Skip to content

The Decision

Pottery by Dorothea Chabert

Pottery by Dorothea Chabert

I.

While Eva prepares dinner, I am in the living room holding a ceramic pot in my hands. “Eva, tell me about the large brown pot by the window. It looks like it wasn’t made. It looks more like it was grown.”

“My friend made that, Dorothea Chabert. We lost touch a long time ago. I don’t even know if she’s still alive.” “Eva, why don’t we find out?”

Eva did find out. She called a number she had penciled into an old address book. Eva’s in her mid-eighties and never bothered with computers. It’s a relief to be in her world for the days that I am every year, a world with few distractions, few interruptions, where long conversations happen over long meals, sitting at a beautifully set table with spoons, and plates, teacups and pitchers enjoyed in her family for generations. A world where time moves at its own pace. A world of hardback books, framed photographs, oil paintings, and pottery, a world you can feel and touch.

In Eva’s little Fiat, on the Autobahn, BMWs, Audis and Mercedes Benz are passing us at alarming speed. “Eva, I say, tell me more about Dorothea.”  “Dorothea lives in Wolfsburg, she says. She used to live in Wolfsburg Castle. Now she lives in the coach house beside the Castle. That’s where we’re going, to Wolfsburg Castle. She was part of an artist collective back in the 60’s called Scholsstrasse 8. She taught ceramic art in a university for some years, I think in Braunschweig. She’s more well known in Japan than in Germany. It often works that way.”  “You can’t be a prophet in your own city,” I say, “sometimes not even in your own country.”   

Old wooden floors, huge wooden beams, large wooden work tables, and everywhere wooden shelves, like scaffolding, lined with pottery. A potter’s paradise. “Eva, I feel like I’m walking into a church.” “Me too,” Eva says. Dorothea sits at her wheel, looking out a large, open window. A soft Vermeer-like light illuminates her calm, weather worn face.

Hours pass in Dorothea’s company mesmerized by hundreds of bowls, vases, teapots, cups, containers, and large plates with glazes that look like galaxies. Being in Dorothea’s studio is like being in a scholars large, private library, entranced, surrounded by a person’s unpublished autobiography, written in clay.

In the twilight Dorothea’s pottery sits quietly, numinously. As if she could read my thoughts, Dorothea says, “You know, I don’t throw much anymore. I can’t sit for very long because of my back. But I spend time looking at my wheel. On good days I used to feel God sitting right there in the center of my wheel. On those days throwing a pot was like Creation, like Genesis, a world whirling itself into existence. I lived for those days, those meetings.”

Eva and I leave, each holding a simple cup in our hands, and Dorothea in our hearts.

II.

Sitting in a room full of students, about to begin a workshop, I’m the opposite of nervous. I feel at home, in a place I know, a place full of warmth and comfort. Allowing the room to grow quiet on its own, listening for that poignant silence, I find myself thinking about Dorothea.

“I love pottery, I say. It’s the way it feels in my hands. One day I was in Italy. It was hot. I was thirsty. I spotted a water pump in a plaza. I primed the pump. Water spilled out. I squatted down, cupping my two hands together, filled my palms with cold water, and drank. I looked down at my wet hands and thought, two hands, the first bowl ever made.”

“When I came here to Japan, I knew I had landed in my artistic home. Your country reveres pottery, constructs entire ceremonies around a tea bowl.  The chawan is Japan’s holy grail, a sacred vessel with a sacred purpose; to commune with nature, with people, and with life itself.”

“Maybe that’s why pottery feels so quintessentially human to me. We unearth ancient civilizations and what do we find? Pottery. Where there are people, there is pottery. Like kanji, the word human is comprised of two images. The character hu, as in humus, meaning earth or clay, and the character man, as in main, meaning hand. So human could mean, an earthling made of clay who has hands.”

If we’re made of clay, then maybe potters have something to teach us. Maybe if we study their creative process we might learn something about transformation, about how to change ourselves into something beautiful and useful.

III.

