Many thanks to all those who helped transcribe and edit!
Feldenkrais Podcast #1 initially transcribed by Susanne Braun, Roza Maragopoulou, Katherine Wieseman, and Cathy Wright.
Transcript edited by Katherine Wieseman, Lila Hurwitz.
Jeff Haller Talks about Emotions in the Amherst 1980–1981 Training to a Virtual, Global Amherst Study Group
A Video Podcast Hosted by Tiffany Sankary • January 8, 2018
Hello everyone. It’s nice to see everyone. I want to preface this talk a little bit because I think one needs a larger context to best understand the Amherst material.
Not only did I attend the Amherst training, but over the years that I have been teaching, including in the training programs I’ve directed, I’ve probably been through the entirety of the Amherst material six to seven times. You have to look at the historical context of all the material that Moshe Feldenkrais produced. Many people now are doing the Alexander Yanai (AY) lessons on a daily basis. One of the lovely things about these lessons is that they really are a scaffolding from which Moshe built his work. The AY lessons are scaffoldings that he contextualizes far further and greater through later different training programs. He made the lessons simpler and cleaner at one point in time, and in the Berkeley series and in the Esalen series, he taught the lessons with very clear simplicity.
It’s important to contextualize the different stages of Moshe’s teaching—
to spend some time really looking at the different things that he produced and how these all filtered into and became a part of what he produced in the Amherst material. There’s a significant difference between the Amherst material and the San Francisco material. In the San Francisco material Moshe is much more technically involved. He’s teaching the technique of the material far more clearly. When he comes to Amherst, though, I think that he’s trying to make a shift to emphasize the effect that that the work has on changing and affecting self-image—that the completion or sense of wholeness of oneself becomes the basis from which the work evolves.
I think it’s important to actually go back all the way to Body & Mature Behavior (BMB) to grasp what Moshe’s talking about, especially with regards to the emotions.
Oftentimes when I mention BMB to people, there’s this reaction that’s almost like electroshock. People literally try to pull themselves away: “Oh my God, not that book! It’s so damn hard to read; it’s so difficult!” Additionally, I think that this book has to be contextualized. I think you have to see that Moshe, from his position as a highly, highly academic, educated person, has taken the highest level of science at the time and tried to put together something that you can reduce to a single statement. What is it that he’s trying to produce in that in the Body & Mature Behavior book, and how does that relate to our question of Amherst and the emotions? I think that you could simply state that in BMB Moshe’s writing a letter to Freud—saying that Freud’s ideas on psychoanalysis are silly.
Moshe’s trying to prove a point: the simple idea he basically states is that that every human being is conditioned by the world. It’s very simple—that inherent within every person is the ability to learn.
That you come into the field of gravity and you have to acquire your behavior and adapt to the world of gravity—you’re part of a culture; you’re part of a society; you’re part of a family. Whether you want it or not, you acquire your relationship with the world, and if that way of being involved in the world becomes habitual, then it’s also neurotic. It simply means that it comes forward without consciousness of what you’re doing, and we act out of habit before we know what we’re doing. So Moshe’s basically saying that the patterns of anxiety and insecurity that a person acquires by their relationship with the world and how they’re identified with the way they’re conditioned by the world, is hidden in the muscular habit.
So the beginning of the journey of awareness through movement is the question of how are our neuroses, or our habits, are hidden in the muscular habit.
When you study the Amherst material, you can see that Moshe speaks elegantly about the value of neurosis. In other words, all the things that we acquire in our habit are so necessary for us, are absolutely crucial for us, if we’re going to survive. We have to have invariance. We have to have habits. We have to have patterns. We have to have a way in which we acquire a sense of self that we’re identified with. We have to have a means by which we produce results in order to give ourselves a sense that we’re whole. That’s a part of life, but it’s not a mature life.
So Moshe’s trying to point out that until we get to a place where we can recognize the nature of our habit, and then stand outside of our habit, we don’t know what it is to be free of our conditioning and patterns of anxiety and insecurity.
In BMB Moshe says that standing outside of our habit means to be organized in such a way that that we’re not maintaining our historic use of the phasic musculature. That if we find what it is to actually sense the tonic state which is the absolute minimal amount of muscular tone that we need to have to be upright in the world of gravity—if we can have that quality, for that moment we’re not bound by our historic muscular habit, our adaptation, the way we’ve come to stabilize ourselves, the way that we know ourselves, the muscular preferences. In that moment when we stand outside ourselves, we have a chance to glimpse ourselves free from the historic way that we’ve been involved with ourselves.
For me, this is the beginning for understanding the emotional relationship in the Amherst material.
Is everybody okay with this so far? Are there any questions? Is this making sense? Is it clear? Are you on board with me? Is it simple? Unless this is simple, I don’t want to proceed.
Tiffany Sankary [TS]: There is a question in the chat from Kimberly. She asks, “Is this about glimpsing the self or being in a truly parasympathetic state?”
Yes. The parasympathetic state obviously is a quiet state from which one is able to sense oneself outside of the muscular sympathetic habit. Maybe I need to read from BMB for a moment to help clarify this. I have the new BMB book in front of me, turned to page 169 in the chapter on Tonic Adjustment. In the old book the excerpt I’ll read is on page 126. Moshe writes about normal gravitational adjustment.
If you can take the time to imagine—what would you see in a person, and for yourself if you didn’t have anxiety in your face?
Imagine—what would your image be? What would your demeanor be? If you had a profound sense of security within yourself, what would the change be in subtle tone, the muscle tone within your entire self? The way that your breath would be? The way that you would experience your back? The way you would experience yourself sitting, if suddenly all that quality of extra tone within yourself was simply reduced?
