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Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart – London Workshops and Individual Lessons With Bruce Fertman

Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Physics and Metaphysics of Touch 

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Photo: Tada Akihiro

For Alexander trainees and teachers, as well as for other movement educators and somatic therapists who use their hands to help others.

To receive everything one must open one’s hands, and give.   

Taisen Deshimaru

Hands close and open, grasp, cling, clench, and release. Hands express. They welcome, warn and inform, and in our case, hands educe. Educative hands lead out that which lies within. Together we will increase our tactual palette, become more tactually literate, learn new ways of using our hands sensitively and effectively.

We understand well the paramount importance of personal use while teaching, and the direct impact our use has on our quality of touch.  As important as good use is, my 55 years of experience using my hands to help people move well has taught me that additional knowledge into the hand’s inherent design can help us acquire hands that are, at once, soft and powerful, light and deep, stabilizing and mobilizing, quieting and energizing. As there are primary colors, so too there are primary touches: push, pull, slide, spin, and roll. In other words, physics.

We will also consider the metaphysics of touch. It’s a disservice to reduce a person to their body. I never touch a person’s body. I only touch a person. Our goal is to touch a person’s being through their body. But to touch a person’s being through their body we have first to be able to see a person’s being through their body, which means we have to be looking at more than a person’s use. There are ways of developing this way of seeing people. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Bringing the Work to Life and Life into the Work 

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For students, trainees, and teachers of Alexander’s work.

Become aware of your habits, because your habits will become your character. 

Become aware of your character, because your character will become your destiny.    

Anonymous 

Have you noticed it’s relatively easy to make good use of Alexander’s work when we are doing well, but nearly impossible when confronted with something truly challenging or threatening? How can we practice sticking to principle under emotionally stressful circumstances, when relating to family members, when encountering problems at work, while coping with physical injury and pain, when overwhelmed by stressful thoughts and emotions?

Working Situationally is a procedure I developed, slowly, over the past 40 years. That is to say Working Situationally is a “way of proceeding,” to teach people how to employ Alexander’s work when under trying conditions and faced with harsh realities.

Being able to work with people this way has been enormously beneficial to me personally. It has brought the work to life for me, and into my life in ways that before were inaccessible.

I love sharing this way of working with other Alexander teachers. And ironically, it’s really fun. 

Saturday and Sunday, April 22 and 23, 2017

Walking into the World

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Our work on walking will be incorporated into both days of study and relevant to everyone. 

It’s no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.   

Francis of Assisi

Walking, when understood, is the Alexandrian procedure that most naturally integrates rotational and spiraling motions into our upright structure, motions that are conspicuously absent in Alexander’s other procedures, as wonderful as those procedures are. Walking, when taught dynamically, helps dissipate postural holdings, often resulting in a profound sense of freedom and power.

Once when I asked Erika Whittaker what she felt like after working with Alexander, she said, “When the lesson was over, I could have said thank you, and walked out the door, or I could have said thank you, and walked through the wall.”

We’ll spend time learning about the mechanics of walking, as well as how to use our hands to help our students walk naturally, freely, and powerfully.

About Bruce Fertman

Photo by: Anchan of B. Fertman

Photo by: Anchan of B. Fertman

In Bruce’s class you feel as if you are sitting by a deep, soft lake. His pace and patience, his quiet confidence allows people to unfold and open layer by layer. The superfluous falls away leaving only life’s inner vitality effortlessly expressing itself through you.

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.”

M. Tueshaus, Alexander Teacher / Tango Teacher/ Equestrian

For 55 years Bruce has been using his hands helping people to move well. For the past 30 years he has traveled annually throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States helping people understand and experience the interconnectedness between physical and spiritual life.

In 1982, Bruce co-founded the Alexander Alliance International, an intergenerational, multicultural community/school, the first Alexander teacher training program inspired by the work of Marjorie Barstow. Currently, director of training and senior teacher for the Alexander Alliance in Germany, Bruce also teaches annually for Alexander Alliance training programs in Japan, Korea, and America. He directs the Alexander Alliance Post Graduate Programs in Dorset, England and Zurich, Switzerland.  

Bruce trained with five first generation Alexander teachers; Catherine Merrick Wielopolska, Marjorie L. Barstow, Richard M. Gummere Jr., Elisabeth Walker, and Erika Whittaker. He brings a lifetime of training as a movement artist to his work as an Alexander teacher having trained in Gymnastics, Modern Dance, Contact Improvisation,  Tai Chi Chu’an, Aikido, Chanoyu, Argentine Tango, and Kyudo.

He has worked with members of the Berlin Philharmonic, Radio France, The National Symphony in Washington DC, the Honolulu Symphony, for the Curtis Institute of Music, and most recently for Jeong Ga Ak Hoe, a traditional Korean Music Ensemble. Bruce taught for the Five College Dance Program in Amherst, Massachusetts for 13 years, and for the Tango community in Buenos Aires. For 6 years, he taught movement for actors at Temple and Rutgers University. For ten years Bruce taught annually for the College of Physiotherapy in Gottingen, Germany. 

Bruce’s heart centered approach as a teacher rests upon extensive study in psychology and theology, specifically, the work of Eric Berne, (Transactional Analysis), Carl Rogers, (Person Centered Therapy), Frederick Perls, (Gestalt Therapy), Albert Ellis, (Rational-Emotive Therapy), Carl Jung, (Analytical Psychology), and Byron Katie  (Inquiry). Having also studied with Jewish, Christian, and Buddhist scholars, Bruce’s teaching not only transforms people physically; it creates a decided shift in people’s personal lives.

Gone is the straight-lined striving, the stopping and oughting. Instead curiosity, inquisitiveness, and permission to experiment, to play, to open boxes and to climb out of them into a world of possibility – a world both soft and strong. And all this through a quiet power, an exquisite touch, a clarity of speech, and a wealth of wisdom. For me, Bruce’s work is more than exciting; it is important, both to the world and to anyone involved in any way with Alexander’s Technique.

A. Turner – Alexander Technique Teacher
Cornwall, England

One of the foremost representatives of Marjorie Barstow’s lineage, Bruce’s work is unique and innovative. Bruce is especially gifted when it comes to teaching in groups. He’s a philosopher, poet and writer who gives voice to what is wonderful about the Alexander Technique.

Michael Frederick – Founding Director of the International Congresses for the Alexander Technique

Workshop Details:

Where:

Alexander Technique
The Walter Carrington Educational Trust
13, The Boulevard
Imperial Wharf
London SW6 2UB

020 7727 7222

http://atiw.org/find-us/how-to-find-us

We are only three minutes walk from Imperial Wharf Station.
Imperial Wharf Station provides a direct link to Clapham Junction (4 minutes) in the South and Willesden Junction in the North. Change at West Brompton (5 minutes) for the District Line or at Shepherds Bush (9 minutes) for the Central Line.

When:

April 20th and 21st private lessons, by appointment.

April 22nd and 23rd. Workshops.

1o:00 – 1:30 morning class.

1:30 – 3 lunch break

3:00 – 5:30 afternoon class

Fee:

£200 for both days of study. £175 early registration.

£120 for each day of study.  £100 early registration.

Half price for all Alexander teachers enrolled in the Alexander Alliance Post Graduate Training Program.

Early registration ends March 20th, 2017.

Note: I will be giving private lessons on April 20th and 21st. The teaching fee is £60 for a 45 minute lesson. If you or anyone you know is interested write to me, or have them write to me at: bf@brucefertman.com

To Register Contact Ruth Davis at:

Email: 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

Or send a cheque made payable to:

Ruth Davis 

Sakura,

7 McKinley Road

Bournemouth

BH4 8AG

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. I look forward to meeting you and to working with you.

Bruce Fertman

Letters To A Young Teacher

The thing is I feel alone, in terms of doing the AT work, when I live in Taiwan.

I have heard about this feeling of loneliness and isolation from other Alexander teachers.You spend three years inside a school, then you graduate, and you are on your own. It feels like there’s no support. Life takes over and the work starts to fade away.

Shortly after I met Marj Barstow, when I was 25, I began to organize her summer workshops. There was a great community spirit at her workshops. In 1982, when we began the Alexander Alliance, my vision was to create not just a school, but a community/school. And somehow we did it. It’s now 34 years later and I am still part of an Alexander community. So I have never, first hand, experienced this kind of loneliness of which so many teachers speak.

If there are not other teachers close to you, then there are three things I can think of doing.

Invite people to come to you. I’ve invited over 50 teachers to my school over the last 30 years, some of them for many years, so I could study with them, and my students too of course.

You find a community of people you like and, when you can, you go to them. That’s what I did so I could study with Marj Barstow. I traveled 2000 miles in the winter and spring for ten years, and invited her to where I was every fall and spring.

You begin your own community from where you are. This is not easy and it takes great energy and passion, but it is possible.

It’s probably best to do all of them.

Just make a commitment to begin and you will begin to feel less alone.

Magic is believing in yourself, if you can do that, you can make anything happen. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I feel like I am gradually losing the coordination I had when training at my school. So my question for now is how to avoid losing the skill.

When Marj was 40 she stopped assisting A.R. Alexander in Boston and Pennsylvania, returning to Nebraska to help her father with their large ranch. She told me it was over the next 20 years that she really began to understand Alexander’s work. She said it was mainly through hard manual work on the ranch, and through training horses. She was a kind of cowgirl. She was beautifully coordinated, at 75, when I met her.

