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Posts from the ‘Peace’ Category

Towards A Free Future

 

Photo: B. Fertman

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

Joyful Neutrality

It’s Wednesday afternoon. Every Wednesday at 3pm I pick up my son, Noah, at his school and, as we drive to soccer practice, I try to strike up a conversation with him, which is not easy. I then go to the co-op and pick up some food for dinner. After that I go to the barn and watch Eva, my daughter, ride. Eva spends most afternoons cleaning out stalls and caring for horses in exchange for riding lessons. Eva and I then drive to pick up Noah from practice, Eva talking non-stop, my not getting a word in edgewise. Noah and Eva both jump into the back seat and, depending on God knows what, either act as if they love each other or hate each other. We get home. I walk straight into the kitchen and start preparing dinner. That’s how it is, every Wednesday afternoon.

It’s 2:55pm. Prying myself away from my computer, I jump into my aging Suburu and, almost at Noah’s school, I remember that this morning, as I was packing lunch for the kids, my wife and I decided that today she would take Noah to soccer practice, get some food for dinner, go watch Eva ride, and then pick up Noah, because today I needed to pick up my Dad at 3pm, take him into center city to see his orthopedic surgeon in preparation for his second hip replacement.

There I was driving 180% in the wrong direction, driving to pick up my son when I needed to be driving to pick up my dad! Not only was my car on automatic, I was on automatic, doing what I always do on Wednesday afternoons. Actually, I was unaware of driving at all. I had, for all practical purposes, become an automaton.

That’s how it is for so many of us, so much of the time, when making the bed, when taking a shower, brushing our teeth, getting dressed, eating breakfast, driving to work. We do the same things in exactly the same ways, over and over again, not only inside of our everyday activities, but within our relationships as well. The same buttons get pushed, the same reactions triggered.

The eternal recurrence of the same.

Instead of going “Back To The Future”, we’re going “Forward To The Past”. Is it possible to go forward into a free future, a future not utterly determined by the past? How do we become conscious of our unconsciousness, of when we are living on automatic, which, in essence, amounts to life unlived?

Returning to our car metaphor, it’s as if our car were stuck in second gear. We cannot slow down and we can’t speed up. We’re not adapting well to varying conditions. Too few options. To make matters worse, unbeknownst to us, we’ve got our emergency break half way on. We’re trying to go forward but it feels like something is holding us back. How can we release the emergency break when we don’t know it is on? How can we learn to slide out of second and slip into neutral? Into joyful neutrality.

That’s what I call it because after spending years unknowingly driving around with our emergency break half engaged while stuck in second gear, and then, suddenly experiencing what it feels like when our emergency break is released and we slide into neutral is joyful. We feel loose, free. We’re moving effortlessly.  (Alexander realized that, physiologically, the emergency brake is located primarily in the neck.)

Now to get anywhere, we are going to have to shift back into gear, but now we’ve got four or five gears available to us and we know how to slide back and forth into neutral whenever we want. And we know how to check and see if our emergency break is on, and if it is, we know how to release it.

The Diamond

F.M. Alexander used a different metaphor. Imagine a turntable and on it a record. Around and around the record goes, and on it, in one groove, a diamond needle sits always and forever in the same groove.

The eternal recurrence of the same.

Alexander discovered how to, ever so gently, suspend the diamond needle above the record. This moment of suspension, of disengagement, is a profound relief. Silence. Stillness. Space. Perspective.

And within this moment there is choice, free will. It’s what I call the moment of opportunity. Alexander referred to it as the critical moment. It’s the moment when we are free to decide. Where do we want to place the diamond needle, back into the groove from where it came or into a different groove, one where we have been, or one where we have yet to be? Or do we want to replace it back at all? In that moment of suspension we are free to choose.

When the diamond needle returns there’s a new lightness to it all. We’re in contact, yet afloat. We’re no longer digging in.

What if we were to follow this metaphor and see where it leads us?

The stereo and the turntable is our body, our life force going round and round. The record is our genetic make up, where we were born, when, and to whom, factors beyond our control.

We are the masters making our master recording. Each of us gets one chance to compose and record one simple melody.

The diamond needle is the conductor between free will and determinism, between what was given and what we will choose to give.

Are we listening?

