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Genesis Revisited

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

 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 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.

The little girl liked space. It made her feel free. For quite a long while that was enough for her. Until 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

She 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 darkness, 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, she awoke with a sparkle in her eyes. She wanted an adventure. She decided, in one fell swoop, to create every thing in the world that ever would be. She hadn’t realized that 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. It was turning out to be an exceptionally busy but good day.

Suddenly there was utter chaos, and it was exhilarating. She hadn’t as yet names for anything, and she hadn’t the foggiest idea of what all these things were for, but she loved watching them floating in her space. 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 intoxicating. It was awesome. But after a while the little girl began to get 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 thousand pieces.

On The Fourth Day

Her dizzy spells continued. She didn’t want to get rid of everything. She didn’t even know for sure whether she could de-create something. Then she came up with what she thought was a great idea. She decided to create gravity and ground, and the moment she did, everything, literally, fell into place.

She couldn’t believe how good this felt. It was as magnificent as her first experience of space. Everything was sitting comfortably. Everything was at rest. Everything was settled and seemed entirely happy exactly where it was, and exactly being what it was. There was some logic to where everything was but the little girl did not yet know what it meant for something to be logical.

After a while she realized that even with all the stuff that was now in her world there still seemed to be an equally infinite amount of space. This seemed mysterious to her. And there was still plenty of moisture. In fact, by creating gravity and the ground, some of the moisture had become more substantial and concentrated and had fallen, making oceans and rivers and waterfalls, which for some unknown reason made her feel quiet inside and happy.

Everything looked beautiful to her. All at once she realized that, since she started creating, she hadn’t been bored for a second! It was as if she had discovered the secret to happiness. Creativity. She was content for a very, very long time, for eons.

On The Fifth Day

The little girl was so utterly content, that is until she realized she had not had a really creative idea in a long time. And then she did. Out of the blue, (why the sky was blue she did not know), 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.

The little girl spent a long, long time just watching all these creatures and comparing one to the other. Again there was some kind of logic to the whole thing but still she did not know what that meant. Soon this was to change.

After a long while her curiosity got the better of her. What was making her world go round? What made the creatures in the air able to be up there? 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

The little girl 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 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), the little girl 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 for a while and spend a little time not creating,” she thought. The little girl spent a long while simply gazing at her creation. “It’s good,” she thought, “very good.” She loved her world. Sleep was coming 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. Our little girl 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 that they don’t notice how beautiful everything is, how everything works together, how well it all takes care of itself.

As our little girl sleeps, the world continues on its own course without her. I know that sooner or later she will wake up, and when she does I wonder what she will find and what she will think about it. I am sure once she sees the lay of the land another idea will pop into her head.

After all, she is a very creative little girl.

Commentary

You might wonder how this story of Genesis popped into my head. Without my knowing it, it had been writing itself for a long time.

After many years I began to discern a sequence within my method for helping people create more of the kind of world they wished to live in. The story of our little girl, and the creation of her world, unfolds precisely in this sequence. It’s a story that contains within it my pedagogy, the genesis of one way of working with people.

First there is nothing.

There is nothing like the concept of nothingness to put life into perspective. The prospect of individual non-existence can have a sobering affect. And it can have a freeing affect too. Eliphalet Oram Lyte wrote a little ditty that expresses my attitude as a teacher, the mood I do my best to create within my workshops and classes.

Row, row, row your boat

gently down the stream,

merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,

life is but a dream

 We’re all here rowing our own boats. We are all going down the same stream to the same place. It’s not our stream. We don’t know where the stream will carry us. Our boats don’t belong to us either, but we are responsible for taking care of them. We want to learn how to row our boats gently, that means to me, without excessive force. We want to develop the sensitivity to discern the undercurrents, and the perceptivity to read the river. And when we can, why not bring a bit of merriment to our little adventure…merriment, that is, buoyancy, liveliness, zest, lightheartedness, warmth, friendship, festivity, hilarity, and pleasure?

Life is but a dream. Could be. Who knows for sure? Can we know for certain that we are not being dreamt? Could it be we are but figments of one creative imagination, seemingly alive within a very realistic dream?

But whatever the case may be, best not to take ourselves too seriously. When something seems unimportant, that’s the time to take it seriously. When something seems vitally important, that’s the time to crack a joke, to smile, to have some fun.

Why? Because it just works better that way. When people are not trying too hard to get it right they have more fun, and when they have more fun, they learn more.

One the first day she thought, Nothing is nothing, but space is definitely something. Its open and it can be filled.

 That’s where I begin, with a person’s sense of space. For me, the sense of space is a sense, just like our other senses. There is essentially no space within our bodies, but with training we can come to sense a tremendous amount of space within us. We can be in a packed subway car, everyone pressed against one another, and feel a tremendous sense of space and relaxation. There is learning to see and sense the space all around us in such a way that it actually supports us like an invisible spider web, allowing us to sit comfortably in the center of our world. There is the lively space between, between us and our computers, between us and our food, between us and our thoughts, between us and those we love and those we don’t. This is where I begin.

One the second day she closed her eyes sensing the coolness of the moisture upon her skin and as she did she saw darkness, a darkness as vast and as beautiful as the space she had created. 

When I begin to use my hands to help awaken a person’s kinesthesia and propriception my hands have a way of getting under the skin, of finding fluidity within them, a kind of underground stream streaming throughout them. I am water touching water. This sense of moisture is new to most people and they find their eyes closing. They want to sense this moisture within a vast inner space.

On the third day 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.

 The world sometimes feels like this when we’ve got lots to do. We’ve got to get to work, but first we have to make lunches for the kids, and drop them off at school, then pick up our coworker whose car broke down. I ask students to bring me the “stuff” their lives are made of, their responsibilities, their projects, their problems, their pain, and their pleasures. It’s easy to become overwhelmed. It’s as if the world we’re whirling around us. It’s as if someone were stirring things up. How can we allow the stirring to stop, how can we let the mud settle to the bottom until the water is clear?

On the fourth day she decided to create gravity and ground, and the moment she did, everything, literally, fell into place.

 Humans need mobility and stability. Objects are great at showing us how to be stable. They know how to sit, how to receive support from the ground, so they can rest, so they can just be where they are and what they are. They know how not to fidget, how to be still. Humans need to learn this too. As far as gravity is concerned there is only space and stuff in this world, and humans classify as stuff. Gravity treats us the same way it treats every thing and every one. Gravity is fair. It’s our responsibility to learn how to work with gravity. We live on common ground, shared ground. The same ground supports us all. We’ve got to learn how to come down to the ground. We must come to realize we were all created equal. From where doth our support come? It comes from the ground. But sometimes we must go down to get it.

On the fifth day the little girl thought, What if I could create creatures who had entirely different ways of perceiving and experiencing this beautiful world I have made?

 A big part of my work is re-introducing the sensory world to people. We have spent time becoming oriented, fluid, and stable. Now it’s time to enliven and refine our sensory life. It’s not about sensory indulgence. The senses can take us way beyond pleasure. The senses allow us to gratefully receive the subtle magnificence of the world in which we live. Paradoxically, through the senses we get a glimpse of something beyond the senses, we get a glimpse of the essence of life itself, of life speaking directly through its own language without interpretation. Through the senses we experience communion.

On the sixth day the little girl decided to take one of the creatures she had invented and make them capable of thinking about her creation.