Marj working with me in 1976

Marj working with me in 1976

So what I hear in that story is that at some point you’ve got to get very interested in how you are doing the things you do in your everyday life, even that 4 hours of computer work that you are doing everyday at your job. You’ve got to be refining your own quality of coordination, and it’s important to find the pleasure in it all.

Now during those 20 years Marj hardly taught at all. But personally, I think it would help you to teach as much as you can. As you continue to figure out things about yourself and your own use, it really helps if you can share your insights with other people. For me this dynamic really works.

One time I asked Marj what I could do to improve my hands as a teacher. I was not going to see her for about 4 months. She told me to watch how I used my hands in everything I did. Everything. She said if I ever saw that I was distorting my hands, that I should stop for a second and then sense my whole body. She said I would begin to see that if I was distorting my hands I had to be distorting my whole body. Then she said once I knew how I was distorting myself I should free myself, that is, cease distorting my whole body, begin again, and this time find, as I began working, how not to distort my hands. She said if someone took a photo of my hands at any moment they should look beautiful.

Forty years later, I am still practicing this.

Erika Whittaker once told me a story. She said she began training when she was 16. She graduated 4 years later, stayed around for a couple of years assisting Alexander, met a man, got married, moved to Australia, got pregnant, had a daughter, raised the daughter, got divorced and found herself 50 years old. Someone said to her, “Erika, now, you could start teaching. You have plenty of time.” It hadn’t occurred to her. She thought, why not? I’ll give it a go. To her surprise she found herself tremendously better as a teacher than she had been when she was younger.

Erika Whittaker

So the work is working within you, whether you know it or not.

That said, from my own experience I can tell you there is no substitute for teaching and using your hands as much as you can. Never turn down an opportunity to teach the work, and to use your hands. Look for those opportunities. Make them happen.

From some of your photos you look to me to be pretty physical: snorkeling, pilates, climbing, hiking. Tap into those communities. Let them experience what you do.

If you can find a movement form that you really like, a formal study, it can be another way to keep the work going, especially if it’s a form that requires great sensitivity.

I hope these thoughts help you. Let me know.

Yours,

Bruce

When The Child Was A Child

Messengers 

In Wings Over Berlin, two angels, invisible to humans, softly, silently offer comfort, sometimes, but not always, lifting the spell of isolation and despair from suffering human souls.

They touch humans lightly, tenderly. Through their empathic presence an opening, where there had been none, would suddenly appear, a way to go forward now lay before them.

from Wings Over Berlin

from Wings Over Berlin

In Hebrew malach means both messenger and angel. In Greek too, aggelos means messenger and angel.

Messengers send messages. A message is a communication through writing, speech, or signals of some sort. A little like the angels in Wings Over Berlin, we Alexander teachers convey messages through touch. A message can be an underlying idea. It can also be an inspiring or sacred communication.

Now I am no angel. I am hopelessly human. I am not always at peace. I sometimes butt heads with people. I am not a spiritual being. I have no wings. I live on the ground. But I think we can and do serve as messengers for one another. Sometimes, unbeknownst to us, we do something, say something or write something that helps someone. Others sometimes unbeknownst to them, do, say, or write something that helps us, that may even change our lives. We may not be angels, but sometimes we perform our angelic function as messengers.    

from Wings Over Berlin

from Wings Over Berlin

In our Alexander community we refer to teaching through “procedures.” How do we “proceed” to impart the principles underlying Alexander’s work? Some of us use the procedures Alexander developed. Some of us also use procedures other teachers have developed, like Walter Carrington’s saddle work, or Raymond Dart’s developmental movements, or Marjorie Barstow’s working in activity. Others of us use procedures we ourselves have developed. To my surprise, I seem to have evolved a procedure, a way to proceed, that enables people to make use of the principles underlying Alexander’s work under trying conditions and when coping with harsh realities. I call it Working Situationally.

When The Child Was A Child

When the child was a child, it walked with its arms swinging. It wanted the stream to be a river, the river a torrent, and this puddle to be the sea. When the child was a child, it didn’t know it was a child. Everything was full of life, and all life was one. When the child was a child, it had no opinion about anything, no habits. It often sat cross-legged, took off running, had a cowlick in its hair, and didn’t make faces when photographed. – from Wings Over Berlin by Wim Wender and Peter Hendke

It’s not easy growing up. We have all known times when our arms stopped swinging, when the puddle was just a puddle. Times when we’ve felt exhausted, empty, our world shattered. Times when nothing was new under the sun, when we were unable to pick ourselves up from the ground, let alone take off running, when we put on yet another smiling face for yet another silly photo.

“When have you experienced yourself lost, without support, helpless and afraid,” I ask a group of fairly new Alexander teachers? “Can you see where you are, the situation you’re in; can you see what’s going on?”

Michiko, a small, middle aged woman in the back of the room says,“I’m going through a divorce. I have yet another session in court next week where I have to plea for the custody of my children. I am terrified of losing them.”

All eyes in the room lower at once.

“Thank you.” Let’s see if there is a way, through Alexander’s work to help ourselves when we really need it, when we’re feeling threatened, when our life’s hanging in the balance. How can we develop the wherewithal to be how we want to be in these situations, how not only to survive them, but to meet them?”

When The Master Is Home

“Michiko. Look around and see who can help you set up your scenario. Look and see who can help you, and how you can arrange the space.” Everyone springs into action. Seriously playful commotion fills the room. I sit back and watch as the space is transformed into a courtroom.

In the front of the room sits a judge. Michiko’s husband and his lawyer sit to the judge’s left, Michiko and her lawyer to the right. I’ve got a translator behind me, ready to whisper into my ear.

The judge begins. “We are here today to determine who is most deserving of the privilege of caring for your children. As you know I do not approve of divorce. I believe children should grow up with a mother and a father in the same house. But for whatever reasons, both of you seem incapable of doing this. Michiko, what do you have to say for yourself?”

“Judge, I am the parent who has spent the most time with my children. I am the one who cooks for them, who packs their lunches, who takes them and picks them up from school, who helps them with their homework. I am the one who does their laundry and who takes them shopping for sneakers and who gets out of bed at night when they have nightmares. I’m their mom.”

Yamato, Michiko’s husband blurts out, “And I am the breadwinner in this family. I’m the one that pays for the food you cook, who bought the nice car you drive to that top notch private school that I also pay for, not to mention the designer sneakers. I’m the guy that pays for the roof over your very head.” By the end, Yamato’s face is beet red.

It’s working. The scene’s been set up well enough that Michiko’s beginning to cringe from the sound of Yamato’s voice. But I don’t intervene. I want to see where this is going.

“Judge, Michiko says, right now I have 32 private piano students who I see every week. I earn enough money to take care of my own children. My children have already told you they want to live with me, that they don’t want to move to Tokyo, leave their school, and live with their father.”

“And I, the judge says, don’t appreciate your telling me again. I am well aware of what your children want, but they are children and have no idea as to what is, in the long run, best for them. The decision is up to me, not up to them, and not up to you.”

“They have also told you they are terrified of their father,” Michiko adds cowering.

“You liar! You total and complete liar, Yamato yells standing up and throwing his pen across the room, almost hitting Michiko in the face.

Terror. There it is, Michiko’s eyes frozen in fear. As she sits there, glued to her chair, her body looks weak and hopeless.

I quietly enter,  kneel down beside her, place my right hand softly over her shoulders and my left hand over her clenched hands that sit on her lap. “Michiko, let’s just freeze the frame here. Stay exactly as you are in your body and from the bottom up describe to me what you are sensing.” 

Michiko says, “I’m pulling my feet almost off the ground. My knees are touching and I feel like I’m jamming my thighs back into my hip sockets. My stomach is tight. I’m not breathing. The middle of my back is pressing against the back of the chair. My hands hurt. My shoulder blades are hunched up toward my ears, and my head is pressed down between them.” “Michiko, can you see the exact shape your whole body is taking, as if you were looking at a puppet?” “Yes, I can see it,” Michiko says. “Let me ask you, do you want to be like this?” “No, I don’t.” “You are now about a third of the way home.”

“Okay Michiko. If you are the one holding yourself in this position, then you are the one who can let go of holding yourself in this position. Let’s begin by letting your feet come back to the ground. What happens as you do that?” “My legs come down and my knees begin to separate a little.” I place the hand that was over her hands onto her left knee and then over to her right knee suggesting that her knees could release slightly away from her hip joints. I watch more air enter her lungs but say nothing about it. I quietly stand up behind Michiko, place my hands along the sides of her ribs and ask her to let the entire surface of her back spread out against the back of the chair. I feel more air coming into her lungs. I reach around and gently place my index finger onto the top of her sternum and from there gently guide her head back on top of her spine. Her eyelids flutter for a few seconds, followed by two slow blinks. Her eyes appear to settle back into their eye sockets. She’s calm.

“Okay Michiko. Now you are two-thirds of the way home. This next part I can’t help you with. Only you can do it. I want you to find out what would happen it you decided not to fight, not to flee, not to freeze, and not to fidget. Can you make the decision not to fight…not to flee…not to freeze…and not to fidget?” I wait and watch Michiko as she becomes deeply and quietly strong. “Can you sense what happens when you make that decision?”  “Yes I can.” “Good. Now be that decision.” 

