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What is “The Elusive Obvious” by Ilana Nevill
Part III - Magic or a Radically New Kind of Objectivity ?
My aim in writing an article about the Elusive Obvious had initially been quite pragmatic. I hoped to pinpoint some practical ways and means of learning how to approximate what the founder of “our” method knew and practised with such admirable assurance and usually astonishing results. However, from the very start the self-chosen task of throwing a little more light onto the practical implications of what Moshe Feldenkrais meant when coining the somewhat paradoxical term “the elusive obvious”1 soon began to resemble a Functional Integration (FI) lesson with an interesting (i.e. ‘difficult’) student/client. As a rule such an encounter challenges practitioners to let go of all the ideas they might have had at the start of the session and allow themselves to be surprised by the course it takes as if of its own accord. The subject of my article, which quickly developed a life of its own2, had made its first appearance as “that je ne sais quoi that some people seem to have” in Chapter 18, entitled “The Sixth Sense”, of Moshe Feldenkrais’s first book (1949) BODY and MATURE BEHAVIOUR - A STUDY OF ANXIETY, SEX, GRAVITATION, & LEARNING. Half way through writing the present text – largely consisting of my experience of different approaches to teaching the un-teachable -, it became obvious to me that reaching a satisfactory conclusion to reflections on the elusive obvious would have to be left to a fourth, and I hope, final part.
Part IV will focus on the intimacy (what might be termed neurological intimacy) that characterizes the profoundly participatory framework of FI and can sometimes also be experienced in ATM (Awareness Through Movement). This may sometimes have erotic overtones and occasionally verge on one-sided or mutual sexual attraction. Whatever the particular circumstances, we always find ourselves in a more or less unconscious “entanglement” of two human beings mutually influencing each other during their somatic and ultimately always psychosomatic encounter. Finally, I also hope to be able to deal with the issues of potency and impotence, as Moshe Feldenkrais presents them in a general and also a more specifically sexual sense in THE POTENT SELF, A GUIDE TO SPONTANEITY.
I. A Difference That Makes A Difference
Let us continue the development of our awareness and keep noticing the elusive obvious.
In the end, hopefully, we can begin a dialogue with the scientists
who have, in their own way, come closer to our view.
With those words Carl Ginsburg ended his keynote address at the first European Feldenkrais Conference at Heidelberg in 1995. His talk Is there a Science of the Feldenkrais Magic ? served as introduction to renowned biologist-neuroscientist Francisco Varela’s guest lecture on “Large Scale Integration in the Nervous System and Embodied Experience” which concluded with encouragement for all Feldenkrais practitioners: “The kind of work you are doing is already moving in that direction …”.
Twenty years after Heidelberg, the Feldenkrais Method received explicit scientific vindication with the publication of Norman Doidge’s The Brain’s Way of Healing –
Stories of Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries (2015), following on from the same author’s The Brain That Changes Itself – Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of the Brain (2007). The latter was already enthusiastically welcomed by the Feldenkrais community and the more recent book by this much acclaimed champion of the newly emerging science of NEUROPLASTICITY goes even further than his first. It provides us with all we need for learning to think and also talk more knowledgeably with people who show interest in our practice. For those of us who have long been struggling to develop a pertinent language for what we are actually doing, it is comforting to read that in presenting “what is at the edge of our current understanding of mind and body” Doidge uses the same argument, when confronted with entrenched scepticism, as many of us have deployed for years: “You don’t have to believe it, but you have to suspend your disbelief and just do it.” The accusation that making known the extraordinary potential of neuroplasticity raises false hopes is countered by pointing out that sowing “false despair” is worse. Doidge received his education at a time when belief in the doctrine of the unchanging brain was mainstream, and is careful to stress that the science behind neuroplasticity is still incomplete. However, as he shows in both books, there is ample research evidence that as new learning occurs “unused” circuits of the brain are stimulated and connections between nerve cells begin to increase quite considerably.
In The Brain’s Way of Healing two enthralling chapters are devoted to Moshe Feldenkrais and his ground-breaking work. The Feldenkrais Method is, as it were, put firmly on the map with the extraordinary case study of a man who succeeded in curing himself after an auto-immune condition had led to blindness in his early forties. After five unsuccessful operations and years of determined practice of various somatic exercises in the hope of regaining his sight, David Webber eventually discovered the difference that made a difference to this practice. With the kind of awareness he was learning in an ATM class he continued doing those same exercises more gently and was finally able to allow a hardly expected process of neuroplastic healing to take its course. A number of FI lessons with Carl Ginsburg brought further invaluable clarification of how to proceed in reversing, and to a large extent curing, a condition that in conventional medical science had been thought irreversible.