This essay will contain notes on teaching for those of you who are educators. They will appear in italics. When I teach a workshop where there are a number of trainees and teachers assisting me, which is usually the case, I will occasionally make a T-shape with my hands, indictating that I am about to take a “Teaching Moment.” Actors refer to this as “breaking the fourth wall.”  It’s as if I leave the workshop for a second and turn my attention to my trainees and teachers. The difference is, however, that I want the workshop participants to hear what I am saying to the trainees and teachers, because I actually want the workshop participants to understand my pedagogical choices. You can now officially consider yourself one of my trainees at the workshop!

IV.

The metaphor has now been established for the workshop. It serves me, as you will see, as an outline for the workshop. Within the metaphor lies a sequence through which I can allow the work to unfold. It’s a physical metaphor with metaphysical implications. That means while I am connecting the metaphor to their bodies, I am also connecting the metaphor to their lives, to what it means to be human. I’ve also set the stage for using my hands to do my work, for making physical contact with people.  I have revealed a little about myself as a person: that I like pottery, that I’ve been to Italy, that I love Japan, and by revealing a bit about myself I am indirectly giving them permission to tell me about themselves.

My strategy is to begin big, to create breadth. What it means to be human. I don’t want them reducing the work to their bodies. I want their attention on their lives, on how it feels to move through their days.

V.

So where do potters begin? My friend, Filipe Ortega, an Apache potter from La Madera, New Mexico who speaks four languages and has a Master’s degree in theology, goes down to a nearby pit his relatives have used to extract clay since the early 1800s. It all begins there, in the ground. When Filipe calls the earth his mother, he’s not being poetic. That’s reality for him. He experiences the earth as his loving mother. It’s his source of life. From where doth thou support come, it cometh from the earth. What could be more obvious?”

“Matter in Latin, Matur, means Mother.  Physical life needs nurturance. Life cannot live without it.

But for a couple thousand years Westerns have lived in a culture where the spiritual has been severed from the physical; the spiritual elevated, and the physical debased.”

“If physical life is less valuable, then the nurturers become less valued; the mothers, the caregivers, the nurses and the therapists, the teachers, and the gardeners. Those of us who use their hands, their bodies to do their work, the manual workers, become deemed less worthy, of less worth, and thus are paid less, thought less of, less than those who make a living using their ‘higher’ functions, who live in a more sophisticated world, an abstract and symbolic world.”

“This is one reason why it is important for me to be an Alexander teacher, because first and foremost I am a nurturer, a person who cares for people. I am a male mother. Education is wonderful, but alone, education is not enough for humans to grow. Education and nurturance together make people grow. The Alexander Technique is not about learning; it’s about growing.”

“The mind did not evolve in isolation. Our brains, our voices, our uprightness, our ability to walk, and to use our hands all evolved interdependently. The Alexander Technique values these uniquely human abilities, equally, attends to them equally, continues to see them as interdependent.”

The physical is holy. The senses are holy. The body possesses wisdom that the mind will never understand. Coming to our senses is exactly what we need to be doing in this day and age.”

“Touch is an indispensable sense for nurturance. Infants cannot live without it. Certain primates spend up to 20% of their day in physical contact, grooming each other, huddling together when they are scared or need comforting, keeping themselves warm on cold nights, carrying their young on their backs as they go about their work.”

“I am a manual worker, an intelligent manual worker. I am proud of that. I am tactually literate. Alexander work, for me, heals this mind/body dichotomy. It helps make us whole. It helps restore our humanity. It brings us back down to the earth, to our mother. We all have the same mother. We mustn’t forget this. For Filipe and me, this is not just a metaphor; it’s reality.”

VI.

Before a potter begins to throw a pot, their clay must have a high degree of plasticity. That means it must be flexible, moist but not too moist, and strong but not dry or rigid. This is why potters have to wedge their clay. Once they get a homogenous distribution of tone through the clay, the clay ‘wakes up.’  The same is true for us.”

“There are two ways of wedging clay. Some potters wedge clay into the shape of a ram’s horn, but the Japanese, being islanders, wedge clay into the shape of a conch shell, both spiraling forms. Embryologically, bones spiral themselves into existence, and then muscles spiral themselves in the opposite direction around the bones. It’s a helical pattern. The heart itself is one spiraling muscle folded in on itself. The spiral is a primary pattern within us, and within the universe at large.”