 Once my students have had glimpses into another way moving, sensing, and being in their world, their curiosity awakens. The questions start coming. “How come we lose our mobility and stability?” “Are there cultures who don’t lose it as much?” How about other animals?” “Is there some structural flaw in our upright structure?” “What makes us able to be upright?” “Why is it so difficult to continue to sense ourselves kinesthetically?” Mostly I say, “I don’t really know for sure.” We begin to think about thinking? Are there different ways to think? Cognition. Meditation. Contemplation. Awareness. Consciousness. Intelligence. Sensory Intelligence. We begin to find language for our new experiences. Together we enter a world of wondering.

On the seventh day the little girl thought,Perhaps it would be good for me to rest for a while and spend a little time not creating, she thought. The little girl spent a long while simply gazing at her creation. Its good, very good, she thought. She loved her world.

 You can’t do anything forever. Obsessing doesn’t help. It’s not healthy. Sometimes you just have to forget about the whole thing. Take a break. Don’t think about yourself or your work. “You’re fine exactly the way you are,” I tell my students. I tell them, “Never change. I love you just the way you are!” Everyone smiles. I encourage people. I know people do the best they can. I don’t evaluate people. Through this work goodness in people rises to the surface by itself. I don’t know why. Goodness, and love too. Love for the world, love for others, love for themselves. And love for that little girl.

Equilibrio

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

(*Poise no tiene traducción precisa en español, pero tiene connotaciones de equilibrio dinámico y armónico, porte elegante, gracia y control. Aquí se traduce como “equilibrio”.)

El equilibrio sucede por sí solo cuando dejamos de interferir con él. El problema es que no sabemos precisamente cómo estamos interfiriendo porque no podemos sentir la interferencia. Lo que sí sentimos es la consecuencia de la interferencia, algún estrés, esfuerzo, tensión o fatiga particular o general. Se siente. Estamos incómodos, y no sabemos cómo hacer para estar cómodos. Intentamos sentarnos derechos, o nos estiramos un rato, pero pronto esta falta de comodidad, esta falta de soporte, regresa.

Volvemos a trabajar con una sensación perezosa, una pesadez por la cual tenemos que atravesar para hacer cualquier cosa. O, volvemos a trabajar tan acelerado que por unas horas no sentimos nada, hasta que paramos y nos encontramos adoloridos o totalmente agotados.

El equilibrio, difícil de alcanzar. Vemos a los niños pequeños, cómo están levemente suspendidos, ágiles, ligeros. No están intentado hacer nada bien. Son naturalmente sostenidos y elásticos.

¿Qúe pasó?

Lo que pasó es que en el camino adquirimos “hábitos”, vestimenta neuromuscular que, quizás, alguna vez, nos quedó bien, pero ya no. Se siente demasiado apretado aquí, demasiado suelto allá. Nuestros cuerpos ya no se ajustan bien a quienes somos ahora.

Es como si, sin querer, desde adentro hacia afuera esculpiéramos un “cuerpo de tensión”, un cuerpo hecho de tensión. Y mantener dos cuerpos funcionando requiere de mucha energía, especialmente dos cuerpos que no se llevan bien. Mientras nuestro cuerpo verdadero pone el pie sobre el acelerador, el cuerpo de tensión pone el pie sobre el freno. Esto no es equilibrio.

El equilibrio regresa cuando empiezas a distinguir tu cuerpo de tensión de tu cuerpo verdadero. En la medida en que vas conociendo tu cuerpo de tensión, le puedes pedir, amablemente, que te suelte. Y a medida que lo hace, tu cuerpo de tensión te entrega su energía, su vida misma. El conflicto termina. Vuelves a ser fluido, como el agua, como la marea creciente, como una ola inseparable del vasto océano, suspendida bajo la plenitud de la luna.

Translated by Mari Hodges

Poise occurs by itself when we stop interfering with it. The hitch is that 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, 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?

What happened was that, along the way, we acquired “habits”, neuromuscular attire that, once, may have fit us, but now does not. It feels too tight here, and too loose there. Our bodies do not suit who we are now.

It is as if, unwittingly, from the inside out, we sculpted “a tension body”, a body made of tension. 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. This is not 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 become fluid again, like water, like the tide rising, like a wave inseparable from the vast ocean, standing, suspended under the fullness of the moon.

 

Mirando el Bahía de Tokyo

Tokyo-Bay-Japan

Me despidieron. Un hombre, padre de una de las jóvenes gimnastas en el Mann Recreation Center en Philadelphia, donde yo trabajaba como entrenador para un equipo de gimnasia femenino, se estaba quejando de cómo los chicos en Philadelphia no son tan inteligentes como lo eran los de hace 20 años. Yo tenía 22 años en ese entonces. “¿Cómo sabe eso?” le pregunté.

“Mira, he enseñado química en la escuela secundaria durante 20 años. Uso el mismo libro. Trabajo el mismo material… Los exámenes son exactamente iguales a los que usaba hace 20 años”, dijo él. “Interesante. Dígame, ¿se tuvo en cuenta a usted en esa ecuación? Quiero decir, ¿es posible que el hecho de no haber cambiado absolutamente nada signifique que no ha aprendido nada nuevo, sobre química o sobre la enseñanza? ¿Podría significar que está aburrido, no está inspirado, no inspira, y como ya llegó a la conclusión irrebatible de que los chicos no son tan inteligentes como lo eran antes, los trata así?; ¿y los chicos sienten eso y no lo escuchan, no lo respetan, y no hacen nada para usted; porque usted no los respeta y no hace nada para ellos?”.

“¿Qué sabes vos?” dijo él indignado. “Sólo sos un chico.” Sí, yo era un chico arrogante, agrandado, con mucho por aprender. Pero era un buen entrenador. Sin embargo, este hombre estaba en el comité de dirección del centro y donaba mucho dinero al equipo. Entonces me despidieron. Encontré un trabajo una semana después enseñando para Senior Wheels East Late Start, un proyecto que iba a los barrios más pobres de Philadelphia entregando comida a discapacitados y almuerzos a varios centros comunitarios para los pobres y desamparados, y que también ofrecía actividades en grupos y clases; mi clase era Seguridad en Movimiento. Yo era graduado de salud, educación física, recreación y danza en Temple University pero nunca había enseñado a gente mayor. Así que escuchaba sus necesidades, experimentaba, veía qué funcionaba y qué no. Los disfrutaba, aprendía de ellos y probaba. Pero esa es una historia para otro momento.

Cuarenta y dos años después entro a mi clase en Tokyo, todavía enseñando movimiento humano. He estado creando nuevo material y quiero presentar mi trabajo orientado a un nuevo tema. Estoy emocionado por tener esta oportunidad.

Ojaio gozaimasu (buen día), digo haciendo reverencias a todos. Todos, en voz alta y al unísono, me devuelven el saludo. Hay mucha energía en la sala.

“¿Por qué es tan importante la amabilidad? Quiero decir, ¿por qué diría Su Santidad el Dalai Lama que su religión es la amabilidad (kindness)? ¿Por qué, con todas las palabras que hay en el mundo, elegiría la palabra amabilidad? ¿Qué significa esa palabra?”

Las personas se están preguntando por qué estoy hablando sobre la amabilidad. Están aquí para una introducción a la Técnica Alexander. Pero yo tengo la costumbre de tomar el camino largo para llegar a donde voy. “En inglés, la palabra “kind” tiene dos significados, que parecen no estar relacionados. Un significado es “tipo”. Por ejemplo, hay dos tipos principales de destornilladores que usamos en América, uno plano y otro de cruz. ¿Tienen destornilladores planos y de cruz en Japón?” Inclinan las cabezas diciendo que sí, preguntándose por qué es esto importante.

