Intelligent body Flexible mind Appropriate action
La Ruzole du Haut--09400 Saurat--France
What is “The Elusive Obvious” by Ilana Nevill
Part II “Laying Down a Path in Walking” (Francisco Varela)
This text is dedicated to my first Feldenkrais teacher Myriam Pfeffer (1928-2014). Myriam will live on in my heart as an inspiring teacher who preserved a childlike curiosity about life and what it means to be fully human. She never lost patience in pointing to ‘the door’ saying “But you have to go through it.” In the 1990s I enjoyed the privilege of assisting at some of her Paris Trainings at ACCORD MOBILE. There I could continue an animated dialogue with her – sometimes only in my head, at other times face to face - that had begun during the first Training in England (London, 1986-1990). Two of our conversations were recorded (see Archive, Interviews with Trainers, www.feldenkraisnow.org). Myriam encouraged me to read Moshe Feldenkrais’s books and follow his precept: “Systematic study and awareness should provide man with a means of scanning all fields of action so he can find a place for himself where he can act and breathe freely.” 1
I had intended to devote this text to the practical implications of understanding a little more about what Moshe Feldenkrais meant by the “Elusive Obvious” and of seeing the Feldenkrais Method in terms of somatic cybernetics. However when struggling with this task I found myself compelled to first pursue a preliminary question. This concerns the present social context where our work may now have a chance of being recognized as what its originator intended. In a third part of this laborious “work in progress” I will finally focus on the elusive obvious as “the difference that makes the difference” (Gregory Bateson, see Part I, p.3ff) and discuss what that means in concretely practical terms when creating an appropriate learning environment and establishing a suitable relationship between ourselves and our students/clients – as well as with each other as colleagues in mutual learning.
In search of a Language Based On Understanding - Incentives and obstacles on the way of learning to dialogue with professionals in related approaches to organic-somatic learning and healthcare.
Most of us would like to be able to talk clearly and coherently about our aims: how we are doing what we are doing, and how we come to ‘achieve’ results that often surprise ourselves as much as our students and clients. Finding intelligent ways of speaking with interested contemporaries is all the more important as a growing number of people in public health care are beginning to show interest in what our method has to offer. Some are already referring patients to Feldenkrais practitioners. To mention just two doctors, Andrew Weil in the United States, and former surgeon, now much sought after psychotherapist, lecturer, and author Thierry Janssen in Europe, belong to the pioneering vanguard of health-professionals who take note of patients’ increasing disaffection with “technological medicine” or “medical science” as conventional medical theory and practice based on the biochemical model is also called. Both doctors are acutely aware that more and more people are beginning to realize that much conventional medicine, with all those popular drugs beginning with the prefix “anti”: antibiotics, antihistamines, antidepressants, anti-inflammatory, antispasmodics, and so on, is ultimately only dealing with symptoms and not with what causes them. Weil, author of the acclaimed bestseller SPONTANEOUS HEALING2 , and Janssen whose most influential book is called LA SOLUTION INTERIEURE3 (English : THE SOLUTION LIES WITHIN), wish to promote greater responsibility based on awareness of the issues involved in preventing and dealing intelligently with ill-health. That is why they recommend the Feldenkrais Method as a promising way of getting in touch with untapped inner resources and dormant capacities for regaining a saner, more balanced way of life.4
In my personal search for “explanations” of why the method Moshe Feldenkrais refined throughout his life “works”, I was much relieved to read about the initial frustrating difficulties he had in formulating a satisfactory answer to occasional questions. People would ask him for instance how he had taught his body the miraculous powers of spontaneous self-correction, self-organization, and the incredible effortlessness he displayed as a much admired judo master. There is a passage in the ‘Elusive Obvious’ about a fellow physicist pestering him with the wish to be taught the extraordinary form of research
Feldenkrais had developed by using his own body as a kind of laboratory. Communicating what had become second nature proved to be impossible: “Imitating me did not satisfy him as he did not know how and where to look, and he was also unable to discern what was essential and what was a mere detail…I was irritated by my inability to explain in a few words exactly what I was doing…I disliked his inquisitiveness, and my own feeling of impotence made him a nuisance.”5 Such honest descriptions of the obstacles Feldenkrais encountered in war-time England, where his career as a “great teacher” started, can encourage us to be patient while trying to find possibilities of becoming proficient in our thinking and speaking about the implicit knowledge and understanding we may already be demonstrating with considerable skill and competence. Explicit understanding seems to grow slowly but steadily as we learn to face up - with open mind, genuine curiosity, and an attitude allowing playful exploration - to constantly new challenges, as pupils and clients come with particular “problems” and all sorts of hopes for improving their performance skills in fields that may be completely unknown to us.
