philadelphia, comprised of six courageous people, (what a great class – Meade Andrews, Rob and Zoana Gepner-Muller, Glenna Batson, Cynthia Mauney, and Jan Baty).  That we’d now have four schools, one in the USA, in Germany and two in Japan.

Here’s the point. Starting an Alexander school is as much about building community as it is about passing on the work. It’s nigh on impossible to become a great Alexander teacher without the support of an Alexander community. Many of those who became Alexander’s best teachers hung out with him after they graduated, just like some graduates do here. Marj Barstow, upon graduating, assisted and co-taught up and down the northeast coast of America with A.R. Alexander for 8 years in America. Forty years later, I did exactly the same thing with Marj for eight years, up and down the northeast coast. So hang around your teachers for a while. And someday, if the spirit moves you, go and build an Alexander community somewhere, somehow, and if it feels right, stay connected to this one too.

Eight. The Alexander Alliance didn’t just grow by itself. I promoted it. I advocated for it continually. I still do. In the beginning I was a monomaniac. Now I am not, but I love the school with all my heart. I taught everywhere I could possibly teach. I did small workshops, large workshops. I still do. I told everyone about the school.

I was always at work on a brochure for the Alexander Alliance, or for the Annual East Coast Residential Course in The Alexander Technique that Michael Frederick and I co-directed for 20 years. Religiously, every year, I started from scratch, and wrote a new definition of the technique. It was always changing for me. I was continually searching for images that spoke to me of Alexander’s work, images from ancient Greek sculpture, from nature, from athletics, from Japanese Bushido traditions, from Michelangelo or Bernini. Eventually, I found Tada “Anchan” Akihiro, and he began photographically catching the beauty of Alexander’s work and of our school.

Students are not mysteriously going to find you and end up knocking on your door. You are going to have to go out and get them. You’re going to have to socialize and mingle. You have to schmooze. You have to take an interest in them, and then they might become interested in you. You have to like people. You have to express your values and your sense of beauty through your publicity. You want to draw the people toward you who resonate with who you are. You want to express yourself through the work, and you want the work to express itself through you. You have to live the work; the work has to live within you. People will see that, they’ll feel that. You have to believe in yourself and in your work. You have to be fearless.

Be willing to travel. Be willing to go to where people are, and invite them to where you are. There is some truth to the saying, “You can’t be a prophet in your own city.” Even Jesus couldn’t do it. If you travel somewhere people see you as a little special. If they travel to you, they see you as a little special. That’s human nature.

Eight. Everything was going well. The Alliance was growing. I was being asked to teach in lots of countries. And then, when I was looking the other way, I ran into a brick wall. My mom died. My dad died. My kids went off to college. My marriage ended. I left the Philadelphia school, at that time, the parent school of the Alliance. I sold the house I had loved and lived in for 20 years, moved to New Mexico, drove up into the mountains, and entered purgatory, my personal bardo.

William Stafford writes:

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among

things that change. But it doesn’t change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain to them about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost.

Tragedies happen; people get hurt

or die; and you suffer and get old.

Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.

You don’t ever let go of the thread.

I almost lost my thread. A day came when I decided to end the Alexander Alliance. I had run my course. I was in Germany. A retreat had just ended. Astrid was there, and when she heard of my decision, she said that I did not have the right to do that. She said that the Alliance was not just about me. That other people needed the school. I took hold again of my thread, of my lifeline. And here we are.

Remember, no matter how hard it gets, if this is a thread you are following, don’t let go of it, no matter what. Just keep moving through what you have to move through.

With the help of a lot of people, I resurfaced. I see the light of day as I have never seen it before.

In the words of Goethe, That which thy fathers, (and mothers),  have bequeathed unto you, learn it anew if thou wouldith possess it.

Graduates. Well done. Congratulations.

 

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