Monday, February 21, 2011

Hope for Humankind

When you drive a car, you think it’s the car that has the blind spot. That’s how it’s constructed. Guess what? "You've got mail!" If you're driving, you are a part of the car. That place behind and to the left of you as driver is YOUR blind spot. The inability to see another car coming up on your left when it's really close to your vehicle is YOUR limitation, not the car's. It’s remarkable that we don’t have more accidents, but some part of you often senses the other vehicle, often moments before peripheral vision can lay any claim to having contributed to perception.

Growing up is like that. A child stuck with the frustration of learning to tie shoelaces may throw a tantrum. But as a parent, you know that after shoelaces, there’s reading, there’s going to school, and any number of unknowns that will need to be navigated to move into adulthood.

As adults, we think we’ve arrived somehow and that there shouldn’t be any blind spots. Silly humans. The ancient Greek word, ‘hubris’ may not be very popular anymore, but it’s sure a rampant behavior! Where, in society, do you see the extreme arrogance of people over-estimating their competence?

The weird thing is that teenagers and young adults can get away with it. There’s a phase in everyone’s life when you can bluff your way through anything with a blind combination of confidence and ignorance. It’s as if Not Knowing is no hindrance at all and you proceed along your merry way without thinking about it. It’s an gift of youth that gets tamped down by time, ground under the weary feet of the accumulation of disillusionment.

In the tradition of the American iconic folk singer Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger tells a story about two frogs. Now these two guys knew something about disillusionment, having survived the Great Depression. The story goes like this:  one evening after milking the cows, a farmer left a tall can of milk in the barn without a lid. Two frogs hopped into the luscious fresh milk and then found they couldn’t leap out. After much thrashing around, the one frog said, "There’s no hope.” With one last gurgle, he sank to the bottom. The other frog thought, "There must be some other way," and refused to give up. In the morning, the farmer came out and found one live frog on top of a big cake of butter.

Now the structure of an Awareness Through Movement® (ATM) lesson doesn’t APPEAR to be about finding hope-no-matter-what, but it may well cultivate it. How? By virtue of the way it cultivates a habit of always looking for another, easier way to do whatever it is you are doing. For most of us, it’s a new habit altogether. When that happens, you start to have a new faith in your own ability to figure things out, even when you don't know what to do. What is hope, but a sense that maybe I don't know everything, but it's gonna be okay? 

ATM cultivates this attitude towards life by teaching you a process of systematically experimenting with one specific option several times to check out how it feels until it’s clear. Then, you take a break, so that the next attempt is clearly separate or differentiated. Then, you try a different variation on how to do the same thing until it’s clear. An important piece it to take yet another short break, to give the brain time to process incoming sensations as data. Without these little rests, the brain has no opportunity to assess what works and what doesn’t.

What’s the difference between one option and another? Without awareness, it’s all unclear. Additionally, you’ll usually only notice if something is NOT working, when you give yourself a little break. This holds true for life as well as ATM. So you see, ATM provides vital life-skills.

At first, differences may be vague, but they become increasingly more apparent. In ATM, the elusive is made obvious as a sense of having overused a few specific muscles without discrimination. The goal of any lesson is to notice which parts of yourself you are NOT using that could be making a bigger contribution. Which of your habits are serving you and which ones are limiting you? Again there is a chance to develop a primary life-skill: it's not just about movement! Which of your habits in thought, word and deed are no longer serving you?!?

This question of 'Which parts of you are not coming to the party?' is posed in the background of every ATM lesson. It's said that it's the questions we ask ourselves that determine the quality of our lives. This question is a direct path to expanding the boundaries of what you don’t know. From my training and from working with hundreds of people, I can guarantee that there parts of yourself are you not even aware of, so that they couldn’t participate if they wanted to. Chances are you even have a sense there there is something you don't know that you need to know, but it's so vague you don't even know where the problem lies or who to ask. In ATM, you don't need to know. When you pursue this as a practice you do on a regular basis, the clues to where the answers lie get laid out for you like bread crumbs leading you on a magic treasure hunt driven by your own curiosity.

And here’s another one of the other major gifts of ATM:  every lesson is an opportunity to revisit the humility of childhood that allows you to BE with NOT knowing the answers, trying different things until the best answer becomes apparent. This ability is not just helpful; it's a huge part of the creative process. Artists, actors and writers never really know how their art is going to come out until it’s finished. Inventors, research scientists and innovators of social and environmental change also dwell easily in the realm of NOT KNOWING as a means of finding answers that have never manifested before. Remember when we thought the world was flat?

