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Posts from the ‘Taoism’ Category

The World In A Dewdrop

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

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.

Twenty-Four

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.
Why strain?

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.

Where This Path Begins by Bruce Fertman

Only Two Kinds Of People

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Passage Fifty-Three

From Where This Path Begins

There are two kinds of people.
Foxes and Hedgehogs.

Foxes dig lots of shallow holes, spreading out all over the place.
Their coats are silky, shiny, and colorful. They’re debonair.
They’re sly. They’re quick. They’re here, there, and everywhere.

Hedgehogs are a bit pudgy.
They’re not real handsome or pretty. They’re drab.
They’re either still, like a rock, or busy digging away, usually the latter.
They start digging one hole,
And once they start you can’t get them sidetracked.

They just keep digging one big hole.
The hole gets wider and deeper. And deeper. And deeper.
It seems like they’re working their way down to the center of the earth.
It’s safe in that deep hole.

Some uninvited guests enter and start poking around.
The further in they go, the quieter it gets.
Unnerved, they turnaround and leave.

The hedgehogs keep digging.
Other creatures talk down about them,
Saying how they are just running away from the world.

Very few creatures understand hedgehogs.
They’re not digging away from anything.
They’re digging toward something.
The closer they get, the better they feel.

They never reach the end, which they find mysterious.
One day they wake up and understand the truth.
There is no end. There is only the way.
That’s fine with them.

There are a few foxes, usually older foxes, who realize
They’ve been running around getting nowhere.
Just how some foxes turn into hedgehogs; no one knows.
Legends abound.
It hurts. It’s harrowing. It’s humbling.

It is however, widely known, that the few foxes
Who do turn into hedgehogs, become some of the finest hedgehogs
Hedgehogs have ever had the privilege to meet.

Where This Path Begins by Bruce Fertman

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

Confessions of a MonoTasker

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

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

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

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

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

Epiphany

Photo: B. Fertman

Epiphany

It’s not what I expected, feels nothing like I thought it would, this release from the need to be anyone, from the need to be of biographical worth, noteworthy. No more life lived as an imaginary filmmaker, producer, director, scriptwriter, cameraman, editor, and leading man, a film, mind made, not for me but for others to see, to admire, to adore, and to endorse.

Now that I have abandoned my magnum opus, some fifty years in the making, what remains? What remains having left the studio, the black box behind? What welcomes and waits for me in the cool, fresh blue light of evening?

What shall I do now that my purpose in life has vanished like some mirage wavering before me, there, so real, then gone?

There must be some hidden purpose to my life, mustn’t there? There must be some imperative, some vision to fulfill, some mission to accomplish. How will I know what to do, which way to go? Can I live a life without a center, without a hub?

A yes arises from exactly where I don’t know. What I do need to know is where I am now, and the ability to see just far enough before me to know there is ground under my feet and space through which to move. If I attend and trust that should do it.

Could I be here for the sake of simple enjoyment? Could my job be to be jobless, to be available, a volunteer ready to go where I can best serve? What about money you ask? How will I survive? It seems I have managed, given I am still alive.

Time is not passing, I am. Can I accept this, embrace this?

Do I really need saving? I mean saving myself like an old, obsolete resume stored inside a little image of an icon of a folder within a folder?

Do I really need those photo albums sitting in a room, in a closet, on a shelf, stored in some dusty box no one has opened for years?

Why keep an accounting of my life? Why keep a record? Why keep track?

Why carve some graven image of myself, no matter how striking the resemblance?

Why continue to produce a film about a life that, when lived, is so much more moving and miraculous than a film could ever be?

Why?

Why does now feel like the only thing eternal?

Why do friends, and strangers too, who are no longer strangers, look like stars in the night?

Why does everything I hear sound like music?

I don’t know, and I don’t need to know.

For Yourself

When one writes a book, best to write it for yourself. If another person likes it, that’s great, but not necessary.

To be honest, I like my book. It’s already a success, a best seller, a classic. It’s my map, my guide. I read it when I need to read it. It helps me. It brings me back to myself, to others, to the world.

It is as if I extracted, with the help of Lao Tzu, every ounce of wisdom this one little soul possesses. I’ve got it down on paper.

