This article is dedicated to all my English colleagues who are sincerely and enthusiastically engaged in the Feldenkrais work.
There are sick people who enjoy good health and healthy people who don't. I believe it depends on one's character which of these two categories one belongs to, rather than on the presence or absence of a particular illness. I belong to the 'infirm' who are healthy.
As a child I could only walk with the greatest difficulty and effort, and couldn't even conceive of touching the floor with my heels. Many of the things other kids took for granted were impossible for me. But all this never led me to consider myself sick or disabled. Despite extreme constraints of mobility I never felt or imposed limits on the extent of physical activity available to me. While my parents, my relatives, and the doctors they consulted saw my physical condition as a 'problem', I didn't. My attitude resembled that of a young pianist who had just learned to tackle an easy piece by Bach and views a piano concerto by Schumann or Grieg - which he yearns to play - as an exciting and challenging task.
When I met Moshe Feldenkrais in 1972 I realized that here was the personality and teacher who had lived in my imagination long before I learned about his physical existence. This way of making his acquaintance, I found later, corresponded to one of the principles of his method involving the relationship between imagination or mental image and reality. Feldenkrais was of the opinion that to be successfully performed, an act - from the simplest movement to the most complex action - needs to exist first as mental concept or process. This is a guiding principle in his Awareness through Movement lessons and informs all his work. Later I understood that my attitude matched his 'philosophy of life': I felt neither sick nor disabled, but simply prevented from doing what I wanted: to study music and become a conductor.
If I describe my instinctively correct attitude to the "problem of spasticity" here, it's not to show how clever I was as a child. I am writing as one of the privileged who was given a chance - by Feldenkrais and thanks to his method - to follow his instinct and is now enjoying the results. Today I am in a position to express what every spastic child senses and hopes - something that represents the seed of any positive solution, but is in most cases tragically crushed.
My meeting with Feldenkrais had a functional purpose. I didn't want to get 'well'. I wanted to learn to develop the physical abilities necessary to conduct an orchestra.
HIS CONDITION WILL CONTINUE TO DETERIORATE
In order to illustrate how insane this wish appeared to the people in my environment at that time, I must describe an incident that happened shortly before my first encounter with Moshe.
After my arrival in Israel a distant uncle had arranged a meeting with one of the country's most famous neurosurgeons, so that I could get some advice about my situation and possible ways of improving it. The encounter went as follows:
I enter the professor's office in the company of my mother and aunt, a doctor. After having exchanged a few words with my mother, the professor asks me to walk a little to and fro. Once I have sat down again in front of his desk, he turns to my mother and aunt and says in a quiet decisive tone: "In his case there is nothing to be done any more. He is too old and I can't guarantee any improvement through an operation. it is to be expected that his condition will continue to deteriorate." The man never once turned to me. It was as if I was not present or 'worthy of professional attention'. I still remember how he stared at his desk after giving his verdict - as if he could thereby prevent me from hearing or mentally grasping his assessment.
Other professors, who had come to medical congresses in Bucharest and been consulted by my ever hopeful parents, had passed similar judgements. Thus it happened that, despite all my parent's attempts throughout my childhood to find a therapy for my 'disease' among the 'best doctors', 'professors', and 'therapists', my physical condition kept getting worse. Shortly before we emigrated to Israel, when I was 16, my body had fallen victim to a whole range of totally uncontrollable movements, which made it impossible to execute any intentional action with even a modicum of precision. Because of my extreme spasticity my knees seemed to be 'glued' together forever. Walking meant falling every twenty steps or so. Contacting the floor with the heel remained utopian as in my childhood - on all four levels mentioned by Feldenkrais: the sensory, the emotional, the mental, and that of actual movement.
Since my early childhood I had been painting, albeit with considerable difficulty, and was much acclaimed as a young artist, even receiving international awards and a grant. My work was shown in individual and collective exhibitions in Romania and abroad. But shortly after my arrival in Israel I had to give up painting because sitting and holding a brush caused a lot of pain. In order to prevent the brush stroke from veering off in an unintended direction, I had to steady my hand with my cheek.
This was the condition I was in when I met Moshe Feldenkrais in 1972. What impressed me most during my first session with him was his simple, direct, matter-of-fact way. When I caught a glimpse through the half open door of a group of 'disciples' crowding round his work table - the scene resembled Rembrandt's painting 'Nicolaas Tulp demonstrating the anatomy of the arm'- I felt great unease. Those apprentices were to witness the torments I suffered in my body. At that moment I felt like a guinea-pig, especially when I saw that one woman was getting ready to take down everything in writing. 1 had no idea what would happen next.