CHANGING OUR ATTITUDE TO CHANGE
The appearance of his first book BODY AND MATURE BEHAVIOUR6 in 1949 won Feldenkrais some recognition and support in the scientific community to which it was addressed. However, for nearly forty years he refused to release another manuscript written for the general reader before, during, and after publication of that more scientifically oriented work. Shortly before his death in 1984 he finally gave his consent. THE POTENT SELF – A GUIDE TO SPONTANEITY7 thus came out posthumously in 1985. This book confronts readers with analysis of emotional mechanisms that tend to lead to widespread, often life-long persistence of childish attitudes resulting in much immature behaviour and consequent suffering. The book also provides insight into how the Feldenkrais Method can assist people to overcome inhibitions, habitual bodily tensions, and behavioural compulsions causing such suffering: by learning to pay attention to oneself moving in a Feldenkrais class and daily life; to whether one’s actions match intentions (or what one thinks one is doing); to whether there are alternative options that might prove more efficient and satisfying. In a Feldenkrais lesson people are invited to be present to themselves as they explore awareness in action through “small, soft, slow” more or less familiar movement-patterns: To “listen”, as Feldenkrais used to say, to the amount of useless, ultimately harmful strain in their eyes, mouth, legs, and stomach, and especially to how and when “the habitual pattern shoves aside the intended movement- pattern” 8. Thus people have a chance to notice, learn to neutralize, and eventually leave behind rigid attitudes and behaviour patterns that block spontaneity (and capacity to respond creatively to life’s challenges). The aim: Giving people opportunities for learning to trust their own experience. Also to discover new and often more promising possibilities for cultivating mental and physical alertness. Especially a capacity for staying “in neutral” when negative emotions and conflicting motivations tend to overwhelm us. Moshe Feldenkrais developed his method as a contribution towards mental and emotional growth providing us with ways and means of learning to “take charge again of our personal evolution, moving in the direction already marked out for us by the whole process of Evolution.”9
DO WE REALLY WANT TO BEHAVE LIKE RATS ?
The POTENT SELF’s central thesis is simple: The dependency relationship with early authority figures (who usually succeed in imposing on their charges a particular set of social values and often inhibiting ideas about right and wrong) moulds our entire being from the very start. The validity of this thesis is convincingly illustrated in Alain Resnais’ film “Mon Oncle d’Amérique” (Grand Prix de Cannes in 1980 - The title hints at the widespread illusory hope that all problems encountered in life will suddenly vanish thanks to some miraculous intervention by a long-lost “uncle in America”). This film would have delighted Feldenkrais with its compelling story of three childhoods in very different social milieus, leading to divergent destinies dominated by conflicting ambitions, compulsions, and crippling anxieties. The excellent running commentary by renowned French biologist Professor Henri Laborit accompanying these stories presents indisputable scientific backing for Feldenkrais.
