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Posts from the ‘Maturity’ Category

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.

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.

Every One

photo: B. Fertman

Alexander Alliance International – Japan Retreat

Youfukugi Buddhist Temple, Yase Hieizanguchi

 Autumn, November 23-25, 2012

Midori Shinkai, her graduates, and trainees are impressive. Well coordinated each and every one. Every one helps every one. Every one has a good time, learns seemingly without effort, though every one knows they work hard at what they love.

Every one is skillful with their hands. They’re fluid yet organized. They’re upright though not rigid. They’re light and substantial. They can sense with their hands, see with their eyes, feel with their hearts.

After a day of study every one  relaxes together enjoying one another’s company. Up until 3am laughing and telling stories, eating everything from chocolate covered almonds, to surumeika, (yes, dried squid), to Ritz crackers, to umeshu, (plums marinated in wine for three years), well you get the idea – an international school in Japan. Sure some wine, or beer, or sake too, but not too much because…

8:30am is breakfast and at 9 morning movements begin. And there every one is, ready to go as if they had slept for 8 hours.

Alexander Alliance International Japan, Midori Shinkai, director, her graduates and trainees…as impressive and colorful as autumn leaves.

An Alexander Riddle

What do these Alexander teachers have in common?

-Rivka Cohen

-Martha Hansen Fertman

– John Nichols

Marjorie Barstow

– Eileen Crow

Lena Frederick

– Celia Jurdant Davis

– Bryan Mckenna

Elisabeth Walker

-Bruce Fertman

-Eva Fuhrmann

-Lucia Walker

-Astrid Lobreyer

– David Gorman

– Bill Conable

– Tommy Thompson

-Irene Schlump

– Nica Gimeno

-Yehuda Kuperman

-Margarete Tueshaus

-Ann-Katrin Fliege

-Caren Bayer

– Marie Francoise Le Foll

-Lyra Butler-Denman

-Christine Trägar

-Yoko Yasuda

– Doris Dietchy

-Mareike Klemm

– Anne Waxman

-Annie Turner

-Hiroko Uno

-Hendrik Klein

-Wendy Waggener

-Robyn Avalon

– Midori Shinkai

Sally Swift

– Jeremy Chance

-Rosalia Galassi

– Gilles Estran

Buzz Gummere

– Judy Stern

-Ruth Davis

-Atsuko Nakai

– Barbara Conable

Erika Whittaker

-Yoshiko Hayashi

– Michael Gelb

-Sakiko Ishitsubo

– Glenna Batson

-Jenny Quick

– Beret Arcaya

– Carol Boggs

-Britta Brandt-Jacobs

-Kay Kim

– David Mills

Frank Ottiwell

– Meade Andrews

– Pete Trimmer

-Magdalena Gassner

– Michael Frederick

– Rosa Louisa Rossi

– Frank Sheldon

– Michael Mazur

– Lyn Charlsen

– Susan Sinclair

-Alexandra Bushmann

– Cynthia Mauney

– Jan Baty

-Rob and Zoana Gepner-Muller

-Barbara Kent

– 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.

Sparkling

Once long ago I asked Peg Gummere how old she was.  She leaned forward and whispered, “Can you keep a secret?” I whispered back, “Yes.”  She smiled, paused, and then said, “So can I.”

I never did find out her exact age. But today I did. Today I called and spoke with Peg. Her memory is a thing of the past, as memory is, but in the present Peg is as she always was, lively, kind, and completely interested in you.  She had Marjory Benjamin, a woman who helps her, write down my name and number, thinking that her children might want to know I had called. Marjory told me next month would be Peg’s birthday. I said, “Really! How old will she be? “ Marjory said, “Ninety-five.”

Peg had great teachers, and a great education. She studied drawing with Kimon Nicolaides at the Arts Students League in New York, violin with Dr. Suzuki, and the Alexander Technique with F.M. Alexander. Like Alexander, she was also an avid rider. Peg could see, hear, and move. Her senses were wide open. Whatever happened to education like that?

In 2000, when Buzz Gummere, Peg’s husband, was 90, and Peg a mere 84, (now I know), they decided at the last minute to join us for our first Alexander Alliance retreat at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. They found a flight, flew across the country, rented a car, drove for three hours, and showed up at Ghost Ranch just in time for class.

One night, sitting around a fire, under the stars, sipping on some red wine Buzz started talking about Alexander. Peg, as usual, slightly bowed her head, lowered her eyes, and listened intently. Buzz said,

“You’ve haven’t seen people wearing spats have you?  Well, a British gentleman would most certainly have a set of those fine woolen things that they put on over their feet to keep their ankles warm in cold weather.  Spats became a sign of somebody who was aspiring to be aristocratic.  Alexander had a perfect British accent.  You could not hear that he was from Australia.  Here was a very polished person.  Alexander was a very lovely person too, in a lot of ways, but underneath, he was a real wild man.   That tension must have been very intense in him.  Peg, tell us about F.M. from your point of view. 

Peg: He loved horses.  He rode till the end of his days.  He was a live wire.  He didn’t seem like an old man at all, even up to the late years.  He was sparkling.

Buzz: What was that last word?

Peg: Sparkling.

And, if I were pressed to find one word for Peg, that would be the word,

Sparkling.

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.

Undone

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

Seventy-Seven

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.


 In the hands of leaders

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.

Visit

The Place I Want to Get Back To

is where

in the pinewoods

in the moments between

the darkness

and the first light

two deer

came walking down the hill

and when they saw me

they said to each other, okay,

this one is okay,

let’s see who she is

and why she is sitting

on the ground, like that,

so quiet, as if

asleep, or in a dream,

but, anyway, harmless;

and so they came

on their slender legs

and gazed upon me

not unlike the way

I go out to the dunes and look

and look and look

into the faces of the flowers;

and then one of them leaned forward

and nuzzled my hand, and what can my life

bring to me that could exceed

that brief moment?

I have gone everyday to the same woods,

not waiting, exactly, just lingering,

Such gifts, bestowed,

can’t be repeated.

If you want to talk about this

come to visit. I live in the house

near the corner, which I have named

Gratitude.

Mary Oliver

Thirst

Photo:

Coyote, New Mexico