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Posts from the ‘aging’ Category

From The Same Immaterial Fabric

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Photo: B. Fertman/Seoul, Korea

 

A student asks, “What is this inner body of which you so often speak?”

 

The inner body is neither physical nor metaphysical.

Not of the body and not beyond the body.

The inner body lives within the body,

It is the body within the body.

 

The inner body fills the outer body.

Completely.

Each toe, each fingernail, every eyelash.

The inner body assumes the exact shape of the outer body,

It is the outer bodies inner lining.

 

When the outer body looks; the inner body sees.

When the outer body hears; the inner body listens.

 

The inner body cannot feel or express emotions,

Though it does perceive them.

 

The inner body cannot think,

Though it is rational.

Quietly aware, calmly awake,

Below the surface of words, in silence,

It reflects, contemplates, meditates.

 

The inner body cannot act or react,

Though it can observe actions and reactions.

The inner body cannot do anything,

But it can receive everything.

 

The inner body is neither male nor female,

Is of no race or religion, is from no country or continent.

 

The inner body does not age, is not made of time.

It cannot get sick or suffer,

Though it can observe sickness and suffering.

 

The inner body is not cold or callous, nor warm and empathetic.

But because it is made from the same immaterial fabric as love and gratitude,

The inner body does care.

 

Curiously,

Once we bid farewell to our outer body and take up residence in our inner body,

The less needy our outer body becomes,

And the less lonely it feels.

 

If, as the outer body ages, we come to dwell ever more deeply within the inner body,

Then perhaps, when the moment arrives for our outer body to die,

We will be ready and able to take leave of it,

Peacefully, thankfully, and with love in our hearts.

 

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Photo: B. Fertman/Seoul, Korea

 

Stories about the inner body

from my book

Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart

 

Sung-ho

It may be beyond my area of expertise. It may be foolish, even unprofessional, even unethical. It may be sheer chutzpah, or profound innocence and, it may not be any of these.

Sung-ho walks into my apartment/studio in downtown Seoul. He clearly has what I like to call an unconventional nervous system, or an exceptional structure.

Having only known Sung-ho for two days, he already feels like a friend. We spent a night together jammed into a packed subway car, talking politics, making our way down crowded streets into the heart of a peaceful, passionate and packed protest with 1.7 million other people.

No matter the circumstances, Sung-ho just keeps up. He doesnt complain. In fact, he directs his attention toward others, making sure everyones comfortable.

He thinks his English is terrible. I am eternally grateful to anyone who can speak any English Sung-ho. I understand everything you are saying.” I want to ask you something,Sung-ho says. In America, what do you call people who are disabled?” “We call them physically challenged. Calling a person disabled sums them up as people who are not able to function properly. We prefer describing their situation. A physically challenged person is a person who is challenged physically. When I watch people like you, I see an athlete, a person who is training for an Olympic event called everyday life.” “I like that,Sung-ho says.

Sung-ho explains his situation to me. Im in pain most of the time. My left hip hurts almost continually. I cant lift my right hand past my shoulder. I cant turn my head at all. My spine doesnt move. Its in a permanent C-shape. Whenever, by mistake, I go outside of my small range of motion its really painful. Im always working hard to move and when I sit down and relax my body hurts even more, so I keep my muscles tight. But Im used to it. Its been this way since I was a kid.

Later I find out Sung-ho, when he was fifteen, was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory disease that, for reasons unknown, mostly afflicts young men. Over time this extreme form of arthritis causes the spine to fuse, making the spine increasingly immobile. Ankylosing spondylitis is incurable.

Sung-ho, let me see what you do when you relax.I watch as he presses his shoulder girdle down onto his upper ribs and pushes his chest in. Sung-ho that hurts because that is not relaxing, but we will get to that later. Right now show me how much you can move your head without pain. With your head say yes, no, and maybe,” I say demonstrating. He does. He moves his head about one inch in every direction but that one inch is accomplished by ever so slight bending or rotating movements initiated down around his rib cage. The relationship of his head to his neck is frozen like a block of ice. Good. I want to see you move. Id like you to get up and walk to the closet, put on your coat, then take it off, hang it back up, walk back here and sit down.I just watch, kinesthetically empathizing more than I am analyzing. This familiar aching feeling settles over me, a feeling I often feel when working with physically challenged people, this feeling of guilt. Why them and why not me?

You get around,I say. I make myself do everything,Sung-ho says. An athlete,I say.