To work with and help a person understand how it is to be free from their anxiety or free from their insecurity, we have to further understand the nature of the emotions and the nature of the limbic system. I think this is what Moshe’s addressing in this chapter. He says, “Phasic movements are not attempted”—that is, voluntary movements are normally not attempted—“until after considerable tonic postural apprenticeship”—that is, until a person finds out what it’s like to be in the absolutely quietest, most simple state in which the skeleton and the system have found a way to the antigravity process such that gravity is cancelled. Of course, you cannot cancel gravity, but you can cancel the history of your relationship to gravity. In other words, for my entire life I’ve lived in the field of gravity. If my tonic state, my adjustment to gravity, has been such that I have used my volitional musculature to stabilize myself, then I haven’t found the clearest, most simple pathway to be in my skeleton. Until I find that quietness within myself, I’m always overly involved with stabilizing myself, and if I’m stabilizing myself, I’m doing it in the affect that I’m insecure. There’s a level of anxiety; I simply don’t experience myself as having the sense that I’m connected to myself in the environment in such a way that that there’s an absolute minimum in tonic state.
I repeat: “Phasic movements are normally not attempted until after considerable tonic postural apprenticeship. The correction of the kinesthetic sense and control should be well on the way before phasic movements are taught.” (p. 126-127) So, one needs to have the means to actually find out what it’s like to be simple. In mindfulness meditation one learns to dis-identify with what the mind has acquired. In psychotherapy one learns to dis-identify with the history, or the story, that one maintains.
Moshe’s saying that in the process of really finding this sense of kinesthetic quality (the absolute minimum in tonic state), one learns to disassociate from historic muscular habit, because of the finding of a profound sense of simplicity within oneself. “So the properly integrated responses to gravitation are spontaneously elicited.” (p. 127)
I’ll read the whole thing again:
“Phasic movements, voluntary movements, are normally not taught until after considerable tonic postural apprenticeship. The correction of the kinesthetic sense and control should well be on the way before phasic movements are taught, so the properly integrated responses to gravitation are spontaneously elicited.” (p. 126-127)
Here’s the question that in even 1949 Moshe is posing: “How does one find out how it is to be free from one’s historic muscular habit?” Why do we need a historic muscular habit? We need a historic muscular habit to give ourselves a sense of safety. The limbic system, the emotional center within us, has as its main purpose in life to give you a sense of safety. The entire process by which one knows one is safe is the way in which one maintains their self-protective processes, the way one maintains their compensations whether they’re compensations from physical injury or whether they’re compensations from emotional wounds. The entire process by which a person maintains the sense of self that they’re identified with is maintained come hell or high water until something better is in place.
This context begins to bring us to appreciate the brilliance of Moshe’s work. When one’s attentional pathway is continually being fostered through the limbic system—in the continual maintenance of the sense of safety and the sense of self, one is not going to give up behaviors unless there’s something better in place.
We can see in today’s world what people do to find a better way. We see how many people are involved in mindfulness activities, in psychotherapeutic activities, or in Peter Levine’s work Somatic Experiencing, which many of my students have undertaken to study because they want to be effective and want to understand emotional relationships far more clearly.
When we teach Awareness Through Movement® and people get up from their lesson in a profoundly quiet parasympathetic state, part of the difficulty we have is that we don’t, can’t, or haven’t helped people to understand the profound value of this state. In a class I was teaching in New Zealand last year, a woman got up, and you can see that she was in such a profoundly altered state. She said to the class, “I have never experienced such profound peace.” The next statement out of her mouth was, “And I don’t know what to do.”
Another example: I gave a lesson to a woman in Argentina. After that lesson she had an absolutely regal quality. Because in the Feldenkrais® world we have a sense that this work is involved with movement, she then took the microphone, turned to the class and said, “Well, my chest feels so much more open.” In that moment she immediately went into some kind of a mental processing of her experience and she related it to something that was significantly less than what she was actually experiencing, because of the way she’s (we’ve) learned to identify the process. I can give example after example of diminishment of experience and quality.
I’m working now with a woman who has a phobic response. She was in a horrific car/automobile accident and she hasn’t been able to sit in the passenger seat of a car. In fact, you can see that she goes into this profoundly anxious state when even mentioning passenger seat, in any imagery of the passenger seat.
We have advantages in the Feldenkrais Method®, and I want to talk about these, in how it is when we work with a person. I’m pretty sure that in a couple more sessions this woman’s not going to have any trouble getting into the actual passenger seat of a car. She can already sit on my table as if she’s in the passenger seat of the car, because she’s connected to something other than the historic story. She has a profound sense of what it’s like to be supported within herself that she can identify with in a way that’s stronger than the story that she’s been living in. So when we look at the question of the role of the limbic system and the pathway through which we maintain whatever the system needs for a sense of safety, and we look really carefully at the muscular habit of the sense of safety, with every physical wound and every emotional wound, we can see that without any question there’s a process of contraction. There’s a process by which one makes oneself smaller in the world.
You don’t say, “Ah, fear! Great, wonderful, let me open into that!” [said with gusto and enthusiasm.] In response to a physical wound or an injury, you don’t say, “God, that’s a great experience! I can’t wait to have another sprained ankle! I just can’t wait to have that happen to me” [said with similar voice quality]. This is probably not going to happen. So we can watch and see the degree to which people have maintained whatever compensation they’ve maintained over the years to give them a sense of safety, but we can also see that in a sense dimensionally, that they have contracted themselves, and contracted themselves, and contracted themselves in a way that they don’t even know that they don’t even know.
