Posts from the ‘Rest’ Category
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.
Drenched To The Bone
The more it receives,
The softer and larger it becomes.
Soaking, Seeping, Saturating.
Gray, Dark, Dim.
How do we know this?
We don’t know how we know this.
We just do.
Lao Tzu seems at once philosopher, pragmatist, mystic, naturalist, political advisor, coach, and the grandfather we always wanted.
Here, within this passage, speaks Lao Tzu, the mystic. He wants to give us a glimpse into the primordial, into the formless, fertile, cosmic culture out of which all life grows and thrives.
This passage may strike some as obscure, but for me it is accurate and real. When teaching well, this is what I touch. My hands contact a person, but then without my exactly knowing how, my hands drop in and there’s something dark, dim, and vital, something fluid, something moving, something without form or structure. My hands are touching and responding to the stuff of life, to life itself, fluid life.
When my hands sink, drop, fall, melt into this fluid medium, instantly my student and I feel it. It is as if before, without knowing it, we were only half alive, and then suddenly, as if someone flicked on a switch, we are wide-awake.
As an educator, I do my best to demystify the work we do. I like to speak simply and practically. I avoid jargon and intellectualism. I ask questions, tell stories, evoke images. But some things remain a mystery to me, and there is nothing to be done about it.
During a workshop, an occupational therapist asked me what I thought about when I touched someone. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to give an honest answer. Did I think? What was I doing? Finally, I said to her. I don’t have a thought in my head. Not thinking is profoundly restful for me, a quiet joy. I’m just water touching water.
During an Alexander Event at our school, Elisabeth Walker, (a first generation Alexander Technique teacher who at that time was 88 years old), was napping after a good morning of teaching. I gently knocked on the door to wake her up for some tea before her afternoon class. She looked tired. “Elisabeth, can I get you a cup of tea?” “No Bruce, I don’t need a cup of tea. I need a student.”
When Elisabeth taught, she touched the stuff of life. She rarely used the term primary control, or primary movement. Sometimes I used the term primary pattern. Elisabeth liked that but once she said to me, Bruce, all we’re really touching is vitality.
That’s why it’s such a blessing to be an Alexander teacher. We get to hold the waters of life in the palms of our hands.
Where Do They All Come From
Arrogance leads to loneliness.
Greediness to loss.
Give to others and you will not be poor.
Serve the people who serve you.
Work under those who work under you.
Allay your own fears, and those around you will become less afraid.
Open your own heart, and people’s hearts will open.
Do this, and people will have what they need.
You will have what you need.
There will be nothing left to do.
One of the principles underlying this passage is that changing ourselves is often the best way to change others. Alexander’s work also embraces this principle. Practicing Alexander’s work means attending to ourselves, doing our own inner work. What’s wonderful about the Alexander Technique is that we are given a way to do this physically. Our bodies become capable of alerting us, just before we are about to run into trouble.
For example, “Arrogance leads to loneliness.” Arrogance is not only an attitude; it’s a physical state of being. Arrogance expresses itself physically. The expression of arrogance can be overt or covert, but in either case it can be felt, discerned. When our kinesthetic sense becomes keen enough, we may notice that we are pushing our necks back and over straightening them, (stiff-necked). We may notice that we are pushing our chest up, and that we’re locking our knees, (and every knee shall bend.) A warning. Beware. Be aware. If we heed that warning, if we truly want what’s best for ourselves and for others, if we’re willing to let our ego give way to what is good in us, if we remember that we are not after being right, or being better than others, but in being at peace, then we can un-grip this arrogant stance, we can let it fall from us, and with it will fall the arrogance as well, and perhaps the loneliness too. The energy exerted to maintain arrogance, which is considerable, returns to us, to be used in a better way.
John Dewey, one of America’s finest philosophers of education, and a long term student of Alexander’s wrote about how the work enabled him to know when he was engaged in sophistry and when he was being a lover of the truth, literally, a “philo-soph-er.” After years of studying the work he could feel, somatically, through his kinesthetic sense, when he was being a sophist, and he knew he was not after winning the debate, but that he was after discovering the truth, and he didn’t care who discovered it. So in these situations he was able to make the shift back to whom he was when he was at his best.
But as my teacher, Marj Bartow often said, “Don’t believe a word I say.” Lao Tzu’s philosophy is not about believing anything. It’s about carrying out life experiments. Find out for yourself if what he says is true.
It’s uncanny. You start working with a person doing some simple activity, like eating an apple. You slow it all down. You give someone a chance to sense how they’re doing what they’re doing as they’re doing it. “Well, what do you notice,” you ask. They say, “I’m biting off more than I can chew.” The bell goes off. There’s nothing you have to say. There it is, his whole life in one action. He gets it.
A person walks to the door, opens it, and leaves the room. Simple enough. I invite her to return. “Well, what did you notice,” I say. She says, I don’t know. I saw the door handle, felt the door open, felt myself leaving. My eyes were cast down. Something sad about the whole thing.”
“Very good”, I say. “You’re waking up.” This time see the whole room you’re in before you leave, and everything and everyone in it. Say to yourself, thank you and mean it. Walk to the door, open it, and as you are crossing the threshold, linger there between two worlds. Sense how leaving is entering. Let your eyes take in the space you’re about to enter. Just this time, don’t look down and see what happens.”
As I make this suggestion to my student, the bell goes off, for me. Yes, every lesson is for me. Every life is my life. Everyone in everyone. The whole world in every dewdrop.
Sometimes movement is just movement, and sometimes movement is metaphor. Sometimes movement means something, something important. Something about our lives and how we live them.
This passage from Where This Path Begins is one example of how I have attempted to convey Lao Tzu’s insights through the workings of the body. The goal? Always, always to get to the heart, to the heart of the matter.
You’re Too Much
Arms are limbs for your hands.
Arms fold and unfold. They raise and lower.
They don’t like to be stiffened or over-straightened.
If something is beyond your reach, get closer, or do without it.
Clutching, grabbing, gripping, grasping.
Why hold on to things so tightly?
Legs are limbs for your feet.
Over-stride and your heels will strike against the ground.
Your back will tire. Your feet will ache.
Why get ahead of yourself?
Puff up your chest, and your lower back will tighten.
Your shoulder blades will narrow.
Your nose will stick up in the air.
Look down on others, and they will not look up to you.
Talk too much and you will lose your voice.
Why over explain?
Too much is too much.
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.
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.)