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Posts tagged ‘fear’

Flying in Formation

Photo by: Miles Orchinik

To My Dear Trainees, Faculty, Grads, and Post Grads,

My childhood friend, Miles Orchinik, now a professor of neurophysiology once told me that, for animals, it appears fear has a real and positive function, whereas anxiety, something apparently unique to humans, does not.

Fear energizes us for action. Michael Gelb once gave a talk at one of our annual summer retreats in the Alexander Technique and said it something like this. “Fear gets all the butterflies flying around in your stomach every which way. It is up to us to know how to get them to fly in formation.”

The sight of a predator, for example, triggers a fear response in the amygdala, which activates areas involved in preparation for motor functions involved in fight or flight. It also triggers the release of stress hormones and the sympathetic nervous system. This leads to bodily changes that prepare us to react to danger more efficiently and successfully. The brain becomes hyperalert, pupils dilate, the bronchi dilate, breathing accelerates. Heart rate and blood pressure rise. Blood flow and glucose to the skeletal muscles increase. Organs not vital in survival such as the gastrointestinal system slow down.

Fear is short-lived, geared toward a clear and present danger, usually a specific danger. Anxiety is another matter. Anxiety is chronic, geared toward an often more diffuse future event. Anxiety promotes excessive caution and makes coping less constructive or successful.

Having worked somatically with so many people, my experience tells me that fear charges the muscles, creating a great deal of potential energy in the thighs, (kicking, running), in the biceps and hand, (punching, etc.) and in the jaw, (biting). Once released and redirected, a person is in a condition or readiness, free to fight or flee or in the case of humans, to choose neither, to just be where we are, not fighting, not running, not freezing, not feigning, not fidgeting, but rather relying on reason, compassion, and cooperation to resolve conflict.

A person suffering from anxiety tends to squeeze their energy toward their midline and up almost appearing tied up with a rope. It in no way prepares the body to fight or flee or be. Yet this pattern can be released as well and redirected more constructively. But first, the mind must stop freaking itself out about the future. The mind must be brought back into present time and into the world as it is now. Often, the immediate reality is less scary than dire possible realities our minds can create for us.

Thoughts that create anxiety for me go something like this…If I get covid-19, I will die. If I die in Japan, I may never see my children again. If the economy crashes, I will lose my entire savings. If covid-19 continues and other pandemics arise, my life as an Alexander teacher who uses his hands will end. If covid-19 and other pandemics arise, travel will be too risky, and my school will close. These thoughts make me anxious and do not help me. I spend very little time entertaining these thoughts because, thankfully, I know how to diffuse them.

This is when the work of Byron Katie becomes very handy. I studied with Katie for quite a number of years. I feel such gratitude toward her and her brilliant work. Her work is an ingenious synthesis of cognitive and meditative processes. You have to think, and you have to drop down deeply into your innermost being for the answers that are there and that will help you live your life, no matter what is going on.

If you do not know about her work, I suggest buying her book, Loving What Is, or going online and learning about what Katie calls, Inquiry.

Here is an example of my using Inquiry.

As an example, let’s take one of my anxiety producing thoughts. After I do this, I encourage you to write down a few of your anxiety producing thoughts and just ask these questions and go through the process. Make sure you write everything down. As Katie says, “All pain belongs on paper.” See what happens.

Here we go. My thoughts are in italics.

If covid 19 and other pandemics arise, travel will be too risky, and my school will close.

Question 1: Is it true? Be still and ask yourself if the thought you wrote down is true.

Of course, I can’t predict the future, but it is good to do your best to arrive at a yes or no answer, even if you have to use your intuition. My intuition says No. I let this answer sink into my body.

Question 2: Can you absolutely know it’s true? This is another opportunity to open your mind and to go deeper into the unknown, to find the answers that live beneath what we think we know.

This for me is definitely a No. I let this sink in. Ah, I can’t know this for sure.

Question 3: How do you react—what happens—when you believe that thought? With this question, you begin to notice internal cause and effect. You can see that when you believe the thought, there is a disturbance that can range from mild discomfort to fear or panic. What do you feel? How do you treat the person or the situation you’ve written about, how do you treat yourself, when you believe that thought? Make a list and be specific.

