What is “The Elusive Obvious” by Ilana Nevill
Part IV - The Prison Bars of Normative, Conditioned Thinking Are Not Immoveable…
"Thought is a man in his wholeness wholly attending." D.H. Lawrence
Four years ago the urgent invitation “to learn to think about things we know in alternative ways” at the end of Moshe Feldenkrais’s book THE ELUSIVE OBVIOUS prompted me to write an article. It took on an impetus of its own and may well clamour to be continued…
From the very start, my ruminations circled around such questions as:
How do Functional Integration and Awareness Through Movement get the two sides of our nature, the ‘inner’ mental dimension (thinking-sensing-feeling), and the ‘outer’ physical-material dimension of our being (body and brain), to interact and cooperate in greater functional harmony?
How can the Method help us to live with increasing uncertainty in our rapidly changing world still dominated by fragmentary and narrowly objective materialistic sciences which dismiss a longing for understanding, meaning, and truth as purely ‘subjective’, and therefore unreal as far as ‘serious’ science is concerned ?
How can we most effectively help people see, and begin to neutralize, all sorts of coping mechanisms manifesting in deeply ingrained, dysfunctional distortions of thought and habits of perception that blind them to much of what the present moment has to offer – most preciously in terms of reconnecting with the extraordinary capacity to enjoy learning almost anything of personal interest with which we are born ?
“Which of us is not brain-damaged?” - “You know more than you think!”
Those two rather disparate assertions, and their somewhat provocative juxtaposition, are an invitation. An invitation to reflect on how, and to what extent, they are justified and might ultimately turn out to be meaningfully related, both to each other and to our work of promoting the kind of authentic learning which Feldenkrais defined more precisely as “learning to learn”. What interests us primarily in this context is the role we Feldenkrais practitioners can play in helping people cope with the effects of currently fast increasing levels of stress, insecurity, helplessness, and fear about the future. While some clients ask us to alleviate, even get rid of what ails them, others have a much more positive attitude. Even after life has dealt them a terrible blow, a person occasionally decides to set about learning to master sometimes extraordinary difficulties by way of Feldenkrais. Observing the outcome of such determined work, sustained by hope, seemed to me the most precious gift all participants, both practitioners and their neurologically impaired “partners”, could at least potentially take away from the “Exchange of Experience” Joëlle Minvieille has been organising in Poitiers every two years.
In the wider context of today’s globalisation and the apparently unstoppable degradation of nature and everything that makes life worth living, there is actually also choice: between helpless resignation on the one hand, and on the other allowing gradually emerging awareness of living at a decisive moment in human history to inspire us to look actively for positive signs. Seemingly uncontrollable, extremely worrying worldwide changes are calling forth new, wiser, sometimes well-tested ways of regarding ourselves, our role on this planet, and the universe as our home. Less narrowly specialized, less purely utilitarian and materialistically oriented scientific approaches are beginning to base their research on imaginatively ‘qualitative’, ‘inter-disciplinary’, ‘relational’, and ‘participatory’ ways of thinking.
This is true even in the realm of public education with growing concern that future generations are no longer adequately prepared for the kind of reality they will have to face at the end of their school- or university studies. Far-sighted critics claim that what currently happens in the name of EDUCATION in most schools and universities is dangerously “short-sighted”. An article in a recent issue of the Guardian Weekly points out that
Our schools were designed to produce an obedient workforce for 19th-century factories. In an age of robots schools are teaching our children to be redundant. A regime of cramming, testing, and control is crushing their instinct and creativity… ( George Monbiot, The Guardian Weekly, 24.2- 2..3.2017)
It is difficult to imagine the devastating impact behavioural science began to exert when this became the dominant psychology in American education, and eventually elsewhere in the world. Just reading the title BEYOND FREEDOM AND DIGNITY of a book written by Behaviourism’s most famous exponent, may give you some idea. In this work B.F. Skinner expounds as truly scientific the subjection of human beings to objective experiments resembling those used in investigating the nature of chemical compounds and primitive living organisms. He writes:
"What is being abolished is autonomous man – the inner man…the man defended by the literature of freedom and dignity. His abolition has long been overdue. Autonomous man is a device used to explain what we cannot explain in any other way. He has been constructed from our ignorance; as our understanding increases, the very stuff of which he is composed vanishes”. (Hachett Publishing Company, 1971, p. 200 quoted in THE THIRD CULTURE - Participatory Science as the Basis for a Healing Culture, by John Michael Barnes, Adonis Press, 2009)
You might want to ask yourself: What kind of brain can come up with such shocking certainties ? Moshe Feldenkrais was probably very aware of this kind of dangerous thinking when he wrote:
What I’m after isn’t flexible bodies but flexible brains. What I’m after is to restore each person to their human dignity.