Dibujo los destornilladores en la pizarra. Me encanta garabatear en las pizarras.

“¿Alguna vez les pasó que necesitaban un destornillador pequeño tipo cruz, pero sólo podían encontrar un destornillador grande plano e intentaron utilizarlo igual? Se arriesgan a que pasen tres cosas no tan buenas: uno, quizás dañen el tornillo; dos, quizás dañen el destornillador; ¿y tres?” Todos están pensando. Espero. Al final, una persona dice: “quizás te lastimas a vos mismo.” 

“Bien, okey. Imaginen lo siguiente. Se acercan a un perro que se ve amigable.” Ahora, algunos de los estudiantes están sospechando que posiblemente sufro una leve demencia. “Se paran en frente del perro y bajan la mano para acariciarle la parte de arriba de la cabeza. El perro agacha la cabeza a donde no alcancen con la mano. El no entiende el gesto como amistoso. Por un lado, están mucho, mucho más arriba, básicamente son un gigante por encima del perro. Por otro lado, están parados justo en frente del perro, bloqueando su ruta de escape. Y tercero, sus manos grandes, que ni siquiera son patas, van directo sobre su cabeza.”

“Los caninos son una especie de mamíferos distintos al ser humano. Tienen distintas maneras de saludarse. Si fueses un perro, la manera amistosa de acercarte a otro perro no es ir de frente, sino empezar a rodearlo desde el costado, bajando la cabeza y olfateando delicadamente la cola del otro perro, mientras le ofreces tu cola para que la olfatee. Eso es amistoso y se siente seguro para el perro. Ahora, si intentaras saludar a otro ser humano de esa manera, con ese gesto canino amistoso, probablemente lo malinterpreten, quizás hasta se perciba un poco maleducado.” Esto evoca las primeras risas robustas del grupo. Eso es importante.

“Incluso ahora, con las personas que conozco bien aquí en Japón, si les digo hola y les doy un abrazo amistoso americano, se ponen incomodos. Fingen que les gusta, pero puedo sentir como sus cuerpos se ponen rígidos como piedra. No les gusta. Entonces, casi siempre, solo hago una reverencia.”

“Eso me trae al otro significado de la palabra ‘kind’: ‘amable’. Ser amable también significa ser considerado y respetuoso de algo o de alguien.”

“Entonces, cuando comprendes y tomas en cuenta el tipo de cosa o criatura con la que te estás relacionando, podés tratarlos con la amabilidad y el respeto con la que quieren ser tratados.”

“Si yo quiero tratar a mi tornillo y destornillador respetuosamente, necesito comprender sus diseños y usarlos acorde a éstos. Eso es considerado. Eso es respetuoso. Eso es amable.”

“Si yo quiero ser considerado y respetuoso con un perro, tengo que saber algo sobre los perros. Entonces voy a elegir moverme despacio, agacharme al nivel de sus ojos, bajar la mirada, posicionarme al costado del perro. Voy a esperar a que el perro se mueva un poco hacia mí, y luego llevar mi mano despacito, con la palma hacia abajo para que se parezca más a una pata, hasta debajo de su mentón. Eso es considerado. Eso es respetuoso. Eso es amable.”

“Cuando estoy en Japón, con una cultura particularmente diferente a la de América, si quiero ser considerado y respetuoso, lo mejor es saludar a las personas de una manera que les haga sentirse cómodos. Eso sería amable.”

“Ahora que tenemos los dos significados de la palabra ‘kind’ (tipo y amable) y cómo están relacionados, surge la pregunta: ¿cómo me trato a mí mismo con amabilidad?”

“El trabajo de Alexander se basa en esta pregunta: ¿cómo hago para tratarme a mí mismo con amabilidad? Mi mentora, Marjorie Barstow, una vez nos dijo, ‘un día te despiertas y dices, estoy cansado de maltratarme. Ahí es cuando empiezas a progresar.’ Cuando era un joven actor, Alexander necesitaba comprender como maltrataba su voz. El usaba la palabra ‘uso’ en lugar de ‘trato’, y ‘mal uso’ en lugar de ‘maltrato’. Me gusta la palabra ‘trato’ porque tiene una connotación ética. No se trata solamente de función. Más tarde la investigación de Alexander no trató solamente sobre su voz, sino que trató sobre él mismo como persona. En otras palabras, su trabajo comenzó a ser sobre cómo los seres humanos se maltratan a sí mismos. Y sobre ¿qué tenemos que comprender y dominar para poder tratarnos a nosotros mismos con consideración y respeto?

Después de 20 minutos, por fin he llegado a donde quería ir. He explicado de qué se trata el trabajo de Alexander. Lo he hecho de una manera que es simple y fácil de entender. Lo he hecho de una manera que hizo a los estudiantes pensar en sí mismos, no tanto sobre sus cuerpos, todavía, sólo sobre ellos mismos como personas. Los oigo preguntarse, “¿me maltrato a mí mismo? ¿estoy preparado para dejar de maltratarme?” Los tengo donde los quiero.

“Para aprender cómo tratarnos con respeto, hay cinco aspectos de la vida que valen la pena considerar. Tiempo. Espacio. Contacto. Movimiento. E interacción social. Los escribo en la pizarra. Elijo estos porque siempre estamos viviendo en relación a ellos. De esto se tratará el taller.”

“Vivimos en el tiempo. Tenemos que lidiar con el tiempo del reloj, con llegar a tiempo, con hacer las cosas a tiempo. Hay tiempo psicológico. ¿Sentimos que nos estamos quedando sin tiempo? ¿Sentimos que estamos perdiendo tiempo? ¿Es el momento adecuado de decirle a otra persona cómo me siento?”

“Siempre estamos relacionándonos con el espacio, el espacio alrededor nuestro, el espacio entre nosotros y las cosas. Como en nuestros aparatos electrónicos, hay espacio psicológico dentro nuestro. ¿Nos sentimos atrapados? ¿Acorralados? ¿Contra la pared? ¿Tenemos espacio para pensar, o para respirar?”

“Siempre estamos en contacto. Nos sentamos en una silla frente al escritorio, en el asiento del auto, o en el asiento del tren. Caminamos por la calle, nuestros pies tocan el suelo con cada pisada. Ponemos comida dentro de nuestras bocas. Tocamos nuestras pantallas y teclados. Tocamos objetos todo el día, y nos acostamos sobre nuestras camas o futones todas las noches.”

“Nos movemos constantemente desde el momento que nos conciben hasta el momento en que morimos.”

“Y estemos a solas o no, nunca estamos solos. Como dijo James Hillman, somos nuestras comunidades internalizadas. Memorias de nuestros padres, pensamientos críticos sobre nuestros jefes, preocupaciones por nuestros hijos.”

“Para mí como profesor de Alexander este es el tema que interesa. Si podemos aprender a crear tiempo y espacio para nosotros mismos, si podemos aprender a hacer contacto respetuoso con todo lo que tocamos y nos toca, si podemos aprender a movernos acorde a nuestro diseño, quizás esta tranquilidad, equilibrio y sensibilidad seguirán vivos en nuestras interacciones sociales.”

“Entonces cuando Su Santidad el Dalai Lama dice: mi religión es la amabilidad; yo sospecho que él sabe que esto no es nada fácil. Sospecho que él sabe que ser verdaderamente amable requiere conocimiento, comprensión y practica comprometida, y que esta práctica nunca termina.”

El silencio y la quietud en la sala son palpables.

“Bueno. Vamos a divertirnos. ¡Realmente vamos a divertirnos mucho este fin de semana!”

