Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Byron Katie’ Category

Epiphany

Photo: B. Fertman

Epiphany

It’s not what I expected, feels nothing like I thought it would, this release from the need to be anyone, from the need to be of biographical worth, noteworthy. No more life lived as an imaginary filmmaker, producer, director, scriptwriter, cameraman, editor, and leading man, a film, mind made, not for me but for others to see, to admire, to adore, and to endorse.

Now that I have abandoned my magnum opus, some fifty years in the making, what remains? What remains having left the studio, the black box behind? What welcomes and waits for me in the cool, fresh blue light of evening?

What shall I do now that my purpose in life has vanished like some mirage wavering before me, there, so real, then gone?

There must be some hidden purpose to my life, mustn’t there? There must be some imperative, some vision to fulfill, some mission to accomplish. How will I know what to do, which way to go? Can I live a life without a center, without a hub?

A yes arises from exactly where I don’t know. What I do need to know is where I am now, and the ability to see just far enough before me to know there is ground under my feet and space through which to move. If I attend and trust that should do it.

Could I be here for the sake of simple enjoyment? Could my job be to be jobless, to be available, a volunteer ready to go where I can best serve? What about money you ask? How will I survive? It seems I have managed, given I am still alive.

Time is not passing, I am. Can I accept this, embrace this?

Do I really need saving? I mean saving myself like an old, obsolete resume stored inside a little image of an icon of a folder within a folder?

Do I really need those photo albums sitting in a room, in a closet, on a shelf, stored in some dusty box no one has opened for years?

Why keep an accounting of my life? Why keep a record? Why keep track?

Why carve some graven image of myself, no matter how striking the resemblance?

Why continue to produce a film about a life that, when lived, is so much more moving and miraculous than a film could ever be?

Why?

Why does now feel like the only thing eternal?

Why do friends, and strangers too, who are no longer strangers, look like stars in the night?

Why does everything I hear sound like music?

I don’t know, and I don’t need to know.

0

“So who was it? Who discovered zero?”

“An Indian mathematician; we don’t know his name. The ancient Greeks thought there was no need to count something that was nothing. And since it was nothing, they held that it was impossible to express it as a figure. So someone had to overcome this reasonable assumption, someone had to figure out how to express nothing as a number. This unknown man from India made nonexistence exist. Extraordinary, don’t you think?”

from The Housekeeper and The Professor by Yoko Ogawa

photo: B. Fertman

Deeper Than Rest

 

From Conflict to Confluence

Every action has within it something you do and something you don’t. If you try to bend and straighten your arm at the same time, you will find yourself unable to move that arm. You won’t be able to bend it or straighten it. What you’ll be doing is using half your effort to bend your arm and the other half of your effort to keep your arm from bending.

Sort of like the American Congress.  Nothing moves.

When you flex your arm, whether you know it or not, your nervous system has “chosen” not to straighten it. Not bad. It sounds like a strange thing to “consciously” choose not to straighten your arm at all, but when you do, your arm is totally free to flex, without the slightest resistance.

When all the muscles are firing away, indiscriminately, in every which direction, in opposing directions, you get over efforting, sometimes to the point of paralysis. You get chaos. You get conflict. You get a body fighting against itself, and therefore losing. Fight against yourself and you will always lose. Any semblance of grace will be gone.

Lao Tzu, the famous Chinese philosopher/pragmatist/mystic had a word for grace. He called it “wu-wei”, often translated as non-doing, effortless effort, or harmonious activity.

Grace happens when everything that is not needed in an action is not engaged, and everything that is needed is. This requires a person with a discriminatory nervous system, a nervous system that knows when to say yes, and when to say no, and not only when, but how, and how much, and where. We have, within us, a potentially brilliant binary system, capable of virtually infinite nuance.

Knowing what not to engage, knowing what to leave be, knowing how, what, where, and when to cease firing, and being able to do so at will, is part of the skill Alexander referred to as inhibition. My guess is that Alexander chose the word inhibition because he wished to place his work within a scientific context, but it turned out that a contemporary of his, Freud, already had domain over that name. How unfortunate for Mr. Alexander, and for all of us who follow in his footsteps! How many people when they hear the word, inhibition, think of an inhibitory postsynaptic potential (IPSP), a kind of synaptic potential that makes a postsynaptic neuron less likely to generate an action potential, the opposite being an inhibitory postsynaptic potential, an excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP), which is a synaptic potential that makes a postsynaptic neuron more likely to generate an action potential?

Not many.

Yet, despite the confusion over this word, what Alexander was directing us toward was, I believe, nothing less than grace, both physical, and I dare say, spiritual.