This now takes us to Moshe in the Amherst training. In a particular way I’m telling you this story. I can tell you the story in many different ways, but I think that the question is, “What was Moshe attempting to teach us in Amherst?”
First of all, we have to recognize something that’s very, very simple—that is well known in neuroscience today—that the brain is an organ of inhibition as much as it is an organ of excitation. Your virtual Amherst study group has not gotten there yet, but in the very first talk that Moshe gives in the beginning of the second year, he basically talks about why he chose movement as the basis for his work, rather than psychotherapy, working with math, working with meditation, or working with any of the hundreds of other techniques that existed that spoke to the process of developing a profound sense of personal alertness, of being awake in yourself, of having a sense of self, whatever this is, however you want to describe that. It is very simple—that when you involve yourself in the world of sensation and movement, the quality of your experience can be changed immediately.
So Moshe knew something in the world of neurophysiology that is only being talked about now, something that he brought in, not only in 1980 but in 1949. That something is this: That the prefrontal cortex has a tremendous capacity that has been underutilized. You can listen to the talk about awareness that Moshe gave in 1971 in New York University. You can get this talk in through the International Feldenkrais Federation. It is a black and white video of him talking for an hour and two minutes. Though it is very poorly filmed, you can get that he really profoundly understands that the prefrontal cortex has a tremendous capacity that is has been underutilized. And of the capacities of the prefrontal cortex, the main capacity is, first of all, discrimination.
So what does he do within Awareness Through Movement? He creates the conditions in which you can begin to discriminate.
What do you discriminate? You don’t spend time discriminating what your mind is producing. You don’t spend time discriminating what your emotional sense is. You spend time discriminating differences in sensation and the way in which you initiate movement. You spend time organizing the prefrontal cortex in such a way that you learn to utilize it to discriminate between sensation and movement.
Being in this discriminatory process, the nature of the inhibitory process is such that as soon as you are discriminating with your senses, the process has to inhibit the normal flow of the thinking process. This process also modulates the limbic system. The limbic system becomes composed; it becomes quiet. In many cases, if you are really truly in the place of discriminating—whether you sense this or sense that, whether you initiate the movement this way or you initiate the movement that way—then you experience profound change in the mental production of the story that your mind is maintaining. Your mind maintains the story because that is how the mind knows that it’s safe. Until you can stand outside the story, you don’t know that you can be other than the story.
So Moshe uses this ability of the prefrontal cortex to create a change in the quality of experience to inhibit the other areas, namely the nearer surrounding areas of the brain. When the other areas of your brain reach the kind of quietness in which the wholeness of movement, and the wholeness of sensation and movement can take place, then your entire system reaches a level of integration and synthesis that is greater than where you came from.
I am not here to make Moshe a guru because I don’t think that Moshe did a very good job of expressing these ideas to us, but I think these ideas are there in the Amherst material. I think that his ability to make this material specific to us wasn’t very available then. It has taken me almost 35 years of continuing to delve into the question, “Relative to meditation, relative to psychotherapy, and relative to the other disciplines, what are the true advantages of the Feldenkrais Method that people can use to gain personal freedom?” to more clearly understand these ideas.
In Amherst, Moshe continually tried to create the conditions in which we would experience ourselves outside of our historical muscular habit. Different things took place that were paradoxical. For example, he was really noble in his effort to get people to not take notes. If you watch carefully in the first few weeks of the Amherst training, you will see that Moshe tells us how to go about taking notes. He tells us to sit with ourselves after each class. He tells us that the most important thing is not to take notes on what happened in the class—the rights and the lefts, and the movements themselves—but to write about the most important thing that happened to us. He says, “What did you notice? What was your emotional experience? What did you find out about yourself that was new for you?” Then he says, “Join a small group of people, and as a small group sit, write, and pull together all of the details of the day, so that you recover the day from your own experience. Then, join a group of people from another culture and find out how they experienced the process.”
In Amherst, Moshe is absolutely adamant that he wants to help us out of our insecurity, out of what it is to be anxious. He spends weeks trying to do this. He is utilizing the ATMs to create the conditions by which we understand ourselves structurally, functionally, and developmentally. The lessons in and of themselves, as they unfold, begin to take us away from our historic muscular identification into a different sense of wholeness, in which we can stand outside of ourselves and actually see the story, rather than be in the story.
What happens is that a group of people in the class created this note-taking cabal that Moshe eventually found out about. During that period of time Moshe started to talk about the way that the people taking notes were maintaining their anxiety. It is very instructive to listen to every single person’s argument for taking notes—listening for their anxiety. In fact, one of the last arguments that a person says is, “Moshe, I was so happy not to be taking notes. Knowing that the notes were being taken, I could actually bring my full attention to the class.” This argument is so clever in the mind’s trickery of itself, because that person was still relying on some external force to have a sense of safety. Moshe then says to the group, “What you want these notes for is to have something so that you can produce something, and so that you can teach something, and so you’ll have something in hand by which you are going to be able to identify yourself. You’re going to find yourself identified in a way that you have historically, in the world of gravity, been identified all your life—finding some way to produce something to give yourself a sense of well-being rather than knowing for yourself that you are ok, and having your own spontaneous genius be generated.”
What else do we know about the prefrontal cortex? The prefrontal cortex not only has the capacity for discrimination. It has within its nature, and these are metaphors, curiosity, imagination and novelty. It is from the process by which you inhibit the historic story about how your mind produces the story and the way that you maintain your emotional response, that you create the state within you from which spontaneous new imaginations and novelty can emerge. Moshe is creating the very nature of these conditions in the Amherst classes, conditions in which a person begins to learn to care for themselves.
