Have you ever used a computer until it nearly died?
I have. A few years ago I held onto my Dell laptop even after several keys had dislodged from the keyboard, like a geezer losing teeth, and it had slowed to a lugubrious speed. Rebooting was like trying to resuscitate the machine from its death throes and squeeze a few more breaths from it. Around that time, an acquaintance was collecting laptops for a non-profit project in Africa. Knowing that my Dell would be received with gratitude rather than unceremoniously junked for parts, I sent it there for retirement. First, however, I needed to transfer my files to my new computer and then wipe the old one clean by restoring its factory settings.
That sounded like it should have been simple enough, except even after reading the owner’s manual and searching online for instructions, I still couldn’t figure out how do it. I called my oldest nephew, then a teenager but already a tech whiz, who patiently walked me through the sequence to rid the laptop of even traces of my use. As I recall, the process involved pressing unfamiliar combinations of keys, typing cryptic commands and, at the instant a certain prompt appeared on screen, but not a second later, hitting “return”. Like a sharpshooter who couldn’t afford to have their attention stray for even a millisecond, to miss that moment meant turning off the computer, restarting it, and beginning again. We sat on the phone for a long time while I coordinated my eyes and forefinger to hit “return” at precisely the right instant. After what felt like the umpteenth try, my timing was perfect and I succeeded in cleaning the hard drive.
What overloads a laptop can also impede our functioning: perhaps we’re storing too many bytes in the form of unproductive beliefs or antiquated (self)image files. Psychological malware and other bugs can interfere with vitality and productivity. Anachronistic programs dictating how we should behave or move in the world might be running in the background, slowing down the system. If, for example, we believe that we are supposed to work to the point of exhaustion, we will invite overuse and strain. Life might become gradually more difficult, and either we are not aware of it or we choose to tolerate discomfort and more limited functioning because “that’s just how life is.” We might wait until we experience chronic pain before we take action. Maybe we’ll go online to try to diagnose and solve it ourselves. As a last resort, we might seek professional assistance.
While it’s not always possible to replace a troublesome body part with a new one, like buying a a different device, Feldenkrais offers a way to restore at least some of the brain’s factory settings. Feldenkrais teachers gradually lead students through a series of movements, frequently unfamiliar, sometimes involving the coordination of body parts that haven’t had to work together in a while. And if students don’t catch on the first or even the second or third time, the teacher guides them through the sequence again. The movements, designed to have no utility in and of themselves, have the effect of removing gunk from the nervous system, clearing away what Moshe Feldenkrais referred to as parasitic actions that interfere with ease. As he said while addressing students of his method in Amherst, MA in 1980:
“…human beings have an incredible brain, and whatever they did with themselves before is no aspersion on them except that they will come out of here [the training] better equipped to raise their life properly with an improved brain, not because the brain has improved but because we have cleaned it, washed it and given them back a clean, working brain.”
This “washing” is innocuous, a rinsing away of what’s extraneous, allowing each individual to discover what is true for them. By moving slowly and with attention, we allow the brain to decide the best way to organize an action. It can bypass cluttered and familiar ruts in favor of original settings that we had inadvertently overwritten while following the familial or societal instruction manual. The result, sometimes even after a single lesson, but often after a series, is to feel like our processing speeds have increased, as if we’ve been upgraded. We do more and tire less easily. The programs that were running in the back of our minds, often without our knowing they were there, no longer run our lives to the same degree. And while Feldenkrais does not wipe clean memories or identities, they might not be as compelling as before, allowing us more choice in how we relate to them. By restoring more and more of our factory settings, we live less in our minds and more in our bodies. Life becomes more fun.