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Posts tagged ‘F.M. Alexander’

Perhaps the Most Important Question of All

Post-Congress Musings

In Honor of All Those Doing Their Best to Train Future Generations of Alexander Teachers

Part I

It is no secret that many teacher training programs in the Alexander Technique have closed their doors or are struggling mightily to keep them open. It seems that only a few programs are actually thriving. Why is this and what can we do about it? Having just returned from the Congress in Chicago, having had such a wonderful time, having been inspired by so many, I wish more than ever to help Alexander teacher training programs survive and thrive. But where to begin?

Perhaps we teacher trainers can learn something from Abraham Maslow, the famous humanistic psychologist and author of Toward a Psychology of Being and Motivation and Personality.

Maslow decided to study mentally healthy people instead of people suffering from serious psychological issues. He studied what he called, ‘self actualizing people.’ Basically, this is what he found.

Self actualizing people exhibit certain traits. What if our directors of training exhibited these same traits? Might we too begin to actualize ourselves and our training programs?

Here is a list of nine traits found in self-actualizing people.

One. Self actualizing people know how to enjoy the journey, not just the destination. They are flexible, they can change; they adapt. Self actualizing people embrace uncertainty and ambiguity. They do not cling to the familiar.

Questions arise. Are we teacher trainers enjoying the journey? Are we flexible, able to change and adapt? Or are we clinging to what is familiar to us?

In MSI Alexander writes:

“…That rigid routine we refer to as habit, this rigid routine being the stumbling-block to rapid adaptability, to the assimilation of new ideas, to originality.”

 And in CCC,

“…Boldly to make the necessary change, should he find that the fundamental principles concerned are defective; and to make the necessary adjustments which are essential to the acceptance and assimilation of new and approved knowledge whilst going on with his job.”

Two. Self actualizing people accept themselves with all of their flaws, and others with all of theirs. They know they are not perfect. They accept imperfection in themselves and in others.

Questions abound. Are we teacher trainers willing to admit that our teacher training structures may not be perfect, that we may not be working inside the one and only absolutely ideal model? Are we willing to admit that our teacher training structures could be improved upon? While we are at it, are we willing to admit that the Alexander Technique is not perfect, that the procedures through which we teach the principles are not perfect, nor the teachers with whom we trained perfect?

Three. While inherently unconventional, self actualizing people do not seek to shock or disturb. They are neither conformers nor rebels. They resist enculturation. They are free thinkers, able to think outside the box, self-starters. They take responsibility for their own destinies.

Are we teacher trainers taking responsibility for the success or failure of our teacher training programs, or are we coming up with excuses as to why our schools, if they are not thriving, are not thriving? Are we blaming our failure on society? If our schools are not thriving are we afraid to think outside of the box, to trust our own instincts?

Four. Self actualizing people have an endless desire for personal growth.

Are we teacher trainers still growing, or are we just doing the same old thing year after year? Have we long ago decided on the best way to train teachers? Are we still studying, still learning from others? Are we improving?

Five. Self actualizing people are passionate; they have a mission in life, a calling that, in some way, serves others.

Are we teacher trainers still truly passionate about the work? Is the work still new, still fresh? Are we still in love with the work? Is our love for the work still contagious? Is it overflowing into the world?

Six. Self actualizing people can see the forest through the trees. They don’t get hung up on petty details. They impart a sense of serenity.

Do we teacher trainers have a vision for our schools, our own vision, a unique vision that expresses who we are and what we care about? Can we give voice to this vision? Are we thinking in years, or are we thinking across generations? If the work is working in us then we will not be overcome by fear or worry, but will walk into class modeling that which we wish to impart.

Seven. Self actualizing people are full of gratitude, full of wonder. They are at once realists and optimists.

Are we teacher trainers being realistic? That is, are we meeting reality as it is now? Are we attuned to how life is for people now, within the countries, cultures and economies in which we live? Are we being realistic about what is possible for people as far as training is concerned? Are there people out there who would love to train with us but cannot because of the realities of their lives? Are we feeling hopeless about our teacher training programs, pessimistic, bitter, or are we taking the challenge and meeting it with courage and conviction, with passion and energy? Are we full of gratitude for the work and for the task of passing the work on to others?

Eight. Self actualizing people nurture deep relationships with a few people, but at the same time they feel affection toward all people.

