This past weekend, I spent a glorious rainy three days in Austin with other Feldenkrais teachers from around the country. We had gathered for the opportunity to step out of our habitual teacher roles and once again to assume the role of student. The Feldenkrais Method® is about life-long learning, so we take our own personal and professional development very seriously. It is always a joy to lie on the floor as a class member, and enter the intriguing kinesthetic puzzle of Awareness Through Movement®.
The workshop had an advertised topic which was of interest to me, and the teachers were friends whom I don’t often get to see. I was “all in” for a great experience, and that experience was that I learned things I didn’t know were important for me to know. The element of surprise made the weekend learning exciting and profound. If you are coming for classes, lessons, or workshops in the near future, you’ll be the direct beneficiary.
It was after class that I had an opportunity to reflect upon what I was learning. It was fun and specific in the moment, but later I could appreciate the deeper levels, the broader applications, the wider implications for other aspects of my life. I thought about my students, what they say they want to learn, and what else they might learn. Are the deeper, unadvertised lessons a side-effect of the Method, or are they the true essence?
Moshe Feldenkrais sometimes spoke of assisting people “to live their vowed and unavowed dreams.” I think of a person who came to me for voice lessons because her dream was to learn to sing. What she learned along the way was how to find her voice, how to speak up for herself, and how to express her true self. That is an unavowed dream. When I work with someone, I think of the possible unavowed dream: to walk tall, to be resilient, to feel comfortable in one’s own skin, to feel a sense of power and agency in one’s life, to feel free.
It is great to take courses and classes to build a skill, learna language, or gain a new professional certification. As adults, we tend to forget that learning is not confined to classrooms and pre-packaged subject areas. Learning – organic, experiential learning – happens in virtually every moment!
Some of the most powerful and influential learning happens when we revisit something that we already know well. In fact, those “second nature” habits can become less useful and efficient over time. Learning something old in a new way can be a revelation.
Our daily movements and actions, our sleep patterns, and the choices about the foods we eat are all deeply ingrained. Although not “hard wired,” they are well-learned. The basics of life – how you Move, Sleep, or Eat – can be improved to an astonishing degree. Whether you want less pain, better coordination, a good night’s sleep, or to reach your optimal weight for healthy and longevity, learning old things with new information can lead to new results, and full, dynamic living.
[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.
I am five days post-op from cataract surgery on my right eye. The procedure was a complete success, no complications, and steadily improving vision. I have not written anything for the blog for a few days because it’s still fatiguing to look at the computer screen. However, it’s time to empty out some of what has been bouncing around in my brain for the past few days.
Because I am a Feldenkrais teacher, all kinds of things were and are interesting as I recover. It’s like a laboratory experiment! A qualitative experiment, to be sure. I’m getting lots of anecdotal data as I reflect upon the entire process to this point. In the Feldenkrais Method, a big part of our learning process is devoted to learning how to pay attention — REALLY pay attention. We learn how to notice, how to drink in information through our senses. We learn to become exquisitely sensitive — and, I believe the process has also made me exquisitely appreciative of all the amazing detail there is in the natural world, in individual human beings, in technology — the whole enchilada of life experience. An increased appreciation for enchiladas themselves may or may not be a side-effect of doing this work over time.
Personal awareness is our stock-in-trade. The hallmark of awareness is the frequency of dawning moments where you say to yourself, “How did I not notice that before?” I’ve learned that awareness isn’t something that you have, or you don’t. I think everyone has “it.” The differences arise from how much an individual is willing, or able, to allow that awareness to grow, develop, and include more about oneself and one’s surroundings.
Back to this eye thing. BEFORE: vision through my right eye was completely clouded, like looking through a think haze. I could tell that I was relying more and more on my left eye, which has always been identified as my dominant eye. Gradually it also seemed that the prescription lens for my left eye was just slightly “off,” and so somehow I was making adjustments for that, as well. I called it “living life in soft focus,” a lovely, impressionistic outlook. It was also exhausting and frustrating.
AFTER: the vision through my right eye is now bright — WOW is it ever bright — and clear. Clear as in not cloudy, and also clear as in distinct. Objects have edges on them, and I can perceive where one thing ends, and another begins. I ask myself — is this how other people see? And, if you can see this way, how is it possible to still NOT SEE so much that is around us?
Perhaps it’s never possible to see everything, just as it is not possible to be aware of everything. Perhaps our brains and nervous systems would be completely overwhelemd with all the data, and all the resulting choices. Our natural and habitual filters may calibrate just the amount that we can process at any moment. My sense is that I am doing a lot of processing right now.