Can we hear when the diamond needle gets stuck? Or skips? Can we hear when it’s time to wipe the dust from the record, or from the diamond needle? Is the volume too loud, or too soft? Is there balance between treble and bass?

Are we listening?

At some point the diamond needle reaches the end of the record. On its own, it lifts itself off the record, returning from whence it came. The arm silently settles and rests in the armrest. The turntable stops turning. All is quiet, and still.

Are we listening?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still Life

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Pare it down and youve got two things left: ground and space.

Ground is any object in the universe that has mass. Any object that has mass exerts a gravitational pull, or force, on every other mass. As far as gravity is concerned, humans are objects right along with refrigerators, and cars. Its all a matter a perspective.

Walking one day around New York City, I saw a Peregrine falcon perching atop a tall, swanky apartment building. To that falcon, that high rise, high status apartment building was but another cliff, another lookout, and a place to rest ones wings.

In New Mexico weve got these giant anthills. Some of them come up to my knee caps. To those ants traveling along their ant ways, that anthill is Manhattan.

But to me its just a clump of sand with some ants in it.

Looking around, what I notice is that every thing is touching some other thing. Look around. See for yourself. Nothing on earth is floating around, not even a speck of dust. The air to a speck of dust is like the ocean to some deep water creature, and when that speck of dust touches down, that creature is just resting on the ocean floor.

Continue looking at the objects around you. But do more than look at them. Sense them. Empathize with them. Objects excel at resting and receiving support. Objects know how to sit. They know how to meditate. They know how to be still and balanced, and often silent.

Objects dont try to be what they are not. They dont try. They dont rush. They dont wait. Theyre not neurotic, not over-emotional, not irrational. Sometimes they stop working, they wear out, they break down, but thats not a problem for them. They accept reality. Aging is not an issue. Nothing is.

When feeling distressed, look around. You are surrounded by peace, and stillness, and silence. Just let it in.

Space is everywhere where there are no objects. Theres a lot of it, much more space than ground. But ground, that is, every object that has mass, is made of atoms, but atoms are more than 99.9% space.

Quantum physics aside, even to the human eye, when we look around most of the time we see more space than substance. Just look around. What percentage of what you see is space and what percentage ground?

In New Mexico, where I live, about 99% of what I see is space. Basically, we live in the sky. One day I took a group of Japanese students on a hike up Kitchen Mesa at Ghost Ranch, a Presbyterian Retreat Center in Northern New Mexico. Its a good hike, a couple hours of pretty steep climbing. But the view is literally awesome. One of my students sat down and wept. She had spent most of her life living in Tokyo. Shed never seen so much space, so much openness. She was overwhelmed. There is so much confinement in a megalopolis like Tokyo, physical and social. So many rules and expectations. It was as if a lifetime of confinement, suddenly, fell away.

Where does the sky begin and where does it end? We look up at the sky and it looks like the sky goes on forever. But as we look down from the sky, all the way down to our very feet, at what point did the sky stop being the sky? Not until it meets the ground. The sky always comes all the way down to the ground. The sky not only meets the mountain tops. It meets the top of our shoes as well.

I call it heaven on earth.

Peaceful Body Practice

Sit on a chair, scoot your pelvis back, so that you can recline slightly and receive a light support from the back of the chair. Let yourself be easily and comfortably upright. Allow there to be a bit of room around your legs and let your feet rest on the ground.

There are two fontanelles on a baby’s head and they vary slightly in size. The soft spot on the back of a baby’s head is called the posterior fontanelle. It’s usually smaller than the other fontanelle and triangular in shape. The fontanelle on the top of a baby’s head is the anterior fontanelle.

Imagine, if you still had your anterior fontanelle, your soft spot that you had on top of your head when you were a baby. Toward the back of that spot, (go and google an image of that if it would help), imagine warm sand being finely poured through the soft spot. Imagine it falling down and forming a little pile on the ground under your chair. As the fine sand continues to fall, slowly but surely the small pile turns into a small mound, which turns into a small hill, rising through your body and spreading ever wider around you in all directions. Let it continue until the point of the hill is about a foot above your head.

Sense the angle of repose, the angle at which the hill all around you slops when all the sand rests and finds its stability.

Thats ground. Enjoy being ground for as long as feels good.

Then imagine that the centuries go by and winds gradually blow the mountain away from the top all the way to the bottom, so that nothing remains except space. Enjoy that for as long as feels good.