El fin de semana va sorprendentemente bien. Surge mucho material nuevo. Digo cosas de maneras que nunca dije antes. Escucho ideas que nunca escuché. Uso mis manos de maneras en que nunca las he usado. Enseño movimientos que nunca antes enseñé. Puedo conocer gente que no conocía antes. Aprendí mucho este fin de semana y parece que los alumnos también. Hay cierta liviandad en la sala. Estoy feliz.

Junto mis cosas anticipando la cena, una cerveza y estar con amigos. Está hermoso afuera. El sol se pone sobre la bahía de Tokio. Un pensamiento se cruza en mi cabeza: “Vaya, los alumnos parecen ser más inteligentes cada año. Son más abiertos. Aprenden más rápido. Disfrutan más. A decir verdad, parecen más amistosos, más amables y más respetuosos que nunca.”

La amabilidad es mi religión. Soy devoto de por vida.

Translated by Mari Hodges

Inside The Majesty

 

image45

Photo: B. Fertman Monument Valley – The Three Sisters

“Okay.  What’s a Movement Meditation? What do you think, I ask my class?”

It’s when you’re doing some kind of movement and you drop into the zone, like when shooting hoops, or doing Aikido, or running, or rock climbing.

I don’t think it has to be anything really fancy. Maybe I could be immersed in what I’m doing when I’m folding my laundry, or raking the leaves in my back yard.

Good examples. How about Kinesthetic Contemplation? What’s that?”

It could be when we are having a new sensation within us, a moving sensation, and we want to understand it, we want to know where it’s coming from, how it’s changing us, and what it means. So that makes it a form of contemplation.

Sounds good to me. How about a Senso-Spiritual Practice? We’re getting weirder and weirder.”

I think this one is simple. It’s like you’re taking a walk and you see a sunflower and you stop and look at it for a while. You see this incredible geometric pattern and you smell its perfume and feel how powdery soft it is and you get this feeling of it being totally miraculous, this simple sunflower. It almost makes me cry just thinking about it.

I love that example. Can someone give me another example?”

When I play Bach sonatas, which I do almost every morning, even though Bach wasn’t very religious, I hear something that feels sacred to me, like a river running into the sea. It’s hard to explain, but as the years go by, and the more I practice, the stronger this feeling gets. And this feeling opens me up. I think it actually makes me more loving.

Wow. That almost makes me cry just thinking about it. Anything else?”

Something happens to me when I get up early and go bird watching with my birder friends. The air is cool and fresh, and here we are, looking for these little birds, and some of them are so beautiful, like an indigo bunting, or a western tanager. And most of the time I’m so busy I just pass this beautiful world by. But when I’m bird watching my senses get finely tuned, my hearing, my seeing. Even my movements change. I can be still and silent for a very long time. And for some reason, at a certain moment, something comes over me and I feel grateful to be alive on the earth. I go home and my wife and kids are just getting up and I feel great. I’m in a great mood.

You see, maybe this one is not weird at all. Maybe the sensory world and the spiritual world go hand in hand, and maybe it’s so obvious we just miss it. Maybe this notion that the senses are physical and the spiritual is mental isn’t quite right. We go looking for our spirituality, God knows where, and there it is surrounding us all the time.  Maybe by better attending to our senses, we can more easily find entrance into the spiritual world. Sometimes I get sad thinking how little most cultures spend on the arts because art is a great way into senso-spiritual life, and nature is too.”

“Once, many years ago now, I was invited to Omega Institute in Upstate New York to teach a 5-day workshop. All the teachers who were giving workshops met the day before to get to know one another a little. A woman with the bluest, wisest eyes, a deep ecologist by the name of Joanna Macy was there. And a man, a tracker, by the name John Stokes was there with a few of his apprentices.”

“There was this burly guy with a thick beard, large forearms, and calloused palms who was as soft as a big teddy bear. He came up to me and asked me what I was teaching and I said something about sensory awareness.” He said, “That’s very much what I teach too, except I’m not the one who’s really teaching my students about their senses. The woods do that for me. How do you teach your students about their senses without the woods?”

Okay. Here’s the one no one can answer. What’s a Post-Proprioceptive Prayer?

Silence descends upon the room.

“You’re close. Can you say a little more?”

Well, proprioception has something to do with the position we are in, with knowing exactly where we are. So post-proprioceptive prayer…hmm…I don’t know.

Let’s begin at the beginning. This may take a while. I’ve got to go step by step. But it will be worth it, so hang in there with me.”

Pre-proprioception and Proprioception

When we are born, so I am told, as I have no conscious memory of this, we cannot identify what is our body and what is not. We don’t have an identity. We are not an “I”. We are a little bundle of sensation with no awareness that we are a bundle. Maybe Descartes was right when he said, “I think therefore I am.” Maybe there is no “I am” before we begin thinking. As a newborn we are alive but we don’t know we are alive. It’s a mystery to me how we transition from pre-proprioception to proprioception. Here are my musings on the subject.”

“Proprioception tells us our position or shape, for example it tells us if our elbow is flexed or straight. Proprioception tells us about location, where one part of our body is in relation to another part, and in relation to the body as a whole.  Your right arm may be flexed and you sense its shape, but is it over your head or by your side? Proprioception tells us about orientation. Where is our body in space? Are we lying down or are we standing up? And some might say that proprioception tells us if we are moving or not. I tend to associate movement with the kinesthetic sense. But in living it is almost impossible to separate touch, proprioception, and kinesthesia.”

“Close your eyes and slowly touch your nose with your index finger. Sense how you can kinesthetically feel that your finger is moving, but that your nose is not moving. The only way you are going to have any idea where your nose is, is through your proprioceptive sense.”

“So we enter this world and we have no clue about the shape of our body, or of any part of our body. And we’ve no clue where one part of our body is in relation to another part. And we have not the faintest idea where we are in relation to the environment, because we can’t tell the difference, we can’t differentiate. And as far as whether we are moving or still, well how could we possibly know what is moving, our mother or us, the bed or us. We are pre-proprioceptive.”

“But we come out into the world with a great sense of touch. We’re transitioning from relating to a fluid environment to a solid environment. We feel this. We start rolling against a hard surface. We’re experiencing gravity when we try to lift our formidably large heads. But we’re strangers in a strange land. If we’re lucky, we have people around who love us and love touching us a lot. We’re feeling a little squeeze on our calf, or a kiss on the cheek. Suddenly we are being squeezed around the ribs and lifted high above someone’s smiling face. People are putting us in silly looking clothes and increasingly, through almost constant sensorial research we are, literally, figuring out where we are.”

Extended Proprioception

Extended proprioception grows out of proprioception. The potential for extending proprioception is built into us, but we also have to work at it. Babies work at it. Children work at it. And adults work at it.”

“We extend proprioception when we can get an object to do what we want. It’s as if we extend our nervous system into the object, much as amputees with sensorialized prostheses are now able to do.  You can watch a baby learn to manipulate a baby bottle, pick up a pea, eventually write with a pencil, button a shirt, tie a shoe, ride a bike, fly a kite, and eventually drive a car. Oh no! You can see how persistently babies and kids work on extending proprioception.”

“Extending proprioception can get pretty sophisticated, playing a musical instrument, fencing, fly fishing, kayaking, knitting.” 

“Not only can we extend our proprioception into objects, which is exciting enough, we can extend our proprioception into creatures as well. When my daughter was hardly a year old I’d take her to see horses at a nearby stable and she’d go wild. In the worst way she wanted to touch those horses and sit on those horses. I’m convinced there’s a horsemanship gene. Watch a great equestrian and you will see extended proprioception, two creatures moving as one. Or watch  great Aikidoists, or great tango dancers.”

