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Posts tagged ‘the peaceful body’

In Good Company – The Physiology of Self-Respect

Sensory Receptivity

We are all endowed with senses, though some of us do not have all of them. We see, hear, smell, taste and touch. We also possess less known, often less educated senses that tell us about ourselves, our kinesthetic and proprioceptive senses.

There’s a very simple way to understand what happens to our senses. As our motoric activity increases, often our sensory receptivity decreases. The result is that our actions are not as informed as they could be, which often makes them less accurate, more effortful, less effective, and sometimes inappropriate. By sensory receptivity, I mean the awareness of sensory input. The diminishment of conscious sensory receptivity prevents us from experiencing how we are doing, what we are doing, as we are doing it, reducing our ability to delight in and appreciate life as we are living it.

It is as if, within us, there is a doer and a receiver. For example, there is the you who washes your hair, and the you who senses and enjoys your hair being washed, or the you who does not sense your hair being washed and therefore cannot enjoy it. There is the you who is feeding you a spoonful of soup, perhaps potato leek soup, or miso soup, or lentil soup, or split pea soup, or French onion soup. And then, there is the you who is tasting it, savoring it, feeling thankful for it, or the you who is not tasting it. Reawakening the receiver within us, the one who is not putting out, not on output, but the one receiving, on input, keeps us from becoming depleted, allows us to be replenished.

A receiver differs from a perceiver. A perceiver witnesses, notices, observes and sometimes understands. Perceiving is primarily a mental activity, a mindfulness practice. Receiving is a sensory practice. A receiver senses, feels, experiences, enjoys and appreciates. With receiving we go beyond the perceiving of our actions into the receiving of our actions, beyond the perceiving of the world into the receiving of the world, beyond the use of the mind and into the mysterious workings of the heart.

A Story: Freely Choosing That Which Is Required of Us

It’s Wednesday afternoon. Every Wednesday at 3pm I pick up my son Noah, at his school and as we drive to soccer practice, I try to strike up a conversation with him, which is not easy. I then go to the co-op and pick up some food for dinner. After that I go to the barn and watch my daughter Eva ride. Eva spends most afternoons cleaning out stalls and caring for horses in exchange for riding lessons. She’s what they affectionately call a barn rat. Eva and I then drive to pick up Noah from practice, Eva talking non-stop, my not getting a word in edgewise. Noah and Eva both jump into the back seat and, depending on God knows what, either act as if they love each other or hate each other. We get home. I walk straight into the kitchen and start preparing dinner. That’s how it is every Wednesday afternoon.

It’s 2:55pm. Prying myself away from my computer, I jump into my aging Subaru and as I am pulling up in front of Noah’s school, I remember that this morning, as I was packing lunch for the kids, my wife and I decided that today she would take Noah to soccer practice, get some food for dinner, go watch Eva ride, and then pick up Noah because today I needed to pick up my Dad at 3pm and take him into center city to see his orthopedic surgeon in preparation for his second hip replacement.

There I was driving 180% in the wrong direction, driving to pick up my son when I needed to be driving to pick up my dad! Not only was my car on automatic, I was on automatic, my mind and my body, doing what I always do every Wednesday afternoon. Actually, I was unaware of driving at all. I had, for all practical purposes, become an automaton, a self-driving car.

That’s how it is for so many of us, so much of the time; when making the bed, when taking a shower, brushing our teeth, getting dressed, eating breakfast, driving to work. We do the same things in exactly the same ways, over and over again, not only inside of our everyday activities, but within our relationships as well. The same buttons get pushed; the same reactions triggered. The eternal recurrence of the same. Groundhog Day.

I don’t know for certain, but I would wager that Neitzsche’s Aphorism 341, “The Greatest Weight” in The Gay Science inspired this film. Neitzsche writes:

“What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: ‘This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence—even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself. The eternal hourglass of existence is turned upside down again and again, and you with it, speck of dust!’

“Would you not throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse the demon who spoke thus? Or have you once experienced a tremendous moment when you would have answered him: ‘You are a god and never have I heard anything more divine.’ If this thought gained possession of you, it would change you as you are or perhaps crush you. The question in each and every thing, ‘Do you desire this once more and innumerable times more?’ would lie upon your actions as the greatest weight. Or how well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life?”

How well disposed would you have to become to yourself and to life? The answer: Very, profoundly well disposed. How, through physical training, can we become well disposed to ourselves and to life, that is, how gracious, keen, eager, appreciatively receptive and respectful can we become to ourselves and to life? No matter how ordinary and repetitive our lives may be, can we arrive at a level of gratitude, alacrity, and contentment where we can say, more often than not, “What I want is exactly what I have, and what I have is exactly what I want?”

Can we develop the sensory receptivity needed to awaken us, to make us realize that without knowing it, we had been sleepwalking through our lives? Can we become wide and awake, well disposed, to ourselves and to life?

My Butler

My goal is to teach you physical practices as thoroughly and clearly as I can. These practices will become so easy and so much fun that practice may not be the right word. The practices I offer are more like inner playing.

To facilitate learning about the physiology of self-respect, we are going to ask someone to help us. That someone is going to be a person to whom I refer to as, The Butler.

Before I tell you about my personal butler, let me tell you that a “butler” is imaginary, a figment of our imagination, an inner figure, but a sane, constructive, and healthy figure. An inner butler is an alter-ego, a different version of us, our complementary opposite, someone who completes us in some way and who is a devoted friend. As a child, after my homework was done and just before dinner, my mom let me watch Superman. Superman was Clark Kent’s alter ego, his complimentary opposite. Clark Kent was meek. Superman was strong. Clark Kent was stuck behind a desk. Superman could fly. Clark Kent couldn’t get Lois Lane. Superman could. But I liked Clark Kent. And I liked Superman. It wasn’t like Clark was all bad and Superman all good. Clark had his quiet strengths and Superman had his hidden weaknesses. The color orange is not bad and the color blue good. One heightens the other.

Think about children who invent imaginary friends. Dr. Laura Markam, Ph.D., author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, writes, “Children are naturally imaginative, and exercising their imaginations is good for their emotional and mental health. They enjoy them, so they always have someone to play with if they feel lonely or bored… There is no evidence that they have any issues with mental health. It’s not the same as Dissociative Identity Disorder or having multiple personalities, which is extremely rare in any case. Children who have imaginary friends grow up to be creative, imaginative, social adults.” It has been found that children with imaginary friends get along better with classmates. They also know that their imaginary friend is not real in the same way as they are. But, like any good actor trained in the tradition of Stanislavsky knows, to create a convincing character one must know how to believe that an imaginary situation is true. Children who invent imaginary friends are good at this.

My experience has shown me that imaginary friends are good for adults too, good for our emotional and mental health. The give us someone to play with when we get lonely or bored, make us more imaginative and creative, better able to entertain ourselves and they help us get along with others. They are good company.

Any good actor also knows that to create a character, to internalize a character, to receive a persons’ way of being into us, it helps to know a lot about them; their history, where and when they were born, how they grew up, what their family was like, their education. It is important to know what they looked like, how they thought and felt about everything, how they spoke, how they moved. We need to know about their dreams, their nightmares, their ambitions, their fears, their insecurities, their longings, their hidden strengths, their fatal weaknesses. Everything.

So, to create your inner butler, a person who is going to teach you about the physiology of self-respect, it is important to put in this preliminary imaginative work which will bring your butler to life within you. Allow me to introduce my butler, a person whose company I have had the honor to be in for many years.

As for my butlers’ parents, he has never spoken of them. They remain a mystery to me. I do know he is of English descent, yet there is something Asian about him. Perhaps it is due to his having spent 20 years living in a Tibetan monastery, or there may very well be Asian ancestry in his bloodline. He reminds me a lot of Bruce Wayne’s butler, Michael Caine, in Batman, which is ironic as Alfred was his name as well, and Bruce is my name. Other parts of our stories also coincide which, frankly, feels eerie. Yet, I am nothing like Batman. My butler also reminds me a little of Anthony Hopkins in Remains of the Day, because my butler is so meticulous. But his body is much more like Michael Caine’s because unlike Anthony Hopkins, whose body is a bit tight and compact, my butler’s body though well-toned, is very soft as is his temperament. He’s like a male mother. He rarely speaks about himself, yet over these many years I have gleaned a good bit about him.

To be honest, I envy his education. It revolved around the opening, cleansing, and refining of all his senses. He learned traditional Tibetan calligraphy, writing out long Buddhist texts by hand while illustrating them in great detail, creating the most beautiful illuminations. The one he has in his bedroom, over his desk, is every bit on par with Blake’s work. At least, I think so. He made elaborate sand paintings with his fellow monks, made from crushed gypsum, yellow ochre, red sandstone, and charcoal, mixing them along with corn meal, flower pollens and powdered roots and barks creating an array of subtle colors, which were then slowly tapped out of long, thin funnels, meticulously laid from the center outwards forming intricate mandalas full of symbolism only to be methodically deconstructed, collected in a jar, wrapped in silk, transported to a moving river where the sand was returned to nature, a reminder of the ephemerality of our lives and this world.

He studied martial arts and was especially adept as a horse archer. This must be why he is so effortlessly upright. He played numerous Tibetan instruments in addition to the cello, which he learned to play as a child, the only thing I really know about his childhood. He speaks Tibetan of course, but is also a Sanskrit scholar, and fluent in Classical Greek and Latin. I can always ask him for the etymology of a word, and he always knows it. He sometimes cooked for his Tibetan community. He grew herbs not just for cooking, but for the making of medicines. When needed, he helped with the community’s bookkeeping. But mainly, he served his elderly master, day and night, keeping his master’s room and office in order. When his master was extremely old, (he lived to be 117), he bathed him and fed him.

