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New Introduction to Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart by John Tuite

 

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John Tuite

It is so deeply satisfying to know that someone understands me so completely, not just my mind, but my heart.

Introduction 

The writing in this book comes from a level of mastery that is utterly at home with itself, and thus undemonstrative. It is deceptive in the ease with which it integrates and flows. Bruce writes early in the book that becoming an Alexander teacher took him three decades. What could he mean? The formal qualification these days certainly doesn’t take so long. He points to an understanding that being an Alexander teacher is about more than accumulating a significant quantity of knowledge, techniques and students. There is a depth, and a pathway into that depth that must be walked.

You will meet so much life and such a range of people here, all immersed in worlds both difficult and rich in possibility. A blind busker who wants to learn tai chi. A woman who wants to die but is unable to loosen her ailing body’s grip on life. A Korean protester with ankylosing spondylitis. A tango couple who discover something essential about their lives. A yoga teacher who learns to see her students for the first time. You will meet a thirty something woman buried in the ‘cute’ behaviours of her 12 year old self. Two Japanese psychologists, one confronted by a raging patient and the other as imprisoned as the dominating convict with whom she works. There is a terrified divorcee who, before a judge, pleads for custody of her children. A nervous physical therapist, lonely, desperate for connection. And others. In this book, you may find yourself.

Overhearing is at the heart of the book. We find ourselves present inside of lessons and partaking in workshops. We get precise descriptions of where, how and why Bruce uses his hands and his language. We feel the student’s process. We feel the onlooker’s process. And most vividly, we feel the teacher’s process.

Although the book is written very much in Bruce’s voice, (and those of us who have attended his workshops will hear his actual voice clearly as we read), the book is also multi-vocal. There are other voices and presences too. Old teachers, philosophers, students. At two crucial, moving moments we meet Bruce’s father and his infant son.

We meet Bruce’s mentors. Some of the charm of the book is in overhearing invaluable tips given to Bruce by such Alexander luminaries as Marj Barstow. “When we are distorted, we cannot relate well to anything”. (55) We get precise descriptions of the quality of her touch and its impact. We hear the exacting Erika Whittaker: “Bruce, I enjoy listening to your voice, but I don’t want to hear your breathing. Breathing is a shared silence, between you and God.” (73) As we listen in to this first generation of Alexander teachers, Bruce brings the founder almost within touching distance. At the same time, this is an autobiographical work, tracing Bruce’s movement through decades of work. But Bruce tells his story through the stories of everyone else.

The book offers a wealth of invaluable movement metaphors, each conveying a universal principle through movement, leading to an experienced truth, a felt truth. The arm structure is a widening river. Our kinaesthetic sense, a compass. The most consistent and generative metaphor is of the body as moving earth, the Earth as body. There is a wonderful extended metaphor, structuring an entire workshop, on the body as clay in the artistic process of becoming pottery. There is a beautiful, evocative individual lesson in which the body, lying down, becomes a landscape under rain.

The right metaphor or simile can also be the key that opens the door to Bruce’s understanding of a whole person. A psychologists’ movement patterns, while listening to a difficult patient, become understandable only after Bruce sees they are like a boxer dodging punches. Or his sudden realisation that a dying woman’s body was ‘bracing for impact as if she was about to be in a head-on collision’.

For Bruce metaphor is more than an artful way of connecting two ideas together. Metaphor here arises from, and is a way of experiencing, a deep connection to the world, a profound correspondence between all the levels of life. A kinship.

It is not just that the arm structure can be imagined as a widening river, but that both of these express the same principle. They each arise as an expression of a common set of dynamic forces, an aliveness that is the same at its core. And while a good metaphor is hugely useful in the process of teaching and learning, it is this kinship, rather than just a clarifying idea, that Bruce is ultimately inviting us to experience. Living into a rich relationship with the world is what is important for Bruce. We must not just connect these metaphors to our bodies, but we must take time to live into them. In this sense these are sacred metaphors.

Yet, this kinship that Bruce kindles, is not abstract or airy. It’s not an excuse for the spiritual bypassing of our world’s actual problems and divisions. It is grounded and grounding. Bruce asks us to consider the many correspondences between the world we live in and the body we live in. Between the inequalities of attention and tonal energy in the body, and the inequalities of income and empowerment in the world. Between the denigration and denial of the body, and the denigration and denial of manual labour and nurturing work.

