I Threw Something Away

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Yes, alert the media.  This is big.

I get rid of stuff all the time.  I do the semi-annual give-away-old-clothes-books-gadgets clean out, and have done for years.  But something is different now.  In part inspired by #reverb10, during December I reflected on the past year and envisioned what I wanted for 2011.  One of the reflections was about letting go, actually and metaphorically, and I wrote about that here.  I hired an assistant to come in and teach me how to deal with . . .

Dun dun DUNNNNNN. . .


I’ve read dozens of self-help, get-organized books, and have learned to be very well organized in most aspects of my life.  Furthermore, I have several friends who are professional organizers of the highest caliber.  I could sense when one of them would begin to salivate at the prospect of straightening me out, as they sniffed around for their opportunity to ensnare me.  I valued their friendship more than I wanted to risk their wrath and judgment, so I never hired them to help me with what I really needed.  For me, the breakdown was that most of what I read was about how to keep everything organized.  I really wanted to have less to have to organize in the first place.  My previous strategies had reached their expiration date. My prior level of organization was no longer adequate for today’s demands and challenges.  I knew what result I wanted, but I didn’t know how to get there.

My new assistant, who comes for another five hours this Friday,  provided a hub for what I realized were just random informational “spokes” whirling around in my life, poking me, lacerating the surroundings, and good for nothing.  With her “hub,” the spokes have something to attach to — the crucial missing piece.  I am now capable of self-propulsion.

I have become a dedicated and enthusiastic shredder.  I have shredded so much accumulated and outdated paper, that my partner jokes, “Are we closing the Embassy?” I have embraced the ideal of a paperless office, even if I never completely get there.   All information about each of my accounts is available online anyway, so I have stopped most incoming mail from those accounts and vendors.  I’ll be scanning the documents I really do need, so digital versions will replace the paper clogging my file cabinets and my brain. I have external hard drives and cloud storage available to back up my back ups, so I feel fantastic.  I have become pitch-happy, ready to part with almost anything.  If it can be shredded, so much the better.

The title of this post is the spoiler for a tiny event tonight that has changed everything.   It’s not just that I can throw something away:  it’s that I realize I have learned something, and have applied my capacity to think critically and use that new learning instead of using my old habitual “Default” setting of “I must keep this.”  Here’s how it went:

I received my new EZ Tag in the mail yesterday, and went online to activate it. (An EZ Tag lets me go through the “fast lane” on Texas toll roads in major metro areas.) I put the EZ Tag on my windshield, according to the directions.  A print-out showed me my tag number, order number for activation, and my account balance.  I thought:  where do I keep this brochure and the enclosed information?  In the glove box?  No.  In a file?  So as I looked at this packet, I thought:  I don’t need the brochure cover, so that can be recycled.  I don’t need the instructions for how to apply my tag to the windshield, because that is done.    There’s this document that has my activation code — shall I scan it?  Wait a minute.  I have already activated it online.  The only other information on the page is my account balance, which is also available online.

SHREDDER!!!! <zzzzzzzzzzhhhhhhzzzzzzhhhhhhzzzzzzhhhhhh> and DONE.

Moshe Feldenkrais said, “Any adjustment is evidence that learning has occurred.”  Each milestone, no matter how seemingly small, is a marker on a larger journey of progress.  The Feldenkrais Method is based on this kind of gentle, incremental, transformational learning.  When you look back at the baby steps, you can see how far you have come.

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A Better Brain with FELDENKRAIS

In the days since the terrible violence in Tuscon, AZ, when a gunman took the lives of thirteen innocent people, including that of Federal Judge John Roll, and gravely wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and others; the general public has received a steady media diet of stories about traumatic brain injuries and prospects for rehabilitation.  Thankfully, Rep. Giffords is doing remarkably well. We send our very best wishes to her, and to her family, during her convalescence and recovery.

As a result of this high-profile story, at both the national and local level, people are increasingly curious about the amazing capacity of the brain to regenerate itself, to find redundancies and “alternate routes” for parts that have  “gone off-line” due to stroke, or neurological process, or injury; and above all, that improvement is possible.  (For an excellent summary, see this recent PBS Report.)  At the core of the Feldenkrais Method is this very issue: how to create optimal conditions for any individual so that these changes in the brain — broadly called “learning,” can occur.

