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.
Posts from the ‘Listening’ Category
A Tradition of Orginality
During our last conversation Marj said to me that one person can only do so much. She was thinking about her life and her contributions but she was, in her understated way, also telling me to get going.
Marj opened important doors for us. Most importantly, she kept the door of originality wide open. F.M. was original. So was Marj. I felt and still feel obligated to carry this tradition of originality forward.
Being original doesn’t mean being different just to be different. It means being in touch with the origins. It means dipping way down into that deep well of nothingness from which grace appears. “All I’m trying to do is show you a little bit of nothing.” She did, and it was everything.
This nothingness from which true originality springs is the source of our work. You cannot copy originality, because once you copy it it’s no longer original. Being original happens when we dip down into that deep well of emptiness which is forever alive and fresh. Marj drew her work out of that deep well, day in and day out, for so many of us.
Marj kept doors open that, without her, might have closed forever. Sometimes Alexander worked with people in activities. Marj found this way of working to be the most direct and personal approach to helping people become sensitive and capable of putting into practice what they were beginning to understand about themselves.
Marj enjoyed her training, which took place in the context of a group, and she saw no good reason why group teaching should only be limited to trainees. Everyone could benefit from watching and listening to others.
Marj wove together these two aspects of Alexander’s work – working in activity and group study – magically transforming and enlivening Alexander’s work for us.
Marj admired and respected her teachers: F.M. and A.R. Alexander, Ethel Webb, Irenie Stuart, and Irene Tasker. She knew that none of these fine teachers had ever graduated from a three-year teacher-training course. She knew that a small group of F.M.’s teachers had learned from him more informally, over a longer period of time. She admired these teachers, and she decided to bring about Alexander teachers based on this older, original model of training through apprenticeship.
Marj didn’t want people to stop living their lives to study Alexander’s work. She wanted us to bring Alexander’s work into the lives that we were currently living. For many of us that meant incorporating the work into our lives as performing artists, and as teachers.
I remember the first time I ever spoke to Marj. At Ed Maisel’s recommendation, I called her up and asked if I could study with her in Lincoln, Nebraska, at her Winter of 1975 workshop.
She asked me what I did. I told her I studied the Alexander Technique. She said, “Is that all? Is that all you do?” I said no, I also was a modern dancer, and studied T’ai Chi Chu’an and Aikido. Then she said, “Now that sounds like fun. You can come along.”
Marj liked working with people who were passionate about what they did. She liked working with people exactly when they were doing what they loved doing most, whatever that was… singing, dancing, acting, playing instruments, icing a cake, juggling, fencing, gardening, or throwing horse shoes, which was something Marj liked and that I liked doing with her.
Marj brought life to the work, and the work to life. It was as simple as that.
Like Alexander, Marj felt that institutions could not hold the truth, so she kept to herself, did her work, and made certain it was good. She kept the original apprenticeship model of becoming an Alexander teacher open, and for me, and for many of my colleagues, this approach to training was joyous, powerful and effective. Without this model of training it would have been impossible for many of us to become teachers.
There is one last door that Marj opened for which she remains relatively unknown. In fact, by some odd twist of fate Marj seems to have become known for attempting to close this door!
I had just finished teaching a workshop for teachers in Berlin.
The head, of what was then GLAT, had experienced my work at the Australian Congress and then and there invited me to teach in Berlin. He went on to teach at my school in Germany, and even came to America to study at my school in America. One of the teachers at this workshop in Berlin remarked about how skillfully I worked with my hands and how much I used my hands when I taught. She was under the impression that Barstow teachers didn’t use their hands much when they taught.
My heart sank. What moved me most about Marj was how she used her hands as a teacher. I fell deeply in love with her ability to bring about such beauty with utterly no force. For many years I watched people unfold and grow under Marj’s hands. I made a vow never to stop teaching until my hands were at least as good as Marj’s hands. I’ve held true to that vow.
When Marj died I was teaching in Japan.
For a couple days I seemed fine, and then it hit me. I was overwhelmed by dread, by doubt, that I had missed something, not heard something, that I didn’t learn what I was supposed to learn, that I failed her as a student. I didn’t know what to do. And then, suddenly, I knew.
I knew finally and completely that even though Marj is gone, the source remains. There in that deep well of nothingness is everything that I missed, everything that I did not hear, everything that I have yet to learn.
Photo taken by Elisabeth Walker – Botanical Garden, Kyoto, Japan
– 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.