I invite the group to huddle around my computer to watch a video of a master potter wedging clay. They look like little kids ready to watch some cartoons.  (Go ahead. Be a little kid too. Take the time and watch the video.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzX9gtZRyns

It seems many of the students have never seen a person wedging clay. You can hear the occasional rising Ehhhh…….sound that Japanese make when they are surprised and impressed by something.

“Okay, let’s begin to learn how to wedge our own clay.”

I demonstrate a movement on the floor of what a baby does as it learns to roll over from its back to its front. I show them how it’s possible to initiate this spiraling motion from the eyes and head, from the solar plexus, or from the knees, thighs and pelvis, all creating spirals through the body.

I station my assistants around the room, placing them at the head of each student. They serve as a stimulus, something the baby wants to see, creating the impulse to initiate the spiraling motion from the eyes and head. I show them how to use their hands to assist the student in clearly initiating the movement from the eyes and head and insuring that the body follows sequentially.

I’ve now begun to physicalize the metaphor. I call these ‘movement metaphors,’ or moving ideas, ideas that move you.

I sit down and watch. I watch both the Alexander trainees and teachers, and their students. Where needed, I help. People are animated and enjoying themselves. When I see that everyone has improved, I bring the group back together.

VII.

“The clay is then patted into a sphere, another primary form within us and within the universe. A sphere is equally high, wide, and deep. This creates maximum volume, with minimum surface area. A sphere has neither sides, nor a top or a bottom. We have lots of sphere-like shapes within us, like our skull, rib container, our pelvic basin, and lots of ball joints; shoulders, elbows, knees. We’re full of bowls, and domes.”

The assistants and I go around the room showing them beautiful drawings of human spheres from Albinus On Anatomy. Then we go around gently enveloping all the heads, rib cavities, and pelvic basins in the room. Once I can see that everyone is sensing the roundness of their structure, I have them walk around the room.

“Is that how you usually feel when you walk down the street,” I ask? “Zen zen jigau, totally different,” several students say.

Everyone sits down, most of them looking somehow different, less collapsed, and less constricted.

“The sphere of clay is then dropped onto the wheel, as close to center as possible. But to get the clay truly centered, the potter almost always brings the clay up and down a few times, guiding it ever more finely onto center. If you know the poem Burnt Norton, by T. S. Eliot, you cannot help but feel the connection between what the potter does and to Eliot’s ‘still point in the turning world.’ Eliot writes, “…at the still point, there the dance is.’”

“So lets bring the clay up and down. Humans get up and down in many ways, for all kinds of reasons. Buddhists and Muslims bow. Dancers plié. Aikidoists roll. We get up and down from chairs. Here, lots of us sleep on the floor, and get up and down from Kotatsus.”

“I happen to know that, in this room, we have a Zen Priest, a professional ballet dancer, a couple Aikidoists, and people that get up in the morning from their futon and down again at night after a hard day of work. Lets make four groups and do some rising and lowering. Go into the group you want and bring your clay up and down.”

I sit down and watch. I watch everyone. I do my best not to intervene unless absolutely necessary.  And again, people are having a good time.  The bowers are having a great time. They look reverent and about to break out in laughter at the same time. When it looks like a couple good waves of learning have happened, I invite people to finish up and then sit down again.

Now a great potter doesn’t just bring their clay up and down in any old way, they do it in a way where they become that still point in the turning world. And we can learn to do that within ourselves too. Alexander found a way into this. He called it the true and primary movement. He discerned that there was an inner movement, an inner rising and lowering. This inner movement has a certain look to it. It’s effortless, it’s smooth. There’s a lightness to it. It seems to happen by itself. Let’s look at another video, this time of a potter making a bowl. The way the clay changes shape, the way it rises, widens, and spreads out looks a lot like Alexander’s true and primary movement feels.”  (Watching a master potter turn a lump of clay into a bowl is mezmerizing and magical. As you watch this make sure to imagine the movement you are seeing actually happening in your body. See what you are seeing kinesthetically.)

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

And so it begins. Everyone is now ready and excited about experiencing Alexander’s primary movement. Soon they will feel the effortless rising, the wetness, the fluidity,the stability, the spreading, the still point in the turning world. Soon they will feel themselves opening, sense spaces within themselves unbeknownst to them.

