(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)
In this series, to repeat the main theme, I will write about three charismatic innovators who have strongly influenced my spiritual growth despite the fact that they were not spiritual masters. Feldenkrais, the movement specialist, the focus of Article 1 (ref:http://wp.me/p3O6mn-iG) will again be the focus of this second article as so much came up from the writing and the reflection afterwards. I would like to unzip some of the denser parts of the last article to give a wider perspective.
Feldenkrais, like Alexander and Krishnamurti, were able to see the bigger picture of human life. It is common for the human body to be alluded to as a microcosm of the universe. Indeed, Feldenkrais was interested not in the gross detail of the mechanics of the body per se, though that was his speciality, but more in the overall affect of the human organism, and how that organism fitted into the ecology of the universe and societies, how it could be balanced naturally. Mainstream medicine treats local symptoms with drugs or surgery often without taking the whole organism into account; this is reminiscent of the blind man trying to describe an elephant, which he is touching, to get an impression – how can he ever know the whole entity? In the same way, if we each create a universe in our minds and immerse ourselves in it, asserting the self and the ego, how can we ever know the actual natural universe.
Feldenkrais, through his tireless work with human microcosms, which were out of balance, pointed out the importance of self-image as a key factor in dis-ease if that self-image was not acceptable to others or to the self. But then, as he went on to explain, the self-image was often appropriately masked for different social situations in order to fit in, or out of fear, or even lust. The habitual wearing of such masks would inevitably affect the anatomy of the whole organism, and thus the links with the true self, the natural self, would gradually be damaged, and then finally break. At this point, the mask or masks would be impossible to remove, so that the natural self was lost forever. It is easy to see that this notion has huge implications in spiritual terms.
Living in societies and communities in general, because there are hierarchies and a variety of contrasted self-images at work, Feldenkrais suggested that we are likely to become very passive. The analogy here is with sitting using a chair with a back. If we always lean against the back of the chair, then the muscles supporting our spine are made gradually redundant, so we cannot any longer sit comfortably in a chair without a back. In daily life, if we listen to our ‘superiors,’ our so-called leaders, saturating our minds with reports from the media and the enormous output of the work of mediocre writers at large today, then we never use our own voice, our own ideas, and it is never expected of us to speak out because everyone worships the literati and broadcasting agencies in power. Those who do step forward and offer innovative ideas and notions stand to be either embraced in the pantheon or rejected out of hand.
This passiveness is observable in religious and spiritual circles too. Especially in organized groups, the majority part of such training is to dislodge the self-serving ego, cultivate modesty and humility, assuage sensual craving, and so on. However, because we are already wearing social masks, once the self-serving ego is dissolved, we may become numb, dull, afraid to express our true nature, afraid to make our unique contribution. Of course, thankfully there are the few giants of the religious/spiritual spheres who stepped forward to innovate, following their mystical directives. I believe Feldenkrais had an insight into letting go of all the synthetic selves the intellectual mind is capable of creating to become One with the universe and with our original and divine nature. In less grand terms, perhaps we need to ask how we can be really honest with ourselves and follow our instincts to find our unique human mission. How can we step forward when people’s expectations of us are non-existent, and in all probability misguided? How can our true nature thrive if we are entirely dependent on the approval of others, controlled by the dictates and wisdom of the few, expected to just merge into the masses, put on our masks, and stay quiet?
Feldenkrais was important, and continues to be important to me exactly because he did not rely on other people’s expectations or views, and had the courage to step forward without masks and use his own voice. He was not afraid of criticism or competition because he knew without equivocation that we are each completely unique, so there is no danger of being a carbon copy of someone else. I believe he was motivated to do this from a position of equality with all beings, not tolerating any superior or inferior labels. After all, his passion was self-education leading to re-education, so he therefore had no doubt in his mind that everyone was capable of teaching themselves and changing themselves without leaning on specialists and following others to the letter. It is as if his body-work system could ignite a dampened divine spark and make it burn hot in the unconscious mind.
As mentioned in article 1 (see ref. above) it is curious to reflect on why certain things/people/ideas appeal directly to us, and others do not. As Feldenkrais pointed out, our ancestry, our inheritance down through our lineage, is the part of us we cannot change except by surgical means or brainwashing. It is our DNA on the physical level, which creates a version of the original template of our line, and is complete with ‘imprints,’ as they are called by some. Cueing into such imprints is important because they may enable us to pick up on part of our mission and go forward with it, which probably will be of benefit to civilization if we have tested our self-sincerity.
