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Posts from the ‘Peaceful Body Practices’ Category

The Best Way Of All

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

 

It is not that we should abandon, neglect or deny our inner self, but we should learn to work precisely in it, with it, and from it, in such a way that interiority turns into effective action, and effective action leads back to interiority, and we become used to acting without compulsion.

Start with yourself therefore, and take leave of yourself. Examine yourself, and wherever you find yourself, take leave of yourself. This is the best way of all.

Meister Eckhart/from Selected Writings/Oliver Davies

 

Not This And Not That – A Kinesthetic Koan

crucking_knuckle

Take habits. Little habits, like cracking one’s knuckles, or burping, or sighing, or saying um in between sentences. Or bigger habits, like getting angry, or gossiping.

What would happen if we didn’t suppress the urge to do something, and we didn’t relieve the urge by doing it? What would happen if we just sat there in that, at times, uncomfortable, claustrophobic feeling, (which won’t kill us), and did nothing? What if we waited without waiting, and just settled and spread into our existence?

To suppress takes energy, and to act out takes energy – from us. What would happen if we simply didn’t use that energy? What would happen if we felt that energy, experienced it as energy, and left it alone?

I wonder…

What’s in between not this and not that?

Note: A kinesthetic koan is a question that cannot be answered verbally, only kinesthetically. On a deeper level a kinesthetic koan is not a question that has an answer, but a problem that has a solution, a resolution.

 

The Great Undoing

 

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Unafraid, unashamed, unaffected.

Unassuming, unarmed, unanalyzable.

Unbound, unblocked, unbraced.

Unburdened, unbridled, unbiased.

Unchained, unclogged, uncorked.

Unclassified, unconventional, unconditional.

Uncovered, unclenched,

Uncertain.

Undisguised, undistinguished, undone.

Unguarded, unhurried, unhinged.

Unmasked, unraveled, unreal.

Unpretentious.

Unselfish, unsophisticated, unspoiled.

Untied, untangled.

Unveiled.

Unwritten.

Give Me Two Good Reasons Why…

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Remembering What I Frequently Forget

bruce's hand

From a new student at the Alexander Alliance Germany upon finishing her first Retreat…When I read letters like this I suddenly remember what I frequently forget. I remember why I first began studying, why I first began teaching.  I remember that I have a job in this world, no matter how modest a job, something given to me, of value, to be given to others.

(Replies below, in italics, are mine.)

It has been a very intense week for me and I am very, very grateful for everything I experienced.

I now understand what you mean by “voice work”.   I had a more technical understanding of voice work, resulting from my singing lessons. Somehow it clicked in when you were talking about it in another context, as you speak of  “hand work”.

Yes, I mean it in the most basic way. Humans seem particular inside of the animal kingdom in four ways – our uprightness, our brains, our  extremely articulate and versatile hands, and our extremely articulate and versatile voices. It turns out that Alexander Technique is about what is distinctly human. Humans use their voices primarily to communicate, and that means in social situations. So working with the voice is my way of entering into how we function socially. Social situations, relationships or the lack of them, are when we most often disturb ourselves, get ourselves off balance. So learning how to deeply dwell within ourselves as we interact and empathize with others, for me, is a big part of our work. 

I’ve joined a workgroup which meets regularly on Mondays to practice and discuss everything we have learned in the school. That’s great and I enjoyed this first meeting very much.

I am so glad and moved that you guys do this. What a great bunch of students at the Alexander Alliance.

I have started observing myself and other people. Concerning myself, I now realize how much additional work I do in every day things like brushing my teeth, kitchen work, using the telephone and much more. I didn’t realize this ever before. It’s, on the one hand, surprising to realize what I have been doing for years to my body, and on the other hand, good to know that I can change it now.

This is perfect. It’s exactly what is supposed to happen. Suddenly you begin to notice all the little movement and actions that make up everyday life. You wonder why you never really noticed these things before. You start to sense them, become curious about them. This is what I mean by the Sensory World. You are not just going through the motions of life unconsciously, you are now consciously sensing your life, the little things, which collectively make up the majority of your time on earth. What could be more important? Felt existence. Experienced existence. Lived life. Letting it all in. 