Do we teacher trainers love the people with whom we work, our co-directors, our co-teachers? Do we nurture these relationships? Do we feel real affection for our trainees? Do we like people? Do we truly wish to serve?

Nine. Self actualizing people are humble, with no sense of entitlement. They exude quiet confidence.

Are we teacher trainers humble? Do we harbor the need to feel that we are better than our colleagues, that our way of working is right, is best and everyone else’s way is inferior or wrong? Do we speak ill of people within our profession, do we gossip, do we hold unfounded prejudices? Or do we see ourselves as one piece in a beautiful puzzle, no more, no less? Can we get to that place within ourselves where we no longer have to defend our work, to that place where we have no enemies because we wish everyone well, want everyone to succeed, to that place where there is no side to take, but only one loving sphere in which we all live and work? Can we open ourselves to receiving help from others?

If we wish to be a healthy, vibrant, self-actualizing community, a community full of healthy trainees and teachers, a community full of healthy, vibrant and successful teacher training programs, perhaps Maslow is offering us the map.

Ultimately, the success or failure of a teacher training program rests squarely upon the shoulders of its director/directors. If our teacher training program is failing it serves no one to blame society, the economy, our trainees, our faculty, or our professional society, if we should belong to one. We must begin with ourselves.

To summarize, according to Maslow our directors of training and our training programs need to be flexible, that is, ready, able and willing to change as opportunities arise. If our training structure is not working are we willing to experiment and do what is necessary to make it work? Are we willing to accept the fact that our training structure could be improved upon? Are we taking full responsibility for how our training program is doing? Are we afraid to think outside the box if it isn’t doing well? Are we still growing personally? Are we modeling what it means to be a good student, a good teacher, a good person? Is the work still new, still fresh for us, and if not what can we do about it? Do we have a personal vision of the work? Can we give voice to that vision; get our vision out into the world in a way that is powerful and beautiful? Are we being realistic, or are we living in the past? Are we able to, as Alexander says, free ourselves from our rigid routine, the stumbling block that prevents us from adapting rapidly, assimilating new ideas, and being original? Is there enough love in our hearts for the work, for the people with whom we work, and for the people for whom we work, perhaps the most important question of all? And finally, if we are on our high horse can we get off it and stand on common ground along with all our fellow teacher trainers, no matter the lineage, no matter the political affiliation, and help one another?

Lots of questions; no, lots of problems.

Abraham Heschel, a famous rabbi, once said that questions have answers, but problems have solutions. He believed that man was a problem, a problem to be solved. It is we who are the problem.

And, it is we who are the solution.

Let’s commit to solving our problems, alone, deep within ourselves, and together, through generous acts of kindness and goodwill toward one another.

Touching This World – October 7, 2018 – Workshop in the Alexander Technique – Dorset, England by Bruce Fertman

No one seems to know the story behind Michelangelo’s choice. What I do know is that in the Torah the story goes God blew the breath of life into Adam through his nostrils. It was breath that was the vital force. Yet when painting the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo chose not to depict the creation of Adam through breath. He chose touch. Why did he do that? God touched Adam, and Adam lived. Maybe it was because Michelangelo, through touch, brought the lifeless to life. He retold the story of Genesis in his own image.

Theology, to me, is not spiritual; it’s tangible. It’s earthy. It’s physical.

Maimonides, a 12th century Rabbinic scholar from Spain, said God was Reality. For me, reality feels pretty physical. You know, getting up, bathing, grooming, eating, and going to work, or going to look for work. Or on other days, cleaning your house, going shopping for food, stopping at a couple other stores for this or that. Taking your car, if you have one, into the shop for an oil and filter change.

And then, on occasion, there’s a free day. You’re out in the country. A cool breeze brushes against your face. The warmth of the sun sits on your shoulders. You hear the sound of a stream nearby, smell a slight scent of cedar in the air.

Touching This World

Sounds physical to me.

Other people feel God is Love. Kindness is one way we express our love.  Kindness is love in action. Acts of kindness seem physical to me. Doing little things for people. Helping out. It makes sense to think about a theology of touch. Think about giving a baby a bath, or sweeping the snow off the front steps for your grandfather who’s coming over for dinner, or feeding a stray cat. I can’t see accomplishing any of those acts of kindness without touch or without being touched.

