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Posts from the ‘Peaceful Body Practices’ Category

One’s Nakedness

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The suit makes the man. And what if the suit becomes too tight? What if the suit begins to wear us; begins to shape us in its own image?

Postural habits are like suits. We become our habits when we identify with them. A habit: a long, loose garment worn by a member of a religious order. Postural habits are made of tension. Tension is frozen movement, frozen feelings, frozen vitality, energy at odds against itself.

If our postural habits, our habitual tensions, could be felt for what they are, superficial, artificial, not us, if we could sense ourselves without them, even for a moment, what would happen?

James Baldwin writes, “Identity would seem to be the garment with which one covers the nakedness of the self: in which case, it is best that the garment be loose, a little like the robes of the desert, through which one’s nakedness can always be felt, and, sometimes, discerned. This trust in one’s nakedness is all that gives one the power to change one’s robes.”

Through which one’s nakedness can always be felt. Sensing my nakedness, how could I ever fall prey to self-importance? How could I ever lie to someone? How could I ever belittle anyone?

A human being, being human.

 

(photo of a photo by Robert Hupka.)

Peace Of Mind

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Health insurance in Japan actually does a conscientious job of insuring its people’s health. Being a person who now has health insurance in Japan, I decided to go to doctors and actually find out how I am, something I have avoided doing in the United States as my deductible does not cover the first $5000 of my medical expenditures. Yet still the cost of my health insurance in America is double of what I pay for health insurance in Japan. Last week I had a comprehensive physical unlike any I have ever experienced in America. Discovering that, at 61, I am in exceptionally good health, but also finding out what I should keep my eye on, gave me great peace of mind. Strangely, rather than feel happy I felt even sadder than I had been for all of us in America who pay so much for our health care and receive so little health care. And there are the millions of us who cannot afford health care. It’s not easy having a peaceful mind when in the back of that mind we’re worrying about what happens if we or our loved ones get severely sick or injured.

Having been a gymnast, modern dancer, and martial artist, and having survived a couple of car accidents, my body has had a lot of practice at mending injuries and keeping me all of a piece. I’m grateful. I do have a knee that is not like it used to be, and now one hip that is asking for some help. My father had 4 hip replacements over 35 years, and like the rest of us he only had two hips! But now nothing prevents me from going for an MRI which I will do this afternoon. When I had a cold I went to a cold clinic where there were 50 people waiting to be seen, but in one hour I walked out having been thoroughly diagnosed, cared for, and given a prescription for medicine. I walked 50 yards to the pharmacy and in 2 minutes I had my medicine. In one day I felt better. A week earlier, I went to the dentist, which was also covered by my insurance.

If everyone in America could experience what it feels like to receive good health care I have no doubt that we’d have good, comprehensive health care in America. Most Americans don’t know what they are missing. What overwhelmed me was suddenly realizing that I was being treated with respect, that my dignity was being honored, that I was a person of value.  I felt a little guilty receiving this kind of care when countless others are not. Knowing more about how I am naturally makes me want to actively take care of myself.

So three times a week I go to a gym, which is a 3 minute walk from my apartment. It costs me $60 a month. I have been swimming, stretching, and using weights, which are helping a lot. The gym is sparkling. You could literally eat off the floor. Really. All the equipment seems brand new. Everything works perfectly. There are daily classes, all free, in Pilates, Tai Chi, Spinning, Dance, Yoga, Swimming, and more. The instructors are very good. And I have super high standards when it comes to movement teachers. These teachers are good. A facility like this in America would be reserved for the wealthy. Here it is available to almost everyone.

Bathing is an art in Japan. Into the steam room, then onto a low stool that sits in front of a mirror, a bucket for water near by and a hand held shower nozzle. Perfect water pressure. Nothing is broken. Everyone takes their time and cleans every pore, shaves, brushes their teeth, only turning on the water when they need it. Your body is warm from having been in the steam room so there’s no need to stay under continuous running water. After this almost ritualistic cleaning, you soak in a communal O furo, a hot tub, really hot. When a family baths at home, the O furo is filled and covered as not to lose heat. One by one, each person takes their time getting cleaner than clean then soaks in the tub. The tub is not as long as an American tub, but it’s higher. In America we lie down in a tub. In Japan we sit in a furo. With less surface water exposed to the cool air, the water stays warmer longer. Once out, the furo is covered, ready for the next person.