EVERY TOUCH WAS A SURPRISE FOR ME .. HE WAS GUIDING MY AWARENESS FROM INSIDE
Feldenkrais asked me to take off my shoes. His face was serious but in his eyes there was a hint of laughter. I felt how he observed me out of the corner of his eyes. His look was free of all expectation and didn't rest on me for long. I felt that this person next to me was thinking, pondering, preparing something. Feldenkrais rolled up two blankets and asked me to lie down on my back. On his work table my physical condition was completely exposed. I became aware for the first time of the convulsive, chaotic movements that prevented me from gaining control over myself and experiencing a state of rest. The manner in which he supported my bones with blankets and wooden semicylinders made me understand that I needn't tell him anything.
He had already come to inhabit my body with all his mind, and was guiding my awareness from inside in the most unpredictable ways. Every touch was a surprise for me. I was amazed about the extent to which this other person was capable of feeling my whole being, of empathizing with my physical situation. In a way I experienced divine love during that session. I couldn't help bursting out laughing at each touch of Feldenkrais's hand. It was as if he were playing hide-and-seek with me and kept saying: "I'll find and catch you in any corner of your being!" I wanted to shriek with laughter, but was too timid and 'civilized' and had to resign myself to suppressed, convulsive, and idiotic giggling instead.
At the end of the lesson, Feldenkrais told my mother that he had mainly explored this session and the treatment proper would begin next time. To my surprise my mother, who obviously had no idea about what had happened during the session, asked: "Can he be helped in some way?" At that Feldenkrais seemed to fly into a rage that was very pleasant for me because it expressed exactly what I felt. He turned his back on my mother and gestured to where I was sitting, putting on my shoes: "Why are you asking me? Ask him if he can be helpedl' At that moment, at the end of my first session with Feldenkrais, I felt like a person who after many years of wandering through a holocaust has finally the chance of experiencing freedom and peace in times of justice. Mine was a personal holocaust in which I had to assert and fight for my integrity as a being. it was a Holocaust created solely by physical disabilities obstructing free development of the personality.
My mother told Feldenkrais of my great wish to be a musician, a conductor. The tone of her voice though seemed to imply the question: "Isn't he a little insane?" Feldenkrais looked at me and replied: "As long as nothing is cut in his body, he can learn anything." I SEE AND I FORGET; I HEAR AND I REMEMBER; BUT WHEN I DO I UNDERSTAND
When I heard what my mother had to pay for the session, I got one of the greatest shocks of my life and experienced a rather rude awakening from the feeling of being in paradise... As a recent immigrant my father had a monthly salary that amounted to the equivalent of five or six sessions with Feldenkrais. Despite that I had weekly individual lessons with Moshe for several months, and also began attending his Awareness through Movement classes which were much cheaper. That involved, travelling two hours by bus through Tel Aviv and included changing mid-way. Because the journey was so time-consuming I went to all three of Feldenkrais's classes. He encouraged me always by telling me "You don't need to do what the others are doing, just do what is most pleasant for you'. I followed that rule for ten years. Whenever he gave a lesson I couldn`t do, I liked to observe some people in the group, and it was as if I was looking at a highly artistic ballet. As these people, some of them in their eighties, got up and began to walk and feel the effect of the lesson, it seemed to me that they were like feathers moving in the air or dancers skating on ice. These experiences - in some cases of perfect or ideal movement - impregnated my mind with impressions that helped improve my own self-image.
During the first years my parents looked on my "crazy passion" with great distrust and felt I ought to occupy myself with more 'productive' things. Nevertheless they quietly kept financing it and allowed me to take extra sessions with Yochanan and Gaby. Thus Feldenkrais learning practically became my daily bread until I went to live in Germany in 1982. What I gained during that long apprenticeship to the Method is best summed up in a Chinese saying Feldenkrais used to quote quite frequently: "I see and I forget; I hear and I remember; but when I do I understand."