Okay Sung-ho. I am going to teach you something that helps me a lot. It may sound strange, and its not scientific, but it allows me to move more easily and comfortably. All it takes is a playful imagination and some practice. Are you willing to try?” “Sure,Sung-ho says.

I like to think of myself as having two bodies, a being body and a doing body. The being body is my inner body and my doing body is my outer body. My outer body is substantial and made of muscle. But inside that body is a body that has no substance. Its weightless. It moves like a gentle wind, like a soft breeze. It moves effortlessly. Its comfortable and its never in pain. The inner body has no bones. Its just space. Sometimes it feels like a friendly ghost body. Deep within you it flies freely.

What I like to imagine is that my inner body, my being body, my ghost body moves my doing body from the inside out. I imagine that my inner body is moving and my outer body just comes along with it. The outer body doesnt do anything, just as your clothes dont move by themselves. They are moved by your body. So your outer body doesnt do anything by itself. It is moved by your inner body.Sung-ho seems to like the idea. Hes smiling.

Sung-ho, can you just sit here now, close your eyes and imagine that who you really are is your inner body and not your outer body?I watch him. I can see hes living inside of his imagination and that is where I want him to be. Sung-ho, that is closer to real relaxation.

Okay, here is a little way of practicing shifting from your outer body to your inner body. Imagine you have a fly buzzing around your face and you want to brush it away. Let your hand just fly up and move the fly away. Thats easy,Sung-ho says. Is it comfortable,I ask? Very.” “Thats your inner body flying around and your outer body just coming along with it. Now brush the fly away by moving your outer body. Whats that feel like,I ask? That harder, heavier, and slower.

Right. I think you move yourself around from your outer body. And I think, with practice, you could learn to move yourself around with your inner body.

Okay, Sung-ho. Lets go back to saying yes, no, maybe with your head but this time let your inner body, your inner head, do the moving and let your outer body, your outer head, just go with it.

I watch. I think I see some actual head movement, but Im not sure. How does that feel, I ask? Its different, but I cant say how,Sung-ho says. Was it comfortable,I ask?, Comfortable,Sung-ho says.

Okay. Lets play with something else. Touch the tip of your nose.I watch and see that Sung-ho does that from his inner body. Thats your inner body,I say. I can feel that,Sung-ho says. Imagine the tip of your nose is a small, very high quality calligraphy brush and write your name in the air with your calligraphy brush.

He does. I see that the tentativeness is completely gone and now Sung-ho is actually, however minutely, moving his head through rotational and pivotal movement in his upper cervical vertebrae. Hows that,I ask? Its wonderful,Sung-ho says. Thats your imagination and your inner body moving your outer body.Sung-ho nods yes even more freely without knowing it.

Sung-ho, do you have memories of yourself and of your body before you developed this condition,I ask? Yes, I do.” “Can you remember how old you were when you were super attracted, sexually attracted to a girl? How old were you,I ask? I was twelve,Sung-ho says. What was her name?” “Mi Kyung,Sung-ho says smiling from ear to ear. Okay Sung-ho. I want your inner body to be twelve years old. You are totally in love with Mi Kyung. Now write her name with your calligraphy brush.

I watch and see Sung-ho move his head three times as far in every direction. Wow,Sung-ho says. Wow is right,I say! You were so in love when you wrote Mi Kyungs name you forgot to be afraid to move your head.

Okay, lets stand up and walk around. I watch Sung-ho stand up. Hes tight. Hes cringing. My left hip hurts a lot when I get up, especially after sitting for a long time,Sung-ho says. I see that but I also see that your ankles, knees and hips have a lot of flexion. I noticed that last night watching you go up steps. Your legs are strong.” “Lets walk around.

Sung-ho throws his pelvis way forward and under his body because if he brought his pelvis back and up on top of his legs, hed be looking straight down at the ground. When he walks his feet are far apart and quite turned out. His knees hardly flex. Yet, he walks faster than I do, almost as if he were in a race.

Sung-ho, I know you can flex your knees more than that because you do when you get up and down from a chair, and when you go up and down steps. So lets imagine that your outer legs are just like a pair of super baggy pants and let your inner legs move around inside your baggy pants. Theres plenty of room in there. And pretend you are on vacation and theres nothing you have to do. The weather is warm and you have all the time in the world.

Clearly, Sung-ho has a powerful imagination and somehow hes able to connect his imagination to his kinesthetic sense, an ability that takes many people a while to learn. Hows that Sung-ho?

It fun. And much easier. And comfortable,Sung-ho says.

