"You can't be creative if you refuse to be confused."–Margaret Wheatley
What happens when you don't understand something? What is your reaction to confusion? Often my reactions are determined by how interested I am in learning and how curious I am in the moment. I can either shut down or open myself to the discomfort of not knowing. The desire to understand and be with the confusing aspects of my life experience drives my creative process and led me to create a book about the Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education.
I found the Feldenkrais Method during a confusing search for how to have a more loving relationship with my body after growing up in a family and society that taught me to hate it. The invitations the Method offered were liberating: feel without judgement, move without comparing myself to others, and sense internally instead of looking to others to validate if what I was doing was correct. Through permission and encouragement to imperfectly cultivate my own inner sense of knowing, I found grace in a clunky un-embodied body. I found presence where I had been absent for so long. This coming home to myself was a creative, dynamic process.
There are many aspects to learning that are confusing. How do you sense your sternum when you don't know you have a sternum? How do you lift your head off the ground gently and easily when it feels like a heavy bowling ball? How do you find support from the ground if you are used to holding and contracting around your pelvis and abdomen? The “projects” in any given Feldenkrais lesson are a scaffolding for paying attention to yourself. You begin to shine a light in the dark areas of yourself (the areas that you don't know how to feel) and over time the light gets brighter; your self-image becomes more clear.
Both Awareness Through Movement® (verbally guided movement lessons often done in groups) and Functional Integration® (hands-on lessons) offer experiences of expanding space and time to be with the sensory-motor learning process. This expanded time allows for and even encourages making mistakes. The more we try to do something perfectly, the more unnecessary effort we bring to our action. Tracking this effort, really slowing down to notice it, can be uncomfortable. We would rather skip past and avoid confusion. How can we change ourselves if the desire to change evokes our habitual ways of acting? In Feldenkrais® lessons, if we have the patience to face our blind spots, the presence of our awareness melts habitual tension. New possibilities emerge that couldn't exist when the tension was held. More opportunities for learning arise as you can do more, feel more, and become more curious.
“Only when in possession of the full range of functioning on each level or plane of action can we eliminate compulsion to the degree that our action becomes the expression of our spontaneous selves. All creative men and women know spells when they can act in this manner.” (Moshe Feldenkrais, The Potent Self, p 199)
My curiosity led me to a Feldenkrais Method professional training program in 2002. I have since become a teacher and practitioner of the Method. During the beginning of my training, I used drawing to deepen my understanding of Moshe Feldenkrais’ writings and philosophy. I would take a sentence and see what came out of my pen as I explored hand-writing his words and drawing simple figures moving through space. I didn’t intend to literally draw what he described, but to get at a feeling or some aspect of his ideas. It was a different way for me to be with his words. On a first read I didn’t always understand his writing. It was complex, multi-dimensional, dense.
When I broke a quote up into smaller parts, I could digest it more easily. This is a strategy in Feldenkrais lessons—breaking down complex movement. The process of simplifying and then gradually adding more complexity helps us learn to bring more of the whole of ourselves into an action. There were times when what I drew didn’t quite get at the feeling I was looking for, so I redrew the quote several times, trying to get closer to my intention. In the Feldenkrais Method, we often repeat a movement to explore a variety of qualities and slight shifts in trajectory, attending to different parts of ourselves that are involved in an action. As repetition with variation makes our experience more multi-dimensional, drawing Feldenkrais’ words and going back to look at the drawings added other dimensions to my understanding.
The common response I got when showing colleagues, teachers, and friends these drawings was, “This should be a book!” This planted a seed in me that grew over time. I sought permission from the publishers to use Feldenkais’ quotes and was pleased that they were supportive of my project. I spent several years continuing to draw as I read his books, accumulating more images. The drawings became a way for me to meditate on his ideas, observing where the themes in his books showed up in my Feldenkrais practice and life. What early experiences led me to my habitual ways of acting? What interferes with and contributes to my learning? How can I best support others in their learning process? How am I compulsive? What does it feel like when I am spontaneous? When do I add parasitic effort? Where can I do less?
There came a point where I tried to organize the hundreds of drawings I'd been working on into chapters, but because the quotes were taken randomly from different sources they did not read as a cohesive whole. I became overwhelmed with confusion. I felt stuck and did not know how to continue. As maddening as it sometimes felt, this stuckness was a valuable part of my process. How would I take a dream and shape it into a reality? What was missing? I eventually had an idea about how to continue. I resisted it at first, as it would require shifting to a different kind of process. So far I had been spontaneous, playful, whimsical, inspired. This was the way I liked to work. But the spirit of the book and the principles of the Method called on me to grow up, to expand beyond my comfort zone and my image of what a creative process looks like.
Confusion keeps me searching for what's next and what's needed. I look for what to get rid of, what's extraneous. I listen for the poetry and the moments of grace. It is not always clear and then there are moments when it is.
In the next phase of the project I put drawing on hold and prioritized getting clear about the text. I combed through all of Feldenkrais’ books and articles, cover to cover, to find all the possible quotes I might want to illustrate. From there, I organized the quotes by theme and crafted the flow of the book. There were many confusing moments in the editing process where I felt like my brain was turning inside out, so I sought support from a few colleagues, especially my husband Matty Wilkinson. We spent many nights reading Feldenkrais’ words aloud and playing with multiple ways of arranging the quotes so that they would read cohesively, even though they were taken from different sources. The end result was 25 chapters representing key themes in Feldenkrais’ philosophy, exploring what inhibits and supports our potential to become mature, creative human beings.
Then I got pregnant. I became aware of how precious my time was. I saw that I would no longer have the luxury of drawing whenever I felt like it once my child was born. I needed to learn how to call on the muse even when I wasn’t feeling inspired. And I did. I spent every morning of my pregnancy drawing, inspired by Feldenkrais’ ideas about maturity and creativity:
“It is commonly believed that one must wait for the muse or some other inspiration to bring about such happy moments. But mature, creative people have learned to know themselves sufficiently well so that they can bring themselves to the reversible state of acture. Thus, they can advertise months in advance the hour when the muse is going to function.” (The Potent Self 199-200)
I had to keep moving regardless of how I felt (and thanks to the Feldenkrais Method I had a very active, comfortable pregnancy). In this push to finish the book, I didn't let moments of doubt or confusion stop me. I saw that the fumbling and scribbling were a necessary part of the process. Early drafts of a drawing were needed to get to the final version. I needed to be willing to let go of what didn't work in order to get to what did. By the time my son was born, I had completed the drawings, but there was still much work to be done. This work was mostly done during naps, late nights, and early mornings. (I am writing this as my son is napping). My son is now fifteen months and I am putting the final touches on the book.
After eleven years of playing, experimenting, being confused, frustrated, excited, inspired, reading, drawing, moving, editing, learning, my book has become a reality: Feldenkrais Illustrated: The Art of Learning. As I flip through it now, I am delighted and filled with hope that there is something magical on the other side of the unknown. Confusion keeps me searching for what's next and what's needed. I look for what to get rid of, what's extraneous. I listen for the poetry and the moments of grace. It is not always clear and then there are moments when it is.
This article was originally published on the Feldenkrais Guild website.
"Tiffany Sankary's way of writing about the Method is so clear… I think that it's some of the best Feldenkrais-specific writing I've read in my almost 10 years at FGNA!" -Carla Feinstein, Communications and Publications Editor, Feldenkrais Guild of North America