Laborit’s research is illustrated by sequences filmed during laboratory experiments with rats exposed to random electric shocks, preceded by the sound of a buzzer. These show that when accumulated stress can no longer be alleviated through the familiar “fight or flight” response, the animal will quickly succumb to resignation, acute susceptibility to disease, and ultimately death. The most startling insight accompanies Laborit’s finding that this decline does not happen if a second animal is put into the cage to be exposed to exactly the same random warning signals followed by inescapable electric shocks. When there is no way to escape to an adjacent chamber, the rats begin to attack each other viciously. As a result of thus finding an outlet for the accumulating stress symptoms in mutual aggression, they thrive and remain in good health. The sight of two rats standing on their hind legs in the confined space of their randomly electrified metal cage, ready to fight one another, is more than frightening in view of the ultimately suicidal waves of destruction that continue to sweep across our planet. Laborit’s behaviourist research, like the film itself, demonstrates the extent to which our organism obeys the same biological laws and reacts to inescapable stress with reflexes similar to laboratory rats. There are two ways of responding to the film’s message: Either we despair about our apparently inescapable predicament and ultimate fate resulting from having no choice but to destroy ourselves and all life on earth; or we accept the elusively obvious fact that, as human beings, we have the possibility of claiming our much vaunted freedom of will as a birthright, as Feldenkrais says; in other words choose to stop behaving as if we were laboratory rats.
Like many of his contemporaries, and increasingly more people today, Feldenkrais saw very clearly that such freedom will require a sufficiently large “critical mass” of intelligent people to prize open the door leading out of the laboratory which humanity has constructed for itself in the course of centuries of lineal cause-and-effect thinking and one-sided industrial and technological “progress”. But he never got tired of emphasising that we humans are endowed with a brain and nervous system whose vast potentialities have hardly begun to be realized. In the concluding brief chapter of THE POTENT SELF entitled “Is there a way out?” - out of our largely self-, socially-, and politically created predicaments - Feldenkrais hints at the main task lying ahead: It is now up to each one of us whether we find a way out of our own particular cage. That is basically a matter of personal motivation and of being prepared to change cherished beliefs and become altogether different people. One of the main obstacles is only too obvious: People would really like to change but at the same time to remain what they are. However, once it is understood that the most decisive changes will have to happen in our own brains and nervous systems, many apparently immutable conditions and intractable global problems will be solved without great difficulty.
MIND-BODY UNITY - PLASTICITY OF THE BRAIN
The stress response: Healthy Functioning versus “Vicious Circles of Causality”10
Western medicine has long been aware that in short-term challenging conditions the so-called stress response plays a healthy, highly dynamic, functional role. It allows us to remain adaptable and manoeuvre efficiently through all the unexpected circumstances in our fast changing world. Studies are now being made of the devastating effects of unrelenting stress increasingly experienced in a world where phrases like “ethnic cleansing”, “preemptive strike”, “collateral damage”, and “war of cultures” hardly raise an eyebrow while TV feeds people regularly with pictures of unbearable atrocities.
Doctors like Andrew Weil and Thierry Janssen attribute the persisting discrepancy between growing public interest in mind-body interactions on the one hand and a striking lack of professional response on the other (with the majority of researchers and doctors still looking for purely physical causes of health and illness) to a fundamental lack of understanding in our culture. The ‘mysterious’ phenomena of mind and consciousness continue to be left out of consideration. The Japanese, on the other hand, recognize more than twenty ailments as being stress-related. These include a condition called “autonomic nervous system imbalance”, involving over-activity of the sympathetic nervous system with internal tension and reduced circulation manifesting in digestive disorders, and inadequate blood circulation (demonstrated in chronically cold hands).
Recently published research10 findings add to what had already been discovered about the impact of chronic stress (permanently raised blood pressure, stiffening of arteries, suppression of the immune system, increased risk of depression, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and other diseases). Once again experiments involving rats have produced new insights into how and why the stress response runs haywire and can take on a self-replicating life of its own. This was found to be due to a rewiring of the brain, promoting harmful persistence of the stress response. When these unfortunate animals can no longer escape being continuously battered by electric shocks, they lose their resilience and fall back on familiar routines, such as compulsively pressing a bar for food pellets they have no intention of eating. These behavioural perturbations cause widespread changes in the animals’ brains. Parts of the neural circuitry, situated in the prefrontal cortex and associated with goal-directed behaviours, shrivels, while, conversely, brain sectors linked to habit formation begin to flourish. Such dysfunctional behaviours quickly become habitual. There is no shifting back to goal-directedness when conditions have returned to normal. A neurobiologist at Stanford University comments:
This is a great model for understanding why we end up in a rut, and then dig ourselves deeper and deeper into that rut… We are lousy at recognizing when our normal coping mechanisms aren’t working. Our response is usually to do it five times more, instead of thinking: maybe it’s time to try something new.
