Your Potent Self
It is always a joy for me to connect with a new Feldenkrais student who understands that there is more to the Method than simply learning how to move ‘better’. I have been asked what a good book for beginners might be by one such student, and that is an interesting question with no easy answer. Feldenkrais is all about learning to grow up, and we all begin at an ‘intermediate’ level, because (excepting for those of us who focus on working with infants) the people who come to us are already on the path towards conscious maturity, just as those of us who teach Feldenkrais were when we realised that the Method would become our life purpose.
Most people who commit to this Method have already embarked on the the long slow process of growing up intentionally, rather than simply responding to what life throws in our path in a haphazard manner. There are many wry comments out there on the randomness of this process – “Life” is “…a bitch, and then you die”, “…nasty, brutish, and short”, “…just one damn thing after another”and, bleakest of all …”a tale. Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”…
…Many of us instinctively sense that there is more to life than mere endurance; that we have the capacity not just to survive, but to thrive, even in difficult circumstances. Our sense of personal potency develops as a direct result of our capacity to handle the difficulties we experience on the path to maturity, and, however it may look from our own unique perspective, no one else is having an easy time of it either, and we really are all in this mess together.
At some point quite early in our maturing process we shift from just feeling our feelings, to thinking about our feelings, and from there to thinking about the feelings of others. When this emotional development stage is interrupted a person may never learn to fully recognise the ‘otherness’ of other people, and an ‘adult’ exhibiting this immature behaviour is what people usually mean when they describe someone as a ‘narcissist’.
The significance of our development process for achieving a fully-potent emotionally-integrated adulthood is poorly understood, although not by Moshe Feldenkrais, who wrote a whole book about it, the book that just happens to be my favourite, The Potent Self.
Feldenkrais as a learning-to-learn system focusses on finding ways to reboot this developmental process so that we can start up again from wherever we left off, and continue maturing into fully functional adulthood, the way we would all be doing naturally in an ideal environment. Of course achieving this kind of adulthood is so rare there isn’t a lot of recognition of what it might look like, and most of us only manage a series of approximations, getting ever closer, but never quite attaining that elusive (and far from ‘obvious’) sense of being a ‘proper grown-up’.
At the opposite end of the spectrum of potential developmental miss-steps are those of us who experience that sense of separate-self-ness too early in our young lives. There is some evidence that the earlier in our childhood this sense of self-awareness occurs, the more likely it is that we will go through this emotional maturing process already at a disadvantage; too self-conscious, too aware, and, in consequence, too anxious to fully integrate everything we need to have integrated by the time we are five years old, and reach the age at which modern culture expects us to be able to cope with the society of other children.
The evidence is that we spend our early years in a state that can be characterised as a heightened learning mode – mastering new behaviours and growing new neural networks much faster than our adult selves can easily imagine, as we struggle to form guitar chords with our awkward fingers, or master a new language with ears that are “set in their ways”.
As a singing teacher I am constantly presented with new vocal challenges that other performers demonstrate with ease; now I am pretty down with overtone chanting my next goal is to master the fabulous “click” speech of the Xhosa language, and the “sideways yodelling” ably demonstrated by Mal Webb on YouTube. Of course, as I am also a Feldenkrais teacher, walking my ‘talk’ means continuing to explore all the stages of learning, as any desired new skill I am acquiring shifts from “impossible to possible”, then from”difficult to easy”, and finally from “easy to elegant”.
Moshe Feldenkrais recognised that our learning potential – our neuroplasticity – is our super power, but he also understood that the manner in which we continue to reinforce neurological networks through repetition can also become a limiting and constraining factor in our lives. Any habitual behaviour can become “hard-wired” and thus be an obstruction to new learning. The longer you do the same thing all the time, the harder it is for you to recognise what it is you are doing, and the longer it takes to unravel those embedded neural pathways.
Moshe stated many times, in many ways, that ‘when we know what we are doing then we can do what we want’. Feldenkrais as a method is focussed on enabling us to know exactly what we are doing, right now, and that is something that takes much longer than many of us are ready to recognise; learning to ‘do what you want’ is by far the more complex side of this equation, because so many of us have so little idea of what it might be like to be living a life where we are actually doing what we want to do.
Pain is the great teacher we all carry within us to help us open our eyes to the traps we have made for ourselves, the powerful signal we cannot easily ignore – although many of us do exactly that for as long as we are able to, relying on pain killers to help us manage our misery, rather than facing up to making the necessary changes to reverse out of whatever cul-de-sac we have driven ourselves into.
For many of us, emotional pain is the foundation on which our chronic physical pain has been built. The sooner we learn to recognise the more subtle signals of discomfort our nervous system is sending us, the sooner we can begin to make the changes necessary for us to move forwards in our self-development process, traveling a little further each day along the path that takes us towards wisdom, seniority, and the potential to become an Elder in our tribe:
“Elders traditionally hold crucial roles in supporting both formal and informal education in First Nations communities. They impart tradition, knowledge, culture, values, and lessons using orality and role modelling traditional practices. Elders are the carriers and emblems of communally generated and mediated knowledge.”