When his master died, Alfred decided to return to school. He applied to the University of Pennsylvania and though in his late thirties, was accepted. Both my mother and father were professors of medicine and research scientists at Penn. After studying with them and assisting them for 10 years in their cancer research, my mother tragically died in a plane crash. My father never recovered. A year later he died from the very cancer he was attempting to cure. (For the record, these are my imaginary parents created to fit in with Alfred’s history. My father inherited a laundry business from his father. My mother was a social worker.)

Alfred promised my father he would care for me and raise me, which he did. It was not easy. He was at once my father and my mother. I was hyperactive, an ADHD kid. I had limitless attention for what interested me, and none for what did not. School was a nightmare.

As an adult, remnants still remain. I have no sense of direction. Rather than compute where I am, I get lost in the details of what’s around me, the movement of tree branches blowing in the wind or the shape of a cloud, or the make and model of a beautiful car and then, when I look up, I am lost. I don’t know where I am.

I have trouble keeping my room in order, especially when I am absorbed in some project. I eat too quickly. I move too quickly. I make decisions too quickly. Basically, I am nothing like Alfred. Though he serves me devotedly, there is nothing subservient about him. He is the most dignified person I know. The most patient, the most poised, the most principled. Ever so slowly, through his way of being, through his calm presence, through how he lives his life, I am changing. I am sure my father knew that Alfred was the only person who could raise me and keep me in balance.

At the same time, he gives me space. He watches me from a far. Though, whenever I get frazzled, he is right there next to me. “Here, let me help you with that.” “Let, me do that for you.” “Let me get that for you.” I allow myself to receive his help. I find myself thanking him all day long. There are weeks when Alfred is gone. He returns to his monastery. But he always comes back. Serving me seems to be his spiritual practice.

Alfred has aged quite a bit. I have too. I am in his company now, more than ever. As the years go by, I find myself becoming more and more like him. I am beginning to understand that, though he serves me, he has been the true master all along.

We need an inner teacher, someone who knows much more about this subject than we do. Over the next few days, find some alone time, get quiet, begin creating your butler. Give yourself time. Gradually fill out the life of your imaginary butler more and more, until they begin coming to life within you. Writing can help a great deal in this process.

A note. When I introduce this notion to my students in England, some find it jarring due to an aversion they have of the class system in their country. Many of them had to find a different role for their alter-ego, not that of a servant, but of a friend, or some protective figure, sometimes mythological. It could be your own personal genie, like in Aladdin starring Robin Williams or Will Smith. Remember, it is your imaginary figure. It could be Julia Childs, as it was for Julie Powell in Julie and Julia, or Spock in Star Trek, or Merlin, King Arthur’s trusted advisor. You want to create someone you like being around, who you are comfortable with, who has qualities you admire, who by just being with them, centers you. Someone who is always there to help you out when you are working too hard at something, when you are struggling in some way. Think about the films you have seen, the novels you’ve read, the fairy tales you know. Butlers can of course be of any gender or genderless, any age or ageless, from any place, from any time.

There are three main ways in which butlers serve which directly relate to the cultivation of self-respect. They are what I call, Nesting, Grooming, and Feeding.

Nesting

Nesting is anything humans do that has to do with taking care of their immediate environment, so that it feels safe and homey. When I travel, which I do about 5 months a year, I move from one living space to another. The first thing I do is to try to make my new place feel homey. Putting out my toiletries just so; my electric toothbrush and salt based toothpaste, skin cream from Korea for my worn out skin, medicine for keeping my Barrett’s Syndrome in check, my beard trimmer and old double edged razor that belonged to my dad, my hairbrush for brushing the few remaining hairs upon my head that have not abandoned me, and Clubman styling gel that costs a quarter of the price of other hair gels which for my purposes works just fine. Finally, there’s my favorite shampoo from Lush packaged in cork rather than plastic and, for the same reason, lasts forever.

Then there is hanging up my shirts and pants, putting my socks and underwear and handkerchiefs in a draw, opening the curtains to let in some light, cracking the window open for some fresh air, putting an extra blanket on my bed. If in a hotel, I ask for an additional pillow to put under or between my knees when sleeping or reading, and finally setting up my desk: my books, notebooks, computer, computer glasses, my favorite pen given to me as a gift from my students, my camera, my headphones, some Spruce scented incense from Japan, and, very important, finding a logical place for my keys, wallet, sunglasses and sunblock.

Actually, I am not great at doing these things, but my butler is! Just like Anthony Hopkins in Remains of the Day, he attends to every detail, he takes his time, he thinks about every choice he makes both in terms of ergonomics and beauty. He is so much more precise than I am. Why not let him do it? Why not receive his help? Whenever I begin to engage in nesting activities, he mysteriously shows up and says to me, “Sir, may I help you with that? Or, “Sir, let me to do that for you.” I make room for Alfred and allow him to do the work for me, from within me.

My butler calls me Sir. This works for me. It won’t for everyone. When Alfred calls me Sir, it reminds me that I am a grown up, a dignified person and that I should conduct myself as such, not like some out of control kid bouncing off the walls. For a person who is very different from me, say someone overly formal, rigid, impeccable, too serious, unable to relax, lighten up and let go, their being called Sir may be just what they do not need. They might need to be called by some endearing or funny nickname.

There is another reason Sir works for me.

At a workshop in Seattle, when I introduced this practice to a group of students, we were searching for alternative titles to Sir, ones that were gender neutral. One of my students suggested the word majesty as in, your Majesty. Though it sounded and still sounds too grand for me to use personally, when I asked Alfred its meaning he said it meant beauty, dignity, awe, power, authority, pride and glory as in, you are my pride and glory, that is, I find you worthy and you make me proud and happy. These are good attributes, present within everyone, though by many not fully recognized or actualized.

When I think of the word Sir, I think of someone like Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi, people who were treated cruelly and judged as inferior and yet, internally were majestic, full of dignity, power, authority and beauty. They are my heroes. So, when Alfred calls me Sir, he’s acknowledging and addressing these attributes within me, he reminds me of them in the way the poem, Invictus, by William Ernest Henley reminded Mandela of his inherent worth and dignity.

“It matters not how strait the gate, how charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

When Alfred calls me Sir, when he kindly offers to do something for me, like folding the bath towels and placing them on the shelf in the closet, and I let him do that for me, an uncanny metamorphosis takes place. Quite suddenly, my body becomes his body, much like Clark Kent transforming into Superman, but without the need for a phone booth. Because of his horsemanship training, Alfred is naturally upright, much more so than I am. His head just rests easily and loosely on top of his spine. Effortless my body changes from the inside. From above my now long and flexible spine, I am seeing everything from a little further away and in greater detail. Alfred’s pace is entirely different from mine. He never seems to hurry; he’s never in a rush. It is as if my hands become his hands. He takes over. I let him. My hands begin feeling everything they touch and are moving much more easily and accurately. This is conscious sensory receptivity. More detailed, accurate, and refined input. I am even thinking more clearly, or perhaps I should say thinking not at all, because my mind has become Alfred’s mind, which simply attends to how he is doing what he is doing as he is doing it. Folding the bath towels and placing them on the shelf in the closet becomes so efficient, quietly enjoyable and calming.

Grooming

A butler does, basically, all the nurturing functions that, hopefully, our parents did for us when we were babies and young children. And even if our parents were not nurturing, were absent, or even abusive, we still can imagine what good and nurturing parents would be like. We only need to be able to create an imaginary person within us who is good and nurturing. We can do that.

Parents create safe nests for their children, a comfortable place to sleep that is warm and dry and clean, and a living space that is safe, where all our basic needs can be met.

Parents also do a lot of grooming. They bath us, and shampoo us, and dry us, dress us, brush our hair, cut our fingernails and toenails. Before going out to play in the snow, they tie our shoes, zip up our jacket, make sure our neck is warm, that we have our gloves and our hat. When we get home our parents help us warm up, wash and dry all of our clothes so they are fresh and clean for tomorrow.

Of course, we grow up and learn, to varying degrees, how to perform all these tasks for ourselves. But, in actuality, they are more than tasks, things that must get done, they are sources of nourishment, sources of affection, kindness, and respect. The question is, are we performing these actions as mere tasks or are we sensorially receiving and feeling these actions, letting these nurturing, kind, and respectful actions into our body and being.

A Story:  One Small Gesture of Kindness

A mother, 70, has a son with cerebral palsy. He is now 45 years old. The mother is small, and the son is not. For years the mother has lifted her son from his wheelchair to the toilet and back again. I ask her to show me how she lifts up her son. The mother moves well. She has to.

‘Chiyo-san, you do that very well. I’m sorry, but I’d like to see you do it one more time.’

‘Hai,’ Chiyo-san says, bowing quickly and sharply.

I notice an almost invisible gesture she makes as she gets ready to pick up her son. She quickly strokes the right side of her head, moving her thick, gray-streaked hair back behind her ear. I ask her to pause for a moment. I ask her if she felt the movement she just made. Chiyo says, ‘No, I didn’t do anything yet.’ I said, ‘Yes, you did.’ I tell Chiyo what she did. I ask her to do it again, very slowly, consciously. She does. I ask her to do it again, and then again. I ask her to continue, but to do it now as if her mother were brushing her hair. She continues. Soon Chiyo begins to cry.

I say, ‘Okay, Chiyo-san, go and lift up your son.’ She doesn’t move, doesn’t speak. I wait. Then Chiyo says, ‘I am too old to do this by myself. I need help.’ She turns to her younger son who is in the room and asks him if he wouldn’t mind helping her. He is happy to do it for his mom, and for his brother.

Chiyo-san stands there watching her two boys.

Feeding

Have you ever fed a person? Many people have, but in my workshops, usually there are some who have not. We feed babies. We feed people who are ill, convalescing or dying. Some people can remember having been fed at least once in their lives. A few cannot.

Before giving you a practice for this, let’s think about the difference between eating and feeding.

Eat.  What does that word mean?

We all know that an increasing and distressing number of us have problems around eating. Most of us live in societies who profit from our eating poorly and having eating obsessions. I don’t have to quote the statistics. They are startling, and sad. All we have to do is look around. For many of us, all we have to do is look in the mirror.

