Wisdom From My Latest Training

 
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Wisdom From My Latest Training

I just recently completed the latest 10-day segment of my training to become a Feldenkrais® teacher. The training I’m in is four years long and we are almost at the end of year three.

Each segment is full of an incredible amount of learning. I’ve made it a practice to review my notes at the end of each day and post the juiciest fact or insight on Facebook.

Here’s a roundup of my favorite tidbits from our March 2019 segment, which was taught by the calming, grounded, and impressive Deborah Bowes.

Day 1: Today we had a long discussion on the art of questioning, something particularly interesting to me as both a student of self-inquiry (Zen) and an interviewer! A few highlights:

  • Quest and question come from the same Latin root meaning to ask or seek

  • Asking questions is a sign of freedom (oppressed people can't ask questions)

  • The quality of curiosity behind the question often determines the quality of the response

  • Do you have a habitual way of asking questions? Or do you ask the same questions (and get the same answers)?

  • Not all questions are meant to be answered—some are meant to take us into the unknown, into exploration

Day 2: When we try to fix a mistake, we often overcorrect and make a mistake in the opposite direction. Best to leave it be and proceed with an eye toward improvement, not fixing.

Day 3: Cats had sternebrae, meaning their breastbone isn't fused like ours. This allows them to make a circle with their spine—and to lick their butt! We learned a lot of interesting stuff today, but this rose to the top 😼

Day 4: If you want people to behave in a particular way, make it easy for them.

This isn't from my training, but I heard it this morning, and it's so Feldenkraisian I decided to share it!

It's from Sam Harris' conversation with Daniel Kahneman on the Making Sense podcast. 

They spoke about how there are 2 ways to change behavior:

  1. Apply pressure in the direction you want to go (carrots & sticks).

  2. Ask a different question (see Day 1 above!): Why isn't someone going there by themselves? What is preventing them from doing what you think they should be doing? How can I remove the obstacles and make it easier?

Day 5: We act according to our self-image. When you expand your image of yourself by being able to do more movements (or the same movements with greater ease), you increase capacities in other areas of your life: psychological, relational, professional, etc.

Day 6: The 4 principles of good movement, according to Moshe Feldenkrais, are lengthening, reversibility, ease of breath, and lack of a sense of effort.

Day 7: Are you doing what you think you're doing? I have the horrifying thought that if I were to see myself on video I may not recognize my movements at all!

Day 8: We have habits even in the ways we pay attention. I notice that I often go right to the parts of my body where I'm used to feeling pain: right knee, neck, left ankle. It's like picking at a scab. Scanning for what's wrong, I usually find something wrong. Interesting...

Day 9: There are 31 muscles that attach to the pelvis. It is a dynamic system that can self-organize to operate with flexibility and stability. All without kegels.

Day 10: I can still manage to learn something even when I’m in pain. I can especially practice self-compassion and acknowledge what works.

 

Forgiveness Is a Process

 
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Forgiveness Is a Process

I love learning about words—their meanings, where they come from, how we use them. But sometimes I wonder if I missed a pivotal week in school where the vocabulary list included words like love, kindness, compassion, and forgiveness.

I'd heard these words held aloft as aspirational signposts since my first Sunday school teacher explained the Golden Rule. I'd even, on more than one occasion, had the experience being described by each of these words.

But the concepts themselves remained abstract and intangible to me most of the time. I knew they were real, but often it felt like I sometimes feel when passing through business class on the way back to coach. Someone else got to sit in love and compassion while I grudgingly wedged myself into acceptance and tolerance, wondering how exactly one gets access to those roomier seats.

Because these words are, well, words... I had assumed they had clear definitions. And if something could be defined, then it could be gift wrapped with a bow and neatly filed on my shelves of understanding, ready to be taken out when needed.

However, when I found myself in need of compassion, I'd take the box off the shelf and it would be empty. I'd think to myself that I know kindness would be useful in this situation, but I seem to be fresh out and don't know where to get more.

I felt locked within an intellectual fortress, forbidden entry into the garden of good feelings and betrayed by my reliance on reasoning.

Then Zen teacher Cheri Huber introduced me to the idea that the concepts these words refer to are not discrete, static things. You can't put them on a shelf. You can't point to them and say, "There, that's love. And over here we have joy." Instead, they are states that can be cultivated—experiences of being that can be wooed into existence through repeated effort.

It turns out love, kindness, and the lot are more like a process. More like verbs than nouns. And there are things we can do (and things we can avoid doing) to create the conditions for these states to flourish and fill our lives with goodness.

Frederic Luskin, Director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Projects, explained to me in an interview that forgiveness is "making peace when you didn't get what you want."

That's great. Except peace is another one of those words. How does one actually "make peace?"

It turns out making peace—or forgiving—is a somewhat quantifiable process that has 3 steps:

  1. Become more grateful. Practice gratitude all the time and learn to recognize when your heart is open.

  2. Relax. Calm your nervous system. Stress chemicals narrow your thinking and block your capacity to forgive, so actively practice relaxing.