Then slowly open your eyes only as far as they want to open by themselves.

Ground and space. Thats all there is, and all that will ever be. 

From Within And All Around

F. M. Alexander

F. M. Alexander

Boiled down, it all comes to inhibiting a particular reaction to a given stimulus. But no one will see it that way. They will see it as getting in and out of a chair the right way. It is nothing of the kind. It is that a pupil decides what he will or will not consent to do. They may teach you anatomy and physiology till they are black in the face—you will still have this to face: sticking to a decision against your habit of life.

 F.M. Alexander from Articles and Lectures (white edition), Mouriz 2011, p. 197.

The post office was crowded. Every line seemed equally endless. I chose one, and of course it soon became apparent this line was at a standstill. The teller had just disappeared into the back room, not to return for fifteen minutes.

Standing in lines made me almost claustrophobic. We were required to stand in lines every morning at Pennypacker Elementary School. Standing in neat rows out in the cement yard, we’d wait for the loud buzzer to sound before marching into school. On a particular day, while standing in line, a bee began buzzing around my mouth. Hysterically, I jumped out of line and began dodging, and ducking, and swinging at the bee. A teacher came over, demanded I get back into line, and the moment I did the bee stung me on my bottom lip.

In the meantime, I had just injured myself. We were rehearsing for an upcoming performance until well after midnight. Having hardly slept the night before, I was beat. Coming down from a barrel turn, I landed on the outside of my foot, my ankle twisting under me. A physical trainer did his best to tape it, but after another sleepless night, it was still swollen and throbbing. Standing was difficult. A poor, old kindly man was standing in front of me. His clothes were worn and soiled. There was a strong smell of urine in the air that was impossible to avoid. 

I escaped into my thoughts. Images of a recent fight I got into with my girlfriend surfaced. It was over money. We were living together. The rent was due and we were short about $100. She wanted me to ask my parents for the money. I didn’t want to do that. We ended up  yelling at each other and I heard myself sounding just like my father. I hated that about myself, but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t seem to get control over it. I felt like a dog who, when the mailman walked by, had to bark, and basically had to go crazy. Certain situations pushed my buttons, and immediately there I was, barking and going crazy.

About 40 minutes later, I found myself next in line. I had just had an Alexander lesson earlier that week with Catherine Wielopolska, a trainee in Alexander’s first teacher training class back in the early 30’s. “Kitty” was telling me how Alexander’s work was not about physical culture, not about how to get up and down from a chair, but that it was about how we reacted to stimuli from within ourselves and from all around us.  Kitty had begun working with me on speaking. Speaking was a nightmare for me as a child. At six I began stuttering, which meant also dealing with the humiliation and shame that accompanied it. It was clear to me now that this was the source of the fierce habit I still had of jamming the back of my skull down into my neck, which ended up compressing my entire spine right down into my lower back, which all too often was a source of pain.

Consequently, when the time came to ask the teller for a book of twenty stamps I was determined not to go into my old speech pattern of thrusting my head forward. As the teller gave his customer his change and receipt, I stood there doing my best to free myself the way I had been learning to do from my teacher. But just as I stepped forward and opened my mouth to ask for a book of stamps, my head thrusted forward on its own. I no longer stuttered but that old stuttering pattern was still there, seemingly hard wired into my nervous system.

I asked for a particular series of stamps that honored great Black American heroes. The teller told me they were out of them. All that was left he said were the usual stamps with the American flag on them. I said okay. He looked in his drawer and then said he didn’t have anymore books of stamps, only rolls of a hundred stamps. I didn’t have enough money on me to buy a hundred stamps. I heard myself sigh and felt my head press itself even further into my spine. I was tired and frustrated. It seemed I was at the complete mercy of stimuli bombarding me both from within and without. More training, I thought to myself as a hobbled away empty handed.  More training.

I was twenty-three years old. The trying twenties. Little did I know I was embarking on a life devoted to self examination and self reflection. Meanwhile, I had to get some control of myself, and of my life. 

I set about categorizing stimuli in hope of making the whole enterprise more manageable.  We all lived in time and in space. We all had to move. We were always in contact with the world through our senses, whether we knew it or not.  And, whether we were with people or not, we were always with them. If they were not physically around us, they were in our minds or hearts. They were always in our past, and in our futures.