In general people in Japan use about a fifth of the energy we use. Yoshiko, my wife, thinks our utilities bills are high. Outside I’m looking concerned. Inside I’m smiling. They don’t, or I should say we don’t heat our homes centrally. We only heat where we are at the moment. This might mean sitting on an electrically heated two foot by two foot piece of carpet. Or it may mean working at a small, low desk, a kotatsu, which is designed such that under the table top surface is a large quilted blanket, and under the blanket is a small heater built into the table. You put your legs under the table and cover your lower body with the blanket, perhaps along with three other people, with their legs under the table, while everyone eats dinner together. Warm, cozy, and fun. Who needs to have all that heat floating up to the ceilings, which also are low, inside of rooms that are small.  In Japan we don’t use hot water to clean clothes, nor clothes dryers, nor dishwashers. We use cold water to wash dishes, and we don’t run the water when we soap up the dishes. When I say we I mean 99.9% of Japanese people. It’s taught in school from the get go. Refrigerators are tiny. No huge ovens. No pilot lights for hot water heaters, or stoves. All localized heat. Because of the Fukushima disaster Japanese people decided to use even less energy than they had been using. All but two of their fifty-four nuclear reactors remain shut down, at least for now. A lot of people would like to keep it that way, though given the politics here that is likely not to happen. That is another story. The point is that even in the summer when it is 105 degrees, day in and day out, in super high humidity in steaming cities, no one is using their air conditioners, even old people for whom it is dangerous not to do so. The contrast between Japanese and American culture is enlightening, and challenging.

Then there is simply walking down the street and seeing no overweight people. Maybe one person in every 100 is overweight, and those people are usually under 25 and eating mostly at McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken. The streets are buzzing with people walking in every direction while bicycles weave smoothly and effortlessly in and out. It’s a dance. Who needs a car when you have bikes and trains everywhere? Bikes are cheap. Mine cost $50 and I love my bike. I don’t think I’ve waited more than 7 minutes for a train and that’s after I just missed one. Usually there’s no wait. The trains are quiet and clean. No graffiti. No smell of urine here and there. Yes, sometimes the trains are beyond crowded but people have the courtesy to wear white sanitary masks that cover their mouth and nose if they have a cold. That’s thoughtful. People are taught to be aware of other people, and they are.

The trains and the streets are safe at any hour for anyone, kids included. In 2006 there were a grand total of 2 homicides. There are no guns around here. Little kids walk to school by themselves. If you leave your umbrella next to the ticket counter you can be sure it will have been given to the office. When you go to get it, they person will literally run to get it for you, knowing right where it is.

If you get off the train, let’s say at Osaka Station, and decide to buy some Japanese sweets at a department store, the moment you approach the counter, which has five people in uniform standing side by side, one of them will ask you if they can help you. Once you have bought your sweets they will ask you if you would like them wrapped as a gift. If you say yes you will witness hands that work differently than ours. Quickly and precisely. As you are leaving and ask them where the bathroom might be, they will likely take you there, and then bow and thank you. Can you imagine someone at Walmart or Staples bowing to you and thanking you for buying something at their store?

Ironically, living in Japan I feel how much I love America. I just know we could be better than we are. Living in Japan makes me care more about Americans. About everybody. And I realize how lucky I’ve been to be able to live in two cultures, for real.

For one, I’m not going to wait around for American culture to change. What I can do is adopt what I like about Japanese culture and live my life in a way that feels good and right for me. I can model what I care about.

In America I can practice being more aware of the needs of other people. I can use energy more modestly. I can eat less meat and cheese, more fish and vegetables. I can serve people. Thank people. Apologize when it feels right. I can be on time.

In America I will need to make an extra effort to take care of my own health.

And I will walk down the street unafraid. In a country that has grown so fearful, it will be my practice not to perpetuate fear, but to exude trust, and kindness.

Confessions of a MonoTasker

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

I confess. I don’t enjoy doing more than one thing at a time. I don’t enjoy waiting on hold  for a real person to pick up while I am chatting on Facebook and listening to iTunes. That’s over the top for me. I can do it, but why?