How did something as natural as eating, become so neurotic? Do non-domesticated animals have eating disorders? Do they think about how much they should eat, or what they should eat? Does a baby think about how much they should eat, or what they should eat?

Babies don’t eat. Babies are fed. Now those are two different words. And they are two completely different activities. Linguistically, eating, to my surprise, has a much more aggressive connotation. Feeding has a kinder connotation. Here is what I found when I looked them up in the dictionary, though I could have simply asked Alfred.

To eat: to put food into the mouth, chew it and swallow it. To consume, devour, ingest, to gobble, wolf down…to munch, chomp, guzzle, nosh, snack, put away, chow down, demolish, dispose of, polish off, pig out, scarf down…eat away at…erode, corrode, wear away, wear down, burn through, dissolve, disintegrate, crumble, decay, damage, destroy.

But it gets worse. Here’s what I found under common phrases. I am not making these up.

eat someone alive informal (of insects) bite someone many times: we were eaten alive by mosquitoes. Exploit someone’s weakness and completely dominate them: he expects manufacturers to be eaten alive by lawyers in liability suits.

eat crow – be humiliated by having to admit one’s defeats or mistakes.

eat dirt – suffer insults or humiliation.

eat someone’s dust – fall far behind someone in a competitive situation.

eat one’s heart out suffer from excessive longing, esp. for someone or something unattainable…to encourage feelings of jealousy or regret: eat your heart out, I’m having a ball!

eat humble pie – make a humble apology and accept humiliation.

eat someone out of house and home – eat a lot of someone else’s food.

eat one’s words – retract what one has said, esp. in a humiliated way: they will eat their words when I win.

have someone eating out of one’s hand – have someone completely under one’s control.

I’ll eat my hat – used to indicate that one thinks the specified thing is extremely unlikely to happen: if he comes back, I’ll eat my hat.

eat away at something – erode or destroy something gradually: the sun and wind eat away at the ice. To use up profits, resources, or time, esp. when they are intended for other purposes: inflation can eat away at the annuity’s value over the years.

eat someone up or eaten up – to dominate the thoughts of someone completely or to be dominated by the thoughts of someone: I’m eaten up with guilt.

eat something up – To use resources or time in very large quantities: an operating system that eats up 200MB of disk space. To encroach on something: this is the countryside that villagers fear will be eaten up by concrete.

Personally, reading this list made me smile just thinking about the people who compiled it, how much fun they must have had. But also, I felt a little scared at the amount of aggression hiding in that tiny three letter word, eat.  Now, this is what I found when I looked up the tiny three letter word, fed. To be fed:

The act of giving food, or of having food given to one, receiving food…

To give food to…to supply an adequate amount of food…to derive regular nourishment…to encourage growth…to fuel…to supply power for operating…to supply water to a body of water… to provide…to nurse…to exist on… strengthen, fortify, support, bolster, reinforce, boost, fuel, encourage.

Why are these two little words, eat and feed, which technically, are synonyms, have such a different feel to them?  I have no idea. But I do know, because I have conducted countless workshops on this subject, is that when I teach people how to turn the act of eating into the act of feeding themselves, which only takes a little bit of training, the results are astonishing. In a nutshell, we eat. Our butlers feed us. When our butlers feed us.

Now, let me give you some Nesting, Grooming, Feeding homework, which is really home-play. The difference between work and play is simple. Working in when practicality precedes enjoyment, play is when enjoyment precedes practicality. These practices/studies are fun and practical, hopefully in that order.

Nesting

Think of the nesting activities that you do on a regular basis that either you don’t like doing, hate doing, don’t do because you hate doing them so much, or that are strenuous or sometimes injurious. For example:

  • Making your bed.
  • Vacuuming the carpets and/or mopping the floors.
  • Washing dishes and cleaning up the kitchen.
  • Taking out the trash.
  • Cleaning the bathroom sink, tub, shower, toilet.
  • Straightening up your desk. (Butlers, like my butler can sometimes perform secretarial functions.)
  • Dusting furniture and window shelves.
  • Cleaning windows and mirrors.
  • Cleaning the inside of your car. (Yes, butlers can also serve as chauffeurs.)
  • Attending to the yard, grounds, garden, porch, etc. (Remember, my butler grew herbs.)

When you notice you are really working hard doing one of these activities, or just hating it, or straining too hard, or just want to get it over and done with as quickly as possible, STOP, and by stop I mean a very special kind of stopping which is not a putting on of the brakes, but a taking your foot off the gas pedal, and just letting your car come to a soft and complete stop. Then in that quiet space, listen. Your butler will appear and say, “Sir, let me do that for you,” or “Sir, may I help you with that,” or “No, no, Sir, allow me to take care of that for you.” Allow them to take over, within you, and notice how it feels, physically and emotionally. Choose one nesting activity before going to sleep and commit to only that one for the next day. Letting your butler do one nesting task a day for you, for one week, and see what happens. It’s just a game.

Sometimes your butler won’t show up. Sometimes, they may not show up for a week or more. Like my butler, they travel. But with practice, they are there for you more and more. On a good day, my butler will offer to help me, and I will accept, 20 times or so a day. But if your butler shows up once a day or twice a day, great! It is a beginning.

Grooming

Often, when we are grooming, we are either in a rush or sleepy. We are in a kind of fog. Most often grooming is unconscious and mechanical. How can we fill these potentially very pleasant actions with sensory consciousness so that we can really enjoy them and be nurtured by them?

Here is the exercise that teaches you how to do this. It is so simple. Read through the whole exercise first, and then I will tell you when to do it.

First, close your eyes, but not in any old way, but in a special way, just like in our butler practice we don’t stop in any old way, but in a special way. We can’t really close our eyes. Our eyes are round orbs and they do not close. What actually happens is our eyelids lower over and around our eyeball covering it, like the drawing of a blind. Now, experience that. Sense what it feels like.

Remember to read first through all of the instructions. I will tell you when to proceed. Now, as you lower your eyelids, imagine there’s a flower right under your nose, and its scent, your favorite scent, is rising up your nose. Heavenly. Experience that.

Then, imagine your dominant hand and arm belongs to someone else, someone who likes and cares about you very much, and bring that hand to the center of your chest and let that person stroke your chest. Let it all the way in. Receive it. Notice how you feel, sense what happens, if there is a physical and/or emotional shift. Experience that.

Rest, and enjoy how you feel. Now, imagine that your less dominant hand and arm is the same person, but they are in a different mood, so their hand will feel a little different, and allow them to stroke the center of your chest. Let it all the way in. Receive it. Notice how you feel, what happens, if there is a physical and/or emotional shift. Experience that.

Are they different? What words would you use to describe them? There are no right or wrong answers or experiences. Right now, when I do this exercise, my dominant hand and arm feels stronger and somehow more masculine. My non-dominant hand and arm feel softer and somehow more feminine. My dominant hand and arm feel reassuring, while my non-dominant hand and arm feel healing. That is just me, just now.

Now, after I finish explaining this, see if you can get your right hand to feel more like your left hand, and your left hand to feel more like your right hand. Alternate stroking the center of your chest with the right, then the left, then the right, rather quickly until they almost feel the same. Experience that.

Okay, now we will apply this to a grooming activity. Washing our hair.

Read the instructions until the end. Find a comfortable chair in which you can sit back. Receive support from the chair. I will write much more about how to receive support from a chair, but for now when you sit back, one, make sure your pelvis is all the way back toward the back of the chair so that it is easy for your entire back to rest and receive support from the chair. Imagine that your pelvis is like a big semi-spherical bowl full of fresh fruit, grapefruits and oranges. Sense every part of your body that is in actual contact with the chair or the ground, your feet, the back of your thighs, the bottom of your pelvic bowl, perhaps the bottom of your forearms and elbows on the arms of the chair. (Isn’t it interesting that chairs too have arms and legs and backs?) Receive support from the chair. Let the chair support you. Relax your belly and lower back. No need to hold your breath. Lower your eyelids as if you are smelling a flower. Sense that your hands and arms are not yours but belong to the person who likes you and cares for you very, very much and let them wash your hair as you receive the pleasure of allowing them to do that for you. Experience that.

That is the experience of a self-grooming activity carried out with a high degree of conscious sensory receptivity. That’s your butler washing your hair. You are in good company. Machines do not have the capacity to feel. Human doings have dramatically diminished felt sensory receptivity. Human beings, when in touch with being human sense more, feel more. Human beings and human doings, essentially, live in two different realms, one nurturing, and one not. Did washing your hair with high sensory receptivity feel different? Does your butler wash your hair differently than how you wash your hair? How did your body feel when your butler washed your hair? What was going on mentally and emotionally when your butler washed your hair? Isn’t is exciting that with just a little bit of imagination we can make ourselves feel much better?

Note how this experience is not philosophical, not psychologically not theological, but physical. The physiology of self-respect. Very easy, simple, and fun. All that is required is a little imagination.

What are other common everyday self-grooming activities?

  • Drying our hair
  • Brushing our hair
  • Brushing our teeth
  • Flossing our teeth
  • Washing our hands
  • Washing our face
  • Washing our body
  • Drying our body
  • Creaming our body
  • Shaving or Trimming our beard
  • Cutting our fingernails and toenails
  • Getting dressed and undressed
  • Shining our shoes
  • Putting on makeup
  • Putting in our contact lenses
  • Cleaning our glasses

The magic question is, I wonder what it would it feel like if I asked my butler to do these things for me? Then, because you are wondering about it, go and find out. If you like the result, if it feels pleasant, somehow respectful to yourself, then continue to use your imagination in this way. I wonder what would happen if I groomed myself like this for one year? If you are really curious, well, go find out.

