After a post I wrote called, How the Feldenkrais MethodⓇ Changed One Woman’s Life, a reader, Angie, commented:
“Thanks Gisele for sharing your story. It is very inspiring. I’d love to hear more about the transition from pain to wellness, details of how that happened.” [Emphasis mine]
The request for the “…details of how that happened” has been in the back of mind ever since. It’s a great question. And one that I’ve been finding difficult to answer simply, to tell you the truth…
In my wee mind, I feel this is exactly what I’ve been teaching throughout my FeldenkraisⓇ career. And yet, it’s obviously not obvious, as the question still arises, even among smart, insightful, long time students.
This is, in part, why I’ve started blogging in the first place. Sometimes, I think it takes just a little bit more “background” information to make the deeper implications of the Feldenkrais Method clearer and/or more easily transferable to all of everyday life.
The greatest benefits I’ve gotten from the Feldenkrais Method are understanding in a very concrete, tangible, experiential way:
- That life is indeed a process and
- How to learn to learn better.
I know I’ve said these things a million times throughout my Feldenkrais career, and this statement might not feel very satisfying to Angie, who asked for the “…details of how [the transition from pain to wellness] happened.” But the longer I hold her request for details, the more I come to these two notions:
Understand deeply that life is a process
Become an awesome learner!
All the “details” really are in these two things, at least for me.
Life Is A Process
Briefly, this speaks to the fact that there is no destination to be arrived at.
- There is no perfect way to be
- There is no one right way to do or be
- There is no end to improvement
Process is unending, ever-unfolding activity.
Doesn’t that sound a lot like life? Isn’t life an unending, ever-unfolding activity? Even in dying, my husband (a palliative care nurse) and his colleagues will speak of patients reaching the “active dying stage”. Dying involves activity because there is still life. Not until there is no longer life can you speak of no activity.
Moshe Feldenkrais said, “Improve the process, and you improve the quality of life.”
So coming to understand more deeply that there is no one right way or one specific destination or result to attain has been a very big part of the quality of my life improving. Why?
Because it’s opened me to embrace differently something I absolutely love, l-o-v-e, L.O.V.E!
Learning through experience and deep observation. And…
Reclaiming and embracing the subjectivity of the activity of learning.
I recently heard a podcast, Krista Tippet interviewing, physicist Arthur Zajonc and Michael McCullough on On Being. In it, Zajonc’s describes the experience of teaching university and working out a problem at the front of the lecture hall. He describes having deep insight as he works out the problem. In a way, he feels alone in this. It’s a subjective experience. He can’t make or give this experience to his students as much as he might like.
Then, shortly, he sees a glimmer of insight on a face in the back of the room. And then on another face…
Understanding comes to each individual in his or her own time. As he stated it (and I L-O-V-E this)…
As he stated it (and I L-O-V-E this)…
“Knowledge cannot be pushed across the table”
It’s an act of insight, and is personal; a personal process that one can only do for oneself.
All is subjective experience.
When we learn for ourselves and compare our own experience against another of our own experiences instead of constantly comparing to some imagined ideal way of doing and moving, we free ourselves of unnecessary self-criticism and self-judgment.
The Shift That Happens When You Recognise That Life Is A Process
The reason this notion of life being a process has been so crucial to my own transition from pain to wellness is again because it has created a fundamental shift in my way of learning.
To put this is a nutshell, I’ll pose the contrast between typical questions asked by many and the new way questions are asked when this notion is grasped deeply:
- “How do you do this?” becomes…
- “How can I do this?”
- “What’s the right answer?” becomes…
- “What answer can I come up with that makes sense to me now and that I can test out?”
- “What’s the right way to do this?” becomes…
- “What’s one way I can do this?” and “Can I find another way to do this?” and “How many ways can I do this?”
- “How are you (or even “How am I…”) supposed to do this?” becomes…
- “How can I do this?” And you can play with putting the emphasis on “can” or “I”. They’re both pretty good…
- “Why am I doing that?” becomes…
- “How do I do that?”
This last one is pretty interesting. I definitely like to ask “why”. It’s part of being curious…
- Why are morning Glory’s that crazy, beautiful blue colour?
