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Touching This World – October 7, 2018 – Workshop in the Alexander Technique – Dorset, England by Bruce Fertman

No one seems to know the story behind Michelangelo’s choice. What I do know is that in the Torah the story goes God blew the breath of life into Adam through his nostrils. It was breath that was the vital force. Yet when painting the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo chose not to depict the creation of Adam through breath. He chose touch. Why did he do that? God touched Adam, and Adam lived. Maybe it was because Michelangelo, through touch, brought the lifeless to life. He retold the story of Genesis in his own image.

Theology, to me, is not spiritual; it’s tangible. It’s earthy. It’s physical.

Maimonides, a 12th century Rabbinic scholar from Spain, said God was Reality. For me, reality feels pretty physical. You know, getting up, bathing, grooming, eating, and going to work, or going to look for work. Or on other days, cleaning your house, going shopping for food, stopping at a couple other stores for this or that. Taking your car, if you have one, into the shop for an oil and filter change.

And then, on occasion, there’s a free day. You’re out in the country. A cool breeze brushes against your face. The warmth of the sun sits on your shoulders. You hear the sound of a stream nearby, smell a slight scent of cedar in the air.

Touching This World

Sounds physical to me.

Other people feel God is Love. Kindness is one way we express our love.  Kindness is love in action. Acts of kindness seem physical to me. Doing little things for people. Helping out. It makes sense to think about a theology of touch. Think about giving a baby a bath, or sweeping the snow off the front steps for your grandfather who’s coming over for dinner, or feeding a stray cat. I can’t see accomplishing any of those acts of kindness without touch or without being touched.

But few in this world teach touch. I do.

Please join me.

About Bruce Fertman

 

Photo: Tada Akihiro: Korea

He is the embodiment of his work. His touch is like a butterfly settling down on the very turning point of your soul. And then you know, “That’s who I am, that is who I could be.”

Tueshaus, Alexander Teacher / Tango Teacher/ Equestrian

Bruce has been using his hands, helping people to move well, for fifty-five years. He trained with five first generation Alexander teachers: Catherine Merrick Wielopolska, Marjorie L. Barstow, Richard M. Gummere Jr., Elisabeth Walker, and Erika Whittaker. Bruce brings a lifetime of training as a movement artist and educator to his work as an Alexander teacher, having trained in Gymnastics, Modern Dance, Ballet, Contact Improvisation, Tai Chi Chu’an, Aikido, Chanoyu, Argentine Tango, and Kyudo. In 1982, Bruce co-founded the Alexander Alliance International, an intergenerational, multicultural community/school. Currently director of the Alexander Alliance Germany, Bruce also teaches annually for Alexander Alliance training programs in Japan, Korea, and America. He conducts post graduate training programs in Dorset and Zurich. Author of  Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart – Delving Into The Work Of F.M. Alexander.

Workshop Details:

When: Sunday, October 7, 2018, 10:00-17:00.

Fee: £120

Where: Gaunts House, Dorset

http://www.gauntshouse.com/

To register for the workshop contact Ruth Davis at: ruth.a.davis@me.com

Phone: +44 (0) 7590 406267

To Make Payment: 

BACS

(Please reference your payment with your full name.) Sort Code: 40-47-59

Account No: 12037351

Acc Name R Davis

International Transfers via:

IBAN: GB24MIDL40475912037351 BIC:MIDLGB2172

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to write to me, bf@brucefertman.com or to Ruth Davis, ruth.a.davis@me.com.

Hope to see you at Gaunts House!

Bruce Fertman

 

This Does Not Help

dallasopera-map

I’m not the sort of person who figures things out for myself. When I get lost, which is often, rather than look at a map, (I’ve no smartphone), I will usually ask someone. I enjoy the encounter. I listen, understand, and then a thick fog passes by and I find I’ve forgotten most of what they just told me. I turn and ask someone else for help until, by and by, I get to where I am going. 

I don’t like reading instructions either. This does not help. What I do is ask someone to teach me how to do what I don’t know how to do. I like this. I love having people teach me. I like learning directly from a person. Is that bad? Well it is when you are sitting alone in your kitchen wanting to find a literary agent and you’ve got no idea how to go about it, and no idea of whom to ask.

So I ask the oracle.

Google.

How to find a literary agent, I ask. I am transported to AgentQuery.com. I’m reading. Whosever writing for this company is doing a great job. He or she is so personable I feel like they are right by my side teaching me just what I need to know. (Of course, I have no idea if this is true.) They teach me how to search for a literary agent who might be interested in what I am writing about. They teach me about how to write a query for a work of non-fiction. I decide simply to follow their directions, to follow them to a tee, as is most strongly suggested.

One page. One sentence, referred to as “the hook.” After hooking them, one paragraph to reel them in to wanting to know more about you and your book. A brief, pertinent bio. Thank them courteously and then say goodbye. If they ask you to include some of your manuscript, do so, and if they don’t, do not.

I did it. I followed the simple directions. Here it is – the hook, the reel, the bio, the thank you, and the first 25 pages of what I hope will be a published book that you can actually hold in your hands.

Of course, as my Alexander teachers taught me, I am not holding my breath. It seems unlikely that the first people I send a query to will want to take me on as their client, speaking on my behalf to the most prestigious publishers but, Carol Mann and Tom Miller, I hope you do.

If Carol and Tom should not, I ask all of you who read this for direction, for help. Alert me if you know of a literary agent or a publisher. Offer me guidance if you know your way around this world of books and business. And if you are so moved, let me know what you think of my little project.