Fortunately the prison bars of behaviourist thinking, established in the 1970s, were soon to be dismantled again. Moshe Feldenkrais was surely among the more open-minded scientists who saw that Skinner was correct in one aspect:
We will never find the “stuff” of human freedom through modern [behaviourist] science, for this “stuff” is self-directing mental-spiritual activity, and, as such, inaccessible to outer empirical observation. (The Third Culture, Participatory Science as the Basis For a Healing Culture, by Michael Barnes. Adonis Press 2009, p. 30)
By now the trailblazing learning Method Feldenkrais developed is beginning to be validated thanks to more recently developed multi-disciplinary sciences. At ‘grass-roots’ level ‘our’ Method is progressively proving its value too – starting with individuals who are ready and willing to take responsibility for themselves, their own and their children’s health, and for the world we live in.
Perfectly normal individuals “brain-damaged” ?
After that preamble let’s put the startling rhetorical question diagnosing general brain-damage into perspective. It will be helpful to know that Moshe Feldenkrais used this and similarly shocking questions or assertions in order to get his students to ‘wake up’, ‘pay attention’, be more aware of what they were sensing, think more deeply about their intentions, attitudes, and actions, and try to take into account the consequences. Here is what he said when addressing the to him unacceptable distinction between ‘sick’ or ‘brain-damaged’ people on the one hand and ‘normal, healthy’ people on the other:
Which of us, after all, is not brain-damaged, in the sensethat we allow many areas of our brains to atrophy through misuse and non-use ? We settle for so little ! As long as we get by, we let it go at that. We can have terrible posture and movement habits which are distorting and damaging to our bodies and brains – and still be classified as normal. Most of us use perhaps five percent of our body-brain potential. Who are we, then, to call other people brain damaged simply because their particular deficiency produces visible effects that we label ‘disease’ ?
(Albert Rosenfeld, Teaching the Body how to Program the Brain is Moshe’s Miracle, originally published in SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE, Jan. 1981)
The second quotation entails words of encouragement which many budding Feldenkrais practitioners all over the world will have heard at the conclusion of their training.
The immediate questions coming to mind are: What do these words mean when we hear them for the first time ? Could it be that they can only gradually reveal their true significance as we begin to “find our feet in the ‘real world’ as newly qualified practitioners ?
How many of us continue to feel we still lack confidence and implicit trust in the skills and competences we actually did absorb more or less unawares during the training ?
The following observation by a German colleague may reflect a general concern in the Feldenkrais world:
Today’s Feldenkrais students demand explicit knowledge (that is clearly communicable knowledge). After graduating from a Feldenkrais Training many don’t at all feel they have the necessary competence and understanding which would allow them to begin teaching the Method. (Feldenkrais Forum 61, 2008, p. 30)
Our German colleague also wonders whether Moshe Feldenkrais may have been pursuing a secret experiment, i.e. teaching his students “by ONLY providing them with implicit understanding” . Her suspicion that this experiment ultimately failed can be countered by anybody who has benefited from being guided to experience things for themselves rather than hankering after explicit verbal explanations. It is worthwhile to read or re-read what Moshe Feldenkrais occasionally said and wrote about the negative consequences of being taught through explicitly verbal analytical explanation. As an example here is a quotation from Feldenkrais’s most accessible book AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT:
Abstract thought and verbalization occupy the most important place in science and in all social achievement. 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. (Moshe Feldenkrais, Awareness Through Movement, Penguin, p.51)
The deeply felt, inexpressible certainty about the possibility of getting in touch with concrete reality, which Feldenkrais occasionally speaks of, was touched upon by most practitioners with whom I’ve been able to talk about the elusive obvious. Describing their experience of gropingly ‘approximating’ a subjective interpretation of what the term “the elusive obvious” meant for them, they taught me that the understanding we eventually come up with is bound to vary from person to person, ranging from the possibility of feeling really alive in the present moment to that of beginning to understand what leading a satisfying, meaningful life would involve.