I ask Yamato to continue.

Yamato looks at the judge and says. “Judge, my wife is lying to you. She’s a compulsive liar. That is what she does best. My kids don’t hate me.” Yamato turns toward Michiko, glares at her and says, “You wait. You just wait.”

Michiko’s body remains strong and open, her face calm. She’s breathing.“Quietly Michiko stands up, looks at the judge, and says, “Your honor, I’d like to submit for your judgement the evidence just set before you. Thank you for considering it.”

The judge turns, looks at Yamato, then at Michiko, and says nothing.  He appears to be reconsidering, reevaluating the situation.

“Michiko, I say. That is what it feels like when the master is home.”

Teaching Moments

In the Alexander Alliance, when we want to direct our student’s attention to pedagogy, to why we did what we did, or to why what we did worked or didn’t work, we make a T shape with our two hands, as if we were a referee at a football game. This means we are going to stop and step out of what we are doing and move into commentary.

“Okay class, what was Michiko’s goal?” “Not to lose custody of her kids.” “That’s right. That’s what she told us.”

“You can’t practice “the means whereby” unless you’ve got an end. Our work is about ends and means, about how we are being as we move toward our end, whatever that end may be. The idea is not to compromise the means for the end, not to sacrifice our integrity, no matter what happens. That’s the practice. That’s why I don’t like thinking about Alexander’s work as a technique. I think of it as a practice, because it’s hard, and I fail a lot. And sometimes I don’t. It takes practice.”

So let’s see if we can find the means whereby inside of what just happened. Where does it begin?” 

“You stopped everything.” “That’s true, and what is also true is that in real life you can’t stop a situation like that. You can’t say, “Okay judge. This is getting too intense. Let’s just take a pause here so I can calm down.” Here is an idea I want you to understand. Alexandrian inhibition does not necessarily happen just because you stop an action. It only happens when you succeed in stopping your habitual holding pattern within the action. So when I froze the frame, I only stopped the action. Stopping the action, freezing the frame, pausing, is a teaching device allowing me to slow everything down. So, what happened after I froze the frame?”

“You asked her what she was sensing.” “Right. Michiko shifts from being kinesthetically unconscious, to being kinesthetically conscious, which means she can now begin to sense how she is doing what she is doing. Once Michiko knows what she’s doing to herself, she has the chance of undoing it. As Marj Barstow used to tell us, “You have to know where you are before you can make a change.” So because she knew where she was, and because Michiko has had a good bit of training, she could pretty much come out of this pattern with only a little guidance from me.”

“I was sending her messages, I was fulfilling my angelic duty. Alexander called messages, directions. I think of messages as messages in a bottle that drift to the edge of the shore. You pick up the bottle, reach in and read the message. My first message to Michiko was, you are not alone, and then, Michiko, become aware of yourself, and then, come to your senses, and then, you’re one-third of the way home, and then, do you want to be this way, and so on. Messages were being communicated not only through my words, but though how I was in my own body and being, through the quality of my voice, and of course through touch, through her knees, and ribs, and sternum.  I was sending her messages and she made good use of them.

“And next?” “Well, all along you could actually begin to see Michiko’s primary movement emerging. As soon as her legs began to let go I could see her neck begin to free and her head poise returning, and I could see her whole body opening up and the air filling her lungs. But the most impressive change was her face, how the fear fell away.”

So far we have,

One, the goal, the end.

(the employment of freezing the frame, a pedagogical device and not necessarily part of the means whereby.)

Two, kinesthetic consciousness.

Three/Four/Five, Alexandrian Inhibition/Direction/Primary Movement.

In actual time, it’s virtually impossible to separate these. My words, my voice, and my touch helped Michiko let go, that is, neurologically inhibit. Within that letting go, though she likely did not think the words, ‘neck free, head forward and up, back to lengthen and widen, immediately direction was happening, because I was embodying and passing on, to the best of my ability, those directions through touch to Michiko, and because Michiko has had so much training, those directions were wordlessly operating within her primary movement. 

“And then?” You asked her to make a decision not to fight or flee or freeze or fidget. “Right. This is me preparing Michiko for the critical moment, for that moment when she’s going to want to go back to her old way of reacting to Yamato and to the judge. Michiko’s decision is going to have to be incredibly strong. Walt Whitman says it perfectly in Song Of The Open Road when he writes, Gently, but with undeniable will divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.  You can’t say it better than that. Erika Whittaker, when I asked her what Alexandrian inhibition was  answered me in one word. She said, “Inhibition is decision. It’s sticking to your decision against your habit of life.”

“So I’m watching to make sure Michiko is accessing tremendous inhibitory power within herself, and then I tell her, I send her a message, and that message is?”  To be that decision.  “Yes, because Alexandrian Inhibition is not something we can do. It’s only a way we can be.” 

Six, passing through the critical moment.

And then what happened?

Michiko responded to Yamato and to the judge the way she wanted. “And what do we call that in the Alexander world?” Choice? “That’s a good answer.” Freedom. “Another good answer. I have something else in mind.”

“We could call it Primary Control. For me Alexander’s Primary Control is the Great Protector. Imagine babies and toddlers. They are not well coordinated, but more often than not, they don’t get hurt. They scream, but they don’t hurt their voices. They fall, but rarely bang their heads. There is a force at work within them continually integrating them, keeping them whole as they gradually figure out how to coordinate themselves.”

“But as adults we lose touch with this integrative, protective force within us. When Michiko adhered to the means whereby she was protected. She didn’t disintegrate. She could function. She could say what she wanted to say the way she wanted to say it, without hurting herself, without fighting, without withdrawing, and with less fear. She could think on her feet. She could take care of herself, and to the best of her ability, her children.”

“Will she get custody of her children? Will she achieve her end? We don’t know. But we do know she was her best self in that courtroom. We watched her find her integrity, her dignity. We can’t entirely control how our lives unfold, nor the lives of our children. But with training, we can learn to attend to our integrity. And we can let our children see that. 

When the child was a child, it walked with its arms swinging. It wanted the stream to be a river, the river a torrent, and this puddle to be the sea. When the child was a child, it didn’t know it was a child. Everything was full of life, and all life was one. When the child was a child, it had no opinion about anything, no habits. It often sat cross-legged, took off running, had a cowlick in its hair, and didn’t make faces when photographed.

          

from Wings Over Berlin

from Wings Over Berlin

 

A Sneak Preview Into The Alexander Alliance Post Graduate Training Program – Zurich – November 6th, 2016 – Given by Bruce Fertman

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Teachers well versed in Alexander’s procedures, who have a clear understanding of what Alexander’s work is about have recently sought me out and begun studying with me. Some of them have been teaching for many years. Many of them first encountered me through my writings, sensing I had something new to offer them, new insights, new skills that might enhance their work.  These teachers are open to learning more, to learning new pedagogical skills, both tactual and linguistic, to learning new ways of better seeing and understanding the relationship between body and being, and between movement and meaning.

As an apprentice, and later assistant to Marjorie L. Barstow, with whom I trained for 16 years, and as a person with 50 years of experience as a movement educator and artist, I have learned how to teach Alexander’s work effectively in groups, how to teach others how to work effectively in groups, how to apply Alexander’s work to the physical demands of everyday life as well as to work with the emotionally trying situations all of us encounter along the way. Having also studied intensively with four other first generation teachers; Elisabeth Walker, Erika Whittaker, Catherine Wielopolska, and Richard M. Gummere, Jr., I have gained a deep respect for Alexander’s classical procedures as well.

Given we have only one day, I will touch lightly upon four themes:

1. The Physics and Physiology of Touch

To receive everything one must open one’s hands, and give.

– Taisen De`shimaru

Hands grasp, release, cling, clench, communicate. Hands welcome, embrace, inform, and in our case, educe. They lead out that which lies within. In this classwe will study the craft of the hand, increasing our tactual skills as Alexander teachers. We understand well the paramount importance of personal use while teaching and the direct impact use has on our quality of touch. It’s easy to become mystified when trying to understand what experienced Alexander teachers actually do with their hands that make them so effective. Often, teachers with ‘gifted’ hands don’t know what makes their hands so effective. After all, none of us ever get to experience what our hands are really like. From early on in my life as an Alexander teacher people perceived me as a person with ‘gifted hands.’ At some point I decided to take them at their word, and began inquiring as to what made my hands work. I found that, as important as good use is, there’s even more to soft, powerful, effective touch than simply good use. There are ways to demystify touch, to find words for the wordless, to be tactually literate. As there are primary colors, so there are primary touches: push, pull, slide, spin, and roll. In other words, physics. Out of these five primary touches an infinite variety of touches become possible.

2. Disarming the Arms

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

– Mary Oliver

How do we open our arms? How do we help our students open their arms?

The upper appendicular skeletal structure is like a concentric circle encircling the ribs, which encircle the spine, which encircles the spinal cord, ever widening rings.

Arms that cling to or collapse down upon our ribs interfere with breath, with overall integration, with life. In this class we will learn how to disarm the arms, so the ribs can free themselves from their cage, so the spine can decompress itself under theskull. We’ll spend time learning how to use our arms naturally, the way boxers, martial artists, and athletes use their arms. Then we’ll apply these principles to how we use our arms when we’re teaching.