But few in this world teach touch. I do.

Please join me.

About Bruce Fertman

 

Photo: Tada Akihiro: Korea

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.”

Tueshaus, Alexander Teacher / Tango Teacher/ Equestrian

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, Bruce also teaches annually for Alexander Alliance training programs in Japan, Korea, and America. He conducts post graduate training programs in Dorset and Zurich. Author of  Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart – Delving Into The Work Of F.M. Alexander.

Workshop Details:

When: Sunday, October 7, 2018, 10:00-17:00.

Fee: £120

Where: Gaunts House, Dorset

http://www.gauntshouse.com/

To register for the workshop contact Ruth Davis at: 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

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.

Hope to see you at Gaunts House!

Bruce Fertman

 

Falling Up/Touching Down – October 6, 2018 – Workshop in the Alexander Technique – Dorset, England by Bruce Fertman

Falling Up

 The way up and the way down are one and the same.

Heraclitus

Forty-five years ago, when I first began studying both Tai Chi Chu’an and the Alexander Technique, my Tai Chi teachers would tell me how I needed to let my chi sink down. They revered the ground and spoke of the importance of the tant’ien, the belly. My Alexander teachers emphasized the importance of the neck and head, and of lengthening up through the spine. “Gravity just keeps your feet from floating off the ground.” one of my Alexander teachers declared. “Up but not held up. Down but not pulled down,” Tai Chi teacher Ben Lo instructed me. “Above but not raised up; below but not depressed,” wrote Hildegard von Bingen.

Needless to say, I was utterly confused. But now I am not. Slowly, I found the solution to this problem, the answer to this somatic riddle.

Touching Down

Join me for a day of study and self-discovery. Experience the interplay between upward and downward forces. As these forces become ‘one and the same,’ we experience what it is like to be calm and clear, soft and strong, light and substantial.

This workshop is for those brand new to the Alexander Technique and for current students of the Alexander Technique. The workshop is also for Alexander trainees and teachers who want to become effective in teaching the Alexander Technique in groups.

And when the slope feels gentle to the point that climbing up sheer rock is effortless as though you were gliding downstream in a boat, then you will have arrived where this path ends.

Dante

About Bruce Fertman

12 copy 3_edited (1) copy

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.”

Tueshaus, Alexander Teacher / Tango Teacher/ Equestrian

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, Bruce also teaches annually for Alexander Alliance training programs in Japan, Korea, and America. He conducts post graduate training programs in Dorset and Zurich. Author of Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart – Delving Into The Work Of F.M. Alexander.

Workshop Details:

When: Saturday, October 6, 2018, 1:30 -8:30.

Fee: £120

Where: Gaunts House, Dorset

http://www.gauntshouse.com/

To register for the workshop contact Ruth Davis at: 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

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.

Hope to see you at Gaunts House!

Bruce Fertman

 

Tim Soar’s Review of Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart for STAT News

It has been over 40 years since I first began studying with Marjorie Barstow, and this fact reminds me of a teaching story.

Within the tradition of Chanoyu, Japanese tea ceremony, it is said that for the first 10 years a student should learn to do everything exactly the way his teacher does. In the second 10 years the student should continue to do everything exactly the way his teacher does, but should begin to wonder why his teacher does what he does the way he does it. In the third decade, the student should begin to change ever so slightly how he does what he does to suit who he is as a person.  And in the fourth decade, his way should be a different from his teachers as night is from day.

And so it was and is for me now. I am as different from Marj as night is from day. My vocabulary is not the same. I use my hands very differently. My way of relating to people is as warm as Marj’s way was cool. My pedagogy as a teacher trainer is as formal as Marj’s was informal. And yet, at the same time, there remains something quintessentially Marj inside of me. I pass on her sayings, her spirit, her understanding of Alexander’s work. I do my best to inspire others the way Marj inspired me.

Tim Soar begins his review referencing Michael Frederick’s description of me as “one of the foremost representatives of Marjorie Barstow’s lineage.” He goes on to note that his experience of now-senior teachers who apprenticed with Marjorie Barstow is that they are as diverse in their approaches to the Work as were the first generation teachers who trained with F.M.

marj-bruce-sword

With all do respect and love for Marj, my work is now, for better and worse, only my work. No one else’s. Yes, I am part of the Alexander/Barstow lineage, but I cannot claim to represent Marj’s way of working. How Alexander taught is gone forever, and how Marj taught is gone forever. That is the way of it, and the way it should be.

