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Posts from the ‘Maturity’ Category

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.

Memory

M.L. Barstow
Age 77

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.

Jiro’s Hands


Photo: B. Fertman

Jiro’s Hands

Perhaps you have or have not seen the film, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. If you have, what I say here will likely make you want to see it again. If you haven’t, you’ll be trying to find out where and when this film is showing.

Not because it’s about sushi, because it is about Jiro. If you’re an Alexander teacher, or if you are someone who uses your hands in your work, which is pretty much everyone, Jiro has a lot to teach you, a lot to show you.

Jiro is 85 years old. Growing up was difficult, not easy. But Jiro made it. Jiro became the embodiment of Bushido, the samurai code of honor.

Jiro’s hands do not look 85 years old because of the way he has used them in his work for 75 years. Nor does his body. Watch how he stands. Watch how he walks. Watch how he works.

You will see much in Jiro’s hands. You will see how free they are. You will see how there is no distortion in his hands. Most people, half Jiro’s age, already have what physical therapists refer to as “natural hand distortion.” Natural hand distortion may be normal, but it is not natural. Jiro’s hands are natural. When Marjorie Barstow, my primary Alexander teacher, was 92, (the last time I saw her), her hands looked just like Jiro’s hands.

Jiro’s hands often curve in a kind of semi-circle. His fingertips gently curl over as the center of his palm floats back, creating a recess in his hand. His wrists are relaxed, the underside of the wrist, the fair skinned side of the wrist lengthens slightly and opens. When his hands are working they are also resting.

Jiro’s hands are flexible. They assume any shape they need to, without undue effort, as he sculpts his ephemeral works of art to the delight of his patrons. My friend and teacher Erika Whittaker would have loved Jiro’s soft, sensitive, supple hands. No doubt.

Erika began studying Alexander’s work when she was eight years old with her aunt, Ethel Webb. She kept studying for another 85 years. Erika was smart, astute, articulate, unassuming, and truly kind, yet not the least bit sentimental. Her memory was sharp, and she was not afraid to say it as she saw it.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQ_j0ksWRN0

Once Erika told me that the way Alexander taught students how to use their hands, and how Alexander actually used his hands were as different as night is from day. Erika said Alexander hands were strong and flexible, and non-formulaic. She said it looked and felt as if he was sculpting you from the inside out. There was no technique, no method.

Elisabeth Walker, currently our oldest living teacher, and another woman who brims with kindness, once gave me a photograph of Alexander working with a student’s ankle. She wanted me to understand that Alexander didn’t just work with a person’s head and neck. He went wherever he needed to go, did whatever he needed to do. Alexander was not bound by any “technique.” Everyday he just did his work. He worked on his craft, in a state of divine dissatisfaction and deep joy, like Jiro. That’s what masters do.

People who know me well feel my devotion to Alexander’s work. That is exactly the reason why I am, at times, saddened by what I see in the Alexander world. Erika was too. I remember sitting next to Erika watching a room full of lively Alexander teachers working together. She leaned over to me and whispered, “Look at those pancake hands! How are you supposed to be able to feel anything or communicate anything with hands like that?” Erika was a kind person. Obviously Alexander did not have pancake hands. She wasn’t being mean or critical. She was concerned. That’s all. She wanted us to have hands like Jiro.

Early on, 51 years ago, I learned how to use my hands functionally. By ten I defined myself as a gymnast, working out six hours a day, six days a week. As gymnasts we taught each other, and sometimes saved each other’s lives, by using our hands. We knew how to bring each other back into balance. Later, studying Aikido and Tai Chi, I learned more about using my hands functionally and sensitively, ironically so I could lead people off their balance.

But it was studying Chanoyu, Japanese Tea Ceremony, that taught me most about my hands. In Chado you learn how to prepare and serve food, and tea. You learn how to use an array of utensils. Every little movement becomes vital. You learn the simplest, easiest, most functional, and most beautiful way of doing every little thing. You learn how to serve. You learn more about a person through the way they use their hands than you do by looking at their face.

So when I see hands like Jiro’s, I bow deeply. I am moved. I weep without knowing exactly why. Perhaps from my sheer love of beauty, perhaps from witnessing such unwavering dedication.

May we all learn from Jiro, and from his hands, and one day, like Jiro, may our method become no method, our teaching no teaching. And may we become free, like Jiro, through a complete, lifelong, and joyful commitment to our work.

Gambatte. Courage.

