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Posts from the ‘My Book’ Category

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

Fluid Life

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Twenty-One

Drenched To The Bone

Sponge-like.
The more it receives,
The softer and larger it becomes.
Soaking, Seeping, Saturating.
Permeable. Permeating.
Gray, Dark, Dim.
Vital.
Shapeless, Formless.
All-Pervading.
How do we know this?
We don’t know how we know this.
We just do.

 

Commentary

Lao Tzu seems at once philosopher, pragmatist, mystic, naturalist, political advisor, coach, and the grandfather we always wanted.

Here, within this passage, speaks Lao Tzu, the mystic. He wants to give us a glimpse into the primordial, into the formless, fertile, cosmic culture out of which all life grows and thrives.

This passage may strike some as obscure, but for me it is accurate and real. When teaching well, this is what I touch. My hands contact a person, but then without my exactly knowing how, my hands drop in and there’s something dark, dim, and vital, something fluid, something moving, something without form or structure. My hands are touching and responding to the stuff of life, to life itself, fluid life.

When my hands sink, drop, fall, melt into this fluid medium, instantly my student and I feel it. It is as if before, without knowing it, we were only half alive, and then suddenly, as if someone flicked on a switch, we are wide-awake.

As an educator, I do my best to demystify the work we do. I like to speak simply and practically. I avoid jargon and intellectualism. I ask questions, tell stories, evoke images. But some things remain a mystery to me, and there is nothing to be done about it.

During a workshop, an occupational therapist asked me what I thought about when I touched someone. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to give an honest answer. Did I think? What was I doing? Finally, I said to her. I don’t have a thought in my head. Not thinking is profoundly restful for me, a quiet joy. I’m just water touching water.

During an Alexander Event at our school, Elisabeth Walker, (a first generation Alexander Technique teacher who at that time was 88 years old), was napping after a good morning of teaching. I gently knocked on the door to wake her up for some tea before her afternoon class. She looked tired. “Elisabeth, can I get you a cup of tea?” “No Bruce, I don’t need a cup of tea. I need a student.”

When Elisabeth taught, she touched the stuff of life. She rarely used the term primary control, or primary movement. Sometimes I used the term primary pattern. Elisabeth liked that but once she said to me, Bruce, all we’re really touching is vitality.

That’s why it’s such a blessing to be an Alexander teacher. We get to hold the waters of life in the palms of our hands.

Where This Path Begins by Bruce Fertman

Putting Your Foot In Your Mouth

55 baby photo

Passage 55 from Where This Path Begins…

Babies don’t interfere with themselves.
Babies don’t judge, correct, or evaluate themselves.
They can’t make a mistake,
Because they don’t know what it means to make a mistake.
Babies can’t fail because they don’t know what it means to fail.
Babies are moved to move. They don’t know why.
What does why mean to them?

Babies want what they want. They are happy when they get it.
What they don’t want, they don’t accept. They’re honest.
Babies are unselfconscious, unabashed, and unpretentious.
We love them because we want to be like them.

Babies sit on the floor, effortlessly upright,
Delighted to see the world from a new perspective.
Babies stop eating when they are no longer hungry.
They immediately throw up anything they don’t like.

A baby can scream for hours without straining their voice.
Babies express strong emotions,
And when the reason for doing so is gone,
They stop, and forget about the whole thing.
Babies cannot hold grudges.
They don’t know what it means to hold a grudge.

Babies can spread out all their toes, even the little ones.
Babies can put their feet in their mouth,
And they don’t care what anyone thinks about it.

Babies fall over and over again, don’t care, don’t get hurt,
And don’t take it personally.
They just get up.
We love them because we want to be like them.

As babies,
We did not identify ourselves as male or female, or even as human.
We had no identity.
We were uncoordinated, inarticulate, illiterate,
Uneducated, unskilled, and unsocial.
Appearing completely selfish, we had no self.

As we ceased being babies, gradually, we became more self-conscious.
Coordinated, articulate, literate, learned,
Socialized and civilized.  We gained impressive skills.
We assumed an identity, a false identity.
We lost, to a great degree, the inherent qualities we had as babies.

We yearn to become unself-conscious, unambiguous, uncomplicated.
We long to unlearn, not to know, to surrender control.
We no longer want to equate self worth with skill and accomplishments.
We don’t want to be dictated by what others think of us.
We want to be ourselves, without apology.

We want to experience our innocence, through our maturity,
To come around, full circle. We want to be able to play again.

We want to see the world, one more time,
Through the glistening eyes of an infant.

Where This Path Begins by Bruce Fertman

Direction Unknown

Photo: B. Fertman, Coyote, New Mexico

Photo: B. Fertman, Coyote, New Mexico

from Letters To A Young Student…

How do I know when I am moving in the right direction?

It’s simple questions, like this one, that lead us in the right direction. This is what I mean by a heartfelt question. Questions asked from the heart don’t have intellectual answers. Ultimately a question like yours is about how to live one’s life. Living a life is not intellectual, not even for an intellectual!