No doubt, Rep. Giffords will be getting state-of-the-art care at Houston’s Memorial Hermann Hospitals TIRR Center.  Their protocols are effective and tested, and I’ve heard that they are similar to those used in  our military hospitals to rehabilitate the traumatic brain injuries as have been suffered by our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.  They know what they are doing.

I always wonder how an already good experience can be made even better.  And so, it makes me wish that Rep. Giffords, and all of our wounded veterans, were able to have access to the learning and improvement that occurs with the Feldenkrais Method, in addition to the care they already receive.  The qualitative difference that our approach makes in easing pain, developing sensitivity and function, and improving balance and coordination, could be astonishing.

Our Method is already widely used in major hospitals in the US, most notably in the Kaiser Permanente system in California, and in the most progressive physical therapy settings.  Until a few years ago, the Memorial Hermann Wellness Center offered a weekly class in Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement, and a practitioner worked with their pain patients on a regular basis until her retirement.  This prior positive history with the method may justify re-opening the door.  I would love to see a group of patients receive the present TIRR approach in treatment, and another group receive the TIRR approach with the addition of regular Feldenkrais sessions.  My sense is that there would be a big difference in the group that also had Feldenkrais.  In addition to the patient benefits,  there is some preliminary evidence that people recover more quickly, which translates to lower costs.  Improved patient outcomes and a healthier bottom line are in the interest of any institution.

It’s all very interesting to ponder.  It also makes it important that people who have experienced the benefits of the Method — even if just for baby-boomer weekend-warrior pain — share their positive experiences instead of keeping them and us a secret.  We may not get to work with Rep. Giffords, but future cases — no, PEOPLE — will benefit down the line. We wish her the very best. And, Rep. Giffords:  I am at your service.

[Research studies about the Feldenkrais Method, including peer-reviewed articles, can be found at FeldSciNet.org.]

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John Harrison's famous chronometer
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So here we are, a little over three weeks into the New Year.  I didn’t really make resolutions this year, instead opting to begin my action plans before  the calendar flipped the page.  This approach made me much less stressed and burdened with expectations, which is my usual self-inflicted state during the holidays.

I also took the past four weeks (the last two of 2010, and the first two of 2011) to change things up a bit and try to find a better routine for my life and work flow.  A work flow that leaves room for play.  SO far — data incomplete.  I really like to get up early — early early for me is around 6 a.m., and sit down to write.  If I can get all of my writing for the day (750words.com warm-up, a blog post, answer pressing emails, and create any new promotional pieces or correspondence) before about 9 a.m., I am a happy camper.  It hasn’t worked out that way, though.   My blog poast has settled in to the afterthought category.  In light of my commitment to blog every day, I realize around 10 p.m. that I haven’t completed it yet.  I have one in Draft stage, not yet ready for prime time, so I have been writing and creating.  However, I am learning that my peak production time is in the early morning.

Clients come when they will — that’s my whole reason for being in business, after all — and I have organized a schedule so that I see them during my best “people hours.”  By 11 a.m. I am ready to emerge from solitude and my own self care, and begin to care for others.   My best social time is around dinner, an early dinner, by 7 p.m.  And then, I am ready to call it a day.

Moshe Feldenkrais said, “Habits are wonderful, as long as you can break them at any time.”  A habit that can’t be broken is a compulsion — not a healthy or optimal state.  Therefore,  I like to experiment with my non-essential habits. Tooth brushing and bathing are non-negotiable.  However,  fine-tuning my schedule to meet my own productivity, rather than the expectations of others, has been very freeing and enjoyable.  Work or sleep could easily overtake the whole schedule.  Finding the nice balance of a little work, a little play, a little rest, and a little challenge each day is a skill that must be developed and tuned over time.   A routine that is flexible and functional is key to accomplishment.  I am thankful for the freedom I have, from within and without, to design my own best routine, whatever that might be.

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Going Through the Motions

For some reason, I haven’t felt much like writing today. I got up and cranked out my 750 Words over coffee, and that was all I could manage. Errands, clients, and continuing my office reorg took up the rest of the day, and my available mental bandwidth. The prompt for today from Post a Day didn’t thrill me, so here I am, right before bed, writing about not writing.

