Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Loss’ Category

May Nothing Stand Between Us

 

In the first half of my life I built walls; in the second half of my life I am doing my best to take those walls down.

By believing that the teachers I had chosen to study under were the most gifted, the most astute, the most skilled, by association, made me feel special and superior to others. By believing the disciplines I had chosen to study were the most profound, by association, made me feel special and superior to others.

Others had missed the boat, were not on the bus. They had made the wrong choices, and I the right ones.

I remember with embarrassment, some 40 years ago, defining Alexander’s work in opposition to Ida Rolf’s work, how Alexander’s work was educational, non-manipulative, and wholistic, while Rolf’s work was mechanical, intrusive, and reductionist. I remember hating the Rolfing logo of a man stacked up like building blocks.

T’ai Chi Chu’an and Aikido were superior to other martial art forms. Zen Buddhism and Taoism were more sophisticated than monotheistic religions. Democrats were enlightened and Republicans were greedy. And so it went. Bricks made from hardened beliefs. Mortar made from a muddy mind.

Between the first half of my life and the second half of my life, like a Murakami anti-hero, I fell into a deep, dark well. When finally I dug my way out I was psychologically emaciated. During that time I had gone through a divorce, my kids had left home, the house I lived in and loved for 20 years was sold, I gave up my business, my mother died, and then a year later, my father, who I loved dearly, also died.

The day my father died we were alone. Sitting next to him in an old worn out, saggy leather chair, legs crossed under me, tallis over my shoulders, quietly, I read out loud from my copy of Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the psalms;

Even in the midst of great pain, Lord,
     I praise you for that which is.
I will not refuse this grief
     or close myself to this anguish.
Let shallow men pray for ease:
     “Comfort us; shield us from sorrow.”
I pray for whatever you send me,
     and I ask to receive it as your gift.
You have put a joy in my heart
     greater than all the world’s riches.
I lie down trusting the darkness,
     for I know that even now you are here.

I begin feeling cold and decide to get up and put an extra blanket over my Dad who now lay unconscious for three days. Getting up I hear a loud crunching sound. It’s my knee. On the metal guardrail, along side my father’s bed, hangs his old wooden cane. I reach out, take it, and for the next month limp exactly as my father had in the last month of his life.

Emotionally depleted, it was nigh impossible to find my inner structural support. With each passing month my body aged a year. My weakened, painful knee set my body askew and it was not long before my hip and lower back followed suit. I was a mess.

I decided I needed to get help. I made an appointment to have ten Structural Integration sessions, treatments based on the work of Ida Rolf. And wouldn’t you know it, it was just what I needed! It was as if old injuries from gymnastic falls and car accidents were letting me go. I was regaining my inner structural support and becoming comfortable again.

My knee was still unstable. After having practiced Tai Chi every day for 40 years, I woke up one morning and knew I had to see what would happen if I simply stopped doing Tai Chi. And wouldn’t you know it, my knee got better and better with each passing week!

The walls just keep coming down for me. Maybe that is why the second half of my life feels so light, so free. I don’t have any need for walls these days. If I don’t know what is right how can I be wrong? If I don’t have anything to prove who can argue with me? If I have nothing to defend what can I lose? And if I am for everyone where is my enemy?

John Tuite, a dear friend of mine, sent me a photo. It’s a photo of an art installation by Jorge Mendez Blake entitled, A Single Book Disrupts the Foundation of a Brick Wall.

This is my hope. May my little book do its little bit to help bring down walls between the various Alexander lineages. May it make a small contribution to bringing down walls between somatic disciplines. May assumptions, prejudices and false notions become dislodged. May grudges and gossip fall by the wayside. May nothing stand between us.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.”

 Robert Frost

JorgeMendezBlake_01 2

 Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart

by Bruce Fertman

Bummed Out

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Holidays do not always bring joy and good cheer.

Visiting relatives we can’t relate to, whose values conflict with ours. Not having relatives to visit. Missing people who were once in our lives, parents or grandparents, former spouses, kids who have grown up and moved on.

Some of us are single. We are bombarded with commercials, with images of happy families, people who are married, people with children, people living in big, beautiful homes.

Holidays can be overwhelming, unnerving. Unresolved conflicts emerge, old wounds resurface, arguments ensue. Pressures mount around money and gift buying. People running around. Lots of drinking. Accidents happen, and not just to other people.