- Why do flowers come in so many different colours?
- Why do my dogs like eating deer poop-sicles but not fox or owl poop-sicles?
- Why do bees have only one queen per colony?
- Why do electrons seem to blink in and out of existence?
- Why is consciousness such a deep, damn mystery?
- Why does the grey hair I’m getting sometimes come in with curls when my hair’s been ramrod straight all my life?
- Why do I still find it so difficult to fully and easily extend my thoracic spine even after all these years of Feldenkrais work?
- Why am I having pain?
There’s nothing wrong with asking “why”.
But here’s the thing. It’s quite possible that I can spend a whole lot of time on the “why” questions without ever actually changing anything.
If I’m suffering from pain, asking “why” often doesn’t help because the answers can look something like:
- Because you have a herniated disc.
- Because you have spinal stenosis.
- Because you have an osteophyte (bony spur).
- Because you sprained a muscle.
- Because you got in a car accident, have whiplash and broke your leg.
Don’t get me wrong. These things can be nice to know, especially if you need your leg immobilised for the bone to knit together, for example. But often, it’s just information. And some bits of information (a whole hell of a lot of them bits) aren’t going to help you get to where you want to go.
I mean really… We are inundated with more information than we know what to do with and yet as a society we suffer more chronic illness and depression than ever before.
In all honesty, to answer Angie’s question, I have to say that shifting my thinking, and my attention to questions more like the ones above and like:
- How am I moving that makes my pain worse or keeps bringing the pain back?
- What am I paying attention to?
- How am I managing my attention?
- How can move so that I feel more comfortable?
- How can I make this easier? More efficient?
- How can I do [whatever it is I want to do] without aggravating my pain?
- How can I find another way to satisfy my need for exercise if I can’t do what I was doing before, at least for now?
Learning. Can you feel that these questions all evoke a learning process? Rather than only an information gathering process?
The Beauty and Benefit of Non-Judgement
Whenever I talk about having a non-judgemental attitude while doing Awareness Through Movement lessons, I’m not suggesting a laissez-faire, anything-goes attitude. In fact, your powers of discrimination and discernment are being encouraged to flourish, deepen and grow while doing lessons. Some things are better than other things. Some of your movement are better organised than others.
What the non-judgemental attitude is about is not comparing yourself to some notion of a right, proper, or ideal way of doing or being.
And it’s about allowing yourself to:
- make mistakes
- explore without fear of failing
- discover for yourself…
And to play!
For my part, changing the questions I ask when learning from ones like:
“What’s the right way to do that?” to “How can I do that?” immediately loosens the grip of my judgmental mind.
This opens me to learning. Deep, engaging, wonderfully fulfilling learning.
The “details” of how I’ve come to live with deeper wellness lie in the details of what it means to engage in the activity of learning.
In the next blog post, we’ll explore this concept of learning to learn; of becoming a better learner in more detail.
In the meantime, I’ll invite you to watch your thoughts. In particular, the questions that come to mind. Asking why is not bad or wrong. Good heavens, it’s in large part what makes us human, in my humblest of opinions. But notice what happens when you start playing with changing “Why” questions to “How” questions.
Explore this notion of life as a process – meaning there is not end to improvement…
I suspect you’ll find a shift in how you pay attention to yourself and the world and what you pay attention to. Find out when that shift is useful to you as you negotiate your days.
If you’re an Awareness Through MovementⓇ student, watch the way you engage in your lessons…
What type of thoughts/questions linger softly in the nether reaches of your mind?
I’m not asking you to leave that juicy state of ‘deep immersion in your experience’ while doing lessons. That’s a great way to be when doing these wonderful lessons…
But when thoughts and questions do arise, when you’re not in that deep, immersed state, just notice the “energy” behind the way you engage in lessons, especially when you come to challenging moves you find difficult.
I’d love to hear what you discover. Leave a comment below…
Sandra Stuart says
Fantastic blog, Gisele! I thought you might find this funny: the first time I read the blog, I read “The Shit that happens when you realize life is a process.” And it sure made sense to me!
Gisele St. Hilaire says