Skip to content

Posts from the ‘Naturalness’ Category

Our Essential Task

It should be noted that these are my criteria, my way of articulating what Alexander’s work is about. I do not and never would presume to speak for the Alexander community at large. Obviously, I am not the originator of the Alexander Technique. I am but one interpreter of his work.

Our Essential Task

(From a graduation speech given to the Alexander Alliance graduating class of 1991, written in the long, infamous style of F. Matthias Alexander. Revealing footnotes included.)

Our essential task as teachers and students of Alexander’s work is to bring about a conducive atmosphere for learning and unlearning,*1 thus increasing the opportunities for sensory discernment*2 wherein our habitual patterns of being and doing can become conscious, known, accepted, and experienced as abundant energy,*3 allowed to disintegrate positively,*4 simultaneously re-integrating in such a way*5 that energizes the true and primary movement in each and every activity,*6 thus bringing about a surprising change in proprioception*7 as we proceed to function, to act, to live, now,*8, risking feeling wrong,*9 interacting with deeper contact, responding with greater freedom*10 than we ever imagined possible.

Foot Notes

*1. Compassionate attitudes that allow people to learn and unlearn. They are…

Non-diminishment: It helps no one to diminish either yourself or your students.  “Moses laying his hands on Joshua may be compared to one candle lighting another, no light is lost to the former.” -Rabbinic Midrash on Numbers 27:18.

Non-objectification:  I refuse to work “on the body.”  I choose to work with people, with this particular person, and that particular person. I never touch a person’s body. I only touch a person.

Non-forcing:  I refuse to use force to bring about grace.  I choose to bring kindness, intelligence, and skill to the situation at hand.  “Fluid as melting ice. Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear?  Can you remain unmoving until the right action arises by itself?  If you realize that all things change there is nothing you will try to hold onto.  Less and less will you need to force things.” -Lao Tzu/Stephen Mitchell

Non-isolation: I choose to observe and accept the truth: that we live in relation. My wish is to be simultaneously aware of myself in relation to my environment. My wish is to exist within a unified field of attention, a field that includes me without orienting around me. “Within, but not enclosed, Without, but not excluded.”  Abbess Hildegard von Bingen.  “Existence Is Co-existence.” -Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

Non-endgaining: How we are doing what we are doing as we are doing it is more important than just getting it done.

Non-correction: Correction is usually too quick, and often founded upon a lot of judgment and too little information. I choose to become curious, ask questions, conduct experiments, and let my students arrive at their own conclusions.

Non-concentration: Rarely is it desirable to give more than 25% of your attention on the figure of an action or event.  Background is beautiful, orienting, restful, meaningful.   Think about the distribution of attention of a driver behind the wheel for the very first time, and that same driver having driven for years, listening to Bach, sensing the road under her hands, enjoying the landscape all around her, while listening to her friend.

Imperfection:  I choose to look for the way, rather than the form, the end, or the ideal. I care not about what a person looks like. I hold no graven images before me. I care less about the acquisition of knowledge and more about the eradication of blocks. I care less about learning and more about nurturance, maturity and growth.  My wish is to deepen the quality of experience, responsiveness, and attention for my students and, of course, for myself.

Unhurried: As Alexander teachers , we give people our time,.  We give time. You can’t change a habit if you are in a hurry.” – Marjorie Barstow.

*2. Sensory discernment – sensory perception, void of judgment, founded upon a wish for understanding and direction.

Sentience – The immediate, accurate, and inclusive perception of reality, received through a harmonious use of the senses, free from the intervention of language, thought, or analysis. Bruce Fertman

*3. “Energy is eternal delight. William Blake

*4.  Alexander’s “inhibition and direction”, Barstow’s “a redirecting of energy,” all expressions implying that the energy of the old and the new are one and the same, and that this energy must relinquish expressing itself one way, before it can do so another way. “Our habitual holding pattern is our true and primary pattern, incognito.” Bruce Fertman

*5. …in such a way, implying that the change to which Alexander Teachers refer is tremendously subtle and delicate, a blending of sensitivity, keenness, kindness, knowledge, wonder – too difficult, or perhaps too simple, to describe.