Feeding

Some of my students resist having their butlers help feed them, but those students usually turn out to be the ones needing to be fed the most. So often, what we resist most, is what we most need. Some people don’t like people doing things for them that they can very well do by themselves, thank you. Some people don’t like the feeling of being helpless. It brings up fears of being very sick or dying, and they don’t want to go there. Of course, these are places actors love to go. Many little boys, for some reason, go through a phase where they have to die, over and over again, and they love doing it. I used to have a fake arrow that was cut in half but connected together with a strong curved wire that fit perfectly around the back of my head. When I put it on, it looked like someone had just shot an arrow through my head. I would put it around my head, hold it in place with one hand on either side of my head, run into the kitchen where my mom was cooking and proceed to die a dramatic and gruesome death, not just once but usually two, three or four times in a row, each time totally different than the time before. My mother would remain stone face, carrying on with whatever she was doing, as if she was not even looking, but when my death was exceptionally convincing, she’d day, “That was a good one.”

My point is that to do these practices effectively, we need to find the child within us, the child who loves to use their imagination, who loves to believe that what they are imagining is true, and who has much fun doing it. Then, all these practices in this book will just work, almost like magic. Paradoxically, sometimes, through truly lighthearted practice, we are able to change ourselves on the deepest of levels.

The practice I am about to explain works best if first done with a partner, someone you trust and who has a good sense of play.

Part I. Together, prepare a plate of food. Make sure you have an array of food that you like and that requires the use of different actions and utensils. For example, a cup of soup, a little salad, some pasta, a vegetable that you have to cut like string beans or asparagus, a beverage, and a little desert.

Your friend is there to feed you because you are convalescing and are quite weak, but your appetite has begun to return. Find a comfortable chair, put a little cushion against the back of the chair and lean back. Let your friend bring the food or the beverage all the way up to your mouth. Don’t help them by bringing your head and lips toward the food or the glass. My German students tell me that the word to feed in German means, to pass the food. Let your partner pass you the food. After all, you still are very weak. So, let your friend do all the work.

Your friend also needs to use their imagination too, so it will be necessary to tell them that they are a person who is very experienced when it comes to feeding people. They watch their patient, know how much food to give them, not too big, not too small. They know how long they have to wait for you to have time enough to chew your food and swallow. They will likely chit chat with you a bit, ask you what you want next, and tune into your needs so as to make it enjoyable for you.

Part II. Let your feeder feed you. When you feel about halfway through your meal, tell your feeder.

Part III. If you are not already, and if possible, go to the table where you normally eat and sit down in the chair you usually do. Place your hands on the table, palms relaxed and turned over. Lower your eyelids as if you were smelling a flower and imagine that your hands are your friends’ hands, your arms are their arms. Have your friend bring over the plate of food and place it before you. Continue to imagine that your hands and arms are your friends’ hands and arms, and then begin feeding yourself as if it were your friend feeding you. Let them cut your food for you, let them bring it up to your mouth. Let them do everything for you and you just let them do it. Once in a while, in silence or out loud, thank them. “Thank you. Thanks for feeding me. That is so kind of you.” You may one day end up like me, a person who says thank you all day long.

If you actually do carry out this playful study, you will experience what it feels like to feed yourself. It’s an entirely different activity, a totally different event than eating. I encourage you to do this partner study more than once, assuming both roles, the feeder and the fed.

The next step is to practice feeding yourself when you are having a meal alone, when you are not in a rush. Ask your devoted butler to feed you.

The next step is to begin to practice feeding yourself when you are sharing a meal with someone else. It will feel dramatically different to you, but no one will have the faintest idea that your butler is feeding you.

Play with shifting from eating to feeding when you are snacking on an apple or a carrot, or drinking a cup of coffee, or when drinking a beer, (that is very interesting), or while enjoying popcorn when watching Netflix. Say thank you often. After all, your butler is there helping you once again, making life easier for you and more enjoyable. Keeping you company.

The Butler. Nesting. Grooming. Feeding. Practice only this for one year and I will bet you a dollar, a euro, one hundred yen, one thousand won, that your life will feel different, better, much better, because for one year you will have been physically treating yourself respectfully.

From The Same Immaterial Fabric

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Photo: B. Fertman/Seoul, Korea

 

A student asks, “What is this inner body of which you so often speak?”

 

The inner body is neither physical nor metaphysical.

Not of the body and not beyond the body.

The inner body lives within the body,

It is the body within the body.

 

The inner body fills the outer body.

Completely.

Each toe, each fingernail, every eyelash.

The inner body assumes the exact shape of the outer body,

It is the outer body’s inner lining.

 

When the outer body looks; the inner body sees.

When the outer body hears; the inner body listens.

 

The inner body cannot feel or express emotions,

Though it does perceive them.

 

The inner body cannot think,

Though it is rational.

Quietly aware, calmly awake,

Below the surface of words, in silence,

It reflects, contemplates, meditates.

 

The inner body cannot act or react,

Though it can observe actions and reactions.

The inner body cannot do anything,

But it can receive everything.

 

The inner body is neither male nor female,

Is of no race or religion, is from no country or continent.

 

The inner body does not age, is not made of time.

It cannot get sick or suffer,

Though it can observe sickness and suffering.

 

The inner body is not cold or callous, nor warm and empathetic.

But because it is made from the same immaterial fabric as love and gratitude,

The inner body does care.

 

Curiously,

Once we bid farewell to our outer body and take up residence in our inner body,

The less needy our outer body becomes,

And the less lonely it feels.

 

If, as the outer body ages, we come to dwell ever more deeply within the inner body,

Then perhaps, when the moment arrives for our outer body to die,

We will be ready and able to take leave of it,

Peacefully, thankfully, and with love in our hearts.

 

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Photo: B. Fertman/Seoul, Korea

 

Stories about the inner body

from my book

Teaching By Hand/Learning By Heart

 

Sung-ho

It may be beyond my area of expertise. It may be foolish, even unprofessional, even unethical. It may be sheer chutzpah, or profound innocence and, it may not be any of these.

Sung-ho walks into my apartment/studio in downtown Seoul. He clearly has what I like to call an unconventional nervous system, or an exceptional structure.

Having only known Sung-ho for two days, he already feels like a friend. We spent a night together jammed into a packed subway car, talking politics, making our way down crowded streets into the heart of a peaceful, passionate and packed protest with 1.7 million other people.

No matter the circumstances, Sung-ho just keeps up. He doesnt complain. In fact, he directs his attention toward others, making sure everyones comfortable.

He thinks his English is terrible. I am eternally grateful to anyone who can speak any English Sung-ho. I understand everything you are saying.” I want to ask you something,Sung-ho says. In America, what do you call people who are disabled?” “We call them physically challenged. Calling a person disabled sums them up as people who are not able to function properly. We prefer describing their situation. A physically challenged person is a person who is challenged physically. When I watch people like you, I see an athlete, a person who is training for an Olympic event called everyday life.” “I like that,Sung-ho says.

Sung-ho explains his situation to me. Im in pain most of the time. My left hip hurts almost continually. I cant lift my right hand past my shoulder. I cant turn my head at all. My spine doesnt move. Its in a permanent C-shape. Whenever, by mistake, I go outside of my small range of motion its really painful. Im always working hard to move and when I sit down and relax my body hurts even more, so I keep my muscles tight. But Im used to it. Its been this way since I was a kid.

Later I find out Sung-ho, when he was fifteen, was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis, an inflammatory disease that, for reasons unknown, mostly afflicts young men. Over time this extreme form of arthritis causes the spine to fuse, making the spine increasingly immobile. Ankylosing spondylitis is incurable.

Sung-ho, let me see what you do when you relax.I watch as he presses his shoulder girdle down onto his upper ribs and pushes his chest in. Sung-ho that hurts because that is not relaxing, but we will get to that later. Right now show me how much you can move your head without pain. With your head say yes, no, and maybe,” I say demonstrating. He does. He moves his head about one inch in every direction but that one inch is accomplished by ever so slight bending or rotating movements initiated down around his rib cage. The relationship of his head to his neck is frozen like a block of ice. Good. I want to see you move. Id like you to get up and walk to the closet, put on your coat, then take it off, hang it back up, walk back here and sit down.I just watch, kinesthetically empathizing more than I am analyzing. This familiar aching feeling settles over me, a feeling I often feel when working with physically challenged people, this feeling of guilt. Why them and why not me?

You get around,I say. I make myself do everything,Sung-ho says. An athlete,I say.

Okay Sung-ho. I am going to teach you something that helps me a lot. It may sound strange, and its not scientific, but it allows me to move more easily and comfortably. All it takes is a playful imagination and some practice. Are you willing to try?” “Sure,Sung-ho says.

I like to think of myself as having two bodies, a being body and a doing body. The being body is my inner body and my doing body is my outer body. My outer body is substantial and made of muscle. But inside that body is a body that has no substance. Its weightless. It moves like a gentle wind, like a soft breeze. It moves effortlessly. Its comfortable and its never in pain. The inner body has no bones. Its just space. Sometimes it feels like a friendly ghost body. Deep within you it flies freely.

What I like to imagine is that my inner body, my being body, my ghost body moves my doing body from the inside out. I imagine that my inner body is moving and my outer body just comes along with it. The outer body doesnt do anything, just as your clothes dont move by themselves. They are moved by your body. So your outer body doesnt do anything by itself. It is moved by your inner body.Sung-ho seems to like the idea. Hes smiling.

Sung-ho, can you just sit here now, close your eyes and imagine that who you really are is your inner body and not your outer body?I watch him. I can see hes living inside of his imagination and that is where I want him to be. Sung-ho, that is closer to real relaxation.

Okay, here is a little way of practicing shifting from your outer body to your inner body. Imagine you have a fly buzzing around your face and you want to brush it away. Let your hand just fly up and move the fly away. Thats easy,Sung-ho says. Is it comfortable,I ask? Very.” “Thats your inner body flying around and your outer body just coming along with it. Now brush the fly away by moving your outer body. Whats that feel like,I ask? That harder, heavier, and slower.

Right. I think you move yourself around from your outer body. And I think, with practice, you could learn to move yourself around with your inner body.

