Sense and Sensibility

Words and analysis. Sensation and feeling. Which gets more bandwidth, in our culture?

Does there have to be a “more”?

Some of us are fascinated by sensation and feeling. After a Feldenkrais® session, we are amazed at the sparkling feelings that result, how they wash through us, ever changing, ever mercurial. It takes a few moments to put words to this wonderful, ineffable experience, but we want to give it a shot. We want to be heard speaking feelings, to enjoy community with others who have felt similarly, or who haven’t but who are intrigued that we have.

And then there are others of us who, hearing feelings, are bored. We find the reports not useful. Too anecdotal. We prefer to get straight to the “how” of a lesson. What was Feldenkrais thinking, when he asked us to hold our foot at this angle and not the other? How does moving our foot like that affect the hip? spine? shoulder? carriage of the head?

Me, I love both. I love reason and analysis and the idea of math (though I can barely count to ten). I also love giddy feeling. I want to live in a world where there is more “and” and less “or.” Where there is space for enthusiasm, for feeling and sensation. Where these are not just tolerated, but at least understood if not enjoyed.

Jane Austen didn’t title her work “Sense or Sensibility.”

And we Jane lovers know: Jane knows everything.

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The Significance of a Strong Neutral

A person lies quietly on the floor. Slowly, gently, the person moves a little – and rests. Moves a little – and rests.

Horse and rider walk in a circle. Gently, imperceptibly, the rider shifts her balance. The horse turns. The rider shifts back to neutral. The horse straightens. Neutral-shift-turn – return to neutral. Neutral-shift-turn – return to neutral.

The pause, the rest, the home-base neutrality is the frame within which balance-shifts and action spring to life.

When the surface of a pond is disturbed by chop and wind, dropping a pebble in the water goes unnoticed. The ripples become known, significant, only on a still, quiet surface. Without stillness, ripples are obliterated. The signal is lost in the noise.

The quiet, the space in a receptive nervous system, is where the significance of subtle changes can be felt, recognized, organized. These are the conditions within which learning, balance, and well-being grow. The Feldenkrais Method® of movement awareness fosters those conditions in humans. And those conditions work just as truly for humans and horses together.

* * *

A friend of mine lives in the country near my home town of Fayetteville, Arkansas. A few years ago, she clipped an article for me about an upcoming horse clicker-training workshop. She knew that I adore horses and I had begun to do hands-on Feldenkrais practice with them. I was electrified to read that the visiting trainer incorporated Feldenkrais into her work.

The trainer was Alexandra Kurland, of upstate New York. Alex was the first, around twenty-five years ago, to systematically adapt clicker-training and positive-reinforcement techniques to horse-handling. She is the author of numerous books and video series and she has become a leading voice in the use of clicker training to improve performance, enhance the relationship between people and horses, and, as she puts it, “for just plain putting fun back into training.” She is famous for having schooled a miniature horse to be companion-guide to a blind person.

In studying with Alex, I have come to understand that Feldenkrais is for humans, for horses, and for humans and horses together.

* * *

I was thinking about how chaos muddles relationships. About how ambivalence, or mixed signals, or emotional confusion can muddle communication. How muddle leads to frustration, and a rising temptation to escalate into using force that’s painful for all concerned.

This can arise in our own internal miscommunications between brain and senses and the rest of our physical self. The muddle is magnified when we try to communicate with another being. How important it is to settle down, to modulate an urge – to tone it down – so that the act following the urge is cooperative, and is not drowned out by chaos, by impatience, pushing through, grasping at results. The pauses in the Feldenkrais movement work, the quiet hiatuses, are vital, crucial, to the movement toward elegance and grace.

Alex’s clicker work builds on similar essentials. For instance, she calls one of her foundational behaviors “grown-ups are talking, please don’t interrupt.” By this, she shapes her horses to stand quietly by the handler, in a well-mannered and settled fashion. This creates physical and emotional balance, in both horse and handler. “Grown-ups” is the beginning of that learning for both.

I spoke at Alex’s clinic about the importance of the pause, the neutrality, the balance found in the resting state. I said: “Subtle shifts in balance have meaning if you start from a strong neutral position.”