Concerning others, I am seeing them with different eyes. For the moment I often observe how they walk, stand, and move. That’s so interesting. I could spend hours just on this…

For me seeing is one of the great pleasures of the work. That’s why I studied Figure Drawing for some years. I just wanted to be able to look at someone for three hours until I began to see them, really see them. I would come home from those classes, after such a long day, full of energy, so exhilarated because my eyes were opening. My eyes were beginning to touch what they were seeing. Marj Barstow and Erika Whittaker both felt that watching people, not critically, not judgmentally, but just beholding them was an important practice for an Alexander teacher. When I sit in a train station, or at an airport and do this I begin to love everyone I see. I don’t know why. It just happens. You begin to see the precise relationships between a person’s emotional being and their physical expression. You begin to really see what they are doing physically – how they are holding themselves, how they move, where they hurt, how they gesture. It’s like you are beginning to study homosapiens. Oh, this is what we humans do! 

I am also thinking about the question ‘What would the body be without the word body?”  That reminds me of a book I read about Constructivism during my linguistic studies at university. I’ll let you know when I have come to a conclusion.

I don’t often come to conclusions! My life seems perpetually unfinished, in process, sometimes in limbo. So any conclusions would be most welcomed. Yes, I think language is very powerful for humans. We construct whole worlds out of words. Sometimes these words help us to better see the real world, but so often they can prevent us from seeing the world as it is. I look forward to learning more from you about language, and I hope you will share your insights with all of us at the school.

I hope you are having a good time in Japan.

I am. Thanks. And thanks for your good letter. Stay in touch. I love hearing from my students.

Yours,

Bruce

Don’t Believe A Word I Say

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Three

Where Do They All Come From

Arrogance leads to loneliness.
Greediness to loss.
 
Give to others and you will not be poor.
Serve the people who serve you.
Work under those who work under you.
Allay your own fears, and those around you will become less afraid.
Open your own heart, and people’s hearts will open.
 
Do this, and people will have what they need.
You will have what you need.
 
There will be nothing left to do.

Alexander Commentary…

One of the principles underlying this passage is that changing ourselves is often the best way to change others. Alexander’s work also embraces this principle. Practicing Alexander’s work means attending to ourselves, doing our own inner work. What’s wonderful about the Alexander Technique is that we are given a way to do this physically. Our bodies become capable of alerting us, just before we are about to run into trouble.

For example, “Arrogance leads to loneliness.” Arrogance is not only an attitude; it’s a physical state of being. Arrogance expresses itself physically. The expression of arrogance can be overt or covert, but in either case it can be felt, discerned. When our kinesthetic sense becomes keen enough, we may notice that we are pushing our necks back and over straightening them, (stiff-necked). We may notice that we are pushing our chest up, and that we’re locking our knees, (and every knee shall bend.) A warning. Beware. Be aware. If we heed that warning, if we truly want what’s best for ourselves and for others, if we’re willing to let our ego give way to what is good in us, if we remember that we are not after being right, or being better than others, but in being at peace, then we can un-grip this arrogant stance, we can let it fall from us, and with it will fall the arrogance as well, and perhaps the loneliness too.  The energy exerted to maintain arrogance, which is considerable, returns to us, to be used in a better way.

John Dewey, one of America’s finest philosophers of education, and a long term student of Alexander’s wrote about how the work enabled him to know when he was engaged in sophistry and when he was being a lover of the truth, literally, a “philo-soph-er.” After years of studying the work he could feel, somatically, through his kinesthetic sense, when he was being a sophist, and he knew he was not after winning the debate, but that he was after discovering the truth, and he didn’t care who discovered it. So in these situations he was able to make the shift back to whom he was when he was at his best.

But as my teacher, Marj Bartow often said, “Don’t believe a word I say.” Lao Tzu’s philosophy is not about believing anything. It’s about carrying out life experiments. Find out for yourself if what he says is true.

Where This Path Begins by Bruce Fertman

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