So I will reflect on this question, not only for you, but for myself as well.

You are asking this question in the context of the work of F.M. Alexander, so let’s begin with a famous quip of  Alexander’s. “There is no such thing as a right position, but there is such a think as a right direction.”

Let’s first zoom out and get the big picture and then work our way into the center. Alexander implies here that what you want is not a posture, not a place, nothing fixed. So if we feel held, placed, or fixed in any way then we are off. He seems to be saying that it’s about “the way” rather than “the form.” Taoism immediately comes to mind as it did for Aldous Huxley who referred to Alexander as the first Western Taoist. Lao Tzu’s references to “wu-wei”, translated non-doing, effortless effort, or harmonious activity, his reverence for water, the watercourse, his love of the valley rather than the mountain, of space over substance, his praise of softness over hardness, his desire for less rather than for more.

Ironically the best book on Alexander’s work may have been written 2400 years before Alexander was born, and may still be the best guide for pointing us in the “right direction.”  That’s why I’ve spent the last eight years studying and writing my own interpretation of Lao Tzu’s, Tao Te Ching, because my experience tells me this text is the predecessor to Alexander’s work.

I would however go a step further. I would say not only is there no right position, I would say there is also no right direction, no one right direction. Being on “a way” is important. In Japan, where I live half the year, people study such disciplines as Kyudo, the way of the bow, Aikido, the way of harmonizing energy, Sado, the way of tea, Shodo, the way of calligraphy, etc.

But being on a way, doesn’t mean we don’t lose our way because we do. Sometimes we have doubts about the path we are on, whether we are getting anywhere, whether it is the right path for us, whether or not we took a wrong turn somewhere along the way, whether we are ever going to get where we are going.

Perhaps a certain amount of doubt goes with the territory. Alexander asked us not to try to be right, not to try to feel that we are right. Not even to care whether we were right. In fact he’d sometimes begin lessons saying, “Let’s hope something goes wrong.”

When we don’t know for certain where we are, we sometimes begin to see where we are, to experience where we are. We open to what is around us.

Yet still, something in us wants some confirmation that we are moving in a good direction. There must be signs, and if there are, what are they?

Alexander gives us a hint when he says,

“When an investigation comes to be made, it will be found that every single thing that we are doing is exactly what is being done in nature, where the conditions are right, the difference being that we are learning to do it consciously.”

What does Alexander mean by “right conditions?” I’m not sure, but maybe it’s similar to Aldo Leopolds’s definition of right. In A Sand County Almanac, Leopold writes, “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

Perhaps Alexander is telling us that the way we know we are right, is when we are conducting ourselves in accordance with nature, that is, when we are tending toward the preservation of our integrity, stability, and (inner) beauty. And we are out of balance when we are not.

Let’s zoom into the biotic community within us and return to the question of knowing when we are moving in the right direction.

If we are a fractal of our larger ecosystem, then we too would be moving in a right direction when we are tending toward integration, stability, and beauty. I would add the complimentary opposites to these indicators: integration and differentiation, stability and mobility, and beauty and functionality. Complimentary opposites work with one another. Opposing opposites work against one another. My experience tells me that when we are experiencing an integration of complimentary opposites within us, we are moving in the right direction.

When we are feeling unified and articulate.

When we are feeling stable and mobile.

When we are feeling functional and beautiful.

When we are feeling light and substantial.

When we are feeling still as a mountain and moving as a river.

When we are feeling rest and support.

When we are feeling gathered and expansive.

When we are feeling within and without.

When we are feeling open and focused.

When we are feeling connected and independent.

When we are feeling committed and free.

When we are feeling spontaneous and deliberate.

When we are feeling soft and powerful.

When we are feeling relaxed and ready.

When we are feeling near and far.

When we are feeling time and the timeless.

When we are feeling gravity and grace.

When we are feeling self and others.

When we are feeling self and no self.

When we are doing less and receiving more.

If we decide to use the word direction in the strict Alexander sense of the word, and then ask how do we know when we are moving in the right direction, the answer may be hiding in The Use of the Self, one of Alexander’s books I read some 40 years ago. Somewhere, I believe in a footnote, Alexander mentions that a direction is a message we send to a part of the body. If the message is correct, if it is a right direction or order, it will conduct the energy within that part of the body in a way that will result in a general improvement of one’s overall integration.

The metaphor I use to get a picture of this is that of a lock and key. A joint in your body would be a lock, the key, its direction. It’s necessary to examine the lock to find out its structure. Then you can make a key to fit the lock. When the key fits the lock, the lock opens. This opens a door which allows you to enter into your house, your body, where you reside, your abode, your dwelling place, your refuge, your sanctuary.

Eventually, through study, whether that is on your own, or with the help of a teacher or teachers, you come to discover and learn about many of the doors and their locks, and you construct ever more precise keys to these doors which lead you through the gates into the holy city.

You learn, in Alexander’s enigmatic term, how to free into your primary control, or your true and primary movement, or as I sometimes refer to it as, your primary pattern, which is a fluid, moving, organizing pattern.