Okay, Sung-ho. Lets go back to saying yes, no, maybe with your head but this time let your inner body, your inner head, do the moving and let your outer body, your outer head, just go with it.

I watch. I think I see some actual head movement, but Im not sure. How does that feel, I ask? Its different, but I cant say how,Sung-ho says. Was it comfortable,I ask?, Comfortable,Sung-ho says.

Okay. Lets play with something else. Touch the tip of your nose.I watch and see that Sung-ho does that from his inner body. Thats your inner body,I say. I can feel that,Sung-ho says. Imagine the tip of your nose is a small, very high quality calligraphy brush and write your name in the air with your calligraphy brush.

He does. I see that the tentativeness is completely gone and now Sung-ho is actually, however minutely, moving his head through rotational and pivotal movement in his upper cervical vertebrae. Hows that,I ask? Its wonderful,Sung-ho says. Thats your imagination and your inner body moving your outer body.Sung-ho nods yes even more freely without knowing it.

Sung-ho, do you have memories of yourself and of your body before you developed this condition,I ask? Yes, I do.” “Can you remember how old you were when you were super attracted, sexually attracted to a girl? How old were you,I ask? I was twelve,Sung-ho says. What was her name?” “Mi Kyung,Sung-ho says smiling from ear to ear. Okay Sung-ho. I want your inner body to be twelve years old. You are totally in love with Mi Kyung. Now write her name with your calligraphy brush.

I watch and see Sung-ho move his head three times as far in every direction. Wow,Sung-ho says. Wow is right,I say! You were so in love when you wrote Mi Kyungs name you forgot to be afraid to move your head.

Okay, lets stand up and walk around. I watch Sung-ho stand up. Hes tight. Hes cringing. My left hip hurts a lot when I get up, especially after sitting for a long time,Sung-ho says. I see that but I also see that your ankles, knees and hips have a lot of flexion. I noticed that last night watching you go up steps. Your legs are strong.” “Lets walk around.

Sung-ho throws his pelvis way forward and under his body because if he brought his pelvis back and up on top of his legs, hed be looking straight down at the ground. When he walks his feet are far apart and quite turned out. His knees hardly flex. Yet, he walks faster than I do, almost as if he were in a race.

Sung-ho, I know you can flex your knees more than that because you do when you get up and down from a chair, and when you go up and down steps. So lets imagine that your outer legs are just like a pair of super baggy pants and let your inner legs move around inside your baggy pants. Theres plenty of room in there. And pretend you are on vacation and theres nothing you have to do. The weather is warm and you have all the time in the world.

Clearly, Sung-ho has a powerful imagination and somehow hes able to connect his imagination to his kinesthetic sense, an ability that takes many people a while to learn. Hows that Sung-ho?

It fun. And much easier. And comfortable,Sung-ho says.

Im so glad. Sung-ho. We are going to stop now because you have some real tools to play with. Youve got your very powerful imagination and you have your very free inner body.Hes smiling. Hes moved, holding back tears.

For a second the question flashes through my mind, Was that an Alexander lesson or not? Maybe. Maybe not.” “And maybe it doesnt matter,” I hear a voice inside me saying.

Hey, Sung-ho. I finish teaching at 10 tonight. As your wife is in my class, how about we all meet up after class and go out for a beer?Sung-ho lights up and says, I know a place right around the corner that has Guinness on draft. Do you like Guinness?  A lot, especially when its fresh. See you tonight.

I watch Sung-ho get his coat. His movements are less jerky, longer, smoother. That aching feeling returns and I wonder, If I had Sung-hos body, would I be able to adapt as gracefully to life as Sung-ho?

Grace, its not about how we look, or how we move. Its about who we are.

No Sweat

A man walks in, muscular, not a lean and mean muscularity, but a firm, round, bear like muscularity.  Hes the kind of man that would use his power to protect someone in need, rather than bully someone for the fun of it.

What brings you here, Yasuo-san? Noriko-sensei tells me you are a physical therapist and in your spare time a parachute glider.

Im expecting Yasuo to begin talking about some physical issue. A painful, lonely sadness fills his eyes.

The three of us, Yasuo-san, Masako ,my translator, and me sit together for a good minute in silence, which is not uncommon after I ask someone a question in Japan. Japanese people rarely blurt our their first thought. Its as if they let the question sink down into some place full of unshared secrets.

I want to relax,Yasuo says.

How do you know you are not relaxed?

I feel nervous.

What happens when you get nervous?

I begin to sweat. A lot. It feel embarrassed and ashamed that I am sweating.

When does this happen most?

When I am with people. When I have to talk to people.

Usually when we are with people we are with family, or roommates, or friends, or coworkers, or strangers. Do you have any family,I ask?

Not much. My parents live far away. Im not married. I live alone.

Who are you with, and in what situation are you in when this happens most intensely?

When I meet a stranger. When I have to talk to someone I dont know.

Does it happen more when the stranger is a woman or a man?

Definitely a woman.

I can see a change in Yasuos skin color. Hes becoming pale. The back of his skull has pulled back. I see an image of a horse and the rider pulling the reins back.

Well, Masako is a woman, so why dont you have a conversation with Masako? Youve never met her before. Shes a stranger. Face each other and have a conversation.

Yasuos eyes open wide.

Turn your chairs so youre facing one another. Get a little bit closer. There you go. Thats perfect.

Masako has played these kinds of roles for me in other lessons. Shes a natural. Masako takes on a slightly shy demeanor, looks down, then looks up.

How did you get such a strong body. Do you do some kind of sport,Masako asks?

Yasuo mentions that he does parachute gliding and that the equipment is heavy so it requires a good bit of strength. Masako lights up a bit, crosses her legs and asks him to tell her more about it.

Yasuo takes out a handkerchief, something almost all men and women in Japan carry on them, and wipes his forehead, which is sweating profusely.

Ive got Yasuo exactly where I want him.

Okay Yasuo-san. I see what you are doing that might be making you sweat. Of course, I dont know for sure. But the only way we can find out is if there is some way I can get you to stop doing what I see you doing. Does that make sense?

Hai,Yasuo says. What do you see,” he asks?

What I see is that you are very muscular. It is almost like you live in your muscular system, especially in your large action muscles, like your quads, and abs, and traps, and deltoids, and biceps, and pecs.

When you get nervous and begin to sweat, Im not sure if I am making this up but I think I see your body swelling, as if your large action muscles all at once are becoming hypertonic, even though you are not moving. Its as if your body wants to move, but its frozen and cant. You’re sitting there trying to move and trying not to move at the same time, so your body is working out like mad, and you are breaking out in a sweat.

Ahsokaa I see what you mean,Yasuo says, wondering.

Sometimes I get locked into my muscular system too. Ive got a particular way of getting out of it. Want to learn it?

Hai.

I use my imagination, which is one way of using your mind. I imagine I have an outer body and an inner body. Actually, I do more than imagine it. I pretend, as a child would, that it is absolutely true, that my inner body exists. And I dont only imagine it, I sense it through my kinesthetic sense. Its more like a kimage. Ki in your language means mind, heart, spirit, feeling, energy, and that is exactly what a kimage is made of. So your inner body is not muscular or physical. It lives deeper within you than your muscular body. It lives under your entire muscular body. We think we have lots of different muscles in the body but really its more like we have one unified muscular system, just like we have on circulatory system. This muscular system is a bit like a cylindrical trampoline wrapped around your skeletal system. Deep within you, underneath your muscular system, you have an inner body totally unattached to your muscular body. Id like you to imagine, to ki-magine that your muscular body is like an astronaut suit, but the real you is inside and not physical. Your astronaut suit is not alive, but your inner body is. That is who you are, that is where you live. That is home. That is where you rest. That is where you feel safe.

So can you just sit where you are?  Close your eyes and lean back against the chair. Get support from the chair. Slide your feet way out in front of you, so you cant push down with your feet against the floor. Can you let your belly un-tighten?

I go over, place my hand on his chest until I feel my hand gently sink into him like smoke permeating a sweater.

Drop below your astronaut suit Yasuo-san,I say. I touch the outside of his upper arms, always with this permeating quality, then around his skull, then along the sides of his body, along the sides of his pelvis, on his quadriceps, his calves, his feet. I watch his face. He is no longer sweating. His breathing is slower. He looks like hes about to fall asleep.

Yasuo-san. When I ask you to, I want you to slowly open your eyes but before you do I want you to decide not to push out into your muscles. I want you to decide not to turn your muscles on. Keep your muscle switch off. As your eyes open, if you feel yourself beginning to push into your muscles, just lower your eyelids, turn your muscle switch off, and return to your inner body. Calmly but firmly say to yourself, off..offoffoff, as you open your eyes, until your eyes are open and there you are seeing and resting in your inner body. Then when Masako begins talking to you I want you to say to yourself gently and firmly, offoffoffuntil she is finished speaking. Okay?”

“Okay.”

Yasuo sits. I can see him dropping in below his muscles. He begins to open his eyes but decides to close them again. On the third go he opens them and keeps them open. Hes completely resting in the chair and resting in himself. Masako asks him about his parents, where they live and what they do. I see a slight push into his muscles and then I see him drop back in.

My parents live in Kanazawa, not far from Kenrokuen garden,he says. I watch Yasuo finish speaking and then drop back into his inner body.

How are you doing Yasuo-san?

I can do it. I have control over it. Its like I found that switch in me and when it goes on I can turn it off.

How does that make you feel?

It makes me feel soft and kind and happy.

And you are not sweating.

Im not sweating.

“Yes, inner bodies are not physical, so they don’t sweat. They can’t sweat.”

Yasuo. Weve been working about 35 minutes, and our lesson is supposed to be 45 minutes but I am going to stop here. You learned what you came here to learn. You found your inner body and you found your on/off switch which controls your large action muscles and allows you to rest in your inner body. With a little practice you will be able to do this whenever you want. You know how to sit and rest in your inner body. You have this little meditation you can practice whenever you have time.