Most powerfully, in a world increasingly marked by rigid separation and border walls, Bruce asks us to consider the bioregions of the body, also artificially divided through isolationist thinking. The neck doesn’t stop at the collar. The belt doesn’t actually divide the legs and lower abdomen from the upper body. Our living, vertical musculoskeletal connections, running north-south reveal such constructed horizontal borders to be faulty, mythical mis-readings, resulting in a loss of global unity and wellness. Bruce asks us “Where do we place our false boundaries. Our false borders?” What we have done to ourselves we have done to the Earth, and what we are doing to the Earth we are doing to ourselves. How could it be any other way?”

It is this widening sense of kinship, so damaged by the ways in which we are presently forced to live, that we most long for, and which we respond to in the book, kinship with others and with the world. There is kindness here.

At one moment in the book, Bruce writes about how it is straightforward to teach his trainees about their bodies, and how to use them. Using their hands is more challenging.  But enabling them to ‘see people in their entirety’ has been surprisingly difficult. (129) “I want you to begin by seeing, not a body, but a person, how a person is being in their entirety.” Bruce calls this empathic appreciation of another, ‘beholding’. I might use an unfashionable but vital term and call it an act of solidarity, a joining with another in the shared condition of being human in a difficult world.

How does one read this book? I have read it six times now. Does one read it all the way through, in as few sittings as possible, responding hungrily to the ease and richness with which experience and wisdom are communicated? (I have done that.) Does one take it chapter by chapter, with breaks in between to live into, practice and embody its lessons? (I have done that too.) Or does one take it even slower, sentence by sentence with long gaps in between? (This, I have also done.) The book both pulls you in and pushes you out. You may feel divided between reading on and leaving the page just to look around, to look at people appreciatively, to engage with people in new ways, untried.

My only answer is… all of the above. It is a book to be read as many times as needed.

But a warning! Though you will gain enormously by reading this book, deepen your practice, and your teaching (if that’s what you do), the generative heart of the book may elude you.

There is an understanding in my tradition of Chinese martial arts that, though the teacher may teach you the content, methods and practices of an art, its essence cannot be given. It must be stolen from the teacher. This book is rich with possibilities, ideas, metaphors, examples, and most of all, full of vivid people and encounters. They are all there waiting for you. Waiting to expand your experience of yourself and the world.

But stop a moment and feel your way towards the source of this richness. You will find ‘a little bit of nothing’ (150), a field of generative spaciousness. I believe that, along with kinship, it is this great spaciousness that is the true essence and heart of the book. These two, kinship and spaciousness, are what the writing arises out of and points toward. These two cannot be given to you. These you must ‘steal’. Because, while this is a book to be read, over and over, it is actually, quietly, a book to be slowly, gently, lived. Over time, and through tribulation or triumph, darkness and light. And it is only in the living of the book that its essence will be internalised, or perhaps simply recognised as already gathered in your own heart. Because this is a lifelong process, a path rather than a destination. When people ask me, what was the impact of this book, I am tempted to answer, “It is much too soon to say!”

John Tuite

Founder of the Centre for Embodied Wisdom

London, England

Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart

 

Body and Being – Delving Into the Work of F.M. Alexander – May 5, 2019 – Bruce Fertman – Zurich, Switzerland – A Workshop For Alexander Teachers And Trainee

A Sneak Preview into the Switzerland Alexander Alliance

Post Graduate Training Program

Beginning spring

2020

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.

Baldwin

In Latin, the word persona means mask, or character. Having a persona implies there being a person behind the persona. Do we know our persona? Can we distinguish between our persona and who we are as a person?

Our word “character” derives from the Greek, kharakter, meaning an engraved mark or an imprint on the soul. The word engraved carries with it a sense of permanence, something not easily erased or undone, as does the word imprint. If we say that a person is of upstanding character, we suggest they are consistently and reliably honest and decent in their way of being in the world. But we might also say of someone, “They are a real character!” When we say this what we are saying is that there is something that sticks out about them, usually in a way that is odd or funny. In both cases, we are seeing something engraved, a mark of some kind, that seems to be a part of who they are. But is it?

Character is fixed, dense, hard; the Self fluid, soft, spacious.

In the Sukha Sutra, Buddha says it like this.