“This brings us to the relationship between extending proprioception and intimacy. It’s no mistake that dancing and courtship go hand in hand. Whether it is swing, or tango, or contact improvisation most humans love physical intimacy. It doesn’t matter whether this physical intimacy is sexual or nonsexual. Physical intimacy brings people literally and figuratively in touch with one another.”

“Paradoxically, proprioception helps us to differentiate ourselves from what is not us and, at the same time, it has the potential, when extended, to unite us with others and with the things of this world. It has the capacity to distinguish and to unify.”

“Marjorie Barstow, my mentor, once told me to watch my hands all through the day and see if I ever distorted them.” “Bruce, if you catch your hands looking ugly or distorted, if they wouldn’t look beautiful in a photograph, then stop right away, and you will see that you are distorting your whole body. Wait until you know exactly where you are, the relationship of the parts of your body, one to the other, as well as the shape of your body as a whole, and then release the distortion throughout your entire body and work out a way of using your whole body and your hands without distortion. Because when we are distorted, we cannot relate well to anything.”

“Marj was talking about proprioception and extending proprioception. Marj’s ability to extend proprioception was extraordinarily refined. She knew precisely where she was so when, as an Alexander teacher, she touched me it was as if I became part of her exquisite nervous system, and without any effort I became, like her, beautifully integrated. Her touch was intimate in that her hands did not feel separate from my body. They felt like they were under my skin, not on my skin. Her hands were a part of me. Yet her touch was non-sexual in nature. It was as if Marj was overlapping into me, like one circle intersecting another.  We were two people with one nervous system.”

“How are you doing? Are you following me? Do you need a break? I don’t usually talk this much, but this is a bit complex. Shall I go on?”

I get nods of approval, so I continue.

Prayer

Now we have some understanding of pre-proprioception, proprioception, and extended proprioception. Before we can understand post proprioception, and what a post-proprioceptive prayer is, let’s think about what it means to pray, and what is a prayer. Again these are just my musings on the subject.”

“When I was four years old I slept in a little room with a little window near the foot of my bed. My mom would come into my room and we’d pray. Quietly she’d say, and I would say with her, Now I lay me down to sleep I pray to God my soul to keep, and if I should die before I wake, If I should die! What is she talking about? I pray to God my soul to take.” And then finally, “Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite. Bedbugs! What bedbugs! “After she would leave, I was wide awake. To calm down I would do my own praying. I would sit at the foot of my bed, on my knees, in seiza, and look up out my window at the few stars I could see. Only one star was red so I decided to pray to that star. A couple years later, I found out that my red star was a red light sitting on top of a radio tower. That was disappointing.”

“I would pray for things I wanted. I remember praying for a puppy dog, and when I finally got my soft, playful puppy, which I adored, I was soon infested with worms and before I knew it my puppy was gone. After that praying lost some of its appeal.”

“It wasn’t until I was considerably older, around thirty, that I actually began to pray for other people. I no longer believed in a God who could grant wishes, but I found myself wanting to be with people, in my heart and mind, that I cared about who were in need, as if I were keeping them company.”

“Many years later, after a particularly long, dark period in my life, I shifted into a different kind of praying. I completely stopped wishing or hoping for anything, for me or for anyone else. I was beginning to accept and appreciate exactly how things were.”

“If I was suffering, or someone else, rather than making a request I would ask a question. “If God is good, then what is good about what is happening now?” And then I’d become deeply quiet, do nothing, and wait without waiting for anything. Sometimes the answer would arise almost immediately and at other times not for weeks.”

“The more I began to experience everything as good, the more I found myself feeling grateful, often for little things I had up to now taken for granted, like being able to walk, or see, or having work that mattered to me, or that my kids were healthy. Just being alive rather than not, statistically speaking, seemed totally miraculous, and I found myself silently saying thank you almost all day long. And this thankfulness became a new, more mature form of prayer for me. It seemed I was almost in a perpetual state of prayer.”

“But there was one more shift yet to happen.”

“It’s a lot like when you first fall crazy in love with someone. You find yourself intoxicated, under a spell. Everything seems perfect because you are filled with this feeling of being in love with someone. Instead of writing thank-you letters all day long, I began writing love letters all day long!”

Post Proprioception

Step by step. We are almost there. Now we know what is pre-proprioception, proprioception, and extended proprioception. We know what mature prayer is, gratitude and love. Once we know what post-proprioception is, we can put it all together and you’ll know what I mean by a post-proprioceptive prayer.”

When we extend our proprioception exceptionally well we find ourselves in a harmonious relationship with an object, tool, instrument, device, or with nature, an animal or a person. There are however brief moments, when a merging happens, when we no longer feel as if we are in a relationship. We, as a separate I, are no longer there. It’s a post-proprioceptive moment. It’s as if we have reverted to a pre-proprioceptive condition, but it’s not pre-proprioceptive because we’re conscious of it. Often these moments verge on the ecstatic.”

“Ecstatic, in Greek, ekstasis, means a dis-placement, a removal from a proper place. Proper, as in proprio, as in property, means that which is you. So a post-proprioceptive moment is a felt dis-placement or absence of that which is you. In colloquial terms, it’s a moment when we are ‘blown away.’”

In Judaism we have a prayer you are supposed to say every night before going to sleep, and if you are lucky enough, at the moment you are leaving this world. It’s called the Shema. The Shema  means, as a Rabbi once told me, Listen, you person who wrestles with God, I will give you a hint. God is one, not two.”

“There was a woman with whom I was deeply in love. Sometimes I’d see her and spontaneously a poem would arise in me, fully formed. All that was left was to quickly write it down and give it to her. Here’s an example of a post-proprioceptive poem or prayer, written now long ago. Note the element of mergence, a felt dis-placement, of an absence self, and of gratitude.”

Have you ever been walking in the woods

Hearing no sound of a stream, and then suddenly you hear it?

Have you ever been walking for so long in the sound of the stream

That you cannot imagine how a sound could enter and fill you so completely,

Leaving no space for words

Or even for the thought of a stream sounding

Until the sound, streaming in your veins,

Sends the trees and rocks rolling into white clouds upon a hill

That meets your back in soft green grass, where you land,

Safely, staring up at the sky, so blue, wondering,

Not who you are, but that you are?

Post-Proprioceptive Prayer

Some people believe that this ability to enter into a post-proprioceptive condition is the basis for all religious sentiment.”

“Roman Rolland, a French dramatist, novelist, art historian and mystic was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1915. He coined the term ‘oceanic feeling.’ It meant this felt experience of oneness or limitlessness. Freud’s opinion was that this oceanic feeling, felt by some people and not by others, was ‘merely’ a carry over of a primitive pre-egocentric feeling, what I would call a pre-proprioceptive condition. Rolland and other mystics would beg to differ. For the mystics this experience of oneness and limitlessness was not ‘merely’ primitive, not only primal but sacred.”

“Perhaps there is some connection between the unity a fetus experiences within its mother, the oneness experienced through sexual unity, and the oneness experienced through spiritual unity. God is one, not two.

“Here’s a Rumi poem that captures all three experiences of post-proprioception. How did he do that!”

The Freshness

When it’s cold and raining,

you are more beautiful.

And the snow brings me

even closer to your lips.

The inner secret, that which was never born,

you are that freshness, and I am with you now.

I can’t explain the goings,

or the comings. You enter suddenly,

and I am nowhere again.