Arigatou gosaimashita, I say, bowing. It was wonderful to work with you. I learned a lot from you,” I say, feeling myself at that moment living deep within my inner body, thinking how I am always teaching myself what it is I most need to learn, saying what I most need to hear.

Towards A Free Future

 

Photo: B. Fertman

 “Structure is the record of past function. Function is the source of future structures.” Ludwig von Bertalanffy.

Joyful Neutrality

It’s Wednesday afternoon. Every Wednesday at 3pm I pick up my son, Noah, at his school and, as we drive to soccer practice, I try to strike up a conversation with him, which is not easy. I then go to the co-op and pick up some food for dinner. After that I go to the barn and watch Eva, my daughter, ride. Eva spends most afternoons cleaning out stalls and caring for horses in exchange for riding lessons. Eva and I then drive to pick up Noah from practice, Eva talking non-stop, my not getting a word in edgewise. Noah and Eva both jump into the back seat and, depending on God knows what, either act as if they love each other or hate each other. We get home. I walk straight into the kitchen and start preparing dinner. That’s how it is, every Wednesday afternoon.

It’s 2:55pm. Prying myself away from my computer, I jump into my aging Suburu and, almost at Noah’s school, I remember that this morning, as I was packing lunch for the kids, my wife and I decided that today she would take Noah to soccer practice, get some food for dinner, go watch Eva ride, and then pick up Noah, because today I needed to pick up my Dad at 3pm, take him into center city to see his orthopedic surgeon in preparation for his second hip replacement.

There I was driving 180% in the wrong direction, driving to pick up my son when I needed to be driving to pick up my dad! Not only was my car on automatic, I was on automatic, doing what I always do on Wednesday afternoons. Actually, I was unaware of driving at all. I had, for all practical purposes, become an automaton.

That’s how it is for so many of us, so much of the time, when making the bed, when taking a shower, brushing our teeth, getting dressed, eating breakfast, driving to work. We do the same things in exactly the same ways, over and over again, not only inside of our everyday activities, but within our relationships as well. The same buttons get pushed, the same reactions triggered.

The eternal recurrence of the same.

Instead of going “Back To The Future”, we’re going “Forward To The Past”. Is it possible to go forward into a free future, a future not utterly determined by the past? How do we become conscious of our unconsciousness, of when we are living on automatic, which, in essence, amounts to life unlived?

Returning to our car metaphor, it’s as if our car were stuck in second gear. We cannot slow down and we can’t speed up. We’re not adapting well to varying conditions. Too few options. To make matters worse, unbeknownst to us, we’ve got our emergency break half way on. We’re trying to go forward but it feels like something is holding us back. How can we release the emergency break when we don’t know it is on? How can we learn to slide out of second and slip into neutral? Into joyful neutrality.

That’s what I call it because after spending years unknowingly driving around with our emergency break half engaged while stuck in second gear, and then, suddenly experiencing what it feels like when our emergency break is released and we slide into neutral is joyful. We feel loose, free. We’re moving effortlessly.  (Alexander realized that, physiologically, the emergency brake is located primarily in the neck.)

Now to get anywhere, we are going to have to shift back into gear, but now we’ve got four or five gears available to us and we know how to slide back and forth into neutral whenever we want. And we know how to check and see if our emergency break is on, and if it is, we know how to release it.

The Diamond

F.M. Alexander used a different metaphor. Imagine a turntable and on it a record. Around and around the record goes, and on it, in one groove, a diamond needle sits always and forever in the same groove.

The eternal recurrence of the same.

Alexander discovered how to, ever so gently, suspend the diamond needle above the record. This moment of suspension, of disengagement, is a profound relief. Silence. Stillness. Space. Perspective.

And within this moment there is choice, free will. It’s what I call the moment of opportunity. Alexander referred to it as the critical moment. It’s the moment when we are free to decide. Where do we want to place the diamond needle, back into the groove from where it came or into a different groove, one where we have been, or one where we have yet to be? Or do we want to replace it back at all? In that moment of suspension we are free to choose.

When the diamond needle returns there’s a new lightness to it all. We’re in contact, yet afloat. We’re no longer digging in.

What if we were to follow this metaphor and see where it leads us?

The stereo and the turntable is our body, our life force going round and round. The record is our genetic make up, where we were born, when, and to whom, factors beyond our control.

We are the masters making our master recording. Each of us gets one chance to compose and record one simple melody.

The diamond needle is the conductor between free will and determinism, between what was given and what we will choose to give.

Are we listening?

Can we hear when the diamond needle gets stuck? Or skips? Can we hear when it’s time to wipe the dust from the record, or from the diamond needle? Is the volume too loud, or too soft? Is there balance between treble and bass?

Are we listening?

At some point the diamond needle reaches the end of the record. On its own, it lifts itself off the record, returning from whence it came. The arm silently settles and rests in the armrest. The turntable stops turning. All is quiet, and still.

Are we listening?

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Within And All Around

F. M. Alexander

F. M. Alexander

Boiled down, it all comes to inhibiting a particular reaction to a given stimulus. But no one will see it that way. They will see it as getting in and out of a chair the right way. It is nothing of the kind. It is that a pupil decides what he will or will not consent to do. They may teach you anatomy and physiology till they are black in the face—you will still have this to face: sticking to a decision against your habit of life.

 F.M. Alexander from Articles and Lectures (white edition), Mouriz 2011, p. 197.

The post office was crowded. Every line seemed equally endless. I chose one, and of course it soon became apparent this line was at a standstill. The teller had just disappeared into the back room, not to return for fifteen minutes.

Standing in lines made me almost claustrophobic. We were required to stand in lines every morning at Pennypacker Elementary School. Standing in neat rows out in the cement yard, we’d wait for the loud buzzer to sound before marching into school. On a particular day, while standing in line, a bee began buzzing around my mouth. Hysterically, I jumped out of line and began dodging, and ducking, and swinging at the bee. A teacher came over, demanded I get back into line, and the moment I did the bee stung me on my bottom lip.

In the meantime, I had just injured myself. We were rehearsing for an upcoming performance until well after midnight. Having hardly slept the night before, I was beat. Coming down from a barrel turn, I landed on the outside of my foot, my ankle twisting under me. A physical trainer did his best to tape it, but after another sleepless night, it was still swollen and throbbing. Standing was difficult. A poor, old kindly man was standing in front of me. His clothes were worn and soiled. There was a strong smell of urine in the air that was impossible to avoid. 

I escaped into my thoughts. Images of a recent fight I got into with my girlfriend surfaced. It was over money. We were living together. The rent was due and we were short about $100. She wanted me to ask my parents for the money. I didn’t want to do that. We ended up  yelling at each other and I heard myself sounding just like my father. I hated that about myself, but as hard as I tried, I couldn’t seem to get control over it. I felt like a dog who, when the mailman walked by, had to bark, and basically had to go crazy. Certain situations pushed my buttons, and immediately there I was, barking and going crazy.

About 40 minutes later, I found myself next in line. I had just had an Alexander lesson earlier that week with Catherine Wielopolska, a trainee in Alexander’s first teacher training class back in the early 30’s. “Kitty” was telling me how Alexander’s work was not about physical culture, not about how to get up and down from a chair, but that it was about how we reacted to stimuli from within ourselves and from all around us.  Kitty had begun working with me on speaking. Speaking was a nightmare for me as a child. At six I began stuttering, which meant also dealing with the humiliation and shame that accompanied it. It was clear to me now that this was the source of the fierce habit I still had of jamming the back of my skull down into my neck, which ended up compressing my entire spine right down into my lower back, which all too often was a source of pain.

Consequently, when the time came to ask the teller for a book of twenty stamps I was determined not to go into my old speech pattern of thrusting my head forward. As the teller gave his customer his change and receipt, I stood there doing my best to free myself the way I had been learning to do from my teacher. But just as I stepped forward and opened my mouth to ask for a book of stamps, my head thrusted forward on its own. I no longer stuttered but that old stuttering pattern was still there, seemingly hard wired into my nervous system.

I asked for a particular series of stamps that honored great Black American heroes. The teller told me they were out of them. All that was left he said were the usual stamps with the American flag on them. I said okay. He looked in his drawer and then said he didn’t have anymore books of stamps, only rolls of a hundred stamps. I didn’t have enough money on me to buy a hundred stamps. I heard myself sigh and felt my head press itself even further into my spine. I was tired and frustrated. It seemed I was at the complete mercy of stimuli bombarding me both from within and without. More training, I thought to myself as a hobbled away empty handed.  More training.

I was twenty-three years old. The trying twenties. Little did I know I was embarking on a life devoted to self examination and self reflection. Meanwhile, I had to get some control of myself, and of my life. 

I set about categorizing stimuli in hope of making the whole enterprise more manageable.  We all lived in time and in space. We all had to move. We were always in contact with the world through our senses, whether we knew it or not.  And, whether we were with people or not, we were always with them. If they were not physically around us, they were in our minds or hearts. They were always in our past, and in our futures.

Time. Waiting. Hurrying. Deadlines.

Space. My fears of spatial confinement. My fear of heights. My inability to organize my things, my desk, my clothes. My utter lack of orienteering. 

Movement. My limitations as a dancer and martial artist. My being injury prone..

Senses. Mental preoccupation with my unresolved past, or my fantasies of some utopian future often took me out of my body and out of the real world. How to come back to my senses. 

People. Well, if it were any consolation, people seemed to be an issue for everybody. It was people above all, communicating with people, or rather mis-communicating with people that seemed to be the major source of pain in the world. Communication between husband and wives, parents and children, between siblings, bosses and employees, even between countries.

And then there was the world within, the amorphous world of thoughts, emotions, drives, and sensations.

Thoughts. Comparing myself to other people, being better than them, or worse than them. Thinking too much about myself, about my body, or about how great I was at this or that, or how terrible I was at this or that. 