The claim on the book cover will not seem exaggerated to those of us who have worked regularly with children with cerebral palsy and adults suffering from neurological impairment due to brain injury, stroke, and various auto-immune conditions such as MS and Parkinson’s Disease :
The phenomenon of neuroplasticity – the discovery that the brain can change its own structure and functioning in response to mental experience – is the most important change in our understanding of the brain and mind since the beginning of modern science.
As senior American trainer David Zemach-Bersin pointed out in an open letter addressed to the Feldenkrais community at large, publication of The Brain’s Way of Healing is a historic moment: Never before could we expect greater openness and understanding for our method; and never has there been a time when we can begin looking forward to helping many more people with apparently intractable neurological malfunctioning. David’s advice about how to measure up to the expectations of people with serious neurological problems who have found new hope by reading about Feldenkrais is extremely sound and encouraging. [see APPENDIX]
The promising developments we witness today could hardly have been dreamt of in 1995 when participants in Carl Ginsburg’s workshop at the Heidelberg conference found themselves confronted with one of the biggest challenges for the Feldenkrais community: “How to teach the difference that makes a difference ?” Carl offered the large group of practitioners a range of compelling opportunities for experiencing a surprisingly concrete demystification of so-called Feldenkrais Magic, an expression which does somehow capture the extraordinary positive changes people begin to notice when helped to get in touch with and learn to rely on our inborn capacity to tell the difference between what is beneficial and what is harmful for well-being, and, more important still, between what furthers and what hinders our way to self-knowledge and wisdom.
If you read Part I of my article on the elusive obvious, you may realize that the main question in Carl’s workshop refers to Gregory Bateson’s famous definition of “information” as “a difference that makes a difference”. Bateson’s understanding of this term has nothing to do with the way information technology uses it. For him ‘information’ means a not yet properly understood process whose extensive transformative impact on the quality of consciousness and functioning of all living organisms (including plants and micro-organisms) can actually be observed. As Bateson foresaw long ago, changes in functioning have recently been found to actually alter brain structure even in mice – and as Norman Doidge shows in his two books most dramatically in human beings. However exploration of the human brain’s evolutionary potential has scarcely begun. This potential goes far beyond what popular wisdom has known for ages as “Use it or Lose it!” It is just beginning to dawn on some open-minded people that potentially we can continuously alter the vast network of “soft-wired” neural pathways in our brains: by learning new, more appropriate ways of thinking, sensing-and-feeling, moving, and acting, thus creating new, ever more complex neural connections. This would entail a continuous evolutionary refinement of our nervous system which might ultimately empower us to create a world that would be different from the one we are beginning to realize is no longer viable. If we bear in mind the way our world is going at present, we have however to conclude that this is still a rather utopian project since, as Norman Doidge points out, all learned changes in human functioning have a profound impact on the human brain. The learning to which millions of children and adults are subjected in our era is not necessarily for the best.
All we can do as practitioners of the Feldenkrais Method is to create learning environments and situations which allow us to communicate what cannot be taught directly in conventional ways. This should provide students with the kind of sensory-kinaesthetic “information” they need in order to rekindle, and eventually actively pursue, the organic, self-directed learning they “knew” so well as babies and small children. The relevance for adult learners of Norman Doidge’s conclusion that “Children learn their experience; they don’t necessarily learn what they are intended to”4 was demonstrated in Carl Ginsburg’s workshop. People were guided in ATM and FI to sense and feel how patiently alert attention to their own organization - in terms of balance, use of skeleton, muscular tonus, breathing etc. - led to a phenomenal gain in sensitivity and differentiated perception.
FI investigations – particularly how to lift a person’s head - took place in groups of three, with one person playing the “student/client”, the second the “teacher/ practitioner”, and the third the “supervisor”. The supervisor’s task consisted in occasionally placing a hand where s/he observed stiffness, tension, or holding patterns in the teacher/practitioner’s body.