Okay. What happens when I believe this thought is true? I am going to write down the thought again, just so I can really take it in.

If covid 19 and other pandemics arise, travel will be too risky, and my school will close.

 How do I react, what happens, when I believe this thought?

 I feel sad, my chest sinks. It’s hard to inhale. I feel defeated, over the hill, hopeless. Other thoughts arise. All that work I did, for nothing. My work will disappear. I will die in Japan. Life is over.

Question 4: Who would you be without the thought? Imagine yourself in the presence of that person or in that situation without believing the thought. How would your life be different if you didn’t have the ability to even think the stressful thought? How would you feel?

For my Alexander trainees, this is Alexandrian Inhibition with a very creative twist. The stimulus is the stressful thought, in this case an internal stimulus. I react to it as described above. Now, instead of my unplugging the reaction, I am choosing to see what happens if I unplug or drop the stimulus. If the stimulus is no longer there, what is there to react to? 

 If covid 19 and other pandemics arise, travel will be too risky, and my school will close.

 And if I didn’t believe this thought, if I could not think it, if I could let it drop, let it fall?

 My whole body relaxes, widens, my breathing becomes full and smooth. I feel support from my chair. I feel peaceful. Right here, right now, I am okay. I am comfortable. I am fine.

Ah! So what is creating my suffering? Is it reality or is it my thought about reality? If I am no longer suffering when the thought falls away, then it would stand to reason that it is the thought that is creating my suffering, my believing that this thought is true.

Turn the thought around: The “turnaround” gives you an opportunity to consider the opposite of what you believe. We resurface from the meditative process back into a cognitive process. Once you have found one or more turnarounds to your original statement, you are invited to find at least three specific, genuine examples of how each turnaround is true in your life.

Here is an example of a turn around. You pick a statement and turn around only one part of it. For example.

My school will close.

My school will not close. Why might this be true?

  1. I am part of a fantastic team of teachers, all dedicated to the school and to the trainees.
  2. My trainees and grads love the school.
  3. We are all learning how to learn and teach our work online and this will help us strengthen our community and help us as Alexander teachers.

Another turnaround.

My school will open.

  1. Yes, this online way of learning is opening for us.
  2. Alliance students and teachers from Japan, England, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Australia, and New Zealand are all getting to meet one another, opening up to one another.
  3. I am writing another book for my students and faculty right now and this will open up new ways for them to think and work as teachers.
  4. My book might be read by people outside of the school and they might become open to visiting or training with us.

 Another turnaround.

 I will close.

 Yes, that is the more important thought to attend to. How do I remain open?

  1. I open my heart to everyone in the world who is struggling and dying.
  2. I open my heart to my family.
  3. I open my heart to all the hospital workers.
  4. I open my heart to my students and teaching team.

Now rather than being anxious, I feel empowered. I feel brave. I feel motivated. My butterflies are flying in formation.

I hope this helps you.

Love to you all,


Bruce

 

 

 

 

Don’t Believe A Word I Say

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Three

Where Do They All Come From

Arrogance leads to loneliness.
Greediness to loss.
 
Give to others and you will not be poor.
Serve the people who serve you.
Work under those who work under you.
Allay your own fears, and those around you will become less afraid.
Open your own heart, and people’s hearts will open.
 
Do this, and people will have what they need.
You will have what you need.
 
There will be nothing left to do.

Alexander Commentary…

One of the principles underlying this passage is that changing ourselves is often the best way to change others. Alexander’s work also embraces this principle. Practicing Alexander’s work means attending to ourselves, doing our own inner work. What’s wonderful about the Alexander Technique is that we are given a way to do this physically. Our bodies become capable of alerting us, just before we are about to run into trouble.

