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House And Home

handwriting

Rilke’s Letters To A Young Poet

Letters To A Young Teacher

Bruce, you write, “Aren’t there more direct, fun, practical, and effective ways to work with how we react to stimuli from within and without besides endlessly getting people in and out of a chair?” My AT teacher at school would probably say: “Chair work will indirectly affect their use in everyday life – let them make the transfer.” So how does that tie in with your take on teaching “activity work”, which to my mind is not indirect, but direct? 

Thank you for your good question. My understanding is that when Alexander spoke of working indirectly he meant that when a person comes to you with a specific problem, let’s say, a frozen shoulder, working directly would be choosing to work immediately to regain range and comfort in the shoulder, through working on the shoulder. A reasonable idea. The approach in Alexander Work, if we are sticking to the principle of working indirectly, is to attend to a person’s overall integration and coordination, and in turn that may, (and may not), resolve the shoulder issue.

It’s a bit like family therapy. Let’s say the whole body is the family, and the hurting child is the frozen shoulder. The parents are fighting, a lot. The kid begins developing asthmatic symptoms. The problem may not lie within the child, but within the family dynamics as a whole. By the parent’s shifting their way of functioning, their child may begin to function differently as well. That, as I understand Mr. Alexander, is what he meant by working indirectly. Indirectly, that is, getting to the part through the whole.

Once you begin to get this idea of working indirectly, you begin to see that Alexander stumbled upon a very big idea, one that, now, everyone understands. If bees are beginning to disappear, or tree frogs, and you start looking for the cause inside the bee world, or the tree frog world instead of backing up and looking at the entire world they inhabit, their larger body, of which bees and tree frogs are an integral part, you won’t see the whole problem, or find the solution.

Alexander discerned an ecology within people, an inner ecology – the study of our inner house and home, in relation to our larger house and home.  (You could say we are the overlap through which our inner and outer environments become one.) Alexander, seen in this light, was a holistic and ecological thinker and practitioner.

As for working through Alexander’s “conventional” procedures, that is, the procedures that have  become the norm within today’s Alexander world, I am not an expert. Yes, I have worked with lots of teachers, including most of the first generation teachers who employed these procedures and, to the best of my limited ability, I have taught through these procedures as well. But I have spent more time learning about Alexander’s work through his less conventional procedures – walking, going up and down steps (lunge work is beautifully woven within this action),  the performing arts, speaking, and everyday activities. These were the procedures that my mentor, Marj Barstow, enjoyed and explored. Consequently, these are the procedures I have taught through most successfully.

Over the years I began to sense that working through Marj’s procedures were, in a way, working too directly, too specifically, but for a very different reason than your teacher might think. I started to see that any activity happened within a larger context, and that I had to zoom both further in, and further out if I was to work holistically or ecologically. That’s why I no longer refer to what I do as “working in activity.” I call it “working situationally.”

For example, a young man is late. He jumps up from his desk, swings on his coat, hops in his car, squeals out his driveway, double parks, runs up three flights of stairs, knocks on his girlfriends apartment door, and waits, standing there, reliving that phone call, the fight they had that morning, feeling like a total jerk, wondering if she will open the door or not, whether she will ever speak to him again, whether she will call off their engagement, and what his parents will say.

Okay. You could work with this poor, distraught young man by taking him in and out of a chair, a la Alexander, or work with him driving his car, walking up steps, and knocking on a door, a la Marj Barstow. Still, are you really going to get to the precise inner and outer stimuli that cause this man to fall apart, to lose his psycho-physical composure, his integrity?

If I am going to work with this man in his entirety, in relation to his inner and outer home, then I may need to address such factors as his relationship to time, how he listens to his girlfriend when she is feeling insecure and starts criticizing him, how he reacts when he starts believing thoughts like his being a total jerk, or what happens to him when he starts caring too much about what other people think about him. But I am going to figure out a way to do this somatically and personally, not psychologically or clinically. I’m going to “stick to principle” and work as the Alexander teacher that I am.

Not our postural habits, nor our movements habits per se, (though they are part of the picture), but our habits of life, these are the habits we are attempting to unearth, and bring into the light of day, to be seen, felt, and known, accepted, and resolved. This is, for me, profoundly humbling work, both personally and as a teacher. Sometimes I wonder if I’m making any progress at all. I wonder if I will ever really be able to live and teach Alexander’s work. Forty years later, I begin to understand Marj when she would say, “I really don’t know how to teach this work.”

I really don’t.

Not knowing has for me become a good thing. It keeps me questioning, as you are questioning. It keeps me experimenting. It keeps the work fresh and alive in my soul, as it is in yours.

Let’s keep going.