The mutual learning in Carl’s “The Difference That Makes The Difference” workshop highlighted a number of points - all belonging in the realm of the elusive obvious:
• If we are not aware of ourselves, our own asymmetry may bias our sense of the person we touch;
• Clarity of perception and ease and quality of our movement allow us to communicate more effectively with our FI partner - without interfering with their learning by unacknowledged parasitic intentions and extraneous efforts we might also be unaware of;
• When our touch is perceived as secure and non-invasive, the other will feel safe and free in the ongoing kinaesthetic dialogue or “dance” which constitutes the lesson;
• Communicating an open, flexible attention may have an almost magical effect on our partner, so that s/he can be at ease, begin to enjoy the non-verbal dialogue, and respond by fluidly shifting attention, sensation, and action in order to stay in the dance. 5
Participants in the workshop much appreciated that Carl concluded by talking about his own first bumbling attempts at lifting a head. When a highly experienced professional had just briefly, and ever so gently, touched his neck during an advanced training, he had experienced exactly the same huge surprise as many of the participants in the Heidelberg workshop. Suddenly he felt able to free his neck and breathe more fully. Even more unexpectedly, he found the head he was holding in his hands become light and very easy to move. He too had been particularly struck by his partner’s verbal feedback that his hands were no longer hard and insensitive but suddenly soft and safe.
This story reminded me of an earlier, memorably dramatic occasion when Carl had managed to diffuse the anxiety-charged atmosphere in a room full of students feeling lost and inadequate by giving them a taste of similarly critical moments at the beginning of his own life as a Feldenkrais professional.
Here’s the scene: In the sweltering hot summer of 1988, the third-year-students at the first English Professional Feldenkrais Training (London 1986-90) were finally to be initiated into the mysteries of Functional Integration. Exceptionally, we were to stay together for two long months with a brief break between two extremely challenging four-week segments. There was a strange mixture of great expectations, excitement, and considerable misgivings and fear in the hall. The reasons were obvious: Functional Integration, we had previously been told, was a separate aspect of the method, which we would only be taught in the last two years of the training. During our first two years, one-to-one non-verbal somatic communication had remained shrouded in mystery as we watched FI demonstrations presented by some of those (Myriam Pfeffer, Chava Shelhav, Ruthy Alon, and Yochanan Rywerant) who had participated in Moshe’s first training (Tel Aviv 1969-71). Jerry Karzan, Russell Delman, his wife Linda, Carl Ginsburg, and other “second generation” professionals trained at San Francisco (1973-77) also much impressed us with their FI performances. But we saw and understood very little of how they achieved such splendid results. Asking premature questions, before having sufficient experience of our own, was firmly discouraged; and the attempt to formulate one or two principles underlying the method, was nipped in the bud: The master knew no principles except for one, namely that there are none. When receiving an all too rare individual lesson, we would sense something indefinably strange and wonderful, feel taller and lighter at the end, but usually drew a blank when trying to remember what had actually happened during the session. (The same blank would often invade my mind when trying to remember an ATM even a few hours after the actual experience.) The most valuable vicariously lived FI experiences had been the dvd-recordings of Moshe Feldenkrais at work in Amherst. Especially the lessons with children brought tears to many eyes and probably left some indelible memory-traces behind, as they did for me. But the anxious question “How will I ever learn THAT?” was very much on everybody’s mind…
The main worry during those eight weeks in the summer of 1988 involved the prospect of eventually having to work with someone from outside the training – . either an acquaintance or friend of ours or with a stranger. However, first we had to absorb some of the basics of ‘teaching by touch’. For this purpose the large international group of students was split up into four sub-groups allocated to a specific trainer or assistant, each occupying one of the four corners of the huge, somewhat unfriendly hall.
Impossible to forget some rather hilarious scenes as students stealthily tried to leave their corner and head for the corner which never lost its magnetic attraction. That was where Carl’s group appeared to be quietly getting on with learning how to minimally lift, move, extend, compress a tiny part of their partner’s body, and being surprised that the whole of it suddenly started responding. Though invariably called back and firmly admonished to stay where they belonged, at least two or three people succeeded in making the transition and staying on what remained a solid rock in a seething ocean.
During those turbulent eight weeks I felt infinitely grateful for having already once experienced Mia Segal’s way of communicating what talking and explaining can’t really convey even to the most motivated learner. From then on Moshe Feldenkrais’s first assistant (since 1957) began to play an increasingly important role in my life as a future Feldenkrais professional.