This is what Loic said, one of the participants at the most recent encounter between a group of practitioners and disabled Feldenkrais pupils organized by Joëlle Minvieille (1.7.2016):
We are somehow convinced that there is something that can’t be grasped, cannot be put into words, but is subtly present within and spontaneously emerges at an unexpected moment in order to be recognized as an indisputable reality.
An email from an American colleague starts with what many of us have been, are still, and will probably continue to puzzle over:
How often in our trainings did we hear: ‘Give the person what they need, not what they want’. What they need is to become aware of themselves in a new way. Often they want to get fixed without their participation, without learning what they need…The unknown for the student is often their habits, how they organize themselves for a given intention. This habit, perhaps, no longer suited for their intention becomes a difficulty rather than an opportunity… They have no other way to organize or understand their situation and think they have no choice. We offer the opportunity for them to learn… From a student’s point of view, more often than not, it appears the teacher knows what he/she is doing. To quote Mia Segal at a workshop I attended after my graduation when a student asked her how she knows what to do when looking at a student, she responded “how is it you know that I know?”. This alone could become a zen koan…
Blandine Wong, to whom I am extremely grateful for translating my articles for CORPUS, had this to say when I asked for a spontaneous comment on what the words “elusive obvious” mean to her:
That makes me think of moments when you have flashes of understanding in your inner sensations. This has escaped us for years, and yet that’s what we have been looking for without knowing. One knows that there is something to be found, but doesn’t quite know what that is. For me this is a process one discovers in Feldenkrais because previously one just wasn’t aware.
In response to students in her trainings, who maintained they hadn’t learnt anything, Myriam Pfeffer used to say:
I don’t know that I don’t know
(then) I know that I don’t know
(then) I don’t know that I know
(and finally) I know that I know
…which doesn’t mean that I know everything…
At least that’s the beginning of Ariadne’s thread in the search for understanding; and that search continues throughout life, making it interesting and even passionately exciting.
Those who believe that they know everything – and there are quite a few in our modern Western society – are people who have been taught how not to show their ignorance when they don’t know; and that happens even in the Feldenkrais world !
I left the world of engineering because I couldn’t put up any longer with playing the expert/specialist when that amounted to downright hypocrisy: you have to pretend that you know even when you don’t. So what you really feel is never in sync with what you have to show on the outside – with the image you have to project.
Ce n’est pas ma logique ! That’s not my logic !
I wonder whether the attitude expressed in this spontaneous remark might have something to do with the (still) rather formal French education system which, on the whole, doesn’t seem to encourage investigation of what is really of interest to children and young people. After having duly “fixed” her, I had suggested to Christine that she might like to explore – at least in just one more session – how she could help herself prevent future painful episodes of suddenly being stuck in the posture of an old lady hobbling about on a stick.
Frustratingly, like many people who come through word of mouth expecting Feldenkrais to be a panacea for all sorts of troubles, Christine was very happy with the outcome of her ‘treatment’ and left walking with ease and very upright. I even had to run after her with the stick she had forgotten. She seemed to be quite oblivious of the fact that her body had given her a warning: please be more aware and take better care of me. However, since then Christine is pain-free when sitting in front of her computer where she spends up to ten hours a day editing schoolbooks (!) Maybe she did, after all, explore one or two alternatives to her previous sitting arrangement - as suggested in an indispensable book “bringing together the insights of design history, social science, medicine, and ergonomics for us, the sedentary masses”, as one of the reviewers wrote.