At one point towards the end of the two or three days when he is arguing, Moshe’s literally telling people, “Either you bring these notes up to me or Yochanan’s going to come up and teach.” Then one day he is sitting on his stool with a stack of notes as high as the stool next to him. He opens the notes and starts reading them. If you’re not really clever, you will miss what he says. He says, “These notes are really accurate. They in fact say every single thing that I have taught you, and they don’t have a single word of what I taught you in them, because the notes are completely involved in a paradigm in which you are grabbing this material in order to give yourself a sense of security in the way that you’ve known the sense of security.” Moshe is trying to get something else to happen. I don’t think any of us understood or could imagine what he was trying to get to happen. None of us understood the science. I think we enjoyed going in and out of the experiences of the ATM lessons, the highs and the lows of the experiences, and trying to figure out how we were going to make a living from this work. I had some kind of an affinity for it so I knew that I was going to be able make a living doing the work. In some sense I had a photographic recall of the lessons that I relied on. After we graduated, we had no notes; we had no videotapes; we had no access to any written work like is available today in many trainings. Unless we had our own notes or experience we relied on, how were we going to teach Awareness Through Movement when there was nothing that we could use?
There are other instances in Amherst when Moshe makes the point of sensory discrimination to people. I’m going to describe a few of them from the first year of Amherst. There is a lecture embedded in a lesson in which he is talking about the difference between learning and exercise. Moshe says, “If you do these lessons as exercises, in other words, that you do them in such a way to achieve an outcome, the moment that you do the lesson from this point of view, the lesson will be lost within five minutes when you’re leaving the room. If you do this lesson in order to achieve an outcome—that means you do the lesson to acquire something in which you can identify yourself with, the effect of the lesson will be gone in a minute, five minutes.” We all know this. Then Moshe says, “If you grasp the process of the lesson, you will have the process of the lesson with you for life.” What is the process?
I have been working with a woman who had a horrific cesarean injury in a birth trauma. She has been told that she will never be able to recover her core strength. No one believed that she was in trouble, that she had this swelling in her abdomen that nearly killed her. She ended up in the emergency room because no one believed that actually part of her colon was dying. No one believed that she was in pain. Her husband didn’t believe her. Her doctor didn’t believe her until she ended up in the emergency room. So here she was sitting on my table because someone had referred her to me. She was completely held and crumpled in herself. She was drawn into herself in such a sense that the world was insecure. How do you in a moment, in a moment, have this person find a different quality and value of themselves? I didn’t touch this woman in the first lesson. I simply asked her, “For a moment, find out what happens to your breath as soon as you put your feet on the ground.” As soon as she put her feet on the ground, there was a profound change in her breath. But what was more important than the change in breath? At that moment she was not in the story of what had happened. For that moment she was outside the story; she had a relief. She had a way of being with herself that gave her a moment that there was something intact within her that she could stand outside of what she has been associated with for months. She was in the question of beginning to use her own ability to discriminate. Now, after about five or six sessions, she is taking this within her; she now stands with such an authority. The ground is there. Her skeleton is there. Her breath is there. The injury to her abdomen is profound, but she is better than she’s ever been. Moshe promised this in the work, and you’ll see and hear this message in the Amherst material. One of the marks of this work is that you’ll become better than you ever were. This woman is not going to recover the injury in the tissue to her abdomen, but she is going to learn how to skillfully organize herself, far better than she ever did. It is not like she is going to recover from a knee injury, but she will have the ability to be in the state of learning so that she can pay attention to herself and utilize her senses. She can turn her attention to being in the process of living, as opposed to being in the process by which she wants exercises in which to identify herself. That’s the point in the lecture on exercise and learning.
In another lesson Moshe is working our asses off. This example is about two-thirds of the way through the first year of Amherst. He clearly says, “You could think of this lesson as a lesson for the hamstrings. It’s not. I am teaching you this lesson so that you will experience yourself in a way that you’ve never experienced yourself before. I am creating a neurological potential for you to find a way of embodying yourself and a way of organizing yourself that again, will make you, will give you a sense of the wholeness of yourself from which you could in fact stand outside of your story for a period of time.”
If we look really carefully at the process of working in the Rinzai approach to Zen, the Roshi (Zen-Master) asks a question, a koan that is unanswerable. There’s no human answer for it, nothing that your acquired mind can answer. The Roshi asks, “What’s the meaning of life?” Every time your mind comes up with an answer, you go to the Roshi and give the answer that your mind has made up based on the way you’ve acquired your mind. Your answer reflects the way that you are identified with yourself. The Roshi tells you to go back and sit. This process is done over, over, and over again until, hopefully, one solves the koan by spontaneously moving into a place where one doesn’t form the question-answer in the nature and way the mind has historically worked.
One of Moshes’ favorite authors was J. Z. Young. I don’t remember the name of the book, but in it J. Z. Young basically wrote that the human being will attempt over and over again everything that it knows before it will enter into a stage where it will learn something new. The human will look amongst all of its behaviors, forever, until it will attempt something new. Yet in Awareness Through Movement, Moshe creates the conditions in which, if you pay attention to this ability to discriminate, you quiet yourself to the point of time that you can actually do something you’ve never done before. You have to go through a period of time in which you are in the unknown, and you acquire something new, absolutely easily.
So in the lesson Moshe says, “It looks like it could be a hamstring lesson, but it’s not. It’s a process in which you can experience yourself in a way that you never experienced yourself before. The very nature of the process will take you to a place where you’re not going to be able to find the answer in the way that you historically have found an answer. Through the process of constraints and inhibition you have to come to another place. In this process, when you get up, you’re going to get up in such a way there will be a different composition of your experience of yourself from the way that your mind has habitually worked and from the way that you historically have been in your emotions.” A different composition from which you can experience yourself relative to your life.
