[Today’s writing prompt was provided by my friend, Twitter buddy, and fellow #reverb11 #resound11 enthusiast, Head Pickle.]
What’s your take on being a Work in Progress?
I believe that to view oneself and one’s life as a Work in Progress is the most profoundly hopeful, creative, joyful, realistic, and compassionate view possible. I can’t remember when I truly embraced this attitude, but I’ll bet it came along as I got deeper and more committed in my practice and study of the Feldenkrais Method.
You see, this Method is about learning: learning how to figure things out for oneself, learning to be curious and to look for new possibilities. The Method does not demand that anything be done “perfectly,” especially not the first time you attempt it. The Feldenkrais Method has some wisdom in it, helping people to discover that in the fruitless pursuit of perfection, you NEVER get there — the goalposts always move. And so, our purpose is improvement. “The potential for improvement is infinite,” as Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais said.
Feldenkrais also said, “Everything that is learned, we learn by successive approximations.” Successive approximation means that you give something a go, and then see how it went. On the next go, you do it a little differently, learning from the first go to see if it will be better. On the next go, if it was better, you tweak what you are doing again to keep improving. If it wasn’t better, you change course and try another approach. And, you keep going. This process is experimental and exploratory. It is basically the Scientific Method, applied to life. You have an idea what the result *might* be, but you don’t know until you try. The goal is not perfection (perfection of what?), but understanding, knowledge, getting just a bit closer to the idea you have. This way of learning is engaging, motivating, and enjoyable.
Think about a baby learning to walk. She rises to her feet with delight, and wobbles for a moment, a look of glee on her face. Then she sits back down. After a few dozen or hundred re-enactments of this, learning and refining each time, she is able to lift one foot off the floor (requiring a complex sensory operation of transferring all her weight to the other foot), takes a step — and falls down. Repeat another few hundred times, and eventually, she walks. No baby ever gives up on learning how to walk!
It is easy to forget that we all went through this process; and that there was about a year of process leading up to the moment of standing, that included lifting your head, rolling over, sitting up, coming onto one knee, crawling. . . And no parent stands before their about-to-toddle child and says, “You could do better! Is that the best you can do? What’s wrong with you? You’re embarrassing me, walking that way!” Parents don’t sign their kids up for “remedial walking lessons.” No. We find the baby’s exploratory process utterly fascinating, charming, amazing. We honor the process, confident that she will figure it out eventually.
Why don’t we honor our selves in the same way?
As we grow into adulthood and become more integrated into family and society, we become enmeshed in the expectations of others. It seems like as soon as a kid can walk, we stop valuing the learning process, and they become fair game for criticism. Many people’s first feelings of shame and inadequacy date back to early childhood, when they felt that they had fallen short of some expectation by a parent or other teacher.
Dr. Brené Brown writes and speaks about perfection and shame for a living. To paraphrase one small bit of her shared wisdom: she says it is tempting to hold your child in your arms and be completely consumed with the perfection of this little one, and to see your job as a parent to protect them and keep them perfect. Brené says, that’s not your job at all. Realize that this child is hard-wired for struggle, destined to find their own way. Your job as a parent is to love them all the way, as they work through it.
Each child is a work in progress, and come to think of it, so is each adult. To be willing to learn and fail occasionally (“there is no failure, only information”), knowing that it WILL BE BETTER next time, makes us resilient and hopeful for the future. The Feldenkrais Method has helped me to embrace and embody this resilience, and to share it with others.
This “Work in Progress” thing goes both ways. I don’t get a “PASS” on the perfection requirement while I hold you to it. This part is harder. However, approaching life as a series of learnings, and that everything is learned by successive approximations, makes for a much happier and higher-functioning existence.