You might look at physical and spiritual grace as two circles. Sometimes, for we kinesthetic types, these two circles overlap. We’re like raindrops touching down upon the surface of a pond. Have you ever seen two ever widening rings as they overlap, each moving toward the other, each becoming the other until, for an instant, they are one?

Below that fluid oneness, still and moving, a peace, deeper than rest.

Peace is not just the absence of war. Peace is what happens when war is absent. It’s the re-forming of swords into plowshares. It’s the conversion of conflict into confluence. 

Energy is freed, now able to be redirected toward nurturance, education, experimentation, service, art, and recreation.

In one word, I’d say that is what Alexander’s work is about.

Revitalization.

On Alexanderian Inhibition and The Great Undoing

photo: B. Fertman

Long ago now, after teaching a workshop in Zurich, someone asked me what Alexandrian Inhibition was for me. I told her. Then, gently, a wise person, and Alexander teacher, Doris Dietchy, suggested to me that it was important to remain open to one’s experience of Alexandrian Inhibition changing over one’s lifetime. At that time, I was cocky enough to feel that I had the definitive definition down. Of course, Doris proved right, and I was, thankfully, wrong.

Almost everyone gets the initial idea that Alexandrian Inhibition is about pausing, taking a pause, a moment to get your internal directions going, to get yourself free and together. It’s a beginning. And it’s a trap. Beginners get into the habit of stopping their activity, and thinking a litany of words to themselves with little actual change, which means little Alexandrian Inhibition happening. And so it was with me too.

Then some students begin to realize that Alexandrian Inhibition is not the stopping of an action; it is the stopping of one’s habitual way of doing that action within the action. This changes everything. The student realizes that pausing the action is sometimes a pedagogical device, sometimes needed, to facilitate a constructive dis-integration of one’s habitual way of being, allowing for a re-integration of a deeper way of being. But, in itself, stopping an action carries with it no guarantee that a deep neurological shift in one’s body and being will occur.

As Marj Barstow once told me, as we were driving to yet another introductory workshop, “Bruce, it’s like this. Here we are driving down the road. You’re getting ready to bare left, because you believe that is the right way to get to where you are going. Then suddenly, while you are driving, you realize it is not the right way to go. So very delicately you lightly turn your steering wheel, power steering, and there you are, headed off in a direction that is going to save you some gas and get you to where you want to go. It’s that simple. You can’t be going in two directions at once. You have to not go in the direction you believed was right before you can go in the direction you may now suspect is more on track. That’s just common sense. Now, if you take that wrong turn and you get yourself really lost, you may have to pull off to the side of the road, stop driving, turn off your car, sit there, take out your map, and figure out where you are. Because how could you ever get to where you want to go if you do not have the faintest idea where you are going? You can’t. Chances are you’ll end up going around in circles. That’s what we do. If you don’t have your map, a reliable map, then you are going to have to rely on someone who knows the territory better than you do, and get a little help. Now, that is a simple example, but that is how it works.”

Marj was full of practical wisdom. And while this understanding of Alexandrian Inhibition still makes a lot of sense, and remains operable for me, I begin to have a deeper experience of Alexandrian Inhibition. Alexander said it something like this, as told to me by Buzz Gummere, one of my mentors for 30 years who studied with Dewey, F.M., A.R., Marj, and who was one humbly brilliant guy. He told me that one day Alexander told him that when in a fix, there are exciters and inhibitors firing away. And when push comes to shove, the exciters always win out, and we get into a lot of hot water. Even wars. And that is the crux of the problem right there. The exciters are winning out, and the inhibitors are losing. And when the inhibitors lose, we lose. Everyone loses. That’s how it is.” Living through a couple world wars, as Alexander did, can knock some sense into your head.

I read a lot, mostly novels. I’m beyond self-help. Hopeless. So I like a good story. I like the benefit of how others view the world. Here’s how Dostoevsky understood ‘Alexandrian Inhibition’ near the end of his life, as expressed in The Dream of a Ridiculous Man. 

I suddenly felt like it made no difference to me whether the world existed or whether nothing existed anywhere at all…At first I couldn’t help feeling that at any rate in the past many things had existed; but later on I came to the conclusion that there had not been anything even in the past, but that for some reason it had merely seemed to have been. Little by little I became convinced that there would be nothing in the future either. It was then that I suddenly ceased to be angry with people…And, well, it was only after that that I learnt the truth. 

Marj used to say to us fairly often,”All I’m trying to show you is a little bit of nothing.” Well, Dostoevsky is having an experience here of a vast amount of nothing. But it is not a negative nothing. It’s a positive nothing. So what could there be to get angry about? Now this is a man whose inhibitors have won. And so has he.

