(Visionaries is a work in progress, so if you would like to read the articles so far please go to the page ‘Visionaries’ in the menu at the top of the page)
Moshe Feldenkrais greatly influenced my personal development as a balanced person of the universe. But he was not a religious man, and never to my knowledge admitted to being on a spiritual pathway. He was a passionate biologist, above all an academic, as his copious research work will attest. I hope in this series of articles to be able to show how certain geniuses appear in the world to point the way indirectly to ‘enlightenment,’ ‘emptiness,’ ‘grace,’ ‘oneness,’ or in non-religious terms, true and lasting happiness, call it what you may. Such beings could perhaps be termed emanations, and are not contained by any of the many faiths and life philosophies which exist in the modern pluralistic world. These visionaries have their ears constantly held close to the pulse of the universe, and possess the ability to reach deep into the mass of the iceberg of our minds below the tip; in other words, into the unconscious mind. There is undoubtedly also some mystical or karmic link if we are drawn to them and they can touch us deeply.
Let me introduce this phenomenon a little more before I outline Feldenkrais, his work, and his profound influence on me. I write as an unattached energy of the universe with a variety of religious, spiritual and philosophical experience, which I have now shifted beyond into a state of Oneness.
SELF-IMAGE. Speaking as a life-long educator and seeker myself, I have come to realize that human beings learn best indirectly, some would say perversely, at the side or in a meta position. They are so aware of and sensitive to their self-image within their community or society, that they either become easily self-conscious, always requiring a witness, or conversely they retreat from the public eye altogether and fix their self-image so it can never change. Unfortunately, this obsession with self-image can seriously distort the sincerity of our intentions in everything we do in daily life. We see this clearly in children who are aware that their parents are watching them and so show off to impress them. I believe that such preoccupations can scramble our intentions and impede our sincerity with ourselves. To become spiritually aware and integrated into the universe, we need to let go of our self-image because there is actually no ‘self.’ It is a delusion of the mind, and some say the root of all suffering.
In today’s secular and diverse world, as we become more and more remote from our divine origins, our behavior in the world is often driven by ulterior motives. We reinvent ourselves in human terms according to our social status and self image, and in so doing put down layers of fear and pride, repressing our true nature to live up to the expectations of others. We are not content with the resources we have been endowed with, always seeking something better or bigger or more stimulating, always slightly unhappy and strongly attached to status and material goods. The inevitability of loss drones away in the background like a perpetual TV, so we are restless and always on the look out for distractions.
ATTENTION. In a diverse world, there are varying levels of attention according to the situation, which affect our psychological lives. In social groups, most of us desperately seek approval and attention from others before we can be truly happy. Then in a learning situation, if we are approached head-on by a teacher or method, we unconsciously throw up barriers, and then may not be able to assimilate the matter we are being taught. In this situation, there is perhaps too much direct attention and many tangible expectations, and when coupled with a high risk of failure we may feel scrutinized and vulnerable. Many of us have developed a consumerist attitude to learning, and fail to see acquiring new skills and knowledge as an end in and for itself.
LEARNING INDIRECTLY. Humans have become perverse in this way, but we can pick up many things unconsciously and indirectly while rejecting the limelight of performance and minimizing our risks. I first realised this when I was a student of Feldenkrais. I was studying his body-re-education techniques in a group and with an individual teacher seriously, though there was no pass/fail element, and I was fairly successful in assimilating these techniques. But in fact, I was aware that I was being touched in a much more profound way by this interaction than the surface subject matter. I was only able to grasp this much later. It is as if the moment has to be exactly right to fully assimilate what we are learning. This depends first on our motivation, and then on our experience and wisdom.