What I remember most clearly about Mia’s public workshop, organized in Oxford by one of her former students, was the uncanny sensation of wearing nothing but silk; at other moments I felt like a fish which had been taken from the rather polluted river Thames and been released into the clear waters of a mountain stream. Years later, in New Mexico at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, I heard Mia tell the students of Carl’s Santa Fe Training:
Through description a lot is lost. When you feel something, you feel the impact.
Words represent another, common level and what you feel is no longer your own.
Some kinaesthetically satisfactory answers to burning questions concerning the basic principles of the Feldenkrais Method already began to dawn on me at Oxford in the late 1980s.
Newly qualified practitioners will probably be grateful to Norman Doidge for listing eleven Core Principles of the Feldenkrais Method in chapter 5, MOSHE FELDENKRAIS, PHYSICIST, BLACK BELT, AND HEALER – Healing Serious Brain Problems Through Mental Awareness of Movement. From Doidge’s vantage point as a doctor and psychiatrist, Feldenkrais was a healer, and so are we. Moshe Feldenkrais would probably not have agreed. According to his biographer Christian Buckard the healing aspect of certain movements interested him only in passing: “What is most important to me is the education of teachers and other people who are going to form the self-image of the next generation.” It was crucial “to avoid those mistakes that lead to disturbances”. [transl. I.N.]6
As Feldenkrais put it during the first American training programme, the main aim is to “get the person to love himself, not just like himself” so that “he feels he can begin to rely on his own self and begins to have self-confidence enough to stand on his own feet”. (San Francisco, 20.6.1977)
II. Here’s a secret: There is only one Feldenkrais Lesson Mia Segal, Nijmegen 1991
In all the learning situations I was privileged to experience with Mia Segal, the more or less strictly observed “no-talking”-“no-principle” rule was turned into a most effective teaching device. Its main characteristic was a lively rhythm of switching between ATM, i.e. letting students explore a movement sequence on their own; getting them to observe others; then to witness a particular partner’s way of moving, and eventually placing a hand somewhere on their body in order to become aware of the subtle effect of that touch; and finally to take all that information into the next phase of ATM exploration. What was particularly helpful and reassuring for everyone was that the ‘witnessing’ hand would first go to where there was some movement and only subsequently to where there was little or none.
I was particularly struck by the very clear and dynamic aspect of Mia’s teaching which invites action...What seems to me rather unique about her teaching style is the way of listening intently to the demands of the present moment, combining what is to be found in that situation with what she came to teach... Most trainers arrive with a very precise ready-made programme.
That’s how Lara, a young musician, commented on the experience that made all the difference for her on the occasion of a three-day “advanced” at Myriam Pfeffer’s ACORD MOBILE Institute in Paris in 2003. On that memorable occasion, Mia and Myriam (who had invited Mia and faithfully translated everything she said into French) met for the first time in 20 years. My task entailed taking detailed notes in the hope of capturing some salient aspects of Mia’s way of teaching awareness. Altogether 28 typed pages formed the basis for an article entitled “Instead of an Interview with Mia Segal”. This would later be published in the AWARENESS REPORT of a study group investigating both use of the term “awareness” in Moshe Feldenkrais’s teaching and writings and the way his first trainees understood the concept. Other groups, working under the auspices of the unfortunately short-lived INTERNATIONAL TRAINER AND ASSISTANT TRAINER ACADEMY (ITATA), had their own difficulties in coming up with viable guidelines for effectively conveying knowledge, skill, and competence in future training programmes, while the AWARENESS GROUP, to which I belonged, found it impossible to get an interview with Mia (unlike other senior trainers7). The reason for her refusal became clear when Mia, seeing me write down what, exceptionally, she had said in answer to a question, called out: “Don’t write because I may change my mind!” But when she heard Myriam admonish me sternly “Stop writing! Didn’t you hear what Mia said ?” and saw me proceed to make a note of this remark as well, Mia laughed :”Ok, write what you like!” Letting her microphone dangle behind her back or abandoning it on a chair was another demonstration of how much Mia disliked having her spoken words preserved on tape. (Students who tried to secretly record what was being said during Mia’s Holland trainings often found the tape removed from the tape-recorder they had hidden somewhere. The look of disappointment on their faces much amused Mia who usually noticed where to send an assistant to remove the tape during an ATM lesson.) It was probably thanks to her immersion in Japanese culture – and also to assisting Moshe for over ten years during individual sessions which he qualified as being “made to measure” - that Mia made sure her teaching would be tailored to the present moment of the situation at hand instead of thinking of posterity where the emphasis would have to be in tune with the needs of a very different group of people.