Here’s how I experience it. What we call “now” is simultaneously here and gone. That means any given moment simultaneously exists and does not exist. It’s arriving and leaving at exactly the same instant. These days I experience myself as simultaneously here and gone, as existing and not existing, as awake and dreaming, as living and dying. As our Zen Buddhist friends might say, form is emptiness, because to them form is emptiness and emptiness is form, simultaneously! This simultaneous experience of being substantial and insubstantial, this balance of being something and being nothing grants me composure, peace; I dare say, freedom.

But the instant I begin to favor, to try to hold on to the moment, to the here, to the now, to existence, to living, to form, I am unfree, bound, burdened, heavy, and prone to suffering. Life is leaving. And leave it must. And leaving without holding on, without regret, gratefully, fills me with a poignant love for life.

That’s what Alexandrian Inhibition is for this older man, now. Who knows what it will be for me tomorrow.

Enlightenment

Rusty The Dog

Excerpts From A Dog’s Diary

November 12,

8:00 am – OH BOY! DOG FOOD! MY FAVORITE!

9:30 am – OH BOY! A CAR RIDE! MY FAVORITE!

9:40 am – OH BOY! A WALK! MY FAVORITE!

10:30 am – OH BOY! A CAR RIDE! MY FAVORITE!

11:30 am – OH BOY! DOG FOOD! MY FAVORITE!

12:00 noon – OH BOY! THE KIDS! MY FAVORITE!

1:00 PM – OH BOY! THE YARD! MY FAVORITE!

4:00 PM – OH BOY! THE KIDS! MY FAVORITE!

5:00 PM – OH BOY! DOG FOOD! MY FAVORITE!

5:30 PM – OH BOY! MOM! MY FAVORITE!

November 13

8:00 am – OH BOY! DOG FOOD! MY FAVORITE!

9:30 am – OH BOY! A CAR RIDE! MY FAVORITE!

9:40 am – OH BOY! A WALK! MY FAVORITE!

10:30 am – OH BOY! A CAR RIDE! MY FAVORITE!

11:30 am – OH BOY! DOG FOOD! MY FAVORITE!

12:00 noon – OH BOY! THE KIDS! MY FAVORITE!

1:00 PM – OH BOY! THE YARD! MY FAVORITE!

1:30 PM – ooooooo… Bath. Bummer.

4:00 PM – OH BOY! THE KIDS! MY FAVORITE!

5:00 PM – OH BOY! DOG FOOD! MY FAVORITE!

5:30 PM – OH BOY! MOM! MY FAVORITE!

 

Entitled

Books are entitled. People aren’t.

Soon I will be moving from the house in which I lived for four lonely years. Already I’ve given away hundreds of books, books I think others may need more than I now need them. Some books I am choosing to keep, mostly for their titles. Books are entitled. Someone entitled them. And I need those titles. I need to walk by them and catch them out of the corner of my eye.

The Way It Is – William Stafford

Crossing To Safety –William Stegner

Gravity and Grace – Simone Weil

Moon In A Dewdrop – Dogen

The Cloud of Unknowing – Unknown

Genesis – Unknown

The Ancient Child – N. Scott Momaday

In Praise Of Shadows – Junichiro Tanizaki

The Soul’s Code – James Hillman

Yes, I silently say to my books. Right. Thank you. I remember.

There are four books written by F.M. Alexander, whose work I have devoted my entire adult life toward understanding, the titles of which do not now, nor have they ever spoken to me. I choose to keep those books out of respect to the man and his work.

It’s possible I’ve completely misunderstood Alexander’s work. It might be the rebel within just looking for a cause. I know him all to well. And it could be that, maybe, after 40 years of loving inquiry I’ve crossed over. I’ve made it to the other side.

Alexander’s book entitled, Man’s Supreme Inheritance, is for me, Towards A Luminous Poverty.

Thanks to Alexander, I’ve come to understand that the less I become, the more I am. When I am nothing, when I am empty, light stands in my place.

Alexander’s book entitled, The Universal Constant In Living, I refer to as, Uncertainties.

Thanks to Alexander, I see how I can never know, for certain, what is right.

Alexander’s book entitled, Constructive Conscious Control Of The Individual, is now, The Grace Of Sense.

Thanks to Alexander, I’ve come to understand how little control I actually have over my life, over the things of this world. But I also know that I can choose to open myself to the grace of sense.

Alexander’s book entitled, The Use Of The Self, now reads, No One In Particular.

Thanks to Alexander, I’ve come to understand that it is not myself that I seek to know, but what is not myself that I wish to receive.