INDIRECT INFLUENCES. We encounter so many influences as we move around our busy lives. We can often feel the power that ‘story’ can exert, that films and art have. Their effects on us are perhaps not quantifiable, but the mass of the iceberg beneath the water consisting of all of our experiences, our thoughts, our feelings, our conditioning and culture, can be touched in this indirect way: I believe it also stores our karma and virtue or merit. It is in fact beneath the surface that the greatest transformations take place, and this is also where we can encounter and engage with the mystical. From experience, I am certain that we truly learn the knowledge that leads to wisdom at this deep level, in, what oriental philosophies call, a state of ‘no mind,’ ie. no conscious mind.
Feldenkrais deeply understood these aspects of humans. His techniques developed from his passionate interest in Judo and eastern martial philosophies, and the malfunctioning of the human body. He wanted to enquire deeply into the non-chronic, non-life threatening aspects of human existence, which appeared to have no medical origin, could not be diagnosed or labeled. Why did people experience prolonged aching and stiffness, which had no medical cause? Why did they have unsubstantiated problems with their joints, or lack of energy? If they had no serious health problem why were they not completely ‘healthy,’ troubled in some way, frustrated or negative, restless, and so on. He based his enquiries on the fact that the body and the mind are the same – the mind-body continuum; in other words, that every thought we have affects every cell of our body in some way. To me, 30 years ago when I was a Feldenkrais student, this idea was quite a revelation, whereas nowadays it is fairly common knowledge.
The Feldenkrais system of exercise is famous and transformative, but this article in not the place to describe it (see: http://www.feldenkrais-method.org/;www.feldenkraisinstitute.org/;www.feldenkrais.com). Rather it is interesting in terms of our human faith or belief system, our fully opening the awareness or consciousness through body work, while looking at the human body-mind continuum as a whole entity. He viewed such troublesome imbalances as positive ‘dis-ease’ (the original meaning of the word) with the possibility of easing, as opposed to the more modern negative ‘disease,’ a disorder threatening human life in some way, which requires medical treatment based on medical research. Without doubt, his exercise system eased my petty discomforts, but in addition opened up a whole universe, which had previously been concealed to me. In other words, his work touched my subtle mind, my unconsciousness, my cosmic energy, the mass of my iceberg below the surface, and I was enabled to make deep changes as a result.
Feldenkrais’ based his system on his expert knowledge and observation of biological organisms, but he also had many social theories, which in my view form a rationale for human effort beyond that of the ordinary mind. His principal idea was that the most important thing to most human beings was their self-image and how others viewed them. He analyzed self-image as composed of 3 parts:
- The inherited self – handed down through our ancestry, which is impossible to change except by brain washing or cosmetic surgery. Our physical make-up and our predilections and tendencies; and along with this our karma and virtue inherited from ancestors.
- Education – imposed from our societies, cultures and communities. This can be changed, but it is essential if we wish to fit into the large social/cultural/religious group we are part of.
- Self-education – what we choose to teach or assimilate ourselves, or what we consciously allow through our filters. There has been a revolution in self-help culture in modern times. Of course, this part is influenced by our inherited self in terms of proclivities and tendencies, often referred to as ‘imprints.’
It was the third part that Feldenkrais was most interested in, so unlike many teachers, he did not cultivate any dependence among his students. He devoutly believed that he should teach them how to teach themselves so that they could change their ‘dis-ease’ through their own effort and belief in their own powers. Therefore, from this aspect, his teachings come under the general heading of ‘re-education.’ Feldenkrais believed that we could strip away the onion layers of conditioning we are subjected to as adults living in developed societies, so that we could return to our original unblemished state, to the perfection of a healthy child. That the busy materialist mind was apt to create a continual negative inner dialogue which interfered with our natural endowment; in other words, our true nature or Buddha nature. (see my previous article: ‘True Nature’ – https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/article-4-the-true-self/) As a result of our becoming increasingly isolated from nature, he suggested that we had developed a tendency to discard our natural state, almost as if it were some kind of handicap.