If we are like rock and something cuts into us, it will leave its mark, perhaps for generations to come.

If we become like sand and something cuts into us, it will leave its mark, but soon that mark will be gone.

And, if we become like water and something cuts into us, as soon as the mark appears, it will disappear, forever.

This is the goal, to become unfixed, un-postured, unbraced, unblocked. To become unafraid, unashamed, unaffected. To become unassuming, unarmed, unburdened. To become unbiased, unchained, uncovered. To become untied, unguarded, undiminished. To become unmasked, unpretentious, unhurried. To become unsophisticated, unselfish, unspoiled. To become untangled, unveiled. Unwritten.

Please join me.

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Bruce’s 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.’

 In Bruce’s class you feel as if you are sitting by a deep, soft lake. His pace and patience, his quiet confidence, allows people to unfold and open layer by layer. The superfluous falls away, leaving only life’s inner vitality effortlessly expressing itself through you.

Margarete Tueshaus
Equestrian, Argentine Tango Teacher, Alexander Technique Teacher, Bochum, Germany

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 and Switzerland, Bruce also teaches annually for Alexander Alliance training programs in Japan, Korea, and America. He conducts post graduate training programs in England and Switzerland. Author of the book, Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart – Delving Into The Work Of F.M. Alexander, published by Mouritz Press.

Workshop Details:

Post graduate workshop for Alexander teachers and trainees. Limited participants.

When: 05.05.2019, 10am – 5:30pm

Where: Feldstrasse 24, 8004 Zurich (close to stop «Zürich,Kalkbreite/Bhf.Wiedikon»)

Fee: CHF 160.- (Students CHF 125.-)

Workshop language: English (translation to German possible)

Individual lessons (CHF 110.–/45ˈ) can be arranged on Thursday, 09.05.2019, and Friday, 10.05.2019.

Organizer and assistant teacher: Magdalena Gassner

To register call +41 77 475 50 27 or write to m.gassner@alexanderalliance.de

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to write to me, bf@brucefertman.com or to Magdalena Gassner, m.gassner@alexanderalliance.de.

Hope to see you in Zurich!

Bruce Fertman

Patterns

My eyes can dimly see the pattern of my life and the puzzle that is me.

Patterns by Simon and Garfunkel

We often use the word ‘habit’ in our work. We are usually referring to unconscious habits that don’t serve us well. Our goal is to make the unconscious conscious, the invisible visible. We want to be free to choose what we want to do and how we want to do it. We also want to be free not to do something. We want the control to begin to do something when we want, or not, and we want to be able to stop doing something when we want to stop. Completely.

As Alexander teachers we can easily fall into the habit of looking primarily for postural and movement habits within ourselves and our students. That is fine but if our work is to be about more than posture and movement, if it is to be about how we relate to ourselves, others, and the world, if it is to be about the quality of our lives, then we need to open our parameters to include other types of habits.

Rather than using the word habit, I prefer using the word pattern. People tend to associate habits with being bad, shifting them into the world of right and wrong, a world offering too much judgement and too little information. The word pattern holds less negative charge.

Patterns are good because they are precise and they repeat themselves, making them recognizable to an observant outsider. And they are full of good energy. Patterns, whether helpful or unhelpful, use energy, and as William Blake says, Energy is Eternal Delight. Our energy, when well directed, imbues us with vitality.

When I teach I look for patterns other than postural and movement patterns. Any unconscious pattern, once identified and made conscious, provides us with good material for applying Alexandrian principles and processes. We can use any pattern to exercise our ability to stop, to become conscious, to develop and exercise our kinesthetic and proprioceptive senses, allowing us to see a pattern expressing itself through our entire body from head to toe and out through our fingertips. We can give ourselves the time to understand this pattern physically and emotionally. Then, once we know where we are and what we are doing and how we are doing it, we can choose to see what would happen without it.  Who would we be without the pattern? What would happen if we chose to unplug the pattern, if we left it out, if we left ourselves alone? Where would the energy fueling that pattern want to go, how would it redirect itself?

A person comes to me and I notice they say ‘you know’ a lot, or ‘like’ or ‘ah’ or that every sentence they utter has the inflection of a question. A verbal, vocal, communication pattern.

A person comes to me and as he begins to speak about his frustrations at work, I notice how he drops his hands and slaps them on his thighs in exasperation. A gestural pattern.

A person comes to me and every time they have a new and powerfully positive kinesthetic experience their minds jump into the future saying how they will never be able to do this themselves, or into the past saying how they have been doing everything wrong for so many years. A learning pattern. A thinking pattern.

I ask a person to quickly walk around the room and then to come back and tell me what they’ve taken in. One person says mostly what they saw, another mentions several things they heard, another what they smelled or touched. Sensory patterns.

I notice how a particular person always appears cheerful, optimistic and energetic. Another person’s clothes are always exceedingly neat and always worn too tightly. Another person always looks forlorn, often complaining about others. Another takes up a lot of space, spreads out and is prone to challenging, disagreeing and arguing with me. Another who is always trying to help me, complimenting me excessively. Another who continually cracks jokes. All patterns. Persona patterns.

It’s important for us as Alexander teachers to be able to distinguish between principles, processes, and procedures. Once we have a clear understanding of Alexandrian principles and processes, i.e., sensory consciousness, inhibitory choice, direction and redirection of energy, primary movement/pattern/control, critical moments, what I like to refer to as moments of opportunity, the relationship between means and ends, etc, we can choose, at times, to experiment working outside of Alexander’s classical procedures, i.e., chair, monkey, lunge, whispered ah, etc. and simply improvise with Alexandrian principles and processes within a larger arena, within the ultimate procedure, how we proceed in living our lives.

After eight years of study in Chanoyu, the Way of Japanese Tea, I informed my teacher, Mariko LaFleur, I would be traveling and teaching intensively for a month and would have little or no time to practice. She said to me, “Bruce, that’s fine. Essentially Chado is not about the form. It’s only about how we exist in this world as a guest and as a host. It’s about gratefully receiving what we are given. It’s about how we welcome, receive and serve others. Remember Bruce, the tea room is everywhere. Practice Tea everywhere you go, wherever you are, and with everyone you meet. Enjoy your trip.”

Working within formal structures is assuring, confirmative. It’s familiar. Within them we know the rules, we’re comfortable. We know what to do. We know where we are. We’re home. 

And then there is the wide world, the unfamiliar, unpredictable world where there are no clear cut rules, where we are at times uncomfortable and know not what to do or what to expect. It’s our first time around. We’re continually in a place we have never been and will never be again. 

We meet people along the way.  We want to welcome and receive them, in their entirety, as our guests. We don’t want to reduce our guests to their posture. We don’t want only to watch how they move. We want to see who they are, how they live, so we can discern how we can best serve.

The more we see and understand our students in their entirety, the more our students see and understand themselves in their entirety. And since, ultimately, we are all mirrors for one another, reflections of one another, we come to see and understand ourselves, the puzzle that is us.

Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart – London Workshops and Individual Lessons With Bruce Fertman

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Physics and Metaphysics of Touch 

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Photo: Tada Akihiro

For Alexander trainees and teachers, as well as for other movement educators and somatic therapists who use their hands to help others.

To receive everything one must open one’s hands, and give.   

Taisen Deshimaru

Hands close and open, grasp, cling, clench, and release. Hands express. They welcome, warn and inform, and in our case, hands educe. Educative hands lead out that which lies within. Together we will increase our tactual palette, become more tactually literate, learn new ways of using our hands sensitively and effectively.

We understand well the paramount importance of personal use while teaching, and the direct impact our use has on our quality of touch.  As important as good use is, my 55 years of experience using my hands to help people move well has taught me that additional knowledge into the hand’s inherent design can help us acquire hands that are, at once, soft and powerful, light and deep, stabilizing and mobilizing, quieting and energizing. As there are primary colors, so too there are primary touches: push, pull, slide, spin, and roll. In other words, physics.

We will also consider the metaphysics of touch. It’s a disservice to reduce a person to their body. I never touch a person’s body. I only touch a person. Our goal is to touch a person’s being through their body. But to touch a person’s being through their body we have first to be able to see a person’s being through their body, which means we have to be looking at more than a person’s use. There are ways of developing this way of seeing people. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Bringing the Work to Life and Life into the Work 

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For students, trainees, and teachers of Alexander’s work.

Become aware of your habits, because your habits will become your character. 

Become aware of your character, because your character will become your destiny.    