Im so glad. Sung-ho. We are going to stop now because you have some real tools to play with. Youve got your very powerful imagination and you have your very free inner body.Hes smiling. Hes moved, holding back tears.

For a second the question flashes through my mind, Was that an Alexander lesson or not? Maybe. Maybe not.” “And maybe it doesnt matter,” I hear a voice inside me saying.

Hey, Sung-ho. I finish teaching at 10 tonight. As your wife is in my class, how about we all meet up after class and go out for a beer?Sung-ho lights up and says, I know a place right around the corner that has Guinness on draft. Do you like Guinness?  A lot, especially when its fresh. See you tonight.

I watch Sung-ho get his coat. His movements are less jerky, longer, smoother. That aching feeling returns and I wonder, If I had Sung-hos body, would I be able to adapt as gracefully to life as Sung-ho?

Grace, its not about how we look, or how we move. Its about who we are.

No Sweat

A man walks in, muscular, not a lean and mean muscularity, but a firm, round, bear like muscularity.  Hes the kind of man that would use his power to protect someone in need, rather than bully someone for the fun of it.

What brings you here, Yasuo-san? Noriko-sensei tells me you are a physical therapist and in your spare time a parachute glider.

Im expecting Yasuo to begin talking about some physical issue. A painful, lonely sadness fills his eyes.

The three of us, Yasuo-san, Masako ,my translator, and me sit together for a good minute in silence, which is not uncommon after I ask someone a question in Japan. Japanese people rarely blurt our their first thought. Its as if they let the question sink down into some place full of unshared secrets.

I want to relax,Yasuo says.

How do you know you are not relaxed?

I feel nervous.

What happens when you get nervous?

I begin to sweat. A lot. It feel embarrassed and ashamed that I am sweating.

When does this happen most?

When I am with people. When I have to talk to people.

Usually when we are with people we are with family, or roommates, or friends, or coworkers, or strangers. Do you have any family,I ask?

Not much. My parents live far away. Im not married. I live alone.

Who are you with, and in what situation are you in when this happens most intensely?

When I meet a stranger. When I have to talk to someone I dont know.

Does it happen more when the stranger is a woman or a man?

Definitely a woman.

I can see a change in Yasuos skin color. Hes becoming pale. The back of his skull has pulled back. I see an image of a horse and the rider pulling the reins back.

Well, Masako is a woman, so why dont you have a conversation with Masako? Youve never met her before. Shes a stranger. Face each other and have a conversation.

Yasuos eyes open wide.

Turn your chairs so youre facing one another. Get a little bit closer. There you go. Thats perfect.

Masako has played these kinds of roles for me in other lessons. Shes a natural. Masako takes on a slightly shy demeanor, looks down, then looks up.

How did you get such a strong body. Do you do some kind of sport,Masako asks?

Yasuo mentions that he does parachute gliding and that the equipment is heavy so it requires a good bit of strength. Masako lights up a bit, crosses her legs and asks him to tell her more about it.

Yasuo takes out a handkerchief, something almost all men and women in Japan carry on them, and wipes his forehead, which is sweating profusely.

Ive got Yasuo exactly where I want him.

Okay Yasuo-san. I see what you are doing that might be making you sweat. Of course, I dont know for sure. But the only way we can find out is if there is some way I can get you to stop doing what I see you doing. Does that make sense?

Hai,Yasuo says. What do you see,” he asks?

What I see is that you are very muscular. It is almost like you live in your muscular system, especially in your large action muscles, like your quads, and abs, and traps, and deltoids, and biceps, and pecs.

When you get nervous and begin to sweat, Im not sure if I am making this up but I think I see your body swelling, as if your large action muscles all at once are becoming hypertonic, even though you are not moving. Its as if your body wants to move, but its frozen and cant. You’re sitting there trying to move and trying not to move at the same time, so your body is working out like mad, and you are breaking out in a sweat.

Ahsokaa I see what you mean,Yasuo says, wondering.

Sometimes I get locked into my muscular system too. Ive got a particular way of getting out of it. Want to learn it?

Hai.