Inside the majesty.

Translated by Coleman Barks

There you go, a post-proprioceptive prayer of the highest order.”

“Another one of my favorite mystics, Meister Eckhart, encourages us to practice shifting out of a proprioceptive condition into a post-proprioceptive condition. For him this is a spiritual practice.” Meister Eckhart writes,

Start with yourself therefore, and take leave of yourself. Examine yourself, and wherever you find yourself, take leave of yourself. This is the best way of all.

“Start with yourself. First we have to know where we are. First our proprioception must awaken and become accurate. That doesn’t happen all by itself. It takes study and practice.”

And take leave of yourself. What does this mean? What happens to us along the way is that we become ‘proprioceptively established.’ We have drawn an outline around where we are, and that outline becomes thicker and thicker and darker and darker, until it becomes like an exoskeleton separating ourselves from all that surrounds us. When this happens we can never change ‘where we are.’  We’ve locked ourselves in and lost the key. We can’t get out and nothing can get in. We are in a proprioceptive prison of the self.”

“Can we learn, gradually, to make our outline less thick, less dark? Can we learn to erase it? I think we can. You see, it’s as if  we are living our lives constantly inside of parentheses*. What would happen if we could delete our parentheses?  Let’s look.”

I go up to the whiteboard, pull the top off of a blue magic marker, and begin writing.

This is me.

(bruce fertman)

Without the parentheses, this is me:

bruce fertman

Examine yourself, and wherever you find yourself, take leave of yourself. 

We have mistakenly come to identify ourselves with the parentheses that contain us. Take note. Meister Eckhart does not tell us where to go. He simply says, Examine yourself, and wherever you find yourself, take leave of yourself. He doesn’t say, take leave of yourself and then go here. He doesn’t say, take leave of yourself and then do this or don’t do that. Our only job is to, one, examine ourselves, know where we are, and two, take leave of where we are. He’s having us practice a shifting from a proprioceptive sense of self to a post-proprioceptive way of being with the world.”

This is the best way of all, he says. Meister Eckhart is saying there is nothing better. This is as good as it gets. That has been my experience too.”

“A dramatic image for taking leave, for transitioning from proprioceptive life to post-proprioceptive life is that of a cicada metamorphosing out of its shell. One really gets the feel of a creature taking leave of itself.

image46

“Now we can’t always experience so dramatic a metamorphosis. Some of us may never experience such a dramatic transformation. To do so usually requires hitting bottom, surviving a dark night, enduring a long bardo, traversing the seven terraces of purgatory.”

“But transformation can be gradual as well. We can, little by little, emerge from ourselves. As Walt Whitman writes in Song Of The Open Road, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.”

When I work with you that’s what I am doing. I’m gently using my hands to help you divest yourself of the holds that hold you. I’m helping you to erase your outline, delete your parentheses and when this happens I hear some of you sometimes say, I don’t feel like myself.  This is not me.”

“That’s why when I work with you I will sometimes change one side of you and not the other. In other words, I’ll help you remove one parenthesis and not the other. I’ll ask you to draw an imaginary line down through your center, dividing right and left, and I’ll ask you Who are you on this side, and who are you on that side?”

I write on the board.

(Who are you on this side? And who are you on that side?

“Let me work with some of you now, just on one side, and let’s see what happens.” Everyone stands up, and I get to work.

I feel older on this side and younger on the other side.

This person on the left feels scared and that person on the right feels confident. 

This person is a fighter, and this person is a listener. 

I feel like I’m trying to be invisible on this side, and on this side I want people to see me.

This is what I mean when I speak of becoming less proprioceptively established. You are beginning to question the establishment, the ‘static quo.’  You are unfixed, in motion now, spreading into a free and unknown future, a future not wholly determined by the past.”

“Would you like me to give you some post-proprioceptive prayers to take home with you?” “Yes,” they say. I hand each of them a sheet of paper with seven post-proprioceptive prayers. “Some of these may be accessible to you and some may not. Play with them for a few weeks and see what happens.”

They begin reading.

One. 

Take a walk everyday and delete your parentheses as you take in what is all around you. That’s simple.

Two. 

Lie down on the floor, splayed out. Imagine that a friend of yours has a piece of black charcoal. Beginning at the top of your head they start to draw a black outline on the floor working down one side, tracing around your head, down your neck, along the outside of your arm all the way down to your hand, in and out of each finger, up the inside of the arm, way up into the arm pit, down the torso, down the leg, around the heel, up the inside of the leg, across the pelvic floor, and just keep going until you make your way back to where you began. Sense how that feels then repeat it two or three times, each time making a thicker and darker outline. Sense how that feels.

Then imagine you are very large, like a large land mass, and all around you in every direction is  land that just goes on forever.  Hundreds of years go by and gradually the sun bleaches away the dark outline, the winds blow away the outline, the rains wash the outline away until it’s completely gone and there’s nothing separating you from all that is around you every direction.

Three. 

When you are in a train, or a car, or a plane, whenever you happen to find yourself sitting next to a stranger, delete your parentheses. Sense how that feels. Then imagine a large hula hoop a place both yourself and the person next to you inside of the hula hoop and just rest inside the hoop together.

If you are brave enough, sit down next to a person who you feel some aversion toward, a seriously obese person, a mentally or physically challenged person, (that’s all of us), someone who looks homeless and unkempt and sit next to them. Delete your parentheses. Sit inside your imaginary hula hoop with them.

Four. 

You can do the following lying down, or sitting, or standing or walking, which basically is all humans do. Imagine, and when I say imagine I don’t mean seeing a picture on the movie screen inside your head, I mean kinesthetically imagine the movement within your body, and proprioceptively imagine your shape changing.  Imagine your whole body is bread dough rising, rising omni-directionally, getting lighter and more spacious within itself.

Five. 

This one is good when sitting but feel free to experiment. Imagine your whole body is a sponge. Imagine it’s soaking up warm water from a deep puddle below and the more it soaks up the softer and wider and deeper it becomes. There is so much water to soak up so the water seeps and soaks its way higher and higher as the sponge swells getting wider and wider, fatter and fatter, fuller and fuller, until the entire sponge can accept no more water. It’s important to take all these images right up to the very top of your head and beyond.

Six. 

Imagine from high above you sand pouring finely down through a kind of funnel, pouring finely down through your “whales spout,” where the soft spot, the posterior fontanelle, is on an infant. Gradually the sand begins to make a little pile on the ground. As the sand continues, which it does for a long time, the little pile gets bigger and bigger. The sides of the pile make a perfect angle of repose. The sand continues to pour down until the point of the pile is about a foot above your head.

Seven. 

Go for a walk. First sense that the environment is all around you and that you are inside the environment. Walk that way for a while. At a certain moment play with reversing it. Imagine that the entire environment all you can see and hear and smell is within you and you are all around it. Everything is in you. See what happens.

“Okay. We are finished for the day. Let me leave you with one last image.”

I get my laptop and bring up a photo I took some 20 years ago of a church built around 1744, the Santa Rosa de Lima, a mile south of Abiquiu, New Mexico.

“Imagine you are the window frame,” I say to my students who all look decidedly softer and more open than they did when they entered the room this morning. 

“Who would you be without your frame?”

                               

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Over Tokyo Bay

Tokyo-Bay-Japan

It got me fired. A man, a father to one of the young gymnasts at the Mann Recreation Center in Philadelphia, where I worked as a gymnastic coach for a girls gymnastic team, was complaining about how kids in Philadelphia are not as intelligent as they were 20 years ago. At the time, I was 22 years old. “How do you know that?” I asked.