It sounds dramatic, but it’s true: this book saved my life, because at one time I had seriously contemplated ending it. It’s true I wept over almost every one of the eighty-one passages in this book. Yes, they were tears of sorrow, but they were also tears of relief, and tears of gratitude.

Gratitude for the chance, and the endurance, that came from I know not where, (my children? my parents?), to turn my life around for the better. Not that my life was terrible, and not that I had created some grave crime. No, if I am guilty, I am guilty of being completely and utterly human, of daring and not knowing, guilty of built-in-selfishness longing for release.

I almost called this book, Where This Path Ends, but thanks to a dear friend, Celia Jurdant-Davis, I didn’t.  Celia wrote, “How about Where This Path Begins?

Thank God for my friends, for people who sometimes know me better than I know myself. How often I have things precisely turned around one hundred and eighty degrees! That’s good. Just one flip and there’s the truth, smiling.

My book is about, at 61, where my path begins, from here, always from here.

Where is my book? Like so many books, it’s sitting inside of some laptop, unpublished, unknown, but not forsaken.

It’s as if I’m having labor pains. I have to breathe. I have to push. I have not to give up, no matter how difficult this feels. I have to birth this book.

I’ll send you an announcement, when the baby is born.

Until then,

Bruce

Deeper Than Rest

 

From Conflict to Confluence

Every action has within it something you do and something you don’t. If you try to bend and straighten your arm at the same time, you will find yourself unable to move that arm. You won’t be able to bend it or straighten it. What you’ll be doing is using half your effort to bend your arm and the other half of your effort to keep your arm from bending.

Sort of like the American Congress.  Nothing moves.

When you flex your arm, whether you know it or not, your nervous system has “chosen” not to straighten it. Not bad. It sounds like a strange thing to “consciously” choose not to straighten your arm at all, but when you do, your arm is totally free to flex, without the slightest resistance.

When all the muscles are firing away, indiscriminately, in every which direction, in opposing directions, you get over efforting, sometimes to the point of paralysis. You get chaos. You get conflict. You get a body fighting against itself, and therefore losing. Fight against yourself and you will always lose. Any semblance of grace will be gone.

Lao Tzu, the famous Chinese philosopher/pragmatist/mystic had a word for grace. He called it “wu-wei”, often translated as non-doing, effortless effort, or harmonious activity.

Grace happens when everything that is not needed in an action is not engaged, and everything that is needed is. This requires a person with a discriminatory nervous system, a nervous system that knows when to say yes, and when to say no, and not only when, but how, and how much, and where. We have, within us, a potentially brilliant binary system, capable of virtually infinite nuance.

Knowing what not to engage, knowing what to leave be, knowing how, what, where, and when to cease firing, and being able to do so at will, is part of the skill Alexander referred to as inhibition. My guess is that Alexander chose the word inhibition because he wished to place his work within a scientific context, but it turned out that a contemporary of his, Freud, already had domain over that name. How unfortunate for Mr. Alexander, and for all of us who follow in his footsteps! How many people when they hear the word, inhibition, think of an inhibitory postsynaptic potential (IPSP), a kind of synaptic potential that makes a postsynaptic neuron less likely to generate an action potential, the opposite being an inhibitory postsynaptic potential, an excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP), which is a synaptic potential that makes a postsynaptic neuron more likely to generate an action potential?

Not many.

Yet, despite the confusion over this word, what Alexander was directing us toward was, I believe, nothing less than grace, both physical, and I dare say, spiritual.

You might look at physical and spiritual grace as two circles. Sometimes, for we kinesthetic types, these two circles overlap. We’re like raindrops touching down upon the surface of a pond. Have you ever seen two ever widening rings as they overlap, each moving toward the other, each becoming the other until, for an instant, they are one?

Below that fluid oneness, still and moving, a peace, deeper than rest.

Peace is not just the absence of war. Peace is what happens when war is absent. It’s the re-forming of swords into plowshares. It’s the conversion of conflict into confluence. 

Energy is freed, now able to be redirected toward nurturance, education, experimentation, service, art, and recreation.

In one word, I’d say that is what Alexander’s work is about.

Revitalization.

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.

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.

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.