*6. That energizes the primary control, the head/neck/back pattern, the primary pattern, deep structural integration, the pattern which connects everything to everything, the pattern of reciprocal interactions, of interdependent co-arisings, the life-force within us, our vitality.

*7. Read Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales, chapter three, “The Disembodied Lady,”  for a truly moving account of proprioception.

*8.  “Structure is the record of past function.  Function is the source of future structures.”  -Ludwig von Bertalanffy.

*9.  F.M. would sometimes begin a lesson proclaiming to his student, “Let’s hope something goes wrong!”

*10.  From reactivity to responsiveness, from impulsivity to spontaneity. From repression to deliberation. How we respond to the myriad, constantly changing stimuli from within and without.

fma_1894

Most Inner Of Rooms

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Daitoku-ji Revisited

Twenty-five years ago I first entered the gates of Daitoku-ji, one of the most beautiful Zen Temple in Japan, known for its rock gardens.

Today I returned, and found myself no less in love with them. They have not changed, but I have, and so they have.

1988

Ryugintei and Isshishan are Zen Rock Gardens within the monastery walls.  Shoko-ken is a small teahouse I found when I was roaming around within a bamboo forest on a snowy night, completely lost.

 Ryugintei

Leaving this world.

Gazing down from high above.

Seeing far below.

Small islands.

White waves.

No details.

Only large patterns,

Orderly in their randomness,

Unknowable in their logic.

Isshishan

Tall rocks,

Jutting through gravity.

Once I loved them.

Now they seems too ambitious,

Working so hard.

Shoko-Ken

Moonlight falls.

Snow settles slowly upon the thatched roof.

Steam rises from an old, black pot.

The smell of thick green tea.

Two tatami mats.

Most inner of rooms,

Where you and I can meet,

Who knows for how long?

Thank God I lost my way,

I never would have found you.

The World In A Dewdrop

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

It’s uncanny. You start working with a person doing some simple activity, like eating an apple. You slow it all down. You give someone a chance to sense how they’re doing what they’re doing as they’re doing it. “Well, what do you notice,” you ask. They say, “I’m biting off more than I can chew.” The bell goes off. There’s nothing you have to say. There it is, his whole life in one action. He gets it.

A person walks to the door, opens it, and leaves the room. Simple enough. I invite her to return. “Well, what did you notice,” I say. She says, I don’t know. I saw the door handle, felt the door open, felt myself leaving. My eyes were cast down. Something sad about the whole thing.”

“Very good”, I say. “You’re waking up.” This time see the whole room you’re in before you leave, and everything and everyone in it. Say to yourself, thank you and mean it. Walk to the door, open it, and as you are crossing the threshold, linger there between two worlds. Sense how leaving is entering. Let your eyes take in the space you’re about to enter. Just this time, don’t look down and see what happens.”

As I make this suggestion to my student, the bell goes off, for me. Yes, every lesson is for me. Every life is my life. Everyone in everyone. The whole world in every dewdrop.

Sometimes movement is just movement, and sometimes movement is metaphor. Sometimes movement means something, something important. Something about our lives and how we live them.

This passage from Where This Path Begins is one example of how I have attempted to convey Lao Tzu’s insights through the workings of the body. The goal? Always, always to get to the heart, to the heart of the matter.

Twenty-Four

You’re Too Much

Arms are limbs for your hands.
Arms fold and unfold.  They raise and lower.
They don’t like to be stiffened or over-straightened.
If something is beyond your reach, get closer, or do without it.
Why strain?

Clutching, grabbing, gripping, grasping.
Why hold on to things so tightly?

Legs are limbs for your feet.
Over-stride and your heels will strike against the ground.
Your back will tire. Your feet will ache.
Why get ahead of yourself?

Puff up your chest, and your lower back will tighten.
Your shoulder blades will narrow.
Your nose will stick up in the air.
Look down on others, and they will not look up to you.

Talk too much and you will lose your voice.
Why over explain?

Too much is too much.