Emotions. Little control over anger, frustration, or fear.

Drives and Sensations. Physical drives ruled the day; a visceral appetite, culinary and sexual, and an insatiable appetite for new experience. I couldn’t seem to get enough. As for physical pain. My father was a man who, when he woke up in the morning and did not feel absolutely perfect, concluded that something was seriously the matter. I inherited this gene.

I know. I’m beginning to sound like Woody Allen.

Years have passed, 42 to be exact, and after a lifetime of disciplined, and increasingly pleasurable study, I am happy to say I’ve made some progress. Boiled down, it all comes to inhibiting a particular reaction to a given stimulus, I hear Alexander saying.

Time. Rarely do I rush. I have learned to give more time to things and to people. But then again, I am no longer raising children. When I need to be somewhere and I am running late, I have learned to ask myself if I am late, and if the answer is no, then I stop rushing. And if the answer is yes, then I decide to move lightly and swiftly and enjoy myself.

I rarely wait. When I find myself waiting I simply stop waiting and the world, through all of my senses, returns and entertains me. I still find myself waiting when I want to say the next thing on my mind and my translator is still translating, but less so.  And I still, at times, interrupt people, but less so. I still wait when my computer is not moving as fast as I think it should. But I feel a little less exasperated. 

And yes, sometimes I will awaken from an afternoon nap anxious about dying. It doesn’t last long. Once I get up and start moving, I am fine. Most of the time I feel like I have all the time in the world.

Space. I am no longer afraid of heights. I have not been for years. In Osaka, where I live half the year, I love feeling myself part of the river of people streaming in and out of trains morning and night. I get comfort feeling myself huddled together with others. I don’t mind the middle seat on planes. I like sitting next to people. I have no problem standing in lines. I enjoy not waiting.

Movement. I’ve learned to move well, comfortably and enjoyably. I used to think that movement was the end all and be all. Now, ironically, I move well and I care very little about the way I move. Or about how others move. I care about how I am, and how others are. I’ve fallen in love with stillness. I love sitting quietly and doing nothing.

Senses. This perhaps above all is what I have found through my years of study, the sensory world. The world of lightness and darkness, of sound and silence, of coolness and warmth. Literally, I have come to my senses.

My appetites no longer have the hold on me they once did. My sexual self seems to have fallen in love with the world at large, the wind against my face, the warmth of the sun on my shoulders, the scent of pine in the high country, the sand under my feet, the taste of the ocean in my mouth.

Thoughts. My thoughts no longer harass me. I’m at peace with my past. Most of my future is behind me. I’ve made it this far. I trust I will figure the rest out as I go along. At some point, thanks in large part to Byron Katie, I learned that I am not my thoughts. I’ve learned not to believe everything I think. I know how to question thoughts, how to diffuse them and let them fall. Thank God for teachers.

Physical pain remains a challenge. And I still bark like a dog when the mailman goes by. Something tells me I’m not going to work everything out this time around. But then again, who knows?

During the last few years of my father’s life not once did I see him get angry. Not once. My Dad had evolved into a peaceful man.

In the last weeks of his life, while in the intensive care unit, he began looking like Gandhi. He’d sit in the chair next to his hospital bed, wrapped in a white blanket, his shining bald head and his round wire rimmed glasses looking out from above, smiling, never complaining of pain or discomfort, though his pain and discomfort were considerable.

More training, I say to my self, happily. 

Touching Down

touching-down

 

In my front yard the rufous and ruby throated hummingbirds are heading south. Intelligently so, off to where it is warmer, without crossing time lines. No jet lag. I, on the other hand, am a migrant worker heading west, across time lines. Jet lag, long an occupational hazard. Still, I am a wanderer at heart, at home wherever I touch down.

For those interested, or those knowing of friends or colleagues who may be interested, here is my itinerary. Join me, if you can.

 

A World Of Possibility

Four Master Classes For Alexander Trainees and Teachers

Sept 24-27. New York City

Living The Work

For Alexander Trainees and Teachers

October 1-2. London

Individual Lessons At Studio One

October 3-4 London

The Alexander Alliance Post Graduate Training Program

October 5-7/10-11 Dorset

Prepared For Nothing/Ready For Anything

A Seriously Playful Introduction To The Alexander Technique

October 8-9 Dorset

Joining Hands

L’Estudi Center Technica Alexander Barcelona

And

The Alexander Alliance Germany

October 16-23 Barcelona

In Tune, In Tone, In Time

An Introduction To The Alexander Technique For Musicians

October 29-30 Porto

Prepared For Nothing/Ready For Anything

A Seriously Playful Introduction To The Alexander Technique

November 5 Zurich

A Sneak Preview Into The Alexander Alliance

Post Graduate Training Program

November 6 Zurich

 

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About

 

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

Prepared For Nothing/Ready For Anything – A Seriously Playful Introduction To The Alexander Technique – Dorset, England – Oct. 8/9, 2016 and Zurich, Switzerland – Nov. 5, 2016 – Given by Bruce Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman


Do what you can, with what you’ve got, from where you are. – Theodore Roosevelt

The readiness is all. – William Shakespeare from Hamlet

When asked for a one-word description of what his work was about, Alexander replied, “Readiness.”

Preparedness and readiness are not the same. We prepare for something particular, for an upcoming exam, an important interview, for a night out on the town.

Readiness is an open state of being enabling us to adapt rapidly, intelligently, and with ingenuity to anything that may arise. An emergency care doctor, a martial artist, or a mom or dad who hasn’t time to shop and must make something delicious out of what they have in the refrigerator before five hungry kids storm into the house.

Readiness is wherewithal, that is, the ability to be exactly where we are, amidst all that is happening around us, making the best use of all the resources available to us. Readiness is having our wits about us; it’s the ability to think on our feet, to respond inventively to unexpected situations.

Readiness is not something we have to learn. It’s a condition inherent in all creatures. It’s built in to our will to live, to our drive to survive. Humans manage to interfere with this innate reflex. The good news is Alexander discovered a way to reduce this interference, leaving us free to address the world with alacrity and to live our lives with vitality.

Whether you are new to Alexander’s work or currently studying, whether you are training or even if you are a teacher of the technique, I hope you will consider joining me for a weekend of playing seriously, and seriously playing, with the principles underlying Alexander’s remarkable work.

Details: Zurich, Switzerland

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

COURSE DETAILS: Dorset, England

Saturday 8th and Sunday 9th October 10.00 – 16.00 £220.00 to include lunch on both days

It is possible to book for one day only on Saturday 8th for a fee of £160.00

To reserve your space please forward 50% deposit or full amount

either by:

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:MIDLGB2172P

or send a cheque made payable to Ruth Davis at Sakura, 7 McKinley Road, Bournemouth BH4 8AG.

Include your name, street address, email address, and Telephone/Mobile numbers.

ACCOMMODATION

Two nights shared accommodation @ £120* or £160 for ensuite room

Two nights single accommodation @ £150* or £174 for ensuite room

* includes bed and breakfast and evening meals, all drinks and snacks throughout the day, use of all facilities

Payment for accommodation is due on arrival at Gaunts House either by direct transfer (see course fee details)
cash, or cheque made payable to Ruth Davis.

GAUNTS HOUSE

Gaunts is situated in the Dorset countryside not far from the Market town of Wimborne. The wonderful house is a period, red-brick mansion with castellated north tower, located on the c.1,900 acres of Gaunts Estate. Please see their website for more details: http://www.gauntshouse.com

Address: Gaunts House, Petersham Lane, Wimborne, Dorset, BH21 4JQ
(NB: Please use the BH21 4JD postcode for your Sat Nav)

TRANSPORT

By Car: From London: M3 to M27 West and A31 to Wimborne
From Bristol & Bath: A350 to Blandford B3082 and to Wimborne. From Wimborne Town Centre: Take the B3078 in the direction of Cranborne. Drive for 3 miles to the Gaunts House carriage drive entrance which is on the right hand side next to the round thatched cottage at Stanbridge.

By Train: http://www.southwesttrains.co.uk tel: 0845 6000 650 Nearest train stations are Poole and Bournemouth. By Coach: http://www.nationalexpress.com tel: 08717 81 81 78 To Poole

By Bus: http://www.wdbus.co.uk/ tel: 01983 827005 Buses can be taken from Poole (No. 4 – takes about 30-40mins) or from Bournemouth (No. 13 – takes about 40-50mins) to Wimborne which is approx 3 miles from Gaunts House. From Wimborne take a taxi.

By Taxi: Wimborne Taxis http://www.wimborne-taxis.co.uk/ tel: 01202 884444 or
East Dorset Cars tel: 01202 889999. The approximate cost from Bournemouth is £27, from Poole is £23 and from Wimborne is £7 – depending on the day and the time. Please check with car companies for up to date costings.

FURTHER INFORMATION

If you need any further details about the course or accommodation please email Ruth Davis – ruth.a.davis@me.com or call 07590 406267

 

 

About Bruce Fertman

11 copy

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

 

 

 

 

Equilibrio

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

(*Poise no tiene traducción precisa en español, pero tiene connotaciones de equilibrio dinámico y armónico, porte elegante, gracia y control. Aquí se traduce como “equilibrio”.)

El equilibrio sucede por sí solo cuando dejamos de interferir con él. El problema es que no sabemos precisamente cómo estamos interfiriendo porque no podemos sentir la interferencia. Lo que sí sentimos es la consecuencia de la interferencia, algún estrés, esfuerzo, tensión o fatiga particular o general. Se siente. Estamos incómodos, y no sabemos cómo hacer para estar cómodos. Intentamos sentarnos derechos, o nos estiramos un rato, pero pronto esta falta de comodidad, esta falta de soporte, regresa.

Volvemos a trabajar con una sensación perezosa, una pesadez por la cual tenemos que atravesar para hacer cualquier cosa. O, volvemos a trabajar tan acelerado que por unas horas no sentimos nada, hasta que paramos y nos encontramos adoloridos o totalmente agotados.