Each individual consciousness fits perfectly into the greater entity like a piece of a giant mosaic: it therefore goes without saying that the whole will be balanced if every part is placed in position. To make your own piece fit is a question of listening to your own heart and following that instead of the expectations of others; of going out in the storm and experiencing it, rather than sitting inside and watching it from a closed room.
Imprints? Propensities? Proclivities? Call them what you may. They exist in all of us, passed down through the spirit of our ancestors and related spirits. Spirit is pure and indestructible energy; aspirations, passions, shortcomings, mistakes, etc., all of these human lessons, are plugged into our DNA blueprint, our karma as Buddhists refer to it. By way of an example, my maternal grandmother was the kindest, most loving of all people I had ever met as a child. I aspired to having the grace and integrity that she had, and to be able one day to have her magical presence. She was a devout Catholic all her life, but she revealed to me before she died that there were some aspects of the Catholic religion she was not in agreement with. This disturbed me, a concern given my closeness to her which imprinted itself on my unconscious mind.
Thirty years later I had the incredible opportunity to go to live in the Eastern Pyrenees, high in the mountains between France and Spain, in western Europe. As I settled into my new life in a deserted medieval village there, I could sense a deep and fascinating energy. The Cathars, (ref:https://lindenthorp.wordpress.com/category/interfaith/the-cathars-the-church-of-love/) a medieval sect of authentic Christians, had lived in the mountain fortresses all around built originally as wartime refuges; They were being hotly persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church of Rome, my grandmother’s religion, as heretics, and were eventually eradicated by being burned at the stake en mass.
Although very little is known about them in detail, I could feel such pure strong energy in the region, and so I spent a lot of time visiting the famous sites so that I could absorb more of it. I lived there for about 6 years on and off and then returned to my country of birth. Then, I had a series of haunting dreams about my beloved grandmother and the Cathars, and realised there was a connection. During this period, I was involved in the Buddhist teachings having moved on from Christianity, my birth religion. But I could never forget the Cathars and went on researching them, while continuing to have the same kind of troubling dreams.
Some years later, I received various communications about the Cathars by email, which was rather unexpected. One of them really startled me because it announced the dates of the Cathar revival predicted before the remaining Cathars were destroyed, 700 years in the future. New Cathars would be born on certain dates in the mid 20th century, and to my amazement, my birthdate fell within the predictions. Again many dreams and visions in meditation made it clear to me that my grandmother had been a Cathar, not a Catholic, and that I connected with that essence in her. The creed of the Cathars, the Church of Love, (ref) is something I have always dreamed of being reinstated as the single world creed, as I believe it once was when we were truly sacred beings. This was an imprint, which I was determined to examine, to test, beyond all logic, so I can carry my legacy forwards while spreading the Cathar mission and bringing hope to our troubled world.
Feldenkrais was passionate about education, and in particular self-education. As I mentioned, the unconscious mind, the vast mass of the iceberg below the water, is what we need to touch if we are to learn deeply. Again, I find an analogy with spiritual practice here; we may read many exalted texts, attend lectures, fill our minds with as much information as we can about the creed or master we have been drawn to, but until we are touched, moved in our depths in some inexplicable way, way beyond logic or reason, then we cannot assimilate those theories and knowledge and apply them in our every day lives. They remain in the domain of the mind, not of the heart.
Another way of putting this is that the map we may look at of a region or country is not the actual territory. It is a representation, merely an interpretation of that physical location. Until we experience the place first-hand, until we interact with its energies, we cannot say we ‘know’ it. This experiential aspect of learning is so important, and largely not taken into account in mainstream education. If we are motivated to feel what we are learning directly instead of at the side, in a meta way, then there is a great chance it will genuinely touch us and rearrange something in our unconsciousness. The unconscious mind is a vast storehouse of all our experiences, our conditionings governed by culture, gender, age, social rank, etc. We cannot change it directly except by hypnosis, brainwashing, lobotomy, and other radical means, but through subtle and indirect means as through meditation, appealing to the higher self, body-work, art and artistic expression, etc., it is definitely possible.
Feldenkrais through the notion of re-education, along with Alexander and Krishnamurti, believed that by putting aside our attachment to conditioning, going beyond all barriers imposed on us by societies, organized groups, and consortiums, we could strip away the multiple layers until we uncovered our true nature, and allowed our divine spark to burst into flame once more. Feldenkrais termed this ‘organic nature.