Now it is time to pack.

Time to say thank you, and goodbye to this kind house.

Time to say thank you and hello to a place unknown.

What it takes

Barn’s burnt down –

now

I can see the moon.

Masahide

photo by B. Fertman

The Riddle

photo by Bruce Fertman

The Riddle

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.

Beyond Hope – for Alexander Teachers Young and Old

Photo taken by Elisabeth Walker – Botanical Garden, Kyoto, Japan

Beyond Hope

– For Alexander Teachers, Young and Old

As it turns out, I am now older than most people in the world. You know this when once again you do not have to pay as much as normal people to get into a movie theater.

I am now also older than most of the people in our little Alexander world. I was a young whippersnapper and then one morning I woke up, and I was a young senior citizen.

When I was a young whippersnapper, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (http://rzlp.org/), told me there was one way, only one way, to be saved. He said save yourself the way you save stuff in your computer, and then give away what you like and what you think might be helpful, and enjoy doing it.

So when I share my old writings of Alexander’s work, or tell of my experiences as an Alexander teacher, I am writing for all those young, less experienced, wonderful Alexander teachers out there.

I am writing for you when I share my new writings too, like this one. I am over the hill, but that is a good thing. You see, I made it to the top of the hill, and now I am over that! Now I’m coasting. I’m picking up speed. My foot is off the brake. The moon-roof is open, the windows are down and booming out of the speakers B.B. King still sounds as good as ever.

As for my fellow Alexander senior citizens, I won’t be offended if you pass me by. I’ll just wave whether you smile or curse me out. Anyway, I’ve got to watch where I’m going. I’m not the best driver. My kids say they’re giving me five more years, at which time they’re revoking my license and getting me a designated driver.

Right. I was telling you about Reb Zalman. Rebbe Zalman mostly taught through telling stories, stories within stories within stories. That man taught me more about teaching, without teaching.

We were all there waiting like little kids. We were enrolled in a graduate level class in Early Hasidic Masters at Temple University in Philadelphia. Zalman, about five minutes late, walks into the room, crosses the room without looking at us and stands by the window gazing out and taking in the day. He stands there for a minute or so, turned away from us, as we watch him without blinking. He starts quietly singing a Niggun, a simple, wordless melody that repeats itself indefinitely. After about a minute of listening to Zalman’s soft, resonate voice, we shyly join in. Zalman keeps it going until we are no longer self- conscious about singing. My eyes are closed, my head slightly tilted back like Stevie Wonder, and inside I’m spinning around like a Whirling Dervish. Gradually, Zalman’s voice fades out. Our voices, no, our beings, are exactly in sync with Zalman and with each other. We’re sitting in a silence that’s palpable. My eyes open and there is Reb Zalman grinning, sitting on top of the desk that he is supposed to be sitting behind. He sways a few times from side to side, strokes his long salt and pepper beard then, looking at us, no, into us, out of his big eyes, he excitedly says, “That reminds me of a story.” The class has begun.

Now telling stories and gossiping are two different things. When you gossip you hurt three people. You hurt the person you are gossiping about. You hurt the person who has to listen to you gossiping. And you hurt yourself, more than you know.

Good storytelling hurts no one.  It’s an indirect way of teaching.  You’re not giving advice, not telling a person what they should or shouldn’t do. You’re not moralizing. You’re creating another world and a person is slipping into that world. They’re traveling through a world unknown to them, and they are going to come out of that world getting what they were supposed to get. And it doesn’t have anything to do with you.

One summer my family was driving up to Vermont to teach on Jan Baty’s freewheeling Alexander summer retreat. Martha Hansen was reading Hemingway’s, The Old Man and The Sea out loud. We were all in another world, literally. Noah was ten and dreaming about fishing. Eva was 12 and beginning to understand how symbolism worked. I was shaking in my boots realizing I was that old man who caught a fish that was clearly more than I could handle. And Martha, she was doing what she loved doing since she was 5 years old, reading a great story out loud. Then we realized we missed our turn, were in the middle of nowhere and our gas gauge was way, way, way below empty, but that is another story.

Stories are so exciting to me that I can no longer read books about self-improvement. I’m beyond hope. It’s not that there isn’t room for improvement mind you. It’s just that the concept doesn’t make sense to me anymore.

That’s why I read novels. I get lost in other worlds, in other people, in how other people see. And it’s through getting lost, that I find myself.  There I am losing myself in someone else. Losing my self. As an old guy, this is my idea of a good time. I just finished ready Murakami’s 1Q84. It’s a 1000 pages long, and it was too short. I feel terrible,  like I just lost a couple really good friends.