The work continues.

Here’s Tim’s review. Enjoy.

Review of Teaching by Hand, Learning by Heart

Tim Soar

Pubished in STAT News, May 2018

Teaching by Hand, Learning by Heart offers the reader a “fly on the wall” view of Bruce Fertman’s very particular way of teaching the Alexander Technique. Michael Frederick’s comment on the back cover describes Bruce as “one of the foremost representatives of Marjorie Barstow’s lineage”, but in my experience the now-senior teachers who trained with Marjorie Barstow are at least as diverse in their approaches to the Work as were the first generation teachers who trained with FM. In any case, although Bruce acknowledges “Marj” as his principal mentor, he points out that he also learned from four other first generation teachers, whose differences he clearly values. Whatever the reader’s previous experience, there is much of value to be found in this book, perhaps particularly for teachers who would like to develop their work with groups beyond the introductory level, towards mixed ability, more advanced, or specialised audiences. Bruce makes the most convincing case that I have come across for the positive advantages of learning the Alexander Technique in a group setting.

Part One: The Work at Hand, sets out the field of enquiry – the subject matter of the Alexander Technique: Choice, Primary Control, Sensory Appreciation, Use, Non-Interference … all presented in Bruce’s own vocabulary. One particularly telling example of which is the idea not of “misusing” oneself, but of “mistreating” oneself, with all the ethical impact of that word fully intended.

Part Two: Student Centred Teaching, leads the reader anecdotally through a large number of individual lessons, either one-to-one or in group settings. Some of these lessons last a whole chapter, others just a few sentences. This format gives a lively “person-centred” way of presenting the almost endless scope of our Work, in a way that hardly ever finds its way into print.

The illustrations are unusual – avoiding the conventional “head back and down”, “head forward and up” illustrations. The nearest thing to that is a photo of a cowboy wrestling a steer (you have to read it …). The other illustrations are split mostly three ways: firstly, very characteristic photos of Bruce working with students in workshop settings; secondly, half a dozen illustrations from Albinus on Anatomy, the series of beautiful, accurate, lively, whimsical-but-layered-with-meaning anatomical engravings published in 1747, which Bruce uses as a primary source for his anatomical and body mapping work, and thirdly, and perhaps most compellingly (the handful of colour-printed pages of the book are reserved for this third category), art illustrations: paintings, sculpture, a thrown pot, landscapes … One of the main ideas here is that we do not tend look at a Renaissance painting, or a sculpture of a human figure in a way that emphasises postural criticism. On the subject of criticism, Bruce quotes Rumi: “Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing there is a field; I’ll meet you there”. Instead we see what the figure, through its implied movements and reactions, expresses. Bruce suggests – and this seems to me to be the absolute epicentre of his teaching – that we would do well to learn to look at people as we look at works of art: to see the beauty before the body-mechanics, and to empathise with (and thereby become able to help) a person’s Use by seeing how they express themselves.