When describing the general education system’s dual function of suppressing non-conformist tendencies and the discarding of spontaneous desires, he says:
‘Every aspiration and spontaneous desire is subjected to stringent internal criticism lest they reveal the individual’s organic nature.’ (P6,Awareness Through Movement, Penguin,1972)
An example, which is close to my heart as a teacher, concerns the methods employed of teaching/learning English in Japan where I live and work. Traditionally, English has been taught here using the translation method, ie. words, phrases and sentences are translated doggedly into Japanese, the emphasis being on meaning through the medium of Japanese. But how can we ever expect to learn a foreign language if we translate everything into our mother tongue? Once we are no longer beginners and we have a basic vocabulary and rudimentary grammar, we have to experience the language we are trying to learn, for and of itself, directly, avoiding translation but employing synonyms, of which English has a huge number.
The translated language is theoretical, like the map mentioned above: it is not the actual territory of that language. So, until students of English can experience success in communicating or reading or writing in English without a Japanese map, there will be no true experience of that language. Direct experience of a language, its culture, its context, the way it feels, is the only way that language will truly be integrated into the unconscious mind. And this is why studying in English-speaking countries is the most effective way for total immersion in English.
It is the feelings about and awareness of what we are leaning that truly touch us, not the subject matter itself. With body work, the technicalities of anatomy and physiology do not matter as much as the more invisible aspects of the experience of that learning.
In terms of learning, it is also important that we immerse ourselves in the process of learning, or acquiring whatever we are trying to acquire, rather than craning our necks to see the results or the proofs of success. The process is akin to focused listening, whereas the results are more visual in quality. Process is becoming absorbed deeply in the moment as we are when we are truly listening, no matter how long it takes. When we are totally absorbed in the process, there is nothing else. We become that which we are learning, not separate from it, not a consumer. This lack of separation means we are empty of ego, empty of the self. What we actually absorb in this way can be wide, can be true wisdom, not simply subject matter. Such an absorption is like meditation, a dipping into the vast invisible dimensions; in fact, the mystical.
A human body carrying out a series of carefully worked-out exercises in a totally absorbed state, empty of meaning or logic, not conscious of results or outcomes, it surely a mystical episode. We can touch the invisible, the magical, we can take our places in the universe, we can envision ourselves moving freely without effort on the face of the Earth, under the infinite sky, becoming the human link between the planet and the Universe. Humans, endowed with divine love and divine missions, surely fill this role so perfectly if we have not lost touch with our true, our original, our ‘organic’ nature. This is the way of ‘no mind,’ which forms the foundation of oriental martial arts and philosophies, and with the disengagement of the intellectual mind, which creates its own reality continually, we return to our state of pure energy motivated by the essence of unconditional love.
Although never referred to as such because of his scientific orientation, Feldenkrais’s body-work system and his theories about man and movement, bring about healing. This is an indirect benefit of his guided processes, which are logically reasoned and substantiated to be palatable to the scientific community and to entrenched mask wearers. But in terms of deep change and attention, a healing definitely takes place. Incidentally, the word ‘healing’ comes from an ancient German/Dutch origin and means ‘whole.’ In other words, Feldenkrais was addressing the whole person, beyond any restrictions imposed by society or nationality, and beyond any limited intellectual concepts such as time or space. He was devoted to easing people’s physical condition, but part of that easing, given the oppressive and controlling societies we are forced to inhabit for economic and survival purposes, is the realization of our potential beyond what is required by society. In other words, to make our original nature shine so that we can live with joy and have the courage to be completely sincere with ourselves first and then with others.
Many urbanists have become so materialistic, so attached to everything that we believe makes us who we are, status, gender, wealth, etc., that we regard nature and those who live in harmony with nature as uncivilized, backward, or handicapped in some way. We have reinvented ourselves as a species apart because we have succeeded in taming nature and harnessing it for our specific purposes. In the act of taming nature, we have not only damaged the organism of the Earth and its ecosystems, but destroyed the ancient wisdom of indigenous peoples. In this severing with the inheritance of the Earth, the average person has reduced their range of human skills, focusing only on gross intellectual and ‘success’ skills, and ignoring as scary or voodoo those utilizing the subtle energies, such as prayer and meditation, telepathy, healing, alternative medical practices, shamanism, etc.
In fact, Feldenkrais himself, in the introduction to his major work, Awareness Through Movement (1972), admits that his opus is addressed to the average man, adding,
…..that is, to the man who thinks none of it concerns him.’(p9)
Article 3: F.M.Alexander: Master of Stillness