To Carol Mann and Tom Miller,

As one who has held in my hands, in my arms, 15,000 people, whose primary sense is touch, who has lived life as a blind man who happens to be able to see, as one who has traveled this world teaching a simple song of physical and spiritual grace, I attempt here to lay the foundations for a theology of touch. 

What is the connection between body and being, between the sensory and the spiritual, between movement and meaning? What does it mean to be tactually literate, to have educative hands? How can we, as educators, as therapists, as parents discern how our students, patients, and children interfere with themselves, somatically and spiritually, so that we might help them suffer less and enjoy life more? Touching The Intangible – Towards A Theology Of Touch tells of the sensibilities and values those of us who teach through touch must cultivate if we are to venture beyond the welfare of the body, and into the workings of the soul. Stories; of an aging mother no longer able to lift her disabled son, of a doctor in a race against time, of an adopted child who cannot eat or smile, of a man who can’t stop blinking, of a woman in search of her real voice, stories of transformation through touch, stories pointing the way toward a theology of touch. 

Biography: Bruce Fertman

  50 years experience as a movement artist and educator. 1982, founded the Alexander Alliance International, an intergenerational, multicultural community/school dedicated to the training of Alexander Technique teachers currently with branches in Germany, Japan, America, and Korea. 30 years traveling annually throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States helping people understand and experience the interconnectedness between physical and spiritual life. A lifetime of disciplined training in Gymnastics, Modern Dance, Contact Improvisation, Alexander Technique, Tai Chi Chu’an, Aikido, Chanoyu, (Japanese Tea Ceremony), Argentine Tango, and Kyudo, (Zen Archery). Taught members of the Berlin Philharmonic, Radio France, The National Symphony, the Honolulu Symphony and for the Curtis Institute of Music. 13 years teaching annually for the Five College Dance Program in Amherst, Mass.  Taught the Alexander Technique for the tango community in Buenos Aires. 6 years teaching Movement for the Actor at Temple and Rutgers Universities. 10 years teaching annually for the College of Physiotherapy in Gottingen, Germany. Currently, lives half the year in Osaka, traveling throughout Japan and Korea working with physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists, psychologists, dentists, yoga and Pilates instructors, movement research specialists, classical pianists, and with the traditional Korean music and the traditional Korea tea ceremony communities. Lives the other half of the year in northern New Mexico, hiking and writing. 

Thank you for your time and consideration. I believe I have a substantial social platform of support upon which this book could be successfully launched. I include the first 25 pages as requested. I do have a first draft of the entire manuscript ready if you should like to read it.

Gratefully, 

Bruce Fertman

http://www.peacefulbodyschool.com

Touching The Intangible 

Photo: B. Fertman

 

 Towards A Theology Of Touch

By

Bruce Fertman

Epigraph

Being blind I thought I should have to go out to meet things, but I found that they came to meet me instead…

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

God is Reality.

Byron Katie

Foreword 

Michelangelo’s Choice

No one knows the story behind Michelangelo’s choice.

What I do know is in the Torah the story goes that God blew the breath of life through Adam’s nostrils. Breath was the vital force. When painting the Sistine Chapel Michelangelo chose not to depict the creation of Adam through this image. He chose touch, not breath. God touches Adam, and Adam begins to live. That’s closer to how it works. Two people embrace. Spermatozoa race toward the ovum. Only one will penetrate the ovum’s protective layer, allowing the genetic material of the biological father to touch, then merge, with the genetic material of the biological mother.

Michelangelo’s depiction of Adam’s creation may be more widely known than the original. Michelangelo re-conceived the creation of man in his own image. He was the ultimate creator of the human form, a man who brought, through touch, the lifeless to life.

No wonder, when I was thirteen and saw for the first time Michelangelo’s Pieta at the Worlds Fair in New York in 1964, I wept. And wept. My mother had no idea why. Neither did I. 

Now I do.

Photo: Tada Anchan Akihiro

Photo: Tada Anchan Akihiro

Was This Book Written For You?

This book is written in honor of and for…

…people interested in the relationship between physical and spiritual grace. 

…people interested in touch, but especially for people who use their hands to help others.

… people interested in the interplay between sensory life and spiritual life. For anyone seeking to live a spiritually embodied life.

…counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists of any kind who want to learn how to better listen, see, and be with their patients.

… body workers who want to learn how not to work on a person’s body, but through a person’s body. For movement artists and educators who better wish to understand how meaning underlies movement.

… all teachers who want to be better teachers, who want to learn how to quickly and deeply connect to students, how to foster trust, how to teach through the telling of stories, through metaphor, and through movement.

… performing artists, actors, musicians, dancers and singers who wish to know more about authenticity, about presence, and about inner beauty.

… people who are interested in Taoism and in the teachings of Lao Tzu.

… people who want a good introduction into what the Alexander Technique is and what it is about. 

… people who are currently students of the Alexander Technique who wish to incorporate the work into their everyday lives, and into their way of being in the world.

… people who are training to be Alexander Technique teachers or who are currently Alexander Technique teachers who wish also to learn how to impart Alexander’s work outside of his procedures, who also wish to be able to teach effectively in groups. For Alexander trainees and teachers who want to take the work beyond the body. For Alexander trainees and teachers who wish to teach more from the heart. For Alexander trainees and teachers who wish to find contemporary language for Alexander’s work. For Alexander trainees and teachers who wish to explore the relationship between Alexander’s work and spiritual life.

This book unfolds from beginning to end, leading you deeply into the work at hand. At the same time, each essay stands on its’ own.  

Table Of Contents

Foreword

Was This Book Written For You?

Part I. The Work At Hand 

Poise

The Way Of It

My Muse

Revealing That Which Is Hidden

The Blueprint

Taking Care Of The People Who Take Care Of People

The Decision

At The End Of The Road

The Hint

Part II. Sensibilities

Our Essential Task

Don’t I Know You?