You learn how to enter into this fluid organization, into this knowing river within us, and it is the river who knows where to go, knows what a right direction is. Our job is to surrender to the river, to let the river take us to a place known to it, forever unknown to us.

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.

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.

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.

Meditations on The Sensory World by Bruce Fertman

photo: Bruce Fertman

…from Chapter III  Touching Existence

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is my favorite quote about touching existence.

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

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

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

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

Jacques Lusseyran – from And There Was Light

 

Meditations on Physical Life by Bruce Fertman

Chapter III

Oh, I Forgot Something!

from the forthcoming book – The Slightest Shift – Meditations on Physical Life by Bruce Fertman

In Japan, people often have to take their shoes off and put their shoes on, many times a day.  If you have just stepped outside and realized that you forgot something, you can’t just run through the house with your shoes on. No, first your shoes must come off, and quickly. Then upon leaving you must manage, at the same time, to walk and wiggle into your shoes!  This takes many years of practice.  You must get good at this if you want to live in Japan, because people in Japan are on the go, and being late is not good, not good at all.

You would think that everyone would be wearing shoes that are really easy to take off and put on, like clogs, or uggs, but most people don’t. Most people wear shoes with laces, laces you are supposed to tie and then untie. But there is simply no time for such details. This means that the part of the shoe, technically referred to as “the heal collar”, the back rim of the shoe, undergoes severe abuse, especially as everyone tries to get back into their shoes as they are walking, or even running!

Because of this “shoes off” custom in Japan, which I find extremely sensible, you can often see shoes, all in a row, just standing there waiting for their people to come back. It’s easy to anthropomorphize about shoes, because they record how we stand and how we walk, how we put them on, and how we take them off.  Old shoes strike us a very human. In Japan, most of the shoes, standing there next to each other, look pretty sad, wiped out, and beat up.

One day, I saw a particularly unhappy row of shoes.  They looked miserable. I started feeling bad for them. It was as if, for a moment, they were alive and I could feel what their poor bodies felt like, all busted up, battered, and broken.  If they were alive, and if they could talk, and if they had rights, they would all be on their phones calling the domestic violence hotline for battered shoes.

That’s when I had this idea. What if objects could feel?  What if objects had nervous systems? What if objects, every object could feel every little thing we did to them?   To be continued…

第三章

あっ、わすれものしちゃった!

ブルース・ファートマンの近刊予定著書 “The Slightest Shift – Meditations on Physical Life” より抜粋

一日に何度も何度も、靴を脱いだりはいたりしなければならないのは、日本ではよくあることです。ちょうど出がけに忘れ物に気付いたら、靴をはいたままで家の中に走り込むことなどできません。そうです、まず、第一に、靴をぬがなければなりません。それも急いでです。そして、再び家を出る時には、靴の中に足を突っ込みながら歩きださなければならないのです!これができるようになるには、すこしばかりの歳月が必要です。日本に住みたいと思うなら、これが上手にならないといけません。日本では、みんな本当に忙しくてよく動きまわって、おまけに遅刻するのは、絶対にご法度なのです。

もしかしたら、「簡単にはいたり脱いだりできるくつを日本人はみんな使っているんじゃないの?」と思っていませんか?クロッグとか、ソフトブーツとか・・・。ほとんどの人たちは、靴ひもつきの靴をはいているので、しかるべき時にひもを結んだりほどいたりしなければなりません。でも、そんなちまちましたことをしている時間は、はっきりいってありません。靴の、いわゆる「かかと」の部分、つまり足がはいる場所の後ろの淵の部分は、特に、歩きながら、時には小走りの状態で靴をはきなおすときなどは、かなりひどい扱われ方をされます。

この「靴を脱ぎはきする」習慣(私としては、分別があることだと思います)があるために、たくさんの靴が一列に並んで、自分のご主人が戻ってくるの待っている光景によく出くわします。靴は、人に置き換えることができます。なぜなら、靴は、私たちの立ち方、歩き方、靴の履き方、脱ぎ方を記録しているからです。古い靴をみると、老人を思い起こさせます。日本でみかける互いに横並びになって靴の大部分が、憂いを帯び、疲れ果て、くたくたになっているように見えます。

ある日、私はとりわけ悲しい顔で一列に並んだ靴の一団に出会いました。靴達はくたびれきっていましたので、私はかわいそうだなと感じはじめていました。一瞬、私にはまるで靴達が生きているかのように思えて、彼らのかわいそうなからだがめちゃくちゃにされて、ずたずたのボロボロになったときと同じように思えました。本当に靴達に命があり、しゃべることができて、さらには彼らの権利が守られていたならば、全員がぼろぼろ靴専用の家庭内暴力ホットラインに電話をかけまくっていたでしょう。

私には、この出会いのおかげで、思いついたことがあります。

「もし、モノが感じることができたらどうなる?」

「もし、モノに神経組織があったら?」

「もし、すべてのモノが、私たちがする、どんな些細なことでも感じることができたら?」

この続きは次回までのお楽しみに・・・。