In the case of laboratory animals, four weeks in a supportive environment are enough to allow them to give up all uncontrollable repetition of dysfunctional action. With their former curiosity restored, they regain capacity to discriminate between functional and dysfunctional responses to new situations. This normalization is reflected in considerable changes of brain structure. Atrophied synaptic connections in the decisive regions of the prefrontal cortex sprout anew, while excessive enlargement of the habit-prone sensory-motor parts of the brain shrinks and finally disappears.
The human brain is endowed with the same extraordinary resilience and plasticity. Its dendrites and synapses have the same phenomenal capacity to retract and reform in a kind of reversible remodelling throughout life. Nevertheless, humans find it much more difficult to return to normal functioning when circumstances become less stressful. This may be due to our brain’s tendency to switch into automatic behaviour under stress, leading to interference with spontaneous, intuitively intelligent adaptation to unexpected situations. This happens for instance when we keep imagining threats and dangers where there are none, think too much, often quite repetitively, about possible solutions to ultimately non-existent problems, and so on. This kind of mental hyper-activation can seriously unbalance the delicately calibrated neurological feedback-loop system on which our mental and emotional equilibrium and health depend. A person in the grip of such dysfunctional thinking processes may thus turn into a kind of automaton driven by habit and compulsion, thereby “losing touch with reality” – with occasionally disastrous consequences.
That raises two questions: a) Will stress-and-anxiety-ridden existence in our hectic world ever allow us to find serenity and freedom from fear, if we do not actively seek peace and quiet in nature, some kind of retreat, meditation, or, indeed, through the Feldenkrais way of learning to cope with a nowadays hardly avoidable sense of insecurity, thereby experiencing a kind of dynamic equilibrium which vivifies the mind and every fiber of the body ?
b) What do we actually mean when we talk about “reality”? Moshe Feldenkrais distinguished three realities, each of them relative to context, time, and the person involved. 11
Since Feldenkrais’s death “inter-subjective” reality is increasingly being rediscovered as a realm of decisive importance in daily life in general, and in human development and well-being in particular. This dimension of “inter-subjectivity” has been studied most extensively in research devoted to the crucial importance of early mother-infant interaction.12 As Feldenkrais teachers we experience this dimension constantly through the challenges, promises, and surprises we meet in our work. At least potentially these may make us change and “grow”- sometimes even more than our students. Undoubtedly every Functional Integration session we “give” and every Awareness Through Movement lesson we “teach” is a more or less profoundly inter-subjective experience for those involved during this (often largely non-verbal) “dialogue” or “dance” where it is difficult to say who is leading and who is following. These two metaphors were used frequently by Feldenkrais because they capture, more than anything else, the essence of our encounters and ‘work’ with others.
THE EMERGENCE OF INNATE CREATIVITY AND A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES : AWARENESS
In a talk about awareness given to dance students at the New York University School of Arts in November 1971, Feldenkrais chose an example from the inter-subjective domain to illustrate what is involved in the process of being truly present and aware. Relatively recently a film record of this lecture was discovered in an archive. This may well contain Moshe’s most accessible explanation of awareness, one of the key concepts in his method.
