Today, around three months after Marty Weiner’s suicide, I write again about him. I do so for two reasons.
First, his suicide continues to pose and enlarge on a big problem: How to reconcile remembering and honoring Marty’s great contribution, with what now appears to be his great struggle to live with his important philosophy.
Second, I want to honor the Jewish practice of saying Kaddish. This is a mourner’s prayer intended for the living and not the dead. It’s recited regularly, during the first year after a passing and every year after it. It declares that every person’s purpose on earth is to reveal a particular dimension of holy radiance. When a person passes, the radiance is diminished. Reciting Kaddish is intended to restore and praise it.
So. How to reconcile the holy purpose of Kaddish, with the increasingly knotty problem of Marty’s passing. How to do that in light of the central question I write about in this blog, through the medium of my relationship with my fierce cat Bugs: How to find clear-sighted understanding of the Other.
So, by companionship and by contrast, I may understand a world that includes myself, and is larger than myself.
I write here as a woman, in the feminine equivalent of Kaddish. I write as a student and practitioner of the same method Marty studied and practiced, the FELDENKRAIS METHOD, learning through sensation of movement. I also write as lover of my fierce cat Bugs. And I also write, simply absent those markers, as a human being.
First I remember Marty’s markers of beauty.
He was a philosopher, academic, bartender, Aikidoka, artist, sculptor. I knew him as a FELDENKRAIS practitioner who, by my lights, stood in that work at the highest pinnacle of accomplishment and expertise. He offered me that work through his unique, extraordinary ability to receive a world in pain, and to transform that pain, by creativity, imagination, and vivaciousness, into a world of excitement, beauty, and sweet promise.
Please appreciate Marty and his work at
After his death, I have learned more about the essence, for me, of Marty’s FELDENKRAIS work, as told by one who knew him well. It’s expressed in a poem he kept framed in his treatment room: Galway Kinnell’s “St. Francis and the Sow.”
The poem declares that loveliness must be re-taught. Loveliness must be re-told, in words and touch, until the listener “flowers again from within, of self-blessing.” And so
St. Francis put his hand on the creased forehead
of the sow, and told her in words and in touch
blessings of earth on the sow, and the sow
began remembering all down her thick length
. . .
the long, perfect loveliness of sow.”
This is what Marty did for me: He re-told my loveliness. At a time when I had reached the end of my ability to tolerate pain I had suffered for many, many years, Marty re-told to me my essential loveliness.
And so it is now that I, and many others whom Marty touched like that, have struggled mightily with his loss – of Marty, this great exemplar of brilliance and warmth, by his own hand.
Of all that’s been said, I honor those who’ve expressed their sadness, loss, anguish, disappointment, anger – and those who felt dread for him, and tried, in the last days, to warn him and others about it.
We will never know Marty’s ultimate truth. I want, even so, to try to do us the mitzvah of seeing what I can of him clearly. Plus, I think it’s a fundamental human endeavor to try to find meaning, even when the odds are stacked against the enterprise. As I wrote in my first response to the shock and pain of the news.
I want to keep trying. Even knowing that the essence of each and every one of us is essentially hidden.
If you doubt that, brain-science tells us differently. Read INCOGNITO, by David Eagleman. Or listen to Ginger Campbell’s interview with Eagleman.
There you’ll perhaps appreciate that our very biology is tilted in favor of limitation and bias. Modern brain science is telling us, these days, that almost all of what makes us “us” is hidden from our awareness.
Eagleman characterizes our personhood – our brains – as a “team of rivals” within each of us. These rivals battle each other for primacy – to affect or to influence our behavior. And this battle happens, almost always, under the surface of our awareness. We have very little ability to exert conscious choice in it. We must not trust our sense of who’s in charge at face value. We have far less choice than we think we do.
This is especially true where our sensate experience is one of pain. The nervous system is – most sensibly – organized to avoid pain, to seek succor from pain by whatever means available.
So look, then, what Marty himself said about his work, with pain, as a FELDENKRAIS practitioner: “I connect with [another] person and feel their body as an extension of my own [ . . . so] I can go directly to where their pain is and touch it. I touch it in a way that lets them know they are safe in my hands.”
That is what he did with me. His gift, his ability to do this, was unmatched in my experience.
But. There’s a very big but.
Marty goes on to say, in the very same excerpt of his writing I quote just above, this:
“In other words, I touch their pain like I would touch my own. Each of us touches ourselves appropriately and tries to soothe painful parts of our own body.”
I agree: We certainly do try to soothe painful parts of ourselves.
I do not agree that we are necessarily able to do so “appropriately.”
I myself have found that if I only rely – or over-rely – on my own touch, my own thinking, my own nervous system, my own efforts to self-soothe, I will not get the lasting and transformative results I’m looking for.
I can go a long, magnificent way toward them. As I believe Marty did, himself, with his own magnificent life example. But I do not believe I “touch myself,” in Marty’s words, “appropriately.”
For that, I need others. I need others who see me as Marty did. Who can touch me in a way that I know they feel my pain, yet they can hold that pain safely. I must know that I may stay safe from that pain – and, also, that they may stay safe from my pain too.
I have found that to cope with that last bit especially, a very high degree of skill is required. Very few have it. Marty had it.
But, it seems, he could apply that skill to himself only up to a point.
Look. Regular readers of this blog know, taking my experience with Bugs as but a small example, that life can be a real bugger. There is miscommunication, there is misperception, there is conflict, struggle, frustration, accident, violence even. This struggle is real and it can be very harsh.
