This is from the programme of a performance of La La La Human Steps’ Amelia–it sounds remarkably like a description of what we do in the Feldenkrais Method:
What is it in this description of Lalala’s dance process that reminds me of Feldenkrais? It has to do with the distinction Lock draws between the symbolic body and the real body, and the parallel distinction between the task of understanding and the task of recognizing.
When I first saw a clip of Lalala Human Steps in a video on creativity, I was drawn in by the revelatory artificiality of the transformations they impose upon human movement. Dancers dancing, all very lovely: and then a sudden shift. The timing of the movement of one limb changes, or the axis of the whole body’s turning–and the viewer suddenly realizes that the “normalcy” of the scene she has been witnessing depended entirely upon rules whose existence and form were invisible, unimagined, perhaps unimaginable. Who would have thought that altering the angle of the axis of a turn would so utterly transform a movement that it would go from being the most familiar–perhaps banal, perhaps expressive–gesture of dance, to being something completely alien, new, pregnant not with meaning (as the saying goes) but with meanings disrupted, expectations frustrated, questions posed and left hanging.
The transformations of movement that are the field of play in the Feldenkrais Method bring us into a similar kind of engagement with “nonsense.” There are many movement practices where one learns to do movement a, b, or c, and learns that such a movement means x, y, or z. You raise your arms to the ceiling — and offer praise to divine powers. This is chakra x which means y or z; this is the such and such meridian. I have no beef with any such practice — I’m simply looking to define a difference, and in what practice other than Feldenkrais do you reach one hand to the sky and at the same time turn your head first in one direction-yes, that feels “natural”-and then in the opposite direction — what unusual movement is that? What possible sense could it have for a human being to do such a thing? But never mind the “sense”-what an interesting and curious sensation! I think I’ll do that again! But what about this other possibility? — and so on.
At various points in the Feldenkrais training there are times of confronting the question of what it is you see when you see the human person in front of you. You look at someone’s posture and the thing you see there is “fear”. That filter of emotional significance is the lens through which you see the way the person uses him or herself in movement. That emotional lens might be all that you see — it calls up a certain response in yourself — sympathy, the desire to protect, memories or your own past fearful experiences, and so on. And now you’re perhaps in a state where you cannot even engage your eyes and brain to see any other aspect of that person at that time. This moment is familiar to anyone who has trained in a form of movement or body work — the stage in the training of coming to see rather more than one wants to see in people in general. Tuning into a layer of human expression that we ordinarily leave un-noticed and un-remarked upon is a little intense.
Developing a mature capacity in the Feldenkrais Method means developing the ability to see the person who is experiencing fear also in another light, one that is to some extent neutral to the possible emotional significance their action might carry. For this person right now in this situation — what experience of exploration, of coming to sense more and to experiment with possibilities of movement, would offer them the possibility of being as they are in the world with less struggle, and with more freedom to do whatever they might find themselves needing or wanting to do? And working with the Method we see this question particularly through the lens of our embodied grasp of the process we work with: the fundamental learning of being upright in gravity and available for action. But when we first begin to look, really to allow ourselves to look, at the concrete living bodies that are the people around us, we see them under the descriptions we know: the first layer we penetrate is to the emotional expression that’s always near-to-hand but politely allowed to be publicly unacknowledged.
I say this with the greatest of respect for the emotional content expressed in our movement. We cause suffering for ourselves more often, probably, by not realizing the emotionality and the symbolic weight of a situation than by wallowing in the feelings and resonances. It is not a matter of one or the other attitude being correct, but of having the capacity to recognize and respond to the situation at hand.
The intensity of this stage calms down; it becomes possible to make choices to see a person in this way or that, depending on the context, as client or as friend or as person walking down the street. It also becomes possible to see people with a lot of what might be called patience and generosity — seeing someone out of the knowledge of one’s own limitations and blindspots, out of fellow human feeling, without judgement.
In this quote Edouard Lock talks about moving from contemplation and symbol to recognization, and that is what is most striking to me about it. I would like to try to say something about what that means to me, against the background above of the familiar issue of emotional-symbolic content of movement. (The symbolic content of movement practices are sometimes also spiritual or cosmological or martial, as in yoga or the various martial arts.) Because it seems to me to capture something very peculiar and almost unique to the approach of Feldenkrais.
Moshe often emphasised while teaching an ATM that there is a peculiar type of “otherness” to the people around us that we are scarcely aware of (before we do Feldenkrais). It takes a whole different organization of the self and perception of the world to create the small detail that one person sitting and leaning back on their hands, without thinking, places their hands slightly closer to their body than the person next to them. This is a difference in the ground of being, the total kinaesthetic, sensorial, and functional situation of a person in the world, that is so obvious and universal — that it is invisible to us, and the slow pace at which it becomes visible to us over the course of a training is hard to believe.
Feldenkrais often jokes too about how we could elaborate that into a system: yes, these people who have this detail of their movement organization are such-and-such people (people who clench their hands into fists: they’re grasping people and don’t let go….), and it was probably caused by their mothers and fathers being such-and-such (or for us today we would say their genes being such-and-such). It’s a joke he likes to make.
Instead of elaborating it into a system, which would fix us in certain categories that we think we already understand, we have in Feldenkrais instead a process and the moment of discovery, the moment in which we discover something unimaginably different from what we had experienced before. Where the sequence of bizarre and meaningless movements we have explored move us into a place where, without thinking of it, we now put our hands, or hold our head, or align our feet, in ways we hadn’t realized we weren’t doing before. And all of us participates in our being that way–it isn’t an external “correction” where we rush over where we are now in order to put ourselves where we think we’re supposed to be. But a moment of all of us being committed to being somewhere new. And that is the moment where we have the opportunity to recognize ourselves afresh.
These moments and the strangeness of them is something we look for in Feldenkrais, and that is something quite unique to it. Sometimes we recognize ourselves in them; sometimes it takes months or years for some new particular possibility to be something we can recognize ourselves in, inhabit, act from. I remember so vividly the first few times I felt the absence of some of my characteristic ways of holding the muscles of my stomach and back rigid. I felt like a jellyfish. I felt like nothing. I could make no connection between that state and being who I was, with my personality, with my goals and plans and ways of acting in the world. I remember that moment when, now, I sometimes feel in the midst of something I’m doing, that aha! I have the choice to do it with my lower ribs held like this, or with them free for movement and breathing. Gradually that comes to be a state I can recognize myself in.
So in that sense now I think of Feldenkrais as being something like a process of embodied deconstruction, and while it feels like that deconstruction leaves us with nothing (“the first principle is that there are no principles”), in fact that “invisibility” is the feeling of recognizing ourselves in that reality, and that restless experimentation with options, that thirst to try first this, then that form of nonsense, is what sets the stage for revelation. And there is such ease and simplicity and freedom there.