To sum up very briefly:
Acting with awareness involves establishing both “outside contact” (perception of what happens outside ourselves) and “inside contact” (observing our feeling, sensing, thinking ) without being hampered by emotional or cross-motivational interference. Feldenkrais’s everyday example of practicing such dual-directed attention was chosen from the realm of inter-subjectivity: “You actually do that all the time in conversation with another person (provided it isn’t a quarrel): looking for words, intonations, facial expressions, gestures to make yourself understood and constantly checking the effect on the other.” Here too Feldenkrais’s favourite metaphors, “dialogue” and “dance”, probably say more about the complex process involved than any analytical description. The two perceptional functions involved in genuine dialogue and dance are practiced in all Feldenkrais work. As they begin to be mastered in ongoing self-directed or mutual learning (free from ambitious striving and the undermining impact of a judgmental attitude) the field of people’s conscious experience will gradually expand well beyond what they might have previously felt possible. He told students in New York: “By and by I found that through the body it’s easiest to learn and thereby discover a world of possibilities you would never have thought of. Everybody has that creative ability.” But in most people this capacity will continue to lie dormant all their lives, “covered up by all sorts of rubbish… the conditioning produced by education, religions, wars…”
AN EMERGENT UNIFYING VISION OF LIFE
“The kind of work you are doing is already moving in that direction” (Francisco Varela at the First European Feldenkrais Conference)
Like most of his closest scientist friends, Moshe Feldenkrais’s thinking and practice were ahead of contemporary conventional science. He laboured under the lack of scientific concepts that would have allowed him to leave us a neat little theory for understanding the “simple” complexities to which he wished to open our eyes. With the appearance of THE SYSTEMS VIEW OF LIFE – A UNIFYING VISION13 just a few weeks before the 30th anniversary of Moshe Feldenkrais’s death (July 1st, 1984), we have been given an excellent opportunity for deciding for ourselves why and how the method we practice ‘works’.
The book is dedicated to the memory of the renowned Chilean biologist and cognitive scientist Francisco Varela (1946-2001) who for many years had served as an inspiration for its authors, physicist and systems theorist Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi, Professor of Biochemistry in Rome. Colleagues who attended the 1st EUROPEAN FELDENKRAIS CONFERENCE (June 1 – 5, 1995 in Heidelberg) will remember Francisco Varela’s special guest lecture on “Large Scale Integration in the Nervous System and Embodied Experience”.14 In this Varela described profound changes in thinking and empirical practice, theory and methodology, in his own field, cognitive science. These changes got under way when he and some colleagues started focusing on lived (i.e. subjective) experience. His Heidelberg lecture ended with encouragement for our community : “The kind of work you are doing is already moving in that direction…”.
The new book by Capra and Luigi is conceived as a reader for students in a diversity of academic domains, but also addresses itself to professionals in fields ranging from education and health to politics. It offers lucid presentation of a vast complexity of insights and phenomenal scientific advances during the past thirty years. As is made clear, new developments in thinking and empirical research are mainly due to the advent of new computer technologies and previously unthinkable forms of complex mathematics. Though difficult to grasp for most contemporaries, the results and their implications are gradually permeating the contemporary world.
The mechanistic worldview based on lineal cause-and-effect thinking that dominated quantitative Western science for over three hundred years is increasingly seen to be inadequate, and the admixture of religiously tinged moralistic values manifesting in dualistic thinking (body-soul, right-wrong, good-bad etc.) is viewed as more than dangerous. Inadequate and dangerous especially with regard to searching for ways and means of averting, or at least containing, the inevitable consequences of galloping global crises now threatening our planet. This requires “alternative ways of thinking about what we know” (Moshe Feldenkrais quoted at the beginning of part I of this article) and “qualitative” research as a corrective to merely quantitative procedures. It will also involve a crucial transformation in understanding the role of the observer. What Einstein and modern physicists discovered a century ago is finally beginning to be understood in life– and social sciences. Our subjectivity as observers has to be taken into account since we can’t help influencing what we discover about the objects we scrutinize. In other words, what we find is not reliable truth. The words we use to describe “objects” under investigation are mere descriptions: A word is not what it denotes. Though we can look at it and touch a ‘thing’, its functioning and purpose may, by and large, remain a mystery to us. Ultimately the nature and existence of anything we turn our mind to can only be studied and described in terms of relationships, patterns, and contexts. These make phenomena what they are, and also trigger continuous transformations and changes in them.
