“If you know what you’re doing, you can do what you want.” – Moshe Feldenkrais
Did you ever work for a company that went through a re-org?
As I recall from my stints in banking and consulting, such shocks to the organism of the business (changing reporting lines, modifying or eliminating roles, etc.) were often preceded, or followed, by gossip and anxiety as employees attempted to adjust to the company’s new shape. Often, the re-org failed to deliver on its promises of greater efficiency, profit or the holy grail du jour because it was initiated from the top down, without regard for, or lacking input from, the body of the company. The resulting turbulence was frequently for naught, requiring yet another re-org months later. The book “Who Moved My Cheese?” (1998) attempted to address how to manage, if not thrive, when the familiar is dislocated. It’s not always easy to learn how to work with a new boss, after having finally mastered the idiosyncrasies of one supervisor, switch from an office to a cubicle, or be assigned to a new location. We live in a world where the cheese is moving faster than ever. It’s also unclear whether the cheese was ours to begin with or if it’s even what we really want, rather than something we’ve been conditioned to have or chase.
In my Feldenkrais training program led by Alan Questel, we discussed what it means to be “well organized”. Per the Feldenkrais ideal, it’s being able to move in any direction from one’s current position without “prior reorganization”. Think of a martial artist who nimbly and gracefully maneuvers around an opponent, without needing to call in consultants or coaches to offer strategic advice on where to place their legs and arms. While most of us will not reach a black belt’s level of finesse, we can strive to move such that nothing stands out; no pain or other sensation draws our attention. In a well organized movement, we don’t feel anything in particular. The movement is appropriate to the immediate context, the surrounding environment and serves our objectives. (It doesn’t necessarily follow that such movements please the eye; someone who has organized their movement around protecting an injury might not appear graceful, even though their particular movement functions for them.) In the highest sense, the movement is also reversible; at any point along the trajectory, we can pivot or change course.
We also pondered what it means to be “healthy” without thinking of it as simply an absence of illness. One of the ways Moshe Feldenkrais defined the word was a person’s ability to recover from, or respond to, an external shock. That could be anything from being reorganized at work, having a relationship end abruptly, injury, illness or anything else that disturbs a person’s orientation to the world or self-image. Some people are more naturally resilient, others might stiff-upper-lip it or “fake it till they make it” and suffer the consequences years later, and still others might despair or develop a physical condition in response.
To explore this large idea of “health”, each day we practice precise, often minuscule movements that offer the nervous system and muscles a chance to go through a corporal re-org, albeit one not precipitated by a pink slip, memo or gut wrenching phone call. By slowly and gently engaging the body in unfamiliar or unusual movements, it’s invited to shift from habitual patterns that developed in response to earlier environments. If a person grew up in a conflict-ridden household or had critical caregivers, they might have subconsciously organized themselves to adapt, with chronic muscular tension or curved shoulders serving as protection from emotional unpredictability or unkind words. Even when that original stimulus has been removed, the body and nervous system might not adjust immediately, completely or ever, unless given an opportunity to learn something new. Or, if someone tried molding themselves into a corporate image, adopting a purposeful walk and no-nonsense demeanor, they might unwittingly curtail the range of their pelvic and facial movements, creating a sense of dullness or deadening over time. Even people whose histories are devoid of trauma or drama can find themselves able to do less and less over time simply because modern life has required them to specialize in certain tasks, narrowing the scope of movement. Most of us, unless we sustain an injury, discover that we can no longer perform a familiar activity, or discover that our previous strategies for living no longer suit us, are not motivated to investigate whether our movements are “well organized” or not, and whether these movements are in service of getting the cheese we truly desire.
Last week, while lying on a folded blue blanket in the training, I reviewed the different ways I have organized my self in relation to various cheeses (jobs, relationships, hoped for circumstances), and even in response to what I thought were my dreams. Several times I’ve conjured up a new life, made it happen, and then discovered that the cheese I had named and obtained didn’t have the soul satisfying flavor I imagined it would. As I lay on my back, now more aware than ever before of how my body contacts the floor, my forever active and vivid imagination presented me with yet another possibility around which to organize my life and self-image. I want to grab onto it to give myself a scaffolding for what happens next, to convince myself that I have the “answer”. Yet I also know that, two weeks into the Feldenkrais training, my re-org, while palpable, has only just begun. To allow my mind to interrupt it will likely require yet another life re-arrangement shortly down the line. I need to trust that my body, if given enough time, space and encouragement to reorganize itself, will point the way.