Yours,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

Give Me Two Good Reasons Why…

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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

Every Step You Take

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

By Keiko Ishii*

I had an operation on my right hip joint nearly three years ago.  With a new artificial hip joint, my walking is fairly normal. Recently I learned that the cartilage around my left hip joint is wearing thin. My orthopedic surgeon warned me against impact. When I go down the steps and my left foot drops down onto the step below, I feel impact. Is there another way? In ten minutes I learned that there was another way. Here is what I remember.

Floating Up

After watching my usual way of going up and down the steps, Bruce quietly said, “Okay. I see.”

He had me place my right foot on the lowest step with my right hand on the handrail. I found myself looking up at the top step thinking, “I have to go all the way up there?” As if he could read my mind, Bruce said, “No need to look way up there. Just see right where you are. That’s enough.”

He gently placed his hands on my head and neck. My consciousness instantly dropped into what felt like my “inner body.” His hands touched my shoulders, my ribs, under my arms. Everything, my ribs, my entire spine, from my tailbone right up into my skull, was lengthening. Everything was getting bigger and lighter, and before I knew it, as if by itself, my body floated up the steps with no limp and no pain.

Falling Down

Bruce then asked me to walk down the steps. Immediately I tensed up. Bruce watched me take one step then said, “That’s fine. Keiko, pause for a second. Where are you looking? What are you looking at?” I was looking straight ahead. But I was not seeing anything. I was too scared about hurting my hip to see anything.

Bruce walked up the steps and joined me. “Watch me.” He faced the handrail, held it as if it were a ballet barre, placed his left foot on the edge of the step, his left leg straight, while his right foot dangled in space above the step below. He let his foot sway as if it were being blown by a gentle wind and with his soothing, rhythmic voice, I heard him sing, Yaa, yaa, yaa… Bruce asked me to do what he did. I did. I swayed my right leg in the wind. I sang, Yaa, yaa, yaa… I could feel my right hip joint freeing, and a relaxation coming over me.

Bruce then leaned every so slightly over his swaying leg, and fell. He landed quickly but softly onto the step below. He showed this to me a few times. It looked simple enough, but when it came time for me to do it myself I hesitated and pulled back my leg from the step. I was afraid of falling down, afraid of there being too much impact on my artificial right hip. Again, as if Bruce knew exactly what I was thinking and feeling he said, “Keiko you are safe.”

I was scared, but I took the chance. I leaned slightly over my dangling right leg and fell. But I didn’t fall. There I was standing on my right leg. No work for my supporting leg. No impact on my landing. I repeated this several times. All I was feeling was joy.

We then did this with my hands touching the wall on the other side, this time my right leg serving as my supporting leg. Bruce showed me again. Again he assured me it would be fine, and it was. No impact. Just comfortable. Facing sideways, I continued “falling down” the stairs until I was at the very last step when Bruce said, “Keiko, wait there for me.”

“I watched you fall onto that dangling leg ten times and everything was fine. That’s exactly what we are going to do now; the only difference is that instead of facing sideways, we’re going to face forward. Can you put your right leg forward and let it hang and sway, Yaa, yaa, yaa…just like this?” For some reason it was much, much scarier facing forward. But I was on the very last step before the landing. So I did it.  I fell onto my right foot. No problem. Then Bruce had me do it again this time landing on my left foot. No problem. It was easy, but…

“But that was easy because it was the last step,” I heard myself say. “Keiko, isn’t each step the same as every other step? If you can do what you just did, both on your right side and left side, easily, then what does that mean?”

I got it. I knew I could do it. I went up to the top of the stairs. I turned around. Suddenly I was afraid, staring into the distance. Below I heard Bruce’s gentle, firm voice, “Keiko, look down at the step just in front of you. You only need to see where you are going next.” I did and, when I did, it was as if everything I had learned from all my Alexander teachers came flooding back to me. My body was organizing itself. There I was at the very top of a flight of stairs, my right foot dangling as if over an abyss. Still I felt fear, the fear of impact, of hurting myself. And just then, “Keiko, you are fine. Really. Just fall. Waaaa…

I did. The steps were coming into my vision, one after the other. Waaaa…and there I was at the bottom of the stairs. I asked Bruce if I could do it again. He nodded and up I went, like a cat, like a victorious hero. Like water cascading over rocks, I almost ran down the steps. Everyone was there waiting for me, happy for me.

*I wrote this piece originally in Japanese, and later in English. I asked Bruce to do what he thought best to make my account read well for English readers.

Neck And Neck

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

…from A Body Of Knowledge – Letters To A Young Student

If the wrist is the “neck of the hand”, and the ankles the “neck of the feet”, (the literal translations in both Korean and Japanese for wrist and ankle), and if, in principle, the head leads and the body follows, then does it hold true that the hand leads, and the arm follows, and the foot leads and the leg follows?

