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Posts from the ‘Nature’ Category

Turning the World Inside Out

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“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” John Muir

One day, I too came to this same realization. Because of where I live in New Mexico, the world around me is hard not to notice. In fact, it is hard not to want to be in it. The world around is so huge, so vast, so alluring.

On this day, climbing for about an hour up the mountain behind my house, I end up sitting on the edge of a tall red rock cliff overlooking my small village of about fifty small dwellings. From my perspective these shelters looked a bit like anthills or groundhog mounds, low to the ground, made of mud, as are many of these earth brown adobe homes. When an old adobe home is vacated, they look like an abandoned bird’s nest, a temporary shelter returning back to the earth, at its own time, in its own way. Biodegradable.

coyote house from 96 copy

Our Adobe House in Red Rock Country

Looking at these shelters from high above, I thought to myself, “These shelters are outside in exactly the same way the ground or the cliffs or the sky are outside, in exactly the same way I am outside right now. Maybe there is only outside, and everything is in it. Even when I am inside my tiny earthen house down there, am I not still outside? Am I not always outside?” As odd as it may sound, after that revelation, my life has not felt the same.

In the fall, at harvest time, when the orange moon hangs low and large in the sky, some Jews will make a temporary hut called a Sukkah. There are rules as to its construction. For example, a Sukkah must provide more shade than sun but must be made in such a way that at night one can see at least three stars through the roof. For a week or so, observant Jews will eat their meals in their Sukkah. Some will set places at the table for beloved ancestors whom they will invite to join them, invoking their presence through story. The frail structure of the Sukkah reminds us that our bodies too are fragile, impermanent structures but even so, best not to wall ourselves off, to shut ourselves out from the natural world, a world overflowing in abundance and beauty.

“I had to go out into the world and see it and hear it and react to it, before I knew at all who I was, what I was, what I wanted to be.” Mary Oliver

Making this one linguistic shift radically affects the use of my senses and the tone of my body. Now, when I am covered by a shelter of any sort, even this large apartment building where I now sit in Osaka, I still feel like I am outside. I no longer lose the sense that it is morning, afternoon, or night, that it is sunny or cloudy, rainy or windy, cold, hot, dry or humid. Though sheltered, am I not still outside?

Now, when I go back outside, I am going back into the world. When I take shelter, I am coming out, coming out from the cold, coming out of the rain, out of the elements, out from what is elemental, out of my element.

At some point along the way, I realized that it is not possible for me to be in my own world. I can only be in the world because there is only the world and I am in it. Then I realized that the same is true of my body. I do not and cannot live in my body. My body lives in the world with the rest of the animal kingdom. Do we not think of a bear hibernating in its cave or den as living in nature, of baby birds in their nests as being in nature?

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Are we not in nature? Just as we spent 9 months living in our mothers, so too we spend the however many number of years allotted to us living, gestating, inside the great mother of us all. Is there any other world but the world of nature?

No wonder we feel alone. No wonder we feel lonely, cut off, shut out, abandoned. Motherless children. But we have not been abandoned. We left. Somewhere along the way we became confused. We began to believe that being in the world was being outside and being in our homes or offices was being inside.

Can you remember when you were very little, how much you wanted to get out of the house and into the world? How, as it was getting dark, you did not want to go home for dinner. You wanted to stay under the open sky, in the fresh air, lying on the soft green grass, rolling down a hill, climbing up a tree, playing in the biggest playground in the world? For most kids, that’s natural. Now, when I am at Ghost Ranch, hiking up Chimney Rock or Kitchen Mesa, I often get the feeling I am walking inside of the biggest church/mosque/temple imaginable. It is as big as I can see in every direction. The ceiling seems infinite, the floor fantastically large. Everything I can see exists inside the cathedral of the world.

21083030_938964652911485_69443437429317687_oAtop Chimney Rock at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico

The first step for me was to realize that everything is outside, that the house I live in, is outside. That everything is outside. The second step was for me to realize that when I am outside, I am actually inside, inside Earth’s Cathedral, inside the Mother of us all. Once this became my new normal, John Muir made perfect sense.

“I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” 

I invite you to experiment with this linguistic shift. If you succeed in reversing this spatial metaphor, something wonderfully strange will begin to happen. When you are home under your own roof, or sitting at your office desk, your sensory field will broaden. Though sheltered, you will hear the larger world speaking to your body. Your peripheral vision will take in more light, your breathing will improve, your sense of smell will become more astute, your skin will record the weather, your muscle tone will engage, your bones will begin to balance, you will become less sleepy, more sensorially alert, your mammal body will reassert itself. You will find yourself wanting to spend more time in the world, unsheltered, in the elements, in your element.

“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – over and over announcing your place in the family of things.” — Mary Oliver, Wild Geese

Just A Hunch

on innocence

photo: Bruce Fertman

Just A Hunch

Through the pressure generated between the growing head and the growing heart, the face is sculpted. Three ridges. One will become the brow, one the nose, one the chin.

Then suddenly the unfurling begins. The head floats away from the heart. Organs begin to form in newly available space. Space precedes substance. First there is nothing, then there is something.

The baby enters the world, C-shaped, one simple curve. Over the first few months, through olympian effort, the baby acquires the needed strength to lift its head and look around, gradually forming a flexible and stable cervical curve. The lumbar curve develops as the baby begins creeping and crawling, and fully establishes itself through the herculean task of learning to walk.

The head becomes the center of orientation, the pelvis the center of locomotion.