In the Feldenkrais Method, we teach the advantages of self recognition: to recognize when one is using too much force, or being led by misplaced ambition, or acting without attention. Sometimes you come out ahead by resting, and starting again refreshed. That is what it feels like I should do tonight.

My mother had a vivid expression that she would use to describe someone who was acting without understanding, commitment, or energy. She would say they were “just going through the motions.” Clearly, just going through the motions was a bad thing, or a poor substitute for the real thing, whatever that was. However, I now have a different perspective.

In a Feldenkrais class, you learn something about yourself by going through the motions. The movements don’t have to meet any standard of excellence other than your own comfort and enjoyment in them. Going through the motions, listening deeply and feeling subtle distinctions, free from ambition, performance, or importance, brings amazing sensations of lightness and overall improvement. And so, sometimes just going through the motions will yield a surprising result.

Going through the motions of writing tonight has resulted in a piece of writing: something I very much wanted to produce, but had struggled with all day. There you go.

Why Did I Begin?

Typical brands of Potato Chips at a superstore.
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I have been blogging since May of 2005.  Not an early adopter, by any means, but right in the middle of the wave.  For my profession, however, I was on the vanguard.

I had just turned 50! My life was very different than I thought it would be.  My marriage had ended three years previously, after almost twenty-five years.  I had been a college professor for ten years, but the same year as my divorce, I “left town ahead of an angry mob.”  Such is academic life.  And during it all, 2001-2004, I was engaged in the most profound experience of my life:  the training program to become a teacher of the Feldenkrais Method.

I had moved to a new town and was trying to make my way in private practice. I was just beginning to get some traction.  A year after graduation, I was beginning to have a sustaining practice, when some of my colleagues who had been practicing for years seemed to be struggling.  I started blogging because I wanted to share.  I wanted to share my perspective, and I wanted to share my work with a larger audience — with my clients, and with those who might someday be clients — of someone.  I also wanted to share my way of being, and being in practice, and of thinking and speaking about the Method, with my colleagues.  We Feldenkrais teachers tend to be a bit verbose, and more than a little arcane at times.  Upon encountering a thirsty one, we proceed to drown him, when only a cupful would save his life.  In sharp contrast, I like to give people “one potato chip:”  just enough to make them want more.  I have used this ability to create a small but loyal readership for my blog, and to reach out to others. Social media, and Twitter particularly, with its 140-keystroke constraint, is a delightful challenge, and my medium of choice.  Less is more.

I tend to do everything in fits and starts.  The blogging thing, the eblasts, all ebb and flow with my attention and enthusiasm.  However, after several years of experimentation, I think I have finally discovered a work flow that works for me.  I have also noticed some shifts in my self-image.

Moshe Feldenkrais said, “We act in accordance with our self-image.”  This powerful sentence can be interpreted at many levels.  I have only recently begun to perceive myself, and embrace myself, as a writer.  In the past six weeks, I have been acting like a writer.  I see myself as a writer.  I behave like a writer:  I now write every single day.  As I have stopped telling myself, “You’re not REALLY a writer,” as I have stopped discounting my creations as “That’s not REALLY writing,” I have lowered my standards enough that I actually enjoy the process of writing and creating.  I believe in the story I have to tell, the information I have to share, the perspective I have to offer.  It is not the only thing I do, but it is and has become an important part of my self-expression.

In no regard does my self-image as a writer “crowd out” or negate the other things I am: a Feldenkrais teacher, a musician, a mother of adult children; a partner, a WordPress aficionado, a friend, an advisor, a connector.  The web I weave is one that supports me, and those I care about. How much human potential is wasted in the mistaken notion that we can only be, or do, one thing?

And so — my original purpose in blogging has remained true, and has continued to resonate, even after five years — which is a long time on “the internets.”  I hope I continue to grow and adapt, and the blog with me.  I seem to be made for self-expression, and to help others to more fully express themselves. Might as well ride the horse the direction it’s going!

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Stress Levels

Stress is the bane of modern existence.

And yet, without just the  right amount of stress, how many of us would actually accomplish anything during the day?