It’s not quite that simple. Movement can, and is, initiated from many parts of the body, often simultaneously, and then sequences throughout the body in many ways, with an array of qualities. The head can lead the body, the body can lead the head, and one part of the body can lead other parts of the body. Any good dancer or physical therapist knows this to be true. The expression, “head leads, body follows,” a favorite among many who trained with Marj Barstow means, as I understand it, that your head poise “has a governing influence” over the quality of your coordination. You can see this at work in great figure skaters, or Olympic divers. But this is equally true in the simplest of movements that mere mortals make. If your true and primary movement is operating well and you raise your right hand in the air it will be light and easy and powerful, or it will be however you want it to be. Likewise, if your body’s true and primary movement is nowhere to be found, that same motion will be labored and your degree of control over it will be much less.

That said, when I stumbled upon this idea some 25 years ago, in the same way you did, linguistically, I found that applying the same notion of freeing my neck to freeing my wrists, ankles, and lower back as well, (it being the neck of the pelvis), worked. It felt like nothing short of a revelation. It freed the spheres to which these “necks” related, wrists to hands, ankles to feet, lumbar spine to pelvis. This was about when I started to question whether I could still rightfully consider myself an Alexander teacher. (Still haven’t been able to answer this question.)

When you gaze at the body innocently, without fancy words or concepts to get in the way, you see sphere-like shapes with longer narrow shapes in between these spheres. Vertically you see the head sphere, then a neck, then the rib sphere, then a neck, (the lumbar spine), then you see the pelvic sphere, then a neck, (the femur), then you see the knee sphere, then a neck, (the tibia/fibula/ankle), then you see the foot. The toes actually are not part of the sphere-like arch of the foot, but continue on to make further little spheres and necks. All these spheres and necks are not all stacked one upon the other, but flow together in elegant curves which resemble a meandering river. That’s why at times I refer to this as our Lengthening River.

Looking at our Widening River, we find an equally long river also comprised of sphere-like shapes and alternating long, thin areas, which is one definition for the word neck in English, as in, neck of the woods, or the neck of a violin. For me, the scapula and the clavicle, taken together, make up a sphere-like shape, followed by the end of the scapula, which believe it or not is called the neck of the scapula, followed by the ball of the humerus, followed by the humerus, the elbow and its small spherical joints, the long bones of the forearm and the little bones of the wrist, followed by the sphere-like hand which is one reason hands can catch a ball so well, or hold a rice bowl.

Within our various neck regions are large, powerful muscles. These muscles mobilize or immobilize the spheres depending on what they are up to, good or no good. That’s why having some say over these areas, at least having a vote, helps. And that is one good reason people study the Alexander Technique, though we by no means have a patent on this wisdom.

Circling back to your curiosity about hand leading and arm following. Sometimes it helps to think that way. When a baby wants something it’s not supposed to have, it just sees it and makes a beeline straight for it. It looks like the hand wants what it wants and just goes there, pronto, and the arm helps it get there before their parents have a chance to intervene. Same when the baby brings that object back to its mouth and considers eating it.

But when it comes to walking by leading with your foot and letting your leg follow, I don’t think you will get much mileage out of that one. A baby who wants to stick its toes in its mouth will lead with his foot, but once that baby moves on to crawling, and climbing, and walking other dynamics come into play.

However having a free ankle is really important when it comes to walking.

While there are similarities between the head/neck, ankle/foot, wrist/hand, lumbar/pelvis relationships, there are obvious differences as well. Best to look at both the similarities and the differences if we want to get a more complete picture.

Hope this helps. Great question as usual.

Openings

…an opportunity, a beginning, a celebration, a clearing…

An opportunity to receive individual hands on attention and guidance.

A beginning anew, a dawning.

A celebration of  the Alexander/Barstow tradition. Read more

Studies In Stillness

Still is not the same as immobile. Stillness is alive. For painters, objects are alive with texture, color, light, shape, dimension, weight, time. And they are always in relation to other objects and to gravity. They always exist in space. Objects sit. They rest.

Not only seeing, but feeling how objects exist in the world can help us. Objects know how to rest fully on the ground. They are not restless. They know how not to effort.  They’re not afraid to make contact, to give and receive weight. They don’t try to change themselves, or to be different than they are. They take a kind of pride in their inherent structures, as if saying to us, “I am what I am.”

We could learn a lot about presence and peace from them.

In Gregory Golbert, Ashes and Snow, we get to see, to feel, what the possession of these qualities look like within humans and animals. We get to see that for which we long. We get to see what our modern Western way of life has abandoned, no, has never known. We get to see the unknowable.