Another story in which you look at this process is also at the end of the first year in Amherst. Moshe has a stack of papers like this [Jeff gestures a height about 3 in./7.5 cm. high] in his hands, and they are all questions from people in the class. Moshe says, “I would like to answer your questions but I can't. I'm not teaching you from the paradigm these questions come from.” A question, which all of us had, were, “How do I find the academic information that I'm going to be able to use in order to have a sense that I’m going to be able to be successful or know what I'm doing?” The paradigm that Moshe was teaching from was, how are you going to find yourself being connected to yourself in such a way that you care for yourself? That you learn to care for yourself rather than caring for this condition that you've had all your life? This is a huge distinction!
Moshe would come around, kick me in the toe, and say, “Stupid athlete! I take better care of you than you can take care of yourself.” He knew I was an athlete and he knew I could perform well. He knew I could do all kinds of things. During the headstand series, I would go into a carp jump to get out of the headstand. He was teaching a flexion and roll-out movement to get out of the headstand. He yells at me; he was always gentle. He says, “No! And besides, you did it poorly.” There was this sense that he knew more about taking care of me than I knew about taking care of myself. However, I don't think that he was particularly good at taking care of himself. I think we had a seriously flawed human being at the front of our classroom if we really want to look at this aspect, but there was/is, a mad genius driving him. I think that learning to care for yourself rather than caring for the condition that you've had all your life was material that he didn't get across to us, and it's still not clear to us. People teach Awareness Through Movement still in a way where the sophistication of their thinking hasn't evolved very much, but that's another story. I'm continually working with my own evolution and with the way that I'm thinking.
After the Amherst training I built an emporium, a 9, 000 square foot building in which I gave probably 35 FI lessons a week, taught 7 to 10 ATM classes a week, helped administer the building, and absolutely destroyed two relationships. I thought I knew something about taking care of myself. Every time Moshe said, “I can take better care of you than you can take care of yourselves,” my thought was, “What do you know about taking care of me?” It took me and it is still part of my own maturation process that I know very little about taking care of myself or caring for the essential nature which is inherent within me.
The idea of learning how to learn is silly. We don't have to learn how to learn; this is inherent within us. We have to remember the capabilities that we have. But to learn how to learn, we have to have the appropriate conditions in which learning takes place.
I didn't know about this and I still don't. There are many areas of my life in which I’m continually learning to care for myself as opposed to care for my conditioning. My conditioning was profoundly, profoundly, involved in creating something in which I could identify a basis for my sense of well-being and evaluation of myself. However, caring for yourself doesn't need anything to prove that you're ok.
If we’re continually involved in the process of maintaining the way the world conditioned us, then we'll use our emotional responses to continue to protect this conditioning. I think this was the idea Moshe was working with.
If we're going to mature, then at some point in time we're going to have to be able to organize ourselves in such a way that we can be in our emotions and still act—that we are not blackmailed by our emotions, that we’re not triggered by the world.
I profoundly dislike the word triggered, and it’s a common term being used today. We're triggered by this and we’re triggered by that. A triggered situation means that once the trigger’s pulled, the bullet can't come back. It’s a way for making the world responsible for what happens to oneself. The question becomes, “How is it that I can find the absolutely micro-moments between stimulus and response, and lengthen the gap so that I have a little bit of a semblance of being able to choose the quality of my own experience?” Otherwise, I'm nothing other than a reaction in the way that the world has conditioned me.
I think that's what Moshe was pointing towards—we can actually have a sense of choosing the quality of our own experience.
You can't choose what's going to happen to you in the next five minutes, but you certainly have a way of working with your attitude and the way that you experience yourself in the world in which you're living. This is an idea of Victor Frankl. The exact quote is,
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
Moshe was a master in creating this condition between stimulus and response. Here is another quote by Victor Frankl:
“Everything can be taken from man but one thing, the last of the human freedoms to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.”
Every single moment that you dance between stimulus and response, you are in this space. Every single moment that you're playing between sensation and movement you're in this space—it’s a micro-second of time. It's a profound micro-second that very gradually, very easily, people can learn to widen.
And in the moment of learning to widen this space one does have a sense that one is oneself. There’s a quietness in this, and this quietness is not the conditioning that you experience or that I experience in this world.
I'll show you how quickly and how easily this can happen.
If you just take a moment, and you divide yourself from the crown of your head to your chin, to the right and left. In other words, you find for yourself an infinitely thin line that comes down from the crown of your head, you can imagine it like a plane coming down through you. You sit for a moment in the space of that infinitely thin line that’s not right and not left, and you quietly observe the space that’s not right and not left. Then you shift your attention from the space of not-right not-left, and begin to attend to the experience on the right side of your face. You take in sensorially the experience of the right side of your face: the sensation of your eyebrow, the width of your eye, the whole sensation of the right side of your nose, the experience of your cheek, the width of your lips, the sensation. There’s a gravitational sensation. If you’re in the field of gravity and you’re living in the paradigm of gravity, there is a particular way in which you experience gravity pulling on your skin downwards. That's another story, but you can experience this.
Now very slowly migrate back to the space that is not right and not left. In a sense you’re in a space that’s not in the world of stimulus and response, not right and not left. In order to have done this you had to inhibit left. Now, please stay in that space of not right and not left for a moment, and begin to shift your attention to experience the left. Watch how you migrate into the experience of left. Notice within yourself the experience again of your eyebrow; the width, the fullness of your eye; the shape of your cheek, perhaps from the inside, perhaps from the outside; your jaw line; the width of your mouth; and the gravitational response. You might find that you have a profoundly different gravitational response on one side of your face and the other. Which side falls and which side is lifted? There may be a difference.