THE CHAIR – Rethinking Culture, Body, and Design, by Galen Cranz, Norton Paperbacks 2000, “illuminates the inexplicable in the obvious” as another reviewer points out. The author is Professor of the Sociology of Architecture and Design at the University of California, Berkeley, and particularly concerned about the effects of sitting for hours on end on supposedly comfortable chairs and other school furnishings which cause skeletal deformations from an early age. On the back-cover the results of Galen Cranz’s “fascinating and useful multidisciplinary research” is recommended for going “beyond traditional ergonomic theory to formulate new design principles that challenge the way we think and live .”
The “elusive obvious”, hidden behind the outer façade of what is taken for granted as normal and self-evident, seems to be under discussion in one form or another wherever you care to look - right down to newspaper articles warning about mindlessly doing Yoga postures or aerobic exercises. The message is always the same: Take care of your body, and pay attention so as to avoid hurting yourself by being overambitious.
“The person is the organism. In retrospect it seems so obvious as almost to ‘go without saying’.”
Current conceptual changes, especially in the so-called Life Sciences, and the revolutionizing consequences for theory and research are opening up new and ever widening horizons of human self-understanding. The present ‘paradigm’ shift in scientific approaches to understanding the nature of Life, and of ourselves as an Embodiment of Life, takes into account a considerably larger picture than the fragmented conventional disciplines with their limited interests and truths. This much wider focus is encapsulated in the term “Ecology”. Chambers Dictionary of Etymology, first published in 1988, has the following brief entry: Ecology: study of the relation of livings things to their environment.
Here I would like to mention just one example of a scientist, who after a prolonged struggle ultimately discovered the obvious which had long eluded him. In the process he managed to prise apart the conceptual prison bars of the discipline which eventually became his field of study. This all started at school. Thanks to an inspiring physics teacher, Tony Ingold had opted for studying this subject at university. Quickly frustrated by not being able to pursue his most urgent questions, he switched to a more promising academic subject. However, Biology did not measure up to his expectations either, especially since being shut up in a laboratory didn’t suit him at all. In the end Ingold became an anthropologist, immediately attracted to the teaching “of that notorious maverick of anthropology Gregory Bateson”, who actually played an important part in dialogues among Moshe Feldenkrais’s scientist friends. Bateson’s book “Mind and Nature – a Necessary Unity”, published in 1979, .is the first in the bibliography at the end of “The Elusive Obvious”. (See The Elusive Obvious Part I) This seminal work had been preceded by “Steps to an Ecology of Mind”, 1972 , an equally mind-expanding publication . Bateson’s insistence “ that the mind is not limited by the skin” fired Ingold’s imagination and led to the question which would thereafter occupy him: “Could not an ecological approach to perception provide the link I was looking for, between the biological life of the organism in its environment and the cultural life of the mind in society?” He felt troubled by the inherent dualism characterizing anthropology’s distinction of two kinds of systems, social and ecological, whose interplay was to be the core of his research. The process of overcoming this dualism which Tim Ingold vividly describes in his books is worth quoting at length. It may resonate for the reader with something equally surprising as the scales suddenly seem to fall from her/his eyes.
On catching a bus one rainy Sunday morning in April 1988, he writes,
It suddenly dawned on me that the organism and the person could be one and the same. Instead of trying to reconstruct the complete human being from two separate but complementary components, respectively biophysical and sociocultural, held together by with a film of psychological cement, it struck me that we should be trying to find a way of talking about human life that eliminates the need to slice it up into these different layers…
Why had this view, that the person is the organism, and not something added on top, eluded me for so long ? In retrospect it seems so obvious as almost to ‘go without saying’.
I now realise that the obstacle which had prevented me from seeing this was a certain conception of the organism, one that is built into mainstream theory in both evolutionary and environmental biology. According to this conception, every organism is a discrete, bounded entity, a ‘living thing’, one of a population of such things, relating to other organisms in its environment along lines of external contact that leave its basic, internally specified nature unaffected.