We took this “strong neutral” idea out into the arena. Horse-less, we paced around cones set out in a circular path. Using a clock-face image that’s familiar to Feldenkrais students, we found “neutral” when our shoulders and hips were squared in the twelve o’clock – six o’clock orientation. We came off “neutral,” turning inward with shoulders toward eleven and hips lined up at five. We shifted out with shoulders at one o’clock and hips at seven. Balance-shift-inward – return to neutral. Balance-shift-outward – return to neutral.

Then a rider tried this under saddle at a walk. It was remarkable how the subtle balance-shift in the rider’s hips and shoulders – not pulling through the horse’s mouth and neck, only shifting balance centrally, through the seat and the horse’s spine and midsection – communicated to the horse. Later the rider said: “If I came from a position of quiet and stillness, then when I moved, it had meaning to my horse. My horse mirrored my movements. All it took was subtle shifts, subtle movements. When I tried to make it happen, it didn’t happen. My horse got confused. I got frustrated.” It worked, she said, “when I allowed it to flow gently.” Rhythmically. Patiently.

Alex amplified: “You don’t want to just be ricocheting, fish-tailing back and forth, back and forth. Straightness is the perfection of left and right. You have to visit straightness, not just zip past it. Being able to stabilize there, and explore bending in the horse from there – in exploring these subtle shifts in balance that are mirrored in the bending of the horse’s body – we create more possibilities for the horse. We discover the orientation that gives him greatest comfort, balance, functionality.”

She says: “Emotional balance very much evolves out of physical balance.” The bend, the ability to flex on one side while extending the other, “is key to maintaining both long-term physical soundness and the emotional stability that I look for in a safe riding horse.” The stillness, she says, the “calm between all the doing, gives your learner time to think, to notice what you’re asking him to do, and to figure out the connections.”

To think, to notice, to figure out connections. This describes the Feldenkrais learning process, too.

* * *

Horses or humans – we have brains and spines. We share memory. We feel at ease when we are well and distress when we’re hurt or uncomfortable or pressured to excess. The process toward building balance, fluidity, and peace of mind is the same in both horses and humans. Start from home-base neutrality. Add a droplet of information, of movement, of balance-shift. Pause. From the still pond of a calm nervous system, drop the pebble in, introduce light but definite and clear movement changes, and then pause again to regard and consider the resulting ripples.

No force is necessary. No coercion. No threat. No escalation. Simply go gently, take time to think, to notice, to connect. This is how living beings learn, horses or humans.

As Alex says: “Patience is just knowledge in disguise.”

P.S. Alex writes a wonderful blog about her training adventures. These days she’s working with goats. Really, goats. Enjoy her here.

Rights to this article are shared with the Feldenkrais Guild of North America and with Senseability magazine.

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Feel Function First

As a supplement to the Feldenkrais Method®, I enjoy working with the Foundation Training method. This work beautifully complements Feldenkrais. FT adds strength and more-concentrated organization to the freer exploration I love in Feldenkrais.

Recently my wonderful FT instructor started a Facebook conversation about how neatly the two methods dovetail. Practitioners of both methods chimed in, to emphasize shared values of working with awareness, from the inside-out, and of eschewing judgment-based, appearance-focused preconceptions of what’s “right,” “perfect,” and “good.”

One commenter remarked that re-shaping hurtful habits was of great value. Others focused on individuality and the evils of “cookie-cutter,” one-size-fits-all instruction and rote repetition to accomplish, for example, arbitrary goals like showing up on neuromuscular efficiency tests. Another wanted to guard against complacency, no matter in what method. Another emphasized functionality and rediscovery of forgotten movement potential. All these remarks felt entirely satisfying and heartening.

One comment, though, really got my goat: “Best way to do FT is often.” That crack, all by itself, got nine “likes” and one “love”!

Well – it reminds me of a joke my dad used to tell and I do love remembering my dad, no matter how corny he got:

Stranger to native New Yorker:
“Tell me, how do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

Native New Yorker:
“Practice, practice, practice.”

Other than that, though, the “best-often” comment, to me, was flip, content-less, oversimplified, and it made me want to holler.


Usually we move from here to there by focusing on where we want to go or what we want to do. The phone rings and we’ve answered before we know it. We don’t have to feel what we’re doing. We’ve repeated and learned movement patterns so deeply that they’ve become habit. In this way, we are freed-up to pay attention to what we want to accomplish. We can be thankful for that.

The down-side, though, is that we can get stuck doing only what we already know. But our brains thirst for fresh input. Without it, they atrophy.