I believe that I can actually FEEL my brain re-wiring itself to adapt to my newly acquired superpower. At least, that’s what I imagine is happening, based on my geeky appetite and enthusiasm for all things about the brain and neuroscience, especially neuroplasticity. Our brain is capable of re-forming, re-shaping, and making new structures in response to new information, building new pathways for that information to travel, and for skills and capacities to emerge and improve. Simply, this is called LEARNING, and it happens throughout one’s lifetime. And so, I feel a “bump in the road,” so to speak, as I realize that my brain now receives higher quality information from the surgical eye, rather than from my “dominant” eye. I notice when I read something, like a book or a computer screen, that I am looking through my left eye and not including my right. And all of this will continue to change.
I also notice that, for the past few days, I can’t concentrate very long — my “cognitive stamina” is depleted temporarily. I’m usually capable of laser-like focus of attention when I am absorbed in something, and I lack that absorbency right now. The tiredness, the fatigue, even the emotions arising, I recognize as signs that my brain is working really hard to sort out what is valuable and meaningful in the new flood of information.
This weekend, I pondered that perhaps the caution against driving for a few days has very little to do with impaired visual acuity. Instead, I recognized that I was seeing more clearly and accurately than I had in several months — and that I was in no shape to drive because of my distractability and lack of attention. I had always assumed it was because you couldn’t see enough. It didn’t occur to me that it could be because you’re seeing too much at the moment.
I’ll be playing with these metaphors and with my continuing real-life adaptations to my new super-power. The implications are intoxicating — probably another reason to have a designated driver for awhile yet. In the meantime, I’m craving enchiladas!
Those two words inspire knowing nods and a feeling of solidarity that can only come from the shared experience of “theater folk” who know what tech week can be. Tech week is the week before a show opens. It is a week of bedlam as all the components of a performance are integrated — or not. Bugs are revealed, problems arise, surprises occur. Lighting, sound, set and scenery are all installed, tested. Lines are forgotten, words are flubbed, entrances are missed. If a problem arises, everything grinds to a halt and the problem is fixed, however long it takes. Without the disasters, the phoenix of performance cannot arise, triumphant, from the ashes of learning where the traps are.
Our show opens Friday evening. Costumes, wigs, hats, shoes, makeup, microphones, and simple logistics of getting on and off stage must all be rehearsed and streamlined. At some point, you have to try to run the show start to finish and just let things fall apart. Each time you put it back together, it is better.
People expect tech week to be a lot of hard work — perhaps even grueling. It is the last week of late nights to get everything built, written, arranged, printed, cleaned. Nobody expects perfection the first time through. The cast and crew would freak out if tech rehearsals went completely smoothly. They expect to discover problems and solve them, and improve each time. Some actors even hope for some problems at the dress rehearsal, and worry if things go “too well” too early. Make all the mistakes you can in rehearsal, so that the performance is as close to flawless as humans can achieve.
The low expectations and dread that often accompany tech week makes the miracle of live performance that much more — well, miraculous. It is an amazing feat to surmount problems in a group, and create something that is better than you could have imagined. You show up, do your job, do it the best you can, and trust the people you’re playing with. And you have as much fun as you can. Somehow, everything comes together. I have no idea how, but it works every time.
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.
My cellphone rang yesterday morning. It was sitting right by me, not lost in the bottom of my purse, or left in the car.
I answered and heard the voice of an acquaintance. She said she was sorry to call with bad news. Our mutual friend had collapsed at home. Her husband found her on the floor and had been unable to revive her. Our friend was dead, she said.
We exchanged a few teary words, requests for information, promises of help and support. Shock, disbelief, confusion.
I always feel uncomfortable when I read a story like this, and I feel a bit frustrated in writing it.To write about her, her interests, her life, or her family seems strangely exploitive. To write about how her death has affected me seems stupidly narcissistic.
Ah, Narcissus! Self-absorbed little brat of lore, who couldn’t stop admiring his own reflection in the pond. ZAP! he got turned into the flower that bears his name. There’s a cautionary tale for you! Narcissus, archetype of the self-absorbed, hoarded the reflection for his own admiration.
But here’s my question for the morning — if you share your reflections — or the act of reflection — doesn’t the sharing take on a deeper meaning? Does this sharing actually “prevent” narcissism from taking root? By sharing reflections, we have a basis for empathy, understanding, perhaps even intimacy.
My friend was the consummate hostess in every situation. She welcomed everyone, everywhere, and drew them in with her laughter, wide-ranging conversation, and always fabulous food. Wherever she was, there would be a party — or it would feel like one. She had recently begun to train to become a Feldenkrais teacher — work that had helped her to recover from back pain while living abroad, listening to recordings of my lessons. She threw herself into the process of learning via immersion, eager to learn and know and do all she could to benefit from the work and share it with others. As I talk to some of her other friends, this is how she approached everything. What a great way to be remembered!