In religious terms, this kind of independence and self-direction was and still is also strongly indicated in the teachings of Buddha and other spiritual leaders, as well as visionaries like Jiddu Krishnamurti and F.M.Alexander, two iconic figures in my own development. Our faith, our belief system, is exclusively ours, and no-one else can experience it the way we do; no-one can have the insights on our behalf. In spiritual terms, oneness and our receptiveness to our own voices in chorus with those of the universe, we are a human channel for the wisdom of the universe, and therefore must put aside our ‘self’ because it does not exist. It is merely a notion of the deluded mind. In the same way, no-body can talk us through regaining our own natural elegance and integrity, which we lose because we lose contact with our divine origin and nature. Finally, a teacher can facilitate these transformations, but it is we who must directly apprehend a need to change, then make the effort and so receive the insights, which in turn generate wisdom. We have a special and unique mission in life, and only we can carry this out.
Even if we are not on a so-called spiritual path, the majority of us wish to transform ourselves to improve the quality of our lives, to rid ourselves of suffering, pain and loss. This is mistaken according to Feldenkrais who was adamant that with the right kind of training, we can re-educate in order to return to our original liberated state; if you like, our divine origins when we were pure and spiritually awake. I believe he provided an ingenious way of distracting the mind from its indulgences, its negative tendencies, so that we can get in touch once again with our innate sacredness.
We are basically creatures of goodness and light, so if the self-serving ego is displaced or dissolved, we naturally think about the well-being of other people which prevents absorption in ourselves. This has been the message of most of the spiritual leaders throughout human history, and I believe pre-history. It links to the way we receive input from the outside world, ie. education. Indirectness leads to wisdom; whereas, directness can feather the bird of the self-image and ego.
Feldenkrais’s second pivotal social theory concerned masks. Through working on the gross and subtle energy of the body regularly from the body-mind continuum or bridge, he believed that we could take down the mask we had painstakingly crafted to be able to fit quietly into large social groups, and then eventually discard it forever. In order to be a functional part of society, we need to modify our behavior and ways of thinking, as we have basically deteriorated into egocentric and secular beings. But society is capable of knocking our dreams out of us in the name of containment, of harmony, both of which are themselves positive things. However, if we hold on to resentment or anger or envy as a result of this containment, keeping them buried, then in order not to let them show, we learn to hide them behind our social masks. Most people are very rarely completely honest because they will not risk losing the approval of others. In my experience, body-work allowed me to become the person I truly am, and I was no longer afraid of being honest or being ostracized.
So, by wearing masks, we repress our true nature. We craft masks, sometimes painfully, to suit the situation, but when we take our masks down we vent our frustration and repression alone or with our closest partner of family member, and perhaps resort to substance abuse or crime, sexual perversion or corruption, any means of getting back at someone for our suffering in losing our true nature. We become moral cowards and lose our original voice and our special mission, which only we can carry out. Eventually, that loss provokes us to make the mask permanent so we can never take it down. It becomes who we are – our status, our level of fame and success, the perks and popularity associated with these things, etc. We are attached to the permanence of this life wearing the mask, so we no longer look behind it or even try to take it off. In spiritual terms, we are blind and deaf, cloistered and listening only to our inner dialogue scripted for us by our peers and celebrities, by the gods of drugs and intoxication and coca cola, and by the media and Conglomerates.
Putting on our masks to better cope with difficult social demands blocks our self-honesty, blocks our true nature. We become skilled social performers, masters of deception, etc., but at the same time, we chase like mad people after illusory happiness and contentment. I learned gradually and painfully to discard the mask of the self, but of course many social occasions occur when unconsciously we may put it in place again. This is the spiritual training we need to undertake if we want to find true and lasting happiness, and take up our unique mission in human life. If we look to the well-being of those we love, putting it before concern for ourselves, then the universe, our divine origin, will protect and nurture us.
My work with Moshe Feldenkrais’s techniques moved me to commit myself to finding a state of true honesty with myself, which would in time become the basis for negotiating both the visible and the invisible worlds. I encountered his work by chance through my connections with F.M.Alexander, another visionary with his ear constantly on the heart beat of the universe.
Article 2: F.M.Alexander: The Great Silent Stillness