The emergence of “systemic thinking”, as the authors call it, involves a huge pendulum swing: from viewing the cosmos as a machine, whose laws of functioning can be charted and exploited for our own occasionally dubious, or even downright irresponsible, purposes, back to former ways of treating the universe as an awe-inspiring living whole. This is what all ancient wisdom traditions used to teach; and at their very beginning Western philosophy and science absorbed the knowledge Asia, Egypt, and Greece had to offer. Their holistic approach to studying the world we live in never got completely lost. At the present moment in human history this approach can be pursued anew thanks to modern technological means, leading to the rediscovery of what wise men have known intuitively since the dawn of civilization:
• Reality is not “out there” to be faithfully represented “inside” in thought, or in spoken or written language when we communicate with one another
• The material world does not consist of ‘things’ and ‘forces’ acting on them. Ultimately it has to be viewed as a complex network of inseparable patterns of ever shifting relationships
• The planet is a living, inseparable whole (Gaia Theory)
• Mind and Matter are ONE – or Mind and body are two sides of the same coin
• Evolution is a kind of co-operative “dance” in which living systems continuously interact in ways so far scarcely understood. This applies to all living systems - from simple cells and primitive bacteria to the most highly developed organisms, including social and ecological systems
When Feldenkrais talked about the dance- and dialogue-like quality of our work, he also frequently used the terms “pattern”, “relationship”, and “communication”. What I gleaned from the systemic vision book helps me grasp more fully what Feldenkrais knew implicitly from early on, but never entirely succeeded in passing on to his students to his own satisfaction. He was only too aware that spoken and written communication, which has to proceed word by word in lineal fashion, cannot help but break up Reality into units which we then treat as real. (And yet it was reading the German translation of AWARENESS THOUGH MOVEMENT that opened my eyes to the educational gems hidden in his method - previously unknown to me.) At present I keep coming across passages that could have been quoted by Capra and Luigi, for instance :
Learning to think in patterns of relationships, in sensations divorced from the fixity of words, allows us to find hidden resources and the ability to make new patterns, to carry over patterns of relationships from one discipline to another. In short, we think personally, originally, and thus take another route to the thing we already know. 15
Here I would like to briefly mention what I found particularly important in the Systems book with regard to understanding more profoundly the playful, dance-like learning we foster in the Feldenkrais Method.
MIND IS THE ESSENCE OF BEING ALIVE (Gregory Bateson)
Gregory Bateson, the most far-ranging polymath among Moshe’s circle of scientist-acquaintances (who insisted that the major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think)16, had encountered the same difficulties when trying to formulate clearly what he wished to communicate in words. Bateson managed to point out what was wrong with conventional dualistic thinking; he also indicated what a better scientific approach might entail. However, he never came up with a technology for studying the intimate relationship between the organic structure of a living system (including the brain) and such functions as learning, memory, and decision-making. According to him, those three functions are crucial in mental process. In his dedicated search for “the pattern that connects”, i.e. common principles of organization in all phenomena associated with life, he came to the conclusion that the nature of mind can only be understood as a cybernetic or systems process. Bateson’s work as a whole is considered to be the first successful attempt in science to overcome the division between mind and body that has bedevilled Western philosophy and science since Descartes.
COGNITION, THE MENTAL PROCESS OF KNOWING, IS THE PROCESS OF LIFE (Francisco Varela/Humberto Maturana)
The Chilean biologist Humberto Maturana and his student Francisco Varela came to the same conclusion as Gregory Bateson after long struggling with two questions. Apparently leading in opposite directions they were in fact both probing into the relationship between structure and function: What is the organization of the living being? and What takes place in the phenomenon of perception?