When we are multi-tasking sometimes we are mono-sensing. When straining to read some small print on some chat window at the bottom of the screen that popped up just as I was getting ready to sign off on Facebook, my hearing, touching, and kinesthesia plummeted without my knowing it. When the person finally picks up on the other end of the line after 20 minutes, having forgotten all about them, I hussel through my open windows looking for the very little icon I have to click, not feeling much of anything other than a general sense of panic and that all too familiar tightness in my neck that goes with it. I can’t hear her because iTunes is still playing and a song just came on that reminds me of a really hard time in my life that I’d rather forget. I quickly locate the speaker-off button, push it, and that God awful song in gone as well as the woman’s voice I waited 20 minutes for, the women I need to speak with because yesterday my car insurance expired. I quickly push the speaker-on button and that song returns accompanied by a strange gulping sound meaning someone has just hung up on the other end,  like they did on that day I’m trying to forget.

That’s why I like doing one simple thing at a time, like washing dishes.  In fact, even doing one thing at a time for me is a lot. Because I am a multi-senser, often happily lost in a world of multi-sensorial experience. I’m washing a bowl. I’m enjoying its shape, visually and tactually. I’m listening to the water, feeling its coolness. (We’re all saving energy here in Japan). The sinks are lower here so I am finding a wider stance and a little more flexion in my leg joints. I feel like an athlete ready to wash a mound of dishes, the more the merrier. We’ve got an assembly line going. I’m washing. Yoshiko’s rinsing, and Masako’s drying. It’s great being with them. Warms my heart.

Maybe sometimes we’re doing more but living less. I don’t know. Maybe so. It’s worth considering.

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

On Alexanderian Inhibition and The Great Undoing

photo: B. Fertman

Long ago now, after teaching a workshop in Zurich, someone asked me what Alexandrian Inhibition was for me. I told her. Then, gently, a wise person, and Alexander teacher, Doris Dietchy, suggested to me that it was important to remain open to one’s experience of Alexandrian Inhibition changing over one’s lifetime. At that time, I was cocky enough to feel that I had the definitive definition down. Of course, Doris proved right, and I was, thankfully, wrong.

Almost everyone gets the initial idea that Alexandrian Inhibition is about pausing, taking a pause, a moment to get your internal directions going, to get yourself free and together. It’s a beginning. And it’s a trap. Beginners get into the habit of stopping their activity, and thinking a litany of words to themselves with little actual change, which means little Alexandrian Inhibition happening. And so it was with me too.

Then some students begin to realize that Alexandrian Inhibition is not the stopping of an action; it is the stopping of one’s habitual way of doing that action within the action. This changes everything. The student realizes that pausing the action is sometimes a pedagogical device, sometimes needed, to facilitate a constructive dis-integration of one’s habitual way of being, allowing for a re-integration of a deeper way of being. But, in itself, stopping an action carries with it no guarantee that a deep neurological shift in one’s body and being will occur.

As Marj Barstow once told me, as we were driving to yet another introductory workshop, “Bruce, it’s like this. Here we are driving down the road. You’re getting ready to bare left, because you believe that is the right way to get to where you are going. Then suddenly, while you are driving, you realize it is not the right way to go. So very delicately you lightly turn your steering wheel, power steering, and there you are, headed off in a direction that is going to save you some gas and get you to where you want to go. It’s that simple. You can’t be going in two directions at once. You have to not go in the direction you believed was right before you can go in the direction you may now suspect is more on track. That’s just common sense. Now, if you take that wrong turn and you get yourself really lost, you may have to pull off to the side of the road, stop driving, turn off your car, sit there, take out your map, and figure out where you are. Because how could you ever get to where you want to go if you do not have the faintest idea where you are going? You can’t. Chances are you’ll end up going around in circles. That’s what we do. If you don’t have your map, a reliable map, then you are going to have to rely on someone who knows the territory better than you do, and get a little help. Now, that is a simple example, but that is how it works.”

Marj was full of practical wisdom. And while this understanding of Alexandrian Inhibition still makes a lot of sense, and remains operable for me, I begin to have a deeper experience of Alexandrian Inhibition. Alexander said it something like this, as told to me by Buzz Gummere, one of my mentors for 30 years who studied with Dewey, F.M., A.R., Marj, and who was one humbly brilliant guy. He told me that one day Alexander told him that when in a fix, there are exciters and inhibitors firing away. And when push comes to shove, the exciters always win out, and we get into a lot of hot water. Even wars. And that is the crux of the problem right there. The exciters are winning out, and the inhibitors are losing. And when the inhibitors lose, we lose. Everyone loses. That’s how it is.” Living through a couple world wars, as Alexander did, can knock some sense into your head.