Now shift back for a moment, to the place that’s not right and not left. You've played for a moment with this world of inhibiting one in order to experience the other, and you can play in the space between each movement. Now make a third shift, and this shift is crucial to Moshe's thinking—that it's not one way or the other, that it’s not compulsion. It’s not primitive action. It’s not right and left, good and bad. It’s not until you have three or more different ways that you can inhibit and respond, that you have choice. Shift in such a way that you experience both right and left, so there’s a whole Gestalt.
Now once again shift back to the place of not right and not left, and watch very carefully in this shift what happens to the mental processes. Watch very carefully what happens within you to the modulation of your emotions, the limbic system. Pay close attention to the sensation of experiencing yourself. [long pause] Moshe utilizes this [three or more different ways to inhibit and respond] over, and over, and over again, and yet this process in the lessons oftentimes gets lost.
Anybody care to speak about their experience?
Participant: I think what I’ve noticed was that when you asked us to come back to midline after noticing the right side of the face, it was harder for me to find midline, I guess because I had shifted so much my attention to the right side.
Jeff [smiling]: Please be careful that I didn't ask you to come back to the midline. I asked you to come back to what’s not right, what’s not left. Midline gives another definition, and it's more concrete than space. So my choice of words was very particular, very specific, so that you could really engage in the space within yourself in such a way that it’s not defined, that is in the space between stimulus and response.
Participant: Thank you for clarifying that.
Jeff: I'm happy to. Let’s ask ourselves, what are the advantages of the Feldenkrais Method? Because at some point in time there is an advantage that the Feldenkrais Method has that it’s absolutely striking, it’s profound.
I work with a woman who was sexually abused by her priest in a particular conservative part of the Christian tradition. Eventually she went on to get a Ph.D. in ethics. This woman has written a book about her experience. As you can imagine, she's had probably thousands of hours of therapy and worked with herself through countless different ways. I don't care to be involved in this woman's story. I don't want to spend a moment of my life with and going into the story, but I'm profoundly interested in her having the potency with which to enter into the world in such a way that she has a profound sense of dignity. Over the course of the lessons she began to find what it is to stand with a kind of “Joan of Arc” quality, and she would leave the lessons with this quality. A profoundness. In it there was a stature; there was a fullness; there was a capacity and a way in which she could walk from step to step where she didn't fall in herself.
As a Feldenkrais Practitioner you might ask, “What’s the most profound force that cancels gravity?” I asked the question of what you felt on one side of your face, whether you sensed being lifted on one side and falling on the other, you ask the question of the purpose of having a skeleton. When you ask what the most profound force that cancels gravity is, of course the answer is ground force.
The question is in how we move from being in our historic maladapted muscular response to gravity which stabilizes us to keep us from falling.
We have to learn to be in the field of gravity to the point in time that we learn how the ground forces come through our skeleton in such a way that the difference in support is the difference between falling and the support lifting through yourself, lifting through your skeleton in such a way that the whole process lifts you. When that that tonic response and quality is there, there is a profound difference in your breath, in the way your head moves, in how your eyes are organized at the top of your spine. When a person starts to go back into their story, they go back into their historic muscular response in the way the world’s conditioned them. They contract.
In this woman’s case, she was invited to give a talk at a conference of women who have been abused by priests. There were going to be people in the audience who she knew, so you can imagine that she was fearful, anxious, and insecure about her position. You can imagine how she was going to walk into that experience. When she came to sessions before she went to this conference, she had collapsed in on herself again. She still didn't have the noble quality that she could carry into the conference. So we had a final session before she went to the conference, and she left this session in a profound, profound state. I said to her, “If you can maintain this quality, and you can carry this quality into the conference, the women there will begin to have compassion for themselves, because they’ll see in you something that they don't have within themselves. They’ll begin to recognize that they can care for themselves in a way that they’ve not been able to care for themselves.” She did this, and had probably 50 responses from people writing to and thanking her, because they finally started to realize that they could start taking care of themselves in a way that they had never cared for themselves.
There's this profound understanding we have in Feldenkrais work when people find this way of being in the world between stimulus and response. In this tonic quality and in this skeletal quality there's a profound dignity. So we can watch people restore their physical integrity, recover their emotional dignity, and become healthy.
Healthy meaning that they have the internal means to meet the ongoing changing world with a sense that they have the resources to meet this world.
We can help people in the sense that they can actually utilize the process to transform their lives. I think that's what Moshe was trying to impart to us in Amherst, and I for sure wasn't ready for it. I've had to go through the Amherst material over, and over, and over to dig out these statements, to show me that I was caught in the paradigm that he wasn't teaching from. But I certainly needed to be free of this paradigm for my own sense of well-being. I needed to find some way of knowing how to care for myself rather than having to prove myself.
[In response to the chat dialogue, whilst smiling and laughing] I didn't say that we're always healthy. I said that we have the ability to find caring within ourselves, because we know so well that we can find the means to find the support within ourselves that does not maintain the historic muscular response. We can learn to distinguish between the quality when we’re contracted and the quality when we're lifted in the world.
Let me give you another example. Recently there was a meeting of trainers. These meetings have historically been seen by trainers as meetings in which nothing gets done, so nobody wants to go, and everybody’s angry with each other. However, slowly, at some of these meetings we’ve evolved to the point where we actually have professional discourse. At this recent meeting Candy Conino set up a situation in which we had three trainers give three FI lessons to participants. There were 17 participants. Everybody’s name was put into a hat, and the FI lesson was going to be given to whoever was drawn from the hat. It was a completely spontaneous lesson for whoever was drawn. My name was drawn as one of the three trainers, and I drew a person who had a very immediate story. It made sense that she had every reason to tell her story because it involved a major health threat that she just experienced.