You see, we have adapted over milennia to be able to handle stress — even to require it.  Without stress, unmet needs go unmet.  Hungry tummies remain hungry.  Our ancient forbears evolved with a survival instinct:   fight or flight, freeze or faint, drop and drool — all are strategies for dealing with the stress of the unexpected.  And so, with just the right amount of stress, people find work to support themselves, innovative thoughts become inventions, bills get paid, deadlines and budgets are sustained, and all goes along quite well indeed.

And yet, in our modern world, we’re not very good at modulating stress. Luckily, most of us don’t have to worry about being devoured by a wild beast who is simply and innocently meeting his own nutritional needs.  For some of us, stress becomes pathological.  Instead of improving the system, or inspiring it to effective action, the opposite occurs.  Our fight/flight instincts, so effective long ago, now cause our bodies and our natural processes to accelerate as if it were actually a life-threatening situation.  With our nervous systems constantly on “high alert,” we find ourselves unable to relax.  We have forgotten how.

I find that I am most under stress when I am fighting against some “should.” Either I think someone else “should” be behaving differently, to live up to my unarticulated expectations; or I feel pressure to comply with someone else’s “should.”  Most of these “shoulds” are just bullshit.   I can change my expectations, renegotiate the expectations of others, or go play my own game for awhile.

Of course, there are situations of extreme duress:  those life crises that you hope and pray never happen to you or to someone you love.  An upsetting diagnosis, the loss of a job (or the threat of losing one); or sudden adaptation to an undesired event, such as a divorce or death of a loved one.  These are the events that take the wind out of our sails.    They require extreme self-care and professsional help.

Any advice about handiling stress, when you are in the midst of it, sounds like a mere platitude.  However, if you focus on finding solutions, rather than just circling the drain and dwelling on the problem, your stress level will decrease. Even if a solution is not evident, or possible, working toward one will restore your dignity and power in the situation.

There’s no glory, or status, in being stressed.  Your stress level is not a mark of superiority or a badge of honor.  Get some advice on how to constructively manage your stress:  some people like yoga, or running, or a hobby, or Feldenkrais classes. A coach, counselor, or therapist can also help. Finding time to be quiet, to spend time in nature, or to meditate (whatever that means to you) can help you to feel a bit more clarity and calm. Stress without purpose and without end is damaging to you physically, mentally, and emotionally. Embrace the stress that motivates you to keep moving forward.  As for the rest — do with less.  Take some small action in the direction of your intention — even if it is just cleaning your kitchen sink, going for a walk, or doing some research on the internet.  Getting into action, and building a support system, will help.

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Talking, or Texting?

Having read an interesting question: “Do you prefer to talk, or text?”  I am once again intrigued by context. Perhaps lit’s because I am a writer, or perhaps because my thinking is influenced by the Feldenkrais Method. A simple question, “This, or that?” is not so simple, after all. I have to answer, “For what purpose? When?”

“Talk or text” doesn’t seem like a preference, as “Boxers, or briefs?” is. I love to text for the fast-and-dirty, need-info-or-your-attention-NOW kind of communication. I like to talk only if I am sure the other person has time for a more in-depth conversation.  The question also presumes a context of  what we might call “device-based communication.”  In-person, face-to-face is not what is being addressed here.  As we are increasingly mobile, we literally do things “on the run,” or “remotely.” Right now, I am away from my office, waiting at Half Price Books for their assessment of the value of the books I brought in to sell, and blogging on my iPad. If you had asked me even a year ago if such a thing were even possible – let alone that I would be doing it, I would have said you were nuts! With so many contact options and styles open to us (talk in person, talk on the phone, email, chat, text, smoke signals, tea leaves), our communications and our relationships are subject to much finer distinctions.

My new clients frequently ask me the same abstract questions: “What is the best way to ______? Which is the RIGHT way to ______?” My answer must be, “It depends.” We can, and must, adapt virtually every action to the present circumstances. Your body alignment wil be very different if you are walking down the street, or looking under your bed for a lost shoe. Your breathing will be different if you are sleeping, sprinting, singing, or giving birth. The Feldenkrais Method helps you to discover your own best way to turn your intentions into actions.

How about you?  Is “Talk or Text” a simple question for you to answer?  What do you prefer, and why?  I’d love your take on the topic, so please leave a comment. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll text my daughter to see if she is free for lunch on Friday.