How Are You?

Seeing People

In This Deep Place

The Lay Of The Land

Jiro’s Hands

Part III. Openings Into Grace

The World In A Dewdrop

One Small Gesture Of Kindness

All In A Days Work

In Blind Daylight

The Walker

In The Blink Of An Eye

The Letter

Sing For Me

A Little Lightness

On Becoming A Person

Two Worlds

Living Until You Die

God In The Palm Of Your Hand

Part IV. Meditations On The Sensory World

Intrapersonal Sensory Intelligence

God Trying To Get Your Attention

Shekina – A Contemporay Midrash On Genesis

Sensus Communis

Without Our Having To Ask

Sauntering

Touching Existence

What You Are Not

Being Fed

Contemplative Anatomy 

The Nameless Song

Why Wait?

Inside The Majesty

V. Living The Work

Softness

Love Runs Downstream

A Real Softy

Drenched To The Bone

Less

You’re Too Much

Kvetching

How To Make A Good Impression

Gravity and Grace

The Place Just Right

A Little Girl And A Little Boy

Plain Jane

The Wind And The Willows

Beyond Right And Wrong

Defenseless

Suicide Bombers

When I’m Right, I’m Right

Begin With Yourself

Where Do They All Come From

The Solution

Barely Squeaking By

Not A Second Too Late

It Cannot Be That Simple

Teaching Without Teaching

Beauty Longing For Itself

Establishing Credit

Non-Doing

Chasing After Your Own Tail

Can’t Stand The Pressure

Don’t Take My Advice

Oneness

Heaven Help Us

A Nameless Song

Me And My Shadow

Essential Goodness

Thoughtless

Unmistakable Signs

Putting Your Foot In Your Mouth

Stopping

Chill

Ready Or Not

Life On The Edge

Readiness

The Imprint

Too Late For You

A Poor Little Old Lady

Space

Out Of Nowhere

Just Between You And Me

A Big Fat Nobody

Change

Deep

Burnt Out

Death Warmed Over

Moms

Afterward 

My Letter Of Resignation

Part I

The Work At Hand

Poise

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman


Poise occurs by itself when we stop interfering with it. The hitch is we don’t know precisely how we are interfering with it because we can’t feel the interference.

What we do feel is the result of the interference, some particular or generalized strain, effort, tension, or fatigue. It’s there. We’re uncomfortable, and we don’t know how to become comfortable. We try to sit up straight, or we stretch for a while, but soon enough this lack of ease, this lack of support returns.

We go back to work with this sluggish sense of weight, this thickness we have to push through to get anything done. Or we go back to work so revved up that we don’t feel a thing for hours until we stop and find ourselves hurting, or totally wiped out.

Poise. It’s elusive. We see very young children, how lightly suspended they are, how lithe, how nimble. They’re not trying to do anything right. They’re just naturally buoyant and springy.

What happened?

Unwittingly, from the inside out, we sculpted “a tension body”, a body made of tension. 

image4

The Awakening Slave by Michelangelo

It takes a lot of energy to keep two bodies going, especially two bodies that aren’t getting along. While our real body is putting its foot on the gas pedal, our tension body is putting its foot on the brake. We feel un-free, enslaved by our tension. This is the opposite of poise.

Poise returns as you begin to distinguish your tension body from your real body. As you become acquainted with your tension body, you can ask it, kindly, to let go of you. As it does, your tension body generously gives you its energy, its very life. The conflict ends. You’re free.

The Way Of It

bulldogging_by_suzie_n-d81j1ps

On this particular day, in Japan, in a hospital, I am with physical and speech therapists. I have two days, fourteen hours. Two professors of Physical Therapy invited me because it has become apparent to them that, when it comes to educating physical therapists, two key elements are missing: how they use their hands, and how they use their bodies when they are doing their work. Physical therapists in Japan get a lot of theory in school. They learn a lot of specific techniques for a lot of specific problems. But they don’t have a class called Touch 101, or Movement for Physical Therapists 202. They just don’t, and these professors are beginning to wonder why. There are about thirty-five therapists in the room, about seven Alexander Technique teachers. That should work. The workshop begins.

I Don’t Know

The Alexander Technique is not a technique, not in the same way you guys learn techniques for working with adhesive capsulitis (frozen shoulders or in Japan as it is known, the 50 year old shoulder), or hemiplegia (severe strokes), or dysphagia (swallowing disorders). The Alexander Technique is not a technique for anything particular.

The Alexander Technique is a field of study. It’s an inquiry into human integration, into what integration is, what restores it, and what disturbs it. It’s a foundational study. Integration underlies everything we do. The more of it we have, the easier it is to do what we’re doing.

So what is integration? You PTs help people a lot with strength, flexibility, and coordination, super important for everyone. Integration includes all of these but is, at the same time, something distinct from them. For example, a baby can scream for an hour and not lose its voice. Why is that? Why can’t a grown up do that? A baby will reach for something, but never over-reach for something. They will only extend their arms or legs so far and no farther. Why is that? Babies will work for a long time figuring out how to pick up a pea on their plate but will never distort their hands or bodies while they’re doing it. They just won’t distort themselves. They are somehow prewired, preprogrammed to remain whole, all of a piece, a flexible unit. That’s integration.

