To start off the New Year, I taught a new series of Feldenkrais® classes last weekend called, Take it with you (TIWY). This was an advanced Awareness Through Movement® workshop, designed to engage your curiosity, deepen your practice, and challenge you to become your own teacher.
The inspiration for this title was the saying “You can’t take it with you” which, as you know, is a reference to what happens, or, to be more accurate, what does not and can not happen when you leave this world. I have been thinking about this saying in reference to learning, especially in terms of what happens after a Feldenkrais session. That’s because so often we fail at taking our learning with us beyond the time of a class or lesson.
It’s not that you and I don’t want to take what we learn from a lesson with us; it’s just that — more often than not; certainly more often than we’d like — what we learn fades away, slowly slipping through our fingers, or it disappears in a flash. You know what I mean, right? Whatever insight or ability you developed becomes something that you remember having learned but can no longer access, like a place you remember visiting that, now, you can longer find.
Of course, sometimes learning sticks the first time: you do an ATM® lesson, your coordination changes, and it’s yours. In a way, that’s terrific and, in a way, it’s too bad.
Because those times when learning is immediate and lasting make you impatient for the other times when learning takes time, those times when developing your abilities turns out to be a process, a process during which the glimmer of a new ability appears, flickers, and then vanishes, in other words, during which forgetting happens. Fact is, forgetting is a part of learning. When you don’t remember something it means you don’t know it. It isn’t yours, not yet, anyway. (It’s the disappointment, discouragement, or despair that we all feel when we forget that makes it incredibly challenging to remember that this is the nature of learning.)
The reason that your learning vanishes — or, at least, a big part of the reason — is because what you already learned is remarkably sticky. That’s the way the nervous system works: when you learn any skill successfully, you no longer have to think about it, it becomes automatic. That’s why whatever you were doing before the lesson comes back again: your habit returns. That’s not a failure of your ability to learn, it’s a feature. The autopilot takes over.
This makes sense, doesn’t it? What would happen if what you learned didn’t persist? Then your existing knowledge and established skills would be unstable and unreliable. Without the autopilot and the habitual actions it produces, you’d have to think about everything you do deliberately; you couldn’t be fluid or graceful. What would happen to the abilities you’d already developed if your latest actions immediately replaced them? Consider this extreme (and intentionally lighthearted) example: if you watch Monty Python perform The Ministry of Silly Walks and imitate the uncommon, ungainly gaits demonstrated, practicing it a few times, then you’d start walking that wacky way from that moment on; at least until you tried on another style of upright locomotion.
Automaticity — or habitual movement — is a sign of success. Habits are a feature of your nervous system at work, not a failure of its design. You rely on them; they are necessarily central to being who you are and being able to do what you can do. The problem is not that you have habits, the problem is you — and the rest of us as well — are not very good at updating the autopilot. Moshe’s method comes into play because it provides an answer to the crucial question, “How do I change something that’s become automatic?”
Let’s go back to the first thing, to the title of the workshop and the idea of being able to take it with you. May I draw your attention to the second word in the phrase, “it.” It is so darn . . . vague. What does it mean?
Usually, when we think about what we can take with us from an experience or a lesson, we are referring to remembering and being able to use what we learned. After a lesson, after a lesson that’s been beneficial and relevant, whether it’s a painting lesson or a piano lesson — or a Feldenkrais lesson, for that matter — what you remember is quite specific. You don’t remember everything that you did.
When you learn to do something new or better, there is a specific turning point, that moment when everything you did comes together, when things gel, when you “get it.” It’s a sensation or image that persists, becoming the key to unlocking your capacity and changing what you can do. For example, when I learned how to hold a carrot — where to put my fingers, how to hold my hand, the way my arm, shoulder, and chest had to cooperate, etc. — there was this instant, what felt like a split-second, when every aspect of the action fell into place. That’s when what I was doing felt right and effortless; I found myself in the sweet spot. From that moment on chopping, quickly, effortlessly, and safely, takes care of itself. Every time, as one hand takes hold of a knife and the other hand grasps whatever I need to cut in pieces, the feeling returns — I remember the feeling without trying, my hands find the right places, and it’s easy.
This, however, is only one way to think about the “it” that you can bring into your life after a lesson. That’s because we aren’t limited to looking at learning in the past tense, as something you did, or as a noun, the thing you learned. You can also consider learning as an activity, as something you do. Moshe’s method is more than a mere compilation of masterful movements, it also consists of strategies for regaining control from the autopilot and changing your habits. The method includes both what you learn and how you learn, the product of learning and the process that leads to it.
What happens when you consider “it” as referring to a way of learning, when what you take with you is a specific learning process that a lesson asked you to engage in, one that made it possible to change what you were doing? Moshe’s method consists of a multitude of these learning processes. They aren’t particular to any specific action or kind of action; you can use them across the board, during a lesson and after, whether you’re recovering after injury or illness or you’re improving your abilities.
What makes Take it with you (TIWY) an advanced ATM workshop is it brings these processes and your ability to put them to work to the foreground. The lessons ask you to investigate what’s beyond your initial insights and imperatives about this way of learning, such as “Slow the heck down.”
(Of course, slowing down is unquestionably vital. But then what? That’s what the workshop is about.)
TIWY asks: How you can deepen your practice and develop your ability to learn? Throughout the series of six intertwined and progressive lessons, you’ll explicitly explore these learning skills, practicing putting them to work and reflecting on how they hold the potential for altering the autopilot. I’ll ask you to apply these skills between lessons and, at the end of the series, you’ll learn one key to unlocking the hold your habits have on you and accessing your incredible innate potential to continue learning and improving.
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