“Without learning to know ourselves as intimately as we possibly can, we limit our choice. Life is not very sweet without freedom of choice.” – Moshe Feldenkrais
Last fall, after a Rolfer advised me to wake up my left pinky toe to heal my tendonitis, I recommitted to daily foot exercises. Not long after, warming up in the sauna after a swim, I decided to see if I could move my left pinky toe independently. To keep the inquiry casual, I glanced at that toe out of the corner of my eye so it wouldn’t have performance anxiety. To my surprise, it moved. I repeated the action to make sure I was not hallucinating in the 180 degree heat or that it had been a fluke, a coincidental involuntary movement. Indeed, the little piggy was alert after being inert in recent years. I mentioned this development to my Feldenkrais teacher, whom I hoped would appreciate it.
“You inhabited your little toe!” he said, grinning.
I perked up at inhabited. It implied that, one day, I could inhabit my entire self if I continued to bring awareness to my movement, one toe, one joint, one muscle at a time. Excitement shot through my spine at the prospect of feeling like an undivided individual. At that moment, I understood that the possibilities of the Feldenkrais Method extend far beyond easing mobility. Learning to direct attention to subtleties in the body offers a path to freedom.
Freedom is celebrated at Passover Seders (last night and this evening) as Jews recount being liberated from slavery in ancient Egypt. The Haggadah, the text for the Seder, instructs participants to imagine that they themselves had been let out of Egypt, to feel what our ancestors experienced as they fled their homes without enough notice to properly bake bread. Becoming truly free, however, is a process, not a one time event marked by the miraculous parting of the Red Sea by Moses (after whom Feldenkrais is named), or the surprise parting of my pinky toe from neighboring digits. The Jews wandered 40 years in the desert before being allowed to enter the promised land. A common explanation for that extended schlep in the wilderness is that it takes two generations for an oppressed people’s neural circuitry to be rewired into healthier pathways more fitting for an independent nation.
I was invited to a Seder this year, for the second night, and, rather than instantly saying yes, I asked myself if I really wanted to go or if I felt compelled to attend out of a belief that I “should”, simply because I have attended Seders almost every year of my life, even when I lived abroad. At times I’ve celebrated Jewish holidays simply to avoid the internal awkwardness of deviating from my past behavior, and also to avoid others’ questions or consternation. But succumbing to peer, family or community pressure, real or imagined, is not freedom by any means, neither is refusing to participate out of knee jerk contrarianism. And while I love the message of Passover, and observe many of its dietary rules, as an introvert I often find the Seder format, sitting around a table for hours at a time, exhausting, the antithesis of liberation. I wondered how many Jews found themselves in a similar bind this time of year, caught between the pull of tradition and a vague unease, unable to choose freely.
But, if I didn’t go, could I still honor the spirit of the holiday?
A few months back I discovered a rare handful of free audio recordings of Moshe Feldenkrais delivering Awareness Through Movement lessons. One of them, miraculously, was on foot differentiation. I lay on the floor and listened to his thickly accented English as he instructed students, through a series of micro movements, to try to move each of their toes independently of the others. While this skill is not something I mastered in the 47 minutes of the recording, it is possible to develop that capacity over time. Some people without arms can type or write with their toes. It occurred to me that if I passed on the Seder, I could revisit this lesson, taught by a 20th century Moses, and move my feet and myself, ever so slowly, towards freedom.