I use my imagination, which is one way of using your mind. I imagine I have an outer body and an inner body. Actually, I do more than imagine it. I pretend, as a child would, that it is absolutely true, that my inner body exists. And I dont only imagine it, I sense it through my kinesthetic sense. Its more like a kimage. Ki in your language means mind, heart, spirit, feeling, energy, and that is exactly what a kimage is made of. So your inner body is not muscular or physical. It lives deeper within you than your muscular body. It lives under your entire muscular body. We think we have lots of different muscles in the body but really its more like we have one unified muscular system, just like we have on circulatory system. This muscular system is a bit like a cylindrical trampoline wrapped around your skeletal system. Deep within you, underneath your muscular system, you have an inner body totally unattached to your muscular body. Id like you to imagine, to ki-magine that your muscular body is like an astronaut suit, but the real you is inside and not physical. Your astronaut suit is not alive, but your inner body is. That is who you are, that is where you live. That is home. That is where you rest. That is where you feel safe.

So can you just sit where you are?  Close your eyes and lean back against the chair. Get support from the chair. Slide your feet way out in front of you, so you cant push down with your feet against the floor. Can you let your belly un-tighten?

I go over, place my hand on his chest until I feel my hand gently sink into him like smoke permeating a sweater.

Drop below your astronaut suit Yasuo-san,I say. I touch the outside of his upper arms, always with this permeating quality, then around his skull, then along the sides of his body, along the sides of his pelvis, on his quadriceps, his calves, his feet. I watch his face. He is no longer sweating. His breathing is slower. He looks like hes about to fall asleep.

Yasuo-san. When I ask you to, I want you to slowly open your eyes but before you do I want you to decide not to push out into your muscles. I want you to decide not to turn your muscles on. Keep your muscle switch off. As your eyes open, if you feel yourself beginning to push into your muscles, just lower your eyelids, turn your muscle switch off, and return to your inner body. Calmly but firmly say to yourself, off..offoffoff, as you open your eyes, until your eyes are open and there you are seeing and resting in your inner body. Then when Masako begins talking to you I want you to say to yourself gently and firmly, offoffoffuntil she is finished speaking. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Yasuo sits. I can see him dropping in below his muscles. He begins to open his eyes but decides to close them again. On the third go he opens them and keeps them open. Hes completely resting in the chair and resting in himself. Masako asks him about his parents, where they live and what they do. I see a slight push into his muscles and then I see him drop back in.

My parents live in Kanazawa, not far from Kenrokuen garden,he says. I watch Yasuo finish speaking and then drop back into his inner body.

How are you doing Yasuo-san?

I can do it. I have control over it. Its like I found that switch in me and when it goes on I can turn it off.

How does that make you feel?

It makes me feel soft and kind and happy.

And you are not sweating.

Im not sweating.

“Yes, inner bodies are not physical, so they don’t sweat. They can’t sweat.”

Yasuo. Weve been working about 35 minutes, and our lesson is supposed to be 45 minutes but I am going to stop here. You learned what you came here to learn. You found your inner body and you found your on/off switch which controls your large action muscles and allows you to rest in your inner body. With a little practice you will be able to do this whenever you want. You know how to sit and rest in your inner body. You have this little meditation you can practice whenever you have time.

Arigatou gosaimashita, I say, bowing. It was wonderful to work with you. I learned a lot from you,” I say, feeling myself at that moment living deep within my inner body, thinking how I am always teaching myself what it is I most need to learn, saying what I most need to hear.

Just A Hunch

on innocence

photo: Bruce Fertman

Just A Hunch

Through the pressure generated between the growing head and the growing heart, the face is sculpted. Three ridges. One will become the brow, one the nose, one the chin.

Then suddenly the unfurling begins. The head floats away from the heart. Organs begin to form in newly available space. Space precedes substance. First there is nothing, then there is something.

The baby enters the world, C-shaped, one simple curve. Over the first few months, through olympian effort, the baby acquires the needed strength to lift its head and look around, gradually forming a flexible and stable cervical curve. The lumbar curve develops as the baby begins creeping and crawling, and fully establishes itself through the herculean task of learning to walk.

The head becomes the center of orientation, the pelvis the center of locomotion.

We grow, we evolve from zygote, to embryo, to fetus, to infant, to baby, to toddler, to child, to teenager, to young adult, to adult, to maturing adult, (young-old), and if lucky to very old adult, (old-old). 

Somewhere between young-old and old-old another spinal transformation begins, as natural perhaps as all the other spinal transformations. In Onsens, Japanese hot springs, I have spent hours studying the shapes of boys and men of all ages, the children with arching lower backs and rounded bellies, with soft, supple necks, their heads balancing loosely atop naturally upright spines. The young men, unbeknownst to them, but evident to me, already foreshadow how they will sit, stand, and walk as old men. And the now old men, some more, some less beginning to wilt, droop, sag.

Its as if the thoracic curve wants to re-incorporate the cervical curve into itself,  making the head, and with it the mind, the eyes, and ears orient inward, away from the outer world, toward the world of in-sight and hindsight.