Time. Waiting. Hurrying. Deadlines.

Space. My fears of spatial confinement. My fear of heights. My inability to organize my things, my desk, my clothes. My utter lack of orienteering. 

Movement. My limitations as a dancer and martial artist. My being injury prone..

Senses. Mental preoccupation with my unresolved past, or my fantasies of some utopian future often took me out of my body and out of the real world. How to come back to my senses. 

People. Well, if it were any consolation, people seemed to be an issue for everybody. It was people above all, communicating with people, or rather mis-communicating with people that seemed to be the major source of pain in the world. Communication between husband and wives, parents and children, between siblings, bosses and employees, even between countries.

And then there was the world within, the amorphous world of thoughts, emotions, drives, and sensations.

Thoughts. Comparing myself to other people, being better than them, or worse than them. Thinking too much about myself, about my body, or about how great I was at this or that, or how terrible I was at this or that. 

Emotions. Little control over anger, frustration, or fear.

Drives and Sensations. Physical drives ruled the day; a visceral appetite, culinary and sexual, and an insatiable appetite for new experience. I couldn’t seem to get enough. As for physical pain. My father was a man who, when he woke up in the morning and did not feel absolutely perfect, concluded that something was seriously the matter. I inherited this gene.

I know. I’m beginning to sound like Woody Allen.

Years have passed, 42 to be exact, and after a lifetime of disciplined, and increasingly pleasurable study, I am happy to say I’ve made some progress. Boiled down, it all comes to inhibiting a particular reaction to a given stimulus, I hear Alexander saying.

Time. Rarely do I rush. I have learned to give more time to things and to people. But then again, I am no longer raising children. When I need to be somewhere and I am running late, I have learned to ask myself if I am late, and if the answer is no, then I stop rushing. And if the answer is yes, then I decide to move lightly and swiftly and enjoy myself.

I rarely wait. When I find myself waiting I simply stop waiting and the world, through all of my senses, returns and entertains me. I still find myself waiting when I want to say the next thing on my mind and my translator is still translating, but less so.  And I still, at times, interrupt people, but less so. I still wait when my computer is not moving as fast as I think it should. But I feel a little less exasperated. 

And yes, sometimes I will awaken from an afternoon nap anxious about dying. It doesn’t last long. Once I get up and start moving, I am fine. Most of the time I feel like I have all the time in the world.

Space. I am no longer afraid of heights. I have not been for years. In Osaka, where I live half the year, I love feeling myself part of the river of people streaming in and out of trains morning and night. I get comfort feeling myself huddled together with others. I don’t mind the middle seat on planes. I like sitting next to people. I have no problem standing in lines. I enjoy not waiting.

Movement. I’ve learned to move well, comfortably and enjoyably. I used to think that movement was the end all and be all. Now, ironically, I move well and I care very little about the way I move. Or about how others move. I care about how I am, and how others are. I’ve fallen in love with stillness. I love sitting quietly and doing nothing.

Senses. This perhaps above all is what I have found through my years of study, the sensory world. The world of lightness and darkness, of sound and silence, of coolness and warmth. Literally, I have come to my senses.

My appetites no longer have the hold on me they once did. My sexual self seems to have fallen in love with the world at large, the wind against my face, the warmth of the sun on my shoulders, the scent of pine in the high country, the sand under my feet, the taste of the ocean in my mouth.

Thoughts. My thoughts no longer harass me. I’m at peace with my past. Most of my future is behind me. I’ve made it this far. I trust I will figure the rest out as I go along. At some point, thanks in large part to Byron Katie, I learned that I am not my thoughts. I’ve learned not to believe everything I think. I know how to question thoughts, how to diffuse them and let them fall. Thank God for teachers.

Physical pain remains a challenge. And I still bark like a dog when the mailman goes by. Something tells me I’m not going to work everything out this time around. But then again, who knows?

During the last few years of my father’s life not once did I see him get angry. Not once. My Dad had evolved into a peaceful man.

In the last weeks of his life, while in the intensive care unit, he began looking like Gandhi. He’d sit in the chair next to his hospital bed, wrapped in a white blanket, his shining bald head and his round wire rimmed glasses looking out from above, smiling, never complaining of pain or discomfort, though his pain and discomfort were considerable.