So why do we lose it? I don’t know. I don’t know a lot of things. How do we lose it? I don’t know that either, but I’ve got a few theories. What I observe is that in the process of our becoming coordinated, something happens. At some point we’ve got to learn how to button our shirt, tie our shoes, eat with hashi, (chopsticks). We’ve got to learn how to speak, how to ride a bicycle, how to write kanji. Did you ever see little kids trying to write kanji? There you can see it. Children disintegrating. Their tongues are sticking out of the corner of their mouths, they’re not breathing, their heads are hanging down, spines bent and twisted, little hands gripping their pencils for dear life. And the more pressure around learning, the more felt fear, the more the body just falls apart. There’s no preventing it entirely, no matter how great your parents are, or your teachers, or your culture. Sooner or later it’s going to happen to everyone, more or less. The fall from grace. Somehow, we’ve got to find our way back to the garden.

Bulldogging

Have you ever been to a rodeo? (I’ve now moved from standing in a big circle with everyone, into the center of that circle.) I haven’t, but sometimes when you walk into a bar in New Mexico, which is where I live when I am not living in Japan, you might look up at the TV and see one. A rodeo’s a contest where cowboys and cowgirls show their skill at riding broncos, roping calves, and wrestling steers. These are practical skills ranchers need in order to roundup cattle, to count them, or brand them. (I’ve chosen this example for the PTs because it’s profoundly physical, strongly kinesthetic. It’s also exotic, and people like that.)

It so happens that Marjorie L. Barstow, the first person formally certified to teach the Alexander Technique, and my mentor for 16 years, took Frank Pierce Jones, a man she helped train to become an Alexander teacher, a classics professor at Brown University, an East Coast intellectual, a man who would never find himself at a western rodeo, except for on this day, when Marj wanted to show him what the Alexander Technique was all about.

Okay Frank, in a minute a big, mean, steer is going to explode out of that gate, and out of the gate next to it, a cowboy on a horse is going to burst out, and that cowboy is going to do his best to lean over, grab that steers horns, dig his heels into the dirt, and take that steer down. And that steer is going to do his best not to let him.

The gates open. Frank watches. He sees the cowboy lean over, take the horns, snap them back, jam the back of the steers skull into his massive neck while twisting that neck to the side and bringing that steers head to the ground. The steer, unable to stay on his legs, crashes to the ground.

What did you see Frank? Not too much, Frank says. Keep watching Frank. They watched, and as they watched, little by little Marj got Frank to see exactly what was happening. You see Frank, the cowboy snaps the steers’ head back, and jams it into his neck. That compresses his entire spine. Now the steer can’t breathe. His front legs begin to buckle. His pelvis tilts under. His hind legs can’t get any power, any traction. That steer’s got nothing left. The man’s in control now.

There’s one last cowboy to go. Looking down at him as he sits on his horse, Frank can see that this cowboy doesn’t look well. He’s slouched back in the saddle, the horse’s head is dropped way down. Maybe he was out late. Maybe he drank more than he should have. The gates swing open, the steer gets the jump on him, the cowboy catches up, leans over, grabs the horns but can’t seem to snap the head back. Rather than the horns going back, Frank sees them rotating slightly forward, the neck looks enormous, the steers’ ribs are widening as air fills his huge lungs. The steers’ body seems to be getting longer, his front legs are dropping under him, his pelvis is out, his tail is up, his haunches powerful, his back hooves driving him forward like a train. Meanwhile, the cowboy looks like a flag flapping in the wind. This time around, the steer’s in charge.

Now that’s the way of it, that’s how it works, that’s what we’re after, Marj says. We’ve got that kind of organized power in us too. We’re just interfering with it all the time. That’s what Alexander figured out.

And that’s what I mean, I say to the class, when I use the word integration. I mean that naturally organized freedom and power that’s in all of us.

I can see I’ve got everyone’s attention. I’ve been telling this story as much with my body as with my words. I see that everyone’s been sitting for a while, so I say, Okay, enough sitting. Why don’t you stand up. The second they start to stand up I tell them to stop and just stay where they are. 

Don’t move a muscle. Where are your horns? I mean, if you had horns. Are they rotating forward or are they rotating backwards? My eyes see one guy whose head is pretty jammed into his neck. I walk over and kneel down on one knee in front of him. I invite everyone to come closer so they can see us. I scoop his head lightly into my hands the way my grandmother would do to me when she greeted me, and I gently tilt his imaginary horns forward. His spine surges up. Everyone can see the power filling his body. That’s the steer, I say. 

I guide his weight over his sit bones, then over his feet, and without any effort, he floats to a stand. How was that, I said? Smiling, dazed, he says, “Zen zen chigau! Totally different! I floated up without any effort.” “Well, I say, that’s what happens when the cowboy gets off your back.”

Now here’s where it gets interesting. We’ve all got a steer inside of us. I call that your mammal body. And we all have a cowboy inside of us. That’s your acquired body. And sometimes our acquired body works against our mammal body. There’s a conflict in there. We’re fighting against ourselves. And it can get dangerous. The steer can get hurt, and the cowboy too.

Now our cowboy can’t take us down by our horns because we don’t have horns, and besides, the cowboy is not outside of us. So how does the cowboy within us bring us down? Well, instead of coming at us from on top of our heads, he comes at us from below our heads, from our necks. It’s like he’s hiding there inside our neck, looking up, reaching up, and pulling our skull back and pressing it down into our spines. That’s not the only place where he hangs out, but it’s definitely one of his favorite places from which to operate.

Here’s what’s very cool. Our mammal body has got a lot of energy in it. And our cowboy body does too. Now if they’re going at each other, they’re using up all of our energy, and that’s the energy we want to be using to get on with our lives. If we can get the energy of the mammal body and the energy of the cowboy body to harmonize, to work together toward a common purpose, if we can get them both working for us, not busy fighting against each other, then just imagine how much energy that would free up.