Herein is the brilliance and joy of Feldenkrais. The work calls on the brain’s capacity to receive information through the felt senses and, using this information, to think, to learn. Muscles don’t think. The brain does. So Feldenkrais works through the neurobiology of the felt senses, communicated into the sensory-motor cortex of the brain, to discover new movement options and attitudes.

It’s vital that we find gentle, relatable means to reach beyond the numbing effect of habit and learned self-use. Feldenkrais is invaluable in honing fine attention. With it, we can cultivate infinitely adjustable movement choices in what can otherwise be an overwhelmingly chaotic environment of the senses. Brains are made to differentiate, to seize what’s useful and to discard what’s not. To keep our brains lively and responsive, we need to reach beyond the tendency to stick with what we already know. We need to find ways to cultivate staying bright, alert, and curious, for as long as we can.

At the moment I’m healing from complicated foot surgery. I need to recover range of motion and muscle-mass in my wasted foot and leg. I’d be bored senseless if I had to use the physical-therapy belt to do repetitions of ankle-flexion. Instead, I love jumping on the elliptical machine. What could be more repetitive? But that machine makes me feel great. It’s like running on memory-foam.

The feeling of what happens. It’s the title of neuroscientist Antonio Damasio’s book in which he explores the interrelationship between the external world and the internal felt sense. The feeling of what happens. Feeling builds the capacity for physically grounded creativity and curiosity. We need to feel our way through, to explore and experiment through the senses, to open up from narrowness, pain, and distrust of the new, into a safely enlarged reality.

So that’s why I don’t appreciate any “best-often” attitude. Mere repetition, without feeling, is an insult to our wonderful – filled-with-wonder – brains.


Beauteous Benedict, practicing with feeling.


In response to questions about what “good” posture was, Moshe Feldenkrais’ rejoinder was: “Good for what?”

For example, I could work out on the recumbant bike to build strength and range. I tried that, and I liked it for a while. But how much of my day do I spend waving bent legs around flapping my ankle? As against how much of my day do I spend standing and moving around on my feet? So again the elliptical does it for me. I love the feeling of stride and bounce and buoyancy. When I’m on the machine I remember walking, and when I’m walking I remember being on the machine. I feel good about that.

My FT instructor constantly emphasizes that the point of FT or any other method is to get out there and use it to live life, to do what you want to do. Moshe Feldenkrais studied infants. As babies we wanted something, and we experimented with how to go for it until we got it. You have only to watch the Baby Liv videos – here, and here – to see that.

Movement — what is it good for? That’s the question.


Consider, in the course of my protracted recovery, the terror I felt when I let myself imagine that the surgery hadn’t worked, we’d have to go in again, then once again because that one didn’t work, and so forth until the last time to replace my foot with a prosthetic. After all, that’s like what happened (only worse) to the poor soul who suffered the first documented account of what I did to myself.

We can use our imagination to create anxiety, or we can enlist it to assist on our way to improvement. If I force myself to do what I don’t like or can’t use, willfully and in anxiety, I oppress myself. I don’t much like the chances of recovery that way.

Furthermore, everything changes constantly. From the moment my foot hits the floor in the morning, I feel echoes of what I did with it yesterday. Which was not what I’ll be doing with it today. Which was not what you did with yourself yesterday or today, so why should I move like you?

Sure, this is true . . . .


. . . but it is also true that the way we move is our signature. I want to shape and to know my movement handwriting a little bit better every day. I want to use myself to make choices that serve me (and ultimately others) better. I want to move through life with more fluidity, sensitivity, and care.

So enough with the repetition. Feeling and function. Those are the first principles that matter to me.


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Rib by Rib, Stone by Stone

If you haven’t yet experienced the FELDENKRAIS METHOD®, maybe here you can get a taste of what it’s like. We enthusiasts know how hard it is to convey that taste. A trainer has written an article called Felden-what?  The title pretty much sums up the difficulty.

Feldenkrais applies movement as a stimulant into the brain. Only recently has this kind of approach become a hot topic. See Dr. Norman Doidge’s two recent books, The Brain That Changes Itself and The Brain That Heals Itself.  The hot topic is neuroplasticity: How to access the brain’s ability to change, to elaborate on cellular connections and even to grow new cells. Exciting transformations can then emerge. These changes can be surprising, undreamt-of by many (but well known and built-on by Dr. Feldenkrais). This malleability of brain function and structure is the essence of the process of learning, adapting, and healing.