Because of the structure of the book as a series of vignettes, a lot of ground is covered quickly, and it is not possible for me to list them all. However, I shall choose three particular themes that seem to me to be characterise Bruce’s understanding of the Work, and which I personally found to be good. Firstly, he does not try to make it easy. He says (in understatement) that the Alexander Technique needs “practice”, that a good teacher has, necessarily, to be “living the work every day”, and that “This road is longer than any one person’s life”. Secondly, he is a dyed-in-the-wool non-dualist. He does not talk about “how we use our bodies”, neither (more subtly) does he talk about the “mind body connection” (which always seems to me like approaching psychophysical unity from an essentially dualist perspective, unnecessarily making a simple thing complicated). Instead he simply and straightforwardly treats each person as a whole. This gives his work access – when appropriate – to a student’s emotional life in a straightforward and unforced way, as a natural aspect of their Use, and very much part of what we, as teachers, are there for. For example, he is likely to ask a student who says that he wants to relax, “How do you know you are not relaxed?” to which the student replies “I feel nervous.” This then opens the way to the psychophysical subject matter of the lesson. It’s as simple (and profound) as that. Thirdly, he places great emphasis on learning to use one’s senses in a skilled and healthy way, asking “What would happen if we were able to go from having adequate tactile, kinaesthetic and proprioceptive senses, to having extraordinary tactile, kinaesthetic and proprioceptive senses?”. “Feeling” is not, for him, a word to be avoided, or the exclusive polar opposite of “thinking”. Right at the beginning of the book he tells us of a conversation with an anaesthetist: “You say to people, you’re not going to feel a thing, and I say to people, you are about to feel everything.” In one chapter Bruce suggests a series of sensory investigations, meditations, Directions – I don’t know what to call them – leading the experimenter towards more subtle and more colourful sensory experiences. An important extension of this thinking is that humans-sensing-other-humans is a vital part of life – “To be means to be with other people.” – and an essential part of the Alexander Technique. Interestingly, for a teacher who does so much of his work in groups, individual hands on work is very central to his teaching. He clearly thinks of Alexander work essentially as partner-work, with all the subtle and paradoxical give and take of leading-in-order-to-follow, and following-in-order-to-lead that subtle partner work always embodies (one chapter tells the story of a lesson with an accomplished Tango couple), and he understands what he sometimes calls “high touch” (exemplified by the best Alexander hands on work) as one of the highest expressions of our shared humanity: “Touch … is our sense of togetherness, of closeness, of intimacy, of union and communion.”

Bruce freely uses stories, autobiography, quoted aphorisms, illustrations, poetic language and a wide range of metaphors to set the scene and to make his points, and this is surely the only Alexander book with a Japanese glossary! In writing such a book, the author is necessarily just guessing at a reader’s connection with a particular image – unlike presenting ideas in a workshop situation where communication is two-way. I imagine that each reader will have their own spectrum of recognition: some points seeming no more than common sense, others interesting and informative, some concepts may be outside their experience, and others still, less attractive – metaphors that simply don’t work for them. That is the risk, consciously taken, in writing a book that seeks to convey the flavour of a very personal experience. For me, it is interesting to think that each reader’s spectrum will, most likely, align itself with quite different themes and images in the book.

The greatest strength perhaps of this new addition to our bibliography is that it clearly and repeatedly shows us (as we as teachers and committed trainees naturally already know) that “Alexander’s work, when it works, can work miracles; quiet, little miracles that can change a person’s life forever.”

 

May Nothing Stand Between Us

 

In the first half of my life I built walls; in the second half of my life I am doing my best to take those walls down.

By believing that the teachers I had chosen to study under were the most gifted, the most astute, the most skilled, by association, made me feel special and superior to others. By believing the disciplines I had chosen to study were the most profound, by association, made me feel special and superior to others.

Others had missed the boat, were not on the bus. They had made the wrong choices, and I the right ones.

I remember with embarrassment, some 40 years ago, defining Alexander’s work in opposition to Ida Rolf’s work, how Alexander’s work was educational, non-manipulative, and wholistic, while Rolf’s work was mechanical, intrusive, and reductionist. I remember hating the Rolfing logo of a man stacked up like building blocks.

T’ai Chi Chu’an and Aikido were superior to other martial art forms. Zen Buddhism and Taoism were more sophisticated than monotheistic religions. Democrats were enlightened and Republicans were greedy. And so it went. Bricks made from hardened beliefs. Mortar made from a muddy mind.

Between the first half of my life and the second half of my life, like a Murakami anti-hero, I fell into a deep, dark well. When finally I dug my way out I was psychologically emaciated. During that time I had gone through a divorce, my kids had left home, the house I lived in and loved for 20 years was sold, I gave up my business, my mother died, and then a year later, my father, who I loved dearly, also died.

The day my father died we were alone. Sitting next to him in an old worn out, saggy leather chair, legs crossed under me, tallis over my shoulders, quietly, I read out loud from my copy of Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the psalms;

Even in the midst of great pain, Lord,
     I praise you for that which is.
I will not refuse this grief
     or close myself to this anguish.
Let shallow men pray for ease:
     “Comfort us; shield us from sorrow.”
I pray for whatever you send me,
     and I ask to receive it as your gift.
You have put a joy in my heart
     greater than all the world’s riches.
I lie down trusting the darkness,
     for I know that even now you are here.