(If you just watched the potter throw the bowl, then you will see how much Alexander’s primary movement looks like the clay effortlessly rising and opening. I never get tired of feeling this motion under my hands.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3iRD66HTDQ4

VIII.

“Okay, what about using our pots? If they’re going to last, don’t they have to be glazed and fired? Here’s how I see it. The glaze is your personality, your color, your design, how you express yourself. We don’t want to change that.”

“And the firing? The firing is your life. Will you be able to withstand, endure, survive the pressure of life, its demands, hardships, disappointments, and ordeals without cracking, irreparably? If you can, if you do make it through this trail by fire, you will become useful, able to serve. And though you may, along the way, as I have, suffer cracking and chipping, and though you may even fall and shatter and have to glue yourself back together piece by piece, as I have, you will, with age, become beautiful.”

“So it’s now time to discuss among yourselves, in small groups, what situations in your life are currently stressful. It may be a situation at work, dealing with deadlines, with bossy bosses. It may be relating with your partner, or your children, or your parents. It might be the pressure of performance. But whatever the situation, take time now, find the people in the room who can help you set up the stressful situation you find yourself in, and let’s enter the fire together, let’s use Alexander’s work so that we can be made stronger by the fire.”

The stage is now set for the second part of class, for applying the work into their lives. The Alexander Technique is not about the Alexander Technique. It’s about an approach to living. When I asked Marj Barstow, my mentor, what my job was as an Alexander teacher she said, “Bruce, your job is to help people to become sensitive, and to help them to bring that sensitivity into their everyday lives.”  Almost 40 years later, that’s still my job, still what I am figuring out how to do, for myself and for others.

Scenes are enacted; an aging daughter caring for an aging parent, a teacher unable to motivate her students, an analyst stuck behind a computer all day, a singer with performance anxiety, a therapist listening to a suicidal client, a physical therapist having to help a stroke patient up from a chair and into bed. These are the kinds of situations that inspire me. The tough ones.

IX.

It’s time to bring the workshop to a close, always a delicate moment, like arriving at the last line of a poem.

“You are the clay. You are the material with which you have to work. You are the potter. You are the bowl. You are the person who shapes yourself. You are the person who has the potential to open yourself. You are the one who can make yourself beautiful, and useful.”

“And it is you who must, ultimately, ask the question and make the decision. With what do I wish to fill myself?”

The room is utterly silent. We sit in that silence together for a long time, in a circle that suddenly looks to me like one big bowl. I bow, thanking my translator of 27 years, my organized organizer, my dedicated trainees, my devoted teachers, and all the openhearted students. I am filled with gratitude.

Yes, I think to myself, that’s my decision.

The Lay Of The Land

Photo: Anchan Akihiro Tada

Photo: Anchan Akihiro Tada

In Japan people work late, often at jobs that have little to do with who they are. They finish work and desperately want to do something for themselves, something they care about. The scene in the Japanese version of Shall We Dance, when the woman rushes in late to her dance class, not having had time to eat, and proceeds to faint, on the spot, from exhaustion is not an exaggeration.

That’s how it was for some of my night students. They’d arrive, and there they were, not really standing, but ever so slightly wavering in the air, on the verge of fainting; famished, weary, drained.

There was no other way to work with them but lying down. My friend Anchan had just made new teaching tables for the Alexander Alliance Kyoto. They were low, about a foot off the ground, so that we could work in seiza. It was easier to work on these tables than to work on the floor. The tables were shaped vaguely like a person, which made sense. They were wider than a massage table at the upper end, providing plenty of room for the arms, while the middle was quite narrow, allowing the teacher to come in close to the student’s torso, making it really easy to reach over to the other side, and the lower end of the table widened out, slightly, for the pelvis, legs and feet. For me, it was perfect.

Our sessions were quiet, meditative, long, sometimes lasting for an hour. Strangely enough, rarely did a student fall asleep. Usually at some point, a student would begin to talk to me, and we, (my translator, Midori Shinkai, and I) would listen. There was little I gave in the way reply. I replied with my hands, helping them to become soft within themselves as they spoke to us of their hardships.

Sometimes, I’d sit there feeling like an old tree providing shade and shelter. Sometimes, I’d become so utterly silent, I could hear the ocean inside them. They would leave, rested and awake, as if they had remembered who they were and why they were here.

