Monday, February 28, 2011

Too Many Choices

Ever enter a supermarket and go into the deer-in-the-headlight mode? Hmmn, what's the organizing principle going to be today? Is cheap more important than healthy today? Or, is healthy more important than going over budget? Or, are my cravings for junk food (chemically induced corporate control of the masses making the poor especially susceptible) going to win out over my desire to actually have more energy and feel good? And, more to the point, can I actually tell the difference?

It is a measure of the respect I have for the comment my esteemed FELDENKRAIS colleague posted after last weeks article that inspires a more lengthy response. I was going on about how improving our ability to sense ourselves may well be the greatest hope for humanity in terms of empowering people to freely modify their own behavior witout legislation, government interference or war. What he picked up on, though, was a question about whether or not FELDENKRAIS is about improving our ability to sense ourselves, or is it more about having additonal choices?

Recently, I was listening to a comedian tell a story about staying with a friend and her two kids. Before breakfast these two kids, one 8 and the other 6, were grilled with options: cherios or frosted flakes? Toast or pop tarts? Milk or orange juice? And we wonder why kids born into privilege  are willful!

Then there's a more difficult kind of choice. Typically, the average kid, whose parents are getting divorced, is asked who they want to live with. One million children in America are involved in a new divorce annually, according to divorcemagazine. That means that one million children are subjected to choice as one of the most stressful experiences they will ever encounter. Talk about having your loyalties pulled in two! For many, this is a set up for a sense that choices in general are difficult and stressful by association.

Objectively speaking, though, choices are like habits. They either serve or they don't. Either they have been made already, or they remain incomplete and slow the whole process down. If I've already decided what to do in advance, I can act faster. If I have a habit about how to get up in the morning, I don't have to think about it and can get on with it. Come to think of it, habits are very closely related to choice.

Most habits are acquired by default and not by choice. So it is essential to evaluate habits every now and then, to make sure they still serve. The same is true of choices. This is a huge piece of what FELDENKRAIS is about. For example, when I sit with the same leg crossed over the other all day, how does that adversely affect my neck on one side? By the same token, a habit of  eating frosted flakes since childhood can serve in dysfunctional ways, such as contributing to the potential for diabetes in an adult. 

I won't make these connections immediately, but if I stay with AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT (ATM) as a practice, gradually the metaphor of movement becomes clear in relationship to the rest of my life. It simply falls into place as I move my attention from one part of my life to another and as I form the habit of noticing differences and similarities no matter what I'm doing. These two self-sensing mechanisms are intrinsic to the practice of ATM, and eventually become so deeply ingrained they are a part of me.

I very much agree with the statement that, 'It's the questions we ask ourselves that determine the quality of our lives.' In , we encounter certain questions over and over again in any lesson. The bottom line in any lesson is always, 'Is it working for me or not?' and I evaluate that, by how it feels.

By refining my ability to sense myself, my environment, and, by extension, the results of my actions, I can tell if I am getting the results I seek or if I'm just running in circles. When shopping for food takes 2 hours instead of forty-five minutes, I'm missing the sunshine outside!

I really appreciate this topic, because it makes me acutely aware that having choices is really demanding and requires an organizing principle. If I live my life as a free-for-all where anything goes and choice is king, all I've got to show for myself is anarchy. Believe me, I know, I lived the first 25 years of my life this way and it's exhausting! One of the organizing principles I learn in ATM is to seek out the feeling of the force of gravity running through my bones instead of fighting it with my muscles. I learn to use it to my advantage to hold my structure in a stabilizing compression that leaves my muscles free for movement, creative expression and whatever work I have to do.

Those of you who have worked with me have probably heard me say, 'Strength without coordination is like the scene in the old black and white film when the monster, Frankenstein, rises off the mad scientist's table after a good jolt of lightening and rambles off into the village where people run screaming from his presence.'

Coordination, by definition, is an organizing principle. In the case of FELDENKRAIS, and I learn to organize myself so that I live in the middle of all possible options, so that I can easily move in any direction at any time. Not only is it perceived as safer by the nervous system. It's perceived as a feeling of security, and a sense of psychological freedom and empowerment. 

 I can learn this principle, if I'm sharp enough to pick it up, from Martial Arts, or Yoga, but in ATM it's a primary goal. In ATM, it's not just a means to an end, it's a main theme in every lesson. The point is not simply to have more choices, but to have a way to 1) discern my choices in the first place, and 2) to choose more functional choices than I have in the past, and 3) to be able to sense when circumstances have changed and be able to respond accordingly.

The gift and the legacy of Moshe Feldenkrais is that he created an easy Method for anyone use to discover how to move in the direction of the unknown without an expert or someone telling them 'What their problem is.' It's very foundation is in learning to be self-directed.
At first, we learn how to use the framework of a lesson to discover how to make more comfortable, safe and functional movement choices. Once the nervous system recognizes the difference, by how it feels, it becomes a new habit. It no longer requires the safe environment of a lesson to be implemented, it crops up when needed.

I was just listening to FELDENKRAIS Trainer, Elizabeth Beringer, mentioning a client who did a lesson involving the judo roll. She complained after the lesson to Elizabeth that she felt she didn't 'get' it. Of course, Elizabeth told her there was nothing to 'get,' it's a process that goes on in some place other than the intellect. The woman then went on with her life. A while later, she took off for a bycycle ride and was abruptly knocked off the bycycle only to roll spontaneously on the ground completely unharmed to the applause of the people looking on. She had no idea how it happened. The magic of the nervous sytem is intact should we care to trust it's infinite intricacies to the schooling of the FELDENKRAIS Method!

Imagine, what would it be like to live a life based on the organizing principle of choosing greater ease, of making more functional decisions without having to first decide if functional was more important than whim, or approval, or duty? So, I agree whole-heartedly, choice is a huge part of FELDENKRAIS. It's a matter of first choosing to be more functional, and then choosing to notice the difference, and then feeling how empowering that sensation is, and finally, learning to notice those sensations even in the midst of chaos, even under pressure, even when not in the safe construct of an ATM lesson.

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