For example, “Arrogance leads to loneliness.” Arrogance is not only an attitude; it’s a physical state of being. Arrogance expresses itself physically. The expression of arrogance can be overt or covert, but in either case it can be felt, discerned. When our kinesthetic sense becomes keen enough, we may notice that we are pushing our necks back and over straightening them, (stiff-necked). We may notice that we are pushing our chest up, and that we’re locking our knees, (and every knee shall bend.) A warning. Beware. Be aware. If we heed that warning, if we truly want what’s best for ourselves and for others, if we’re willing to let our ego give way to what is good in us, if we remember that we are not after being right, or being better than others, but in being at peace, then we can un-grip this arrogant stance, we can let it fall from us, and with it will fall the arrogance as well, and perhaps the loneliness too.  The energy exerted to maintain arrogance, which is considerable, returns to us, to be used in a better way.

John Dewey, one of America’s finest philosophers of education, and a long term student of Alexander’s wrote about how the work enabled him to know when he was engaged in sophistry and when he was being a lover of the truth, literally, a “philo-soph-er.” After years of studying the work he could feel, somatically, through his kinesthetic sense, when he was being a sophist, and he knew he was not after winning the debate, but that he was after discovering the truth, and he didn’t care who discovered it. So in these situations he was able to make the shift back to whom he was when he was at his best.

But as my teacher, Marj Bartow often said, “Don’t believe a word I say.” Lao Tzu’s philosophy is not about believing anything. It’s about carrying out life experiments. Find out for yourself if what he says is true.

Where This Path Begins by Bruce Fertman

Peace Of Mind

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Health insurance in Japan actually does a conscientious job of insuring its people’s health. Being a person who now has health insurance in Japan, I decided to go to doctors and actually find out how I am, something I have avoided doing in the United States as my deductible does not cover the first $5000 of my medical expenditures. Yet still the cost of my health insurance in America is double of what I pay for health insurance in Japan. Last week I had a comprehensive physical unlike any I have ever experienced in America. Discovering that, at 61, I am in exceptionally good health, but also finding out what I should keep my eye on, gave me great peace of mind. Strangely, rather than feel happy I felt even sadder than I had been for all of us in America who pay so much for our health care and receive so little health care. And there are the millions of us who cannot afford health care. It’s not easy having a peaceful mind when in the back of that mind we’re worrying about what happens if we or our loved ones get severely sick or injured.

Having been a gymnast, modern dancer, and martial artist, and having survived a couple of car accidents, my body has had a lot of practice at mending injuries and keeping me all of a piece. I’m grateful. I do have a knee that is not like it used to be, and now one hip that is asking for some help. My father had 4 hip replacements over 35 years, and like the rest of us he only had two hips! But now nothing prevents me from going for an MRI which I will do this afternoon. When I had a cold I went to a cold clinic where there were 50 people waiting to be seen, but in one hour I walked out having been thoroughly diagnosed, cared for, and given a prescription for medicine. I walked 50 yards to the pharmacy and in 2 minutes I had my medicine. In one day I felt better. A week earlier, I went to the dentist, which was also covered by my insurance.

If everyone in America could experience what it feels like to receive good health care I have no doubt that we’d have good, comprehensive health care in America. Most Americans don’t know what they are missing. What overwhelmed me was suddenly realizing that I was being treated with respect, that my dignity was being honored, that I was a person of value.  I felt a little guilty receiving this kind of care when countless others are not. Knowing more about how I am naturally makes me want to actively take care of myself.

So three times a week I go to a gym, which is a 3 minute walk from my apartment. It costs me $60 a month. I have been swimming, stretching, and using weights, which are helping a lot. The gym is sparkling. You could literally eat off the floor. Really. All the equipment seems brand new. Everything works perfectly. There are daily classes, all free, in Pilates, Tai Chi, Spinning, Dance, Yoga, Swimming, and more. The instructors are very good. And I have super high standards when it comes to movement teachers. These teachers are good. A facility like this in America would be reserved for the wealthy. Here it is available to almost everyone.

Bathing is an art in Japan. Into the steam room, then onto a low stool that sits in front of a mirror, a bucket for water near by and a hand held shower nozzle. Perfect water pressure. Nothing is broken. Everyone takes their time and cleans every pore, shaves, brushes their teeth, only turning on the water when they need it. Your body is warm from having been in the steam room so there’s no need to stay under continuous running water. After this almost ritualistic cleaning, you soak in a communal O furo, a hot tub, really hot. When a family baths at home, the O furo is filled and covered as not to lose heat. One by one, each person takes their time getting cleaner than clean then soaks in the tub. The tub is not as long as an American tub, but it’s higher. In America we lie down in a tub. In Japan we sit in a furo. With less surface water exposed to the cool air, the water stays warmer longer. Once out, the furo is covered, ready for the next person.

