“Alright. What do you view as your strengths inside of Alexander’s work at this point?”, I ask my trainees.
My body is beginning to spread out more.
I’m becoming livelier somehow.
My hands are becoming softer.
“What are the positive qualities your friends see in you as a person?”
My mom always told me I was determined.
Friends like my sense of humor. They think I’m funny.
My husband admires how organized I am because I can find everything he loses.
“Okay. Let’s look at these statements.”
“My body is beginning to spread out more. What would be the negative opposite of spread out?”, I ask the man who made this observation about himself.
“Contained,” he says. “Good. Now what would be a positive opposite, something that is the opposite of spreading out but is also positive?” It takes about 10 seconds, but then he says, “Gathered.” Good.
“I’m becoming livelier. What is the negative opposite for you?” I ask a women. Quickly, she says “Depressed.” “Good,” I say. “How many other people thought of words that were the negative opposite of livelier? What were they?”
Heavy. Sluggish. Mopey. Listless.
“Good. Note how each answer is particular to each person. You must find your own answers. Your own answer is the right answer for you. ‘What would the complementary opposite of lively be for you?’, I ask the woman. This takes a while, but then the answer comes and with it some excitement. “Calm.”
“I love the definition of complementary: combining in such a way as to enhance the qualities of each other.” Complementary opposites complete one another. They exist as one system. Inhaling is good and exhaling is good. Each opposite is necessary and indispensable to the other.
“My hands are becoming softer. Okay. The negative opposite?”
“Good. And the complementary opposite of softer?”
“You guys are getting good at this. Let’s keep going.”
“Determined. Negative opposite?”
Lazy. “Complementary opposite?”
“Funny. Negative opposite?”
Boring. “Complementary opposite?”
“Organized. Negative opposite?”
“By jove, you’ve got it! Why are we doing this? What might this have to do with Alexander’s work?”
Not thinking in terms of right and wrong?
“Good answer. Anything else?”
Not thinking in terms of good and bad.
“Another good answer.”
“When we think in terms of negative opposites we live in the world of right and wrong, good and bad. But what if we were to construct continuums between complementary opposites, for example: Spread out and gathered. Lively and calm. Soft and defined. Determined and easy going. Funny and serious. Organized and loose.”
“And what if we were able to integrate these complementary opposites, one into the other?”
“For example: Loosely organized. Lively calmness. Does this begin to sound like AT?”
“Alexander’s work, as I have come to understand it, is about unifying ourselves, about incorporating all of our parts into a working whole, in a word, Alexander’s work is about integration, the integration of seemingly opposite qualities.”
“When, under my hands, people become integrated and I ask them what is happening, it is not unusual for people to be surprised and say things like, I feel relaxed and ready, or soft and strong, or light and substantial, or stable and flexible, or peaceful and energetic, or aware of myself and of the world.”
“So when I work with someone I do my best first to see a positive quality, not what is wrong, but what is working, what is beautiful. I see this person is very still, or very cheerful, or very alert, or very thoughtful, or very neat. Then I think, what might their complimentary opposite be, and I begin to construct a continuum.”
“I notice a beautiful stillness about you. I wonder if there is a way of allowing subtle motion to enter into that lovely stillness.” Or, “I love how alert you are. I wonder how little effort we can use in our muscles and still be alert?” I then, somatically, help shift a person more to the center of the continuum we have now constructed. When this happens any overdoing falls away. The person who, perhaps was too still, becomes simply still. The person, who may have been hyper alert, becomes simply alert.”
“Identifying positive qualities, seeing what is working, appreciating what is beautiful, and then finding complementary opposites within our students, and helping them to shift into the center of their continuums prevents them from entering the world of right and wrong, good and bad. In the environment we create for them, our students can no longer make a mistake, do something wrong, or be bad. They find themselves in a field, a field of safety and nurturance, a field where they can let go of what they don’t need.
As Rumi so beautifully writes:
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Bruce Fertman – Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart