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Posts from the ‘Soul’ Category

On Alexanderian Inhibition and The Great Undoing

photo: B. Fertman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enthralled

A friend sent this to me.

I know I sound like one of those movie reviewers: riveting, enthralling, transformative, magical.

But it is true.

(Note: When you click on French Street Theatre, this performance piece will download onto your computer. Once it begins it is necessary to hit Return to move the slides forward.)

French Street Theatre

Undone

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

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

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

Every Step You Take/Every Move You Make – For Tango Dancers

Bruce Fertman teaching the Walking Way

Bruce Fertman teaching the Walking Way

For Tango Dancers

At last I have found the ground. Now I can fly, for now the ground flies through me.

Pablo Veron watched me dance. After one dance he walked up to me, and paused. He said, “You are a beginning tango dancer.  Always when I first work with a beginning tango dancer I must teach them how to stand, how to embrace, and how to walk. Yet, with you, I don’t. You stand. Your embrace is beautiful. And you can walk. I don’t know why that is. All you need is to learn tango. Let’s begin with learning other ways of beginning and ending phrases you already know.” And so my lesson with Pablo began.

Margarete Tueshaus, an Alexander Technique  teacher, tango teacher, and equestrian recently taught a tango workshop in Latvia. Within four days, 1000 people went to my blog to read a small piece I wrote on Tango entitled, Clear Love. Someone must have liked it and gave it to a friend.

Here’s another piece for tango dancers, and really for anyone who wants to know about the functional dynamics of walking.

The Walking Way

Isadora Duncan, the founder of American Modern Dance, said to her students, If you can walk, you can dance. Many people think she meant dancing is easy. She didn’t. She meant walking is difficult. Here’s what it takes to walk well, besides a good pair of shoes.

One. Your feet must learn how to give themselves to the ground. Most people stand on their own two feet, not on the ground.

Two. Accessing core support that wells up from the ground is vital. Imagine pouring water from a pitcher into a tall glass. The water goes all the way down to the bottom of the glass, then steadily rises within the glass. Reaching the brim of the glass, it begins to overflow out into the world, beyond itself. All the while the glass remains full.

Imagine, within you, a fountain, the water continually surging up  from the ground and continually falling to the ground, and you may begin to get a feeling of core support.

Imagine a wave in the ocean swelling, rising, and for a moment standing there, suspended, all the while remaining one with the ocean. That wave is being supported from under itself and from within itself. The wave is not being held up externally. No one has put the wave in a coca-cola bottle. The coca-cola bottle would be analogous to our superimposing postural rigidity upon ourselves to hold us upright. We might look good, but we won’t feel good. Core support comes from far below us and from deep within us, and is effortless. It needs no external support. It’s the real thing.

Three. When you look in the mirror, below your chin, you will see your neck. What you are seeing is only the bottom half of your neck. The upper half of your neck, or your cervical spine, extends up higher than you think.

The top of your spine actually joins the bottom of your skull in between your ears, and a couple of inches behind your nose. Your eyes are just above the top of your spine. From there you must learn to see the horizon, which is not where the floor meets the wall, but where the distant ocean and the endless sky touch and widen forever.

Four. Just as a bird would have trouble flying if it’s wings were weak, and crooked, and stiff, so a human has difficulty walking if its arms are weak, and crooked, and stiff. The arms will hamper the free movement of the torso. It is utterly mysterious to see the anatomy of a birds wings. Within the wing, you will find an arm that looks remarkably like your own – an arm with a humerus, an ulna, a radius, wrist bones, and fingers.

Imagine DaVinci’s man who is standing in a perfect square, his finger tips touching the sides of the square, his head the top, and his feet the bottom. Proportionally speaking, what does that mean? It means that your arms are exactly the length that you are from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head. Your “wingspan” is longer, and more important, than you might suspect.

Five. Your ribs do not hold up your spine. Your spine holds up your ribs. If your ribs are lifted in the front, you may appear full of zest, but your back will be tight, and your breathing impaired.

Six. Your spine is not a trunk, that is, not a tree trunk. It is a limb for your head and for your pelvis, as your wingspan is a limb for your hands, as your legs are limbs for your feet.

This spinal limb must be strong and springy. It is designed to move as a flexible unit. It must be able to rotate easily and smoothly in both directions, like a chair that can swivel with equal ease to the left and to the right. Your spine must be able to softly compress and effortlessly decompress, like a powerful shock absorber. And finally your spine must be able to bend and sway from side to side, like cottonwood trees in the wind. While walking, the spine fluidly and simultaneously moves slightly in all these ways. The rapport between your head and spine governs your balance, and refines poise. It helps you orient and re-orient rapidly and accurately.

Seven. Solidly attached to your spine, via your “sacred” sacrum, your pelvis must also be able to move in these three directions. Your pelvis is the place of pace and power.

Eight.  Your sacrum also serves as the keystone that gladly bears and transfers the weight of your upper body through your legs and feet into the ground, while taking its rightful place in the center of the arch structure, that are your legs. This arching structure is every bit as beautiful and functional as any arch in a church. More amazingly, your legs have myriad joints built into them, allowing you, at once, to be not only stable but mobile. These leg joints, your hips, knees, and ankles must move in synergy, and in accordance with their differing joint structures. When this happens you discover your natural gait. You find your stride.

Nine. Your feet do not resemble socks or shoes. They are far more intricate, and they need to be. Your ankles must be profoundly un-held for your feet to function with any effectiveness. Learning how the weight transfers and rolls through the foot, which is unlike most people imagine, if they imagine anything, is essential to walking with power. Once your ankles and feet become a vital part of your walk, you suddenly have a vehicle with four wheel drive running on biofuel. This is exhilarating.

Whether you are walking from your kitchen sink to the front door, down or around the block, around the dance floor with your partner, or up a mountain, the essentials of walking, when embodied, will bring lightness and pleasure into every step you take. Ultimately you no longer walk; you are walked by the earth under your feet. This is grace.

As a younger man, I identified with the ideas expressed in the quote below, by Nietzsche. As the older man I am, I had to rewrite this quote to reflect its counter-truth; its opposite, which is also true.

Both are beautiful.

…from Thus Spoke Zarathustra

I would believe only in a god who could dance. I have learned to walk ever since I let myself run.

I have learned to fly, ever since I do not want to be pushed before moving along. Now I am light, now I fly, now a god dances through me.

Commentary by Bruce Fertman from The Walking Way.

I would believe only in a god who could dance. I have learned to walk ever since I have let myself stop running.

I have learned to fly only since I have learned to wait until moved by forces greater and other than myself.

At last I have found the ground. Now I can fly, for now the ground flies through me.

Fair Is Fair

Seventy-Seven

Fair Is Fair

 

Bamboo trees live for a hundred years, flower, then die.

Roots intertwined, every tree stabilizing every tree.

Strong winds blow.

The bamboo grove bows deeply.

The winds die down.

The trees stand up.

Every bone in our body is curved.  Every one.

If our bones were straight, and our joints were square,

We couldn’t bow.  We couldn’t bend.

Side by side, a group of archers practice archery.

They draw their tall bows.

Their bows bend.

The top and the bottom of their bows

Curve slightly toward the center.

The further the archers pull their string back,

The rounder their bows become.

The vertical yields to the horizontal.

In the hands of leaders

Who are grounded, strong, and balanced,

The rich, at the top will bend,

And the poor, at the bottom will rise,

Widening the middle class.


 In the hands of leaders

Who are groundless, spineless, and shaky,

The rich will get richer,

And the poor will get poorer.

Our children, deprived of flying forward into an open future.

Visit

The Place I Want to Get Back To

is where

in the pinewoods

in the moments between

the darkness

and the first light

two deer

came walking down the hill

and when they saw me

they said to each other, okay,

this one is okay,

let’s see who she is

and why she is sitting

on the ground, like that,

so quiet, as if

asleep, or in a dream,

but, anyway, harmless;

and so they came

on their slender legs

and gazed upon me

not unlike the way

I go out to the dunes and look

and look and look

into the faces of the flowers;

and then one of them leaned forward

and nuzzled my hand, and what can my life

bring to me that could exceed

that brief moment?

I have gone everyday to the same woods,

not waiting, exactly, just lingering,

Such gifts, bestowed,

can’t be repeated.

If you want to talk about this

come to visit. I live in the house

near the corner, which I have named

Gratitude.

Mary Oliver

Thirst

Photo:

Coyote, New Mexico

Entitled

Books are entitled. People aren’t.

Soon I will be moving from the house in which I lived for four lonely years. Already I’ve given away hundreds of books, books I think others may need more than I now need them. Some books I am choosing to keep, mostly for their titles. Books are entitled. Someone entitled them. And I need those titles. I need to walk by them and catch them out of the corner of my eye.

The Way It Is – William Stafford

Crossing To Safety –William Stegner

Gravity and Grace – Simone Weil

Moon In A Dewdrop – Dogen

The Cloud of Unknowing – Unknown

Genesis – Unknown

The Ancient Child – N. Scott Momaday

In Praise Of Shadows – Junichiro Tanizaki

The Soul’s Code – James Hillman

Yes, I silently say to my books. Right. Thank you. I remember.

There are four books written by F.M. Alexander, whose work I have devoted my entire adult life toward understanding, the titles of which do not now, nor have they ever spoken to me. I choose to keep those books out of respect to the man and his work.

It’s possible I’ve completely misunderstood Alexander’s work. It might be the rebel within just looking for a cause. I know him all to well. And it could be that, maybe, after 40 years of loving inquiry I’ve crossed over. I’ve made it to the other side.

Alexander’s book entitled, Man’s Supreme Inheritance, is for me, Towards A Luminous Poverty.

Thanks to Alexander, I’ve come to understand that the less I become, the more I am. When I am nothing, when I am empty, light stands in my place.

Alexander’s book entitled, The Universal Constant In Living, I refer to as, Uncertainties.

Thanks to Alexander, I see how I can never know, for certain, what is right.

Alexander’s book entitled, Constructive Conscious Control Of The Individual, is now, The Grace Of Sense.

Thanks to Alexander, I’ve come to understand how little control I actually have over my life, over the things of this world. But I also know that I can choose to open myself to the grace of sense.

Alexander’s book entitled, The Use Of The Self, now reads, No One In Particular.

Thanks to Alexander, I’ve come to understand that it is not myself that I seek to know, but what is not myself that I wish to receive.

Now it is time to pack.

Time to say thank you, and goodbye to this kind house.

Time to say thank you and hello to a place unknown.

What it takes

Barn’s burnt down –

now

I can see the moon.

Masahide

photo by B. Fertman

The Riddle

photo by Bruce Fertman

The Riddle

Not in a place, not in a space,
Not a person, not a thing,
Not a ping or a pong,
Not the soundless sounding of a gong.
Not a word, surely not absurd.

Don’t look.
You’ll not come across it in a book.

Don’t seek,
And you will find,
It is not yours, not mine.

It has no foes, woes, or toes.
There – off it goes!

It hates to sit.
Does not come in a kit.
Some think it illegit.
About to quit?

It’s a zone…where you are not alone.
It’s a ball…floating through us all.
It’s a climate…of refinement.
It’s a breeze…full of ease.

It’s changeable as the weather.
Totally untethered, soft as a feather,
Like a field of heather.

Nowhere does it dwell.
It’s like a well, but without the well.
Well, well, well…impossible to tell.

It is…it is…it is.

Beyond Hope – for Alexander Teachers Young and Old

Photo taken by Elisabeth Walker – Botanical Garden, Kyoto, Japan

Beyond Hope

– For Alexander Teachers, Young and Old

As it turns out, I am now older than most people in the world. You know this when once again you do not have to pay as much as normal people to get into a movie theater.

I am now also older than most of the people in our little Alexander world. I was a young whippersnapper and then one morning I woke up, and I was a young senior citizen.

When I was a young whippersnapper, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (http://rzlp.org/), told me there was one way, only one way, to be saved. He said save yourself the way you save stuff in your computer, and then give away what you like and what you think might be helpful, and enjoy doing it.

So when I share my old writings of Alexander’s work, or tell of my experiences as an Alexander teacher, I am writing for all those young, less experienced, wonderful Alexander teachers out there.

I am writing for you when I share my new writings too, like this one. I am over the hill, but that is a good thing. You see, I made it to the top of the hill, and now I am over that! Now I’m coasting. I’m picking up speed. My foot is off the brake. The moon-roof is open, the windows are down and booming out of the speakers B.B. King still sounds as good as ever.

As for my fellow Alexander senior citizens, I won’t be offended if you pass me by. I’ll just wave whether you smile or curse me out. Anyway, I’ve got to watch where I’m going. I’m not the best driver. My kids say they’re giving me five more years, at which time they’re revoking my license and getting me a designated driver.

Right. I was telling you about Reb Zalman. Rebbe Zalman mostly taught through telling stories, stories within stories within stories. That man taught me more about teaching, without teaching.

We were all there waiting like little kids. We were enrolled in a graduate level class in Early Hasidic Masters at Temple University in Philadelphia. Zalman, about five minutes late, walks into the room, crosses the room without looking at us and stands by the window gazing out and taking in the day. He stands there for a minute or so, turned away from us, as we watch him without blinking. He starts quietly singing a Niggun, a simple, wordless melody that repeats itself indefinitely. After about a minute of listening to Zalman’s soft, resonate voice, we shyly join in. Zalman keeps it going until we are no longer self- conscious about singing. My eyes are closed, my head slightly tilted back like Stevie Wonder, and inside I’m spinning around like a Whirling Dervish. Gradually, Zalman’s voice fades out. Our voices, no, our beings, are exactly in sync with Zalman and with each other. We’re sitting in a silence that’s palpable. My eyes open and there is Reb Zalman grinning, sitting on top of the desk that he is supposed to be sitting behind. He sways a few times from side to side, strokes his long salt and pepper beard then, looking at us, no, into us, out of his big eyes, he excitedly says, “That reminds me of a story.” The class has begun.

Now telling stories and gossiping are two different things. When you gossip you hurt three people. You hurt the person you are gossiping about. You hurt the person who has to listen to you gossiping. And you hurt yourself, more than you know.

Good storytelling hurts no one.  It’s an indirect way of teaching.  You’re not giving advice, not telling a person what they should or shouldn’t do. You’re not moralizing. You’re creating another world and a person is slipping into that world. They’re traveling through a world unknown to them, and they are going to come out of that world getting what they were supposed to get. And it doesn’t have anything to do with you.

One summer my family was driving up to Vermont to teach on Jan Baty’s freewheeling Alexander summer retreat. Martha Hansen was reading Hemingway’s, The Old Man and The Sea out loud. We were all in another world, literally. Noah was ten and dreaming about fishing. Eva was 12 and beginning to understand how symbolism worked. I was shaking in my boots realizing I was that old man who caught a fish that was clearly more than I could handle. And Martha, she was doing what she loved doing since she was 5 years old, reading a great story out loud. Then we realized we missed our turn, were in the middle of nowhere and our gas gauge was way, way, way below empty, but that is another story.

Stories are so exciting to me that I can no longer read books about self-improvement. I’m beyond hope. It’s not that there isn’t room for improvement mind you. It’s just that the concept doesn’t make sense to me anymore.

That’s why I read novels. I get lost in other worlds, in other people, in how other people see. And it’s through getting lost, that I find myself.  There I am losing myself in someone else. Losing my self. As an old guy, this is my idea of a good time. I just finished ready Murakami’s 1Q84. It’s a 1000 pages long, and it was too short. I feel terrible,  like I just lost a couple really good friends.

There are some good things about getting older. If you’re lucky you start not caring about what other people think of you. You don’t care if everybody likes you, or your work. You don’t take offence easily, and you’re too tired to defend yourself or try to prove anything to anyone. You’ve been there, done that.  You’re not sure if being accepted or rejected is a compliment or an insult. It’s not personal anyway. You sing your song for all it’s worth and you stop caring about your voice – like Leonard Cohen or Dylan, you sing your truth.

Or like Walt Whitman.

I am larger, better than I thought,

I did not know I held so much goodness.

All seems beautiful to me,

I can repeat over to men and women,

You have done such good to me I would do the same to you,

I will recruit for myself and you as I go,

I will scatter myself among men and women as I go,

I will toss a new gladness and roughness among them,

Whoever denies me it shall not trouble me,

Whoever accepts me he or she shall be blessed and shall bless me.

Blessing others, and receiving blessings when they come my way, and they do, more and more because now I notice them.

That’s it.  All the rest is commentary.