Some of us face the new year full of hope, others of us, with dread.

Who hasn’t, at one time or another, felt lonely and depressed, deserted and desolate during the holidays?

Like all of us, Lao Tzu’s been there too. He doesn’t try to hide it from us. He wants us to know that he knows how hard it can get, how painful it can become. He’s telling us that even saints and sages suffer. He’s telling us that these feelings of isolation that beset us are part of the human drama, not indications that we are broken.

Without a broken heart, how could anyone be whole?

Twenty

Bummed Out

Accepted or Rejected.
Included or Excluded.
Sanctioned or Censored.

Which is a compliment, which an insult?
Ultimately, does it really matter?

Don’t be afraid of what people think of you.
How do you think about yourself?
That’s what counts!

I know what I say is true,
Still, sometimes, I feel utterly alone.

I watch and listen to people around me.
They are together – eating, talking, laughing,
Enjoying one another, as if life were one big party.

I don’t feel like eating. I don’t talk. I don’t smile.
I’m exhausted. I can hardly move.
I’m downhearted and depressed.
I have a house but no home.
I am a homeless person.

People around me go about living their lives.
I feel like I have no life.
I’m just an old man sitting and writing in the dark.

What’s wrong with me?
Why am I so confused, so flooded in doubt?

Everyone seems full of purpose. They are clear.
They know what they have to do, and they do it.

I drift aimlessly, blown this way and that, like a cloud.
I possess no solidity, no stability, no security.

Yes, it is true. I am a stubborn man.
Reclusive. Unreachable.

Nothing but the Tao sustains me.
From Her alone I receive sustenance.

I am like a baby peacefully sucking at his mother’s breast.

Where This Path Begins by Bruce Fertman

Commentary

For whoever decided to leave this passage in the Tao Te Ching, I am grateful, just as I am grateful to whoever decided to leave Ecclesiastes in the Torah.  When we mystify, mythologize, and deify our leaders, we belittle ourselves.

Near the end of his life, Carl Jung strongly identified with this exact passage in the Tao Te Ching. He writes:

“I am astonished, disappointed, pleased with myself.  I am distressed, depressed, rapturous.  I am all these things at once, and cannot add up the sum.  I am incapable of determining ultimate worth or worthlessness; I have no judgment about myself and my life.  There is nothing I am quite sure about…

When Lao-tzu says: ‘All are clear, I alone am clouded,’ he expresses how I now feel.  Yet there is so much that fills me: plants, animals, clouds, day and night, essences of people.  The more uncertain I have grown about myself, the more there has grown up in me a feeling of kinship with all things.  In fact it seems to me as if that alienation which so long separated me from the world has become transferred into my own inner world, and has revealed to me an unexpected unfamiliarity with myself.”

Carl Jung

Don’t Believe A Word I Say

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Three

Where Do They All Come From

Arrogance leads to loneliness.
Greediness to loss.
 
Give to others and you will not be poor.
Serve the people who serve you.
Work under those who work under you.
Allay your own fears, and those around you will become less afraid.
Open your own heart, and people’s hearts will open.
 
Do this, and people will have what they need.
You will have what you need.
 
There will be nothing left to do.

Alexander Commentary…

One of the principles underlying this passage is that changing ourselves is often the best way to change others. Alexander’s work also embraces this principle. Practicing Alexander’s work means attending to ourselves, doing our own inner work. What’s wonderful about the Alexander Technique is that we are given a way to do this physically. Our bodies become capable of alerting us, just before we are about to run into trouble.

For example, “Arrogance leads to loneliness.” Arrogance is not only an attitude; it’s a physical state of being. Arrogance expresses itself physically. The expression of arrogance can be overt or covert, but in either case it can be felt, discerned. When our kinesthetic sense becomes keen enough, we may notice that we are pushing our necks back and over straightening them, (stiff-necked). We may notice that we are pushing our chest up, and that we’re locking our knees, (and every knee shall bend.) A warning. Beware. Be aware. If we heed that warning, if we truly want what’s best for ourselves and for others, if we’re willing to let our ego give way to what is good in us, if we remember that we are not after being right, or being better than others, but in being at peace, then we can un-grip this arrogant stance, we can let it fall from us, and with it will fall the arrogance as well, and perhaps the loneliness too.  The energy exerted to maintain arrogance, which is considerable, returns to us, to be used in a better way.