Come with me, then, as I describe an instance of how the method has just worked for me, in synthesis with the practice of Nonviolent Communication (NVC):  Feldenkrais to move along the physical aspect of self, NVC for emotional and social growth.

A friend is returning, after a decades-long stay in the U.S., to her home in Europe. We made one last lunch date, at which I hoped we would celebrate our friendship and send her off with happy well-wishing. We had a miscommunication, though, and she left in a huff. She then sent me a message on FaceBook that amply demonstrates why it is never a good idea to address this kind of thing through social media.

I was indignant, frustrated. Amped up.

My NVC colleague talked me off the ledge. She let me vent and express some anger. Not a lot, it’s not necessary to go full tilt into intensity, “less is more” works in NVC, Feldenkrais, and life, too, come to that. The key thing was, I felt no judgment from my colleague, no effort on her part to change what was happening. She remained willing to let the process unfold and move in me as it would, toward change and transformation.

It did. At the end of the session we found a way together to let up and let live, to return to well-being and for me to feel some empathy for both my European friend and for me.

Potential peaches

growth2 001

The next morning I was preparing my weekly FELDENKRAIS AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT® (ATM) class. The sequence I was working on helps dissolve stiffness and unnecessary holding in chest, shoulders, back, and hands. I was surprised to find, however, that I was approaching the work with a new attitude. I felt a remarkably easy willingness to go along with the program. I enjoyed allowing time to pass and subtly to work its magic in dialing down. I was also recovering from a bad cold, and I felt I could allow my recovery to unfold as it will. I could even enjoy perceiving the changes of illness toward health as a marker of time and progress of which, ordinarily, I am not aware.

In a rest-period during the ATM sequence, I recalled assisting a mother and a newborn recently. The baby had digestive issues and was screaming incessantly. When I put my hands on his ribs and abdominal muscles, I was amazed at how activated and board-like they were.

As I rested in the ATM, I wondered whether, for a long time thanks to my own early miseries, I myself might have been screaming just like that baby, only silently by now. Nobody could see me do it, I could no longer feel myself doing it, but the physical remnants of that scream might still be reverberating in me years later.

All the difference came with my NVC companion’s abiding presence the day before, subsequently reiterated in how I began to feel as the ATM went to work on my physical self.

In Feldenkrais, to persuade an overworked muscle to let go, the muscle is first supported in the unnecessary work it’s doing. Then the muscle (the brain, that is) can feel that the work is being taken on by another agency, and the muscle can be allowed to rest.

I got it: My old yelling thing needed a rest.

I could then feel the locus of a chronic back injury. I comprehended that if I held myself as stiffly as that screaming baby for long enough, that spot on my spine would naturally be where I would break. So I correlated that wounded place – which will doubtless remain with me, as it took 66 years to become and then to reiterate being wounded – to my habit of getting stuck in frustration and stiff resistance. This, in turn, motivated me to take more care, to watch out for that hurtful pattern and to intervene into it sooner. Now, I understood, the person hurt by all that is me.

With my new easy attitude, I was interested and heartened to feel the stiffness dissolving, rib by rib and bone by bone, through the hour I spent doing the ATM.

Peaches coming along nicely

growth1 003

To heal, we need ways and methods that work for us, that are hospitable to our individual history and our unique character. These ways and methods can be difficult to find, because our experience always has physical and emotional dimensions and, thus, healing can be a complicated enterprise. Adding to the complexity is the need to repair damaged social attachment. But if we are lucky to get help from skilled colleagues and companions who are willing to show up for us authentically, who are willing to stick with us when things get rocky, trust can be repaired and healing can emerge.

It can be a long road, this brain-and-body business. It takes time, patience, perseverance, and good luck to boot.

Its fruits, though, are the sweeter for the stones.





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Everything Is Changeable : The Neuroplastic Potential

Two important developments have brought me back to this blog after a regrettably long absence. First, FELDENKRAIS® features prominently in a new book by Norman Doidge, M.D., The Brain’s Way of Healing.

I’m so excited about this. Those who love FELDENKRAIS know it’s very difficult to talk about the work. Dr. Doidge is a respected scientist and a best-selling author, so the book has his credibility and it is no doubt well-written and accessible. I bought a copy but I haven’t started it yet. (I’m under time-pressure from the library to read Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps The Score.  I may (or may not) have to buy that one, too.)