And we recognize the unknowable, because we are seeing what exists deep within us.

The question arises, are we courageous enough to become this still, this quiet, this alive?

And if we were courageous enough, and if we did become this still, this restful, what would happen to us?

Can we know the unknowable?

Watch and see.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gSX444hQ5Vo

 

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

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.

Memory

M.L. Barstow
Age 77

A Tradition of Orginality

During our last conversation Marj said to me that one person can only do so much.  She was thinking about her life and her contributions but she was, in her understated way, also telling me to get going.

Marj opened important doors for us.  Most importantly, she kept the door of originality wide open.  F.M. was original.  So was Marj. I felt and still feel obligated to carry this tradition of originality forward.

Being original doesn’t mean being different just to be different.  It means being in touch with the origins.  It means dipping way down into that deep well of nothingness from which grace appears.  “All I’m trying to do is show you a little bit of nothing.”  She did, and it was everything.

This nothingness from which true originality springs is the source of our work.  You cannot copy originality, because once you copy it it’s no longer original.  Being original happens when we dip down into that deep well of emptiness which is forever alive and fresh. Marj drew her work out of that deep well, day in and day out, for so many of us.

Marj kept doors open that, without her, might have closed forever.  Sometimes Alexander worked with people in activities.  Marj found this way of working to be the most direct and personal approach to helping people become sensitive and capable of putting into practice what they were beginning to understand about themselves.

Marj enjoyed her training, which took place in the context of a group, and she saw no good reason why group teaching should only be limited to trainees.  Everyone could benefit from watching and listening to others.

Marj wove together these two aspects of Alexander’s work – working in activity and group study – magically transforming and enlivening Alexander’s work for us.

Marj admired and respected her teachers: F.M. and A.R. Alexander, Ethel Webb, Irenie Stuart, and Irene Tasker.  She knew that none of these fine teachers had ever graduated from a three-year teacher-training course.  She knew that a small group of F.M.’s teachers had learned from him more informally, over a longer period of time. She admired these teachers, and she decided to bring about Alexander teachers based on this older, original model of training through apprenticeship.

Marj didn’t want people to stop living their lives to study Alexander’s work. She wanted us to bring Alexander’s work into the lives that we were currently living. For many of us that meant incorporating the work into our lives as performing artists, and as teachers.

I remember the first time I ever spoke to Marj.  At Ed Maisel’s recommendation, I called her up and asked if I could study with her in Lincoln, Nebraska, at her Winter of 1975 workshop.

She asked me what I did.  I told her I studied the Alexander Technique.  She said,  “Is that all?  Is that all you do?”  I said no, I also was a modern dancer, and studied T’ai Chi Chu’an and Aikido.  Then she said,  “Now that sounds like fun.  You can come along.”

Marj liked working with people who were passionate about what they did.  She liked working with people exactly when they were doing what they loved doing most, whatever that was… singing, dancing, acting, playing instruments, icing a cake, juggling, fencing, gardening, or throwing horse shoes, which was something Marj liked and that I liked doing with her.

Marj brought life to the work, and the work to life.  It was as simple as that.

Like Alexander, Marj felt that institutions could not hold the truth, so she kept to herself, did her work, and made certain it was good. She kept the original apprenticeship model of becoming an Alexander teacher open, and for me, and for many of my colleagues, this approach to training was joyous, powerful and effective. Without this model of training it would have been impossible for many of us to become teachers.

There is one last door that Marj opened for which she remains relatively unknown. In fact, by some odd twist of fate Marj seems to have become known for attempting to close this door!

I had just finished teaching a workshop for teachers in Berlin.

The head, of what was then GLAT, had experienced my work at the Australian Congress and then and there invited me to teach in Berlin. He went on to teach at my school in Germany, and even came to America to study at my school in America.  One of the teachers at this workshop in Berlin remarked about how skillfully I worked with my hands and how much I used my hands when I taught.  She was under the impression that Barstow teachers didn’t use their hands much when they taught.

My heart sank. What moved me most about Marj was how she used her hands as a teacher. I fell deeply in love with her ability to bring about such beauty with utterly no force.  For many years I watched people unfold and grow under Marj’s hands. I made a vow never to stop teaching until my hands were at least as good as Marj’s hands. I’ve held true to that vow.

When Marj died I was teaching in Japan.

For a couple days I seemed fine, and then it hit me.  I was overwhelmed by dread, by doubt, that I had missed something, not heard something, that I didn’t learn what I was supposed to learn, that I failed her as a student. I didn’t know what to do. And then, suddenly, I knew.

I knew finally and completely that even though Marj is gone, the source remains. There in that deep well of nothingness is everything that I missed, everything that I did not hear, everything that I have yet to learn.