I read a lot, mostly novels. I’m beyond self-help. Hopeless. So I like a good story. I like the benefit of how others view the world. Here’s how Dostoevsky understood ‘Alexandrian Inhibition’ near the end of his life, as expressed in The Dream of a Ridiculous Man. 

I suddenly felt like it made no difference to me whether the world existed or whether nothing existed anywhere at all…At first I couldn’t help feeling that at any rate in the past many things had existed; but later on I came to the conclusion that there had not been anything even in the past, but that for some reason it had merely seemed to have been. Little by little I became convinced that there would be nothing in the future either. It was then that I suddenly ceased to be angry with people…And, well, it was only after that that I learnt the truth. 

Marj used to say to us fairly often,”All I’m trying to show you is a little bit of nothing.” Well, Dostoevsky is having an experience here of a vast amount of nothing. But it is not a negative nothing. It’s a positive nothing. So what could there be to get angry about? Now this is a man whose inhibitors have won. And so has he.

Here’s how I experience it. What we call “now” is simultaneously here and gone. That means any given moment simultaneously exists and does not exist. It’s arriving and leaving at exactly the same instant. These days I experience myself as simultaneously here and gone, as existing and not existing, as awake and dreaming, as living and dying. As our Zen Buddhist friends might say, form is emptiness, because to them form is emptiness and emptiness is form, simultaneously! This simultaneous experience of being substantial and insubstantial, this balance of being something and being nothing grants me composure, peace; I dare say, freedom.

But the instant I begin to favor, to try to hold on to the moment, to the here, to the now, to existence, to living, to form, I am unfree, bound, burdened, heavy, and prone to suffering. Life is leaving. And leave it must. And leaving without holding on, without regret, gratefully, fills me with a poignant love for life.

That’s what Alexandrian Inhibition is for this older man, now. Who knows what it will be for me tomorrow.

Undone

For me a stranger is someone I know and who knows me. The only difference between a stranger and a friend is that the stranger and I have just met. Said in another way, no stranger is strange. Everyone is familiar. How different can we really be?

A woman whom I had never met,  from Istanbul,  wrote to me the other day asking me about my work. We proceeded to engage in a truthful interchange, full of trust, in a way that only strangers who know they are friends can do. She had written to me, among other things, about feeling as if she were living in a box, though it did not appear that way to others. Here was my response.

Boxes come in all sizes and shapes. And wrappings. You might say that, ultimately, Alexander work is about living without a box. Without a superimposed container. That doesn’t mean being able to do whatever you want, and spilling out all over the place. It means you don’t need an external structure to hold you in place because you have an internal structure that does that. And it means you don’t need to place some beautiful or glamorous, or impressive box between you and other people. No appearances. No protection. No defensiveness. No walls. Just an authentic you. Human boxes are constructed from patterns of tension. Patterns of tension intertwine to make what I call a “tension body.” The work I do unties, unwraps, and undoes the tension body, bit by bit, until it falls away, and only your real body is left, which is always friendlier and more comfortable, and more powerful. So it’s not about being inside the box, or outside the box. It’s about dropping the box entirely. How can there be an inside or outside if there is no box? But you cannot drop the box until you can trust your internal structure. What I do is help a person come into contact with that structure, which is more than physical.

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.

Meditations on The Sensory World by Bruce Fertman

photo: Bruce Fertman

…from Chapter III  Touching Existence

It’s interesting how, for little kids, it’s sometimes natural for objects to come alive.  If you’ve raised little kids, or if you can remember back into your own childhood, there were special objects that were alive for you, or for your kids.  My daughter had a scarf she carried around everywhere, loved, and on occasion spoke to, a “mother substitute” I believe Walcot called it.  My son had a little stuffed rabbit with long ears.  Those ears definitely had feeling.  My kids were always gentle with these objects, which they loved and needed because, obviously, these objects were alive.

In his book, I and Thou, Martin Buber understands this profoundly. For Buber there are only two possibilities when it comes to relationships.  One, subject-to-object, or two, subject-to-subject.  Buber refers to the first as an I-It relationship, and to the second as an I-You relationship.  I-It relationships are utilitarian, and I-You relationships are existential, about mutual existence.