In those first ten years of involvement with the Feldenkrais Method, which I remember as the most beautiful, exciting, and creative of my life, I couldn't explain to myself why this method had such a tremendously positive effect. But over the years, and with the experience of hundreds of actual and videoed lessons in which Feldenkrais always explains a little of the underlying theories, I began to understand more and more of the truth, the universal truth that motivated Moshe's enormous creativity. His books, his practical teaching, and his theoretical talks provided a kind of explosive material that eventually led to an eruption of ideas in my own head, and those ideas revealed to me the essence and meaning of the method. This can best be rendered by the term INTENTIONAL MOVEMENT.
I am convinced that Feldenkrais had a universal truth in mind and wasn't only putting forward 'his' particular method. His method - more than others - is characterised by the fact that it takes into account the multiplicity of factors determining our existence. As I understand him today, Feldenkrais saw a person's condition as the result of her or his behaviour, and this behaviour could often be directed against the self. The vast system Feldenkrais developed over the course of more than forty years, which is now called the Feldenkrais Method, is much more a matter of pure education than of "healing" or 'therapy' or whatever else you might want to call it.
THIS SAME IGNORANCE OR LACK OF EDUCATION IS ALSO RESPONSIBLE FOR MUCH OF OUR SUFFERING
As I began gradually to deepen my underatandng of this method, I became more and more aware of the desperate need for real education everybody seems to struggle with, the kind of education that enables a person to distinguish between "good" and 'evil", "right' and "wrong", and between appropriate and inappropriate behaviour. The fact that most people suffer from back-pain is only one symptom of how "uneducated" we are - Feldenkrais called it "ignorant", uneducated not in connection with knowledge of physical education but in terms of our understanding of the phenomenon of Life in general. This same ignorance or lack of education is also responsible for much of our suffering and so-called illness. For me any disease viewed from the vantage point of the Feldenkrais Method is a symptom of wrong development of the personality. This faulty process could be corrected more or less through adequate 'education" or "reeducation', depending on the person's degree of retardedness and readiness to learn.
Orthopaedic surgery for spastic children and other such 'cures' can also only be explained in terms of this dismal ignorance of the phenomenon of Life. The connection between the functioning of our muscles and our brain was established thousands of years ago. I cannot understand why children still undergo operations for lengthening their muscles, especially since in all cases known to me such interventions have led to a worsening of their condition. The surgeons who dare to use a knife and destroy the organic integrity of a spastic child haven't yet grasped - or don `t wish to understand - that muscle contractions are determined by the behaviour of the nervous system and "behavioural commands' of the brain, and cannot be influenced by the artificial lengthening of the ligaments. When you touch the legs or heels of a child who has undergone such an intervention, you can feel the functional disconnection in the operated joints. In many cases the feet are swollen and dangle helplessly, the legs are dragged behind, or, in the most positive instances, are stiff and straight like sticks.
A HEALTHY PERSON IS ONE WHO REALIZES ALL HIS MOST HIDDEN DREAMS
As mentioned above, the universal truth Feldenkrais also incorporated in his system is the inherent inclination of all living beings to act according to some distinctive intention whose concrete realization leads to some kind of satisfaction. This principle applies to the amoeba looking for food just as much as to the great human beings whose convictions and ideals determine their actions. We are told that these "great personalities" sacrificed their lives on the altar of their mission - be it art, science, religion, social justice, or whatever else - when in actual fact they could only live in accordance with their inner "drives". Feldenkrais says in one of his books: "A healthy person is one who realizes all his most hidden dreams." This is one of the statements that enlightened me most about the meaning of the method and about the TRUE WAY one must follow in applying it. As far as I am concerned this is the only 'must' I would utter when speaking about the Feldenkrais Method.
At this point I would like to quote my "master" once more and at the same time give his much beloved statement a more precise meaning: 'Life is movement and without movement life is inconceivable.' When Feldenkrais asserts: "Life is movement", he doesn't refer to mechanical motion but to constant change, i.e. to the continuous REARRANGEMENT and adaptation to a heterogeneous environment implied in the process of being alive. I would complement this sentence by the following: 'Life is intention, and without intention life is inconceivable'
I WITNESS THIS FEELING OF LIBERATION FINDING EXPRESSION IN OUTBURSTS OF DELIGHTFUL LAUGHTER AND JOY
I don't manipulate human beings. I don't try 'to relax' them, or teach them 'to be quiet', 'to be obedient', 'to be passive', I PROVOKE them to REACT to some specific 'irritation' or stimulus which I produce mostly through the touch of my hands. Thereby I am able to detect some misfunction in their reactions, and then I begin to 'reeducate" the person concerned, using auxiliary stimuli to adapt her or his reaction in a more effective way to the irritation I am causing.