3. Bringing the Work to Life and Life into the Work

Become aware of your habits, because your habits will become your character.

Become aware of your character, because your character will become your destiny.

-Anonymous

As Alexander teachers we can impart Alexander’s work via his procedures, or through procedures developed by other creative Alexander teachers. We can also help our students apply Alexander’s work into their lives, directly, by helping them as they are doing the things they do in their lives. Working in any or all of these ways is valid. Increasingly, there’s another way I work with my students, a way that has taken me 40 years to develop. It’s a way that brings life into the work and the work to life. It’s what I call Working Situationally.

Have you noticed that when you are doing well it’s relatively easy to make use of Alexander’s work, but when the going gets tough, all our Alexander training flies right out the window? How can we practice sticking to principle under emotionally stressful circumstances, when relating to family members, when encountering problems at work, while coping with physical injury and pain, when overwhelmed by stressful thoughts and emotions? We are meant to be more than bodyworkers, more than movement efficiency and effectiveness specialists, more than performance enhancement coaches. Our job is to help people make good use of themselves, not only of their bodies. We don’t work on a person’s body; we work through a person’s body. We can learn to touch a person, a whole person, indivisible. Our job is to work with the undivided self.

4. Walking into the World

It’s no use walking anywhere to preach unless

our walking is our preaching.

-Francis of Assisi

Walking, when understood, is the Alexandrian procedure that most integrates rotational and spiraling motion into and around an upright structure. It increases alertness, breath, and vitality. It helps dissipate postural holding. Our ability to help people engage deep postural support, when combined with an understanding of the mechanics that underlie walking, results in a terrific sense of freedom and power in motion. We’ll begin learning to walk with the wind at our backs, and learn how to help our students to do the same. Not to stand on our own two feet, but on the ground. Accessing core support welling up from the ground. Freeing our ankles. Allowing our knees to hang below our hip joints, our pelvis to pedal backwards, our legs to subtly scallop as they swing. Letting our feet find their own footing. Understanding natural gate patterns.

I hope you will consider joining me for a day devoted to improving our skill as Alexander teachers.

To register call +41 (0)78 888 16 64 or write to Alexander.Technik@gmx.ch

About Bruce Fertman

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In Bruce’s class you feel as if you are sitting by a deep, soft lake. His pace and patience, his quiet confidence allows people to unfold and open layer by layer. The superfluous falls away leaving only life’s inner vitality effortlessly expressing itself through you.

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.”

M. Tueshaus, Alexander Teacher / Tango Teacher/ Equestrian

With over 50 years experience as a movement artist and educator, Bruce Fertman brings a lifetime of training to his work as an Alexander teacher. For the past 30 years Bruce has traveled annually throughout Europe, Asia, and the United States helping people understand and experience the interconnectedness between physical and spiritual life.

In 1982, Bruce co-founded the Alexander Alliance International, an intergenerational, multicultural community/school, the first Alexander teacher training program inspired by the work of Marjorie Barstow.

Bruce’s training encompasses disciplined study in Gymnastics, Modern Dance, Contact Improvisation, Alexander Technique, Tai Chi Chu’an, Aikido, Chanoyu, Argentine Tango, and Kyudo.

Bruce has worked with people from all walks of life, often with artists. He has worked with members of the Berlin Philharmonic, Radio France, The National Symphony in Washington DC, the Honolulu Symphony and for the Curtis Institute of Music. He taught for the Five College Dance Program in Amherst, Massachusetts for 13 years, and for the Tango community in Buenos Aires. For 6 years, Bruce taught movement for actors at Temple and Rutgers University.

Bruce enjoys working with people who take care of people. For ten years he taught annually for the College of Physiotherapy in Gottingen, Germany. Currently, in Japan, he works for the Furitsu Hospital in Osaka, and at the Ebina General Hospital in Ebina, Japan.

Bruce’s heart centered approach as an Alexander teacher rests upon his extensive training in psychology and theology. Having studied the work of Eric Berne, (Transactional Analysis), Carl Rogers, (Person Centered Therapy), Frederick Perls, (Gestalt Therapy), Albert Ellis, (Rational-Emotive Therapy), Carl Jung, (Analytical Psychology),  and Byron Katie, (Inquiry), as well as having studied with Jewish, Christian, and Buddhist scholars, Bruce’s teaching not only transforms people physically; it creates a decided shift in people’s personal lives.

Author of Where This Path Begins, Renderings of the Tao Te Ching, Bruce is currently at work on his second book entitled, Touching The Intangible.

Photo: Tada Anchan Akihiro

Mirando el Bahía de Tokyo

Tokyo-Bay-Japan

Me despidieron. Un hombre, padre de una de las jóvenes gimnastas en el Mann Recreation Center en Philadelphia, donde yo trabajaba como entrenador para un equipo de gimnasia femenino, se estaba quejando de cómo los chicos en Philadelphia no son tan inteligentes como lo eran los de hace 20 años. Yo tenía 22 años en ese entonces. “¿Cómo sabe eso?” le pregunté.

“Mira, he enseñado química en la escuela secundaria durante 20 años. Uso el mismo libro. Trabajo el mismo material… Los exámenes son exactamente iguales a los que usaba hace 20 años”, dijo él. “Interesante. Dígame, ¿se tuvo en cuenta a usted en esa ecuación? Quiero decir, ¿es posible que el hecho de no haber cambiado absolutamente nada signifique que no ha aprendido nada nuevo, sobre química o sobre la enseñanza? ¿Podría significar que está aburrido, no está inspirado, no inspira, y como ya llegó a la conclusión irrebatible de que los chicos no son tan inteligentes como lo eran antes, los trata así?; ¿y los chicos sienten eso y no lo escuchan, no lo respetan, y no hacen nada para usted; porque usted no los respeta y no hace nada para ellos?”.

“¿Qué sabes vos?” dijo él indignado. “Sólo sos un chico.” Sí, yo era un chico arrogante, agrandado, con mucho por aprender. Pero era un buen entrenador. Sin embargo, este hombre estaba en el comité de dirección del centro y donaba mucho dinero al equipo. Entonces me despidieron. Encontré un trabajo una semana después enseñando para Senior Wheels East Late Start, un proyecto que iba a los barrios más pobres de Philadelphia entregando comida a discapacitados y almuerzos a varios centros comunitarios para los pobres y desamparados, y que también ofrecía actividades en grupos y clases; mi clase era Seguridad en Movimiento. Yo era graduado de salud, educación física, recreación y danza en Temple University pero nunca había enseñado a gente mayor. Así que escuchaba sus necesidades, experimentaba, veía qué funcionaba y qué no. Los disfrutaba, aprendía de ellos y probaba. Pero esa es una historia para otro momento.

Cuarenta y dos años después entro a mi clase en Tokyo, todavía enseñando movimiento humano. He estado creando nuevo material y quiero presentar mi trabajo orientado a un nuevo tema. Estoy emocionado por tener esta oportunidad.

Ojaio gozaimasu (buen día), digo haciendo reverencias a todos. Todos, en voz alta y al unísono, me devuelven el saludo. Hay mucha energía en la sala.

“¿Por qué es tan importante la amabilidad? Quiero decir, ¿por qué diría Su Santidad el Dalai Lama que su religión es la amabilidad (kindness)? ¿Por qué, con todas las palabras que hay en el mundo, elegiría la palabra amabilidad? ¿Qué significa esa palabra?”

Las personas se están preguntando por qué estoy hablando sobre la amabilidad. Están aquí para una introducción a la Técnica Alexander. Pero yo tengo la costumbre de tomar el camino largo para llegar a donde voy. “En inglés, la palabra “kind” tiene dos significados, que parecen no estar relacionados. Un significado es “tipo”. Por ejemplo, hay dos tipos principales de destornilladores que usamos en América, uno plano y otro de cruz. ¿Tienen destornilladores planos y de cruz en Japón?” Inclinan las cabezas diciendo que sí, preguntándose por qué es esto importante.

Dibujo los destornilladores en la pizarra. Me encanta garabatear en las pizarras.

“¿Alguna vez les pasó que necesitaban un destornillador pequeño tipo cruz, pero sólo podían encontrar un destornillador grande plano e intentaron utilizarlo igual? Se arriesgan a que pasen tres cosas no tan buenas: uno, quizás dañen el tornillo; dos, quizás dañen el destornillador; ¿y tres?” Todos están pensando. Espero. Al final, una persona dice: “quizás te lastimas a vos mismo.” 

“Bien, okey. Imaginen lo siguiente. Se acercan a un perro que se ve amigable.” Ahora, algunos de los estudiantes están sospechando que posiblemente sufro una leve demencia. “Se paran en frente del perro y bajan la mano para acariciarle la parte de arriba de la cabeza. El perro agacha la cabeza a donde no alcancen con la mano. El no entiende el gesto como amistoso. Por un lado, están mucho, mucho más arriba, básicamente son un gigante por encima del perro. Por otro lado, están parados justo en frente del perro, bloqueando su ruta de escape. Y tercero, sus manos grandes, que ni siquiera son patas, van directo sobre su cabeza.”