This kind of breakthrough, revealing as obvious what is tacitly known or already looked for, has been experienced by innumerable scientists, philosophers, artists, musicians throughout human history. Until very recently, however, the complex process leading up to what will eventually be counted as an advance in human understanding – thanks to some courageous individual daring to ignore the taken-for-granted set of categories which act as gospel in her/his particular field - has not been seriously investigated. Thinkers and artists in advance of their time - and Moshe Feldenkrais was clearly such a pioneer as far as research into learning and ‘learning to learn’ was concerned – greatly increase their freedom of choice and creative action by daring to question commonly held assumptions and dogmas on which their society’s value system, belief structure, and aesthetic sense are ultimately based. The price to pay for “following their own nose”, as Moshe encouraged his students to do, was often high since their contemporaries were as yet unable to appreciate their work. Just think of a great composer like Mozart who died young and poor, while his music keeps delighting millions even now. Van Gogh never sold a painting in his life (except to his brother), while nowadays his works fetch millions of dollars when auctioned.
What we don’t like
What seemed to be such a mind-blowing scientific insight for anthropologist Tim Ingold, namely that as ‘persons’ functioning in society we are simultaneously ‘organisms’ belonging to the realm of nature, can actually be directly experienced by all of us, even though we are seldom really conscious of this. Our pulse may quicken, our hair stand on end, our breath occasionally stop, as we watch an inspiring theatre performance or a gripping film. This may also happen when reading a novel or poetry, and especially at moments when we are deeply moved by a piece of music or the ‘heavenly’ performance of a pianist, violinist, or singer. However, as Charles Rosen, an exceptional American pianist and cultural polymath, points out in one of his books: “Though sentiment and emotion play a vital role in the composition, performance, and appreciation of music, rarely have these elements been fully observed.” Many of the questions asked by Rosen are still without answer. For instance:
How does a work of music stir the senses, creating feelings of joy, sadness, elation, or nostalgia ?
What does it mean to understand music ?
What sense of music do we share ?
How is pleasure in music related to understanding ?
( Charles Rosen, Music and Sentiment, p. 36ff)
All those questions concern the realm of meaning generated from lived experience constituting our “inner world”, a dimension hardly acknowledged as real and interesting, let alone respected in our competitively progress-oriented world. “Like and dislike” seem to be the only criteria by which anything unfamiliar or out of the ordinary is judged. As Rosen observes with regard to music: When music seems unfamiliar or not like anything we have heard before, we say we don’t “like it”. In a fast shrinking “multicultural” world, this narrow-minded attitude is responsible for untold misunderstandings and conflicts.
For a baby and toddler everything they meet and experience for the first time is fascinating and eminently worth exploring. Before starting school most children positively enjoy new challenges. Success in tackling new self-chosen tasks makes them glow with happiness and pride and is clearly an enormous boost to their self-assurance. A visit to any imaginatively equipped modern playground is a chance to observe how indefatigably most kids keep repeating daring feats over and over again. The smallest, who still need a little assistance, don’t get tired of imploring their mum or dad: “again!” and “again!” till the exhausted parent needs a rest.
Such fearless exploration of their world has no place in school. Instead children have to learn to sit still - on often unsuitable school furniture - ‘without talking’, and pay attention to what the teacher has to say and asks them to do. One of the first things children discover in a conventional school environment is that their bodies no longer count as primary tools of actively finding out about things. Instead they are taught how to use mostly abstract, cognitive approaches. The questions they would really like to pursue, and some already dawning knowledge and understanding they might wish to find words for, usually have no place in class.
Fear of Failure ; Love of Learning
The ultimately debilitating effects of this kind of regime, and, worse still, of being forced, from early on, to work hard in order to meet rigidly fixed standards of achievement – dictated by today’s politicians bowing to the requirements of increasingly competitive national economies - are convincingly documented in alphabet : fear or love, a film by Erwin Wagenhofer. This came out in 2014 and can be viewed on YouTube (but at present only with English subtitles). The thought-provoking documentary contrasts the fear of failure fostered in the name of ‘modern’ education with the delight and love of learning children are allowed to experience in alternative and more enlightened environments.
