Last Tuesday morning, I did something non-habitual.
Feldenkrais teachers often say that we help people to notice their habitual patterns of action, and then to explore non-habitual patterns to expand one’s choices for action in the future. This statement flies past most people, but it’s a really big deal. And it’s a big deal to notice when it’s happening. Usually, I facilitate this for my clients. Tuesday offered an opportunity to practice it for myself.
It was a tad before 8 a.m., and I had just had the first glance of the day at my Facebook feed. I can usually scroll past the annoying stuff, but Tuesday morning I got hooked by a pet peeve. In a flash, I typed a brief and brilliant slam of this type of post, and indirectly of those who post them. I was fully cranked and ready to give the world a piece of my mind. So there! And then, I took a breath.
I read over what I had typed – it really was good! And then I thought: do I really need to post this? Is this how I want to start my day? Can I just let this go? And you know what? I did.
What was really shocking was that this post received 95 “Likes” and stimulated 16 comments. Usually I have to post a picture of food, or my grandson, or one of my cats to get that kind of engagement. While the comments ranged from “Oh come on! Let us hear it!” to “I’ve done that myself,” several expressed appreciation and admiration of my restraint. That sentiment intrigued me. Was this behavior so extraordinary, so noteworthy?
We live in a “Just Do It” culture. No guts, no glory. Stand your ground. My parents’ generation would say, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.” But the ability to NOT do something – to inhibit action – is a greatly undervalued human capacity. This choice of doing or not-doing is called self-regulation. The toddler must learn to manage complex emotions of frustration and anger, and find ways other than temper tantrums to get her needs met. Teenagers push the limits and learn how to deal with authority to avoid adverse consequences and loss of privileges. As adults, we must regulate our appetites for food, sleep, alcohol, sex, and being right at all costs. The ability to intercept one’s habitual actions, and choose a better one, a more useful one, a more constructive one, is an ability worth developing.
As humans, we constantly navigate between the poles of engagement and detachment. Both are valuable, as are all the gradations of the spectrum. Each person must find a comfort zone in which they can function best. Moments of extraordinary courage or greatness will carry us outside of the comfort zone. For that reason, Moshe Feldenkrais advises that one should learn to move with efficiency, clarity, and minimal effort, to conserve vital energies for when they are needed.
Even though I have been a teacher of the Feldenkrais Method for over a decade, I am still amazed at the power of this work to break in and infiltrate my life in unexpected ways. The practice of teaching the non-habitual can become routine. And then, a revelation emerges – not on the floor in the midst of a lesson, but in the midst of life, lived. I noticed my available choices in a seemingly insignificant moment, and was able to shift out of “piece of mind” mode into peace of mind. I dare say my day likely changed course as a result.
The news, social media, our families and co-workers can all elicit strong reactions. Our increasingly chaotic, discordant, and violent world adds internal and external stress. If each of us could learn to shift from “piece of mind” to “peace of mind,” what effect might that have in our relationships, our communities, our nation, our world? I believe this idea is at the core of the Feldenkrais Method. Who knows? This self-regulation stuff might just be the next big thing.