Many friends from around the globe are reflecting publicly, posting their thoughts, prayers, and condolences on her Facebook page. How ironic that this contemporary tool, often held up as a flagrant contributor to the development of narcissistic personalities, should be used for such an ancient purpose. Apparently, we are made to connect with one another. Whether it is in person or through a computer screen, people are in pursuit of that basic human need. We will establish connection by any means available — and we miss the connection when it is gone.
Yesterday I enacted my habitual pattern for times of duress. I organized a telephone tree to notify members of our Feldenkrais training. I paid a short visit to my friend’s daughter. And I did my own work– lots and lots of work.. My new behavior is letting the emotion and the words come when they will. This piece is part of that process.
What started this train of thought? Monday morning routine database management before sending my newsletter. I saw her name, clicked on it. I selected “Remove from list.” The other choice was “Unsubscribe.” A little info window popped up that said, “This action is irreversible. It cannot be undone. Do you wish to proceed?”
Now the tears are flowing. I couldn’t do it. Not this morning. I can deal with her death, but banishing her to the “Do Not Send” list? Isn’t that worse, somehow? Not worse for her, finally free of email madness — but much, much worse for me. I’m not quite ready to let her go yet.
So I learned, once again, that emotions WILL find their way into expression. Occasions to feel grief and sorrow come on their own — we don’t have to seek them, nor create them for others. However, in their presence, there is such sweetness in remembering the fan – f@#!-ing-tastic times I had with my friend.
As I think over the recent past, the biggest “eye-opener” was reading the book, “Cradle to Cradle” by William McDonough. The book was a delightful surprise.
I read this book after watching the author’s TED Talk.
You can watch it , too, if you click here.
I had recently started to visit TED.com regularly, and I challenged myself to watch something once a week from someone I had never heard of, and in a subject area I was not familiar with. I like to think of myself as someone who is a thinker, a “creative”, and open-minded in my search for information. It seemed that I should put my time and attention where my mouth was!
For some reason, I decided to take a chance on his talk. He is not flashy or particularly charismatic as a speaker. However, his quiet intensity and his vision for the world drew me in as if by a magnet.
I won’t try to explain or summarize his talk, because some of the tags or buzz-words might cause you to have a stereotypic view of him or his subject — either rejecting it out of hand, or assuming you already know all there is to know about the subject. I WILL say that, after seeing the TED talk, I leaped (yes, leaped!) out of my chair and said, to nobody in particular: “Why doesn’t EVERYBODY know about this?????” I began telling almost everyone I know about the video. Their eyes glazed over. Good thing I am sort of used to that. . .
My partner and I host a book salon in Houston, TX, and shortly after we found the TED Talk, we chose this book as the monthly selection. The book is made to be completely recycleable. That tidbit will make more sense after you watch the video.
Cradle to Cradle opened my eyes to the fact that even though HUGE problems may seem to be looming on the horizon — it is possible that most people are completely unaware of them. Even more importantly, I learned that there are people who have it covered. People who are creative, dedicated, brilliant, and who are working on solutions. We need to let them DO IT.
It also opened my eyes to an obvious realization: if the methods I already know about have not solved a particular problem — they probably won’t. I am increasingly open to the notion that a solution will be in a direction I have not explored. In other words, the solution is most likely something I don’t know about — YET. Unknown, new, never-been-tried-before — What better reason to keep learning?
The biggest outcome from this eye-opening has been the creation of an almost insatiable appetite for new ideas: Ideas that are positive, constructive, active, and solution-based. My best advice? If there is an event like TED in your community (Houston has The UP Experience and TEDxHouston, along with numerous other lecture series), give yourself a gift and go to it! Go to it ESPECIALLY if you think it is outside of your area of expertise. You will meet some wonderful people, you will be inspired, and you will take new and intelligent actions in your own life. Go get ’em.
MaryBeth D. Smith is the Founder and Director of The Feldenkrais Center of Houston. She is a nationally-recognized expert in the area of natural performance improvement for performing artists and athletes. With over 20 years experience teaching in business, university, and community settings, she now uses the Feldenkrais Method to help people improve their self-image, function, and enjoyment in movement and in life.
Houston’s techno-bio–geeko-twitterati — myself among them — has been glued to their computer screens even more than usual, held in thrall by Lois, the exotic and endangered tropical plant. Lois is a rare and large “Corpse Flower,” so named because of the stench of decomposing flesh that issues from the blossom. Lois is potted in the Cockrell Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences. Her claim to fame is that there are so few of her species, and they bloom so seldom — only 28 times since 1939, reportedly– that Lois’s imminent flowering is an event.