Highly informative commentaries from a neuro-biological and neuro--psychological point of view by a German scientist lucidly spell out the implications of two broadly distinguishable ways of preparing future generations to become valuable/responsible/useful members of society.
Particularly encouraging for the Feldenkrais community is the fact that, just like Norman Doidge, the American author of two important books about the plasticity of the brain (see EO III), Professor Gerald Hüther also acknowledges Moshe Feldenkrais’s crucial role as a pioneer whose theoretical and eminently practical contributions to science and research into learning are finally beginning to be vindicated.
The German Journal, Feldenkrais forum 96 ( 2017), which focuses on recent research findings, opens with an article by Gerald Hüther entitled “Lernen durch Bewegung” (Learning Through Movement). The text serves as a highly appreciative introduction to the recently published German version of Carl Ginsburg’s book THE INTELLIGENCE OF MOVING BODIES. Here Gerald Hüther encountered a Feldenkrais Trainer with a solid background in natural science, who, just like Moshe Feldenkrais, is well equipped to mediate between the world of ‘serious’ science and the subtle experience-based Learning Method he studied with Feldenkrais in the 1970s. Thanks to the active involvement of Ginsburg’s wife Luci, this “scientific” publication gives us balanced insight into theoretical and highly practical aspects of our method whose primary aim is to assist people to discover what is involved in being a “subject” and as such capable of choice and inner freedom. As a neuro-biologist Prof. Hüther is particularly impressed by the way ideas about coherence, self-organization, and the development of still dormant potential are expounded. Such ideas were long rejected as “unscientific” in Developmental Biology, but in recent decades gradually began to replace apparently ‘factual’ and ‘objective’ concepts such as DNA-coded hereditary disposition and considering all forms of life as basic stimulus-response mechanisms. “Reading Moshe Feldenkrais’s works”, Hüther writes, “had a lasting effect on me too. It encouraged me to regard a living being as not simply a kind of genetically created container whose primary function is its own reproduction.”
In all his work Professor Hüther’s main concern is to show that real learning has absolutely nothing to do with the conventional understanding of the term – as purely cognitive, formal learning of factual information and memorization of all sorts of things often of little or no interest to pupils. School children’s curiosity and passionate interest in their surroundings are gradually stunted, and at worst killed completely. The impact on their brain is devastating. With lack of appropriate stimulation the extraordinary multiplicity of potentially unlimited neural connections characterizing the newborn’s brain begins to wither away, and so does the capacity for learning we all have at birth. The outcome is that far too many children become listless victims of thoughtless, uncaring socio-educational planning.
The consequences for some of the most promising, brightest pupils/students, selected for entry into the grueling rat-race of increasingly competitive national education, are often tragic. They are touchingly embodied in a sad-faced Chinese boy whose mother proudly displays to the camera heaps of glittering medals and shiny paper documents as proof that her son has come out on top of virtually all the competitions he entered. Brave-new-world scenes showing row upon row of young Chinese bent over their exam-papers during the annual international Maths-Olympics are truly sickening. But China is proud to already head PISA international performance assessments. The extent to which modern curricula, school books, learning methods, and tools, and also tests rely on neurological research reminiscent of the scientific reductionism introduced by Behaviourism in the 1970s is only too evident.
Prof. Hüther is a passionate popularizer of recent research into the extraordinary plasticity of the human brain whose multifaceted scientific approach shows beyond doubt that learning is always an experience of the whole body and always involves both movement and the emotions. When activated by interest and enthusiasm the emotional centres in an appropriately motivated child’s brain “release neuroplastic messenger substances enabling what has been learned to become anchored in the brain.” (Learning enthusiastically – A conversation with Prof. Gerald Hüther – wwwgerald-huether.de/content/international/) The pleasure of having succeeded in acquiring competence in whatever is undertaken acts as an incentive for tackling fresh and more demanding learning. If allowed to happen freely, the biochemical processes involved will set, and keep in motion, the formation of increasingly complex neural networks in the brain. Gerald Hüther often speaks more generally about “experience dependent plasticity”, i.e. the basic natural intelligence which provides all living organisms, from the simplest to the most complex, with species-specific capacity to adapt to changing circumstances within their environment - in other words to learn.