El equilibrio, difícil de alcanzar. Vemos a los niños pequeños, cómo están levemente suspendidos, ágiles, ligeros. No están intentado hacer nada bien. Son naturalmente sostenidos y elásticos.

¿Qúe pasó?

Lo que pasó es que en el camino adquirimos “hábitos”, vestimenta neuromuscular que, quizás, alguna vez, nos quedó bien, pero ya no. Se siente demasiado apretado aquí, demasiado suelto allá. Nuestros cuerpos ya no se ajustan bien a quienes somos ahora.

Es como si, sin querer, desde adentro hacia afuera esculpiéramos un “cuerpo de tensión”, un cuerpo hecho de tensión. Y mantener dos cuerpos funcionando requiere de mucha energía, especialmente dos cuerpos que no se llevan bien. Mientras nuestro cuerpo verdadero pone el pie sobre el acelerador, el cuerpo de tensión pone el pie sobre el freno. Esto no es equilibrio.

El equilibrio regresa cuando empiezas a distinguir tu cuerpo de tensión de tu cuerpo verdadero. En la medida en que vas conociendo tu cuerpo de tensión, le puedes pedir, amablemente, que te suelte. Y a medida que lo hace, tu cuerpo de tensión te entrega su energía, su vida misma. El conflicto termina. Vuelves a ser fluido, como el agua, como la marea creciente, como una ola inseparable del vasto océano, suspendida bajo la plenitud de la luna.

Translated by Mari Hodges

Poise occurs by itself when we stop interfering with it. The hitch is that we don’t know precisely how we are interfering with it because we can’t feel the interference. What we do feel is the result of the interference, some particular or generalized strain, effort, tension, fatigue. It’s there. We’re uncomfortable, and we don’t know how to become comfortable. We try to sit up straight, or we stretch for a while, but soon enough this lack of ease, this lack of support, returns.

We go back to work, with this sluggish sense of weight, this thickness we have to push through to get anything done. Or we go back to work, so revved up that we don’t feel a thing for hours, until we stop, and find ourselves hurting, or totally wiped out.

Poise. It’s elusive. We see very young children, how lightly suspended they are, how lithe, how nimble. They’re not trying to do anything right. They’re just naturally buoyant and springy.

What happened?

What happened was that, along the way, we acquired “habits”, neuromuscular attire that, once, may have fit us, but now does not. It feels too tight here, and too loose there. Our bodies do not suit who we are now.

It is as if, unwittingly, from the inside out, we sculpted “a tension body”, a body made of tension. It takes a lot of energy to keep two bodies going, especially two bodies that aren’t getting along. While our real body is putting its foot on the gas pedal, our tension body is putting its foot on the brake. This is not poise.

Poise returns as you begin to distinguish your tension body from your real body. As you become acquainted with your tension body, you can ask it, kindly, to let go of you. As it does, your tension body, generously, gives you its energy, its very life. The conflict ends. You become fluid again, like water, like the tide rising, like a wave inseparable from the vast ocean, standing, suspended under the fullness of the moon.

 

KOREA

My kids are Korean. When they were babies, I stared into their eyes and gazed at their faces as they stared into my eyes and gazed at my face. So, I feel I look like them, and they feel they look like me.

When I first landed in Korea to teach, some 20 years ago, I felt right at home. I felt like everyone looked like me. I still feel that way.

Sooyeon Kim – Co-director of the Alexander Technique International School of Korea

Here is a video of me working with gifted Korean kids.

And here is a way to learn about our Alliance school in Korea.

Alexander Technique International School of Korea

 

The End Of The Road

Photo: B. Fertman

Photo: B. Fertman

I think I’m getting it. The more we, as Alexander teachers go about waking ourselves and our students up to the true and primary movement, the primary control, inherent control, the primary pattern, the integrative pattern, whatever you wish to call it, the better. Whether it’s through Alexander’s procedures, Barstow’s procedures, (she had them), or other ways-etudes-procedures that talented teachers have evolved is not my main concern here. For me the key question is, for what are these procedures for? Imagine someone gives you a new tool; state of the art, top of the line. She teaches you how it works, but neglects to tell you what it’s for. That’s my question. What is Alexander’s work for? What does it offer us? What can it do for us? Why, 40 years later, am I still asking myself this question?

Phase One. We help one of our students, a singer, Maria, become beautifully poised, exquisitely organized. She now stands effortlessly, walks elegantly, and sings like a nightingale. People love watching and listening to her perform. Helping people with postural support, helping people to move well, sing well; it’s great. Phase one.

Phase two. Maria begins to notice how, not only her singing, but many things in her life are getting easier; doing the dishes, vacuuming the floor, riding her bike, opening jars, falling asleep. She’s getting increasingly curious about the technique. She begins to realize what still gives her trouble, what is still effortful; scrubbing out the bathtub; working at the computer, carrying bags of groceries up three flights of stairs, putting in her new contact lenses. You suggest she bring some of these activities into class. You tell her that if she brings her life into class, she will bring what she learns in class back into her life. You suggest having a lesson at her place to work on the site specific activities.  Phase two. As Marj once told me, “Bruce, our job is to help people become sensitive and to make good use of that sensitivity in their everyday life.”

Phase three. Maria comes into class obviously distraught. Her daughter is showing signs of anorexia. She sits at the dinner table and won’t eat. “It’s driving me crazy. I sit there angry, sad, scared. I have no idea what to do. I’m a nervous wreck.” You suggest that there’s no time like the present. “Let’s work on it right now. Remember, bring your life into class and you will bring what you learn in class back into your life. Be brave. I am sure your Alexander friends here will be happy to help you. Maria, what’s your daughter’s name?” “Jody.” How old is she?” ” Twelve.” “Where are you eating and who else is sitting around the table?” “Her sister, Laura. She’s nine.” “Is there anyone here that reminds you even a little of Jody and of Laura?” Maria looks around and finds two people. “Okay, will all of you help get a table, some chairs, go into the church kitchen down the hall and bring back all the stuff we need to set up a dinner table. Don’t dilly dally.” Off everyone goes, and in a flash everything is set up. “Maria where does everyone sit?” “I sit at the head of the table, Jody is on my right and Laura on my left.” “Great. We’re almost ready to go. I need to ask you a couple questions. Tell us what everyone’s day was like before getting to the table. See if you can do it in less than a minute.” Maria sums it up. “I drop off Laura at day care, rush to work, spend most of the day on the computer, pick up Laura, get home, throw together dinner, try to get my kids away from the TV, and sit down. Jody bikes to school, hates her school, comes home, does her homework. She’s super smart. She watches her favorite cooking show, which is funny now that i think about it, and then comes to the table and doesn’t eat.” “Okay. does everyone know who you are and what you are doing, I say to Maria, Jody, and Laura? Take about 30 seconds and just be quiet, and then begin.”

At first everyone is smiling a little but after about 45 seconds it suddenly becomes real. The triggers have gone off. The buttons have been pushed. Jody is curled over herself, sulking. Maria is off looking up to the left, away from Jody, her hands on the table, shaped into fists. Laura is eating as if she hasn’t eaten in a week. You can feel the tension in the air.

And so the work begins. “Maria, don’t move. Just notice what’s going on physically. Start from the ground up until you have a picture of what you look like. Does that position feel familiar?” “Absolutely.” “Now, I’m going to come over and, together, quietly and ever so slowly and gently, we’re going to undue this pattern and see what happens.” My role, primarily, is to be softer than soft. The first impression I want to give Maria is one of nurturance and kindness. This is what she needs most. I proceed how I often do; dissipating the tension in her neck region. Everyone can see what happens. As the neck ungrips, the shoulders drop and spread, the hands unclench, breath enters, and her head turns and she looks at Jody. “Maria, what’s happening?” “I’m getting calmer. I’m really seeing Jody. I can see she’s sad and lonely.” Maria starts crying. Jody looks up. Laura looks up.

And so it goes. The ice breaks. The melting begins.

Phase three, and where I believe Alexander wanted us to go with the work. For me chair work was Alexander’s movement metaphor, a metaphor for what happens to us in our lives. In chair work someone tells you that in a moment you are going to stand up, and you find that your neurological preset for reacting to that stimulus, and the stimulus itself, are coupled together, like two links in a chain. Chair work then becomes about decoupling the stimulus from the response, so that you can unplug the neurological preset which, when successful, creates the option, the possibility of a different and perhaps better response, a new response, a fresh response. As Alexander said, “You are not here to do exercises, (doing chair work), or to learn how to do something right, but to get able to meet a stimulus that always puts you wrong and to learn to deal with it.”

It’s one thing to be able to decouple a stimulus that doesn’t have a lot of charge to it, as in chair work. For sure, it’s a good place to begin. That makes sense. Consider playing with other simple, everyday movement metaphors: opening a door, (entering into a new space), eating an apple, (a famous metaphor, how much do we bite off? Do we swallow things whole or chew them over), tying our own shoes (doing things for ourselves; remember when you couldn’t tie your own shoes?).

But then comes the truly formidable task, the truly humbling task of encountering what Alexander aptly called our habits of life. Until we’re able to discern what triggers our disintegration pattern, every time, and begin to deal with those triggers, be they our critical thoughts about ourselves or others, or our grandiose ones, or our destructive emotions like anger, jealously, envy; or resentment, hatred, and greed, or our fears, we don’t get our black belts, we don’t get into the major leagues. How can we be integrated, how can we be free if we are holding a grudge? How can we be free when we are gossiping? How can we be free when we are busy defending ourselves, or rebelling, or retreating, or panicking? Can we learn to meet a charged stimulus, something that unnerves us, and learn to deal with it in a better, more humane way?

It’s dawning upon me how profound our work can be.

I haven’t been able to stay on every road I’ve begun walking down, but I’m staying on this one. Like Nikos Kazantzakis once said, “At the end of the road, that is where God sits.” And that’s where I’m going, where I’ve been going all along.