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Posts from the ‘Japanese Tea Ceremony’ Category


My eyes can dimly see the pattern of my life and the puzzle that is me.

Patterns by Simon and Garfunkel

We often use the word ‘habit’ in our work. We are usually referring to unconscious habits that don’t serve us well. Our goal is to make the unconscious conscious, the invisible visible. We want to be free to choose what we want to do and how we want to do it. We also want to be free not to do something. We want the control to begin to do something when we want, or not, and we want to be able to stop doing something when we want to stop. Completely.

As Alexander teachers we can easily fall into the habit of looking primarily for postural and movement habits within ourselves and our students. That is fine but if our work is to be about more than posture and movement, if it is to be about how we relate to ourselves, others, and the world, if it is to be about the quality of our lives, then we need to open our parameters to include other types of habits.

Rather than using the word habit, I prefer using the word pattern. People tend to associate habits with being bad, shifting them into the world of right and wrong, a world offering too much judgement and too little information. The word pattern holds less negative charge.

Patterns are good because they are precise and they repeat themselves, making them recognizable to an observant outsider. And they are full of good energy. Patterns, whether helpful or unhelpful, use energy, and as William Blake says, Energy is Eternal Delight. Our energy, when well directed, imbues us with vitality.

When I teach I look for patterns other than postural and movement patterns. Any unconscious pattern, once identified and made conscious, provides us with good material for applying Alexandrian principles and processes. We can use any pattern to exercise our ability to stop, to become conscious, to develop and exercise our kinesthetic and proprioceptive senses, allowing us to see a pattern expressing itself through our entire body from head to toe and out through our fingertips. We can give ourselves the time to understand this pattern physically and emotionally. Then, once we know where we are and what we are doing and how we are doing it, we can choose to see what would happen without it.  Who would we be without the pattern? What would happen if we chose to unplug the pattern, if we left it out, if we left ourselves alone? Where would the energy fueling that pattern want to go, how would it redirect itself?

A person comes to me and I notice they say ‘you know’ a lot, or ‘like’ or ‘ah’ or that every sentence they utter has the inflection of a question. A verbal, vocal, communication pattern.

A person comes to me and as he begins to speak about his frustrations at work, I notice how he drops his hands and slaps them on his thighs in exasperation. A gestural pattern.

A person comes to me and every time they have a new and powerfully positive kinesthetic experience their minds jump into the future saying how they will never be able to do this themselves, or into the past saying how they have been doing everything wrong for so many years. A learning pattern. A thinking pattern.

I ask a person to quickly walk around the room and then to come back and tell me what they’ve taken in. One person says mostly what they saw, another mentions several things they heard, another what they smelled or touched. Sensory patterns.

I notice how a particular person always appears cheerful, optimistic and energetic. Another person’s clothes are always exceedingly neat and always worn too tightly. Another person always looks forlorn, often complaining about others. Another takes up a lot of space, spreads out and is prone to challenging, disagreeing and arguing with me. Another who is always trying to help me, complimenting me excessively. Another who continually cracks jokes. All patterns. Persona patterns.

It’s important for us as Alexander teachers to be able to distinguish between principles, processes, and procedures. Once we have a clear understanding of Alexandrian principles and processes, i.e., sensory consciousness, inhibitory choice, direction and redirection of energy, primary movement/pattern/control, critical moments, what I like to refer to as moments of opportunity, the relationship between means and ends, etc, we can choose, at times, to experiment working outside of Alexander’s classical procedures, i.e., chair, monkey, lunge, whispered ah, etc. and simply improvise with Alexandrian principles and processes within a larger arena, within the ultimate procedure, how we proceed in living our lives.

After eight years of study in Chanoyu, the Way of Japanese Tea, I informed my teacher, Mariko LaFleur, I would be traveling and teaching intensively for a month and would have little or no time to practice. She said to me, “Bruce, that’s fine. Essentially Chado is not about the form. It’s only about how we exist in this world as a guest and as a host. It’s about gratefully receiving what we are given. It’s about how we welcome, receive and serve others. Remember Bruce, the tea room is everywhere. Practice Tea everywhere you go, wherever you are, and with everyone you meet. Enjoy your trip.”

Working within formal structures is assuring, confirmative. It’s familiar. Within them we know the rules, we’re comfortable. We know what to do. We know where we are. We’re home. 

And then there is the wide world, the unfamiliar, unpredictable world where there are no clear cut rules, where we are at times uncomfortable and know not what to do or what to expect. It’s our first time around. We’re continually in a place we have never been and will never be again. 

We meet people along the way.  We want to welcome and receive them, in their entirety, as our guests. We don’t want to reduce our guests to their posture. We don’t want only to watch how they move. We want to see who they are, how they live, so we can discern how we can best serve.