The plasticity of the human brain, by far the most complex organ to have been found in nature (still waiting to realize its as yet untapped phenomenal potential), is already apparent in the womb. After birth the child’s brain continues as-it-were structuring itself, at an even more extraordinary rate thanks to the multiplicity and variety of impressions impinging on its sense organs. What initially appears to be an uncontrollable excitement seizing the newborn’s whole body is in fact the first manifestation of the “enthusiasm” with which the toddler will begin to investigate and master its world, learning to stand on its own feet, and finally getting about without adult help. All this enjoyable activity activates the ‘emotional centres’ in the child’s brain and thereby ensures that “inner images” are anchored in the neural networks. Proprioceptive images of the body and its movements are complemented by images based on impressions received from the outside world. Hüther’s simplified definition of the term “inner image” points to the role of the imagination in genuine learning:
An inner image is a pattern or action plan that tells me what I must do if something new happens…
We store inner images in our brain in the form of particular behaviour patterns that form over the course
of our life.
“Modern” education which increasingly resorts to technology in the form of computer programmed transmission of cognitive knowledge and skills has hardly any time for fostering young people’s imagination which plays such an important role in our practice. As Feldenkrais professionals we encourage the cultivation of this crucial faculty. By inviting people to “listen inside” and “pay attention” to whether what they are doing really corresponds to what they intend to do or think/imagine they are doing, and to explore a movement “only in the imagination” on the side of the body that has not yet experienced what was explored on the other. Just imagine what learning at school could be like if such experiences became part of the curriculum, brightening up the usual dull routine and, more importantly, young people’s prospects for the future.
As Hüther stresses: “ Only what is used in the environment a child grows up in will remain in place. What is not used will wither away.” What is actually, ultimately, learned by child and adult alike is determined by what is of vital significance for each uniquely particular individual.
For growing numbers of children and adolescents bored or alienated by school, the media provide an alternative at present. But their primary interest is commercial, so most of the rather shallow satisfaction offered to young people in no way equips them for leading a relatively happy, let alone meaningful life.
Many of us will have encountered a particularly striking aspect of the elusive obvious when a somewhat listless youngster appears in our practice. This is usually the result of her/his parents having heard that the Feldenkrais Method might deal successfully with some ‘problem’ or other which conventional therapy or medicine had been unable to alleviate or ‘cure’. At the end of the session the child or adolescent, who clearly didn’t want to be manipulated by yet another expert, often seems to be a changed person, suddenly alert, fully present, even smiling, and willing to come again and learn something which somehow seems to make sense.
Looking more closely at such miraculous transformations from a point of view which is elusively present in Moshe Feldenkrais’s thinking, and in the lessons he devised, will have to wait until Part V of this seemingly autonomously developing article which just doesn’t yet appear ready to come to a conclusion.
I still need to examine the work of Michael Polanyi (1891-1976), a professor of physical chemistry and social studies who was passionately interested in Nature and the complexities of human nature. His most influential book on the philosophy of science PERSONAL KNOWLEDGE was published in 1958 – and certainly played a crucial role in Moshe Feldenkrais’s thinking. Polanyi’s extraordinary insights into the elusively obvious relation between the inner and outer dimensions of human existence apply directly to our work as somatic educators and may greatly help us to clarify the ‘difficult’ issues involved. To conclude here is a thought provoking sample:
The fundamental structure of skillful bodily activity is the same as that of cognitive activity. Common to both is the integration of outer, subsidiary elements through an inner focusing activity… The arts of doing and knowing are only different aspects of the act of expanding our person into the subsidiary awareness of particulars that compose a whole. But while we are more or less awake in our cognitive thinking, we remain for the most part entirely unconscious of how we coordinate our bodily movements.
Intermediate between bodily activity and thinking is the activity of speaking… (THE THIRD CULTURE, p. 47)