But that was years ago. I had fallen out of doing lying down work. I had moved on to other ways of working. For forty years Alexander’s work has led me to where it has wanted me to go, and I have followed like a faithful servant.

Yesterday Yamashita-san arrives, an Alexander Technique teacher.  He specifically requests that I give him a lying down lesson. “I’m so sorry, I say. I hardly ever do table work. It’s not what I am trained in, not what I practice, not what I am good at.” Apologizing is, however, something one practices a lot after living in Japan for a while. “Yoroshiku Onegaishimasu, he says. Please teach me.” I tell him I will do my best for him.

“Okay. Let’s begin.” We open up a standard massage table. “Yamashita-san, without thinking, just lie down on the table any old way.” Like a high jumper, he does a kind of western roll onto the table, ending up on his back, legs outstretched and turned out, head slightly tilted back, his hands resting on his belly.  “That’s great. Don’t move. Don’t correct anything. Don’t arrange yourself. No Alexander Technique. Just hang out and rest.”

‘This may not be the conventional way to begin an Alexander lying down lesson, but entertain  me. I have my reasons, which I will share with you all along the way. I want you to understand my mind, I say, then if you ever want to, it will be easier for you to do what I do.’

“You look comfortable. I like being comfortable too. No point being uncomfortable.” I pull up a fairly high stool, (it’s what’s in the studio I happen to be teaching in), place it at the end of the table, just behind Yamashita-sans head, and sit down.

“Okay Yamashita-san. (Yama means mountain, and shita means under.) Here’s the first thing I do. I look. I look at my student, my person, without any desire to come toward them and help them, without any desire to change them in any way.  At the same time, I don’t pull back away from them and begin critically analysing everything I see. I call the way I practice seeing, beholding, holding a person’s being inside me. Beholding frees me. It’s as if I were far away, high on a mesa, gazing out over a vast, beautiful landscape. Yet, I feel strangely close to what I am seeing, almost touching it with my eyes, while at the same time, receding from it, as if I were on a ship leaving a land that I love.”

“Usually, when we see something the first thing we do is identify it. Our minds quickly name what we see. I look at you and my mind says, man.  And then the mind thinks that it no longer has any more to do. Its job is finished. But years ago, when I first started birdwatching, I read a book written by Donald and Lillian Stokes on bird behavior. They said that if you really want to go beyond identification, if you really wanted to see a bird, to see it’s behavior, how it lives its life, you had to watch it, at the very least, for three minutes. At some point, you begin seeing what is actually going on in front of your eyes, not the name, a red winged blackbird, not the symbol, not the icon of a red winged blackbird, but of what is actually happening in front of your eyes, of reality itself.”

“So that’s what I am going to do with you now, and I will share with you what I am seeing. This will begin to awaken your kinesthetic sense, as you will soon experience. This is important, as you know. You probably also know that when Alexander came to London in 1900, he stood out on a street corner handing out little pamphlets about his work. He didn’t call it the Alexander Technique. He referred to it as Kinesthetic and Respiratory Re-education. So that’s what we’ll be doing for a little while.”

“I begin by looking at the lay of the land. To do that I imagine a strong rain, raining down on the earth, which is you. I watch where it looks like the rain would seep into the ground, where it would collect, and where it would begin to run down, and the path that watercourse would take.”

“When the rain hits your sternum,” touching his sternum in the place I want him to sense, “I see the rain running down toward your left shoulder/boulder, collecting, and then cascading down into the pit, the arm pit.” I slide down his sternum following the incline toward his left arm pit. I return to the ridge of the sternum and slide my hand to the right, along land that I am sure Yamashita-san can feel is level.

“What’s happening kinesthetically, Yamashita-san?” I say, noting he’s wide awake.  “I can sense and see exactly what you are seeing,” he says.  We continue in this way until Yamashita-san has a vivid sense of his body’s landscape; the slope of his forehead, the bridge of his neck, the caves under his hands and feet, the pools of his eyes, his rib tunnel, the pelvic revine, the roll of his legs.

“Now, having awakened your kinesthesia, having got a sense of the lay of the land, I will begin to use my hands. If we extend this metaphor, my hands would play the part of external forces which change the shape of the earth; the sun, the wind, the rains, and time itself.”

