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Posts from the ‘Naturalness’ Category

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 Like so many books, it’s sitting inside of some laptop, unpublished, unknown, but not forsaken.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

Deeper Than Rest

 

From Conflict to Confluence

Every action has within it something you do and something you don’t. If you try to bend and straighten your arm at the same time, you will find yourself unable to move that arm. You won’t be able to bend it or straighten it. What you’ll be doing is using half your effort to bend your arm and the other half of your effort to keep your arm from bending.

Sort of like the American Congress.  Nothing moves.

When you flex your arm, whether you know it or not, your nervous system has “chosen” not to straighten it. Not bad. It sounds like a strange thing to “consciously” choose not to straighten your arm at all, but when you do, your arm is totally free to flex, without the slightest resistance.

When all the muscles are firing away, indiscriminately, in every which direction, in opposing directions, you get over efforting, sometimes to the point of paralysis. You get chaos. You get conflict. You get a body fighting against itself, and therefore losing. Fight against yourself and you will always lose. Any semblance of grace will be gone.

Lao Tzu, the famous Chinese philosopher/pragmatist/mystic had a word for grace. He called it “wu-wei”, often translated as non-doing, effortless effort, or harmonious activity.

Grace happens when everything that is not needed in an action is not engaged, and everything that is needed is. This requires a person with a discriminatory nervous system, a nervous system that knows when to say yes, and when to say no, and not only when, but how, and how much, and where. We have, within us, a potentially brilliant binary system, capable of virtually infinite nuance.

Knowing what not to engage, knowing what to leave be, knowing how, what, where, and when to cease firing, and being able to do so at will, is part of the skill Alexander referred to as inhibition. My guess is that Alexander chose the word inhibition because he wished to place his work within a scientific context, but it turned out that a contemporary of his, Freud, already had domain over that name. How unfortunate for Mr. Alexander, and for all of us who follow in his footsteps! How many people when they hear the word, inhibition, think of an inhibitory postsynaptic potential (IPSP), a kind of synaptic potential that makes a postsynaptic neuron less likely to generate an action potential, the opposite being an inhibitory postsynaptic potential, an excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP), which is a synaptic potential that makes a postsynaptic neuron more likely to generate an action potential?

Not many.

Yet, despite the confusion over this word, what Alexander was directing us toward was, I believe, nothing less than grace, both physical, and I dare say, spiritual.

You might look at physical and spiritual grace as two circles. Sometimes, for we kinesthetic types, these two circles overlap. We’re like raindrops touching down upon the surface of a pond. Have you ever seen two ever widening rings as they overlap, each moving toward the other, each becoming the other until, for an instant, they are one?

Below that fluid oneness, still and moving, a peace, deeper than rest.

Peace is not just the absence of war. Peace is what happens when war is absent. It’s the re-forming of swords into plowshares. It’s the conversion of conflict into confluence. 

Energy is freed, now able to be redirected toward nurturance, education, experimentation, service, art, and recreation.

In one word, I’d say that is what Alexander’s work is about.

Revitalization.

Every Step You Take/Every Move You Make – For Tango Dancers

Bruce Fertman teaching the Walking Way

Bruce Fertman teaching the Walking Way

For Tango Dancers

At last I have found the ground. Now I can fly, for now the ground flies through me.

Pablo Veron watched me dance. After one dance he walked up to me, and paused. He said, “You are a beginning tango dancer.  Always when I first work with a beginning tango dancer I must teach them how to stand, how to embrace, and how to walk. Yet, with you, I don’t. You stand. Your embrace is beautiful. And you can walk. I don’t know why that is. All you need is to learn tango. Let’s begin with learning other ways of beginning and ending phrases you already know.” And so my lesson with Pablo began.

Margarete Tueshaus, an Alexander Technique  teacher, tango teacher, and equestrian recently taught a tango workshop in Latvia. Within four days, 1000 people went to my blog to read a small piece I wrote on Tango entitled, Clear Love. Someone must have liked it and gave it to a friend.

Here’s another piece for tango dancers, and really for anyone who wants to know about the functional dynamics of walking.