I begin feeling cold and decide to get up and put an extra blanket over my Dad who now lay unconscious for three days. Getting up I hear a loud crunching sound. It’s my knee. On the metal guardrail, along side my father’s bed, hangs his old wooden cane. I reach out, take it, and for the next month limp exactly as my father had in the last month of his life.

Emotionally depleted, it was nigh impossible to find my inner structural support. With each passing month my body aged a year. My weakened, painful knee set my body askew and it was not long before my hip and lower back followed suit. I was a mess.

I decided I needed to get help. I made an appointment to have ten Structural Integration sessions, treatments based on the work of Ida Rolf. And wouldn’t you know it, it was just what I needed! It was as if old injuries from gymnastic falls and car accidents were letting me go. I was regaining my inner structural support and becoming comfortable again.

My knee was still unstable. After having practiced Tai Chi every day for 40 years, I woke up one morning and knew I had to see what would happen if I simply stopped doing Tai Chi. And wouldn’t you know it, my knee got better and better with each passing week!

The walls just keep coming down for me. Maybe that is why the second half of my life feels so light, so free. I don’t have any need for walls these days. If I don’t know what is right how can I be wrong? If I don’t have anything to prove who can argue with me? If I have nothing to defend what can I lose? And if I am for everyone where is my enemy?

John Tuite, a dear friend of mine, sent me a photo. It’s a photo of an art installation by Jorge Mendez Blake entitled, A Single Book Disrupts the Foundation of a Brick Wall.

This is my hope. May my little book do its little bit to help bring down walls between the various Alexander lineages. May it make a small contribution to bringing down walls between somatic disciplines. May assumptions, prejudices and false notions become dislodged. May grudges and gossip fall by the wayside. May nothing stand between us.

Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That wants it down.”

 Robert Frost

JorgeMendezBlake_01 2

 Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart

by Bruce Fertman

The Voice Of The World (A revision of Singing In the Rain)

I remember a class I took with Marjory Barlow in 1988. She was explaining how at first you give these words, these phrases to your student knowing they will have little or no idea of what you are talking about. But then, gradually, through the subtle and clear use of your hands you give your student an experience of what those words and phrases actually mean. The student mentally and physically couples them together and voilà, when she or he thinks the words, without having to really do anything, the words themselves trigger an effortless response, a response that comes to feel almost reflex-like, a response that is at once supportive, organizing and liberating. It just happens, like typing in a domain name of where you want to go, clicking on search and, presto, there it is, and there you are.

It’s ingenious really, and effective. As one continues to study with teachers, and on one’s own, which is essential, this kinesthetic coupling of the words with this effortlessly revitalizing reflex-like response becomes ever more wedded, ever more precise and powerful, which is why having hands on work through one’s whole life is a good idea, which is why being part of an Alexander community is such a good idea, which is what I have chosen to do, which has been a blessing beyond words.

Alexander referred to these words, these phrases, as directions. He writes, direction is…”the process involved in projecting messages from the brain to the mechanisms and in conducting the energy necessary to the use of those mechanism.”  By mechanisms I assume Alexander is referring to this ever so delicate but dynamic reorganization of the head in relation to the neck, and of the head and neck’s relationship to the entire torso, and of the head, neck, and torso’s relationship, as a flexibly working unit, to the arms and legs.

If you are an Alexander teacher or a long term student of Alexander’s work all of this is old hat. Sorry, but I am going somewhere and need to begin at the beginning.

Now these words are a shorthand, an abbreviation for a complex psychophysical happening within us, and yet they they still strike me as a bit long and cumbersome. Let the neck be free so that the head can go forward and up so that the back can lengthen and widen, all together, one after the other. And then there are secondary directions that speak to the limbs as well, to the heels, knees and hips and to the elbows, wrists, and fingers, and to the tongue, (which I see as limb-like; think of a frog.)

It takes a bit of time to stream through these directions, especially at first. When we get proficient, perhaps just a few seconds. Marj Barstow, one of my mentors, once said to a student who was belaboring the process, “I wish I could say all these words to you at the same time, instead of one after the other.” Marj understood that this sequence of instructions had to be played more like a fluid arpeggio on a guitar rather than a separate collection of notes.

