I’m at the annual conference of the Feldenkrais Guild of North America, being held on the campus of Hampshire College, in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Tonight, at the end of yet another day filled with classes and meetings, catching up with old friends and making new acquaintances, I’ve come to the student lounge to take advantage of the wireless service. It’s in a building of its own. To get there from my residence I had to cross a quad.
Outside I saw a dozen or so standing figures, their faces illuminated by ipads, cel phones and other devices, checking email with the shreds of coverage which can be caught outside the lounge. No one came in though. No one except me. Straight into the heart of the wireless. Where late at night I maintain tabs on my life in Toronto and phone my husband, whom I miss.
That’s not healthy, is it? The keeping tabs part I mean?
Or is it?
My first couple of days here saw me more agitated than I’ve been in a long while. Miserably so, head- explodingly so. Long story, but I didn’t finish everything I had hoped to do last week, and I’m not the type of person to let a conference interfere with a to-do list. In fact, I’m the type who creates a whole parallel to-do list for while the conference is going on.
This is pretty much normal when I’m intensely involved in somatic work.
My four year training was a feat of scheduling. During breaks I rushed in and out of the huge room where we all lay on mats, sensing the workings of our skeletons and muscles … and indeed of our thoughts and emotions … to answer sometimes 21 messages on my answering machine. I sat up all night taking care of details for the health care research projects I was doing for a living, and got up early in the morning to try to write my papers for the degree I was taking at the same time.
Granted, there were unavoidable obligations at that time (another long story). Still, I had choices, and it’s fair to say I kept myself pretty damned busy at the very time when I was supposed to be slowing down and reducing stimulation. And here, where we have an ideal opportunity to absent ourselves from day-to-day concerns, I’m doing the exact opposite.
Is this just ingrained habit asserting itself in a situation where it is being challenged? Or is it a healthy impulse to surface from this world of sensation, to orient or ground myself?
My mind goes back to one of the philosophy courses I took at OISE at the same time as I did my Feldenkrais certification. We talked about indoctrination versus education. Pages could be spent on how to define these terms, but let’s just reduce the argument to: Education — Good … Indoctrination — Not so much.
Our professor, Chris Olsen drew three intersecting circles on the blackboard and wrote a word in each. Motivation, method and subject matter were the three terms. Where there’s a motive to indoctrinate, a teaching method that is less than rational, and a subject which might have to do with the values, emotions, or spirituality, you’re into the territory of indoctrination.
In Feldenkrais lessons, we lie on the floor with our eyes closed, following instructions from a teacher who can observe our every move. In an attempt to break habits and offer new possibilities the lessons take us back to preverbal development. There is sometimes discussion afterwards – if you can find the words — but debate is impossible while the lessons are going on. This is what I’d call non-rational teaching.
The material is scientific. We learn how our bodies move, how we’re built, but it also includes a whole value system, a world view, posited by a man who (as I just learned) had the childhood ambition of becoming king. It’s a world view I happen to agree with, which has helped me become happier and more successful, but it’s not neutral.
That leaves the motive. I chose Feldenkrais because I wanted to be more aware of my body, and of all the methods I’ve encountered including yoga, meditation and a few others, this imparts more – as Feldenkrais himself put it – potency to the individual. I love the rationalism of it, the scientific quality of the lessons where variables are added and subtgracted, with the ever-present goal of generating more choices.
This method seemed to give me the greatest chance of being fully in language – which to me includes logic — as well as inhabiting my body and my life. I have to think that anyone teaching me thinks the same way. But I don’t know. Motives vary from individual to individual, from day to day. I choose my teachers carefully. As a teacher, I am careful. For this and any sort of learning to do with the body — the self — it’s important to set up checks and balances.
Most of the time, an hour-long Feldenkrais session is an oasis in a day spent running around and getting things done. We hope that some elements of softness, of play and exploration manage to creep into everyday existence. But here at the conference, as in trainings, we are like toddlers, spending more time rolling around on the ground than we do upright.
Under these circumstances, my bullshit metre runs on overdrive. If I take something away with me, make it part of my life and my own practice, it’s because I’ve subjected it to rigorous examination moral, intellectual and emotional, played devil’s advocate in discussions with friends.
Maybe this To-Doing and froing is not monkey mind (as the meditators call it) but a healthy impulse to surface from the credulous, sensory world and stay in charge.
If my To-Do list is a way of keeping that questioning part of me available, well then I’m all for it. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll find a more efficient way to do the same thing, and one that allows me more sleep!