And that’s why it felt so effortless standing up. Not only was the cowboy off your back, the cowboy was actually helping you get up! So you’re going from having almost no available energy to stand up, to having a surplus of energy to stand up. Now, that’s exciting. Imagine what it would feel like to work with patients with all that organized energy, what it would be like to move through your day like that.

(Glimpses into what it looks like as I work with physical therapists.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vkn2NsuBWiI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FAdOjLVztSk

Over the next half hour, I do this with about ten students. I make a point of always catching a person unaware that their horns are pulling back. Don’t move, I tell her. You’re perfect just like that. Okay, I’m going to be the cowboy. I place my hands around her head, but this time I put a slight pressure with my little fingers against the back of her neck and take her more into her “disintegration pattern,” gently getting her throat to bulge forward and down, which immediately tilts her head back, collapses her chest, and tucks her pelvis under.

Now, I’m going to have a change of heart, a conversion. I’m a cowboy who decided to change his ways. My new mission is to free the steer, free its power. Finding the potential spring in her spine, I guide her back into her “integration pattern.” (I don’t use any Alexander jargon. I don’t need it.)

Supporting teachers, I call out!  It’s time to give everyone this experience! I can sense a bit of panic in the air. I know what they’re afraid of. Don’t be afraid of taking people down, I say to them. Do it., but do it slowly and gently. It’s good for them. It’s good for everyone. We want to get springy down there. When you buckle a person’s neck forward and press their heads gently into their spines, it’s an intelligent response for the body to go into a collapse pattern. If the spine is too rigid and can’t do that, there’s a problem. So take people down, softly, and get them to know what’s happening down there. Lead them down in a way that makes their spine springy. Load the spring. Fill it with potential energy. Then take the pressure off it and let the spine spring back up. Get to work. Have fun.

By the end of the first morning we are off to a good start.  Everyone’s got a clear idea of what the work’s about, what the workshop is about. They’re beginning to be able to see what the cowboy within looks like, and what the steer within looks like. They’ve all felt the power of their mammal body when the cowboy is working for it, and the weakness of the mammal body when the cowboy is working against it.

Their Own Story

I want to tell them about their own countries story of the ox and the ox herder, about the boy who finds the wild ox and tries to tame it, and has a real hard time of it, how they both end up exhausted. I want to tell them how, if they just hang in there for forty years, the ox and the ox herder will come to trust one another, like one another. The fighting will stop. But I decide not to go there.

Have a good lunch. Get some fresh air. Move around. Rest a bit. Come back ready to work.

Doumo arigatou gosaimashita, thank you very much, I say, bowing, grateful after all these years to still be teaching, grateful there are young people out there interested in what I know.  Doumo arigatou gosaimashita, everyone repeats, happy and energetic.

zen oxherd picture

Mounting the ox, slowly I return homeward.

The voice of my flute floats through the evening air.

Tapping my foot to the pulsating harmony of the world around me,

In rhythm with the beating of my own heart.

My Muse

If you look closely at some of the large figures on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, you may notice something peculiar. A good number of them have books in their hands. It seems they want to read. Often kids are bothering them. Perhaps Michelangelo also wanted to read but was always being interrupted. 

When I was a modern dancer, I wanted to read too, but I was either in technique class, or rehearsing. I remember seeing a bumper sticker that read, I’d rather be dancing. I knew, straight away, that person was not a dancer. If they were a dancer their bumper sticker would have read, I’d rather be reading.

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There was one figure on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel that mesmerized me, that possessed me, that became my muse, and eventually the logo for my community/school, the Alexander Alliance. She was the Libyan Sybil. When I began using her image as the logo for the Alexander Alliance, students wondered why, why the Libyan Sybil? And as I often do, and did then, I answered their question with a question.

Michelangelo_the_libyan

The Libyan Sybil 

Why do you think?

She’s beautiful.

She’s strong.

She’s poised.

She’s got a great back.

She’s spiraling.

Once I feel my students have seen what they are going to see then, if there is more I want to direct their attention toward, I will.

Notice how Michelangelo figures often appear androgynous. I like this. Often as men undo their culturally acquired masculine holding patterns, they feel more feminine. And as women undo their culturally acquired feminine holding patterns, they feel more masculine. I move people away from their acquired gender bodies and into their mammal body, the body that men and woman share, their human body.

She’s got a beautiful synergetic flexion of the hips, knees and ankles. We want that happening in conjunction with an expanding back that is emanating power through the arms into the hands, and through the spine and into the skull. And the Libyan Sybil has got all that going for her.

Something else I love about the Libyan Sybil is her upper appendicular skeletal system, her arms. They remind me so much of my mentor’s, Marj Barstow’s, arms when she worked with us. Marj’s scapulae were wide. Her shoulders were neither up nor down, more just out and away, one from the other. Her elbows and wrists were articulate. Her elbows were ever so slightly back and out, creating room between her arms and torso, while her wrists were going in slightly toward the mid-line, exactly as you see here as our sybil holds her very, very large book. Marj’s arms always looked natural and elegant. Her hands looked at once easy and powerful. Really, Marj’s arms were just like the Libyan Sybil!

Then there’s that exquisite spiraling throughout her body that you’ve noticed. Let’s look more closely at what is going on there. There’s a descending spiral, and an ascending spiral. The descending spiral begins with the head and eyes. Something’s got her attention; something’s turning her attention away from her book. The descending spiral is primarily concerned with orientation. Your orientation begins to change. You hear something, or you see something, and your orientation to the world shifts. You can see this descending spiral happening in some of our other readers too. Go and take a look.

Now what about the ascending spiral? From where is that initiating?

From her hips.

Lower.

From her left foot.

Lower.

From the ground.

