What you take with you, Part 2

The first part of What you take with you described how Awareness Through Movement® lessons can help you develop your ability to learn as well as improve your capabilities and your coordination. It also addressed the challenge of transferring your learning from the lesson into life.

In that blog, I identified the kinds of ATM® instructions that are useful if you want to become a better learner. I went into how these learning strategies help and why they work. I wrote about the initial phase of learning to learn, which is about being able to shift the gears of attention. Then I described the following phases: recognizing the lead up to difficulty and tuning into the aspects of action you can change as they are happening.

To be sure, I’m interested in what we — you and I — can do so that we don’t leave what we learned on the teacher’s Feldenkrais® table and don’t forget what we found on the classroom floor minutes after walking out the door. But for now, rather than considering how to make the improvements during an ATM last longer than the lesson does, I want to ask, is there more to learning how to learn? What if anything comes next? 

One thing is certain. There is no pill or magical incantation that instantly upgrades your ability to learn.

Unlike the board game, Monopoly, you cannot pass “Go.” No matter what kind of ability you want to improve — from how you cook dinner, change diapers, or dive into the water — you cannot avoid honing the essential abilities. There’s just no way around it. You start by getting better at the basics, which are being able to:

  1. Sift your attention from what you’re doing to how you’re doing it.

  2. Recognize the first hints of hardship rather than fixating on where you’re stuck or running into the end of your ability.

  3. Explore what’s possible and easy.

Each of these abilities is deceptively easy to describe, but there are ever richer and more challenging levels of developing each skill. And even once you’ve begun to engage in learning this way, for most everyone it turns out to be incredibly difficult to implement it in the happening of life.

Feldenkrais recognized that learning and doing are fundamentally different operating modes for humans. He realized that learning requires shifting your attention from the goal, from perceiving only what you’re aiming for to noticing how you’re getting there. It comes down to how easy it is for you to change your perspective on yourself, to reorient from being narrowly focused to arriving to being able to notice more and more how you’re getting there . . . And then to notice more than one aspect at a time, to spread your attention and make the basket of your attention bigger and more inclusive.

That’s why an ATM teacher asks you to notice how you move. This isn’t any kind of vague question; what makes the request demanding is its somatic specificity — how exactly are doing what you’re doing? 

In which place — or places — do you start to move? 

Are you ready to go or do you have to rearrange yourself first? 

Which way are you heading? Do you follow the same trajectory or suddenly veer off in a different direction?

Where is your weight? Does it shift when you move? 

Do you proceed smoothly? Do you hesitate? Speed up or slow down unexpectedly? 

Does what you’re doing interfere with your breath?

Is there a moment when what you’re doing becomes more difficult, entails more effort?

Do you notice when your progress switches from smooth to bumpy, when it becomes uneven?  

In all these ways, the teacher asks you to open the aperture of your awareness and take in the many aspects of what you’re doing at the moment. For the sake of your own learning, not once but repeatedly, you find yourself challenged to take your focus off the outcome. Instead of being overly determined to achieve, instead of rushing to the end, is it possible for you to notice the journey? Rather than rushing to the finish and flying over the speed bumps, can you detect the increasing effort, that sense of starting an uphill climb, from the moment it begins? What’s it take to get curious about the initial inkling of interference?

As it gets easier for you to notice the first hint of hardship, you can back up from the brink. This is what makes it possible to go to the next phase of learning: exploring possible pathways for progress. Once again, I’m not talking about any of the specific movements you do in a particular ATM, but instead about the learning processes embedded inside lessons. We only get a sense of what these are by looking across the wide span of lessons. 

Here are a couple examples of these processes:

  • If you notice the moment when you hold your breath or when it becomes forced or labored, you can change what you couldn’t help but do into something that you do on purpose. For instance, rather than trying to improve your respiration or “taking a deep breath,” you repeat whatever you were doing several times while intentionally holding your breath. What’s so interesting — and useful — is that when you come back to what you were doing, way more often than not, the action is easier and you’re breathing more easily.

  • When you can find the moment that the motion becomes difficult, instead of pushing past it, you can approach it slowly, without quite reaching it, and then return to the starting place quickly and lightly. Repeating this act of returning home fast many times, more often than not, makes what was difficult moments ago easy.

Moshe’s methodology includes a multitude of these means for transforming difficulty into ease. There are so many of these tactics and strategies that I won’t even try to list them all here. 

What I want to do, instead, is to suggest that learning to use and benefit from these tactics is the next phase of improving how you learn. Deepening your practice requires being on the lookout for the first hints of what can be improved, being able to find these moments, a-n-d knowing what to do when you do. More importantly, for the sake of leveling up your learning, the key question is: Can you use these strategies when there isn’t a teacher around to remind you?

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