Its as if the sacral curve wants to re-incorporate the lumbar curve into itself, tilting the pelvis under, making locomotion more difficult, venturing out more trying, increasing the impulse to sit, perhaps to read, perhaps to write, perhaps to listen to the stories of others, or to give counsel.

I have begun to feel the pull of my primary curves wanting to reclaim my secondary curves. Is it natural, inevitable? I dont know. Ive chosen, however, not to give in to this subtle, seductive undertow. I want my head above water. I want to continue orienting outward to the world. I want to walk onto dry land, feel the earth beneath my feet. Perhaps one of the reasons four out of five of my Alexander mentors taught into their mid to late nineties was because they knew how to feed and nourish their secondary curves. Perhaps those curves allowed their eyes to see and to care about others. Perhaps those curves provided more space for their organs, allowing for greater oxygen intake, better blood flow, good digestive motility. Perhaps those curves helped lengthen their legs under them, kept those feet firmly on the ground.

If our primary curves pull us back to the past and our secondary curves beckon us forward into the future, then having a balance between them might bring us into the present.

Yes, perhaps it was their secondary curves that kept them so vibrant, so engaged, so present, so here, here with us, for so long. 

Its just a hunch. But Im going to follow it.

From Within And All Around

F. M. Alexander

F. M. Alexander

Boiled down, it all comes to inhibiting a particular reaction to a given stimulus. But no one will see it that way. They will see it as getting in and out of a chair the right way. It is nothing of the kind. It is that a pupil decides what he will or will not consent to do. They may teach you anatomy and physiology till they are black in the face—you will still have this to face: sticking to a decision against your habit of life.

 F.M. Alexander from Articles and Lectures (white edition), Mouriz 2011, p. 197.

The post office was crowded. Every line seemed equally endless. I chose one, and of course it soon became apparent this line was at a standstill. The teller had just disappeared into the back room, not to return for fifteen minutes.

Standing in lines made me almost claustrophobic. We were required to stand in lines every morning at Pennypacker Elementary School. Standing in neat rows out in the cement yard, we’d wait for the loud buzzer to sound before marching into school. On a particular day, while standing in line, a bee began buzzing around my mouth. Hysterically, I jumped out of line and began dodging, and ducking, and swinging at the bee. A teacher came over, demanded I get back into line, and the moment I did the bee stung me on my bottom lip.

In the meantime, I had just injured myself. We were rehearsing for an upcoming performance until well after midnight. Having hardly slept the night before, I was beat. Coming down from a barrel turn, I landed on the outside of my foot, my ankle twisting under me. A physical trainer did his best to tape it, but after another sleepless night, it was still swollen and throbbing. Standing was difficult. A poor, old kindly man was standing in front of me. His clothes were worn and soiled. There was a strong smell of urine in the air that was impossible to avoid. 

I escaped into my thoughts. Images of a recent fight I got into with my girlfriend surfaced. It was over money. We were living together. The rent was due and we were short about $100. She wanted me to ask my parents for the money. I didn’t want to do that. We ended up  yelling at each other and I heard myself sounding just like my father. I hated that about myself, but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t seem to get control over it. I felt like a dog who, when the mailman walked by, had to bark, and basically had to go crazy. Certain situations pushed my buttons, and immediately there I was, barking and going crazy.

About 40 minutes later, I found myself next in line. I had just had an Alexander lesson earlier that week with Catherine Wielopolska, a trainee in Alexander’s first teacher training class back in the early 30’s. “Kitty” was telling me how Alexander’s work was not about physical culture, not about how to get up and down from a chair, but that it was about how we reacted to stimuli from within ourselves and from all around us.  Kitty had begun working with me on speaking. Speaking was a nightmare for me as a child. At six I began stuttering, which meant also dealing with the humiliation and shame that accompanied it. It was clear to me now that this was the source of the fierce habit I still had of jamming the back of my skull down into my neck, which ended up compressing my entire spine right down into my lower back, which all too often was a source of pain.

Consequently, when the time came to ask the teller for a book of twenty stamps I was determined not to go into my old speech pattern of thrusting my head forward. As the teller gave his customer his change and receipt, I stood there doing my best to free myself the way I had been learning to do from my teacher. But just as I stepped forward and opened my mouth to ask for a book of stamps, my head thrusted forward on its own. I no longer stuttered but that old stuttering pattern was still there, seemingly hard wired into my nervous system.