This is not the place to go into great detail. The article, which happily received Mia’s unconditional green light for publication, can be found on my website.8 Here I would like to give just a little idea of “the dynamic aspect which invites action” which Lara and several others saw as the most striking difference between what they had been used to and what they experienced in Paris.
People with questions about how to deal with some difficulty, discomfort, or pain would quickly be made to realize that they might find the answer for themselves by getting out of their head and into their body : “Don’t talk… Lie down and show me …What’s your question ?” If accepted, the invitation was usually followed by a demonstration involving alternating verbal and tactile hints as to where in their body the person might profitably direct attention. Verbal instructions and cues communicated by touch revealed themselves to be practically equivalent, provided, as Mia would stress, the intention behind them is clearly communicated to the learner. Basically it was just a matter of “doing the same thing differently”. This definition of self-directed learning in ‘The Elusive Obvious’ seemed to provide the basis for Mia’s approach, which proved to “speak” effectively to the student’s entire physical-mental spectrum of sensing-feeling-thinking-and-acting. At the same time such demonstrations gave everybody else a valuable opportunity for schooling their perception. At the end Mia would usually ask the person concerned “So, what’s the question [now]?” More often than not pupils who had directly experienced this two-pronged, intensely individualised teaching mode reported that the pain had got noticeably less and sometimes had vanished altogether. The majority of the participants also seemed to get the point: Paying close attention to what one is actually doing when faced with similar, apparently intractable ‘problems’ may result in their ‘solution’. In other words, rushing off to see some expert in the hope of immediate relief through intervention from outside may amount to prematurely handing over to someone else both responsibility for one’s well-being and also one’s freedom.
Ingrid, a German doctor, remarked that the art of turning an individual’s situations into a genuine learning opportunity for the whole group is rarely demonstrated in training programmes. All too often, she said, people are allowed to continue discussing their personal aches and pains while other participants’ interest and attention is lost. She went on to say:
I can see in Mia’s work what I see in Moshe’s FIs. Something is being touched in a particular place and the whole person is made to move. One’s awareness is always kept on the whole person. What I found truly amazing was the fact that not a single joint was mentioned during these three days; it was always the WHOLE! That impression will remain with me. …There’s another aspect I found particularly liberating: occasionally touching in the ‘wrong’ way doesn’t seem to be seen as a problem.
A singularly memorable demonstration of how to discover the quintessential meaning of Moshe’s concept of the “Elusive Obvious” served as an introduction to partner work. The students were invited to lie down, place the fingertips somewhere on the base of their own skull (later along the cervical spine), and find out which places were particularly hard or soft etc. The purpose of what could be called
a “Self-FI”, carefully palpating some area of one’s own body, became clear as Mia kept asking from time to time “How is your touch?” … “Would you like to be touched like that?” Modulating her voice, thereby mimicking the various qualities of touch she was observing, she managed to demonstrate that touch can be frustratingly unclear (like whispering so faintly that the partner doesn’t understand a thing), or unpleasantly intrusive (like shouting into somebody’s ear). By listening to themselves and observing the reaction of their partner, people gradually began to discover the middle way between lack of precision and clarity on the one hand and lack of sensitivity and respect on the other – an absolutely crucial precondition for a mutually agreeable two-way communication.
The lasting impact this multifaceted way of teaching awareness has on someone open to it is formulated rather well by Barbara, a former student in Carl Ginsburg’s Santa Fe training where Mia had been enthusiastically welcomed for a three-week teaching stint.
Out of the many workshops I go to, it is her work that appears to absorb into my being without my awareness - or is it that my awareness is open to her presence ? I think I learn little, or don’t understand, and when I have the chance to do an FI, or work with myself or another, it’s not that I remember, it’s more that she is present and I can hear her words and see her work.”