The very same day I had a class with Marjory Barlow I also had a class with Wilford Barlow. I loved watching and listening to them both. Wilford deferred to his wife saying, “Now this is just my idea. If you want to know how it really works, ask Marjory.” But I loved Wilford’s ideas, and his hands too. He said something like, (it was long ago), “After a time the words are not always necessary. The change we want can come about without them.” I wasn’t sure but my guess was that after we had for many years used our conscious mind, and with it language to reeducate our kinesthesia we could come to trust it more and more and simply let it work for us. Perhaps our kinesthesia is like a child who for many years needs guidance, but then gradually grows up into a capable and responsible adult who no longer needs looking after all the time.

Years have flown by since then, 30 years to be exact. I’ve had some time to think about this on my own, and so now I will share with you my thoughts on the matter.

Let’s imagine you are on the road, traveling in some foreign country. A cold snap blows in unexpectedly. You decide to buy a scarf and a pair of gloves. You find something you like, a bit expensive and so decide to charge it on your credit card. You open your wallet and notice your Discover card is missing. You pick up your phone and know their phone number because their phone number happens to spell DISCOVER. So instead of having to remember 8 numbers in sequence, you only have to remember one word.

What if I could find one word that could contain for me the full sequence of directions. I decided on the word ‘One’. ‘One’ would now mean for me Let the neck be free so that the head can go forward and up so that the back can lengthen and widen, all together, one after the other. The word ‘One’ would now be the verbal trigger for my entire Primary Pattern. After all, the word ‘One’ is in essence just a sound, a sound English speaking people decide means the number between 0 and 2. It is just a sound. The meaning is not inherent to the sound. English speaking people collectively agree on what that sound means. A person for whom English is a second language at some point had to learn what that sound meant. At first, in their mind, they may have said to themselves what it meant in their own language, but over time they no longer had to do that. At some point the word One, the sound One immediately meant to them the number between 0 and 2.

So, I thought, why could I not change the meaning of the sound ‘One’ and have it mean what I wanted it to mean? If for me the sound ‘One’ was coupled with Let the neck be free so that the head can go forward and up so that the back can lengthen and widen, all together, one after the other, and if that phrase was kinesthetically coupled with this effortlessly revitalizing reflex-like response, then all three of them were now coupled, like links of a fence.

I played with using the word ‘One’ as my condensed Alexander direction. I liked how fast it was. I liked that it was less wordy. Yes it lacked a bit of the specificity that Alexander’s words had for me. But with practice I got pretty good at it.

Then the thought occurred to me that I didn’t have to use a word at all. That I could just use a sound, given that, in essence, a word is just a sound. I came up with the sound, Paaaah. This worked much better than the word ‘One’. It had something to do with the fact that it had no meaning to begin with and so I had not to de-couple any meaning from the sound. The sound was soft and expansive and seemed never ending. I also had associations with the sound, one being Alexander’s whispered Ah, and the other being the sound Kyudoists, (Zen Archers) use to refer to the moment when the arrow is released from the bow. Paaaah. I didn’t lose much specificity when using the sound Paaaah. It was indeed a better container for Alexander’s directions, at least for me.

I will, however, never throw out Alexander’s directions. They are for me like some song from another era that I still love singing. Those words still move me.

More years went by. I was in Tokyo standing at one of these interminably long red lights. I was end-gaining. I wanted to go but the red light was telling me to stay put. “That’s its collective meaning virtually all over the world, even though it’s a color, not a word, and not a sound. It’s also an object. Gee, I thought, we can pretty much make anything mean anything. It is totally up to us!”

I decided it would probably be a good idea to continue letting the red stop signal mean stop. But I decided that instead of it meaning stop on a superficial level, I decided that it meant stop on a deep level, that it meant to stop everything within myself, to completely stop any unnecessary holding within myself, to completely stop waiting, to enter into a condition of profound Alexandrian inhibition.

There I was at this infinitely long red light in a state of radical non-end-gaining, wide awake, vividly aware of everything around me. When the light turned green and everyone began walking across the street, I didn’t want to go. I was so happy exactly where I was, but then I thought, “better to follow the simple directions”, and so I crossed the street as I had never crossed a street before, as if I were singing in the rain, without the rain.