I asked for a particular series of stamps that honored great Black American heroes. The teller told me they were out of them. All that was left he said were the usual stamps with the American flag on them. I said okay. He looked in his drawer and then said he didn’t have anymore books of stamps, only rolls of a hundred stamps. I didn’t have enough money on me to buy a hundred stamps. I heard myself sigh and felt my head press itself even further into my spine. I was tired and frustrated. It seemed I was at the complete mercy of stimuli bombarding me both from within and without. More training, I thought to myself as a hobbled away empty handed.  More training.

I was twenty-three years old. The trying twenties. Little did I know I was embarking on a life devoted to self examination and self reflection. Meanwhile, I had to get some control of myself, and of my life. 

I set about categorizing stimuli in hope of making the whole enterprise more manageable.  We all lived in time and in space. We all had to move. We were always in contact with the world through our senses, whether we knew it or not.  And, whether we were with people or not, we were always with them. If they were not physically around us, they were in our minds or hearts. They were always in our past, and in our futures.

Time. Waiting. Hurrying. Deadlines.

Space. My fears of spatial confinement. My fear of heights. My inability to organize my things, my desk, my clothes. My utter lack of orienteering. 

Movement. My limitations as a dancer and martial artist. My being injury prone..

Senses. Mental preoccupation with my unresolved past, or my fantasies of some utopian future often took me out of my body and out of the real world. How to come back to my senses. 

People. Well, if it were any consolation, people seemed to be an issue for everybody. It was people above all, communicating with people, or rather mis-communicating with people that seemed to be the major source of pain in the world. Communication between husband and wives, parents and children, between siblings, bosses and employees, even between countries.

And then there was the world within, the amorphous world of thoughts, emotions, drives, and sensations.

Thoughts. Comparing myself to other people, being better than them, or worse than them. Thinking too much about myself, about my body, or about how great I was at this or that, or how terrible I was at this or that. 

Emotions. Little control over anger, frustration, or fear.

Drives and Sensations. Physical drives ruled the day; a visceral appetite, culinary and sexual, and an insatiable appetite for new experience. I couldn’t seem to get enough. As for physical pain. My father was a man who, when he woke up in the morning and did not feel absolutely perfect, concluded that something was seriously the matter. I inherited this gene.

I know. I’m beginning to sound like Woody Allen.

Years have passed, 42 to be exact, and after a lifetime of disciplined, and increasingly pleasurable study, I am happy to say I’ve made some progress. Boiled down, it all comes to inhibiting a particular reaction to a given stimulus, I hear Alexander saying.

Time. Rarely do I rush. I have learned to give more time to things and to people. But then again, I am no longer raising children. When I need to be somewhere and I am running late, I have learned to ask myself if I am late, and if the answer is no, then I stop rushing. And if the answer is yes, then I decide to move lightly and swiftly and enjoy myself.

I rarely wait. When I find myself waiting I simply stop waiting and the world, through all of my senses, returns and entertains me. I still find myself waiting when I want to say the next thing on my mind and my translator is still translating, but less so.  And I still, at times, interrupt people, but less so. I still wait when my computer is not moving as fast as I think it should. But I feel a little less exasperated. 

And yes, sometimes I will awaken from an afternoon nap anxious about dying. It doesn’t last long. Once I get up and start moving, I am fine. Most of the time I feel like I have all the time in the world.

Space. I am no longer afraid of heights. I have not been for years. In Osaka, where I live half the year, I love feeling myself part of the river of people streaming in and out of trains morning and night. I get comfort feeling myself huddled together with others. I don’t mind the middle seat on planes. I like sitting next to people. I have no problem standing in lines. I enjoy not waiting.

Movement. I’ve learned to move well, comfortably and enjoyably. I used to think that movement was the end all and be all. Now, ironically, I move well and I care very little about the way I move. Or about how others move. I care about how I am, and how others are. I’ve fallen in love with stillness. I love sitting quietly and doing nothing.

Senses. This perhaps above all is what I have found through my years of study, the sensory world. The world of lightness and darkness, of sound and silence, of coolness and warmth. Literally, I have come to my senses.

My appetites no longer have the hold on me they once did. My sexual self seems to have fallen in love with the world at large, the wind against my face, the warmth of the sun on my shoulders, the scent of pine in the high country, the sand under my feet, the taste of the ocean in my mouth.