  3. Change your story. When you talk about what happened, change the language to give yourself a little perspective. For example, instead of saying "I had a terrible childhood, my parents were the worst," you could say, "My childhood wasn't great, and I imagine my parents did the best they could."

Thankfully each of these steps is an action that can be practiced. We can commit (and recommit when we forget) to regularly being more grateful, relaxing, and changing our narrative.

And when we do, Luskin explained, we create and experience forgiveness.

Well, almost. It turns out that not every part of the process is measurable, which I imagine is why there is this thing we call faith.

"These simple skills are trainable, but I would have to say that I still don't know actually how to teach forgiveness. I can teach these skills and they tend to make people more available to forgiveness, but there's still something ethereal or consciousness or spiritual or grace or something that still has to fill that human space beyond those skills, and I don't know what that is," says Luskin.

Spiritual teacher Caroline Myss says, "Genuine forgiveness is a self-initiated mystical act that requires the assistance of grace."

Much like forgiveness is process that results in a resolution of our objection to something that happened in the past, perhaps love is a process that resolves hate, compassion a process that resolves indifference, and kindness a process that resolves animosity or selfishness.

And if forgiveness isn't filed away somewhere on a shelf between envy and goodness, and is instead there for the having if we attune ourselves to it, then love, compassion, kindness, joy, awe, wonder, and all those other yummy things must be hiding in plain sight too.

Maybe they're right there available to us when we actively create the proper conditions for them and then let go and let the magic happen.

Here’s a short clip from my interview with Fred Luskin for the Omega Institute:

 

A Collection of Quotes from Moshe Feldenkrais

 
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A Collection of Quotes from Moshe Feldenkrais

This is a collection of quotes from Moshe Feldenkrais, creator of the Feldenkrais Method®. Moshe’s writings are dense, academic, and sometimes obscure, but if you go slowly and pay attention—much like we do in the method—you’ll be amazed at what you find.


Find your true weakness and surrender to it. Therein lies the path to genius. Most people spend their lives using their strengths to overcome or cover up their weaknesses. Those few who use their strengths to incorporate their weaknesses, who don’t divide themselves, those people are very rare. In any generation there are a few and they lead their generation. —Moshe Feldenkrais


In conclusion let me state my inmost belief that, just as anatomy has enabled humanity to get an intimate knowledge of the working of the body, and neuroanatomy that of some activities of the psyche, so will understanding of the somatic aspects of consciousness enable us to know ourselves more intimately. Tension is self-destructive. In the future, we should be able to direct the forces that generate tension not just to release it, but to the betterment of humanity. —Moshe Feldenkrais, from Mind & Body, Two Lectures Delievered at the Copenhagen Congress of Functional Movement and Relaxation


Willpower is necessary when the ability to do is lacking. Learning, as I see it, is not the training of willpower but the acquisition of the skill to inhibit parasitic action and the ability to direct clear motivations a result of self knowledge —Moshe Feldenkrais


What is important is that you get the person to love himself, not just like himself. If you achieve that you are worth your weight in diamonds. If you take a person who hates himself, has no confidence, and make him feel that he can love himself. He feels he can begin to rely on his own self and begins to have self-confidence to stand on his feet. —Moshe Feldenkrais


In those moments when awareness succeeds in being at one with feeling, senses, movement, and thought, the carriage will speed along on the right road. Then man can make discoveries, invent, create, innovate, and 'know.' He grasps that his small world and the great world around are but one and that in this unity he is no longer alone. —Moshe Feldenkrais, Awareness Through Movement


The aim [of the Feldenkrais Method] is a person that is organized to move with minimum effort and maximum efficiency, not through muscular strength, but through increased consciousness of how movement works.” —Moshe Feldenkrais

 

Extreme Unplugging: Why I Go Dark

Extreme Unplugging: Why I Go Dark

I started to write this post during meditation. I know, I know…that’s not what you’re supposed to do when sitting. But as anyone who has meditated has discovered—thinking happens.

I was a few days into a monthlong retreat at the Zen Monastery Peace Center, and I was happy. Not the kind of happy you feel when you’ve won the lottery, but happy like when you’re a kid on summer vacation.

This, I realize, is not the reaction most people would have when staring down 30 days of silence with no phone, computer, family, friends, or even eye contact. But I love being on retreat, and people often ask me what it’s like, so it occurred to me to try to articulate why I like to go dark and unplug in such spectacular fashion.

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10 Tidbits From My First Feldenkrais Training

10 Tidbits From My First Feldenkrais Training

After a few years of taking classes in a slightly obscure somatic practice called the Feldenkrais Method, I decided to dive in deeper and take a training. It’s a 4-year process to become a practitioner and I’m looking forward to sharing what I learn along the way.

Our first 10-day segment in August was a revelation. So many principles of this practice dovetail with my experience of Zen, offering whole new ways to understand the mind-body connection. I look forward to sharing more on that in the future.

Here are my favorite tidbits from each day of the training. Some are distillations of my own experience of the day. Others are the principles of the practice shared by our trainer, Aliza Stewart.

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