Next, there’s a lengthy but inspiring video up on YouTube, featuring a symposium on neuroplasticity at the University of Alabama at Birmingham on October 25, 2014. Participants were Norman Doidge, Michael Merzenich, Edward Taub, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It is nearly three hours long (you can skip the first 26 minutes). The time spent, however, is more than worthwhile. Here’s a “teaser.”

Everything is Changeable

The discussion included such Feldenkraisian values and strategies as constraint, reversibility, intentionality, autonomy, dignity, and curiosity. Dr. Taub presented video clips of big gains in motor skills and these are impressive indeed. Dr. Merzenich presented a laundry-list of systemic functions his work has shown to be recoverable. “Everything is changeable in a positive way,” he says. The capabilities that can be recovered, despite damage or deterioration, include processing speed, brain chemistry, focus, prediction, memory, immune system function, growth, healing, and coordination.

Merzenich included recovery of social cognition, too. Reattachment is possible to friendship and interpersonal collaboration, where trauma or neglect had compromised those functions. Recoveries like those are vital, he said, because neuroplasticity alone is “not enough to deal with the complexities of life.”


 Illustrations courtesy National Institute of Mental Health

HH Dalai Lama asked whether the scientists’ investigations had led to any techniques to reduce the “problematic emotions.” Taub pointed to meditation. Doidge explained that the healing potential indicated in Merzenich’s list affects the whole person, the undivided self. This includes how that self can learn to process aversive emotions. Taub concluded his presentation with a photograph taken by the Hubbell telescope, showing one of those beautiful images of some awesome thing like a galaxy. “This is where we’re headed,” he said. I recall his point was that the possibilities of neuroplasticity are infinite.


 Image courtesy Hubble Gallery

A brief mention was also made of Merzenich’s website Brain Headquarters (cute name).  This site has Lumosity-like brain-games, but with the added credibility of Dr. Merz. Try a few free games.

I have also just finished Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal.  Until I went to the Merzenich site, I had thought, wished, hoped, and protectively but apparently self-delusionally believed that all my somatic efforts would protect me from the travails of aging that Gawande describes.

Ummm, maybe not. My Merzenich-games trial has opened my eyes. It’s all very well to vibrate joyfully with the neuroplastic potential described in the symposium. It’s quite another to realize that my own function needs improvement. I mean, like, drastic improvement. I could feel my brain seizing up and my fingers not responding to my urgent direction. I’m glad to say that in another game, aimed at different skills, I did much better. But still. Improvement is called for! Improvement is possible, though, so that’s the good news. Everything is changeable.

brain-neuron P.S.  In a comment below, a close friend states her opposition to studies involving other species.  She tells me that one of the presenters referred to a study done on white monkeys.  I myself recall only the exciting data that was gathered from human testing, only, but if my friend heard the reference, it must be there.  I can only hope that the studies were at least interesting, and hopefully fun as well, for the monkeys, even though testing was no doubt imposed on them.  I wholeheartedly share in my friend’s pain around the issue of animal testing. dibf

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Movement Minus Sight

We rely on our eyes to see, to take in, the world outside. 


Photo by che

But it can be really interesting what happens when we take sight out of the equation, and move our eyes behind closed lids.

This connects us with delicacy. By feeling only the fine musculature around the eye, while subtracting the task of seeing, we can see clearly what we’re holding onto.  In the muscles of the face, neck, shoulders . . . throughout ourselves.

It can be astonishing what happens.

At the end of this week’s eye-movement sequence, one person reported that she could feel the space around her.

There’s just no telling what happens, when we paddle around in this inner world.

This sequence:  “Eye Movements : The Pea & Tennis Ball,” done lying on the back, eyes closed.


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What Did We See . . .

. . . when we looked like this?


I wish I could remember back that far.  But surely it’d be reasonable to suppose – not much?

And how different things are today.  Starting from when I open my eyes in the morning, I don’t give them a second’s thought and they work for me the whole day long.  For many, many, many hours.  These precious eyes.

There is an immensely complicated conversation that apparently goes on, between eyes and so much else.  Look what the American Optometric Association says:  Our vision is a complex collaboration between eyes and brain.  It no longer makes sense to “explain” vision by separating that function from knowledge and understanding.