Thoughts. My thoughts no longer harass me. I’m at peace with my past. Most of my future is behind me. I’ve made it this far. I trust I will figure the rest out as I go along. At some point, thanks in large part to Byron Katie, I learned that I am not my thoughts. I’ve learned not to believe everything I think. I know how to question thoughts, how to diffuse them and let them fall. Thank God for teachers.

Physical pain remains a challenge. And I still bark like a dog when the mailman goes by. Something tells me I’m not going to work everything out this time around. But then again, who knows?

During the last few years of my father’s life not once did I see him get angry. Not once. My Dad had evolved into a peaceful man.

In the last weeks of his life, while in the intensive care unit, he began looking like Gandhi. He’d sit in the chair next to his hospital bed, wrapped in a white blanket, his shining bald head and his round wire rimmed glasses looking out from above, smiling, never complaining of pain or discomfort, though his pain and discomfort were considerable.

More training, I say to my self, happily. 

Without Apology

Photo: Tada Anchan Akihiro

Photo: Tada Anchan Akihiro

Babies don’t interfere with themselves.

Babies don’t judge, correct, or evaluate themselves.
They can’t make a mistake because they don’t know what it means to make a mistake.
Babies can’t fail because they don’t know what it means to fail.
Babies are moved to move. They don’t know why. What does why mean to them?

Babies want what they want. They are happy when they get it.
What they don’t want, they don’t accept. They’re honest.
Babies are unselfconscious, unabashed, and unpretentious.

We love them because we want to be like them.

Babies sit on the floor, effortlessly upright, delighted to see the world from a new perspective.

Babies stop eating when they are no longer hungry.
They immediately throw up anything they don’t like.

A baby can scream for hours without straining their voice.
Babies express strong emotions, and when the reason for doing so is gone,
They stop, and forget about the whole thing.
Babies cannot hold grudges. They don’t know what it means to hold a grudge.

Babies can spread out all their toes, even the little ones.
Babies can put their feet in their mouth and they don’t care what anyone thinks about it.

Babies fall, over and over again, don’t care, don’t get hurt, and don’t take it personally.
They just get up.

We love them because we want to be like them.

As babies,
We did not identify ourselves as male or female, or even as human.
We had no identity.
We were uncoordinated, inarticulate, illiterate, uneducated, unskilled, and unsocial.
Appearing completely selfish, we had no self.
As we ceased being babies, gradually, we became more self-conscious.
Coordinated, articulate, literate, learned, skilled, controlled, socialized and civilized.
We assumed an identity, a false identity.
We gained impressive skills,
We lost, to a great degree, the inherent qualities we had as babies.

We yearn to become unself-conscious, unambiguous, uncomplicated.
We long to unlearn, not to know, to surrender control.
We no longer want to equate our self worth with our skills and accomplishments.
We don’t want to be dictated by what others think of us.
We want to be ourselves, without apology.
We want to experience our innocence, through our maturity, to come around, full circle.
We want to be able to play again.

We want to see the world, one more time, through the glistening eyes of an infant.

From Where This Path Begins by Bruce Fertman

Not Yours. Not Mine.

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Not in a place, not in a space,
Not a person, not a thing,
Not a ping or a pong,
Not the soundless sounding of a gong.
Not a word, surely not absurd.

Don’t look.
You’ll not come across it in a book.

Don’t seek,
And you will find,
It is not yours, not mine.

It has no foes, woes, or toes.
There – off it goes!

It hates to sit.
Does not come in a kit.
Some think it illegit.
About to quit?

It’s a zone…where you are not alone.
It’s a ball…floating through us all.
It’s a climate…of refinement.
It’s a breeze…full of ease.

It’s changeable as the weather.
Totally untethered, soft as a feather,
Like a field of heather.

Nowhere does it dwell.
It’s like a well, but without the well.
Well, well, well…impossible to tell.

It is…it is…it is.

From Where This Path Begins by Bruce Fertman

My Letter Of Resignation

At the ripe age of 64, I hereby announce my retirement. Below, you will find my letter of resignation.

June 15, 2015

To Whom It May Concern,

I have quit.

I’ve quit being overly ambitious. What I have is exactly what I want. And what I want is exactly what I have. And when I believe otherwise, then I know I am confused. That’s when I stop profoundly, get still, and wait until the mud settles and the water is clear.

I’ve quit needing to be in control. That’s what the first half of my life was about. Taking my life by the horns. Exercising my will. Creating the world in my own image. The second half of my life, that’s more about giving up control, letting go of my grip on things, letting go of my grip on myself. It’s not about being willful; it’s about being willing.

