Friday, July 28, 2006

Friday, July 28: Awareness, the ongoing sleep and the Feldenkrais possibility

Awareness is really cool and we are so disconnected from it. Our attention is hooked into habitual grooves and these grooves keep us eating and going to the bathroom and getting dressed and going to work and driving to the store and shopping and coming home and having a family and raising kids and having arguments and going to movies and talking walks on the hillside and typing in to the computer and reading words in a book or on a computer, all of this we can do in a state of semi-sleep.


And the wild thing about this is, just as in our night sleep we don’t know we are dreaming when we are dreaming (usually), so in our day “sleep,” we don’t know we are missing the moments as we are living them. How can we know that we are missing them?

This is how: come to this moment and notice how it is different, more bright and clear and vital than the moments where we were not present. And then we have this terrible realization: I just missed the last two hours or two years or twenty years of my life without being present to my life.

This can be discouraging enough so that the temptation is quite strong to just fall back under to the ongoing sleep. We can talk to our friends and acquaintances and be asleep, earn a living, walk the dog and be asleep, talk on the cell phone and drive and be asleep, type at the computer or read a book and be asleep. We can function.

We can react. Someone steps on our toe. We scream. Someone cuts us off on the freeway, we fume. Someone “insults” us, we feel hurt or angry or snap back. All sorts of ping-pong reactions can go on that make our days different one from an other. If we go to a foreign country or go camping or do almost anything out of our routine, we start to notice the world freshly, in the moment. We almost wake up, at least we are interested. This is why vacations are so nice.

And the real question in this: a vacation from what?

Really, it’s a vacation from our disconnection to the present that we need, a vacation from being continually in a semi-panic mode, since we are always keying up for what comes next. We are always impatient, because now is just a stepping stone to something else, which means we are almost always impatient, unless we are zonked out at a movie or in front of a television, or busy stuffing food or alcohol or coffee into our systems. We rush and then get exhausted and hide from our exhaustion in “entertainment,” or overeating, or stimulants, or emotional states or yapping endlessly on our ubiquitous cell phones.

And so this is what the vacation that we need is all about. The vacation we really need is a vacation from impatience. In other words, I don’t have to hurry to finish typing these words. You don’t have to hurry to finish reading them. I can follow my breathing and enjoy my connection to self and gravity as I type. You can follow your breathing and enjoy your connection to self and gravity as you listen or read.

And then I can get up and do something and really be there with it, and so can you.

And what does that have to do with Feldenkrais®? Lots, it turns out.

One. If we are making slow and non-habitual movements, we have something that we can and almost have to pay attention to in the moment. “Lift the head up and down,” and we can crank that out like zombies. “Lift the head and eyes up and down slowly, and put awareness as well on your breathing and your ribs and your pelvis and your vertebrae all up and down your back.” Hmm. That’s a lot to ask of a zombie. We might actually have to wake up to notice that.

“Lift and lower your head with awareness on ribs and spine and pelvis and move your eyes in the opposite direction. Which is to say, as you lift your head, let your eyes look down toward your belly, and as you lower your head, let your eyes look up toward your forehead. Follow and soften your breathing as you do this.”

Aha, we have here nothing short of an invitation to wake up to the present, at least for a little while. (To hear people go into yammer mode after lessons is to be aware that the awareness is ephemeral and requires an ongoing effort, something we all dislike.)

Two. Our brains were designed for a couple of things. They are in charge of balancing out and intercommunicating with the liver and the lungs and the heart and the spleen and keeping all that inner machinery going. When we were babies, milk into our mouths turned into fuel for our cells and poop for our rear ends without any awareness on our part. However, if we wanted to get across the room, or roll over, we need to learn these activities. This seems “obvious” (in an elusive sort of way to most people, and us too, much of the time), the ability to crawl or roll over or come to sitting from lying on the floor. But once upon a time, we had to learn all that. We didn’t learn from a book, nor from instructors.

This is another huge use of our brain. We learned by trying this and that, just for the sake of trying this and that to see what happened, or how it felt , or what it was like. We had a lot of awareness and we weren’t really trying to roll over or to crawl, but we did want to move across the room, we did want to reach something that rolling over could really help achieve.

We learned by moving, by experimenting, by discovering. We learned by a combination of awareness and playfulness and earnest exploration. This was handy for us. This was us at our best in learning. This is our heritage: to move and be aware and explore and discover. This was using our brains to get smarter and move more easily and elegantly in the world, not to show off, but to live more. Life was exciting and we could get more of it if we moved better. Yippee, help me learn brain. And the brain did, and loved it. And awareness was a huge part of that learning, the biggest jump in learning we would ever make in our lives.

Awareness is a big part of our make-up when we are small. With it we transform ourselves from helpless blobs to mischievous imps, getting into everything and starting to talk and scramble around in the verbal world.

Unfortunately, once we start to talk, the giants start to train us in their ideas of what the world is about, so our hands move from delicate and miraculous objects of adoration, exploration and manipulation, and become “hands,” the word. Our eyes become “eyes,” and that blue stuff up above becomes the “sky.” We get tuned into and trained into a cultural understand of ourselves and the “world,” and we lose that vibrant connection to learning and awareness and exploration.

Anyway, Feldenkrais work brings us back to the ground, back to wiggling and exploring the pieces of crawling and rolling over and what is it like to put weight through our skeleton against gravity? We take ourselves back to the beginning, when we didn’t know so much, and hence, not knowing much, had a world of learning ahead of us. A “hand” becomes a hand again, and a “spine” as real spine, with lots of vertebrae we can become aware of and learn about as we move them this way and that.

Three. The Feldenkrais Method®. I’ve come to discover, is a learning system. Moving is the means, but learning is the core. And learning is being aware of new information and knowing that there is a difference about this new information. To learn, real learning, not rote learning, we have to wake up and notice what’s going on. This is why we all love the Hollywood movie, where the type A man or woman, who always does things a hard and fast and rigid way, gets broken open into learning by heartache, or being turned into a child, or having to dress in the opposite sex, or being stuck in some radically new situation with some radically different person. The type A sort wakes up, sees the world in new way, falls in love, it’s all so groovy. Of course, a month later, they are probably back in a rut, maybe a new rut, but let’s let Hollywood keep alive an important myth: people can change.

It’s a myth that points to a possibility. People can transform their lives.

It’s hard, but not impossible.

I’ll posit this, though: without awareness we can not change. Changing ourselves, improving either our tennis or our relationship or our walking, all this is impossible without awareness.


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