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Seeing People

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

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

Teaching my trainees about their bodies, and about how to move well, is fairly straight forward. Teaching my trainees how to use their hands effectively is more challenging, but doable. Teaching my trainees how to see people has been surprisingly difficult. But it is getting easier.

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

How does one behold a person? Here’s what I do. And what I don’t do.

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

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

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

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

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

Photos Of The Sculptural Body

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

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

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

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

The sculptural body lives within the realm of art. There is no right and wrong art. It’s a thoroughly subjective world. I get my students to see, right away, that people, no matter what they are doing, no matter what they look like, sculpturally, are esthetically beautiful. There is composition, proportion, perspective, contrast, balance, color, light, shadow, line, texture, structure, ground, space, shape, depth. It’s a matter of learning how to see esthetically.

Esthetics means to appreciate. It also means to feel. That means esthetics is really another word for beholding. Once my students have entered this world of beauty, this field, the feeling in the entire room shifts. You can almost hear it. Safety all around.

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

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

There are myriad bodies within bodies. It’s a matter of learning their names, and how to see them. They’re all beautiful, each and every one.

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