The more we see and understand our students in their entirety, the more our students see and understand themselves in their entirety. And since, ultimately, we are all mirrors for one another, reflections of one another, we come to see and understand ourselves, the puzzle that is us.

Most Inner Of Rooms

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Daitoku-ji Revisited

Twenty-five years ago I first entered the gates of Daitoku-ji, one of the most beautiful Zen Temple in Japan, known for its rock gardens.

Today I returned, and found myself no less in love with them. They have not changed, but I have, and so they have.


Ryugintei and Isshishan are Zen Rock Gardens within the monastery walls.  Shoko-ken is a small teahouse I found when I was roaming around within a bamboo forest on a snowy night, completely lost.


Leaving this world.

Gazing down from high above.

Seeing far below.

Small islands.

White waves.

No details.

Only large patterns,

Orderly in their randomness,

Unknowable in their logic.


Tall rocks,

Jutting through gravity.

Once I loved them.

Now they seems too ambitious,

Working so hard.


Moonlight falls.

Snow settles slowly upon the thatched roof.

Steam rises from an old, black pot.

The smell of thick green tea.

Two tatami mats.

Most inner of rooms,

Where you and I can meet,

Who knows for how long?

Thank God I lost my way,

I never would have found you.

Meditations on The Sensory World by Bruce Fertman

photo: Bruce Fertman

…from Chapter III  Touching Existence

It’s interesting how, for little kids, it’s sometimes natural for objects to come alive.  If you’ve raised little kids, or if you can remember back into your own childhood, there were special objects that were alive for you, or for your kids.  My daughter had a scarf she carried around everywhere, loved, and on occasion spoke to, a “mother substitute” I believe Walcot called it.  My son had a little stuffed rabbit with long ears.  Those ears definitely had feeling.  My kids were always gentle with these objects, which they loved and needed because, obviously, these objects were alive.

In his book, I and Thou, Martin Buber understands this profoundly. For Buber there are only two possibilities when it comes to relationships.  One, subject-to-object, or two, subject-to-subject.  Buber refers to the first as an I-It relationship, and to the second as an I-You relationship.  I-It relationships are utilitarian, and I-You relationships are existential, about mutual existence.

Buber goes into great depth around this simple idea.  He explains how you can be in an I-It relationship with a person. If the reason for the relationship is utilitarian, a person can turn into an It. What can this person do for me?  How can I best utilize this person?  This is not the best model for developing empathy, compassion, or kindness. But we do it a lot.  More than we might like to admit.

But, thankfully, we can also be in an I-You relationship with people, but not just with people, with anything. Of course if you are in an I-You relationship with another person, or with your beloved dog or cat, or with your blossoming apple tree in your backyard, you feel that this being is alive.  You feel their existence.  You are in their company.  The moment is primarily about being with, and less about getting anything from, or anything done.

In Japanese Tea Ceremony, Chanoyu, someone may have just prepared a bowl of tea for you. You receive the bowl into your hands, and you can sense that someone made this bowl. Maybe this bowl is 200 years old, and has been lovingly passed down in your family through the generations. They say love runs downstream. You can see where your ancestor’s lips have touched this bowl because a person trained in Tea knows there’s an exact place to drink from a tea bowl. Your lips go exactly to where their lips have been. You can feel their lips touching your lips.  You are in an I-You relationship with and through this object. You are being with this bowl beyond its utilitarian function. You touch this bowl, and literary and that means physically, you are touched by this bowl. You are communing. You are in a personal, and sacred, relationship.

It is not an overstatement to say that if you come to a felt understanding of this possibility, and you cultivate this imaginative, neurological, tactual way of relating to things, it will change your life forever.  Before Jews open a Torah, someone cradles the Torah like a baby and walks around the Temple as people sing to the Torah. People kiss their prayer shawl, then touch the Torah with the part of the shawl they just kissed. What would it feel like to pick up a book you love, like a favorite book of poems, or a spiritual text, and kiss the book before you opened it and read from it? I invite you to try that. Strangely enough, practicing this way of being in I-You relationships, with objects, trains you to be in I-You relationships with people, sometimes more than any psychological teachings could ever do.  It comes down to physical practice.

Here is my favorite quote about touching existence.

Being blind I thought I should have to go out to meet things, but I found that they came to meet me instead.  I have never had to go more than halfway, and the universe became the accomplice of all my wishes…If my fingers pressed the roundness of an apple, I didn’t know whether I was touching the apple or the apple was touching me.

As I became part of the apple, the apple became part of me. And that is how I came to understand the existence of things.

 As a child I spent hours leaning against objects and letting them lean against me. Any blind person can tell you that this exchange gives a satisfaction too deep for words…

Touching the tomatoes in the garden is surely seeing them as fully as the eye can see.  But it is more than seeing them. It is the end of living in front of things, and the beginning of living with them.

Jacques Lusseyran – from And There Was Light