I’ve met several Feldenkrais practitioners during a recent visit to the East Coast. In some conversations it arose that I began my Feldenkrais training in one program and switched to another. People asked why. I shared my reasons (since they are not relevant to this post, I’m omitting specifics). I received various reactions.
As one practitioner said, “Good for you for recognizing that you wanted to switch and being able to act on it. That requires inner knowing and strength.” In my experience, this kind of response (directed at a person’s being, rather than their intellect) is rare. Being prone to torturous self-doubt, these words helped me feel supported for making a difficult decision.
Another asked, “Did others (in the first program) feel the same way?”
It’s a more common reaction, and it’s a question I have occasionally asked friends when they present a complaint or conundrum. I almost responded directly (an old habit) but remembered I had a choice. Wishing to alter the trajectory of the conversation, I said, “What difference does it make?”
In the amicable discussion that followed, I said that the point of practicing Feldenkrais is to learn to trust ourselves and to not rely on an outer authority, whether the authority takes the form of one person, the consensus of a specific group or what we imagine society believes. In Feldenkrais, we also train our bodies to find reversibility in movement so choice becomes more readily available in all areas of life. Yet, as social creatures, it can be challenging to express a view contrary to that of our peers or to act in a way that might disappoint others, disrupt a group dynamic that many appear to like or ruffle feathers. In that first program, despite enjoying the material, I got a strong visceral hit I was in the wrong place. To not act upon that information would have been a repudiation of the training I had received thus far.
I wondered why it is we might ask someone if others share their experience. If they are a new acquaintance, is it to discern whether we can trust their viewpoint? To better understand the context and see if there’s a consensus around some of their dissatisfaction? Maybe we’ve heard reports from others that are positive, casting doubt on the contrary view. But, to reference a fairy tale, what if everyone else is a duckling and the contrarian is a swan who happens, for whatever reason, to have landed where they don’t belong? In that story, we are relieved when the swan realizes who they are, joins their tribe and stops feeling like the oddball. We don’t try to convince the swan that if it meditated, adjusted its attitude and focused on the positive, it could become a duck. Nor do we have to privilege swans over ducks or vice versa. We can appreciate each bird’s distinct appearance and habits without comparing them. I admit, I was relieved to discover in my second program that several of my classmates had also started elsewhere and switched. We were birds of a feather, even if we didn’t look alike.
Yet, not everyone can unambiguously celebrate a human creature who, for whatever reason, chooses to leave a situation to attempt to find a place where they feel more at home or less alienated. We might want to believe that everything is OK with their status quo, when perhaps it is not. Rather than respect this person’s instincts, their animal sense that something is awry, we might use our intellect to try to understand their choice, even if their choice arose from deep in their gut or a hidden corner of their heart, a place they themselves might not fully inhabit yet, let alone comprehend. It can also feel threatening when a person leaves, as it temporarily disturbs our own landscape and makes us question our decisions to stay in a job, relationship, or community. Rather than sit with our discomfort, we might deflect it by asking questions.
On the first day of the training he conducted in Amherst, Massachusetts, Moshe Feldenkrais remarked in idiosyncratic English (one of six languages he spoke) about how even so-called inferior creatures do things better than humans.
“Would we know to be in Siberia and go to Cairo for warmth? We would have there a psychiatrist teaching us to adapt ourselves to Siberian cold and stay there. But millions and billions of birds go half the earth around to go to the places they like.”
Formations of migrating geese can be a breathtaking sight, especially as they lift off. The next time someone you know takes flight, or expresses a wish to make a change, consider cheering them on and helping them spread their wings. Like birds who undertake harrowing journeys across thousands of miles, this person might be honoring a deep seated instinct or, as Feldenkrais said, following an “unavowed dream”. That we might not understand it doesn’t mean we need to question it. We always have a choice.