As I work with my hands, I not only talk to Yamashita-san about what I am doing, I tell him why I am doing what I am doing, sometimes how I am doing what I am doing, and sometimes from whom I learned to do what I am doing. “That’s from Elisabeth Walker, that’s indirectly from Joan Murray, that’s from Robyn Avalon, that I made up, that too, that’s from Robbin Simmons, that’s from Walter Carrington, that move is from Nica Gimeno, that’s an image from Martha Hansen Fertman, that image is from Ethel Webb, this idea’s from Barbara Conable.”

Along the way I tell Yamashita-san why I don’t work symmetrically, why I don’t have a set routine, why I use myriad qualities of touch, why I work unpredictably, why I don’t talk about breathing, how I get shoulders to widen and settle, wrists to unset, ribs to soften, nostrils to open, organs to move, hip joints to un-grip, legs to balance themselves.

The hour flies by, and yet it’s as if we’ve traveled together for years, hiked up hills, rafted down rivers, climbed up cliffs, slid down slopes, camped out in caves, rested upon rocks.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll get back into table work again someday. Maybe not. It’s not up to me. I’m a servant. I listen to my master.

Letters To A Young Teacher – A Heavenly Host

Rilke's Letter To A Young Poet

Rilke’s Letter To A Young Poet

When you first started teaching, did you trust that your hands were directing in the way that they should or could? I am finding myself wondering if my hands are giving the student the experience that I have when my teacher’s hands are on me. I then of course go back to myself, my back and empty hands. But the thought/doubt is there. I’d love your thoughts on trust and the development of our listening hands.

Did I trust that my hands were directing in the way they they should or could? The short answer? No. I knew my hands were not very good. I knew my use was not all that great either. (It still is not great.) I knew I was not giving my students the experience that I was receiving from my teacher, Marjorie Barstow. But as Marj once said to me,  ‘Comparisons are odious.’ And in this case unfair. If you know more than someone else about AT and you have some skill, then you will be able to help them to the degree that you can at this time. You will likely get through, to varying degrees, with some students, and not at all with others, which can be disheartening. When this would happen to me while teaching a group, with other students watching, I would say something like, ‘That’s enough for now, good job. Let’s take a break, watch others, and come back to it again.’  There’s no point forcing things.

It’s humbling when students don’t respond, but it’s good feedback.  It tells you that you need another 40 years of practice. One student is practice for the next. Fake it until you make it. It’s odd, but it helps me not to think about myself so much as an accomplished teacher. (How other people see me is their own business, not mine.)  I choose to see myself as a student who is doing what he loves, studying and practicing. People pay me for the opportunity to study and practice with me,  because of my possessing more experience than they do. Within Jewish communities in Eastern Europe before World War II, being a rabbi was not a profession. A rabbi was someone that the community collectively recognized as a wise and exceptionally learned man, and supported him so that he had time to study and to contemplate, a kind of scholar-in-residence. That’s how I think of myself. I’m a ‘somasopher’, a person with embodied wisdom. People pay for me to meditate on Alexander’s work, which I do a lot.. People pay me to write, (Yes, I know this is a fantasy, but it’s how I choose to frame it), and people pay me to study in the same room with me. No matter the room, no matter the number of people, in my mind, I transform where I am into my livingroom and I welcome people into my home. Because I am at home in the work and with people. That takes the pressure off. I don’t have to be The Teacher who knows everything, or is great at everything, or can solve everything. Why not write your own secret job description, your own personal mission statement?

It’s about relaxing into your practice. It’s about getting thousands of people under your hands, a heavenly host of people with a heavenly host of different life patterns. And having fun. Ask your students what they are experiencing, and not only physically. Ask them to be totally honest, to not worry about pleasing you. Trust their feedback, and then shift how you are working accordingly.

We’re growing into ourselves as Alexander teachers. It’s an organic process. It takes its own sweet time.

As for coming back to yourself, and to your back, and to your empty hands, and to your listening hands. I don’t really know what all that is for you in reality. I would have to see you, and see and experience what your hands are doing and what they are not doing. But I will say that I don’t come back to myself, I include myself. In Judaism there’s a famous prayer called the Shema, and basically it says that God is One. I take this to mean, not two. Our job is to unify, to make things one.