Photo by Tada “Anchan” Akihiro
This is a video of Jiro’s hands as a child. Kind of, sort of. Actually they are the hands of Master Shuhei, my friend’s son. You must watch this video until the end, well, you’ll see why. You will witness here how a human being actually learns how to use their hands.
When we are little we are not very coordinated. We have to learn how to sit, and stand, and walk, and how to button a shirt, for example, as you will see here. But the good news is that, when very young, we are inherently integrated, that is, all of a piece. It’s like we are programmed not to distort ourselves. The trick is to get kids to become coordinated without losing too much of their inherent integration.
Thankfully for Shuhei, he has Anchan as a father. I had asked Anchan to make this video for my students. Anchan picked out a few very challenging manual activities for Shuhei, and then videoed Master Shuhei. You will see here how patient Anchan is, and how positive. Needless to say my students adored this video.
By the way, Anchan has been my student for many years, and I have been his. He’s my photography teacher. Now Anchan also is my colleague, as are so many of my students – Alexander teachers who carry on “a tradition of originality” that begins with Mr. Alexander himself. For 15 years Anchan has photographed, and now also videos, life at the Alexander Alliance – Germany, New Mexico, Italy, Japan, Korea. He has an exceptional eye for the work, and for catching that moment when people let go.
Jiro’s hands – The Sequel.
December Retreat 2011
The Work of F.M. Alexander
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Anything organic takes its own sweet time. (A reference made to the learning of this work being an organic process, not exclusively conceptual.)
Student: What are you looking for?
Your job is not to help your student but to know your student.
You get students curious by being curious.
When you feel for a person (love, care, empathy) that feeling is actually inside your body, inside you. Getting physically closer does not necessarily get you any closer.
We are bringing touch into the process of learning. We are not teaching through touch exclusively. We are integrating touch into the use of other educational tools, into our use of language, and into teaching through example.
What Alexander referred to as “inhibition” is not stopping an action, it is stopping a habit inside an action.
Inhibition is a word that is not useful to the “subjective” experiential self. If you use words people don’t understand then you are not communicating. Jargon is not needed when you know what you are talking about.
The way you get control is through surrender.
The way to touch time is through becoming more spacious. If you want to slow time down, don’t try to slow time down. You can’t do that. Release into the space within you, and around you.
Awareness, on its own, can change the nervous system.
(Quoting others. Some of my favorites.)
You want the mind of a sober man, and the body of a drunk.
Tai Chi Classics
Tension doesn’t happen in places, it happens in patterns.
Confidence is the absence of fear.
I spent 4 years watching Alexander’s hands, and then I realized I should have been trying to understand what was in his brain.
Violence sweeps through the county of Hu. In the small village of Chu Jen, people gather in their small temple to sit and pray. A large, drunken man barrels into the sanctuary. He’s yelling into people’s faces. He spits at a women. He slaps her child. No one moves. No one breathes. Everyone hopes he will stop, and go away.
A powerful man, a warrior, stands up, ready to take this man down and throw him out. Li Tan, an old man, quietly walks between them and says, “Please, let me talk to this fellow.” The old man looks into the drunken man’s eyes. The man is ashamed to look at Li Tan, but Li Tan keeps looking and waiting. When the man catches sight of the old man’s loving eyes, he becomes still, and sad.
The old man asks him if he wouldn’t mind sitting down next to him. The soldier also sits close to Li Tan. Li Tan faces the sad man, takes the big man’s quivering hand, holds it softly between his deeply creased, warm palms and says, “Son, tell me what is wrong. What happened?”
The man begins crying. Then sobbing. While he was at work, soldiers came into his home. They killed his wife, his son, and his infant daughter. They set fire to his house. The old man puts his arms around the man sobbing. They weep as one person, weeping.
The soldier stands up. He looks down at the two men. His big chest sinks. He bows slowly to Li Tan. Lowering onto his hands and knees, his forehead against the wooden floor, he bows to the father who has just lost his family.
The soldier joins the other people from his village and begins to pray.
I am at Jessica’s house and Jessica, bless her heart, is exercising extreme patience, and attempting beyond all odds to teach me how to use my very own blog. Wish me luck.
This is me on the left, looking into my computer. It is difficult for me because my eyes are on the side of my head and my computer screen is in front of me. I think this is why i have such a hard time finding anything.
Will try turning my head soon and will let you know what happens.