That’s what it looks like to me, from the ground, and then sequentially up through the body. So if the descending spiral is about orientation, what’s the ascending spiral about?

Maybe action. It’s helping her to hold up the book.

Power to do what she’s doing.

That’s how I see it too. Maybe she was oriented more fully toward the book and then something got her attention and Michelangelo caught her just at that moment of transition.

Why would he want to do that?

Because it looks cool.

The cool factor is very important. The Libyan Sybil is a super cool figure. Just imagine how cool the Sistine Chapel was when the first people ever to enter that room looked up and saw these huge three dimensional figures almost falling out of the ceiling. Painting was not Michelangelo’s thing. He was a sculptor. He was forced to paint the Sistine Chapel. So he discovered new techniques for making his two dimensional figures appear three-dimensional.

Michelangelo likes that transitional moment because change is taking place. But you don’t know what she’s really doing or why. It’s mysterious. Is she opening the book or closing the book? 

There’s action. She’s in motion. He’s not just painting form, but motion, coordination, emotion, drama. He’s a motional and emotional anatomist. He’s a storyteller.

Now when you really think about it, there aren’t two spirals. There’s just one. Imagine you are holding a wet towel. Get your scarf, or your coat, or a towel, and try this. Hold it in your hands and turn your top hand gently in one direction as you counter that action by gently turning your bottom hand in the other direction.

Imagine turning it so gently that no water is squeezed out of it. When we wring out a wet towel our spiral turns into a twist. An area is created where both movements oppose one another and stop each other, creating torsion. But if the spiral is gentle enough, and if it moves through the whole towel, there is no conflict, there is no blockage, there’s just one integrated spiraling motion occurring in two complimentary opposing directions.

The Libyan Sybil, for me, is the symbol of a person who can gracefully transition, change direction, change opinion, adapt, without losing poise, without disturbance. Imagine being a parent who is trying to do something, like read, or cook, or pay the bills and your two young children have just started fighting with each other. How are you inside of that transition? How gracefully can you shift your attention? How do you adapt to changing circumstances?

Revealing That Which Is Hidden

Let’s compare our Libyan Sybil to another figure, one of the Ignudo figures, one of the twenty naked, muscular figures on the Sistine Chapel. Let’s take a look.

Ignudo_02_detail_s

What is he feeling, and what specifically tells you what he is feeling?

He’s panicking. His eyes are bugging out. It looks like he’s gasping. Even his hair contributes to this sense of panic.

Worried. Something about how his forehead is raised and her eyebrows are dropping down.

Dreading something. I really don’t know. I feel it through his whole body. Maybe it’s in his back and neck and shoulder. And the way his upper lip is pulled up. Something bad is happening. 

Really sad. It could be the angle of his eyes, or the tilt of his head or the sunken feeling in his chest. 

Feeling hopeless. The chest and eyes.

Feels threatened. It looks like he wants to get away. He’s looking back but his body is trying to go forward. Maybe.

Images are like Rorschach tests. We project our inner life onto outer images. Why else would we all be interpreting what we see differently? Let’s compare the Ignudo to the Libyan Sybil. Tell me what you are seeing and the feeling it creates.

efg_24.197.2_283230_03

The scapula’s moving down and out and around the ribs. It looks strong and graceful.

The spine looks long. The neck is not compressed or shortened. It creates a feeling of balance and elegance.

The eyelids are lowered; forehead and eyebrows relaxed. That makes her look calm and objective and in control.

The mouth is closed. It makes her seem observant, self possessed. 

The head, instead of tilting back, is tilting ever so slightly forward. I don’t know, she feels dignified.

Yeah, instead of looking over the shoulder by flipping the head back, the Libyan Sybil is tilting the head forward and rotating around; two ways of looking over the shoulder, but they’re so completely opposite. There is no fear. She’s quietly confident.

It’s amazing. The figures are completely opposite in almost every way.

That is why I juxtaposed them. You’re beginning to see how I see because you are recognizing the specific physical traits that express, (press out), the emotion (to move outward).

Go ahead. Try both ways and see if it changes how you feel, emotionally. Do your best to do exactly what they are doing. And once you have them let yourself gently, slowly, softly transition between one and the other.

They get to work. I sit back and watch. Again, getting to know my students. 

So what was that like?

It’s eerie. When I take on the Ignudo, I feel scared. I start to panic. And when I become the Libyan Sybil, I grow calm. Really calm. I feel mature.

Many heads are nodding in agreement.

Head poise has an organizing, integrative influence, a governing influence throughout the entire body/self. And when this head poise is disturbed, disturbance happens throughout the whole body/self. That is why a head is called a head. It’s in charge. 

So lets look one more time. What do you see happening to the Ignudo figure’s body?

Michelangelo-ignudo

It looks really uncomfortable. The head is looking back to the right, but the right arm and upper torso is twisting to the left, and the pelvis is falling back and looks weak. 

His body looks stuck, disorganized, and confused. Caught in the middle.

His head is in front of his torso and his right arm too. And maybe that’s counterbalancing his torso falling back.

He looks really compressed in his chest and belly, and his mid-back looks like it’s pushing back with a lot of force. And his right scapula is rising up toward his ear.

When I look at him, I notice I’m holding my breath.

That’s a good one. It is good to kinesthetically feel what you are seeing. That’s what I call embodied seeing. Why do you think I sometimes choose to teach people about the body through art instead of through strictly anatomical drawings?

Because they’re beautiful.

Because sometimes people get a little scared around pictures of skeletons?

For some people who are not academically oriented, it might feel like studying, like it’s going to be difficult, like there’s going to be a test.

They’re images of humans that are not alive, not expressive. 