My hands are not only empty, they are full, they don’t only listen, they speak, they communicate, they invite, they welcome, they offer, they lead, they follow, they receive, they give, they promote, they nurture, they love, they read, they explore, they suggest, they comfort, they challenge, they encourage, they praise, they give permission.

So in the beginning it is not about trusting your hands. It’s about using them a lot and getting good at using them, the way anyone with a manual skill gets good at what they do, if they work at it. Then over time, based on experience, you come to trust your hands. Now, my hands know far more than I do. More than I can say.

Have no doubt. Relax into your practice. Enjoy your students.

An Interview for Eye-Ai – Magazine for Japanese Entertainment And Culture

By Karen Riley

By Karen Riley

This post is mainly for the Marketing The Alexander Technique Facebook folks.

You never know.

I was in Santa Fe, admiring an artist’s work that had a bit of a Japanese flair to it. I mentioned it to her, Karen Riley, whereupon she told me she had lived in Japan for some time and still edits for a Japanese magazine. When she found out what I did in Japan she asked if she could interview me.  Basically she pulled a lot together on her own by information she gleaned from my blog and websites. Then together we fine tuned it. It wasn’t difficult. Eye-Ai is the only monthly publication in English devoted entirely to Japanese entertainment and culture. It’s been around for 35 years. It’s a pop culture, youth oriented magazine, very lightweight, not a magazine I thought would be the least bit interested in what I’m doing.

But why not? That’s often the right question to ask. You never know. It goes out to 5000 readers. One reader might be interested. That’s fine. Nothing lost.

Now I have a finished piece and will submit it to the Kyoto Journal and to the Japan Times, both for English readers.

Why not?

https://peacefulbodyschool.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/interview_2.pdfinterview_2

An Alexander Happening

img_7735_kayla_sellers

Sometimes I really wonder about my voice. I don’t know why it’s so high, Atsuko says. Sitting together, eight of us at a Spanish restaurant in Temma, Osaka after a day of study, I notice when Atsuko speaks she looks like a little girl, a cute tilt of the head, sparkling eyes, a happy smile. Who knows, I say. It could be structural. Then again it might not be. What does your voice sound like to you, I ask? It sounds like everyone else’s voice. Just normal, she says.

You know Atsuko, what your voice sounds like really doesn’t matter so much. You’re expressive emotionally, articulate, easy to understand. It’s like your voice is a piccolo, that’s all. When you first hear a piccolo it sounds weird, too high, but then if someone is a good musician they can make beautiful music with that little instrument.

I’m wondering why, to you, your voice sounds like everyone’s else’s. If you hear your voice as the same as everyone else’s voice, you’d have little impulse to change it.  Alexander said, The hardest things to change are the things that don’t exist. Atstuko looks puzzled. You see, your high voice doesn’t exist for you. As far as your ears are concerned, you don’t have a high voice.

Atsuko, sing for me. Sing some little song you like. Without any hesitation, the sparkling red wine having loosened everyone up, Atsuko begins singing Sukiyaki, Ue o Muite Arukou. Astuko, do you know a song that has a fuller range, some lower notes. Mari, sitting next to her, begins singing a song I don’t recognize. Astuko knows it and joins in. Without effort she drops down into the lower notes. Do you hear that Atsuko? She looks surprised and nods yes. Sing it again. She does. There it is again! Did you feel that? That may be your real voice, what your voice sounds like when you’re not holding it up.

We were all relaxing, eating Japanese tasting tapas with chopsticks. The sparkling red wine the restaurant had given us for free to lure us in was now finished and beer mugs had mysterious appeard in front of everyone. I went no further, as captivated as I was by Atsuko’s changing voice. Class was over, but in class I had told several stories of spontaneous Alexander lessons happening to me, when with my teachers, outside of class.

There you go you guys, I said lifting my beer mug.  An Alexander happening. A Bruce story. Whatever. When the moment’s right, use it, pass it on.

Anchan Akihiro Tada – About The Touch

Photo: Bruce Fertman

Photo: Bruce Fertman

“Anchan, I will pay for all your expenses, travel, room and board, training, film, everything, if you travel around with me and take photos.” That’s how it all began, the making of a man able to catch that elusive moment when a person opens up, frees into who they really are, revealing their intrinsic beauty, their fundamental dignity.