Neuroception – the first sense…
These physical sensations are precisely the sort that many of us have been trained to ignore from an early age. These signals come to us directly from our solar plexus, our gut, our chest, and our throat; they reveal our emotional discomfort, and thus there is enormous personal benefit to be gained from re-sensitising ourselves to these communications from deep within.
Here’s a definition of neuroception, a term coined by Dr Stephen Porges that has not yet entered into general use:
“The term “Neuroception” describes how neural circuits distinguish whether situations or people are safe, dangerous, or life threatening. Neuroception explains why a baby coos at a caregiver but cries at a stranger, or why a toddler enjoys a parent’s embrace but views a hug from a stranger as an assault.”
As we become more able to recognise the subtle internal voices we have been ignoring for much of our life thus far, we begin to know better what we are feeling at any given moment. We may not be able to immediately switch to feeling the way we would like, but we can begin to integrate those missing emotional states back into our adult persona, and to know ourselves a little better as we go along, rounding out our sense of self as a more complex, more spontaneous – and often less amenable – being. I feel strongly that this is the restoration of our ‘human dignity’ that Moshe considered to be the core goal of his method.
“What I’m after isn’t flexible bodies, but flexible brains. What I’m after is to restore each person to their human dignity. “
– Moshe Feldenkrais
Of course this is a huge subject about which many, many books have been written, and all the relevant aspects of this self-inhibiting process and the way it drains our lives of joy cannot be covered in a single blog post, if it is also to be of a sensible length. My intention is to highlight what I have found to be the most useful strategies for my own journey to wellbeing in a series of follow-up posts, as part of explaining the background to my Potent Inner Voice workshops.
Learning to know my own self better has been the single most effective part of my self-healing journey and the side-effect has been fewer moments of gut-clenching anxiety and many more moments of spontaneous joy and satisfaction. On the more practical side, I am better able to handle social situations without feeling anxious; much more tolerant of irritants like noisy neighbours and hovering helicopters; very much more on top of my various addictive behaviours (although I do find that I am also getting better at recognising the addictive element in behaviour I did not previously consider to be addictive, so ‘miles to go before I sleep’!*), and, probably the most relevant in the context of my teaching work, much healthier physically.
Your Potent Inner Voice
Sensory Self-Awareness for Self-Healing
Wednesday Evenings 7 – 8.30 pm BST / 2 – 3.30 pm EDT
Online + Recording
£15* (suggested fee, or any donation welcome)
These extended evening classes focus on my Feldenkrais-based self-healing strategies, and the recordings are intended to make it very easy for you to develop these skills for yourself. I am exploring the evening format with the intention of supporting better sleep as well as pain relief and self-calming.
One seldom-discussed aspect of the potency of the voice is the influential presence of an internal voice, constantly commentating on our lives. The voice inside our own heads can be an ally or an enemy; for a while now I have been discovering how to train my inner voice to be a better ally in my on-going project of self-healing. Here is an introduction to the process, from an article on my website:
“Self-Hypnosis – also known as Autogenic Training – has been around for a long time. I first came across it back in the Eighties, in a book called Superlearning. This was at right at the beginning of my interest in meditation, and practising the autogenic sequences from the book were the closest I came to achieving the deeper states of inner calm that are reportedly the most effective brain wave frequencies for healing chronic conditions.
Thus, when a bout of chronic fatigue left me with fibromyalgic pain that did not easily respond to the mindful movements that had helped me free myself of sciatica in the past, my investigations brought me full circle, and this time I made a connection I had somehow failed to make before. I remembered that Moshe Feldenkrais was also interested in self-hypnosis at a similar age, except that – being the over-achiever he was – he translated a significant book on the subject into Hebrew, and boldly added his own thoughts in a 26 page commentary.
The book was The Practice Of Autosuggestion by the Method of Émile Coué (1929), and Moshe’s original contribution has recently been published as Thinking and Doing, A monograph by Moshe Feldenkrais. He retained his enthusiasm for these concepts throughout his life, attempting to republish his translation in 1977, and using the techniques he still valued to speed his recovery after his stroke.
This workshop will be ideal for anyone seeking to improve their own health and wellbeing, and the health and wellbeing of others.
This line popped into my head, and I looked it up to make sure I had it right. The whole poem is lovely, and on reading it I burst into tears. It is only in the last few years that I have really begun to have full access to that part of myself that is “moved” by what is beautiful in art. Up until then I only cried at sad things, and only laughed at funny things; now when I moved by an experience I am filled with a kind of joyous intensity that can come as tears or laughter, sometimes even both, so here is today’s lovely discovery, may it also bring you joy:
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.