Listen up: it's not just about movement, it's about the evolution of human consciousness. What's that, you say? This evolution is inherent in the gradual advancement of our sensibilities. For example, the advancement from the preoccupation with trivial social niceties due only to an elite who happened by chance to be born into nobility. This social superiority was carried by whiplash and tremendous suffering on the wings of the slave trade which finally led to a sense of hipocracy that took several hundred years to become enough of a FEELING of conflict between ideology and behavior after the idea of equality was written into the Declaration of Independence. Then, during the French Revolution, the momentum of the emotional charge between conflicting ideals and actions exploded in violence against the Nobility. The abolition of slavery in Britain and America did not lag far behind.

Other examples of the evolution of human consciousness are inherent in the gradual worldwide shift from colonialism and despotism to a more equitable political systems where people are not starved or locked up without trial. It's also evident in the slow change from religious persecution - the Inquisition, for example - to religious freedom. It's inherent in the shift from segregation to civil rights, or from women-disposed-of-as-property - whose very children were taken from them when widowed - to women-seen-as-individuals with their own right to own property and how to best care for their children. I could go on, but I won't. You get the idea.

The significance of this is that we usually think of it as an evolution of ideas. In actual fact, it's the self-revulsion and the sense of horror all these ways of behaving evoked in both witnesses and in perpetrators that gradually changed our way of thinking about those once common practices. Hence, the evolution of ideas has it's seed in our ability to sense ourselves. The Information Age is over. This is a New Era: one in which our ability to sense ourselves is the key to moving out of old, insane social structures that foster violence and destruction into ways of being that work for more and more people. Now I'm not saying Feldenkrais® is the only path at all; but I am convinced that it is definitely one of the ways out of the madness. What madness? A world that turns a blind eye to 12 million souls wasting away their lives in refugee camps while on the other side of the globe, a floating mass of plastic garbage from affluent countries gradually grows bigger than the size of Texas. If you haven't heard about it, it's in the Pacific ocean.

The core of ATM is improving our ability to sense ourselves. The impetus for the evolution of consciousness is in the refinement of our sensibilities as sentient beings gifted with the awareness to know the difference between hypocrisy and integrity. It's a FEELING. Feelings are registered as sensations in the body. The greater our sensitivity to feel the effect of what we do, the faster we will move through the anger, the fear, the guilt, the shame, the denial, and finally, into constructive action. Ah, there's one more vital element: the cultivation of allowing ourselves the feel whatever comes up without resistance. ATM is about that too.

This is what the Feldenkrais Method® has to offer a world entrenched in economic, environmental and social turmoil. It’s a pathway into the unknown, a yellow-brick road from chaos into order; an order that respects the individuality of each unique living, dynamic system, and at the same time honor’s it’s potential for contribution to the well-being of the whole. If you would like me to be your guide on this road, it would be my pleasure.

Photo Curtesy of © 2009


  1. This is great.

    I'm giving a talk in a couple of weeks on why and how I,
    in my sixties, decided to come to a town where I'd never been
    and knew no one but two people who wouldn't get back to me.

    And what's evolving is this feeling, you call hope, and I call trusting that "I don't know" will get me through just fine, no matter what, no matter where. That from the Feldenkrais work, and a bit of help from Byron Katie.

    Great essay.

  2. Thank you. I love the humor I hear in your opening paragraph and I, too, have found Byron Katie to be amazing!

  3. In my recent opinion "The core of ATM" is about choice: living what other people told you VS living your own life (told you about what to eat, how much to eat, how to walk, how to sit, when to sleep, where to place your computer screen, how many minutes stay in sunshine etc etc etc). I prefer my own life. ALMOST ALL people prefer to follow an expert. I don't pity them; but I fear that the planet will be inhabitable before I turn 80.

    Then "The core of ATM" is about living in reality, get out of your mind more and more often. Access the real world. Usually - when not highly concentrated - people only look at reality every 0.2 seconds or so, the rest is entirely modeled (and opinionated) in their heads.

    Then, somewhen, yes I agree, ATM is about improving ability to sense oneself.

  4. Alfons,thank you for your considered response. I did expect some dissent from the community! However, the wonder of the Feldenkrais Method is that it takes each person in the direction of what most interests them, and that's another reason why I think it's such an essential part of my life. As you say, I don't have to rely on experts, approval, or (tonight most people are watching the grammys) the media to tell me what's good, what makes me feel the most alive or what I should love. This idea that we live in a state of hypnosis or unconsciousness may be one that Moshe got from Gurdjieff, or from the eons of wisdom that preceded him, but I agree, it is clear.

    But I beg you to hang in there (i.e. keep rolling on the floor and see what evolves) and do not be so cynical about people! The law of similars states that like attracts like. So get out of your habit and try thinking about people in some way outside your habit and see if you find people more palatable.

    If you still feel inclined to disagree, debate is welcome, I believe that IS a part of the evolution of human consciousness. Let's lay our cards on the table and invite humanity to step up. It's time.

  5. P.S. When people get to me; I hang out with horses.

  6. 'And what is good, Phaedrus, And what is not good — Need we ask anyone to tell us these things?' (Robert M. Pirsig)


Comments and questions are always welcome.