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Flying in Formation

Photo by: Miles Orchinik

To My Dear Trainees, Faculty, Grads, and Post Grads,

My childhood friend, Miles Orchinik, now a professor of neurophysiology once told me that, for animals, it appears fear has a real and positive function, whereas anxiety, something apparently unique to humans, does not.

Fear energizes us for action. Michael Gelb once gave a talk at one of our annual summer retreats in the Alexander Technique and said it something like this. “Fear gets all the butterflies flying around in your stomach every which way. It is up to us to know how to get them to fly in formation.”

The sight of a predator, for example, triggers a fear response in the amygdala, which activates areas involved in preparation for motor functions involved in fight or flight. It also triggers the release of stress hormones and the sympathetic nervous system. This leads to bodily changes that prepare us to react to danger more efficiently and successfully. The brain becomes hyperalert, pupils dilate, the bronchi dilate, breathing accelerates. Heart rate and blood pressure rise. Blood flow and glucose to the skeletal muscles increase. Organs not vital in survival such as the gastrointestinal system slow down.

Fear is short-lived, geared toward a clear and present danger, usually a specific danger. Anxiety is another matter. Anxiety is chronic, geared toward an often more diffuse future event. Anxiety promotes excessive caution and makes coping less constructive or successful.

Having worked somatically with so many people, my experience tells me that fear charges the muscles, creating a great deal of potential energy in the thighs, (kicking, running), in the biceps and hand, (punching, etc.) and in the jaw, (biting). Once released and redirected, a person is in a condition or readiness, free to fight or flee or in the case of humans, to choose neither, to just be where we are, not fighting, not running, not freezing, not feigning, not fidgeting, but rather relying on reason, compassion, and cooperation to resolve conflict.

A person suffering from anxiety tends to squeeze their energy toward their midline and up almost appearing tied up with a rope. It in no way prepares the body to fight or flee or be. Yet this pattern can be released as well and redirected more constructively. But first, the mind must stop freaking itself out about the future. The mind must be brought back into present time and into the world as it is now. Often, the immediate reality is less scary than dire possible realities our minds can create for us.

Thoughts that create anxiety for me go something like this…If I get covid-19, I will die. If I die in Japan, I may never see my children again. If the economy crashes, I will lose my entire savings. If covid-19 continues and other pandemics arise, my life as an Alexander teacher who uses his hands will end. If covid-19 and other pandemics arise, travel will be too risky, and my school will close. These thoughts make me anxious and do not help me. I spend very little time entertaining these thoughts because, thankfully, I know how to diffuse them.

This is when the work of Byron Katie becomes very handy. I studied with Katie for quite a number of years. I feel such gratitude toward her and her brilliant work. Her work is an ingenious synthesis of cognitive and meditative processes. You have to think, and you have to drop down deeply into your innermost being for the answers that are there and that will help you live your life, no matter what is going on.

If you do not know about her work, I suggest buying her book, Loving What Is, or going online and learning about what Katie calls, Inquiry.

Here is an example of my using Inquiry.

As an example, let’s take one of my anxiety producing thoughts. After I do this, I encourage you to write down a few of your anxiety producing thoughts and just ask these questions and go through the process. Make sure you write everything down. As Katie says, “All pain belongs on paper.” See what happens.

Here we go. My thoughts are in italics.

If covid 19 and other pandemics arise, travel will be too risky, and my school will close.

Question 1: Is it true? Be still and ask yourself if the thought you wrote down is true.

Of course, I can’t predict the future, but it is good to do your best to arrive at a yes or no answer, even if you have to use your intuition. My intuition says No. I let this answer sink into my body.

Question 2: Can you absolutely know it’s true? This is another opportunity to open your mind and to go deeper into the unknown, to find the answers that live beneath what we think we know.

This for me is definitely a No. I let this sink in. Ah, I can’t know this for sure.

Question 3: How do you react—what happens—when you believe that thought? With this question, you begin to notice internal cause and effect. You can see that when you believe the thought, there is a disturbance that can range from mild discomfort to fear or panic. What do you feel? How do you treat the person or the situation you’ve written about, how do you treat yourself, when you believe that thought? Make a list and be specific.

Okay. What happens when I believe this thought is true? I am going to write down the thought again, just so I can really take it in.

If covid 19 and other pandemics arise, travel will be too risky, and my school will close.

 How do I react, what happens, when I believe this thought?

