Look at the faces of these students. There’s the answer.
Look at the faces of these students. There’s the answer.
Still is not the same as immobile. Stillness is alive. For painters, objects are alive with texture, color, light, shape, dimension, weight, time. And they are always in relation to other objects and to gravity. They always exist in space. Objects sit. They rest.
Not only seeing, but feeling how objects exist in the world can help us. Objects know how to rest fully on the ground. They are not restless. They know how not to effort. They’re not afraid to make contact, to give and receive weight. They don’t try to change themselves, or to be different than they are. They take a kind of pride in their inherent structures, as if saying to us, “I am what I am.”
We could learn a lot about presence and peace from them.
In Gregory Golbert, Ashes and Snow, we get to see, to feel, what the possession of these qualities look like within humans and animals. We get to see that for which we long. We get to see what our modern Western way of life has abandoned, no, has never known. We get to see the unknowable.
And we recognize the unknowable, because we are seeing what exists deep within us.
The question arises, are we courageous enough to become this still, this quiet, this alive?
And if we were courageous enough, and if we did become this still, this restful, what would happen to us?
Can we know the unknowable?
Watch and see.
I confess. I don’t enjoy doing more than one thing at a time. I don’t enjoy waiting on hold for a real person to pick up while I am chatting on Facebook and listening to iTunes. That’s over the top for me. I can do it, but why?
When we are multi-tasking sometimes we are mono-sensing. When straining to read some small print on some chat window at the bottom of the screen that popped up just as I was getting ready to sign off on Facebook, my hearing, touching, and kinesthesia plummeted without my knowing it. When the person finally picks up on the other end of the line after 20 minutes, having forgotten all about them, I hussel through my open windows looking for the very little icon I have to click, not feeling much of anything other than a general sense of panic and that all too familiar tightness in my neck that goes with it. I can’t hear her because iTunes is still playing and a song just came on that reminds me of a really hard time in my life that I’d rather forget. I quickly locate the speaker-off button, push it, and that God awful song in gone as well as the woman’s voice I waited 20 minutes for, the women I need to speak with because yesterday my car insurance expired. I quickly push the speaker-on button and that song returns accompanied by a strange gulping sound meaning someone has just hung up on the other end, like they did on that day I’m trying to forget.
That’s why I like doing one simple thing at a time, like washing dishes. In fact, even doing one thing at a time for me is a lot. Because I am a multi-senser, often happily lost in a world of multi-sensorial experience. I’m washing a bowl. I’m enjoying its shape, visually and tactually. I’m listening to the water, feeling its coolness. (We’re all saving energy here in Japan). The sinks are lower here so I am finding a wider stance and a little more flexion in my leg joints. I feel like an athlete ready to wash a mound of dishes, the more the merrier. We’ve got an assembly line going. I’m washing. Yoshiko’s rinsing, and Masako’s drying. It’s great being with them. Warms my heart.
Maybe sometimes we’re doing more but living less. I don’t know. Maybe so. It’s worth considering.
Sure, I am bias. I know. My kids are great. My neighbors are great. My wife is great. My Alliance teachers are great. My students are great. That’s just how I feel about the people I am blessed to be among. Oh yes, and my dog is great!
It’s exciting going back to the Alexander Alliance Germany. It’s like seeing a six month old child, and then seeing them six months later. The change is dramatic. That’s what it’s like seeing my students again. While I was living in Coyote, my students were studying with Celia Jurdant-Davis, and Margarete Tueshaus, so of course they have changed for the better. Being a community/school is like that. What we do, collectively, as a faculty is so much more than any one of us could do alone.
My house is almost in order, asleep for the long, hard winter up here in the Jemez mountains. My bags are almost packed, too heavy as usual. Because, after teaching for two weeks in Germany, and visiting my dear friends for a week, I take off for Osaka for five months. But I am just an email away. Write to me whenever you want. I always write back.
What do these Alexander teachers have in common?
-Martha Hansen Fertman
– John Nichols
– Marjorie Barstow
– Eileen Crow
– Lena Frederick
– Celia Jurdant Davis
– Bryan Mckenna
– Elisabeth Walker
– David Gorman
– Bill Conable
– Tommy Thompson
– Nica Gimeno
– Marie Francoise Le Foll
– Doris Dietchy
– Anne Waxman
– Midori Shinkai
– Sally Swift
– Jeremy Chance
– Gilles Estran
– Judy Stern
– Barbara Conable
– Michael Gelb
– Glenna Batson
– Beret Arcaya
– Carol Boggs
– David Mills
– Frank Ottiwell
– Meade Andrews
– Pete Trimmer
– Michael Frederick
– Rosa Louisa Rossi
– Frank Sheldon
– Michael Mazur
– Lyn Charlsen
– Susan Sinclair
– Cynthia Mauney
– Jan Baty
-Rob and Zoana Gepner-Muller
– And no doubt a few others I cannot remember at the moment.