In the 1970s Maturana and Varela finally formulated what became known as The Santiago Theory of Cognition. According to this theory, mental process, or “cognition”, is the organizing activity of living systems at all levels of life. This allows such systems to generate, maintain, and perpetuate their existence. Later Maturana and Varela used the term “autopoiesis” (“self-creation”) that became one of the two key concepts in their theory. The essential characteristic of a living, i.e. autopoietic, system is that it undergoes constant structural changes while preserving its pattern of organization. The brain is a specific structure through which this process operates. The relationship between mind and body is therefore one between process and structure. As Varela demonstrated in his Heidelberg lecture (with the example of a primitive snail), the brain is not the only structure through which the process of cognition operates. An organism’s entire physical structure participates in this process, whether or not the organism has a brain and higher nervous system. The second key concept is “structural coupling”: A living (autopoietic) system couples with its environment structurally, that is through recurrent interactions. Each interaction triggers structural changes in the particular system. Living systems are autonomous, and as such only respond to disturbances; they can’t be changed directly through outside intervention. In other words, the environment only triggers changes without specifying what these should be. These changes will in turn alter the system’s future responses because its structure has now been altered. This is a good example of circular causation, a characteristic of all genuine learning: The resulting adaptation or modification of behaviour on the basis of previous experience entails learning. In short, a structurally coupled living system is a learning system which keeps developing and changing throughout its existence. But not only that, for as it changes this cognitive system also shapes the environment in which it finds itself, “bringing forth its world by action”.
In Moshe Feldenkrais’s teaching, strategically placed more or less gentle disturbances of people’s nervous systems play an important part. He used to say: “I set up conditions where people can’t help but experience something different.” By learning to adhere to Feldenkrais’s “three Ss: slow – small – softly” in the exploration of movement patterns, students will soon begin to experience moments of surprise, even revelation. When they notice that their body is spontaneously coming up with unfamiliar, totally new patterns, they may suddenly sense and know a rapturous inner freedom, realising that they can indeed choose not to slavishly obey the usual habits of standing, sitting, moving, breathing, and so on. Also that they have access to other ways of being, moving, and thinking that usually prove to be more satisfactory, intelligent, and aesthetically pleasing. The effects experienced after such ‘ground-breaking’ lessons are best described by Moshe Feldenkrais himself:
You see what happens to you when you have succeeded in a novel pattern a few times and have made it more or less as fluent as the familiar one. You will feel taller, lighter, you will breathe better and have a sense of euphoria which you may never have known before. Your entire intentional cortex will work with such a quality of self-direction as you always felt it could17.
As we try to go through the door Myriam kept pointing out and continue along the path Moshe Feldenkrais encourages us to pursue further, it’s good to be reminded of what he told his students at the beginning of the first North American Training at San Francisco in June 1975. He emphasized that he would be their last teacher, for “When you learn how to learn, you will realize that there are no teachers, there are only people learning and people learning how to facilitate learning.” 18
The necessity of such learning, which his many multidisciplinary scientist friends saw as clearly as Feldenkrais, is now obviously extremely urgent. Moshe wrote in 1976:
In spite of the apparent darkness of the human future, I believe we have not yet reached our Homo sapiens capacities for learning; it is still too early to condemn man on the strength of the small awareness he has acquired by chance and not by his outstanding ability to reduce great complexity to familiar simplicity - in other words, to learn. We have never yet really used our essential freedom of choice and we have barely learned to learn. 19
1. Moshe Feldenkrais, AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT, p.29
2. Andrew Weil, SPONTANEOUS HEALING, Alfred A. Knopf, 1995, at least 13 reprints
3. Thierry Janssen, LA SOLUTION INTERIEURE, Fayards 2006; re-edited Pocket, 2007
Also available in translation as THE SOLUTION LIES WITHIN
4. As long ago as 1999, a prestigious American Yoga Magazine published a text on “The Feldenkrais Method: Moving with Ease” by Andrew Weil under the heading: Self Healing – Creating Natural Health for Your Body and Mind.
Here is a brief extract:
I have long been intrigued by this subtle form of retraining the nervous system, which I currently recommend to patients whose movement has been restricted by injury, cerebral palsy, stroke, fibromyalgia, or chronic pain. (I find it to be much more useful than standard physical therapy). I also believe that the Feldenkrais Method can help older people achieve greater range of motion and flexibility, and help all of us feel more comfortable in our bodies.