Anonymous 

Have you noticed it’s relatively easy to make good use of Alexander’s work when we are doing well, but nearly impossible when confronted with something truly challenging or threatening? How can we practice sticking to principle under emotionally stressful circumstances, when relating to family members, when encountering problems at work, while coping with physical injury and pain, when overwhelmed by stressful thoughts and emotions?

Working Situationally is a procedure I developed, slowly, over the past 40 years. That is to say Working Situationally is a “way of proceeding,” to teach people how to employ Alexander’s work when under trying conditions and faced with harsh realities.

Being able to work with people this way has been enormously beneficial to me personally. It has brought the work to life for me, and into my life in ways that before were inaccessible.

I love sharing this way of working with other Alexander teachers. And ironically, it’s really fun. 

Saturday and Sunday, April 22 and 23, 2017

Walking into the World

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Our work on walking will be incorporated into both days of study and relevant to everyone. 

It’s no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.   

Francis of Assisi

Walking, when understood, is the Alexandrian procedure that most naturally integrates rotational and spiraling motions into our upright structure, motions that are conspicuously absent in Alexander’s other procedures, as wonderful as those procedures are. Walking, when taught dynamically, helps dissipate postural holdings, often resulting in a profound sense of freedom and power.

Once when I asked Erika Whittaker what she felt like after working with Alexander, she said, “When the lesson was over, I could have said thank you, and walked out the door, or I could have said thank you, and walked through the wall.”

We’ll spend time learning about the mechanics of walking, as well as how to use our hands to help our students walk naturally, freely, and powerfully.

About Bruce Fertman

Photo by: Anchan of B. Fertman

Photo by: Anchan of B. Fertman

In Bruce’s class you feel as if you are sitting by a deep, soft lake. His pace and patience, his quiet confidence allows people to unfold and open layer by layer. The superfluous falls away leaving only life’s inner vitality effortlessly expressing itself through you.

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.”

M. Tueshaus, Alexander Teacher / Tango Teacher/ Equestrian

For 55 years Bruce has been using his hands helping people to move well. For the past 30 years he has traveled annually throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States helping people understand and experience the interconnectedness between physical and spiritual life.

In 1982, Bruce co-founded the Alexander Alliance International, an intergenerational, multicultural community/school, the first Alexander teacher training program inspired by the work of Marjorie Barstow. Currently, director of training and senior teacher for the Alexander Alliance in Germany, Bruce also teaches annually for Alexander Alliance training programs in Japan, Korea, and America. He directs the Alexander Alliance Post Graduate Programs in Dorset, England and Zurich, Switzerland.  

Bruce trained with five first generation Alexander teachers; Catherine Merrick Wielopolska, Marjorie L. Barstow, Richard M. Gummere Jr., Elisabeth Walker, and Erika Whittaker. He brings a lifetime of training as a movement artist to his work as an Alexander teacher having trained in Gymnastics, Modern Dance, Contact Improvisation,  Tai Chi Chu’an, Aikido, Chanoyu, Argentine Tango, and Kyudo.

He has worked with members of the Berlin Philharmonic, Radio France, The National Symphony in Washington DC, the Honolulu Symphony, for the Curtis Institute of Music, and most recently for Jeong Ga Ak Hoe, a traditional Korean Music Ensemble. Bruce taught for the Five College Dance Program in Amherst, Massachusetts for 13 years, and for the Tango community in Buenos Aires. For 6 years, he taught movement for actors at Temple and Rutgers University. For ten years Bruce taught annually for the College of Physiotherapy in Gottingen, Germany. 

Bruce’s heart centered approach as a teacher rests upon extensive study in psychology and theology, specifically, the work of Eric Berne, (Transactional Analysis), Carl Rogers, (Person Centered Therapy), Frederick Perls, (Gestalt Therapy), Albert Ellis, (Rational-Emotive Therapy), Carl Jung, (Analytical Psychology), and Byron Katie  (Inquiry). Having also studied with Jewish, Christian, and Buddhist scholars, Bruce’s teaching not only transforms people physically; it creates a decided shift in people’s personal lives.

Gone is the straight-lined striving, the stopping and oughting. Instead curiosity, inquisitiveness, and permission to experiment, to play, to open boxes and to climb out of them into a world of possibility – a world both soft and strong. And all this through a quiet power, an exquisite touch, a clarity of speech, and a wealth of wisdom. For me, Bruce’s work is more than exciting; it is important, both to the world and to anyone involved in any way with Alexander’s Technique.

