We’re taking our lovely new dog to obedience school. She’s very clever and she enjoys it a great deal. The joke about obedience school is that mostly it’s about training the owners, not the dog. Indeed, the first day it was my turn to take the dog, one of the assistants came over and commented generously that the dog was doing great but I was doing terrible!
There’s no path directly from my nervous system to hers telling her what to do, that doesn’t pass through her own understanding and interpretation based on her own experience. Without the kind of consistency that lets her establish meaning for what I say and do, she can’t do anything with my (to her) random interventions. True of any self-directing animal; true of humans, with many more layers of language and conceptualization and self-understanding, history and culture.
One of the things that greatly attracted me to the Feldenkrais Method when I first encountered it was its tenacious grasp of the irreducible role of subjectivity. After a year of seeing pictures in ergonomic information flyers of the ear lined up over the hip joint lined up over the ankle (great! when I see myself walking down the street from a distance, I’ll be able to tell whether my posture is “good”!)–finally a method of working with my sense of orientation and alignment in space from the inside out. Which is, after all, how I encounter myself and make my way through the world.
We act according to our self-image–or in the words of the opening of Feldenkrais’s book Awareness Through Movement:
Each one of us speaks, moves, thinks, and feels in a different way, each according to the image of himself that he has built up over the years.
These words came to mind when I saw lately The Wind that Shakes the Barley, particularly in the scene where the two brothers face down at the end–a conversation, across a table, two human beings exchanging words–each with his unshakeable commitment to his own side in the exploding Irish Civil War that followed on the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922. All the power of gunshot and explosives, all the violence so physically real, that comes from two human minds and the ideas they hold–and the human connections and commitments that those ideas signify.
The human will is an extraordinary force of nature. We saw this movie after a week that included Blood Diamond and The Last King of Scotland as well. Every bullet blasting a body open, every bomb tearing apart the landscape–only came into action because a two or more human wills met one another with ideas that could not be made consistent. Not for trivial reasons or for sheer superstition either–those wills are oriented to money, resources, power–history and our place in it.
We act according to our self-image indeed, and that self-image is our orientation to desire, to hatred, to biography, to community, to the land we find ourselves in and the resources that come out of it, always short of our desires and short of the needs of most people on the planet–our orientation to all of history as we understand it and all the futures we image are or may be coming.
It is a great human mystery–How could it be otherwise? And yet how could mere ideas translate into all this carnage?