We grow, we evolve from zygote, to embryo, to fetus, to infant, to baby, to toddler, to child, to teenager, to young adult, to adult, to maturing adult, (young-old), and if lucky to very old adult, (old-old). 

Somewhere between young-old and old-old another spinal transformation begins, as natural perhaps as all the other spinal transformations. In Onsens, Japanese hot springs, I have spent hours studying the shapes of boys and men of all ages, the children with arching lower backs and rounded bellies, with soft, supple necks, their heads balancing loosely atop naturally upright spines. The young men, unbeknownst to them, but evident to me, already foreshadow how they will sit, stand, and walk as old men. And the now old men, some more, some less beginning to wilt, droop, sag.

Its as if the thoracic curve wants to re-incorporate the cervical curve into itself,  making the head, and with it the mind, the eyes, and ears orient inward, away from the outer world, toward the world of in-sight and hindsight.

Its as if the sacral curve wants to re-incorporate the lumbar curve into itself, tilting the pelvis under, making locomotion more difficult, venturing out more trying, increasing the impulse to sit, perhaps to read, perhaps to write, perhaps to listen to the stories of others, or to give counsel.

I have begun to feel the pull of my primary curves wanting to reclaim my secondary curves. Is it natural, inevitable? I dont know. Ive chosen, however, not to give in to this subtle, seductive undertow. I want my head above water. I want to continue orienting outward to the world. I want to walk onto dry land, feel the earth beneath my feet. Perhaps one of the reasons four out of five of my Alexander mentors taught into their mid to late nineties was because they knew how to feed and nourish their secondary curves. Perhaps those curves allowed their eyes to see and to care about others. Perhaps those curves provided more space for their organs, allowing for greater oxygen intake, better blood flow, good digestive motility. Perhaps those curves helped lengthen their legs under them, kept those feet firmly on the ground.

If our primary curves pull us back to the past and our secondary curves beckon us forward into the future, then having a balance between them might bring us into the present.

Yes, perhaps it was their secondary curves that kept them so vibrant, so engaged, so present, so here, here with us, for so long. 

Its just a hunch. But Im going to follow it.

A Wordless Whisper

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

 

Not many folks like the wind out here. Yes, there are times, in the late afternoon, when the breeze, like waves, comes rolling in from the west, trees swaying, branches bending, and you can hear the ocean in the wind, the way when, as a child, you held a conch to your ear and heard the ocean winds whistling, wondering how that could be.

Then, without notice, the wind builds, picking up dust and dirt, traveling like some brown caped ghost, it envelops you, takes you, knocks your hat off, throws sand into your eyes, pushes you from behind, hard, not letting up, for hours.

Why I don’t mind the wind, no matter how relentless, I don’t know. It’s the world breathing, beckoning. It’s like God’s hand, stroking, nudging, pushing me forward. It’s God’s wordless whisper, “Bruce, wake up, wake up, wake up.”

The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth.  – John 3:8

That’s okay with me. Hearing the wind is enough. Feeling the wind against my face is enough. My job’s not to know, but to be known.

Give Me Two Good Reasons Why…

Read more

Visceral Love

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Gravity. George Clooney was still Up In The Air, but this time he was way, way up in the air, and dressed in a space costume. Saundra Bullock was good, for sure. But it doesn’t matter at all because this film is not about any particular person. This film is not even about special effects. The film wasn’t about any thing, except one thing, one big thing.

For over an hour we vicariously experience what it feels like without the benefits of gravity. It’s not fun, not fun at all. It isn’t until Saundra Bullock, and all of us, reenter the earth’s gravitational pull, which we do not do, fully, until the moment Saundra Bullock drags herself onto the beach. Only then, do we understand what this film is about.

It’s not about the concept of gravity. It’s about the visceral experience of gravity, it’s about deep love, visceral love, the way a breath feels when you’ve been under the water way too long and your lungs are burning, really burning and you’re thinking that this time you may not make it, you see the light shining through the surface high above you, no you are not going to make it…And then you do.

That kind of love.

The film ends. I’m sitting, really sitting, in a chair, that’s on a floor, that’s resting on huge beams that rest on massive walls that extend deep into the earth. I look around. Everyone is Japanese. Right, I’m in Japan. I walk out of the black movie theater, into a modern white shopping complex, through hordes of teenage kids, by blasting, clanging, ringing video game parlors, thinking, of course, Pachinko for children. But none of it makes any real impression. It’s all superfluous, because all I can feel is the ground under my feet, how solid it is, how it’s pushing itself up under me, how substantial I am, how much my entire body and being is drawn to the ground, magnetically attracted. Visceral love. I feel like a glass and someone above me has turned over a full pitcher of water and is pouring that cold, clear water right through me. I feel wet. I feel like a waterfall. I am water falling. I’m a building being demolished, imploding in slow motion, caving in on itself, giving up, surrendering, finally coming down. It’s the avalanche. It’s the great avalanche for which we all long.

Through the endless white shopping mall into the night, down into the subway, into the train, up the steps, back out into the night, into the cold air, I can feel my body breathing like a bellows. I can feel the pressure of breathing, the work, the resistance, the effort the body makes to breathe. Love. Visceral love.

Almost home. The light turns red. I wait. One of those endlessly long red lights. I don’t care. I am in love, in love with gravity, in love with the air. My body is completely comfortable, profoundly comfortable. All is quiet within me. After the avalanche, an infinite silence, infinite space, infinite rest.

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

Openings

…an opportunity, a beginning, a celebration, a clearing…

An opportunity to receive individual hands on attention and guidance.

A beginning anew, a dawning.

A celebration of  the Alexander/Barstow tradition. Read more

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