Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Discerning Optional Pain

When people come for the first time to one of my AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT (ATM) classes, often what they have the most resistance to, is taking the time to rest. Most people are not initially comfortable with being in process. Many people especially women, are socialized to put other peoples' comfort first rather than their own. Many lead lives that are centered around frantically working towards a better life in the future. Finding ease in the present smacks of laziness. They go through the motions, but the whole while there is a series of judgements and verbal castigation going on in their minds. It may not even be something they are conscious of. It may be a voice that is constant in the background, always pushing for more, no longer really audible. Yet, beginning to hear what tapes our minds are playing in the background of our experience is one of the many fringe benefits of the practice of ATM. For these thought patterns can be extremely detrimental, but can only be eradicated if we become conscious of them.

Interestingly enough, in ATM, the pattern of negative thoughts is not eradicated by vigilant refutation, rather it seems to fall away naturally as you gradually sink into relaxation and become more intrigued by the nature of the lesson. Since there are literally thousands of lessons that bring your attention to parts of yourself you may not have visited in decades, there is an element of surprise, like a child on a treasure hunt, you rediscover yourself, an old friend that you may have been ignoring for quite some time.

Most people move into adulthood like a freight train moving from birth to death with no stops in between. Fact is, if you study human physiology you realize that the body was not designed to function that way. Muscles need rest to gather reserves of oxygen and nutrients and to rid themselves of wastes. The nervous system requires time out to periodically change the electrical charge and the replenish the chemicals necessary for the nerve endings to fire. The endocrine system produces hormones that stimulate growth, regulate mood and inhibit cellular activity according to a rhythmic pattern that determines the seasons of our lives. Any medical tradition that has been handed down over the last four-thousand years such as Ayurvedic medicine and Chinese medicine recognizes this.

Kids, puppies and sensible people have an on/off switch. They play, they fall asleep; they eat, they go for a walk; they move, they stop. They smell the roses. This is not just a nice idea. It is not even just for people who are into a slower more relaxed, meditative life. Nor is it merely a psychological need for people who are stressed out. It is a physiological need. It is also something that could, if we learn to respect it, make a substantial contribution to peace on earth in the form of improved human relationships, both with ourselves and with others.

There are many ways to learn life's lessons, some more painful than others. For some, who have grown accostomed to learning in the presence of pain from an early age, that seems to be the only way there is. Indeed, some of the growing up we all have to go through cannot be done without pain. The question is, do you inadvertently make it harder for yourself than it has to be? Pain may not always be optional, but anguish certainly is. ATM provides a means to learn to distinguish the difference so that the unnecessary patterns fall away without ceaselessly trying. In the process of learning to discern new possibilities in the face of challenge, the old pattern becomes incidental.

When I first started doing massage therapy professionally, I was amazed at how many people live in constant muscular pain, unaware that there is any other option. They just accept constant low-level pain as normal. Some of them may go in for a massage periodically to have someone fix them, but they have no clue that there is anything they might be able to do to change how they feel. I'm not talking about chronic pain sufferers either. I'm just talking about functional people who have basically learned a kind of somatic disassociation, meaning they tune themselves out in order to cope. It works for a while, years perhaps, but eventually either the muscular system or the immune system breaks down under the strain.

When I finally started doing ATM on a regular basis I was again amazed. This time I was amazed at the level of stress and tension I carried in my own body. I thought after ten years working as a massage therapist, educating people about their options, I knew how to take care of myself. I had no clue. Massage just touches the surface, it alleviates discomfort, but it doesn't change the fundamental patter. FELDENKRAIS takes it to a whole different level. ATM teaches us to perceive what we are doing to ourselves inadvertently. It takes time, but once learned as a skill, it can be revisited whenever necessary. Once perception kicks in, there is no going back. I knew that if I ignored my realization, it would haunt me forever. This is where I had to take a leap of faith. I had to trust in the process no matter how awkward, how strange or how mysterious. Believe me, I was not disappointed.

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