“Los caninos son una especie de mamíferos distintos al ser humano. Tienen distintas maneras de saludarse. Si fueses un perro, la manera amistosa de acercarte a otro perro no es ir de frente, sino empezar a rodearlo desde el costado, bajando la cabeza y olfateando delicadamente la cola del otro perro, mientras le ofreces tu cola para que la olfatee. Eso es amistoso y se siente seguro para el perro. Ahora, si intentaras saludar a otro ser humano de esa manera, con ese gesto canino amistoso, probablemente lo malinterpreten, quizás hasta se perciba un poco maleducado.” Esto evoca las primeras risas robustas del grupo. Eso es importante.

“Incluso ahora, con las personas que conozco bien aquí en Japón, si les digo hola y les doy un abrazo amistoso americano, se ponen incomodos. Fingen que les gusta, pero puedo sentir como sus cuerpos se ponen rígidos como piedra. No les gusta. Entonces, casi siempre, solo hago una reverencia.”

“Eso me trae al otro significado de la palabra ‘kind’: ‘amable’. Ser amable también significa ser considerado y respetuoso de algo o de alguien.”

“Entonces, cuando comprendes y tomas en cuenta el tipo de cosa o criatura con la que te estás relacionando, podés tratarlos con la amabilidad y el respeto con la que quieren ser tratados.”

“Si yo quiero tratar a mi tornillo y destornillador respetuosamente, necesito comprender sus diseños y usarlos acorde a éstos. Eso es considerado. Eso es respetuoso. Eso es amable.”

“Si yo quiero ser considerado y respetuoso con un perro, tengo que saber algo sobre los perros. Entonces voy a elegir moverme despacio, agacharme al nivel de sus ojos, bajar la mirada, posicionarme al costado del perro. Voy a esperar a que el perro se mueva un poco hacia mí, y luego llevar mi mano despacito, con la palma hacia abajo para que se parezca más a una pata, hasta debajo de su mentón. Eso es considerado. Eso es respetuoso. Eso es amable.”

“Cuando estoy en Japón, con una cultura particularmente diferente a la de América, si quiero ser considerado y respetuoso, lo mejor es saludar a las personas de una manera que les haga sentirse cómodos. Eso sería amable.”

“Ahora que tenemos los dos significados de la palabra ‘kind’ (tipo y amable) y cómo están relacionados, surge la pregunta: ¿cómo me trato a mí mismo con amabilidad?”

“El trabajo de Alexander se basa en esta pregunta: ¿cómo hago para tratarme a mí mismo con amabilidad? Mi mentora, Marjorie Barstow, una vez nos dijo, ‘un día te despiertas y dices, estoy cansado de maltratarme. Ahí es cuando empiezas a progresar.’ Cuando era un joven actor, Alexander necesitaba comprender como maltrataba su voz. El usaba la palabra ‘uso’ en lugar de ‘trato’, y ‘mal uso’ en lugar de ‘maltrato’. Me gusta la palabra ‘trato’ porque tiene una connotación ética. No se trata solamente de función. Más tarde la investigación de Alexander no trató solamente sobre su voz, sino que trató sobre él mismo como persona. En otras palabras, su trabajo comenzó a ser sobre cómo los seres humanos se maltratan a sí mismos. Y sobre ¿qué tenemos que comprender y dominar para poder tratarnos a nosotros mismos con consideración y respeto?

Después de 20 minutos, por fin he llegado a donde quería ir. He explicado de qué se trata el trabajo de Alexander. Lo he hecho de una manera que es simple y fácil de entender. Lo he hecho de una manera que hizo a los estudiantes pensar en sí mismos, no tanto sobre sus cuerpos, todavía, sólo sobre ellos mismos como personas. Los oigo preguntarse, “¿me maltrato a mí mismo? ¿estoy preparado para dejar de maltratarme?” Los tengo donde los quiero.

“Para aprender cómo tratarnos con respeto, hay cinco aspectos de la vida que valen la pena considerar. Tiempo. Espacio. Contacto. Movimiento. E interacción social. Los escribo en la pizarra. Elijo estos porque siempre estamos viviendo en relación a ellos. De esto se tratará el taller.”

“Vivimos en el tiempo. Tenemos que lidiar con el tiempo del reloj, con llegar a tiempo, con hacer las cosas a tiempo. Hay tiempo psicológico. ¿Sentimos que nos estamos quedando sin tiempo? ¿Sentimos que estamos perdiendo tiempo? ¿Es el momento adecuado de decirle a otra persona cómo me siento?”

“Siempre estamos relacionándonos con el espacio, el espacio alrededor nuestro, el espacio entre nosotros y las cosas. Como en nuestros aparatos electrónicos, hay espacio psicológico dentro nuestro. ¿Nos sentimos atrapados? ¿Acorralados? ¿Contra la pared? ¿Tenemos espacio para pensar, o para respirar?”

“Siempre estamos en contacto. Nos sentamos en una silla frente al escritorio, en el asiento del auto, o en el asiento del tren. Caminamos por la calle, nuestros pies tocan el suelo con cada pisada. Ponemos comida dentro de nuestras bocas. Tocamos nuestras pantallas y teclados. Tocamos objetos todo el día, y nos acostamos sobre nuestras camas o futones todas las noches.”

“Nos movemos constantemente desde el momento que nos conciben hasta el momento en que morimos.”

“Y estemos a solas o no, nunca estamos solos. Como dijo James Hillman, somos nuestras comunidades internalizadas. Memorias de nuestros padres, pensamientos críticos sobre nuestros jefes, preocupaciones por nuestros hijos.”

“Para mí como profesor de Alexander este es el tema que interesa. Si podemos aprender a crear tiempo y espacio para nosotros mismos, si podemos aprender a hacer contacto respetuoso con todo lo que tocamos y nos toca, si podemos aprender a movernos acorde a nuestro diseño, quizás esta tranquilidad, equilibrio y sensibilidad seguirán vivos en nuestras interacciones sociales.”

“Entonces cuando Su Santidad el Dalai Lama dice: mi religión es la amabilidad; yo sospecho que él sabe que esto no es nada fácil. Sospecho que él sabe que ser verdaderamente amable requiere conocimiento, comprensión y practica comprometida, y que esta práctica nunca termina.”

El silencio y la quietud en la sala son palpables.

“Bueno. Vamos a divertirnos. ¡Realmente vamos a divertirnos mucho este fin de semana!”

El fin de semana va sorprendentemente bien. Surge mucho material nuevo. Digo cosas de maneras que nunca dije antes. Escucho ideas que nunca escuché. Uso mis manos de maneras en que nunca las he usado. Enseño movimientos que nunca antes enseñé. Puedo conocer gente que no conocía antes. Aprendí mucho este fin de semana y parece que los alumnos también. Hay cierta liviandad en la sala. Estoy feliz.

Junto mis cosas anticipando la cena, una cerveza y estar con amigos. Está hermoso afuera. El sol se pone sobre la bahía de Tokio. Un pensamiento se cruza en mi cabeza: “Vaya, los alumnos parecen ser más inteligentes cada año. Son más abiertos. Aprenden más rápido. Disfrutan más. A decir verdad, parecen más amistosos, más amables y más respetuosos que nunca.”

La amabilidad es mi religión. Soy devoto de por vida.

Translated by Mari Hodges

Inside The Majesty

 

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Photo: B. Fertman Monument Valley – The Three Sisters

“Okay.  What’s a Movement Meditation? What do you think, I ask my class?”

It’s when you’re doing some kind of movement and you drop into the zone, like when shooting hoops, or doing Aikido, or running, or rock climbing.

I don’t think it has to be anything really fancy. Maybe I could be immersed in what I’m doing when I’m folding my laundry, or raking the leaves in my back yard.

Good examples. How about Kinesthetic Contemplation? What’s that?”

It could be when we are having a new sensation within us, a moving sensation, and we want to understand it, we want to know where it’s coming from, how it’s changing us, and what it means. So that makes it a form of contemplation.

Sounds good to me. How about a Senso-Spiritual Practice? We’re getting weirder and weirder.”

I think this one is simple. It’s like you’re taking a walk and you see a sunflower and you stop and look at it for a while. You see this incredible geometric pattern and you smell its perfume and feel how powdery soft it is and you get this feeling of it being totally miraculous, this simple sunflower. It almost makes me cry just thinking about it.

I love that example. Can someone give me another example?”

When I play Bach sonatas, which I do almost every morning, even though Bach wasn’t very religious, I hear something that feels sacred to me, like a river running into the sea. It’s hard to explain, but as the years go by, and the more I practice, the stronger this feeling gets. And this feeling opens me up. I think it actually makes me more loving.

Wow. That almost makes me cry just thinking about it. Anything else?”

Something happens to me when I get up early and go bird watching with my birder friends. The air is cool and fresh, and here we are, looking for these little birds, and some of them are so beautiful, like an indigo bunting, or a western tanager. And most of the time I’m so busy I just pass this beautiful world by. But when I’m bird watching my senses get finely tuned, my hearing, my seeing. Even my movements change. I can be still and silent for a very long time. And for some reason, at a certain moment, something comes over me and I feel grateful to be alive on the earth. I go home and my wife and kids are just getting up and I feel great. I’m in a great mood.