If you touch a person in just a particular way, you give them the sense that they’re lifted through themselves rather than falling in on themselves. She's sitting in front of me and telling me her story. I place my hand on her knee. I'm touching her knee in such a way that she's lifting through herself, and all of a sudden she goes completely quiet. Her mind gets quiet as you are when in the space between not this and not that. She's in this place where she has a chance to really quietly be with herself. And then I twist her leg in such a way that she falls in on herself, and her story restarts immediately. Everybody’s laughing because when I touch her in a way that she lifts out of herself, the story stops. She's not in the muscular habit in which the story is being told. When I un-twist her, she falls back in on herself and the story starts again. This goes on—in and out, in and out, and the whole lesson becomes about how she can find the support for herself so that she can be quiet.
No therapist can do this; no meditation teacher can do this. This is our Feldenkrais advantage. This is where Moshe was clever but I don't think that he was particularly great at getting this across to us. It was too obtuse. The specifics, as brilliant as they were, still weren't quite pointed enough, specific enough. It takes years to take a sentence, delve into it and find out what it means. For the person who has the means to do this, it's fantastic because you grow yourself through the process of asking questions. Moshe would say, “Okay, I'm going to teach you to the point of 80% and the last 20% you have to leap.” I think that Moshe taught to the point of 30% and we had to make a 70% leap. It's a really difficult leap to make. It's very easy to think that I'm going to teach a nonlinear open-ended work and lessons that people are going self-correct with and that they’ll have a nice experience. If you're going to use this work for personal transformation, the work has to be something far more specific and clearer than that.
I think I’ve just said the last thing I'm going to say. Let me open the talk for questions. I'd be happy to answer questions for a little while. It's been an hour and 15 minutes. I appreciate you giving me the chance to just kind of quack away here [chuckling]. Are there questions? I hope this was useful for you guys [chuckling and smiling].
TS: Yeah, thank you. Patty Holman said “Amen.”
It's nice to see Oliver, Misha, and Joyce and some of my IOPS folks. Katarina from my class. Tiffany from my class in New York. It's awfully nice to see you. There are four pages of people, my goodness, this is well-attended: 94 people. I didn't even know that there were this many people here.
TS: Christine Graves posted in the chat: “I want to communicate to the new student who says in a mere two minutes of awareness in sitting, ‘I feel more in the middle.’ When I say that this small moment of change is what's important, it is lost on many clients. Even when I say that this is a choice, or it isn't about the movement, it is the cultural picture a person brings to the session, plus all of it.”
It's my personal opinion that if people went to a 10-day Vinyasa retreat, they would come back from the retreat with what they experience after a really nice experience in Awareness Through Movement. They would find significantly more value in these moments.
Our ATM classes provide over and over again the opportunity to experience oneself in the collected, calm, serene, tranquil, whole place that often times is exactly what a person is looking for.
If you ask a person, “If you have a half-hour to live, how would you most like to experience yourself?,” most people have an idea that they would like to be either serene, tranquil, peaceful and in a loving state. They'd like to be in a place where they're cared for. With their family. If you take a person after an FI lesson and you ask them, “Do you experience yourself a little bit closer to the way you would most like to experience yourself?” As a value, most people say yes.
You have to contextualize for people what it really means to ask, “What is it that you most want in your life? What's the most whole that way you can experience yourself?” You have to contextualize the FI or ATM lesson; you can ask, “In what way would you like to most experience yourself?” Most people come to us for pain relief, and they come to us because we're movement people. However I think we're misidentified. I think the advantages of our Feldenkrais work haven't been potentiated. What kind of transformation is a person looking for whose in profoundly, emotionally wounded, what are they looking for in their therapy? The person who’s at the wit’s end, who goes off to study Zen, or goes to a retreat, is looking for something. What is it that they're looking for? What is it that's within themselves that they're seeking?
How do we play into these questions? It's not about giving a person a movement lesson in which they feel good. I can do that, but that's not what it’s about; the person has to go another step with us.
They have to actually function in such a way that they can carry the change in function into the world and have the resources to meet the world in such a way that they can live life in a quality of tranquility.
As they carry themselves in the world they know they have the resources and a clear, experiential, concrete way in which they can be connected to themselves interacting in the world. When we give nice lessons, we invite them into this connection. That's behind the quote where Moshe is saying, “It looks like it's a hamstring lesson, but it's not. I'm helping you experience yourself in a way that you've never experienced yourself before. Profoundly differently.”
[Pause] What's going on in the chat? There are yeses.
TS: Ilona Fried was writing, “I hope that this talk can be first transcribed, then distilled and/or edited into an article/essay so that more people can understand how the Feldenkrais Method distinguishes itself from other modalities.”
As all of you know, I'm holding a new Feldenkrais training. It’s going to start in October 2018. The entire intention of this training is to teach at this level I’ve been talking about. The training is for people who are profoundly interested in becoming practitioners and who want to work with personal transformation. The training process will be directed towards students being able to work with this understanding of the method when they graduate. From 1980 to today, what's that? Thirty-eight years it’s taken me. I can tell you that I still am working with this understanding, moment by moment, when I listen to a lesson or pick something out of the Alexander Yanai. I think we're at a place where we can really begin to make some advances with the work and in the way that we define ourselves.
TS: I have a question. At the end of your talk you said that we need to get more specific. Can you say a little more about that?