Yes, and because, first and foremost, I want you to see a person’s beauty. I haven’t seen a person who wasn’t beautiful in 35 years. And often, the more distraught the person is, the more beautiful. And through that beauty I want you to sense a person’s humanity. And only then do I want you to drop concern yourself with a person’s anatomical structure.

Life is not primarily about how we use our bodies. It’s about how we are being in ourselves. So I want you to begin by seeing a person, how a person is, how a person is being, in their entirety. That’s what Michelangelo could do. Profoundly.

Perhaps now you may see why I fell in love with the Libyan Sybil, and why I chose her as our school logo. It is said she has the power to “reveal that which is hidden.” Perhaps she ‘s turning toward us, opening the great book for us, inviting us to read, and to learn.

Michelangelo_the_libyan

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Again, my thanks for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Bruce Fertman

http://www.peacefulbodyschool.com

 

 

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.

Bummed Out

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Holidays do not always bring joy and good cheer.

Visiting relatives we can’t relate to, whose values conflict with ours. Not having relatives to visit. Missing people who were once in our lives, parents or grandparents, former spouses, kids who have grown up and moved on.

Some of us are single. We are bombarded with commercials, with images of happy families, people who are married, people with children, people living in big, beautiful homes.

Holidays can be overwhelming, unnerving. Unresolved conflicts emerge, old wounds resurface, arguments ensue. Pressures mount around money and gift buying. People running around. Lots of drinking. Accidents happen, and not just to other people.

Some of us face the new year full of hope, others of us, with dread.

Who hasn’t, at one time or another, felt lonely and depressed, deserted and desolate during the holidays?

Like all of us, Lao Tzu’s been there too. He doesn’t try to hide it from us. He wants us to know that he knows how hard it can get, how painful it can become. He’s telling us that even saints and sages suffer. He’s telling us that these feelings of isolation that beset us are part of the human drama, not indications that we are broken.

Without a broken heart, how could anyone be whole?

Twenty

Bummed Out

Accepted or Rejected.
Included or Excluded.
Sanctioned or Censored.

Which is a compliment, which an insult?
Ultimately, does it really matter?

Don’t be afraid of what people think of you.
How do you think about yourself?
That’s what counts!

I know what I say is true,
Still, sometimes, I feel utterly alone.

I watch and listen to people around me.
They are together – eating, talking, laughing,
Enjoying one another, as if life were one big party.

I don’t feel like eating. I don’t talk. I don’t smile.
I’m exhausted. I can hardly move.
I’m downhearted and depressed.
I have a house but no home.
I am a homeless person.

People around me go about living their lives.
I feel like I have no life.
I’m just an old man sitting and writing in the dark.

What’s wrong with me?
Why am I so confused, so flooded in doubt?

Everyone seems full of purpose. They are clear.
They know what they have to do, and they do it.

I drift aimlessly, blown this way and that, like a cloud.
I possess no solidity, no stability, no security.

Yes, it is true. I am a stubborn man.
Reclusive. Unreachable.

Nothing but the Tao sustains me.
From Her alone I receive sustenance.

I am like a baby peacefully sucking at his mother’s breast.

Where This Path Begins by Bruce Fertman

Commentary

For whoever decided to leave this passage in the Tao Te Ching, I am grateful, just as I am grateful to whoever decided to leave Ecclesiastes in the Torah.  When we mystify, mythologize, and deify our leaders, we belittle ourselves.

Near the end of his life, Carl Jung strongly identified with this exact passage in the Tao Te Ching. He writes:

“I am astonished, disappointed, pleased with myself.  I am distressed, depressed, rapturous.  I am all these things at once, and cannot add up the sum.  I am incapable of determining ultimate worth or worthlessness; I have no judgment about myself and my life.  There is nothing I am quite sure about…

When Lao-tzu says: ‘All are clear, I alone am clouded,’ he expresses how I now feel.  Yet there is so much that fills me: plants, animals, clouds, day and night, essences of people.  The more uncertain I have grown about myself, the more there has grown up in me a feeling of kinship with all things.  In fact it seems to me as if that alienation which so long separated me from the world has become transferred into my own inner world, and has revealed to me an unexpected unfamiliarity with myself.”

Carl Jung

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

On The Grounds Of Modesty

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Bruce,

Today I have a question for you. It’s about the center of the body. People often say the center of body is near the navel. But when I think about the navel as my center I tend to bend at the waist and this doesn’t feel right. When I relocate the center of my body nearer to my hip joints, this seems to work. But actually, I ‘m not sure. What do you think?

Different ideas work for different people. You have to play with it, as you are doing. I have thought about this one for about 40 years. Here are just three possibilities.

In Aikido there is the idea of one point. You meditate on your one point getting smaller and smaller as you are becoming larger and larger. But it is not at the navel. To find your one point, walk the tips of your fingers straight down below the navel until you come to a place that is very firm, just above the beginning of the pubic synthesis. Then press in slightly but firmly, on about a 70% angle, scooping upward toward the back, just where the lumbar spine begins to curve into the thoracic spine. This is easier to show on a skeleton. You just have to poke around until you find what works for you. If I direct through that point just so, then I sense my body becoming strongly organized. But be careful not to start sucking in your abdominal muscles. One point is deeper in than that, behind the stomach muscles. If you tap into this you will find that your body has a tendency to organize itself over the hip joints, which will likely create a sensation of being ever so slightly inclined forward. But it is not a bend from the waist. It’s being poised over your hip joints in such a way that they feel oiled, so you are ready to move in any direction. When the body is in a condition of readiness, like an Olympic diver preparing for a dive, you won’t see a person who is standing at an exact 90% angle in relation to the floor. Their whole body will incline slightly forward from the ankle and a tiny bit from the hip joint.  When you are sitting, and you tap into one point, it will orient you slightly toward the front of your sits bones.