Buber goes into great depth around this simple idea.  He explains how you can be in an I-It relationship with a person. If the reason for the relationship is utilitarian, a person can turn into an It. What can this person do for me?  How can I best utilize this person?  This is not the best model for developing empathy, compassion, or kindness. But we do it a lot.  More than we might like to admit.

But, thankfully, we can also be in an I-You relationship with people, but not just with people, with anything. Of course if you are in an I-You relationship with another person, or with your beloved dog or cat, or with your blossoming apple tree in your backyard, you feel that this being is alive.  You feel their existence.  You are in their company.  The moment is primarily about being with, and less about getting anything from, or anything done.

In Japanese Tea Ceremony, Chanoyu, someone may have just prepared a bowl of tea for you. You receive the bowl into your hands, and you can sense that someone made this bowl. Maybe this bowl is 200 years old, and has been lovingly passed down in your family through the generations. They say love runs downstream. You can see where your ancestor’s lips have touched this bowl because a person trained in Tea knows there’s an exact place to drink from a tea bowl. Your lips go exactly to where their lips have been. You can feel their lips touching your lips.  You are in an I-You relationship with and through this object. You are being with this bowl beyond its utilitarian function. You touch this bowl, and literary and that means physically, you are touched by this bowl. You are communing. You are in a personal, and sacred, relationship.

It is not an overstatement to say that if you come to a felt understanding of this possibility, and you cultivate this imaginative, neurological, tactual way of relating to things, it will change your life forever.  Before Jews open a Torah, someone cradles the Torah like a baby and walks around the Temple as people sing to the Torah. People kiss their prayer shawl, then touch the Torah with the part of the shawl they just kissed. What would it feel like to pick up a book you love, like a favorite book of poems, or a spiritual text, and kiss the book before you opened it and read from it? I invite you to try that. Strangely enough, practicing this way of being in I-You relationships, with objects, trains you to be in I-You relationships with people, sometimes more than any psychological teachings could ever do.  It comes down to physical practice.

Here is my favorite quote about touching existence.

Being blind I thought I should have to go out to meet things, but I found that they came to meet me instead.  I have never had to go more than halfway, and the universe became the accomplice of all my wishes…If my fingers pressed the roundness of an apple, I didn’t know whether I was touching the apple or the apple was touching me.

As I became part of the apple, the apple became part of me. And that is how I came to understand the existence of things.

 As a child I spent hours leaning against objects and letting them lean against me. Any blind person can tell you that this exchange gives a satisfaction too deep for words…

Touching the tomatoes in the garden is surely seeing them as fully as the eye can see.  But it is more than seeing them. It is the end of living in front of things, and the beginning of living with them.

Jacques Lusseyran – from And There Was Light

 

Meditations on Physical Life by Bruce Fertman

Chapter III

Oh, I Forgot Something!

from the forthcoming book – The Slightest Shift – Meditations on Physical Life by Bruce Fertman

In Japan, people often have to take their shoes off and put their shoes on, many times a day.  If you have just stepped outside and realized that you forgot something, you can’t just run through the house with your shoes on. No, first your shoes must come off, and quickly. Then upon leaving you must manage, at the same time, to walk and wiggle into your shoes!  This takes many years of practice.  You must get good at this if you want to live in Japan, because people in Japan are on the go, and being late is not good, not good at all.

You would think that everyone would be wearing shoes that are really easy to take off and put on, like clogs, or uggs, but most people don’t. Most people wear shoes with laces, laces you are supposed to tie and then untie. But there is simply no time for such details. This means that the part of the shoe, technically referred to as “the heal collar”, the back rim of the shoe, undergoes severe abuse, especially as everyone tries to get back into their shoes as they are walking, or even running!

Because of this “shoes off” custom in Japan, which I find extremely sensible, you can often see shoes, all in a row, just standing there waiting for their people to come back. It’s easy to anthropomorphize about shoes, because they record how we stand and how we walk, how we put them on, and how we take them off.  Old shoes strike us a very human. In Japan, most of the shoes, standing there next to each other, look pretty sad, wiped out, and beat up.

One day, I saw a particularly unhappy row of shoes.  They looked miserable. I started feeling bad for them. It was as if, for a moment, they were alive and I could feel what their poor bodies felt like, all busted up, battered, and broken.  If they were alive, and if they could talk, and if they had rights, they would all be on their phones calling the domestic violence hotline for battered shoes.