That’s not easy. In the first place you have to be able to see, to see people. You have to be able to feel the instant before a person lets go into a space unknown to them. You have to remember what’s most important; to draw the viewers eye to the inner life of the student.

Now videography, something Anchan taught himself how to do, poses formidable challenges. Movement can be distracting, and words too. Photographs have power. Catching a moment, one moment, the moment of transformation, within stillness, within silence, suspended there in front of you with all the time in the world to enter into what you are seeing, and to be moved by it.

Anchan had an idea. He thought, “what if I could make a wordless video that showed not only the transformative moment, but the transformative movement, without losing the beauty and the stillness of photography?” And with that question Anchan made, The Touch.

But Anchan’s much more than a photographer. He’s an Alexander Teacher in his own right. And a good one.  Not only does he have a better eye than most Alexander teachers, he knows how to teach what he knows. It’s moving to watch Anchan with his kids, how he gives them the time and space to figure things out for themselves, and only interjects a suggestion when needed. He knows when and exactly how much encouragement to give, and he knows when it’s not needed. 

Anchan’s always there. He’s ready to serve. He makes things work. He’s generous. He overflows with generosity.

We were young men when we met, and though Anchan is a good ten years younger than I am, we are both decidedly older, no longer young. But rather than growing tired after all these years of dedicating ourselves to making the invisible visible, to making people see the power of touch, the beauty of Alexander’s work, we’re becoming ever more engaged in this undertaking. We keep getting closer, and closer.

In this short video, made by Anchan, entitled The Touchyou get to see how Anchan sees, and what Anchan loves. You get to see what the students are seeing.  And you get to see the students seeing what they are seeing.  See that, and you will see why I have faith in young people. Those students are delighting in the power and beauty of teaching through touch, something Marj Barstow passed onto me, that Alexander passed on to her,  and that I will continue to do my best to pass on to my students for as long as I am able.

I could tell you much more about Anchan, but I won’t. Let The Touch speak for itself.

Watch The Touch.

Tell us your impressions.

We welcome any and all feedback.

https://www.facebook.com/akihiro.tada.5?fref=ts

https://www.facebook.com/bruce.fertman?fref=ts

www.peacefulbodyschool.com

The Vow

Having taught Alexander’s work for all of five years, just shy of my thirtieth birthday, my workshop at Crosslands Retirement Community had finished.  Putting on my coat, head down, feeling unsure of myself, in grave doubt about my ability to get Alexander’s work across, an elderly man approaches, a soft elegance about him. Upright, tweed sports jacket, bow tie. He extends his hand and says, “James, James Bennett. You might like knowing that fifty-five years ago I received lessons from Mr. Alexander. He used to tell me that, next to John Dewey, I was his worst student. I always took that as a compliment.” “Well,” I said taken aback, “tell me, be honest, how did I do?”  “It moved me seeing you work with my friend Agnes, he said. To see her walking without her walker. How can I say, it was thrilling. You know, I had many lessons with F. M., but they were always individual lessons. I never watched anyone having a lesson. Until now. I could actually see what was happening. You were teaching me how to see. It was enlightening. As for how you did? Have no doubt. You did splendidly. You have that touch.”

That made my day. Actually, that kept me going for years. It affirmed my intuition that Alexander’s work could effectively be taught in groups.  It further convinced me of the importance of being able see Alexander’s work, as subtle as it was. And I felt encouraged to keep cultivating “that touch.”  Early on I had made a vow to myself that I would not quit until my hands were as good as Marjorie Barstow’s hands.  James Bennett made me feel I was on my way.

Forty years after having made that vow,  a 1000 workshops later, 15,000 people-under-my-hands later, I may have made it. I may have gotten there. I may have fulfilled my vow. I will never know for certain, and so best to not stop practicing. I don’t think I could stop practicing. It’s who I am, at my best.

In this short video, entitled The Touch, by Anchan, you get to see what Marj Barstow passed onto me, what Alexander passed on to her, and what I will continue to do my best to pass on to my students for as long as I am able.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 122 other followers