In general people in Japan use about a fifth of the energy we use. Yoshiko, my wife, thinks our utilities bills are high. Outside I’m looking concerned. Inside I’m smiling. They don’t, or I should say we don’t heat our homes centrally. We only heat where we are at the moment. This might mean sitting on an electrically heated two foot by two foot piece of carpet. Or it may mean working at a small, low desk, a kotatsu, which is designed such that under the table top surface is a large quilted blanket, and under the blanket is a small heater built into the table. You put your legs under the table and cover your lower body with the blanket, perhaps along with three other people, with their legs under the table, while everyone eats dinner together. Warm, cozy, and fun. Who needs to have all that heat floating up to the ceilings, which also are low, inside of rooms that are small.  In Japan we don’t use hot water to clean clothes, nor clothes dryers, nor dishwashers. We use cold water to wash dishes, and we don’t run the water when we soap up the dishes. When I say we I mean 99.9% of Japanese people. It’s taught in school from the get go. Refrigerators are tiny. No huge ovens. No pilot lights for hot water heaters, or stoves. All localized heat. Because of the Fukushima disaster Japanese people decided to use even less energy than they had been using. All but two of their fifty-four nuclear reactors remain shut down, at least for now. A lot of people would like to keep it that way, though given the politics here that is likely not to happen. That is another story. The point is that even in the summer when it is 105 degrees, day in and day out, in super high humidity in steaming cities, no one is using their air conditioners, even old people for whom it is dangerous not to do so. The contrast between Japanese and American culture is enlightening, and challenging.

Then there is simply walking down the street and seeing no overweight people. Maybe one person in every 100 is overweight, and those people are usually under 25 and eating mostly at McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken. The streets are buzzing with people walking in every direction while bicycles weave smoothly and effortlessly in and out. It’s a dance. Who needs a car when you have bikes and trains everywhere? Bikes are cheap. Mine cost $50 and I love my bike. I don’t think I’ve waited more than 7 minutes for a train and that’s after I just missed one. Usually there’s no wait. The trains are quiet and clean. No graffiti. No smell of urine here and there. Yes, sometimes the trains are beyond crowded but people have the courtesy to wear white sanitary masks that cover their mouth and nose if they have a cold. That’s thoughtful. People are taught to be aware of other people, and they are.

The trains and the streets are safe at any hour for anyone, kids included. In 2006 there were a grand total of 2 homicides. There are no guns around here. Little kids walk to school by themselves. If you leave your umbrella next to the ticket counter you can be sure it will have been given to the office. When you go to get it, they person will literally run to get it for you, knowing right where it is.

If you get off the train, let’s say at Osaka Station, and decide to buy some Japanese sweets at a department store, the moment you approach the counter, which has five people in uniform standing side by side, one of them will ask you if they can help you. Once you have bought your sweets they will ask you if you would like them wrapped as a gift. If you say yes you will witness hands that work differently than ours. Quickly and precisely. As you are leaving and ask them where the bathroom might be, they will likely take you there, and then bow and thank you. Can you imagine someone at Walmart or Staples bowing to you and thanking you for buying something at their store?

Ironically, living in Japan I feel how much I love America. I just know we could be better than we are. Living in Japan makes me care more about Americans. About everybody. And I realize how lucky I’ve been to be able to live in two cultures, for real.

For one, I’m not going to wait around for American culture to change. What I can do is adopt what I like about Japanese culture and live my life in a way that feels good and right for me. I can model what I care about.

In America I can practice being more aware of the needs of other people. I can use energy more modestly. I can eat less meat and cheese, more fish and vegetables. I can serve people. Thank people. Apologize when it feels right. I can be on time.

In America I will need to make an extra effort to take care of my own health.

And I will walk down the street unafraid. In a country that has grown so fearful, it will be my practice not to perpetuate fear, but to exude trust, and kindness.