Answer: Each one of these 70 teachers was welcomed, and is welcomed, and taught either as a guest teacher, a former faculty member, or now teaches at The Alexander Alliance in America, Germany, Japan, or Korea, or served on the faculty at the Sweet Briar Summer Course in the Alexander Technique, which was required for Alexander Alliance trainees in America as part of their training.
Another Answer: I, and so many Alliance trainees, got to learn from all of them. How lucky to have studied with such an array of fine teachers.
When one writes a book, best to write it for yourself. If another person likes it, that’s great, but not necessary.
To be honest, I like my book. It’s already a success, a best seller, a classic. It’s my map, my guide. I read it when I need to read it. It helps me. It brings me back to myself, to others, to the world.
It is as if I extracted, with the help of Lao Tzu, every ounce of wisdom this one little soul possesses. I’ve got it down on paper.
It sounds dramatic, but it’s true: this book saved my life, because at one time I had seriously contemplated ending it. It’s true I wept over almost every one of the eighty-one passages in this book. Yes, they were tears of sorrow, but they were also tears of relief, and tears of gratitude.
Gratitude for the chance, and the endurance, that came from I know not where, (my children? my parents?), to turn my life around for the better. Not that my life was terrible, and not that I had created some grave crime. No, if I am guilty, I am guilty of being completely and utterly human, of daring and not knowing, guilty of built-in-selfishness longing for release.
I almost called this book, Where This Path Ends, but thanks to a dear friend, Celia Jurdant-Davis, I didn’t. Celia wrote, “How about Where This Path Begins?
Thank God for my friends, for people who sometimes know me better than I know myself. How often I have things precisely turned around one hundred and eighty degrees! That’s good. Just one flip and there’s the truth, smiling.
My book is about, at 61, where my path begins, from here, always from here.
Where is my book? Like so many books, it’s sitting inside of some laptop, unpublished, unknown, but not forsaken.
It’s as if I’m having labor pains. I have to breathe. I have to push. I have not to give up, no matter how difficult this feels. I have to birth this book.
I’ll send you an announcement, when the baby is born.
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.
For me a stranger is someone I know and who knows me. The only difference between a stranger and a friend is that the stranger and I have just met. Said in another way, no stranger is strange. Everyone is familiar. How different can we really be?
A woman whom I had never met, from Istanbul, wrote to me the other day asking me about my work. We proceeded to engage in a truthful interchange, full of trust, in a way that only strangers who know they are friends can do. She had written to me, among other things, about feeling as if she were living in a box, though it did not appear that way to others. Here was my response.
Boxes come in all sizes and shapes. And wrappings. You might say that, ultimately, Alexander work is about living without a box. Without a superimposed container. That doesn’t mean being able to do whatever you want, and spilling out all over the place. It means you don’t need an external structure to hold you in place because you have an internal structure that does that. And it means you don’t need to place some beautiful or glamorous, or impressive box between you and other people. No appearances. No protection. No defensiveness. No walls. Just an authentic you. Human boxes are constructed from patterns of tension. Patterns of tension intertwine to make what I call a “tension body.” The work I do unties, unwraps, and undoes the tension body, bit by bit, until it falls away, and only your real body is left, which is always friendlier and more comfortable, and more powerful. So it’s not about being inside the box, or outside the box. It’s about dropping the box entirely. How can there be an inside or outside if there is no box? But you cannot drop the box until you can trust your internal structure. What I do is help a person come into contact with that structure, which is more than physical.
Fair Is Fair
Bamboo trees live for a hundred years, flower, then die.
Roots intertwined, every tree stabilizing every tree.
Strong winds blow.
The bamboo grove bows deeply.
The winds die down.
The trees stand up.
Every bone in our body is curved. Every one.
If our bones were straight, and our joints were square,
We couldn’t bow. We couldn’t bend.
Side by side, a group of archers practice archery.
They draw their tall bows.
Their bows bend.
The top and the bottom of their bows
Curve slightly toward the center.
The further the archers pull their string back,
The rounder their bows become.
The vertical yields to the horizontal.
In the hands of leaders
Who are grounded, strong, and balanced,
The rich, at the top will bend,
And the poor, at the bottom will rise,
Widening the middle class.
Who are groundless, spineless, and shaky,
The rich will get richer,
And the poor will get poorer.
Our children, deprived of flying forward into an open future.
David Gregory is a sensitive, perceptive, and humorous photographer. Here is a collection of stunning black and white photos featuring Elisabeth Walker, Lucia Walker, Nica Gimeno, Marie Francoise Le Foll, Jan Baty, Meade Andrews, Cynthia Mauney, Robin Gilmore, Sakiko Ishitsubo, Martha Hansen Fertman, and countless other teachers via Alexander Alliance classes in Philadelphia. David just sent them to me, and i pass them on to you.