“Look, I’ve been teaching for 20 years; high school chemistry. I use the same text book. I cover the same material. My tests are exactly the same as they were 20 years ago” he says.  “Interesting. Tell me, have you factored yourself into the equation? I mean, could it be that after 20 years of changing absolutely nothing it could mean that you have learned nothing new since then about chemistry, or about teaching? Could it mean you are bored, uninspired, uninspiring, and since you have come to the irrefutable conclusion that kids are not as intelligent as they once were, that you treat them that way, and the kids pick that up and don’t listen to you, don’t respect you, don’t put out for you because you don’t respect them, or put out for them?”

“What do you know, he said in disgust. You’re just a kid yourself.” Yes, I was a cocky, arrogant kid with a lot to learn. But I was a good coach. This man was, however, on the board and donated a lot of money to the team. And so I was fired. I landed a job a week later teaching for Senior Wheels East Late Start, a program that went into the poorest neighborhoods in Philadelphia delivering food to the housebound, providing daily lunches at a number of community centers for the poor and the homeless, as well as offering group activities and classes. My class was a safety in movement class.  I’d never taught the elderly but I was a graduate student in the college of HPERD: health, physical education, recreation and dance at Temple University. I’d listen to their needs. I’d experiment. See what worked, what didn’t. I’d enjoy them, learn from them and figure it out as I went along. But that is a story for another time.

Forty-two years later, still teaching human movement, I walk into my class in Tokyo. I’ve been developing some new material. I want to try introducing my work centered around a new theme. I’m excited to have the opportunity.

Ohayo gosaimasu, I say bowing to everyone. Everyone, loud and in unison, bows and returns my greeting. There’s a lot of energy in the room.

“Why is it so important? I mean, why would His Holiness The Dalai Lama say to us that his religion is kindness. Why, given all the words there are in the world, would he choose the word kindness? What does that word mean?”

People are wondering why I am talking about kindness. They are here to be introduced to the Alexander Technique. But I have a way of taking the long way around to get where I’m going. 

“In the English language the word ‘kind’ has two distinct meanings, seemingly unrelated. One meaning is ‘type’. For example, there are two main kinds of screwdrivers we use in America, a slot head and a Phillips. A slot head fits into a screw that has only one straight indentation across the middle of the screw, and a Phillips fits into a screw with two indented crisscrossing lines running through it. Do you have slot head and Phillip screwdrivers in Japan?” They nod yes, wondering why this is important.

I draw the screwdrivers onto my whiteboard. I love scribbling on whiteboards.

“Have you ever needed a little Phillips screw driver, but all you could find was a big slot head screw driver? But you tried to screw in the screw anyway? You risk three not so great things happening. One, you might damage the screw. Two, you might damage the screw driver. And three?” Everyone is thinking. I wait. Finally, one person says, “Maybe you could end up hurting yourself.”

“Right. Okay. Imagine this. You go up to a dog that looks friendly.” Now some of the students may be considering the possibility of my suffering from a mild form of dementia. “You stand in front of the dog and reach down to pet the top of his head. The dog ducks his head down away from your hand. He doesn’t read this gesture as friendly. One, you are much, much higher up, basically towering over the dog. Two, you’re standing straight in front of the dog, blocking his means of escape. And three, your big hand, which is not even a paw, is coming down directly over the top of the dog’s head.”

“Canines are a different kind of mammal from homosapiens. They have different ways of greeting one another. If you are a dog the friendly way to approach another dog is not to approach square on but to begin circling around to the side, lowering your head and politely sniffing the other dog’s butt, while gladly offering your butt to be sniffed in return. That’s friendly and feels safe to a dog.”

“Now if you tried to greet a fellow homosapien that way, with that friendly canine gesture, it most likely would be misinterpreted, perhaps even considered slightly rude.” My first really hearty laughter from the students. That’s important.

“Even now, with people I know well here in Japan, if I say hello to them and give them a friendly American hug they get uncomfortable. They pretend they like it, but I can feel how their bodies get stone rigid. They don’t like it. So, almost always, I just bow.”

“This brings me to the other meaning for the word kind. To be kind also means to be considerate and respectful of something or someone.”

“So when you understand and take into consideration the kind of thing or creature you are relating to, then you can treat that thing or creature kindly, with respect, the way it wants to be treated.”

“If I want to treat my screw and screw driver respectfully, I need to understand their design and use them according to their design. That is considerate. That is respectful. That is kind.”

“If I want to be considerate and respectful of a dog, I need to know something about dogs. Then I will choose to move slowly, to come down to his eye level, lowering my gaze, positioning myself slightly to the side of the dog. I’ll wait for the dog to move slightly toward me, then slowly bring my hand, turned down, making it look more like a paw, up under it’s chin. That is considerate. That is respectful. That is kind.”

“When I am in Japan, a particularly different kind of culture from America, if I want to be considerate, if I want to be respectful, its best to greet people in a way that makes them comfortable. That’s the kind thing to do.”

“Now that we know both definitions of the word kind, and how they are related, the question arises, how do I go about treating myself kindly?”

“Alexander’s work is founded upon this question; how do I go about treating myself kindly?  My mentor, Marjorie Barstow once said to us, “One day you wake up and say, I’m tired of mistreating myself. That’s when you start making some progress.” As a young man, and as an actor, Alexander needed to figure out how he was mistreating his voice. He used the word ‘use’ instead of treat, and misuse instead of mistreat. I like the word treat because it has an ethical connotation. It’s not purely about function. Later Alexander’s inquiry became not only about his voice, but about himself as a person. In other words, his work became about how do humans mistreat themselves. And what do we need to understand and to master to be able to treat ourselves with consideration and with respect?”

After twenty minutes, I have finally arrived to where I wanted to go. I’ve explained what Alexander’s work is about. I have done it in a way that is simple and easy to understand. I have done it in a way that has made the students think about themselves, not so much about their bodies, yet, just about themselves as people. I can hear them asking themselves, “Do I mistreat myself? Am I ready to stop mistreating myself?” I have them where I want them.

“For us to learn how to treat ourselves respectfully, there are five facets of life worth considering. Time. Space. Contact. Movement. and Social Interaction. I seize the opportunity to write them on the whiteboard. I choose these because we are always living in relation to them. This is what this workshop will be about.”

“We live in time. We have to deal with clock time, with being on time, with getting things done on time. And there is psychological time. Do we feel we are running out of time? Do we feel we are wasting our time? Is it the right time for me to tell this person how I feel, or not?”

“We are always relating to space, the space around us, the space between us and things, like our electronic devices. There is psychological space, space within us. Do we feel trapped? Hemmed in? Up against the wall? Do we have room to think, to breathe?”

“We are always in contact. We sit in a chair at our desk, or in a carseat, or on the train. We walk down the street, our feet touching the ground with every step. We put food in our mouths. We touch our touch screens and our keyboards. We handle objects all day long, and lie on our beds or futons every night.”

“We move continually from the moment we are conceived until the moment we die.”

“And whether we are alone or not we are never alone. As James Hillman says, we are our communities internalized. Memories of our parents, critical thoughts about our boss, worries about our children.”

“For me as an Alexander teacher this is the work at hand. If we can learn to create time and space for ourselves, if we can learn to make respectful contact with everything we touch and that touches us, if we can learn to move according to our structural design, then perhaps this acquired composure, balance, and sensitivity will carry over into our social interactions. 

“So when His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, my religion is kindness, I suspect he knows that this is no easy matter. I suspect he knows that to be truly kind requires knowledge, understanding, and devoted practice, and that this practice never ends.”