After The Dream

 Vishnu’s dreaming. He’s exhaling. Each exhale is tens of thousands of our years long. Rumor has it soon he’s about to arrive at that soft pause between exhaling and inhaling, so quiet. Since Vishnu is dreaming us, and our universe into existence, I wonder what that rest might feel like. Then the great inhale will begin. What if Vishnu wakes up? What then?

Inside of our little microcosms, inside of our little universes, are we also dreaming? Are we dreaming we’re awake? What would it feel like if we did wake up? What would it feel like after the dream?

But in our reality, we have our little dreams, and they don’t feel little to us. Finishing school. Forging a career. Earning money. Getting married. Providing for your family. Buying a house. Keeping a house. Having children. Adopting children. Traveling the world. Spiritual enlightenment. Peace of mind. Contributing to society. Working toward justice and mercy. Being an artist. Being a scientist. Whatever your dream might be. Waking dreams. American dreams. African dreams. Japanese dreams. Mexican dreams. Indian dreams. All over the world dreamers are dreaming.

Have you, by chance, noticed that Life usually doesn’t go as planned? We may have our dreams, but Life has its Dream. Does it mean we’ve failed when our dreams do not turn out as we’d hoped? Who’s to say? Who knows in the end? Maybe the Dreamer’s Dream is the best dream for us, even if it does not feel that way. Maybe we are not failing. Maybe we are not falling short. Maybe our lives are unfolding according to the Dreamer’s Dream and it is up to us to interpret the Dream creatively, insightfully.

How do we know when we are off following our little, nearsighted dreams, and when we are aligned with the Dreamer’s Dream?

I’m dreaming. A boy, in black, a knife in his right hand, is after me. He wants to kill me. I’m petrified. I run into a dark movie theater. He following right behind me. Some old black and white Hitchcock movie is towering over me. Loud, eerie music is coming at me from every direction. I’m running through the isles. He’s leaping over the seats. He’s closing in. He corners me, thrusts his knife deep into my stomach, and smiles. He’s laughing. He’s so happy. I look down. Where’s the blood? No blood. The knife’s blade slid back into the handle. It was a toy knife. The boy just wanted to play. He wanted to be my friend.

Could it simply be a matter of misinterpretation?

How do we know when we are following our little, myopic dreams, and when we are letting ourselves be dreamt by the Dreamer’s Dream, call it what you wish; fate, destiny, nature, God.

I don’t know, but I have a hunch. Often, we hear a silent voice within us encouraging us to do something that challenges our little dream, something that might make life feel less predictable, less secure. It may feel like we are losing a little control. Yet, it doesn’t feel impulsive, or reckless. It is usually accompanied with a surge of energy, but it is not manic, just strong. Like a calm, large wave moving through us. You feel you’re going to a place you don’t know, and yet you feel like Life is leading you forward to a place it does know.

One of the great dangers of becoming obsessed with our own little dream is that we might forget that we are inside the dream of every person we meet. So our dream changes their dream, and their dream changes our dream. Our dream is but one thread woven into a basket of dreams.

The more empathic we are to the dreams of those around us, the more we begin to feel the larger dream, the Dreamer’s Dream. Our fate is intricately interwoven with everyone else’s fate.

When I open to this likely possibility, my preoccupation with my personal dream lessens. Momentarily it feels like a loss of drive, but it isn’t. It’s an absence of being driven. Without my fanaticism will I make it? I don’t know, and there’s only one way of finding out.

When I become very quiet, very still, my intuition tells me I’ve got it backwards. This intricate interweaving of dreams is far stronger than my seemingly individual dream.

Right now I feel like I should be working on my book, my little dream, but for some odd reason I find myself writing this small piece that seems to have no apparent purpose. But I am learning something through writing it, and just maybe this piece is not for my little dream, but for someone else’s.

Listening to the dreams of all of those around me. Giving my best when I’m living within people’s dreams.

It’s counterintuitive. It doesn’t sound right. That might be a good sign.

A Mother’s Love

A Mother’s Love

For Siggi Busch

From A Body of Knowledge by Bruce Fertman

In a rose garden overlooking Yokohama pink, yellow, white, and red roses stood, fully open, their flowery faces turned toward the sun. Next to the garden was a community center where a workshop was taking place.

A woman around 70 was there with her son, around 40, who had what I refer to as an “unconventional” nervous system. There wasn’t anything wrong with his nervous system. It just wasn’t the kind most of us have. He had cerebral palsy. He didn’t look like one of those perfectly symmetrical roses in the rose garden. He was physically challenged but I’ve never met a person who wasn’t, so why bother to discriminate?