A. Turner – Alexander Technique Teacher
Cornwall, England

One of the foremost representatives of Marjorie Barstow’s lineage, Bruce’s work is unique and innovative. Bruce is especially gifted when it comes to teaching in groups. He’s a philosopher, poet and writer who gives voice to what is wonderful about the Alexander Technique.

Michael Frederick – Founding Director of the International Congresses for the Alexander Technique

Workshop Details:

Where:

Alexander Technique
The Walter Carrington Educational Trust
13, The Boulevard
Imperial Wharf
London SW6 2UB

020 7727 7222

http://atiw.org/find-us/how-to-find-us

We are only three minutes walk from Imperial Wharf Station.
Imperial Wharf Station provides a direct link to Clapham Junction (4 minutes) in the South and Willesden Junction in the North. Change at West Brompton (5 minutes) for the District Line or at Shepherds Bush (9 minutes) for the Central Line.

When:

April 20th and 21st private lessons, by appointment.

April 22nd and 23rd. Workshops.

1o:00 – 1:30 morning class.

1:30 – 3 lunch break

3:00 – 5:30 afternoon class

Fee:

£200 for both days of study. £175 early registration.

£120 for each day of study.  £100 early registration.

Half price for all Alexander teachers enrolled in the Alexander Alliance Post Graduate Training Program.

Early registration ends March 20th, 2017.

Note: I will be giving private lessons on April 20th and 21st. The teaching fee is £60 for a 45 minute lesson. If you or anyone you know is interested write to me, or have them write to me at: bf@brucefertman.com

To Register Contact Ruth Davis at:

Email: 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

Or send a cheque made payable to:

Ruth Davis 

Sakura,

7 McKinley Road

Bournemouth

BH4 8AG

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. I look forward to meeting you and to working with you.

Bruce Fertman

Leaving Myself In Your Hands

Guan-Yin-Close up

Bill Coco

“Show me how to do that?” And I would. I would stop my own workout and teach someone how to do what I had somehow figured out how to do, like a front somersault, or a reverse kip up on the rings, or circles on the side horse. No wonder I missed making the Olympic Team. I was busy coaching. Looking back, it’s clear; I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I was supposed to be learning how to use my hands to guide someone into balance, to indicate exactly from where to initiate a movement, in what direction, and with what quality of impulse; to punch it, or snap it, or swing it, or draw it out, or press it up, or let it go. I was supposed to be developing my ability to use language to facilitate coordination.

Unbeknownst to me, I was supposed to become an Alexander teacher, but when I was twelve, and first began using my hands to teach other kids how to move well, I had no idea what that was. As gymnasts we used our hands to help each other as a matter of course, and sometimes as a matter of life and death.

My first coach, Bill Coco, gave me my first experience of educative/nurturing touch. “Okay Bruce. You’re going to do your first back layout with a full twist. I want you to show me your round off. Remember no more than 3 preparatory steps, one back handspring, block with your feet so you transfer your horizontal power vertically, hands reaching toward the ceiling. Don’t look over your left shoulder until I say, “Look,” then wrap your arms quickly and closely across your chest, and leave the rest up to me. Got it?” “Got it.” My faith in Bill was total.

One step, round off, lightning fast back handspring, block, reach…”Look,” I hear Bill say! I look over my left shoulder, wrap my arms across my chest, and there’s Bill’s big hands, soft, light, around my hips. I’m suspended, my body laid out in an arch, weightless, floating two feet above Bill’s head. I’m ecstatic. Bill’s hands spin me to the left, and the next thing I know my feet have landed squarely on the ground. “There you go Bruce. Your first lay out with a full twist. You did 95% of it on your own. By the end of the week it will be yours.”

I guess that makes Bill Coco my first Alexander teacher. He taught be how to lead with my head and let my body follow. He used his hands exactly where, and only when needed, and only with the amount of force necessary. Bill looked like a boxer, more often than not with a fat, unlit, cigar in his mouth, disheveled, sported a sizable beer belly, seemed like a tough guy, and deep down was the softest, gentlest, hugest teddy bear alive. He died when he was forty. I was fifteen. But he passed on to me exactly what I needed, and no doubt he did for a lot of Philadelphia kids like myself.

