©1996 Dennis Leri
Trainers' Column
From the newsletter of the Feldenkrais Guild, In Touch.

Self Reflection
©1996 Dennis Leri

"...We attempt to find out, by a mixture of contemplation, symbolic representation, communion, and communication, what it is we already know." (xxi) "... A considerable unlearning of the current descriptive superstructure [is demanded] which, until it is unlearned can be mistaken for reality." (xxviii, Spencer-Brown)

"... [what is] 'ordinary awareness'?; ... this is not our ordinary mind incessantly thinking of this or that throughout the day. ... Dzogchen (a Tibetan approach to Understanding) makes a radical and fundamental distinction between mind and the nature of mind; and here ordinary awareness refers to the latter. The nature of mind is like a mirror which has the natural and inherent capacity to reflect whatever is set before it, whether beautiful or ugly; but these reflections in no way affect or modify the nature of the mirror. It is the same with the state of contemplation: There is nothing to correct or alter or modify. What the practitioner does when entering into contemplation is simply discover himself in the condition of the mirror. This is our primordial state." (xx, Reynolds)

I attended my first Feldenkrais workshop in 1972. By the end of that year I was corresponding with Moshe Feldenkrais. After the San Francisco Training in 1975-1977 and a 6 week praticum in 1978, I wanted to continue my learning. So, in early January of 1979 I went to study with Moshe in Israel. Nearly six months later I left Israel with radically different notions of the Feldenkrais Method.

In the first days of my stay I had dinner with Moshe in an Indian restaurant in Jaffa, the Old City of Tel-Aviv. I had recently attended my second six day study group in Phoenix, Arizona with the psychiatrist and hypnotherapist Milton Erickson. Feldenkrais had expressed his great interest in Erickson during the summer of '78. I said, "It's very interesting working with Milton Erickson because he does with words what we do with our hands." Moshe finished his mouthful of food. He put down his fork. He looked me squarely in the eyes and said, "You know, you are seriously mistaken if you think Milton Erickson uses words or that we use our hands." "I knew that." I thought to myself, but why had I said what I said?

Over the next few months my discussions with Moshe continued on many levels and spanned a range of topics. I came to have an appreciation for the kind of ruthless and radical self enquiry that proximity to Feldenkrais engendered. In response to some statement I had made Moshe said, "No, you don't mean that. I won't let you say that. You know, I have spent my life attempting to unmask the fraudulent in myself. If some person at a party makes an idiotic remark, what do I care, I don't say anything. But," he continued, "if someone close to me makes such a remark I can be nearly as hard on them as I am on myself." I learned from him the positive value of self-critical reflection. Any student can learn self reflection by using just about any ATM lesson as a means to unmask the fraudulent in themselves. The kind of reflection I refer to is not the narcissistic kind that mistakes the reflection for the reflecting. Attempts at correcting the reflections mistake depth for surface. It saddens me that many students only view ATM lessons and the Feldenkrais Method as a means of physical or emotional education.

Each lesson indicates actions to be explored. Actions may be carried out either actually or virtually, that is, they may be imagined. Constraints on how to use our attention are given. They bias our exploration without determining it. Constraints in the Feldenkrais Method bend our attention back onto the actions we perform. Functional themes aside, we employ two global constraints: 1) In performing any action stay well within the range of comfort and; 2) If we notice our attention beginning to wander then we either return to attending to our actions or we give ourselves a break. If, as we enmesh ourselves in the content of a lesson, we adhere to those two constraints we will have to learn new ways of meeting novelty and challenge. Ignore those constraints and we will continue to delude ourselves about our abilities. Part of the genius of the lessons is that they can have a positive result whether or not we utilize the constraints. But, their real genius arises when we use lessons as a mirror to provide us with unadorned impressions of how we truly act. In some moments, in "seeing" ourselves or others, we open to a spaciousness not bound up with the attractiveness, repulsiveness or numbness of a reflection.

Working in trainings around the world with a variety of colleagues has deeply enrichened my own understanding of our work. Their perspectives, their skills, their thoughtfulness and their daring have all proved inspirational. But, it seems we all agree, that we came to know each other's perspectives after our trainings. As such, I feel that trainings have not intentionally utilized the synergy and inventiveness of students' views nearly enough. In trainings I've organized and facilitated I have students work together around some task related to ATM or FI. Not only do they learn from each other, but they also learn about each other. Is it a surprise to realize that, given the chance, our classmates can provide us with the opportunities to learn how to interact with a very broad range of people? More importantly, students need the chance to talk about the learning process as it relates to particular aspects of the Feldenkrais Method. I am not referring to "processing" or "meta-level" discussion about feelings. I mean discussion about our craft in the moments creating it. It is really through our peers that we gain our world view while our teachers function to provide us with the situations, the contexts, for the elaboration of content.

There is gap or contradiction in the training process certainly noticed by most students. The gap comes when shifting from internally directed self exploration ala ATM to copying the "Teacher." I know some of my colleagues have worked long and hard to perfect their technique. But, forgetting their own process of learning, they hold their students responsible for skills and understandings they themselves may have only recently become capable of. It's a tricky point and some demonstration of our art is necessary. However, should students be left with an impression of the practitioner's brilliance while they themselves remain in the dark as to how to recreate a "lesson"? The shift from self directed exploration to an imitative activity can be a contradiction depending on how Trainers and Assistants grapple with it. Only the most heartless would be oblivious to it. One way I have endeavored to bridge the gap is by guiding students through FI in an ATM style and by having them sometimes work in small groups with a minimum of demonstration.

By having small groups work with the particulars and elements of our craft it permits both questions and responses to arise spontaneously. It gives solidity to the process of working with others. The concurrent presentation of ATM and FI plus the use of small groups mirror our being born into this world amongst others with our connection to them being tactile, kinesthetic, pre-verbal and verbal. The use of small groups marked for me a shift in presenting the work. The shift is from "teaching" technique to facilitating learning how to act. It is consistent with the process of ATM. Discussion in and around the process allows one to try out on one's classmates new descriptive modes. Ideas and notions that are germane to the process level can be recognized as such. Since neither words nor actions are the "lesson" we can learn to use language to support the learning process. Language is not forbidden in constructing a lesson whether ATM or FI. But, there is a way to use language that lets a lesson shine through and there are ways to use language that obscure or diminish a lesson's import.

Is it not obvious to say that we don't see what we don't see? One could say that mostly we don't even see what we do see. Because, in seeing what we want to see we have a sort of covenant with our reflections. By abiding in the immediacy of reflecting we break that covenant. In seeing reflections as reflections we discover the mirror. To me, the training process is none other than loosening the mesmerizing grip our false images hold over us. Function, technique, "frozen" shoulders, neuroscience, etc., etc., are words signifying concepts elemental to our work and, as such, are necessary. They, however, are meaningless if we don't find out to some degree who it is that we are when we do the work. Working with peers is another way to have our self image reflected back to us. The grip our likes, dislikes and apathies maintain over us can be made evident in working at some task together with others.

   We are the mirror as well as the face in it.
   We are tasting the taste this minute of eternity.
   We are pain and what cures pain, both.
   We are the sweet cold water and the jar that pours.
   I want to hold you close like a lute, so we can cry out with loving.
   You would rather throw stones at a mirror?
   I am your mirror, and here are the stones.


References: Laws of Form by G. Spencer-Brown,
Self Liberation Through Seeing with Naked Awareness by John Reynolds
The Essential Rumi by Coleman Barks with John Moyne