The Walking Way

Isadora Duncan, the founder of American Modern Dance, said to her students, If you can walk, you can dance. Many people think she meant dancing is easy. She didn’t. She meant walking is difficult. Here’s what it takes to walk well, besides a good pair of shoes.

One. Your feet must learn how to give themselves to the ground. Most people stand on their own two feet, not on the ground.

Two. Accessing core support that wells up from the ground is vital. Imagine pouring water from a pitcher into a tall glass. The water goes all the way down to the bottom of the glass, then steadily rises within the glass. Reaching the brim of the glass, it begins to overflow out into the world, beyond itself. All the while the glass remains full.

Imagine, within you, a fountain, the water continually surging up  from the ground and continually falling to the ground, and you may begin to get a feeling of core support.

Imagine a wave in the ocean swelling, rising, and for a moment standing there, suspended, all the while remaining one with the ocean. That wave is being supported from under itself and from within itself. The wave is not being held up externally. No one has put the wave in a coca-cola bottle. The coca-cola bottle would be analogous to our superimposing postural rigidity upon ourselves to hold us upright. We might look good, but we won’t feel good. Core support comes from far below us and from deep within us, and is effortless. It needs no external support. It’s the real thing.

Three. When you look in the mirror, below your chin, you will see your neck. What you are seeing is only the bottom half of your neck. The upper half of your neck, or your cervical spine, extends up higher than you think.

The top of your spine actually joins the bottom of your skull in between your ears, and a couple of inches behind your nose. Your eyes are just above the top of your spine. From there you must learn to see the horizon, which is not where the floor meets the wall, but where the distant ocean and the endless sky touch and widen forever.

Four. Just as a bird would have trouble flying if it’s wings were weak, and crooked, and stiff, so a human has difficulty walking if its arms are weak, and crooked, and stiff. The arms will hamper the free movement of the torso. It is utterly mysterious to see the anatomy of a birds wings. Within the wing, you will find an arm that looks remarkably like your own – an arm with a humerus, an ulna, a radius, wrist bones, and fingers.

Imagine DaVinci’s man who is standing in a perfect square, his finger tips touching the sides of the square, his head the top, and his feet the bottom. Proportionally speaking, what does that mean? It means that your arms are exactly the length that you are from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head. Your “wingspan” is longer, and more important, than you might suspect.

Five. Your ribs do not hold up your spine. Your spine holds up your ribs. If your ribs are lifted in the front, you may appear full of zest, but your back will be tight, and your breathing impaired.

Six. Your spine is not a trunk, that is, not a tree trunk. It is a limb for your head and for your pelvis, as your wingspan is a limb for your hands, as your legs are limbs for your feet.

This spinal limb must be strong and springy. It is designed to move as a flexible unit. It must be able to rotate easily and smoothly in both directions, like a chair that can swivel with equal ease to the left and to the right. Your spine must be able to softly compress and effortlessly decompress, like a powerful shock absorber. And finally your spine must be able to bend and sway from side to side, like cottonwood trees in the wind. While walking, the spine fluidly and simultaneously moves slightly in all these ways. The rapport between your head and spine governs your balance, and refines poise. It helps you orient and re-orient rapidly and accurately.

Seven. Solidly attached to your spine, via your “sacred” sacrum, your pelvis must also be able to move in these three directions. Your pelvis is the place of pace and power.

Eight.  Your sacrum also serves as the keystone that gladly bears and transfers the weight of your upper body through your legs and feet into the ground, while taking its rightful place in the center of the arch structure, that are your legs. This arching structure is every bit as beautiful and functional as any arch in a church. More amazingly, your legs have myriad joints built into them, allowing you, at once, to be not only stable but mobile. These leg joints, your hips, knees, and ankles must move in synergy, and in accordance with their differing joint structures. When this happens you discover your natural gait. You find your stride.

Nine. Your feet do not resemble socks or shoes. They are far more intricate, and they need to be. Your ankles must be profoundly un-held for your feet to function with any effectiveness. Learning how the weight transfers and rolls through the foot, which is unlike most people imagine, if they imagine anything, is essential to walking with power. Once your ankles and feet become a vital part of your walk, you suddenly have a vehicle with four wheel drive running on biofuel. This is exhilarating.

