Thursday, March 16, 2006

Thursday, March 16: Useful and Idiotic Effort

If you go around town, you can find an interesting combination. On the one hand, people are too lazy to walk even three or four blocks, and drive a car to within inches of the door to the gym or the yoga studio. On the other hand, within that gym or yoga studio, people are grunting and groaning in a masochistic orgy of self-punishment disguised as self-improvement. Effort is what matters here.. Trying hard. Showing the teacher or the inner judge how hard we can work. You can see it in the faces, the strain, the tension. You can see it in the breathing: missing. You can see it in the fingers: tense. The necks: tense.

Ah, life, so interesting.

Now, bodies and minds love to move. Bodies and minds love to remember that they are one. They, i.e. we, love to learn, to do things with pleasure and attention. Of course, that’s almost sacrilege in our society, time is money, rush and hurry, get this done so you can rush off and get that done. Achieve this so you can get money to buy that so you can impress this person or that or the inner judge. So wearying all this running around to get somewhere when we already are: here, alive, a miracle that can be aware of its own life in this moment.

So what would non-idiotic effort look like? It would be only effort that was necessary, using the muscles necessary with relaxation everywhere else. It would feel pleasant. It would be reversible, which means that we could at any moment go in both directions instead of lunging ourselves this way and that. It would be conscious, with an awareness of how all of us was involved or not involved in this movement.

For example: lie on your back and curl up a bit. Which is to say, lift your knees toward your face and put your hands around each knee. Hug them to you a little and then let off, so the hands aren’t pulling as much as stabilizing your knees. (If you can’t get this far, perhaps you might look up a good Feldenkrais practitioner.). Then make this effort:: without using the arms or hands, bring the knees a little closer to your face. That’s all. See what muscles this involves and use only those muscles. Do this easily and slowly, many times, with attention and curiosity.

Notice if the jaw or neck want to get in on this. Neither are necessary for folding in the legs. See if the toes tense up or the breathing stops. Again, neither of these actions are helpful. Notice the eyes, are they easy and relaxed and actually seeing something while this happens.

That’s all; do this with awareness of the curving in your back and the length of your spine and noticing your breathing and your ribs and make it slow enough so that at any moment you could reverse the direction of your movement. If this seems boring to you, so be it. Primitive movement is, of necessity, fast and to the point, as when we slip on a banana peel. No time to think. At a higher level of functioning, we slow down, and notice what we are doing and have a chance to learn to act differently than how we always have before.

This chance to learn can be imagined or even perceived as “boring,” if we confuse our habitual rate of moving around with some idea of “how things should be.” It is uncomfortable sometimes, to begin to learn after years of being satisfied with our habits. Oh, well. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, once we get the hang of it.


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