Bill Coco

Bill Coco

And so it went. Teacher after teacher, teaching me exactly what I needed to learn to get exactly to where I am now; a person who knows how to use his hands to bring people into balance, a person who knows the language of movement, and pretty much a soft, gentle teddy bear of a person, minus the cigar.

But were my teachers only teachers? What else were they to me? How did they really pass onto me what I needed to learn? There are teachers, coaches, counselors, instructors, educators, professors, rabbis, priests, role models, idols, heroes, and mentors. We’ve got different names for people from whom we learn, people who pass on knowledge and skill to us, who bring out knowledge and skill from us. But what is the name for those teachers who pass themselves onto us?

It’s important for me to know what, and who I am to my students if I am to best serve them, if I am to pass on to them the best in me, if I am to leave myself in their hands. Sometimes I am teacher, father, friend, coach, holy man, enemy, sometimes mentor, advocate, adversary, role model. I am exactly, at any given moment, who my student perceives me to be, and needs me to be. I know I am, in essence, none of the roles I assume. I am the person who assumes them.

Marjorie Barstow

Marj Barstow was many things to me, which is why she made such an impression. Most importantly, she was a mirror into my future. She was the manifestation of my potentiality. I could see in her what was lying latent within me. And so I watched, and I listened as if my life depended on it, which it did.

She was not a holy person, not a guru, not a mother, Boy, did she not mother us. She was not a technique teacher, not a coach. She was an artist who showed us her art, over and over again, a kinesthetic sculptor. Humans were her medium. And sometimes horses. (Marj had trained world champion quarter horses.) Sometimes I think she really didn’t care all that much about us as people. She was not a person-centered teacher, as I am. She was a technique-centered teacher. She used us to work on her technique, on her art. That was okay with us. We benefited from her artistic obsession.

Marj inspired me. Her work was astoundingly beautiful, mesmerizing, like watching a master potter spin a clump of clay into a graceful bowl.

Marjorie Barstow working with me.  1977

Marjorie Barstow working with me.
1977

More than anything in the world, I wanted to be able to do what she did. I watched her work day after day, year after year, but I didn’t just watch her with my eyes alone. I watched her kinesthetically. I watched her with my whole body and being. I developed a kind of synesthesia. I was taking her in, at once, through all of my senses. It was like I was swallowing her whole. I “grokked” her.

When I was in college and read Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein, I knew that was how I needed to learn. “Grok” means water. To grok means to drink, to drink life. Not to chew it. Not to break it down to understand it. At the moment of grokking the water and the drinker become one substance. As the water becomes part of the drinker, the drinker becomes part of the water. What was once two separate realities become one reality, one experience, one event, one history, one purpose.

Marj didn’t break things down. Marj didn’t teach us how to use our hands. After we would watch her for a few hours Marj would say something like, “Okay. Let’s divide into smaller groups. Bill, Barbara, Don, Bruce, Martha, and Mio, go and teach for a while. (Or it could have been, Cathy, David, Diana, Catherine, and Pete.) The teaching just happened. We could do it. It was as if we were riding Marj’s wave. We were grokking her.

About a year before Marj died I had a dream. Marj was dying. She was in her bedroom, in her house in Lincoln Nebraska, a room I had never seen. “Bruce come sit next to me.” I did. Then slowly Marj pulled the corner of her bedcover down and asked me to lie down next to her. I was shocked, but I did as she asked and gently slid by her side and covered both of us. Then Marj said, “It’s okay Bruce. Now I am going to breathe you for a while, and she placed her mouth on my mouth and began to breathe into me. I could feel her warm breath entering and filling my lungs. I could feel my breath entering into her lungs. In total darkness, we breathed together for hours.  And then I woke up. I got out of bed, picked up the phone, and called Marj. “Marj, are you okay? I had a dream about you and got nervous.” “Bruce, don’t worry about me. I am fine.” “Okay Marj. Sorry if I bothered you.” “No, you didn’t bother me. Thanks for calling.” “No, thank you Marj.”

I’m still thanking her.