Whether you are walking from your kitchen sink to the front door, down or around the block, around the dance floor with your partner, or up a mountain, the essentials of walking, when embodied, will bring lightness and pleasure into every step you take. Ultimately you no longer walk; you are walked by the earth under your feet. This is grace.

As a younger man, I identified with the ideas expressed in the quote below, by Nietzsche. As the older man I am, I had to rewrite this quote to reflect its counter-truth; its opposite, which is also true.

Both are beautiful.

…from Thus Spoke Zarathustra

I would believe only in a god who could dance. I have learned to walk ever since I let myself run.

I have learned to fly, ever since I do not want to be pushed before moving along. Now I am light, now I fly, now a god dances through me.

Commentary by Bruce Fertman from The Walking Way.

I would believe only in a god who could dance. I have learned to walk ever since I have let myself stop running.

I have learned to fly only since I have learned to wait until moved by forces greater and other than myself.

At last I have found the ground. Now I can fly, for now the ground flies through me.

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.

As Plain As Black And White

David Gregory is a sensitive, perceptive, and humorous photographer. Here is a collection of stunning black and white photos featuring Elisabeth Walker, Lucia Walker, Nica Gimeno, Marie Francoise Le Foll, Jan Baty, Meade Andrews, Cynthia Mauney, Robin Gilmore, Sakiko Ishitsubo, Martha Hansen Fertman, and countless other teachers via Alexander Alliance classes in Philadelphia. David just sent them to me, and i pass them on to you.

http://gallery.me.com/ddg.alextek#100008/tafgallery_01&bgcolor=black

Breakdown


Standing Waves – photo: B. Fertman

Previously we thought body movement was accomplished by a series of ratchets, levers, and pulleys.

Lately, this machine model has begun to break down.

Connective tissue is the ocean within us, and, in fact,

contains the same basic proportions of elements, salts, and carbon compounds found in sea water.

It becomes more fluid the more it is moved; the more sedentary, the more ‘dried out’ it becomes.

We literally moisten ourselves and make more variations of movement and action possible.

The water within us seems to have a sort of mind….

The new model sees the body water itself shaping us.

That is, we do not contain it like a bottle; it holds itself together like standing waves

and shapes our more solid structures around it.

Neil Douglas-Klotz

No Doubt

photo by B. Fertman, Antelope Canyon, Navajo Country.

There is no doubt that the body is a moulded river.

Novalis

The spiraling forms of muscles and bones bear witness to the living world of water.  Through the limbs whole systems of currents stream and the muscle more or less follows them.  Both muscles and vessels speak of streaming movement in spiraling forms.  This movement runs through the sinews into the bones.  The bone has raised a monument in “stone” to the flowing movement from which it originates…the liquid has “expressed itself” in the bone.

… from das sensible chaos by Theodor Schwenk

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 – The Sequel

Photo by Tada “Anchan” Akihiro

This is a video of Jiro’s hands as a child. Kind of, sort of. Actually they are the hands of Master Shuhei, my friend’s son. You must watch this video until the end, well, you’ll see why.  You will witness here how a human being actually learns how to use their hands.

When we are little we are not very coordinated. We have to learn how to sit, and stand, and walk, and  how to button a shirt, for example, as you will see here. But the good news is that, when very young, we are inherently integrated, that is, all of a piece. It’s like we are programmed not to distort ourselves. The trick is to get kids to become coordinated without losing too much of their inherent integration.

Thankfully for Shuhei, he has Anchan as a father. I had asked Anchan to make this video for my students.  Anchan picked out a few very challenging manual activities for Shuhei, and then videoed Master Shuhei.  You will see here how patient Anchan is, and how positive. Needless to say my students adored this video.

By the way, Anchan has been my student for many years, and I have been his.  He’s my photography teacher. Now Anchan also is my colleague, as are so many of my students – Alexander teachers who carry on “a tradition of originality” that begins with Mr. Alexander himself.   For 15 years Anchan has photographed, and now also videos, life at the Alexander Alliance – Germany, New Mexico, Italy, Japan, Korea. He has an exceptional eye for the work, and for catching that moment when people let go.

Jiro’s hands – The Sequel.