Now if we travel from Japan into China, the Hara becomes the T’antien, which most often is translated as belly. So rather than being a point it becomes a whole area, a large container. In English the word belly usually implies bigness, fullness, relaxation and sometimes humor. My tai chi teacher used to talk about the belly as a large basin, a very big bowl, like  people, in the old days, would use to wash up before there were sinks and running water. My teacher would ask us to move as if that basin were completely full of water. She wanted us to sense the weight of the water, while at the same time, moving so that we didn’t tip the bowl causing the water to spill out of the bowl to the front or to the back or to the sides. This is particularly important when doing tai chi, as it is critical to cultivate a strong sense of horizontality while moving.

For some people this larger sense of center works better.

Now we get to my favorite version.

Nietzsche wrote, The center is everywhere. This frees me. I no longer have to look for “my center” or locate it somewhere inside my body. Actually, I don’t have to try to locate it anywhere.  Drop the very notion of a center and sense what happens. Look around and sense that the center is everywhere. When this works, it really works.

Stephen Hawking, the great astrophysicist, has the same idea, but here he is contemplating our macro-cosmos.

“Now at first sight, all this evidence that the universe looks the same whichever direction we look in might seem to suggest there is something special about our place in the universe.  In particular, it might seem that if we observe all other galaxies to be moving away from us, then we must be at the center of the universe.  There is, however, an alternate explanation: the universe might look the same in every direction as seen from any other galaxy too.  We have no scientific evidence for, or against, this assumption.  We believe it on the grounds of modesty:  it would be most remarkable if the universe looked the same in every direction around us, but not around other points in the universe!  The situation is rather like a balloon with a number of spots painted on it being steadily blown up.  As the balloon expands, the distance between any two spots increases, but there is no spot that can be said to be the center of the expansion.”

As usual, great question. I hope this gives you a few possibilities with which to play. If you discover something let me know.

The Stampede

The Red Hats

There’s nothing quite like real life.

Helping people who come to our studio for lessons to become more physically and personally comfortable really does help. Sometimes a lot. It’s a beginning. Helping a person experience this newfound liveliness as they engage in an activity, like playing a violin, or doing the dishes, or working at a computer takes the work beyond the bodyself and into the world of action, and interaction, into life. My teacher, Marjorie Barstow, was masterful when it came to “working in activity” within a group setting. That stands as a major pedagogical contribution. Overtime, for me, “working in activity” evolved, transforming itself into “working situationally.”

It was some years ago, a workshop in Lubeck, Germany, an elementary school teacher wanted to work on teaching. I said, “Sounds good, lets do it. What’s the most stressful moment look like for you when you’re teaching?” She says,” When class is over and the students are running either out the door, or to my desk, while simultaneously, the next class is running through the same door and  into the classroom, or toward my desk.” “How’s that feel,” I ask?  She says, “ I feel bombarded”, and I observe her as she answers my question, her eyes wide open, her lips apart, her body arching back, her hands springing up in front of her like a shield, her breath held high in her chest.

To the fifteen other people in the room I say, “Okay, let’s make a classroom.” I ask the teacher where the door is in relation to her desk and the students proceed to set up the room, happy to be participating. I watch everyone move and interact. My job is to get to know people, so I sit back and watch as much as I can.

The room’s set up. The teacher is standing in front of her desk. Half the students are in their seats, the other half ready to stampede into the room. Everyone understands that they now are 9 or 10 years old. “Okay, go!” I watch the scene as it unfolds. I see what I need to see.

The teacher’s eyes are bugging out of her head, mouth open, body arching back, hands behind her, elbows locked, hands pressing down against the edge of the desk, knuckles white, body rigid. She’s virtually paralyzed, appearing much like she did when responding to my earlier question, though much more pronounced.  I get all the “kids” to pipe down and to prepare for “take two.”

I ask the teacher to sit behind the desk. She wondered why she had not thought of that. Once in her chair, I ask her to pull her chair forward, closer to the desk, and then to sit back, to let herself rest against the back of the chair, to let the chair support her body. I invite her to feel how the chair comes up under her and supports her pelvis and her thighs too. I have her rest her hands in her lap, and her feet on the floor. Gently, I use my hands to help her decompress her spine, I make her aware of her facial tension until she is able to release her jaw, let her tongue rest, which softens her breathing and her ribs. I encourage her to feel the weight of her eyelids until her forehead relaxes. I watch her arms disarm, her legs ungrip.

I tell her, even though a batch of kids may arrive at her desk in the near future, seemingly all at once, that one student will get her attention first. “Turn and look at that student and address only that student as if she were the only person in the room. Give her all the time she needs. When you feel finished, notice the next student who catches your attention and do the same. Just see what happens. You won’t know until you give it a go. Okay?”  She says okay. Getting that commitment is important.

I give a nod, the kids flock toward her desk. The questions are coming from everywhere. Resting in her chair she turns her head toward one student and says, “Hi, what can I do for you?” She listens to the child, thinks for a moment, then replies. The other kids are desperately trying to get her attention while she’s living inside of a private world with this one student.  She smiles, and tells the child she looks forward to seeing her tomorrow. She turns to another student and says hello. Suddenly, a breeze of silence fills the room. The teacher continues to give her undivided attention to the second child. Gradually the students at her desk decide to leave until only two are left. She finishes, turns to the two other students and tells them she really wants to meet with them and that she’d like to do it after class. They sit down.

Working situationally.  If you bring a person’s real life into the classroom, they will more likely be able to bring what they experienced in the classroom into their real life.

That has been my experience.