Rebbe Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

What was he to me, a rabbi, a teacher, a spiritual father? Marj gave me my craft, my art, my vocation. Rebbe Zalman taught me how to teach, how to sit quietly with people, as if they were in my living room. He showed me that it was fine to be silent, that it was okay to take the time I needed to think, and to wait until I had something worth saying. He taught me how to tell a story. He taught me to be unafraid to look into people’s eyes. He taught me how to think metaphorically. He taught me how to listen to my still, inner voice, and follow it. He taught me how to listen to the inner voices of others. He taught me how to bless people, and how to be blessed by them. He taught me that I could never know one religion unless I knew two, and actively encouraged my interest in Zen Buddhism, in the Christian Mystics, and the Sufi Poets, and in the teachings of Lao Tzu.

Rebbe Zalman

Rebbe Zalman

One day Rebbe Zalman entered a classroom at Temple University where I was taking a graduate course on Martin Buber and the Early Hasidic Masters. Rebbe Zalman enters the room, walks across the room to the other side, stands in front of a large window and looks out at the day. After a minute or two he turns around, walks to his desk, sits on the top of his desk, crosses his legs, closes his eyes, tilts his face up toward the ceiling like a blind man, and begins gently rocking from side to side, bending like grass in the wind. He begins singing a niggun, a soft melody that repeats itself and has no ending. At some point we begin singing with him, singing and singing without end, until we feel as if we are altogether in one boat, floating upon an endless melody, down a endless stream. Rebbe Zalman’s voice fades out, and ours with his, until we’re sitting in a palpable silence. Eyes closed, his rocking slowly getting smaller and smaller. And there in the stillness, in the silence, we’d hear, “That reminds me of a story.”

And Rebbe Zalman would begin to tell us a story, and within the story there would be another story, and within that story another story, until we were transported, like children, into another world. And when we’d least expect it, at a particular point, the story would end. No commentary. No discussion. Class was over. We’d leave knowing those stories were about us, about our very lives. Rebbe Zalman didn’t have to give us any homework. He knew those stories would be working within us until next week. Marj Barstow and Rebbe Zalman were transformative educators, par excellence. They knew how to educe, how to lead us in, and then how to lead us out, out of ourselves, into places unknown to us.

A Modern Day Bodhisattva

Many years later I met a woman, another modern day bodhisattva, another person who inspires, who teaches through example, who knows how to bring out the best in people. I spent hours, years, watching her work, watching her lead one person after another out of their confusion; I spent years grokking her, absorbing her through my pores, into who I am now.

11th century Guanyin statue, from northern China

11th century Guanyin statue, from northern China

Again, I see there are no accidents. We meet exactly the teachers we need, exactly at the time we need them, so that we may become exactly the people we were meant to become.

Aaah, but that is another story.

JAPAN – The Vow

Having taught Alexander’s work for all of five years, just shy of my thirtieth birthday, my workshop at Crosslands Retirement Community had finished.  Putting on my coat, head down, feeling unsure of myself, in grave doubt about my ability to get Alexander’s work across, an elderly man approaches, a soft elegance about him. Upright, tweed sports jacket, bow tie. He extends his hand and says, “James, James Bennett. You might like knowing that fifty-five years ago I received lessons from Mr. Alexander. He used to tell me that, next to John Dewey, I was his worst student. I always took that as a compliment.” “Well,” I said taken aback, “tell me, be honest, how did I do?”  “It moved me seeing you work with my friend Agnes, he said. To see her walking without her walker. How can I say, it was thrilling. You know, I had many lessons with F. M., but they were always individual lessons. I never watched anyone having a lesson. Until now. I could actually see what was happening. You were teaching me how to see. It was enlightening. As for how you did? Have no doubt. You did splendidly. You have that touch.”

That made my day. Actually, that kept me going for years. It affirmed my intuition that Alexander’s work could effectively be taught in groups.  It further convinced me of the importance of being able see Alexander’s work, as subtle as it was. And I felt encouraged to keep cultivating “that touch.”  Early on I had made a vow to myself that I would not quit until my hands were as good as Marjorie Barstow’s hands.  James Bennett made me feel I was on my way.

Forty years after having made that vow,  a 1000 workshops later, 15,000 people-under-my-hands later, I may have made it. I may have gotten there. I may have fulfilled my vow. I will never know for certain, and so best to not stop practicing. I don’t think I could stop practicing. It’s who I am, at my best.

In this short video, entitled The Touch, by Anchan, you will Marj’s hands within mine and my guess is that Alexander’s were within hers.

 

Making The Invisible Visible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Watch The Touch.

Tell us your impressions.

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