There are some good things about getting older. If you’re lucky you start not caring about what other people think of you. You don’t care if everybody likes you, or your work. You don’t take offence easily, and you’re too tired to defend yourself or try to prove anything to anyone. You’ve been there, done that.  You’re not sure if being accepted or rejected is a compliment or an insult. It’s not personal anyway. You sing your song for all it’s worth and you stop caring about your voice – like Leonard Cohen or Dylan, you sing your truth.

Or like Walt Whitman.

I am larger, better than I thought,

I did not know I held so much goodness.

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.

Blessing others, and receiving blessings when they come my way, and they do, more and more because now I notice them.

That’s it.  All the rest is commentary.

 

After The Dream

 Vishnu’s dreaming. He’s exhaling. Each exhale is tens of thousands of our years long. Rumor has it soon he’s about to arrive at that soft pause between exhaling and inhaling, so quiet. Since Vishnu is dreaming us, and our universe into existence, I wonder what that rest might feel like. Then the great inhale will begin. What if Vishnu wakes up? What then?

Inside of our little microcosms, inside of our little universes, are we also dreaming? Are we dreaming we’re awake? What would it feel like if we did wake up? What would it feel like after the dream?

But in our reality, we have our little dreams, and they don’t feel little to us. Finishing school. Forging a career. Earning money. Getting married. Providing for your family. Buying a house. Keeping a house. Having children. Adopting children. Traveling the world. Spiritual enlightenment. Peace of mind. Contributing to society. Working toward justice and mercy. Being an artist. Being a scientist. Whatever your dream might be. Waking dreams. American dreams. African dreams. Japanese dreams. Mexican dreams. Indian dreams. All over the world dreamers are dreaming.

Have you, by chance, noticed that Life usually doesn’t go as planned? We may have our dreams, but Life has its Dream. Does it mean we’ve failed when our dreams do not turn out as we’d hoped? Who’s to say? Who knows in the end? Maybe the Dreamer’s Dream is the best dream for us, even if it does not feel that way. Maybe we are not failing. Maybe we are not falling short. Maybe our lives are unfolding according to the Dreamer’s Dream and it is up to us to interpret the Dream creatively, insightfully.

How do we know when we are off following our little, nearsighted dreams, and when we are aligned with the Dreamer’s Dream?

I’m dreaming. A boy, in black, a knife in his right hand, is after me. He wants to kill me. I’m petrified. I run into a dark movie theater. He following right behind me. Some old black and white Hitchcock movie is towering over me. Loud, eerie music is coming at me from every direction. I’m running through the isles. He’s leaping over the seats. He’s closing in. He corners me, thrusts his knife deep into my stomach, and smiles. He’s laughing. He’s so happy. I look down. Where’s the blood? No blood. The knife’s blade slid back into the handle. It was a toy knife. The boy just wanted to play. He wanted to be my friend.

Could it simply be a matter of misinterpretation?

How do we know when we are following our little, myopic dreams, and when we are letting ourselves be dreamt by the Dreamer’s Dream, call it what you wish; fate, destiny, nature, God.

I don’t know, but I have a hunch. Often, we hear a silent voice within us encouraging us to do something that challenges our little dream, something that might make life feel less predictable, less secure. It may feel like we are losing a little control. Yet, it doesn’t feel impulsive, or reckless. It is usually accompanied with a surge of energy, but it is not manic, just strong. Like a calm, large wave moving through us. You feel you’re going to a place you don’t know, and yet you feel like Life is leading you forward to a place it does know.

One of the great dangers of becoming obsessed with our own little dream is that we might forget that we are inside the dream of every person we meet. So our dream changes their dream, and their dream changes our dream. Our dream is but one thread woven into a basket of dreams.

The more empathic we are to the dreams of those around us, the more we begin to feel the larger dream, the Dreamer’s Dream. Our fate is intricately interwoven with everyone else’s fate.

When I open to this likely possibility, my preoccupation with my personal dream lessens. Momentarily it feels like a loss of drive, but it isn’t. It’s an absence of being driven. Without my fanaticism will I make it? I don’t know, and there’s only one way of finding out.

When I become very quiet, very still, my intuition tells me I’ve got it backwards. This intricate interweaving of dreams is far stronger than my seemingly individual dream.

Right now I feel like I should be working on my book, my little dream, but for some odd reason I find myself writing this small piece that seems to have no apparent purpose. But I am learning something through writing it, and just maybe this piece is not for my little dream, but for someone else’s.

Listening to the dreams of all of those around me. Giving my best when I’m living within people’s dreams.

It’s counterintuitive. It doesn’t sound right. That might be a good sign.