It appears to have been that way for Marty. Those like me, who saw him in his glory, were lucky. There are others who saw him in a different context, and who report that he had a great deal of difficulty, in daily life, living within his great philosophy. This is a truth that apparently needs to be embraced, if we are to try to appreciate the full measure of Marty.
He was a person who did his valiant best to transcend life’s brutalities. Look what he wrote: “I absolutely believe that if you can figure out a way to be truly present with your brutalizing experiences, you will be transformed. That ‘you’ will bring, to your interactions with others, a deeper understanding that will impact people just by your presence.”
He had that impact, with me and many others in the work. In large measure, and that measure was very large indeed. But evidently Marty had great difficulty sustaining that power within himself, for himself, and for some others.
My theory about this is that as skilled as he was, he was not able to taste the benefits of his own wisdom, as applied to himself. And without that ability, his wisdom must have been, for him, as dust.
Was he just not skeptical enough, not care-ful enough, with and of and for himself? Did he forget that he might need to protect himself from himself? That he must remember to declare for himself that, as skilled as he was, there would be times when he imperatively needed to appreciate that his own power was not enough, that there were worlds out there about which he did not know? That without access to those worlds, he would be unable to “re-tell his own loveliness”?
That we all share in this condition, more or less? differing only as a matter of degree, not kind? We’re all in the same boat . . . .
But Marty pushed too hard, against pain that was just too great. He pushed until he reached the end of that route, and he apparently saw, or had, no other route available to him. I grieve bottomlessly to suppose that he did not appreciate that that was a dangerous condition to be in, and it was that blind spot that did him in.
Look what he wrote, in his last words to his last intimate partner: “I feel so disconnected from my own well-spring of life that it is only my own will that is moving me through life. I just can’t do it anymore. It hurts.”
So it seems to me, after Marty’s suicide, that the mission to which I want to be dedicated is more urgent than ever. That mission being: We need to find the Other, in ourselves and in others we touch, to remind us of what we do not know in ourselves. To remind us of what we all need: To be re-told in loveliness.
In case of pain that interferes with that re-telling, we need to find ways to stay in touch: The pain is horrific, it’s real, it’s awful – and it’s not the whole story. There is an Other way. Somewhere, in Otherness – there is choice. I can find my Other, the One hidden from me, the One I might not be able to feel – but the One that’s there, in me and in others, even so.
This is, I think, what my cat Bugs does for me. He is Bugs. He requires, of me, that I understand this simple home truth: He is not me. He is another species altogether. Can I see him as Other? Even though I cannot say I will ever really know him? Can I see him as clearly as I need to see the Other in me, the One of which I’m not yet aware? The Other in others, of which we are not yet aware?
Dog-genius Cesar Millan understands this. He writes: “We’ve been raised to believe the world belongs to us, and that it should run the way we want it to. [But c]onsider the great privilege you will be given, being able to live side by side with and learn to see the world through the eyes of a very special member of a completely different species! You are offering another living creature the highest form of respect, by letting that creature be what she is supposed to be.”
So. It’s respect for the Other that resides in ourselves. Plain and simple, really. Yet there’s nothing simple about it. I can persist in framing the world’s purpose as being to answer the version of loveliness I want. I can persist in seeing Bugs from my own bias, as a little furry human and not as the cat he really is. If I so persist in so seeing, I will get into a big muddle. And where animals are concerned, that muddle can get pretty intense, as those of you know well who’ve been reading this blog, or who watch Cesar Millan’s show.
So in Bugs, I get a mirror of my ability to see the Other, to respect the Other, to cooperate with the Other. If I can pull that off, I find that the Other tends to cooperate with me, too, mirabile dictu. If I can’t pull that off, then the Other – Bugs, the world – starts to look pretty much armed and dangerous.
The relevance of this to Marty is: I was lucky to find that Marty could meet me and mirror my untold loveliness in that same plain, but far-from-simple, way I’m talking about. What a bonus, when my Other loveliness may be seen by a human mirror! Good lord! The experience is and was amazing!
Marty pulled off that feat with me – and I rejoice to tell you, lover of cats that I am, I hear he pulled it off for cats, too. Here are two cats fortunate enough to have been touched by Marty: Spank and Spook (the latter of blessed memory, so let this be a Kaddish for Spook, too). Here they are, when Spook was still alive, in step together.
But. Thinking-into, thinking-back-on Marty’s experience – the Big But.
Marty apparently lost track of the way to hold his own Other loveliness – crippled as I believe he was by huge, engulfing, terrible, overwhelming pain. That pain stood between him and the way toward “flowering again, from within, in self-blessing.”
I want to close by remembering Marty in his “can-do” beauty. A central organizing principle in my life is Empathy for self and others. Under the circumstances in which I knew him, that’s what Marty “could do” for me. Under the circumstances in which I knew him, Marty had the skill and ability to perceive me, to enter into my being, to hold my pain safely. In the ease and loveliness of that experience, Marty offered me the vision to move through pain, into other choices.
To heal, in other words.
I grieve to suppose that he missed out on the ability to hold his own pain safely – to apply that Empathy, that healing, that inner re-telling, to himself.
But I celebrate to confirm, from my own experience, what his last intimate partner said of him, in her eulogy, of her perception of Marty. My perception of him was similar, as I encountered him in our FELDENKRAIS work: That he had great compassion, without a shred of judgment. In my own case, he was able to meet me “immediately and deeply, from a healing quality of total attention, with disarming boyish charm and completely humble but breath-taking brilliance.”
In short, Marty made my life more wonderful.
And here’s Mr. Bugs in his Otherness. Chill’axing in his new ottoman-stairstep-cave-cube thingy. May we all learn from his example.