When I teach a workshop, I devote time to working individually with people, with their particular problems, literally, in a very hands-on way. You might say I am famous among some circles for the way I use my hands, having been at it for fifty years.

This tiny woman wanted to work on getting her not so tiny son out of his wheelchair and onto the toilet. She’d been helping him do this for a long time. She said it was finally taking its toll on her body, but she needed to be able to keep helping her son.

I spend a lot of time listening to people, and watching them do what they do. I don’t give much advice. I help make people sensitive, and through their newly acquired sensitivity, solutions present themselves.

So I asked this kind woman to show me how she gets her son out of his wheelchair and onto the toilet. I watched as she leveraged him out of his chair, turned him around, and sat him down on a bench. She did it amazingly well. After so many years of practice, she had this down. I was about to tell her there was no way I could help her, then it occurred to me to ask her to do it again, so I did.

I watched. I saw her make a particular movement, and immediately I asked her to stop. She did. I asked her if she had noticed the movement she had just made. She said she was not aware of having started yet. I told her she had started. I told her that, very quickly, she raised her right hand and ran it through her hair, perhaps to get her hair out of the way. I asked her again if she remembered doing that. She said no. I said okay.

I asked her to do that movement again.  Moichido kudasai. She did. She said, “I think I do that a lot.” I said, I think you do too. So desu. I said, since you do it a lot lets do it now, but let’s do it consciously. And lets slow it down a tad. Yukkuri onegaishimasu. She did. She looked at me a little confused, as people often do. I asked her if she wouldn’t mind doing it again, please, yet a little slower. Moichido kudasai. Totemo yukkuri desu. She did. I asked her to just keep doing that movement, very, very slowly, over and over again, and to feel the movement every time she made it.

The tears started welling up in her eyes, and then rolling down her cheeks. I told her I made people cry all the time. Nothing’s wrong, I told her. Daijyoubou. I asked her what was going on in there. Do desuka. She said, “I don’t think it is good for me to do this anymore.”  I asked, Why not?  Naze desuka? She said, “I think it’s too hard on my body.”  I said, Tabun. Maybe so.

I asked her, if it wasn’t good for her, then could she think of any other options? I spend a lot of my life asking questions. I don’t have the answers. People have their own answers. It’s a matter of finding the right question. She lowered her head, and didn’t move for about 30 seconds. I just waited. Something else I do a lot. Then she raised her head, looked around and saw her younger son. She asked him if he could help her. He bowed his head quickly, said Hai!, I blinked, and there he was standing next to his mom.  He looked happy. This younger brother was not little either. He was solid. Together they helped transfer this good man from the bench back into the wheelchair. As they were lowering him down into his wheelchair, from ear to ear a huge grin spread across the elder brother’s uplifted face. His eyes were shining.

Before me I saw Michelangelo’s third Pieta. Jesus is coming down from the cross. His legs have buckled. They’re twisted inwards, his knees turned all the way to the left. His lifeless left arm’s hanging, the hand rotated inwards all the way to the right. His whole body’s heavy, falling to the left. His head has dropped over to the side, like a dead weight.

Mary is down on one knee, under her son’s collapsed body. She’s right under him, supporting him selflessly, with her entire body. Behind Mary, Joseph is standing there looking at her, his huge left hand spreading across Mary’s back. He’s supporting Mary, supporting her dead son. He’s loving Mary.

But right here in front of me, at this moment, were two sons with their mom, all three alive and well. Everyone was helping everyone.  No one sacrificed. No one sacrificing. All I was seeing was a gift being given.

Who would have had any idea, not me, that out of one simple, kindly gesture toward oneself, that much love would be set free?

The workshop ended. Everyone walked out into the rose garden. No one spoke, but in that silence I could hear the roses singing.

Late Night Thoughts

Knowledge is always about something. You can acquire it through study.

Wisdom is not the product of study. It is the child of living, suffering, and surviving.

One morning, you wake up. Your eyes open. You are seeing. Only seeing.

Wisdom is not knowing.

It’s seeing.

B.F.

The Making Of A Shinto Bride

The Making Of A Shinto Bride

Su-chan and Bruce

Married: January 23, 2012

Shinto Wedding Ceremony: March 20,2012

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,

And in the eyes of the beheld.

Hand-To-Hand Combat

Tai Chi Student From South Korea

Hand-To-Hand Combat

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.