Yes. I'll say two things. Moshe was once asked, "What's your greatest ability?" He said, “My greatest ability is that I can take abstract ideas and make them concrete. In such a way that what's a nebulous idea, this place of being in choice, is concrete.” I gave you a very concrete example of the space between stimulus and response. I don't know how to give a more concrete example than that. So the process was concrete, and with that was a concrete change in your sense of experience and embodiment, the way that you were with your emotions, the way that your historic mind was working, and the immediacy of this. Moshe was extremely capable of creating the conditions in which very, very concrete changes in one’s experiences could take place.
Awareness is very specific. It does not hide in generalities. So not only do we give people concrete experiences, we give them very, very specific ways of attending to themselves.
For example, I'll say to you, “Good posture is a freedom to move in any direction without hesitation or preparation.” We all know this. But I don't say only this to you. I'll add a corollary for you—depending upon how you find specific support from the surface you're on. Now the more specific you are in the way that you find support from the surface you're on, the more clarity you'll have relative to how you initiate and tonify your musculature. The greater the specificity, the more clarity you will have to be able to move through yourself. If you're uncertain as to where you're finding support, then your system will have to stabilize itself. It will have to use its phasic musculature to stabilize you. As you become more and more specific in the way that you find support, the greater clarity you'll have, the greater proprioception you'll have, the greater the sense of the ease with which you'll pass the movement through yourself you'll have. At that moment in time with the specificity and the clarity, you've found that profound quality of ease and freedom within yourself. Absolutely all that sense of contraction of yourself relative to the world, from physical injury and from emotional wounds, suddenly dimensionally opens up into other possibilities. Immediately—not in 40 years, not in 12 years of psychoanalysis—immediately.
The question is, how specific can the person find the means for support?
I can't hide myself in muscular habit and say that I was raised in a family of dysfunctional people. I need to know exactly how. More importantly I need to know exactly how, in such a way that the substructure of every single thing is specific, so I find the absolute moment of this peculiarly clear tone within myself that rings. I know that I can ring this bell, because like Leonard Cohen says, there is a crack, there is a crack, and that crack is where the light comes in. So the hole—the way in which you can find that particular place in yourself—where you just know that particular quality of your own life enters, that's specific. It's not hidden; it's not muddled in the historic phasic response. It's extraordinarily specific.
There's a razor-edge sharpness in concentration. There's a vitality.
There's a demand within yourself to be, to have, that kind of specificity and not hide yourself in saying, “Oh, I'm this way or I'm that way,” or have the story arise, or to come out of a lesson and immediately lose the quality because you immediately return back to the social norm that you know of yourself. There's something that you have to be willing to hold onto, so that something new can begin to really emerge, so that you can transform yourself. So that you can actually transcend.
What's transcendence? Transcendence means to actually be and to carry yourself above the gravitational field that you've known. To be able to do and maintain this means incredible attention to detail. Otherwise what's going to happen? You're simply going to be pulled back into the old gravitational field. When you fall back in, the orbit decays. The inertia of the people around you who don't want to grow, what do they do? They pull you back. It's easier not to grow than to find this cutting edge in yourself. The ability to actually see your emotional response arising, and once in a while actually be able to alter it. I lose it at times.
This is teaching by Bozo here. I don't care to come across as anything other than a Bozo who's working to live on my own, learning to acquire these qualities as my own value. It is a process that continually awakens itself, but it requires specificity.
Let me read what Moshe Feldenkrais has to say about this little issue.
Again, on page 169 in the version that has Carl Ginsberg's introduction added, page 126 on the old version. Moshe says, “In normal learning, conscious awareness should gradually vanish”—when you're learning something new and you begin to integrate it into yourself, your need to attend to it should gradually vanish as it integrates. “And so long as there are habitual proprioceptive responses, impulses which have to be contradicted by conscious control”—so long as you have to come to really, really pay attention to what you're doing, specifically, conscious control “is taxed with an extra burden of constant attention.” In other words, we have to learn to continually, with a razor mind, attend to specifics, otherwise we hide in the stories, the generalities, and muscular habit. Moshe says, “[conscious control] is taxed with an extra burden of constant attention—a burden unknown to normally mature people.” Most people never get to the place where they pay conscious attention to themselves and to the specifics of themselves. [The full quote:]
“In normal learning, conscious awareness should gradually vanish, and so long as there are habitual proprioceptive impulses which have to be contradicted by conscious control, the latter is taxed with an extra burden of constant attention—a burden unknown to normally mature people.”
Right there in 1949—there are so many cues right here. If you just simply recognize this book is a letter to Freud saying that his ideas on psychoanalysis are silly. That instead, your neurosis is hidden in your muscular habit, and if you want to find another way of being organized in yourself, then you would not maintain your historic muscular response.
TS: Thank you, Jeff. It's been very rich; everyone here seems to appreciate it. Thank you so much.
[laughing and smiling] I hope I answered the question.
TS: You did.
END OF TALK
Feldenkrais, Moshe (2005, 1949). Body & Mature Behavior. A study of Anxiety, Sex, Gravitation, & Learning. Berkeley, CA: Frog Books and Somatic Resources.
About Jeff Haller:
Jeff Haller studied directly with Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, the founder of the Feldenkrais Method® and graduated in 1983 in Amherst, Massachusetts. From 1993 to the present day Jeff’s primary focus has been to train Feldenkrais Method teachers. In the following years, he developed and refined his skills, traveling and working in Feldenkrais training programs, while building an extensive private practice in his hometowns of Bend, Oregon and Seattle, Washington. Jeff is the Educational Director of the upcoming Feldenkrais Training Academy in Seattle, WA.
Jeff Haller is also a new contributor to Movement and Creativity Library and a guest teacher in the upcoming online course The Art of Learning: Introduction to the Feldenkrais Method.