You see, maybe this one is not weird at all. Maybe the sensory world and the spiritual world go hand in hand, and maybe it’s so obvious we just miss it. Maybe this notion that the senses are physical and the spiritual is mental isn’t quite right. We go looking for our spirituality, God knows where, and there it is surrounding us all the time.  Maybe by better attending to our senses, we can more easily find entrance into the spiritual world. Sometimes I get sad thinking how little most cultures spend on the arts because art is a great way into senso-spiritual life, and nature is too.”

“Once, many years ago now, I was invited to Omega Institute in Upstate New York to teach a 5-day workshop. All the teachers who were giving workshops met the day before to get to know one another a little. A woman with the bluest, wisest eyes, a deep ecologist by the name of Joanna Macy was there. And a man, a tracker, by the name John Stokes was there with a few of his apprentices.”

“There was this burly guy with a thick beard, large forearms, and calloused palms who was as soft as a big teddy bear. He came up to me and asked me what I was teaching and I said something about sensory awareness.” He said, “That’s very much what I teach too, except I’m not the one who’s really teaching my students about their senses. The woods do that for me. How do you teach your students about their senses without the woods?”

Okay. Here’s the one no one can answer. What’s a Post-Proprioceptive Prayer?

Silence descends upon the room.

“You’re close. Can you say a little more?”

Well, proprioception has something to do with the position we are in, with knowing exactly where we are. So post-proprioceptive prayer…hmm…I don’t know.

Let’s begin at the beginning. This may take a while. I’ve got to go step by step. But it will be worth it, so hang in there with me.”

Pre-proprioception and Proprioception

When we are born, so I am told, as I have no conscious memory of this, we cannot identify what is our body and what is not. We don’t have an identity. We are not an “I”. We are a little bundle of sensation with no awareness that we are a bundle. Maybe Descartes was right when he said, “I think therefore I am.” Maybe there is no “I am” before we begin thinking. As a newborn we are alive but we don’t know we are alive. It’s a mystery to me how we transition from pre-proprioception to proprioception. Here are my musings on the subject.”

“Proprioception tells us our position or shape, for example it tells us if our elbow is flexed or straight. Proprioception tells us about location, where one part of our body is in relation to another part, and in relation to the body as a whole.  Your right arm may be flexed and you sense its shape, but is it over your head or by your side? Proprioception tells us about orientation. Where is our body in space? Are we lying down or are we standing up? And some might say that proprioception tells us if we are moving or not. I tend to associate movement with the kinesthetic sense. But in living it is almost impossible to separate touch, proprioception, and kinesthesia.”

“Close your eyes and slowly touch your nose with your index finger. Sense how you can kinesthetically feel that your finger is moving, but that your nose is not moving. The only way you are going to have any idea where your nose is, is through your proprioceptive sense.”

“So we enter this world and we have no clue about the shape of our body, or of any part of our body. And we’ve no clue where one part of our body is in relation to another part. And we have not the faintest idea where we are in relation to the environment, because we can’t tell the difference, we can’t differentiate. And as far as whether we are moving or still, well how could we possibly know what is moving, our mother or us, the bed or us. We are pre-proprioceptive.”

“But we come out into the world with a great sense of touch. We’re transitioning from relating to a fluid environment to a solid environment. We feel this. We start rolling against a hard surface. We’re experiencing gravity when we try to lift our formidably large heads. But we’re strangers in a strange land. If we’re lucky, we have people around who love us and love touching us a lot. We’re feeling a little squeeze on our calf, or a kiss on the cheek. Suddenly we are being squeezed around the ribs and lifted high above someone’s smiling face. People are putting us in silly looking clothes and increasingly, through almost constant sensorial research we are, literally, figuring out where we are.”

Extended Proprioception

Extended proprioception grows out of proprioception. The potential for extending proprioception is built into us, but we also have to work at it. Babies work at it. Children work at it. And adults work at it.”

“We extend proprioception when we can get an object to do what we want. It’s as if we extend our nervous system into the object, much as amputees with sensorialized prostheses are now able to do.  You can watch a baby learn to manipulate a baby bottle, pick up a pea, eventually write with a pencil, button a shirt, tie a shoe, ride a bike, fly a kite, and eventually drive a car. Oh no! You can see how persistently babies and kids work on extending proprioception.”

“Extending proprioception can get pretty sophisticated, playing a musical instrument, fencing, fly fishing, kayaking, knitting.” 

“Not only can we extend our proprioception into objects, which is exciting enough, we can extend our proprioception into creatures as well. When my daughter was hardly a year old I’d take her to see horses at a nearby stable and she’d go wild. In the worst way she wanted to touch those horses and sit on those horses. I’m convinced there’s a horsemanship gene. Watch a great equestrian and you will see extended proprioception, two creatures moving as one. Or watch  great Aikidoists, or great tango dancers.”

“This brings us to the relationship between extending proprioception and intimacy. It’s no mistake that dancing and courtship go hand in hand. Whether it is swing, or tango, or contact improvisation most humans love physical intimacy. It doesn’t matter whether this physical intimacy is sexual or nonsexual. Physical intimacy brings people literally and figuratively in touch with one another.”

“Paradoxically, proprioception helps us to differentiate ourselves from what is not us and, at the same time, it has the potential, when extended, to unite us with others and with the things of this world. It has the capacity to distinguish and to unify.”

“Marjorie Barstow, my mentor, once told me to watch my hands all through the day and see if I ever distorted them.” “Bruce, if you catch your hands looking ugly or distorted, if they wouldn’t look beautiful in a photograph, then stop right away, and you will see that you are distorting your whole body. Wait until you know exactly where you are, the relationship of the parts of your body, one to the other, as well as the shape of your body as a whole, and then release the distortion throughout your entire body and work out a way of using your whole body and your hands without distortion. Because when we are distorted, we cannot relate well to anything.”

“Marj was talking about proprioception and extending proprioception. Marj’s ability to extend proprioception was extraordinarily refined. She knew precisely where she was so when, as an Alexander teacher, she touched me it was as if I became part of her exquisite nervous system, and without any effort I became, like her, beautifully integrated. Her touch was intimate in that her hands did not feel separate from my body. They felt like they were under my skin, not on my skin. Her hands were a part of me. Yet her touch was non-sexual in nature. It was as if Marj was overlapping into me, like one circle intersecting another.  We were two people with one nervous system.”

“How are you doing? Are you following me? Do you need a break? I don’t usually talk this much, but this is a bit complex. Shall I go on?”

I get nods of approval, so I continue.

Prayer

Now we have some understanding of pre-proprioception, proprioception, and extended proprioception. Before we can understand post proprioception, and what a post-proprioceptive prayer is, let’s think about what it means to pray, and what is a prayer. Again these are just my musings on the subject.”

“When I was four years old I slept in a little room with a little window near the foot of my bed. My mom would come into my room and we’d pray. Quietly she’d say, and I would say with her, Now I lay me down to sleep I pray to God my soul to keep, and if I should die before I wake, If I should die! What is she talking about? I pray to God my soul to take.” And then finally, “Sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite. Bedbugs! What bedbugs! “After she would leave, I was wide awake. To calm down I would do my own praying. I would sit at the foot of my bed, on my knees, in seiza, and look up out my window at the few stars I could see. Only one star was red so I decided to pray to that star. A couple years later, I found out that my red star was a red light sitting on top of a radio tower. That was disappointing.”

“I would pray for things I wanted. I remember praying for a puppy dog, and when I finally got my soft, playful puppy, which I adored, I was soon infested with worms and before I knew it my puppy was gone. After that praying lost some of its appeal.”

“It wasn’t until I was considerably older, around thirty, that I actually began to pray for other people. I no longer believed in a God who could grant wishes, but I found myself wanting to be with people, in my heart and mind, that I cared about who were in need, as if I were keeping them company.”

“Many years later, after a particularly long, dark period in my life, I shifted into a different kind of praying. I completely stopped wishing or hoping for anything, for me or for anyone else. I was beginning to accept and appreciate exactly how things were.”

“If I was suffering, or someone else, rather than making a request I would ask a question. “If God is good, then what is good about what is happening now?” And then I’d become deeply quiet, do nothing, and wait without waiting for anything. Sometimes the answer would arise almost immediately and at other times not for weeks.”

“The more I began to experience everything as good, the more I found myself feeling grateful, often for little things I had up to now taken for granted, like being able to walk, or see, or having work that mattered to me, or that my kids were healthy. Just being alive rather than not, statistically speaking, seemed totally miraculous, and I found myself silently saying thank you almost all day long. And this thankfulness became a new, more mature form of prayer for me. It seemed I was almost in a perpetual state of prayer.”

“But there was one more shift yet to happen.”

“It’s a lot like when you first fall crazy in love with someone. You find yourself intoxicated, under a spell. Everything seems perfect because you are filled with this feeling of being in love with someone. Instead of writing thank-you letters all day long, I began writing love letters all day long!”

Post Proprioception

Step by step. We are almost there. Now we know what is pre-proprioception, proprioception, and extended proprioception. We know what mature prayer is, gratitude and love. Once we know what post-proprioception is, we can put it all together and you’ll know what I mean by a post-proprioceptive prayer.”

When we extend our proprioception exceptionally well we find ourselves in a harmonious relationship with an object, tool, instrument, device, or with nature, an animal or a person. There are however brief moments, when a merging happens, when we no longer feel as if we are in a relationship. We, as a separate I, are no longer there. It’s a post-proprioceptive moment. It’s as if we have reverted to a pre-proprioceptive condition, but it’s not pre-proprioceptive because we’re conscious of it. Often these moments verge on the ecstatic.”