(E-mail communication of 03.03.04)
For me too, Mia came to represent a kind of inner supervisor providing constant inspiration and encouragement to go on learning and trust my gradually consolidating experience. I am quite sure that without the model she offered, my search for freer, more creative ways of making optimal use of the Alexander Yanai (AY) material would have been much more protracted. As a newly qualified Feldenkrais teacher I had soon found out that adhering strictly to the lessons taught by Moshe in Tel Aviv so many years ago meant putting undue pressure on myself and the people in my class. There was often a sense of having to hurry through the movement sequences with hardly any time left for the necessary pauses. In the ‘Accredited Trainings’ in London and Paris, where I sometimes assisted in the mid-1990s, the rule was to teach entire AY lessons from beginning to end, using them like recipes for a dish that would not turn out right if one omitted a single step. During one training segment in Paris a co-assistant gave expression to similar frustrations when trying to teach a particularly complex ATM with students sitting on chairs as Myriam had asked him. In the course of this lesson he suddenly exclaimed: “Sorry, there is so much to do…There just is no time for awareness!”
Over the years a more liberated attitude developed towards the extraordinary riches of the AY lessons Feldenkrais had left us. At the Feldenkrais Conference in Heidelberg, for instance, Larry Goldfarb inspired participants in his workshop with a model way of staying true to an AY lesson without becoming a slave to the form Feldenkrais had given it during a second ‘laboratory phase’ when working with groups in Tel Aviv. The foundations for that had been laid much earlier when his own body had been at the centre of the approach to somatic research developed during the years he spent in England. At the end of a riveting in-depth exploration of just 10 minutes of the famous Chandelier lesson people agreed that what Larry had made them experience can bring about more profound learning than ‘doing’ the entire lesson.
Like many of my colleagues, I gradually found a less constrained and more creative way of using the AY material as this became available to non-Hebrew speakers thanks to the dedication of a number of colleagues who translated it into English. These lessons thus became a source for personal exploration of what I would eventually teach with greater self-assurance. They offered a new freedom in paying close attention to whether people in my classes were actually doing what they had been invited to do, or thought they were doing. As I once experienced in Paris, trainers went through the same process of consolidating a new attitude to AY. After one of her ATM lessons a relatively new trainer apologized for having “made it up” herself. This apology would probably have seemed unnecessary to her had she noticed that on this particular occasion the atmosphere in the hall had been noticeably different from when she taught in the usual routine way. Mia would have said, as I sometimes heard her say, “I love that silence. You can really hear people learn!”
With growing experience I became aware of a kind of “sixth sense” beginning to effectively neutralize most of the insecurities and anxieties which had previously plagued me. What is called “intuition”, I concluded, is neither inborn, nor does a generous teacher let it fall into your lap. Instead it is acquired through patient practice, including occasionally making mistakes, until one day you realize that you are in possession of a reliable empirical yardstick for assessing what works. And if something doesn’t work, just remember that “learning means doing the same thing differently” or follow, as I got used to doing, Mia’s example. In situations where it was not immediately obvious how to start or where to go next, Mia would “just pray”, as she would say, i.e. sit quietly, let her eyes go into peripheral perception mode and wait for something to tell her how to proceed.
As I can only now fully appreciate, Mia left me with a rich spectrum of puzzle pieces, out of which I would have to create my personal somewhat complex picture of what the Elusive Obvious can mean. Most of those elements were conveyed in practical demonstrations; others in such surprising statements as the one resembling a Japanese Koan, which Mia had whispered into my ear as we were watching the class in the second Holland training:
Pst, here’s a secret. Don’t tell anybody: There is only one Feldenkrais lesson.
Most of these valuable verbal hints preceded or concluded a usually rather awe-inspiring demonstration of their validity, as for instance during the advanced training in Paris:
The clearer we are, the clearer the message we give.
Remember it is about communication.
With precision two or three movements are often sufficient to make all the difference.
What we are doing is returning people to themselves and
gradually showing them how to take responsibility for themselves.
I. Intersubjective Neurological Intimacy : Foundation of a New Kind of Objectivity ?
The reader may already have glimpsed between the lines why I gave Part III the sub-title “Magic or a Radically New Kind of Objectivity ?” However, a brief commentary, which will also provide a taste of what is still to come in Part IV, seems to be called for.