And then the revelation came. What if instead of using an internal trigger, i.e., Alexander’s words, words that were being produced from inside my mind, what if I projected my mind onto the world around me? What if I had the world speak to me from the outside in, instead of me speaking to me from the inside out? Instead of my mind being inside my body, what if my body was inside of a big, benevolent mind? It was entirely up to me to decide what any word, sound, object or creature meant to me, so what would happen if suddenly everything, absolutely everything  was saying to me, directly, wordlessly, Let the neck be free so that the head can go forward and up so that the back can lengthen and widen, all together, one after the other?

Ah, so that was what Gary Snyder meant when he wrote, “The world is our consciousness, and it surrounds us.” I got it!

Could it be this simple? Could anyone do it? Not really. First it would be necessary to have learned how to couple Alexander’s Primary Movement to some trigger, and perhaps Alexander’s words were the perfect first trigger because they are so specific and clear.

Again, I returned to my new insight.

What if I decided that everything, utterly everything in the world said to me, “Bruce, free yourself in relation to me. Free yourself in relation to me. Let your neck be free so that your head can go forward and up so that your back can lengthen and widen, all together, one after the other.” 

The Voice of the World. The silent, wordless voice of the world saying to me, “Bruce, free yourself in relation to me. Free yourself in relation to me.” 

Suddenly no words were needed at all. It was as if every object, my coffee cup, my keyboard, my computer screen, the flowers by the chair, the sound of the heater were all saying to me, directly, immediately, wordlessly, just through their sheer existence, “Bruce, free yourself in relation to me. Free yourself in relation to me. Everything was somehow kinesthetically coupled to my Primary Movement.

What if every person, especially people I struggled with meant “Bruce, free yourself in relation to me. Free yourself in relation to me.

No longer was there me trying to speak to me from somewhere inside of my body. The entire world and everything and everyone in it was now freeing me, directing me, opening me, awakening me. The Voice of the World was speaking to me and I was listening. Not only was I listening, I was following its direction, taking its good and loving advice.

Why not free myself in relation to everything and everyone?

That must of been it, the meaning of the Flower Sermon given by the Buddha. Sakyamuni gives a wordless sermon to his sangha. He holds up a white flower. No one understands it’s meaning except Mahakasyapa, who smiles.

That simple flower, and the meaning we bestow upon it speaks to us, in silence, inviting us back to who we are.

 

Bruce Fertman

Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart

 

 

 

 

My Grandfather’s Eyes

 

Isaac Fertman

Once upon a time a rabbi told me that once upon a time, being a rabbi was not a profession. That a rabbi, technically, was not a teacher but rather a student. People in a community would select a person they felt possessed a deep understanding of the torah and the talmud to help them learn how to be good Jews. They supported this rabbi and his family so that this rabbi had time to study on his own, and also to study together with them. Judaism is basically a book club. Jews read this one book, every year, year after year, (and a few others), and delve into its ideas as deeply as possible.

When my trainees graduate from the Alexander Alliance I tell them there is no need to be nervous about being an Alexander teacher. If nervous, I suggest they continue thinking of themselves simply as Alexander students, students who happen to have completed a training program, therefore possessing a deeper understanding of Alexander’s work than most people.

When people pay you, I tell them, they are not paying you to teach them, they are paying you so that you can study Alexander’s work on your own, and with them. Your students pay you to study along with you, to join you in study.

It is not your job to teach them. It is your job to create conducive conditions in which they can study and learn. It is their job to learn. It is your job to learn along with them. It is not your job to entertain them. It is your job to entertain yourself, and their job to entertain themselves. It is everyone’s job to be kind, respectful, and to do one’s best.

My grandfather, Isaac, on my father’s side, told me now long ago, when I was a little boy, that I should be proud of being a Kohen, a member of the priesthood, a far distant descendent of Aaron, brother to Moses. I had no idea what he was talking about but it sounded cool. I also had no idea why, when I looked into his beautiful eyes, I could see him holding back tears. He told me how, because he was a Kohen, his shtetl saved money and paid for him to go to school in a nearby town where he learned Hebrew. At sixteen, alone, he got on a ship and made his way to America.

Now I am the age of my grandfather when he told me I was a Kohen. Here I am, supported by others to study on my own, everyday, to write, to think out loud, to create opportunities where others can study along with me. I don’t think of myself as a professional, as having a career. I just have a life. I am paid to live my life as a student, to do research and to share my findings. Baruch Hashem.

Bruce Fertman

Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart