The old me, the pre-Feldenkrais me, might have blown a gasket during my car inspection adventure and, instead, called it a “fiasco”. To recap: my Subaru Forester failed the emission test in Massachusetts as I anticipated it would. After performing a diagnostic smoke test, the garage replaced the catalytic converter and gas cap. I drove off to log 150 miles to reset the drive cycle for reinspection, only to have the check engine light go on, twice. Once because I hadn’t fully tightened the gas cap, and the second time because….?
I had a choice: continue with the garage or bring it elsewhere. En route to the garage, I swung by a Subaru dealership for their opinion. They had no available appointments for two weeks and told me they used the same testing equipment as the garage. Since my re-inspection deadline was quickly approaching, I continued to the garage.
They asked a diagnostician to run a second smoke test and dig around. He discovered the rusty fuel filler neck leaked vapor. The garage waived the labor charge and installed a new neck, for which I paid. I began motoring around, to log another 150 miles to reset the drive cycle. At mile 142, the check engine light flashed on.
I thought of the many times I’ve rested my spine against the floor in a Feldenkrais lesson, after the teacher has guided us to pause and check in with ourselves. It’s the same activity yet different on each occasion. That I did it yesterday and the day before has nothing to do with what I’ll discover when I do it today, or tomorrow.
I thought of the Feldenkrais emphasis on approximations; we may not be able to do a particular movement the first time. It might require successive attempts, different ways of approaching it, a willingness to remain with uncertainty and experiment and explore rather than check out at the first sign of difficulty.
I thought of the Feldenkrais emphasis on possibility; if we are open to things as they are, rather than some idea of how they “should” be, what might happen?
I thought of the Feldenkrais precept of “learning to learn”: could I learn something from this circumstance, rather than stewing over it?
My old self and my old habits are still squirming around, wanting to blame the garage for not fixing the problem the first time, wanting to shame them for not being thorough, wanting to blame myself for not taking care of the car sooner (or selling it), wanting this whole inspection to be OVER, for crying out loud, so I can dedicate my time and emotional bandwidth to other things.
Could Feldenkrais thinking help me forge pathways of trust, acceptance and a willingness to remain present, even when I have the urge to blow a gasket or pollute the air with frustration? Because blowing a gasket just reinforces the habit of gasket blowing. Blaming pours concrete onto the pathway of blaming, turning it into a highway. Shaming another person, even silently, simply deepens the rut of shame and makes it more likely I’ll fall into it. Feeling frustrated that things are not happening as quickly as I want them to just feeds the ego, which wants everything to go its way all the time. Life, however, often has other plans, often in the form of an “Awareness Through Movement” lesson that is delivered slooowly and, as in my training segments, delivered in multiple parts, over several days. As Moshe Feldenkrais said, “Movement is life. Life is a process. Improve the quality of the process and you improve the quality of life itself.”
If the life process facing me was one of inconvenience, could I improve on how I would have responded before?
In choosing trust, I’ve returned to the same garage, believing they will do the right thing. In choosing acceptance, I’ve tried not to trigger my fight or flight response by rushing around to find a faster answer. In choosing willingness, I’ve attempted to remain curious rather than furious. Given the constraints of the situation, could I still find some possibility, perhaps even some pleasure?
I decided that I’m a participant in a strange, unscripted play, like an Improv show. Last Friday, the curtain opened on Act III.
That afternoon I pulled up to the garage. I told the owner that, at mile 142, the check engine light had switched on.
“Again?” he said, shoulders slumping.
“Again,” I said, throwing my hands in the air. At this point, the re-inspection deadline had passed. “I don’t know what to do.”
The garage staff gathered around as if to observe a strange specimen. They plugged the code reader into my car and showed me the result, the same as before. The diagnostician happened to be there. Despite my attempt to remain unflappable, he must have detected frustration leaking from my nostrils or ears because he insisted on driving me to his shop, half a mile from the garage. He exuded the calm of a Zen teacher, which put me at ease. At his shop, he placed my car on the lift. I asked if I could watch him conduct the smoke test, the car’s third. He hooked up the boxy red machine and showed me on its gauge how the amount of vapor escaping was within the legal limit for my automobile. According to this smoke test, my car did not have a leak, despite the check engine light indicating it did.
I asked him why, during the first smoke test, no one noticed that the fuel filler neck needed replacement, too. He explained that the check engine light can mean one of 150 possible things. He showed me a database with information collected from repair shops nationwide listing the most common causes (or solutions) for each code referenced by the check engine light. He’d followed the list in descending order of probability, choosing the most likely remedies first and working from there. He said that when he investigates a car, he can’t spend ten hours eliminating all possibilities at the outset. Understanding the process, my frustration lessened.
Since the smoke test was no longer helpful as a diagnostic tool, we had left the world of certainty and entered the realm of mystery. In a culture that wants quick, black and white answers, the realm of mystery can trigger frustration, helplessness and anger. We want to exit the mystery and return to solid, fast and, hopefully, inexpensive, answers. This diagnostician told me that folks often come to his garage when no other shop can fix the problem. Perhaps he’s the Feldenkrais practitioner of mechanics, consulted as a last resort and willing to patiently engage in a process of inquiry until an answer emerges.
By then it was after 4pm. He told me to bring the car back on Monday, when there’d be more time. As I drove there early yesterday morning in heavy traffic, my cell phone rang. The person who was supposed to look at my car was sick, unable to get out of bed.
Could I come another day?
I practiced “reversibility” and drove to the woods. I called the closest Subaru dealership: they were still booked, unless I was willing to leave my car with them for a few days.
The Awareness Through Mechanics Lesson continues.