Willing to be wrong, which means I’ve quit having to be right all the time. I don’t have an opinion about this, and I don’t have an opinion about that. I’m old. I don’t have the energy to butt heads. Besides, it’s funny how often it turns out I am wrong! It’s really helpful to have a lot of people around me who know better.

I’ve quit having to be good looking. Sure people sometimes tell me, especially in Japan, that I look like Richard Gere, (minus the hair). But, in reality, I look more like Bernie Sanders. I’m no longer lean and mean. I’m pudgy. I’m getting crusty on the outside, but supple on the inside. On the surface I’m looking old, but deep within I’m finding my innocence through my maturity.

I’ve quit having to earn money to justify my value. I know my self-worth, and it’s got nothing to do with money. Poverty is having nothing left to give. I’m giving away what I know as generously as I can. Sometimes I make money doing that. Sometimes I don’t.

I’ve quit having to be a star. I know what it’s like to be a star that has lost its constellation. It’s like being nowhere, lost in space, spinning in utter darkness. Existence is co-existence. To be means to be with other people. Less celestrially speaking, I’ve changed from being a pitcher, to being a third base coach. I stand on the sidelines, speaking in code, discreetly tipping my cap, pinching my nose, and pulling on my ear. I want others to make their way to home base.

I’ve quit feeling responsible for the lives of my grown children. That was a tough job to give up. Loving my children; that job I will never give up.

I’ve quit taking myself personally. Whatever people see in me, I know they’re seeing themselves. I know I’m just a mirror, and that others are mirrors for me. I know we’re only reflections of one another.

I’ve quit acting like a donkey with a carrot dangling in front of my nose, forever enticed by something I’m never going to get. I’ve quit chasing after the carrot of enlightenment.

I don’t dance. I quit being a dancer, not modern, not tango. No twisting again. One day I woke up and after 40 years of doing Tai Chi everyday, I just stopped. And I don’t miss it at all. I don’t identify with being a good mover, nor a movement educator. I’ve quit identifying with my coordination. In fact, I’ve quit identifying with my body at all. I’m a no body. For a long time I thought I was a somebody, somebody special. But now I know better. I’m finally free from that illusion. Free at last. Free at last.

Know that, though I resign from my previously held, long-standing position, I still love my work.

I hereby throw myself, with renewed vigor, into my life. I throw myself into my life, into my destiny, with joyful abandon. I throw myself, I scatter myself, into the world like Von Gogh’s sower of seeds; what grows, grows; what doesn’t, doesn’t.

What Walt Whitman declared in Song Of The Open Road, now I too can declare:

All seems beautiful to me,

I can repeat over to men and women,

You have done such good to me I would do the same to you,

I will recruit for myself and you as I go,

I will scatter myself among men and women as I go,

I will toss a new gladness and roughness among them,

Whoever denies me it shall not trouble me,

Whoever accepts me he or she shall be blessed and shall bless me.

Photo: B. Fertman, Pedernal, Coyote, New Mexico

Photo: B. Fertman, Pedernal, Coyote, New Mexico

 

Yours truly,

Bruce Fertman

 

Aha!

ME AIKIDO STAFF KATA copySometimes it’s a matter of how you frame it, how you pare it down, where you make the connections, what you deem significant.

It took me a while to come up with a framework for my life that made sense, that rang true. I’ve chosen to piece it together in a way that lets me see my life as good, as blessed, as rich, and as mysterious.

It goes like this…

First life…I was young. I had parents. I married a good woman, raised two good kids, founded and directed a school in Philadelphia, bought a big, old house and fixed it up. In this, my first life, I was athletic. I lived, and I danced, full out, until I could dance no longer.

Bardo…My kids leave home, my marriage ends, my house is sold. I leave my school. My mother dies. My father dies. Seven dark, interminable years pass. 

One day, I wake up into the light of day and discover I am another person, living another life.

38 bruce smiling

Second life…I am old. I have no parents. I am married to a good woman, a different woman. I am not raising children. I live in New Mexico in a small adobe house, and in Osaka in a small apartment, both places where I have no school. I am a contemplative. I teach. I write.

Sometimes I wake in the morning, surprised. It takes me a second. Aha! I am not in my first life. And I am not in my Bardo. I am in my second life!

Yes, I know that in my first life I was born, and that in this life I will die. There’s a sweetness in knowing my days are numbered. More and more, I find myself savoring experience, lingering, slowing everything down.

Yes, in this second life the days feel shorter; the years too. But the moments, they last longer, much longer.

Small infinities. Ephemeral eternities. Momentary immortalities.