#reverb10 – Day 31 – Ending the Year

Mount Hood reflected in Trillium Lake, Oregon.
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December 31, 2010.  In the past month, I chose to re-dedicate myself to the practice of writing.  I had an attractive “nudge” to do so: the #reverb10 project.

Each day, a prompt for thoughtful reflections would arrive in my email inbox.  Some struck me as silly or juvenile, some really interesting, and some maddening — but all accomplished their purpose, which was to provide inspiration for writing. After Christmas, after 25 days of blogging, it was time for a break.

I’m old enough that it didn’t bother me in the slightest if I did not adhere precisely to the literal surface value of the words in each prompt.  I used the prompt as a “center of gravity,” or as a firm surface against which to push, to gain some traction, and to move forward.    I wrote about comical things, serious things, and I hope that what I wrote was interesting.  I proved to myself that I can write, and I can write every day.

After 25 days, the prompts started to feel repetitive to me.  I also experienced a shift, largely inspired by #reverb10.  After three weeks of devoting myself to reflection, I was ready to emerge from the cocoon and fly, gracefully,  into action. Inspired by several of the prompts, I began to picture the kind of office I would like to have, the kind of home environment I would like to have, and so on — and then I felt full.  Time to stop, and start to do.  As I have written previously here, I launched into a massive re-organization of my office (the bathroom closet and the dresser are next!) and I feel that sunny virtuousness that comes from doing satisfying work that is largely hidden from public view.

“To everything there is a season,” as the Good Book says.  A time to reflect and prepare, and a time to produce, to act, to create. There is too little reflection in our culture and society.  Our actions, personally, nationally, globally, are mistakenly described as bold, courageous, or strong, when in fact they are merely rash and reactive.  Intelligent action requires a prelude of reflection, of careful thinking and planning, or at least noticing — in order to have the freedom to act spontaneously with strength and power.  This is the foundation of the work of Moshe Feldenkrais, and the Feldenkrais Method.

There’s also a danger in spending so much time in reflection that you never DO anything. I think that, as with any appetite, allowing oneself to gratify the urge will eventually establish a healthy limit.  You can feel it when you’ve had enough to eat, or drink — that is, if you haven’t dulled your senses so much that you habitually ignore yourself.  Likewise,  the emotions of sadness and grief might not turn into long-term depression if we simply allow ourselves to feel what we feel, without rushing or judging — until we have had our fill, and are ready to move on.  And so it is with reflection.  Stare at yourself in the mirror long enough, and you’re going to put on some lipstick or brush your hair eventually!  And then, it’s time to take yourself out in the world to do something.

Reflection and action are two sides of the same coin, and both are better for their acquaintance with other.  I think the key is not to imagine some arbitrary place “in the middle” where “we have a balance.”  In that balance is inertia.   No, we need a dynamic balance:  we navigate along a spectrum, as life sometimes requires more action and less reflection, and other times require the opposite.    We adapt, we flow, we live.

[Thanks for reading this month.  Thanks to all the new readers and friends who contributed so much to my world and my awareness as I read their reflections in comments here, and on their own blogs.  I’ll continue to write every day, or almost every day, in 2011.  Some of what I write will appear here.  Come back any time!]

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#reverb10 – Day 25 – Photo

Prompt: Photo – a present to yourself. Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you. [Prompt by Tracey Clark, via #reverb10]

May 17, 2010

This photo sums up the best of 2010 for me.  It was my birthday, a big one. The students in the Houston Feldenkrais Training, in session for just two weeks, conspired to throw a surprise party.  Lisa played the violin.  Everyone brought amazing food for a luncheon potluck.  The birthday cake was a cupcake pyramid from one of Houston’s premier cupcakeries. We adorned ourselves with temporary tattoos that didn’t wash off for days afterwards.  Mardi Gras beads, a tiara, party hats for all, a pinata, a bouquet of my favorite flowers (blue iris), and other thoughtful gifts (including a great bottle of wine and an assortment of luxurious lotions and potions) made it a true celebration.  We’re sitting at picnic tables outside of Westwood Hall at Emerson Unitarian Church in Houston, Texas, our beautiful venue for the training.  It was a perfect, sparkling, sunshiny, Houston springsummer day.