Weil’s thinking about the human body as a self-correcting, self-healing system is clearly cybernetic in nature - and thereby resembles Moshe Feldenkrais’s understanding of the human organism as a self-regulating system in which mind and body form an inseparable unity whose every action is characterized – at least potentially - by the harmonious interplay of thinking, sensing, feeling, and moving. The dominant rigorously ‘objective’ science of their time - with its linear thinking and rejection as unscientific anything qualitative or subjective - could not provide them with the conceptual tools and methodologies they needed to study and describe the qualitative effects and dimensions of what their daily practice kept teaching them. Weil wrote in SPONTANEOUS HEALING:
We already know some of the mechanisms of healing, but without the concepts of a healing system, we cannot take this knowledge and put it together into a useful construction.
Moshe Feldenkrais was ferociously outspoken about much of conventional science and social philosophy:
Abstract thought and verbalization occupy the most important place in Science and in all social achievements. But at the same time abstraction and verbalization become a tyrant who deprives the individual of concrete reality. This, in turn, causes severe disturbances in the harmony of most human activities. Frequently the degree of disturbance borders on mental and physical illness and causes premature senility. (Awareness Through Movement, Penguin, p. 151)
5. Moshe Feldenkrais, THE ELUSIVE OBVIOUS, p.89f
6. Moshe Feldenkrais, BODY AND MATURE BEHAVIOUR, A Study of Anxiety, Sex, Gravitation, and Learning, International Universities Press, 1949 Moshe Feldenkrais,
7 THE POTENT SELF, A Guide to Spontaneity, ed. Michaeleen Kimmey, Harper & Row, 1985
8. Moshe Feldenkrais, the source of that quotation has not yet been re-found
9. Moshe Feldenkrais, EMBODIED WISDOM, p.25
10. Natalie Angier, Brain Is a Co-Conspirator in a Vicious Stress Loop, August 18, 2009, reproduced on Anat Baniel’s website www.anatbanielmethod.com
11. Moshe Feldenkrais distinguished three realties: the sensory “subjective” reality of early childhood when our most creative self-directed learning happens. This will soon be complemented, and complicated, by a second socially constructed “objective” consensus reality shared between the members of our particular community. As things stand at present, only a minority will ever seek, let alone succeed in becoming consciously aware of, a third reality: “This is Reality - with a capital R – that is understood to exist and must be there, whether men exist or not. When we use our thinking and not only our sensing, we realize that this Reality is more likely the first.” (Embodied Wisdom, p. 47f)”.
12. Daniel Stern, THE PRESENT MOMENT IN PSYCHOTHERAPY AND EVERYDAY LIFE, W.W. Norton & Company, 2004
13. Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi, THE SYSTEMS VIEW OF LIFE – A UNIFYING VISION, by Cambridge University Press, 2014 [Fritjof Capra, physicist, systems theorist and author of such THE TAOS OF PHYSICS and THE WEB OF LIFE, THE EMERGENCE OF LIFE, and MIND AND LIFE, is the Founding Director of the Center for Eco-Literacy in Berkley, California. In this capacity he has been engaged in examination of the philosophical and social implications of contemporary science for the past 35 years. Pier Luigi Luisi, Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Rome 3, focuses his main research on the experimental, theoretical, and philosophical aspects of the origins of life and self-organization of synthetic and natural systems.]
14. REPORT – 1. European Feldenkrais Conference, 01. – 05. June 1995, p. 12 - 15
15. Moshe Feldenkrais, THE ELUSIVE OBVIOUS, p.35
16. Gregory Bateson’s legacy is vividly presented in “An Ecology of Mind”, a film-portrait made by his youngest daughter Nora in 2010. Extracts – as well as other films about him can be seen on YouTube.
17. Moshe Feldenkrais, THE ELUSIVE OBVIOUS, p.35
18. Dennis Leri, LEARNING HOW TO LEARN, originally published in the Fall 1993 issue of Gnosis magazine.
19. Moshe Feldenkrais, On the Primacy of Hearing, SOMATICS,, autumn 1976, p.21