More training, I say to my self, happily. 

Enough Is Plenty

Sitting by Chimney Rock overlooking Pedernal Mesa.

Sitting by Chimney Rock overlooking Pedernal Mesa.

There have been years in my life when I have felt inspired, creative, exuberant; distressed, deflated, depressed; centered, sensible, devoted, disciplined; selfish, recalcitrant; lonely; hopeful, hopeless, fragile; tenacious. But until now I have never had a year, not one I can remember, when I have felt at peace with myself, with my life, content.

Will this contentment last? Maybe. Maybe not. For now, I will rest within it and quietly proceed to live out my days. For now, now is enough, now is plenty.

Peace,

Bruce

 

Making The Invisible Visible

“Anchan, I will pay for all your expenses, travel, room and board, training, film, everything, if you travel around with me and take photos.” That’s how it all began, the making of a man able to catch that elusive moment when a person opens up, frees into who they really are, revealing their intrinsic beauty, their fundamental dignity.

That’s not easy. In the first place you have to be able to see, to see people. You have to be able to feel the instant before a person lets go into a space unknown to them. You have to remember what’s most important; to draw the viewers eye to the inner life of the student.

Now videography, something Anchan taught himself how to do, poses formidable challenges. Movement can be distracting, and words too. Photographs have power. Catching a moment, one moment, the moment of transformation, within stillness, within silence, suspended there in front of you with all the time in the world to enter into what you are seeing, and to be moved by it.

Anchan had an idea. He thought, “what if I could make a wordless video that showed not only the transformative moment, but the transformative movement, without losing the beauty and the stillness of photography?” And with that question Anchan made, The Touch.

But Anchan’s much more than a photographer. He’s an Alexander Teacher in his own right. And a good one.  Not only does he have a better eye than most Alexander teachers, he knows how to teach what he knows. It’s moving to watch Anchan with his kids, how he gives them the time and space to figure things out for themselves, and only interjects a suggestion when needed. He knows when and exactly how much encouragement to give, and he knows when it’s not needed. 

Anchan’s always there. He’s ready to serve. He makes things work. He’s generous. He overflows with generosity.

We were young men when we met, and though Anchan is a good ten years younger than I am, we are both decidedly older, no longer young. But rather than growing tired after all these years of dedicating ourselves to making the invisible visible, to making people see the power of touch, the beauty of Alexander’s work, we’re becoming ever more engaged in this undertaking. We keep getting closer, and closer.

In this short video, made by Anchan, entitled The Touchyou get to see how Anchan sees, and what Anchan loves. You get to see what the students are seeing.  And you get to see the students seeing what they are seeing.  See that, and you will see why I have faith in young people. Those students are delighting in the power and beauty of teaching through touch, something Marj Barstow passed onto me, that Alexander passed on to her,  and that I will continue to do my best to pass on to my students for as long as I am able.

I could tell you much more about Anchan, but I won’t. Let The Touch speak for itself.

Watch The Touch.

Tell us your impressions.

We welcome any and all feedback.

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www.peacefulbodyschool.com

The Physiology Of The Human Spirit

Last week, in Seoul, Korea, my workshop theme was, The Physiology Of The Human Spirit.

Leonardo daVinci set out to discover the seat of the soul. No small task. He explored an area of the body known, in his time, as the sensus communis. Here, he plots the site of the sensus communis at the intersection of upright and diagonal lines seen within the tilted plane, at a point that marks the proportional centre of the skull.

DaVinci's Sensus Communis

DaVinci’s Sensus Communis

 

Leonardo saw the sensus communis as a point of convergence, a center from which all voluntary action was controlled – everything from running, to walking, to lifting an arm, to singing a song, to the smallest details of expression like smiling, or raising an eyebrow. For daVinci, the sensus communis was the locus of the human soul. Leonardo writes, “The soul seems to reside, to be seated in that part where all the senses meet, called the sensus communis, and is not all-pervading throughout the body, as many have thought. Rather it is entirely in one part.”

The work, developed by F.M. Alexander seems, almost mysteriously, connected to Leonardo’s insights. But Alexander went a step further. He evolved a way, through touch, of helping others to experience this center in themselves.

Here, in these images, you can see people coming into contact with their sensus communis, you can see them residing in a place where the soul sits, in peace.

 

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.