John Dewey, one of America’s finest philosophers of education, and a long term student of Alexander’s wrote about how the work enabled him to know when he was engaged in sophistry and when he was being a lover of the truth, literally, a “philo-soph-er.” After years of studying the work he could feel, somatically, through his kinesthetic sense, when he was being a sophist, and he knew he was not after winning the debate, but that he was after discovering the truth, and he didn’t care who discovered it. So in these situations he was able to make the shift back to whom he was when he was at his best.

But as my teacher, Marj Bartow often said, “Don’t believe a word I say.” Lao Tzu’s philosophy is not about believing anything. It’s about carrying out life experiments. Find out for yourself if what he says is true.

Where This Path Begins by Bruce Fertman

Moms

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

 …from Where This Path Begins

Renderings from the Tao Te Ching by Bruce Fertman

 Sphere within a Sphere.
A child grows.
 
Sphere within a Sphere.
Without knowing this child, she loves this child.
 
Sphere within a Sphere.
A child comes into this world.
 
The child begins to crawl, then walk.
The mother’s sphere grows larger.
 
The child begins to run and climb.
The mother’s sphere grows larger.
 
The child leaves home.
The mother’s sphere grows larger.
 
The child has a child.
The mother’s sphere grows larger.
 
The child’s mother dies.
The child’s sphere grows larger.
 
Sphere within a sphere.
The mother grows within the child’s heart.

Ohanami

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

This life of ours would not cause you sorrow

if you thought of it as like the mountain cherry blossoms

which bloom and fade in a day.

MURASAKI SHIKIBU (974-1031)

 

Down Here In A Place Just Right

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

They say mathematicians and astrophysicists peak early. Perhaps war heroes too and ballet dancers. You don’t know when it will happen, or what will happen when it does. It’s depressing just thinking about it. Over the hill, a has been, burning bright and then burnt out. Forsaken. Forgotten.

I’m wondering about the metaphor. I mean about this peaking business. I’m wondering about these top-down metaphors. Maybe they’re off, not accurate.

Sure, there are mountains, but there are caves too and some people love spelunking as much as others love mountain climbing. Rivers run downstream, and love too. Snow falls. Ocean floors and riverbeds. Why is down so scary to us?  Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death,  the downward spiral, downhearted. Down. A downer.

Take the word depression. Maybe the spatial metaphor of up and down is off, not helping us at all. When we’re depressed are we down? When we are manic are we up? Maybe emotions don’t go up and down. Maybe they change color, or texture or tone. What if depression wasn’t feeling low? What if it’s going in? Maybe we’re not pressing anything down. Maybe we’re holding something in. Maybe that feels different just thinking about it that way.

Maybe time doesn’t go forward and backwards. What’s it like to sense time without a concept of space?

Does a sphere have a top and a bottom, a front and a back? Is there really such a thing as East and West? What is a sphere when you don’t break it apart spatially?

Being at the top of your game, or king of the mountain isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. It gets lonely up there. Lightning hits the tallest tree. Look down at people and they will not look up to you.

It’s all downhill from here. Is that so bad? Downhill skiers love going downhill. And so do little kids on sleds in the winter. Downhill. No sweat, a cool breeze against your face, coasting, picking up speed. Going along for the ride. Letting go.

There’s this ferris wheel I rode on a couple of days ago, the largest in the world. You only get to go around once. About two thirds of the way up I felt as if I were flying over the river to the open sea. I was getting real excited about being at the top. In anticipation, I stopped looking at what was around me. Part of the ride went unlived. Suddenly I was on top of the world… for about a half of a second. The great apex, the summit, the pinnacle, the zenith, the peak; gone the moment it arrived!

Here’s the truth. There is no peak when you’re going around in a circle. There’s just the circle, every point equal distance to the center of life.

At the top of the largest ferris wheel in the world, I felt the bottom sliding out from under me. Something told me to turn around 180 degrees, to sit on the other side of the car, to face the other direction. I did what I was told. Sitting there across from me was my wife. From where I was sitting now I could see her and appreciate her.

And to my surprise the way down, this coming down to the earth was sweet, tender, restful. It was like coming home from a long, long journey. It was peaceful, full of peace.

Studies In Stillness

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.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSX444hQ5Vo

 

For Yourself

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.

Until then,

Bruce

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.

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.