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

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)

 

Neck And Neck

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

…from A Body Of Knowledge – Letters To A Young Student

If the wrist is the “neck of the hand”, and the ankles the “neck of the feet”, (the literal translations in both Korean and Japanese for wrist and ankle), and if, in principle, the head leads and the body follows, then does it hold true that the hand leads, and the arm follows, and the foot leads and the leg follows?

It’s not quite that simple. Movement can, and is, initiated from many parts of the body, often simultaneously, and then sequences throughout the body in many ways, with an array of qualities. The head can lead the body, the body can lead the head, and one part of the body can lead other parts of the body. Any good dancer or physical therapist knows this to be true. The expression, “head leads, body follows,” a favorite among many who trained with Marj Barstow means, as I understand it, that your head poise “has a governing influence” over the quality of your coordination. You can see this at work in great figure skaters, or Olympic divers. But this is equally true in the simplest of movements that mere mortals make. If your true and primary movement is operating well and you raise your right hand in the air it will be light and easy and powerful, or it will be however you want it to be. Likewise, if your body’s true and primary movement is nowhere to be found, that same motion will be labored and your degree of control over it will be much less.

That said, when I stumbled upon this idea some 25 years ago, in the same way you did, linguistically, I found that applying the same notion of freeing my neck to freeing my wrists, ankles, and lower back as well, (it being the neck of the pelvis), worked. It felt like nothing short of a revelation. It freed the spheres to which these “necks” related, wrists to hands, ankles to feet, lumbar spine to pelvis. This was about when I started to question whether I could still rightfully consider myself an Alexander teacher. (Still haven’t been able to answer this question.)

When you gaze at the body innocently, without fancy words or concepts to get in the way, you see sphere-like shapes with longer narrow shapes in between these spheres. Vertically you see the head sphere, then a neck, then the rib sphere, then a neck, (the lumbar spine), then you see the pelvic sphere, then a neck, (the femur), then you see the knee sphere, then a neck, (the tibia/fibula/ankle), then you see the foot. The toes actually are not part of the sphere-like arch of the foot, but continue on to make further little spheres and necks. All these spheres and necks are not all stacked one upon the other, but flow together in elegant curves which resemble a meandering river. That’s why at times I refer to this as our Lengthening River.

Looking at our Widening River, we find an equally long river also comprised of sphere-like shapes and alternating long, thin areas, which is one definition for the word neck in English, as in, neck of the woods, or the neck of a violin. For me, the scapula and the clavicle, taken together, make up a sphere-like shape, followed by the end of the scapula, which believe it or not is called the neck of the scapula, followed by the ball of the humerus, followed by the humerus, the elbow and its small spherical joints, the long bones of the forearm and the little bones of the wrist, followed by the sphere-like hand which is one reason hands can catch a ball so well, or hold a rice bowl.

Within our various neck regions are large, powerful muscles. These muscles mobilize or immobilize the spheres depending on what they are up to, good or no good. That’s why having some say over these areas, at least having a vote, helps. And that is one good reason people study the Alexander Technique, though we by no means have a patent on this wisdom.

Circling back to your curiosity about hand leading and arm following. Sometimes it helps to think that way. When a baby wants something it’s not supposed to have, it just sees it and makes a beeline straight for it. It looks like the hand wants what it wants and just goes there, pronto, and the arm helps it get there before their parents have a chance to intervene. Same when the baby brings that object back to its mouth and considers eating it.

But when it comes to walking by leading with your foot and letting your leg follow, I don’t think you will get much mileage out of that one. A baby who wants to stick its toes in its mouth will lead with his foot, but once that baby moves on to crawling, and climbing, and walking other dynamics come into play.

However having a free ankle is really important when it comes to walking.

While there are similarities between the head/neck, ankle/foot, wrist/hand, lumbar/pelvis relationships, there are obvious differences as well. Best to look at both the similarities and the differences if we want to get a more complete picture.

Hope this helps. Great question as usual.

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.

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

 

More Than The Eye Can See

A photo/essay on touch. Touch is my primary sense. I live like a blind man who just happens to be able to see.  When teaching  Read more