“Ecstatic, in Greek, ekstasis, means a dis-placement, a removal from a proper place. Proper, as in proprio, as in property, means that which is you. So a post-proprioceptive moment is a felt dis-placement or absence of that which is you. In colloquial terms, it’s a moment when we are ‘blown away.’”

In Judaism we have a prayer you are supposed to say every night before going to sleep, and if you are lucky enough, at the moment you are leaving this world. It’s called the Shema. The Shema  means, as a Rabbi once told me, Listen, you person who wrestles with God, I will give you a hint. God is one, not two.”

“There was a woman with whom I was deeply in love. Sometimes I’d see her and spontaneously a poem would arise in me, fully formed. All that was left was to quickly write it down and give it to her. Here’s an example of a post-proprioceptive poem or prayer, written now long ago. Note the element of mergence, a felt dis-placement, of an absence self, and of gratitude.”

Have you ever been walking in the woods

Hearing no sound of a stream, and then suddenly you hear it?

Have you ever been walking for so long in the sound of the stream

That you cannot imagine how a sound could enter and fill you so completely,

Leaving no space for words

Or even for the thought of a stream sounding

Until the sound, streaming in your veins,

Sends the trees and rocks rolling into white clouds upon a hill

That meets your back in soft green grass, where you land,

Safely, staring up at the sky, so blue, wondering,

Not who you are, but that you are?

Post-Proprioceptive Prayer

Some people believe that this ability to enter into a post-proprioceptive condition is the basis for all religious sentiment.”

“Roman Rolland, a French dramatist, novelist, art historian and mystic was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1915. He coined the term ‘oceanic feeling.’ It meant this felt experience of oneness or limitlessness. Freud’s opinion was that this oceanic feeling, felt by some people and not by others, was ‘merely’ a carry over of a primitive pre-egocentric feeling, what I would call a pre-proprioceptive condition. Rolland and other mystics would beg to differ. For the mystics this experience of oneness and limitlessness was not ‘merely’ primitive, not only primal but sacred.”

“Perhaps there is some connection between the unity a fetus experiences within its mother, the oneness experienced through sexual unity, and the oneness experienced through spiritual unity. God is one, not two.

“Here’s a Rumi poem that captures all three experiences of post-proprioception. How did he do that!”

The Freshness

When it’s cold and raining,

you are more beautiful.

And the snow brings me

even closer to your lips.

The inner secret, that which was never born,

you are that freshness, and I am with you now.

I can’t explain the goings,

or the comings. You enter suddenly,

and I am nowhere again.

Inside the majesty.

Translated by Coleman Barks

There you go, a post-proprioceptive prayer of the highest order.”

“Another one of my favorite mystics, Meister Eckhart, encourages us to practice shifting out of a proprioceptive condition into a post-proprioceptive condition. For him this is a spiritual practice.” Meister Eckhart writes,

Start with yourself therefore, and take leave of yourself. Examine yourself, and wherever you find yourself, take leave of yourself. This is the best way of all.

“Start with yourself. First we have to know where we are. First our proprioception must awaken and become accurate. That doesn’t happen all by itself. It takes study and practice.”

And take leave of yourself. What does this mean? What happens to us along the way is that we become ‘proprioceptively established.’ We have drawn an outline around where we are, and that outline becomes thicker and thicker and darker and darker, until it becomes like an exoskeleton separating ourselves from all that surrounds us. When this happens we can never change ‘where we are.’  We’ve locked ourselves in and lost the key. We can’t get out and nothing can get in. We are in a proprioceptive prison of the self.”

“Can we learn, gradually, to make our outline less thick, less dark? Can we learn to erase it? I think we can. You see, it’s as if  we are living our lives constantly inside of parentheses*. What would happen if we could delete our parentheses?  Let’s look.”

I go up to the whiteboard, pull the top off of a blue magic marker, and begin writing.

This is me.

(bruce fertman)

Without the parentheses, this is me:

bruce fertman

Examine yourself, and wherever you find yourself, take leave of yourself. 

We have mistakenly come to identify ourselves with the parentheses that contain us. Take note. Meister Eckhart does not tell us where to go. He simply says, Examine yourself, and wherever you find yourself, take leave of yourself. He doesn’t say, take leave of yourself and then go here. He doesn’t say, take leave of yourself and then do this or don’t do that. Our only job is to, one, examine ourselves, know where we are, and two, take leave of where we are. He’s having us practice a shifting from a proprioceptive sense of self to a post-proprioceptive way of being with the world.”

This is the best way of all, he says. Meister Eckhart is saying there is nothing better. This is as good as it gets. That has been my experience too.”

“A dramatic image for taking leave, for transitioning from proprioceptive life to post-proprioceptive life is that of a cicada metamorphosing out of its shell. One really gets the feel of a creature taking leave of itself.

image46

“Now we can’t always experience so dramatic a metamorphosis. Some of us may never experience such a dramatic transformation. To do so usually requires hitting bottom, surviving a dark night, enduring a long bardo, traversing the seven terraces of purgatory.”

“But transformation can be gradual as well. We can, little by little, emerge from ourselves. As Walt Whitman writes in Song Of The Open Road, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.”

When I work with you that’s what I am doing. I’m gently using my hands to help you divest yourself of the holds that hold you. I’m helping you to erase your outline, delete your parentheses and when this happens I hear some of you sometimes say, I don’t feel like myself.  This is not me.”

“That’s why when I work with you I will sometimes change one side of you and not the other. In other words, I’ll help you remove one parenthesis and not the other. I’ll ask you to draw an imaginary line down through your center, dividing right and left, and I’ll ask you Who are you on this side, and who are you on that side?”

I write on the board.

(Who are you on this side? And who are you on that side?

“Let me work with some of you now, just on one side, and let’s see what happens.” Everyone stands up, and I get to work.

I feel older on this side and younger on the other side.

This person on the left feels scared and that person on the right feels confident. 

This person is a fighter, and this person is a listener. 

I feel like I’m trying to be invisible on this side, and on this side I want people to see me.

This is what I mean when I speak of becoming less proprioceptively established. You are beginning to question the establishment, the ‘static quo.’  You are unfixed, in motion now, spreading into a free and unknown future, a future not wholly determined by the past.”

“Would you like me to give you some post-proprioceptive prayers to take home with you?” “Yes,” they say. I hand each of them a sheet of paper with seven post-proprioceptive prayers. “Some of these may be accessible to you and some may not. Play with them for a few weeks and see what happens.”

They begin reading.

One. 

Take a walk everyday and delete your parentheses as you take in what is all around you. That’s simple.

Two. 

Lie down on the floor, splayed out. Imagine that a friend of yours has a piece of black charcoal. Beginning at the top of your head they start to draw a black outline on the floor working down one side, tracing around your head, down your neck, along the outside of your arm all the way down to your hand, in and out of each finger, up the inside of the arm, way up into the arm pit, down the torso, down the leg, around the heel, up the inside of the leg, across the pelvic floor, and just keep going until you make your way back to where you began. Sense how that feels then repeat it two or three times, each time making a thicker and darker outline. Sense how that feels.

Then imagine you are very large, like a large land mass, and all around you in every direction is  land that just goes on forever.  Hundreds of years go by and gradually the sun bleaches away the dark outline, the winds blow away the outline, the rains wash the outline away until it’s completely gone and there’s nothing separating you from all that is around you every direction.

Three. 

When you are in a train, or a car, or a plane, whenever you happen to find yourself sitting next to a stranger, delete your parentheses. Sense how that feels. Then imagine a large hula hoop a place both yourself and the person next to you inside of the hula hoop and just rest inside the hoop together.

If you are brave enough, sit down next to a person who you feel some aversion toward, a seriously obese person, a mentally or physically challenged person, (that’s all of us), someone who looks homeless and unkempt and sit next to them. Delete your parentheses. Sit inside your imaginary hula hoop with them.

Four. 

You can do the following lying down, or sitting, or standing or walking, which basically is all humans do. Imagine, and when I say imagine I don’t mean seeing a picture on the movie screen inside your head, I mean kinesthetically imagine the movement within your body, and proprioceptively imagine your shape changing.  Imagine your whole body is bread dough rising, rising omni-directionally, getting lighter and more spacious within itself.

Five. 

This one is good when sitting but feel free to experiment. Imagine your whole body is a sponge. Imagine it’s soaking up warm water from a deep puddle below and the more it soaks up the softer and wider and deeper it becomes. There is so much water to soak up so the water seeps and soaks its way higher and higher as the sponge swells getting wider and wider, fatter and fatter, fuller and fuller, until the entire sponge can accept no more water. It’s important to take all these images right up to the very top of your head and beyond.

Six. 

Imagine from high above you sand pouring finely down through a kind of funnel, pouring finely down through your “whales spout,” where the soft spot, the posterior fontanelle, is on an infant. Gradually the sand begins to make a little pile on the ground. As the sand continues, which it does for a long time, the little pile gets bigger and bigger. The sides of the pile make a perfect angle of repose. The sand continues to pour down until the point of the pile is about a foot above your head.

Seven. 