The photo was taken by wonderful Frances, a student in our training.  Pictured from left to right are Cathy (with coffee cup); Paul, dear friend, mentor, and business partner (baseball cap); Chris, my sweetheart and life partner:  Thomas (at back table); Moi, the birthday girl, sporting the tiara and big smile; Nita; someone’s hand (not sure who!); and Carl, with our good friend Moshe Feldenkrais, who made a special guest appearance.

Sadly, three months later, Nita, chef, friend, expat bonne vivante, cupcake procurer and partner-in-crime, died suddenly at her home in Kazhakstan, of an enlarged heart. I couldn’t help but think how poetic and ironically appropriate that post mortem diagnosis was — and thought to myself, “What a way to go.” And yet, she was only 43.  WTF.  I continue to miss her.   Our training program reconvened a mere two weeks after her death, and we all miss her, halfway protecting the territory on the floor that was “her place.”  To come across all of these party photos, and this one in particular. . .

So this picture is the year in a nutshell.  Good friends, old and new.  The culmination of years of work and organization.  The creative spontaneity of expression from a newly forming community. Happiness and fun, silliness and celebration.  Love, business, food, work, colleagues.  And the awareness of life and all its preciousness.  What does the choice reveal about me?  I guess just that I love my friends, and my work,  and that I have learned to relish them, and everything.

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#reverb10 – Day 22 – Travel

Little airplane
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Prompt: Travel. How did you travel in 2010? How and/or where would you like to travel next year? [Prompt by author Tara Hunt for #reverb10.]

Over the past several years, I haven’t had the budget to do much traveling.  I didn’t even have it in mind to plan to travel — until this year.

Some of my travel is for business. In June, I made a quick trip to Wichita Falls for my biennial gig there, teaching a “Feldenkrais for Musicians” class as part of a big music camp.  The event is coordinated by a long-time friend and colleague, who has been most kind to hire me year after year.  Quick up on a Sunday night, back home Monday afternoon.  In years past, the plane from Dallas to Wichita Falls was a little puddle jumper — a super small prop plane, and terrifyingly turbulent on a hot north Texas summer day.  This year, it seemed they had fewer flights, but on much larger planes.  That was much more comfortable.  2011 is an “off year” for the WF trip, as plans now stand. But I am open to re-instituting my “World Tour” to teach workshops at schools and for company retreats. Preferably in exotic locations.

I was a gypsy for three weeks in July.  I had a wonderful contract to teach at a training program for career-track opera singers, called RESONANZ. I traveled to Albany, NY for two weeks of music and movement, meeting the other people on the faculty, and marveling at the amazing talents of the students in the program.  The program is unique because it fosters the development of  each performer as a whole person.  In addition to world-class coachings and performance experiences, the students participate in mind-body practices of yoga, meditation, and the Feldenkrais Method.  Two weeks there were personally and professionally rewarding.  If I’m offered a contract to go back, it will be a pleasure to accept!

I mentioned three weeks in July, and weeks one and three were in Albany. Week Two, the middle week, was spent in my beloved Chicago at the annual conference for North American Feldenkrais teachers. I was fortunate to be on the conference program to talk about social media and practice-building.  The best part was reconnecting with friends and colleagues, and enjoying the city after the conference was over.

In 2010 I actually planned a real vacation for the first time in many years.  I planned a weekend surprise getaway to Chicago at the end of October for my partner’s birthday.  I described it in a previous post in this series, because that trip qualifies as “Best Party” of 2010. I really loved planning every detail, from booking the flights to purchasing our CityPasses online, to conspiring with friends to be able to stay in their condo.  It was a magical five days. I think I’ll include my guy in the planning for our next vacation.  It was a blessing to have created the time and the resources to make the trip.

So my questions for 2011 — how can I create more opportunities for travel this year.  As with everything — “ask and ye shall receive.” I’m asking! I’m going to apply to renew my passport so that that if an invitation arises to go abroad, I can do it.  I love to travel anywhere to share my work with people, and am currently creating more opportunities to do that.  And I think another trip to Chicago, or perhaps San Francisco, are beckoning.  I know I can be packed in less than an hour.  Let’s go!

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