ACTIVE THINKING on the part of the person being taught plays a CRUCIAL role in this learning process. (The flickering of the eyelids is just one sign that the student is not passive during the lesson.) The session develops as a kind of conversation, a kind of argumentation in which I am trying to convince the other person that s/he has a right to freer and more spontaneous expression and reaction to my stimuli. Such spontaneity is experienced as ease, lightness in action, which is no longer impeded by physical or mental resistance. In my sessions I witness this feeling of liberation finding expression in outbursts of delightful laughter and joy, especially in the case of small children during the first three years of life, no matter how invalid they are. Thanks to its nature and being so young and so 'new', a small child Is much more open, willing, and able to learn, that older ones. Small children are immediately ready to distinguish between something pleasant and interesting and something compulsive and humiliating to their personal integrity. They will cry without thinking twice.
Healthiness also implies the ability to recover from a big trauma, i.e. to learn and adapt to new situations - since a change in situation can be very traumatic. Many people who find themselves in circumstances that are strange or unpleasant to them can't cope and decide "there is nothing to be done" to improve their lot. The helplessness of a doctor in the case of a spastic patient, for instance, is a sign that he or she is potentially as ill, as spastic, as the patient. The doctor has as little idea as the patient about how to change and improve that particular situation. If the spastic person had learned what is superfluous in her (or his) movements, she would move with more ease and grace; and if the doctor knew what to do he could help effectively instead of recommending that some tendons should be cut.
To illustrate what I am trying to say: Just think of a non-swimmer falling into a swimming-pool; His movements would be at least as uncoordinated, tense, and inappropriate in terms of his intention to get to dry land as those of a spastically handicapped person. But nobody would recommend a surgical operation to get that nonswimmer to perform appropriate swimming motions. As a swimmer one would simply teach that person how to adapt to the new medium, i.e. how to move in it instead of drowning.
IF YOU CANNOT HELP YOURSELF, YOU WONT BE ABLE TO HELP OTHERS EITHER
It gradually dawned on me why Feldenkrais used to tell people who were relatively flexible in ATM classes but didn't apply their attention in doing the movements: "You can be flexible, you can be clever, but in this way you'll never be able to improve yourself, i.e. learn."
If Feldenkrais, on the other hand, said about me or another spastic "He is able to learn everything" that meant that he could cope with the given condition, and if he had been stuck with it himself he could also have helped himself.
I am now convinced that responsibility is the crucial element, and this responsibility expresses itself in the degree one is capable of being attentive to oneself first and foremost. One cannot be more responsible for others than for oneself. So if you cannot help yourself, you won't be able to help others either. An ape cannot be responsible for driving a car, and I would never entrust myself to such a driver! An ape cannot teach driving because it can't be aware of the actions involved. A person who has the temerity to sentence another human being by saying "there is no chance of improvement any more" is at least as handicapped as the person he condemns to "no change".
When Feldenkrais asserts that a habit is only useful as a means of learning other new habits that serve one's particular purposes better, and can then be forgotten, he means that it doesn't matter what your condition is - whether you walk on a tightrope or are dependent on a wheelchair. What counts is whether your quality of being allows you to learn new things or not. If it does, you are saved.
Only now with all the experience I have acquired in the years since his death, do I understand why the thing Moshe Feldenkrais stood for is not a method but a universal truth. A great man, a yogi, who gave some seminars at the University of Tel-Aviv in the mid-seventies, proclaimed that one can learn from books, but that is limited; one can learn from a guru or teacher, but that is also limited; and one can learn by oneself, and that is without limits.
Feldenkrais never said I would not be able to practise his method "because of my uncontrollable movements" as some of his assistants initially did. Those who passed such a derogatory judgement on my future ability to give Functional Integration leosons didn't dare to "think Feldenkrais" through to the end. I myself felt "potent" and able to offer the marvellous experience attainable in a FI session; and for me it became a necessity to "convince" others of the possibility of a more pleasant existence.
My physical condition is of no importance in working with others since the quality of Feldenkrais work is ultimately determined by the purity of unconditioned intention, i.e. by the power of pure imagination.
(Translated and edited by Ilana Nevill)
Ask HIM if he can be helped! by Paul Doron-Doroftei