That’s when I had this idea. What if objects could feel?  What if objects had nervous systems? What if objects, every object could feel every little thing we did to them?   To be continued…

第三章

あっ、わすれものしちゃった!

ブルース・ファートマンの近刊予定著書 “The Slightest Shift – Meditations on Physical Life” より抜粋

一日に何度も何度も、靴を脱いだりはいたりしなければならないのは、日本ではよくあることです。ちょうど出がけに忘れ物に気付いたら、靴をはいたままで家の中に走り込むことなどできません。そうです、まず、第一に、靴をぬがなければなりません。それも急いでです。そして、再び家を出る時には、靴の中に足を突っ込みながら歩きださなければならないのです!これができるようになるには、すこしばかりの歳月が必要です。日本に住みたいと思うなら、これが上手にならないといけません。日本では、みんな本当に忙しくてよく動きまわって、おまけに遅刻するのは、絶対にご法度なのです。

もしかしたら、「簡単にはいたり脱いだりできるくつを日本人はみんな使っているんじゃないの?」と思っていませんか?クロッグとか、ソフトブーツとか・・・。ほとんどの人たちは、靴ひもつきの靴をはいているので、しかるべき時にひもを結んだりほどいたりしなければなりません。でも、そんなちまちましたことをしている時間は、はっきりいってありません。靴の、いわゆる「かかと」の部分、つまり足がはいる場所の後ろの淵の部分は、特に、歩きながら、時には小走りの状態で靴をはきなおすときなどは、かなりひどい扱われ方をされます。

この「靴を脱ぎはきする」習慣(私としては、分別があることだと思います)があるために、たくさんの靴が一列に並んで、自分のご主人が戻ってくるの待っている光景によく出くわします。靴は、人に置き換えることができます。なぜなら、靴は、私たちの立ち方、歩き方、靴の履き方、脱ぎ方を記録しているからです。古い靴をみると、老人を思い起こさせます。日本でみかける互いに横並びになって靴の大部分が、憂いを帯び、疲れ果て、くたくたになっているように見えます。

ある日、私はとりわけ悲しい顔で一列に並んだ靴の一団に出会いました。靴達はくたびれきっていましたので、私はかわいそうだなと感じはじめていました。一瞬、私にはまるで靴達が生きているかのように思えて、彼らのかわいそうなからだがめちゃくちゃにされて、ずたずたのボロボロになったときと同じように思えました。本当に靴達に命があり、しゃべることができて、さらには彼らの権利が守られていたならば、全員がぼろぼろ靴専用の家庭内暴力ホットラインに電話をかけまくっていたでしょう。

私には、この出会いのおかげで、思いついたことがあります。

「もし、モノが感じることができたらどうなる?」

「もし、モノに神経組織があったら?」

「もし、すべてのモノが、私たちがする、どんな些細なことでも感じることができたら?」

この続きは次回までのお楽しみに・・・。

Hand-To-Hand Combat

Tai Chi Student From South Korea

Hand-To-Hand Combat

Violence sweeps through the county of Hu. In the small village of Chu Jen, people gather in their small temple to sit and pray.  A large, drunken man barrels into the sanctuary. He’s yelling into people’s faces.  He spits at a women. He slaps her child. No one moves. No one breathes. Everyone hopes he will stop, and go away.

A powerful man, a warrior, stands up, ready to take this man down and throw him out. Li Tan, an old man, quietly walks between them and says, “Please, let me talk to this fellow.”  The old man looks into the drunken man’s eyes. The man is ashamed to look at Li Tan, but Li Tan keeps looking and waiting. When the man catches sight of the old man’s loving eyes, he becomes still, and sad.

The old man asks him if he wouldn’t mind sitting down next to him.  The soldier also sits close to Li Tan.  Li Tan faces the sad man, takes the big man’s quivering hand, holds it softly between his deeply creased, warm palms and says, “Son, tell me what is wrong.  What happened?”

The man begins crying.  Then sobbing. While he was at work, soldiers came into his home. They killed his wife, his son, and his infant daughter. They set fire to his house. The old man puts his arms around the man sobbing. They weep as one person, weeping.

The soldier stands up. He looks down at the two men.  His big chest sinks. He bows slowly to Li Tan. Lowering onto his hands and knees, his forehead against the wooden floor, he bows to the father who has just lost his family.

The soldier joins the other people from his village and begins to pray.