As previously mentioned I first encountered the extraordinary sense of intimacy during Mia Segal’s public workshop at Oxford at the end of the 1980s. The precision of her instructions and demonstrations seemed to translate itself into a quite physical sense of wearing nothing but silk, or feeling like a fish released into a clear mountain stream. Even more surprising was the question that arose time and again during ATM lessons: “How does she know what I am feeling right now?” For instance that the clavicle and/or shoulder-blade were moving in a quite particular way in relation to the ribs and sternum during exploration of an arm movement. Never before had I experienced with such clarity the power of the kinaesthetic sense gradually bringing about an exceptional feeling of completion of my hitherto rather vague and fragmented body image. No part of the body seemed to be left in the dark – not even the little toe, the tip of the nose, the earlobe, the navel, the top of the head, and so on. Most important of all were the constant reminders: Watch where your eyes are directed; are they participating in what you are doing or not?... Pay attention to your mouth…tongue…jaw-joints… Are you aware of any unnecessary tension there which you might want to let go ? … ”
Daniel N. Stern’s book THE PRESENT MOMENT- in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life (2004) gave me some valuable clues as to what was actually going on between me as a student and my ATM teacher in Oxford. Even without any physical contact “a special kind of mental contact, an intersubjective contact” (p.75) was being established and maintained throughout the weekend. Stern’s explanation of the mutual interpenetration of minds in moments we experience as particularly intimate, “moments of intersubjective creation” as he calls them, seems to fit the phenomenon of inner, i.e. mental connection that puzzled me so much at the time.
Our nervous systems are constructed to be captured by the nervous systems of others, so that we can experience others as if from within their skin, as well as from within our own. A sort of direct feeling route into the other person is potentially open and we resonate with and participate in their experiences, and they in ours. 7
In Functional Integration the partners may gain, even more quickly and directly, access to the potentially ever present dimension of a participatory or shared reality whose prominent quality is an initially quite unfamiliar objectivity.
Paul Doron-Doroftei, a victim of cerebral palsy, who, as everybody thought, was condemned to spend his life in a wheelchair, had the good fortune of meeting Moshe Feldenkrais as an adolescent. The first lesson with Moshe already set him firmly on the path of taking responsibility for his life and eventually becoming a Feldenkrais practitioner who would help many babies and small children with cerebral palsy in the same way as Moshe had helped him.
For me Paul’s is the clearest and most touching description of the creative intimacy that can be experienced in Functional Integration.
To conclude, here is a brief passage from an article that was published in the rather short-lived Feldenkrais Journal U.K.8
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… 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 semi-cylinders 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.
1) In his recent biography of Moshe Feldenkrais Christian Buckard writes that hardly anyone among the young people who went to see their teacher towards the end of his life knew anything about his background “and how he had finally discovered all that was so very obvious and had remained hidden maybe for that very reason. [trad.I.N.]
Christian Buckard, MOSHE FELDENKRAIS - DER MENSCH HINTER DER METHODE, Berlin Verlag, 2015, p.21
2) Parts I and II of this Article Thinking Differently about What We Think We Know and Laying Down a Path in Walking (Francisco Varela) can be found in “Archive”, www.feldenkraisnow.org
3) Interview with Tim Adams NORMAN DOIDGE: THE MAN TEACHING US TO CHANGE OUR MINDS; www.theguardian.com/science/2015/Feb/08
4) It is important to note that Norman Doidge does not say that children learn by or through experience, as we normally think and say. In his understanding experience itself seems to be more or less what Gregory Bateson means by “information”.
5) Carl Ginsburg, THE DIFFERENCE THAT MAKES THE DIFFERENCE reported by Roger Russell REPORT 1. European Feldenkrais Conference 01.-0.5 June, Heidelberg, p.16
6) Christian Buckard, MOSHE FELDENKRAIS - DER MENSCH HINTER DER METHODE, p. 169
7) www.feldenkraisnow.org, Archive, Interview with Feldenkrais Trainers, “Conversation with Myria Pfeffer about Awareness”
8) www.feldenkraisnow.org,`Archive, “Returning People to Themselves – Mia Segal’s Way of Communicating the Essence of the Feldenkrais Method”
9) Daniel N. Stern, THE PRESENT MOMENT – In Psychotherapy and Everyday Life, W.W. Norton & Company, 2004, p. 76
10) www.feldenkraisnow.org, Archive, Ask Him if He Can Be Helped !
David Zemach-Bersin’s open letter mentioned on p.2