 I feel sad, my chest sinks. It’s hard to inhale. I feel defeated, over the hill, hopeless. Other thoughts arise. All that work I did, for nothing. My work will disappear. I will die in Japan. Life is over.

Question 4: Who would you be without the thought? Imagine yourself in the presence of that person or in that situation without believing the thought. How would your life be different if you didn’t have the ability to even think the stressful thought? How would you feel?

For my Alexander trainees, this is Alexandrian Inhibition with a very creative twist. The stimulus is the stressful thought, in this case an internal stimulus. I react to it as described above. Now, instead of my unplugging the reaction, I am choosing to see what happens if I unplug or drop the stimulus. If the stimulus is no longer there, what is there to react to? 

 If covid 19 and other pandemics arise, travel will be too risky, and my school will close.

 And if I didn’t believe this thought, if I could not think it, if I could let it drop, let it fall?

 My whole body relaxes, widens, my breathing becomes full and smooth. I feel support from my chair. I feel peaceful. Right here, right now, I am okay. I am comfortable. I am fine.

Ah! So what is creating my suffering? Is it reality or is it my thought about reality? If I am no longer suffering when the thought falls away, then it would stand to reason that it is the thought that is creating my suffering, my believing that this thought is true.

Turn the thought around: The “turnaround” gives you an opportunity to consider the opposite of what you believe. We resurface from the meditative process back into a cognitive process. Once you have found one or more turnarounds to your original statement, you are invited to find at least three specific, genuine examples of how each turnaround is true in your life.

Here is an example of a turn around. You pick a statement and turn around only one part of it. For example.

My school will close.

My school will not close. Why might this be true?

  1. I am part of a fantastic team of teachers, all dedicated to the school and to the trainees.
  2. My trainees and grads love the school.
  3. We are all learning how to learn and teach our work online and this will help us strengthen our community and help us as Alexander teachers.

Another turnaround.

My school will open.

  1. Yes, this online way of learning is opening for us.
  2. Alliance students and teachers from Japan, England, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Australia, and New Zealand are all getting to meet one another, opening up to one another.
  3. I am writing another book for my students and faculty right now and this will open up new ways for them to think and work as teachers.
  4. My book might be read by people outside of the school and they might become open to visiting or training with us.

 Another turnaround.

 I will close.

 Yes, that is the more important thought to attend to. How do I remain open?

  1. I open my heart to everyone in the world who is struggling and dying.
  2. I open my heart to my family.
  3. I open my heart to all the hospital workers.
  4. I open my heart to my students and teaching team.

Now rather than being anxious, I feel empowered. I feel brave. I feel motivated. My butterflies are flying in formation.

I hope this helps you.

Love to you all,


Bruce

 

 

 

 

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Thank you, Bruce for the wonderful, grounding reminders of Byron Caitie’s work. Brings us back to the reality of things. Sending love and good wishes your way

    April 29, 2020
  2. Jill Freeman #

    Thank Bruce.  Wisdom from personal experience cannot be bettered. Best wishes to everyone in your life – including you! Jill

    April 25, 2020
  3. Thank you for your inspiring email Carlos Osorio

    On Fri, Apr 24, 2020, 2:02 AM STUDYING WITH BRUCE FERTMAN wrote:

    > Bruce Fertman posted: ” To My Dear Trainees, Faculty, Grads, and Post > Grads, My childhood friend, Miles Orchinik, now a professor of > neurophysiology once told me that, for animals, it appears fear has a real > and positive function, whereas anxiety, something apparently unique ” >

    April 24, 2020
  4. Magdalena Portmann #

    Oh Bruce – this is incredibly useful. Thank you! Interesting, my reactions while reading. At first, I became impatient and kept butting in – literally – with but… but… and each time, when I read on, you addressed exactly the point I was going to raise. As I read on, I, too, became calm. This kind of questioning is fairly new to me – and your presentation of it really helps me to understand the process.

    April 24, 2020
  5. jqb4bike #

    This is exactly what I needed this morning. Thank you Bruce. It was at your suggestion that this line of questioning enabled me to rest with them when my thumbs were so painful

    Jenny

    On Fri, 24 Apr 2020 at 07:03, STUDYING WITH BRUCE FERTMAN wrote:

    > Bruce Fertman posted: ” To My Dear Trainees, Faculty, Grads, and Post > Grads, My childhood friend, Miles Orchinik, now a professor of > neurophysiology once told me that, for animals, it appears fear has a real > and positive function, whereas anxiety, something apparently unique ” >

    April 24, 2020

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