For example, “vision is the result of parallel, distributed processing in multiple areas and through multiple pathways . . . . information gathered by the retina about color is processed in a different area of the brain than information about movement.”  Or, the involvement in vision of “extensive sensory motor pathways” suggest that more functions than just vision are involved, that vision also integrates functions like balance and visual-auditory localization.

So it makes sense, if we want to get into that complex collaboration and play with change and growth, to close our eyes and move them as, maybe, we once did before we knew what it was like to see.

This class we spent the whole hour on our back with our eyes closed, gently sequencing between actual movement, imagined movement, and the feeling of what happens as a result.  After class everybody was so energized and excited, they were chattering amongst each other like a flock of lively little sparrows.

This sequence:  “Eye Movements Along The Floor, Wall, and Ceiling,” done lying on the back, eyes closed.


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Another Fu(lfill)ing Growth Experience

And if quite another meaning to the acronym “AFGE” sprang to mind, well – stop that!  This blog is intended for a family audience.

The FELDENKRAIS METHOD® is all about learning.  This can be a tough sell.  It’s human to want to stay with the known, the comfortable.  But if we stick with that, we’re probably not learning.  Resting, which is good – but not learning.

This week’s AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT® sequence, a continuation of last week’s, made that point like few others can.  Arms pinwheeling around shoulder joints that could be a little, well, creaky.  How to use what we’ve got, how to stay cool with the creaky, in the presence of difficulty.

The other day I was amazed to see the attitude an eminent FELDENKRAIS practitioner is bringing to his recent experience of having a brain hemorrhage.  “Shocking but interesting,” he writes.

Can you imagine that?

These days, I’ve been contemplating serious illness a little more than is quite comfortable.  Watching another teacher grapple with increasingly dire cancer news – and still taking time to reply warmly to my e-mail.  Attending a benefit this weekend for a friend who’s had a heart attack.  Standing by watching, as others grapple with having been clobbered in various challenging ways.

Moshe Feldenkrais said what he wanted to contribute to was the cultivation of flexible minds, not flexible bodies.

I’m thinking this is about character.  It’s about the ability to get clobbered, and to get back up and moving again as soon as, or as much as, or, heck, as little as if that’s what’s up, possible.  To find the character – somewhere – to find such experiences “shocking but interesting.”

As we head into this winter, I’m remembering past ones.  I recall the bamboo on this land, grappling with its own recovery after being clobbered by an unholy amount of ice dropped on its head all at once.


Bamboo standing up


Bamboo clobbered


Bamboo “resting”


Bamboo up again – mostly

I dedicate this post to all who search for the character to cope, when getting clobbered in this life.


This sequence:  Continuation of “Arm Circles Under Self,” done lying on the side, exploring with floor-side arm.

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Take My Advice, I’m Not Using It

Well – despite all the years I’ve spent as a devoted student and teacher of the FELDENKRAIS METHOD® – week in, week out, preaching the gospel of “less is more” and “go gently” – reminding all and sundry that with this movement work, we are paddling around in the domain of the brain, the watery, the chemical, the electrical — and those media don’t respond well to force –

There are times when I just run up against myself.  And that is simply that.

Preparing for this week’s sequence, I collided with limitation in my shoulders and – I just pushed through.  That hurt.  I’m relieved to tell you I didn’t do myself lasting harm, as far as I know, but I write this in a somber frame of mind.

How unexpected this was.  I had such a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday, I had no inkling I was going to collide with myself that way.

Only later I realized that I was also going through an experience like the one you may have heard about? the frog in hot water?  It’s a bit of folklore that may or may not be true.  Whichever, it’s an interesting metaphor.  It’s said that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it starts out in cold water and the heat is gradually increased, it will not perceive the growing danger.

I hadn’t noticed the temperature rising in my internal landscape.  It was a combination of things, as it so often is.  For two nights I suffered through Ken Burns’s latest PBS offering on the Dust Bowl. Just watching it (not to mention imagining actually living through it) was a horrifying ordeal.  Hour after relentless hour of harrowing visuals like this one –

– reawakening memories of when I was in West Africa, running hellbent from the interior to the coast, when the horrible Harmattan wind began to blow off the Sahara, possibly carrying meningitis –

photo by Kipp Jones

– and at the same time I was reading Anne-Marie O’Connor’s The Lady In Gold, about the spun-sugar fantasy that was pre-war Vienna – a world of unheralded women and Gustav Klimpt (who left behind him in ruins several unheralded women’s lives, so all was not quite mit schlag, but heavens, what an image!! of Adèle Bloch-Bauer) –

– and then the whole vicious sickening maelstrom of what happened subsequently to that woman’s family and that picture – which same maelstrom came within a whisker of engulfing my mother and her art and her family in Nazi Germany – the same story, to a T.  Read about my mother’s story here.

