Authenticity, Awareness, Courage, Curiosity, Feldenkrais

A Year Ends. Thoughts on Learning and Possibility.

Tohu-va-vohu, the experience of being "out of the boat"

Tohu-va-vohu, the experience of being “out of the boat”

In a calendar-centric culture, our society has a habit of reviewing the preceding twelve months. We devise lists of “bests and worsts”. We extract lessons and meaning or focus on highlights or numbers. We might evaluate or rank. To cultivate a different habit, I am going to attempt to avoid doing those things in this year-end post.

Instead, having spent much of 2015 immersed in studying the Feldenkrais Method, I’m going to focus on learning and possibility. Perhaps the two are the same. To learn is to create a new possibility. To be open to possibility, rather than the status quo or relying on habit, implies a willingness to learn. To be available for learning requires not just curiosity but also humility, a conscious choice to suspend what one already thinks, feels, believes or does to invite or cultivate something new.

For the most part, I’ve written about the unambiguously positive results of my Feldenkrais training: moving with greater ease, shedding limiting stories and surplus possessions, and finding new ways to listen (all of my Feldenkrais posts can be found here). I began the training in the spring of 2014 with a mix of curiosity and trepidation. I wanted to peek behind the veil of the Feldenkrais Method, learn how to move so as to heal my leg injury and, also, see what would happen if I were to enter this particular transformative process. Having read as extensively as possible beforehand about the possible consequences of such a transformation, I was aware that the Feldenkrais Method helped people shed old stories about themselves, stories that are written in patterns of movement and tension, inscribed in aches and pains.  To release the muscles from chronic holding patterns allows a person to start fresh, as if in a new skin, with bones that move the way they were intended.

Such learning, even though it involves slow, subtle and gentle movement, also requires courage. The something new that opens to us might be temporarily confusing, turbulent or unnerving, requiring us to redraw our maps of ourselves and of reality. If we shift, we might experience the world around us as having changed, too. What once seemed cut and dry may now seem ambiguous, amorphous, fluid or even wobbly. Our compass, which might have been stuck in one direction for a long time, might spin around, unable to find True North just yet.

I am writing from that spinning place. I’m reminded of the line in the Book of Genesis (1:2), that before God created the world everything was tohu-va-vohu, often translated as “chaos and desolation”, “formless and empty” or “shapeless and formless”. The Hebrew conveys the topsy-turviness of this condition, which explains why it’s stuck in my head all these years. It’s not the first time, and possibly not the last, that I will encounter my own version of tohu-va-vohu, of not knowing which end is up. To be in tohu-va-vohu can feel awkward, uncomfortable, painful and humbling. Other people, intending to be well meaning, may offer advice or platitudes that don’t address the soul’s turmoil, the sheer turbulence of the tumble. The more that life has me revisiting the state of tohu-va-vohu, the more I’m aware of the need to truly inhabit that state, to feel the sensations that my mind labels as unpleasant and scary, rather than running away from them or bypassing them with “positive thoughts” or busyness. To feel the topsy-turviness is to befriend and welcome it, to not take it personally.

I remind myself that tohu-va-vohu can be interpreted as sacred groundlessness, the wellspring of possibility. My “bible” of recent days is The Art of Possibility, a book I’ve written about before and will probably reread many times. In the introduction, co-author Rosamund Stone Zander writes of a rafting trip where she is tossed into the river, unable to discern where the sky was, where the raft was. She refers to this situation as being “out of the boat”; it can happen to any of us on dry land when life circumstances suddenly shift. Being “out of the boat”, or in tohu-va-vohu, is precisely the time to be reminded that nothing is permanent, that reality is dynamic rather than static, that everything, including ourselves, is, to some degree, invented.

Indeed, in the next line of Genesis, God uses words to invent the world. Most of us are familiar with the line: “Let there be light”. The rest of creation unfolded from that place, also through the utterance of words, and at each step of the way God proclaimed that it was good (so I recall). Perhaps that is one way to get back into the boat, to create one thing at a time, declare it good, and create the next thing and then the next until we reach what feels like terra firma, without forgetting that periodically we are tossed into churning waters, not to suffer but to learn, again and again, what is truly possible.

May the coming year be filled with possibility.

(if you enjoyed my blog this year, and would like to show your support, you can make a donation here).



About ilona fried

Writer, Feldenkrais champion, Aikidoka and explorer of internal and external landscapes.


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