The silence and the stillness in the room is palpable.

“Okay. Let’s have some fun. Actually let’s have a lot of fun this weekend!”

The weekend goes unexpectedly well. Lots of new material emerges. I say things in ways I have never said before. I hear ideas I’ve never heard before. I use my hands in ways I’ve never used them before. I teach movements I’ve never taught before. I’ve got to know people I never knew before. I’ve learned a lot this weekend. It seems the students have learned a lot too. There’s a lightness in the room. I’m happy.

I pack up my things, looking forward to dinner, to a beer, to being with my friends. It’s beautiful outside. The sun is setting over Tokyo Bay. The thought crosses my mind. “Gee, students seem to be getting smarter with each passing year. They’re more open. They learn more quickly. They enjoy themselves more. In fact, they seem friendlier, kinder, and more respectful then ever.”

Kindness is my religion. I’m a devotee for life.

Our Undivided Attention

Prell Concentrate

I can’t remember. Was it me who coined the phrase, or F.M. Alexander, or Frank Pierce Jones? It seems many Alexander teachers use the phrase now, teachers who I have not trained. Did the phrase migrate through the Alexander world, or did it emerge from the contemporary collective unconscious of the Alexander community?

No matter. What I do remember is that one day the phrase presented itself to me.

It began when I began understanding the difference between what Alexander meant by concentration and attention. When I was a kid my mom brought home a new kind of shampoo called Prell Concentrate. Someone had figured out how to put a lot of shampoo in a little plastic container, thus spending less money to package their product. Prell Concentrate was so concentrated that you now only needed to use a tiny bit to work up a good lather. “That’s it, I thought. That’s what we do. That’s why Alexander discourages concentrating. When we concentrate it’s as if we’re squeezing ourselves into a smaller container.”  This strategy might be saving Prell a lot of money, but for us it was creating a lot of tension.

prell301

Krishnamurti

Lots of us were reading Krishnamurti in the early 70’s, when I first began studying Alexander’s work. It’s worth quoting Krishnamurti here at length on the subject.

Ojai, California

May 6, 1982

What do we mean by attention? What is the difference between awareness, concentration, and attention? Could we go into that together? To be aware; as one is sitting under these beautiful trees on a lovely morning, nice and cool, not too hot, one is aware of that woodpecker pecking away, one is aware of the green lawn, the beautiful trees and sunlight, the spotted light; and if you are looking from that direction, you are aware of those mountains. How does one look at them? …Do you observe it, aware of it without any choice, without any desire? …How does one react to all that? What is the feeling behind that awareness? …Is it related to our life; is it part of our life; …That’s part of awareness, the awareness of the external and the awareness of one’s own reactions to the external, and to be aware of the movement of this…

…And can one be aware without any choice at all, just to be aware of the extraordinary sense of the blue sky, the blue sky through the leaves, and just move with it all? And is one aware of one’s reactions, and when one is aware of one’s reactions is there a preference; one more desirable than the other, one more urgent than the other…and so from the outer move to the inner – you understand what I am saying – so that there is no division between the outer and the inner; it’s like a tide going out and coming in. That’s an awareness of this world outside of us and an awareness of the world deep inside of us…

What is concentration? To concentrate upon a page, upon a picture; to concentrate all one’s energy on a particular point: in that concentration is there not the effort to concentrate? …You are trying to read a particular page and out of the window you see a marvelous light on a flower and your thought wanders off to that, but you try then to pull that thought back, and concentrate on something. So there is this constant struggle to focus one’s energy, visual, and so on, so there is a resistance, a struggle, and all the time trying to focus on a particular point…

kphotoG12

Frank Pierce Jones

Frank Pierce Jones was a classics professor at Brown University who trained with F.M. Alexander, A.R. Alexander, and Marjorie Barstow. He had a way with words.

For Jones concentration was like using a spot light to light up a black stage. One small area was intensely lit while the rest of the stage remained black. Using a diffuse light was kin to attention, the whole stage being lit.

For Jones attention was “the simultaneous awareness of oneself-in-relation-to-ones-environment.” A good phrase, but not yet, the phrase.

In Judaism there is a central prayer called the Shema. It’s so important Jews are supposed to recite it every night before they go to sleep and if possible it should be upon their lips as they are dying. It basically means, Listen, God is One. I once asked my rabbi what it meant. He said, God is one, not two.

Jones idea of a simultaneous awareness of oneself-in-relation-to-ones-environment remained subtly dualistic. I wasn’t there yet.

The Field

In New Mexico it is said you live in the sky. You look around you and 95% of what you see is the sky. One day I was sitting in my little adobe casita in New Mexico and the question came to me, “Am I inside or outside?” I am in my house, but my house is outside in the world.” If I am inside my house, but my house is outside in the world, then am I not also outside in the world?” Suddenly my body and my mind expanded in all directions. It was like a satori. My container was gone. There was no separation between me and my environment. There was no longer an inside and an outside. There was only outside, and I was in it!  God is one, not two.

And there I said the words, the phrase, for the first time.

A unified field…a unified field of attention. That is what I was. My way of being in the world shifted that day, and with it my way of teaching Alexander’s work.

I loved the word field…a field, a pasture, a field of study, field notes, a force field, a field of vision.

It was like zooming in or zooming out, a metaphor for expressing this concept I was later to learn from Robyn Avalon, director of the Alexander Alliance in America. Zooming in was concentrating, and zooming out was expanding your field of attention. Unifying your field of attention was going one step further. It was you no longer behind the camera, because there was no longer a camera, and there was no longer a you in the center of anything. There was just a field, a field of attention.

Seurat

A Seurat exhibition was at the Musee D’Orsay in Paris. There it was, the field. Nothing but points, all the same size, all of the same value, nothing more important or less important than anything else, no especially anything, or just especially everything…a homogenous field of tone and attention.

points copy

Gazing into a drawing of Seurat’s mother I began thinking about the Heart Sutra. The words were suddenly making sense. Finally I was physically sensing the truth behind the sutra.

Form does not differ from emptiness, emptiness does not differ from form.

That which is form is emptiness, that which is emptiness form.

Embroidery

Undivided Attention

Pixels. You take a digital photo; a person in the foreground, hills and sky in the background. All pixels, all the same size. Pixels making up the person, the hills, the sky. All equal, all the same. You zoom in and in and in only to find space. More and more space.

What if we were like this? What if we were less solid than we felt ourselves to be? What if the whole universe was like this? Stephen Hawkins writes:

“Now at first sight, all this evidence that the universe looks the same whichever direction we look in might seem to suggest there is something special about our place in the universe.  In particular, it might seem that if we observe all other galaxies to be moving away from us, then we must be at the center of the universe.  There is, however, an alternate explanation: the universe might look the same in every direction as seen from any other galaxy too.  We have no scientific evidence for, or against, this assumption.  We believe it on the grounds of modesty:  it would be most remarkable if the universe looked the same in every direction around us, but not around other points in the universe!  The situation is rather like a balloon with a number of spots painted on it being steadily blown up.  As the balloon expands, the distance between any two spots increases, but there is no spot that can be said to be the center of the expansion.”

It’s a very large field indeed, a unified field, a field with neither center nor circumference, neither inside nor outside. One unified field. How miraculous that, for however briefly, we get to give it our undivided attention, that we get to attend.

This Does Not Help

dallasopera-map

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. 

image4

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.

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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

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

Bruce Fertman

http://www.peacefulbodyschool.com

 

 

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