What is so interesting about a big, stinky plant? Lois is captivating. Disturbing. Every “Attack of the Pod People” and “Aliens” fantasy or joke you can think of, all rolled into one. She is gradually turning a deep shade of bruise-tone purple, and the stink factor is apparently a big draw. To add to the fun, Lois has her own Twitter account — the microblogging service that gives real-time updates on everything from terrorist attacks around the world to the status of your friend’s hangover. Lois has a personality. Apparently she is PMS-ing, and she’s got a dirty mouth. She is also camera-shy and reluctant to go ahead and bloom with all eyes watching. She has informed us that plants don’t really like to be talked to, thank you — and that they, or she, at least, really needs someone to bring her an espresso first thing in the morning.
The museum’s web cam has gotten so many hits that many people have been unable to load the images. The museum stayed open until midnight last night to accommodate the curious who anticipated a late-Sunday-evening unfurling, and now they will stay open around the clock — that’s right, 24/7 — this is a museum, mind you — until Lois does her thing.
I’m several days into what has become known as “Funkwatch,” and my attention is bordering on the obsessive. I still see clients and take care of business, but at every break I am checking the twitter feed and reading more about Lois and her kind. This event is taking up ALL of my “spare attention:” that is, any extra bandwidth that is not devoted to the bare minimum of daily survival. I’ll be heading back to the museum this evening for another look at Lois — after all, I’ve been talking to her all day!
Lois is providing a lot of humor, entertainment, and education in return for my attention. That rapt attention, the ability to engage with something for a long period of time, the playfulness all create the conditions for learning, and for change and growth. I’m not just talking about Lois putting on another four inches of height each day. I’m talking about how learning, at its best, brings out the best in us. Sometimes the growth process, or the blossoming, doesn’t happen on schedule, or in some other way you expected. That can stink. But it’s worth hanging in there.
IN a too-good-to-be-true twist, Houston’s own Miller Outdoor Theater, right down the street from HMNS, is now performing — wait for it — Little Shop of Horrors. Gotta love how things work out.
Maybe I’ll see you at the HMNS tonight! May we all blossom and grow, like Lois.
I grew up on that proverb. My mother would say it any time progress toward a desired goal met an obstacle. I learned to have patience and a philosophical attitude toward life, and to value processes as much as achievements.
And now, someone HAS built Rome in a day. Read the story here.
How did she do it?
She got a friend to help her. Projects are much less daunting when you’re not alone.
She scaled down “the ideal.” It looks like her Rome fits on a table top, and she used paper and wood.
She approached it as play, with curiosity. She didn’t know how it would turn out.
She lowered her standards. She created something that pleased herself. She’s apparently not too worried about what anyone else thinks of it.
This story appeals to me because it resonates with the Feldenkrais Method. Although the work has many benefits for people who desire pain and stress reduction, and improvements in posture, coordination, and well-being, I also value this work as a method of learning and problem-solving. The Feldenkrais Method is useful for anyone who is dealing with overwhelm, or even with just “whelm.” We have so much on our individual plates — work, family, relationships, deadlines, projects, goals, physical issues — that easy proverbs and platitudes lose their ability to encourage us. The Feldenkrais Method teaches a comprehensive approach for thought combined with intelligent action.
The teacher or practitioner is not in the role of “therapist,” but rather more like a tour guide. I’m there to help, to witness, and to acknowledge. I’ve got a map, and I know the landmarks of your experience. There’s much you can do for yourself with this type of assistance.
By “scaling down the ideal,” the task, whatever it is, becomes more manageable. Remove your pre-conditions and pre-judgments, and see what happens. Many small steps lead surely to your goal. Celebrate each one. For example: you don’t have to redesign your entire filing system TODAY. Spend 5 minutes trashing the junk mail. Want to keep something? Find, or make a file folder and file it. You’ve made progress.
Get curious and “muck about.” Experiment and explore. You will find unexpected resources as you go. You’ll discover how creative you are.
By “lowering your standards,” you make space for change to begin. If everything has to be perfect, or nothing — frequently you are left with nothing. Action stalls out under the judgement of perfection, and always comes up short. Anything worth doing is worth doing badly. After you have begun, you have surmounted the biggest obstacle. Improvement is inevitable.
Whether you are a skilled high-achiever at the top of your form, or a person with serious challenges, you can benefit from working with the Feldenkrais Method. As you become more aware of what you are doing, you become more adept, more adaptable, more effective. You can “build your own Rome,” whatever that looks like. Let’s get started!