Go for a walk. First sense that the environment is all around you and that you are inside the environment. Walk that way for a while. At a certain moment play with reversing it. Imagine that the entire environment all you can see and hear and smell is within you and you are all around it. Everything is in you. See what happens.

“Okay. We are finished for the day. Let me leave you with one last image.”

I get my laptop and bring up a photo I took some 20 years ago of a church built around 1744, the Santa Rosa de Lima, a mile south of Abiquiu, New Mexico.

“Imagine you are the window frame,” I say to my students who all look decidedly softer and more open than they did when they entered the room this morning. 

“Who would you be without your frame?”

                               

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Over Tokyo Bay

Tokyo-Bay-Japan

It got me fired. A man, a father to one of the young gymnasts at the Mann Recreation Center in Philadelphia, where I worked as a gymnastic coach for a girls gymnastic team, was complaining about how kids in Philadelphia are not as intelligent as they were 20 years ago. At the time, I was 22 years old. “How do you know that?” I asked.

“Look, I’ve been teaching for 20 years; high school chemistry. I use the same text book. I cover the same material. My tests are exactly the same as they were 20 years ago” he says.  “Interesting. Tell me, have you factored yourself into the equation? I mean, could it be that after 20 years of changing absolutely nothing it could mean that you have learned nothing new since then about chemistry, or about teaching? Could it mean you are bored, uninspired, uninspiring, and since you have come to the irrefutable conclusion that kids are not as intelligent as they once were, that you treat them that way, and the kids pick that up and don’t listen to you, don’t respect you, don’t put out for you because you don’t respect them, or put out for them?”

“What do you know, he said in disgust. You’re just a kid yourself.” Yes, I was a cocky, arrogant kid with a lot to learn. But I was a good coach. This man was, however, on the board and donated a lot of money to the team. And so I was fired. I landed a job a week later teaching for Senior Wheels East Late Start, a program that went into the poorest neighborhoods in Philadelphia delivering food to the housebound, providing daily lunches at a number of community centers for the poor and the homeless, as well as offering group activities and classes. My class was a safety in movement class.  I’d never taught the elderly but I was a graduate student in the college of HPERD: health, physical education, recreation and dance at Temple University. I’d listen to their needs. I’d experiment. See what worked, what didn’t. I’d enjoy them, learn from them and figure it out as I went along. But that is a story for another time.

Forty-two years later, still teaching human movement, I walk into my class in Tokyo. I’ve been developing some new material. I want to try introducing my work centered around a new theme. I’m excited to have the opportunity.

Ohayo gosaimasu, I say bowing to everyone. Everyone, loud and in unison, bows and returns my greeting. There’s a lot of energy in the room.

“Why is it so important? I mean, why would His Holiness The Dalai Lama say to us that his religion is kindness. Why, given all the words there are in the world, would he choose the word kindness? What does that word mean?”

People are wondering why I am talking about kindness. They are here to be introduced to the Alexander Technique. But I have a way of taking the long way around to get where I’m going. 

“In the English language the word ‘kind’ has two distinct meanings, seemingly unrelated. One meaning is ‘type’. For example, there are two main kinds of screwdrivers we use in America, a slot head and a Phillips. A slot head fits into a screw that has only one straight indentation across the middle of the screw, and a Phillips fits into a screw with two indented crisscrossing lines running through it. Do you have slot head and Phillip screwdrivers in Japan?” They nod yes, wondering why this is important.

I draw the screwdrivers onto my whiteboard. I love scribbling on whiteboards.

“Have you ever needed a little Phillips screw driver, but all you could find was a big slot head screw driver? But you tried to screw in the screw anyway? You risk three not so great things happening. One, you might damage the screw. Two, you might damage the screw driver. And three?” Everyone is thinking. I wait. Finally, one person says, “Maybe you could end up hurting yourself.”

“Right. Okay. Imagine this. You go up to a dog that looks friendly.” Now some of the students may be considering the possibility of my suffering from a mild form of dementia. “You stand in front of the dog and reach down to pet the top of his head. The dog ducks his head down away from your hand. He doesn’t read this gesture as friendly. One, you are much, much higher up, basically towering over the dog. Two, you’re standing straight in front of the dog, blocking his means of escape. And three, your big hand, which is not even a paw, is coming down directly over the top of the dog’s head.”

“Canines are a different kind of mammal from homosapiens. They have different ways of greeting one another. If you are a dog the friendly way to approach another dog is not to approach square on but to begin circling around to the side, lowering your head and politely sniffing the other dog’s butt, while gladly offering your butt to be sniffed in return. That’s friendly and feels safe to a dog.”

“Now if you tried to greet a fellow homosapien that way, with that friendly canine gesture, it most likely would be misinterpreted, perhaps even considered slightly rude.” My first really hearty laughter from the students. That’s important.

“Even now, with people I know well here in Japan, if I say hello to them and give them a friendly American hug they get uncomfortable. They pretend they like it, but I can feel how their bodies get stone rigid. They don’t like it. So, almost always, I just bow.”

“This brings me to the other meaning for the word kind. To be kind also means to be considerate and respectful of something or someone.”

“So when you understand and take into consideration the kind of thing or creature you are relating to, then you can treat that thing or creature kindly, with respect, the way it wants to be treated.”

“If I want to treat my screw and screw driver respectfully, I need to understand their design and use them according to their design. That is considerate. That is respectful. That is kind.”

“If I want to be considerate and respectful of a dog, I need to know something about dogs. Then I will choose to move slowly, to come down to his eye level, lowering my gaze, positioning myself slightly to the side of the dog. I’ll wait for the dog to move slightly toward me, then slowly bring my hand, turned down, making it look more like a paw, up under it’s chin. That is considerate. That is respectful. That is kind.”

“When I am in Japan, a particularly different kind of culture from America, if I want to be considerate, if I want to be respectful, its best to greet people in a way that makes them comfortable. That’s the kind thing to do.”

“Now that we know both definitions of the word kind, and how they are related, the question arises, how do I go about treating myself kindly?”

“Alexander’s work is founded upon this question; how do I go about treating myself kindly?  My mentor, Marjorie Barstow once said to us, “One day you wake up and say, I’m tired of mistreating myself. That’s when you start making some progress.” As a young man, and as an actor, Alexander needed to figure out how he was mistreating his voice. He used the word ‘use’ instead of treat, and misuse instead of mistreat. I like the word treat because it has an ethical connotation. It’s not purely about function. Later Alexander’s inquiry became not only about his voice, but about himself as a person. In other words, his work became about how do humans mistreat themselves. And what do we need to understand and to master to be able to treat ourselves with consideration and with respect?”

After twenty minutes, I have finally arrived to where I wanted to go. I’ve explained what Alexander’s work is about. I have done it in a way that is simple and easy to understand. I have done it in a way that has made the students think about themselves, not so much about their bodies, yet, just about themselves as people. I can hear them asking themselves, “Do I mistreat myself? Am I ready to stop mistreating myself?” I have them where I want them.

“For us to learn how to treat ourselves respectfully, there are five facets of life worth considering. Time. Space. Contact. Movement. and Social Interaction. I seize the opportunity to write them on the whiteboard. I choose these because we are always living in relation to them. This is what this workshop will be about.”

“We live in time. We have to deal with clock time, with being on time, with getting things done on time. And there is psychological time. Do we feel we are running out of time? Do we feel we are wasting our time? Is it the right time for me to tell this person how I feel, or not?”

“We are always relating to space, the space around us, the space between us and things, like our electronic devices. There is psychological space, space within us. Do we feel trapped? Hemmed in? Up against the wall? Do we have room to think, to breathe?”

“We are always in contact. We sit in a chair at our desk, or in a carseat, or on the train. We walk down the street, our feet touching the ground with every step. We put food in our mouths. We touch our touch screens and our keyboards. We handle objects all day long, and lie on our beds or futons every night.”

“We move continually from the moment we are conceived until the moment we die.”

“And whether we are alone or not we are never alone. As James Hillman says, we are our communities internalized. Memories of our parents, critical thoughts about our boss, worries about our children.”

“For me as an Alexander teacher this is the work at hand. If we can learn to create time and space for ourselves, if we can learn to make respectful contact with everything we touch and that touches us, if we can learn to move according to our structural design, then perhaps this acquired composure, balance, and sensitivity will carry over into our social interactions. 

“So when His Holiness the Dalai Lama says, my religion is kindness, I suspect he knows that this is no easy matter. I suspect he knows that to be truly kind requires knowledge, understanding, and devoted practice, and that this practice never ends.”

The silence and the stillness in the room is palpable.

“Okay. Let’s have some fun. Actually let’s have a lot of fun this weekend!”

The weekend goes unexpectedly well. Lots of new material emerges. I say things in ways I have never said before. I hear ideas I’ve never heard before. I use my hands in ways I’ve never used them before. I teach movements I’ve never taught before. I’ve got to know people I never knew before. I’ve learned a lot this weekend. It seems the students have learned a lot too. There’s a lightness in the room. I’m happy.

I pack up my things, looking forward to dinner, to a beer, to being with my friends. It’s beautiful outside. The sun is setting over Tokyo Bay. The thought crosses my mind. “Gee, students seem to be getting smarter with each passing year. They’re more open. They learn more quickly. They enjoy themselves more. In fact, they seem friendlier, kinder, and more respectful then ever.”

Kindness is my religion. I’m a devotee for life.