And all the while I thought I was doing just fine.  In my happy American life and this wonderful Thanksgiving.

Which just goes to show what I know.  Which is not much.

I’ve written before, in my cat-blog, about how we think we know, when we do not.  Look here, with thanks to Dr. Ginger Campbell and her essential Brain Science Podcast.  Last year Dr. Campbell interviewed Baylor neuroscientist David Eagleman, author of Incognito:  The Secret Life of The Brain.  Then, a year later, having quite forgotten, here I am naming my new blog DREAMS INCOGNITO.  So voilà.  Brain under construction.  And I’m the last to know.

Dr. Eagleman says:  “The conscious mind – which is the part of you that flickers to life when you wake up in the morning . . . it’s like a stowaway on a transatlantic steamship . . . taking credit for the journey without acknowledging all the engineering underfoot.”

He says his book is “about all the stuff that runs under the hood – all the stuff that your brain is doing that you don’t have access to . . . . [There are] massive operations happening that are just totally secret to you, or invisible to you. So, every single thing you do . . . is underpinned by these lightning storms of neural activity that we can study; but we’re totally unaware of those.”

So it seems, when I’m having these flashbacks, the kind of nightmare-memories that aggregate into critical mass, I only find out about them later.  At the time, I’m not aware of them.  Instead I make myself resistant:  Physically hard, mentally granitic, emotionally numb.  That’s how I’ve learned to push back.

My awareness, stowed away on a transatlantic steamship.  On the Titanic, say.  And what lurks under the surface, waiting to be collided-with.

Composite photo-montage by Uwe Kils

So in the end, writing now on the other side of the experience, I take it as a gift any time I actually get to realize how much I don’t know about what’s going on in me.  It’s an opportunity to shine the light of awareness on experiences that are very real to me, no matter that I’m breathing clean air and there are no Nazis kicking in the door – yet –

And so the question is what else is going on, in this world, other than the nightmares.  What else is real, even if I can’t feel it.

The question is how to link up with alternative circuitry.  With other pathways that can become available for me, to connect me with clear air and peace at home.  To reawaken respect in me for the tender character that is the brain’s domain.  The watery, the chemical, the electrical.

To remember to heed good advice.  The emergency is in the mind.  It is real and yet it is not real.  To remember to get back down on the floor and, this time, to go gently.  Less is more.

And then other memories come back.  Of my grandmother, baking cinnamon rolls.  When I was four, playing in the kiddie pool.

Not just the nightmares. The dreams also.

This sequence:  “Arm Circles Under Self,” done lying on the side, exploring with floor-side arm.

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Going To School

photo by John Holmes

In this week’s AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT® we explored the interrelationship between use of the arms, and the capability and contribution of the shoulder blades, chest, head, and underlying support.

We looked to pay attention to discrete parts of ourselves, in a friendly, inclusive way.  In a respectful way.  In a way that acknowledges where we are in the present moment.  And then, when we come up against the edge of our ability, what can we do?  If we want to reach further, do more?  What other parts of ourselves can we enlist, call on, bring into the picture?

How can we feel ourselves as individuals, in unique beauty, as part of a whole but not lost in it?

I like what I read in FELDENKRAIS® colleague Richard Rogers’ pointing to a wiki-entry on swarm behavior.   I’m thinking about the three simple rules that swarms or flocks or schools might follow, and how these three rules might guide a general inquiry into discrete bits and their relationship to the whole.

In these three rules, I see the outline for how to walk that fine line between intimacy and engulfment, between collaboration and mob psychology, between cooperation and surrender of individual integrity:

Move in the same direction as your neighbors
Remain close to your neighbors –  but –
Avoid collisions with your neighbors

Going to school, in other words.  Fish are graduates at birth.  Good thing, too, given that their lives can depend on it – detecting and distracting predators . . .

Photo by Brocken Inaglory

This sequence:  “Sweater Lesson,” done lying on the back, drawing arms across self, over head, and back around in a big circle.

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