San Diego, CA – Jan 10-14, 2007
by Amie Slate (Sensible Moves, Los Angeles)
There were about 30 of us who met in a lovely old hotel in downtown San Diego for a 5 day workshop with Mia Segal this January. The weather was literally freezing but Mia and her daughter Leora created a warm, generous atmosphere that had us all learning and working well together. There was such a marked change in the sound of the room during our partnering time over the five days. In the first two days as we were searching for comprehension of what Mia was asking for, there was a lot of talking and noise. For the last three days, the sounds were completely different. There were great, rich silences punctuated with ahs, ooohs, and ah-ha’s amid sprinklings of soft laughter.
How did we do that…
Because I knew I was going to write this report, I queried people during the five days and tried to get a feel for common experiences. One thing that I heard from a number of people has to do with Mia and Leora’s ideas about knowing, authority and discovery.
They not only behaved, but taught us to behave with less arrogance, less authority and more ability to explore and discover. They showed us how to NOT know as well as how to find out. Leora repeated over and over that in her experience, Guild graduates have plenty of sensitivity (and lots of ideas) but we don’t seem to know what to do with what we sense. She described her interest in separating content from form (with a reference to NLP), and in teaching us a form that could be applied to every situation. Interestingly, I think that’s exactly what they did. They gave us a very simple, functional framework to apply to our sensing.
And what was that simple framework? What was it that took us two days before we could begin to move with it without effort? It was to observe, confirm, connect. Actually, the first two days were just about observation! And in fact, Mia wasn’t trying to get us to do MORE with our observation, but less. When she asked “What do you see?” we were prepared to offer explanations, analysis, conclusions, theories and abstractions. “No,” she said, ” just tell me what you see!” and we stammered to silence. “We are looking at her on her side folding forward. Do you see the sternum? No? Then don’t tell me about the sternum. What do you see?” It sounds so simple, doesn’t it?
Observe, confirm and connect…a simple framework.
She said, “What do you see move first or most? Describe how it moves: forward, back? Closer to something else? What moves second? What doesn’t move at all?” She taught us to be clear about what we were seeing as opposed to what we were thinking ABOUT what we saw. She required us to be precise.
Next, we put our hands on the place we noticed and described what we sensed. Here again we had the same problem: we wanted to say what we thought or knew about what we sensed rather than what we sensed. “Look,” Mia would say, reminding me so much of Moshe, “With my hands on her side, I feel my fingers moving closer together as she folds while my palms move apart along her back. That’s it! Now you try.”
Surprisingly, this practice put us in a very different state, one of greater sensitivity and openness — one that I think we would all recognize from the moments when we are working most effectively. And it is not easy! It was hard work to maintain ourselves in that sensing-not-concluding place. Using the phrase that Leora exhorted us with: “Resist the temptation!” to jump ahead to thoughts and ideas. As Mia kept saying, “I don’t know the answer!” We have to let the movement speak. It requires diligence to limit ourselves to what is there before us, to let it tell us the answers through our sensing “senses”.
This process also revealed its opposite (in that lovely, Feldenkrais process of differentiation). The opposite is what we are all trained so well to do in the modern world, and that is to interpret what we observe, to jump to conclusions. It seems to make us harsh and imposing in a certain way.
So, we spent two days just learning how to observe, and then the sound of the room got soft and… moving.
Once we got a feel for observing, the next step was confirming with touch, just following, not influencing. Again, they required great precision of us. They made us practice using words to describe precisely what we sensed through our hands in terms of our actual sensing apparatus. They asked us to use two hands so we could describe the sensing in terms of relationships. We were asked to use two hands first at the place that moved first or most and then move to a second place. How did the second place relate to the first? How was that different from what we saw?
Finally, we were asked to create the movement ourselves. Once again, we flew off on the wrong track by trying to create the whole movement with just our two hands in the first place we chose to touch. No. They showed us to create just the tiny piece of the movement that the person themselves would create at that place. Then once again, move to the second place and find the relationship, through our sensing, with the movement at the first place.
At one point Mia said (as I understood it), “You don’t want to create movement. Why do you care if they do this movement! But you do want them to feel how they do what they’re doing. That’s what makes the difference! You show them what they are doing here and here, and how these two places are related in the way they are doing it. That’s all!” We found that when we “shined the light” on small pieces of the movement, then suddenly it WAS possible to do the whole movement with just our two hands, lightly, effortlessly.
I also learned with one of my partners, that when the the path of her influencing movement was not matching my pattern, I got antsy, sometimes wanting it to be more, or less. When it was accurate, the amount of the movement was irrelevant. It went where it belonged and the light shined straight through. Ooo’s, aaahs and ah-haaa’s.
I was describing this challenge of accurate observation to a friend (who works with Waldorf schools) and she said, “You know, you’re describing phenomenology.” Yes, that’s it exactly! Phenomenology is a scientific method which describes what we do in Feldenkrais, beautifully. It was used and elaborated by Goethe in his scientific work and is experiencing a great deal of interest again in these modern times:
‘Goethe’s way of science was highly unusual because it moved away from a quantitative, materialist approach to things in nature and emphasized, instead, an intimate, firsthand encounter between student and thing studied. Direct experiential contact became the basis for scientific generalization and understanding…’
‘Phenomenology is a science of beginnings that demands a thorough, in-depth study of the phenomenon, which must be seen and described as clearly as possible. Accurate description is not a phenomenological end, however, but a means by which the phenomenologist locates the phenomenon’s deeper, more generalizable patterns, structures, and meanings.’
Even the opposite experience of becoming harsh and imposing was well described by Goethe:
‘Goethe emphasized that perhaps the greatest danger in the transition from seeing to interpreting is the tendency of the mind to impose an intellectual structure that is not really present in the thing itself: “How difficult it is…to refrain from replacing the thing with its sign, to keep the object alive before us instead of killing it with the word.” The student must proceed carefully when making the transition from experience and seeing to judgement and interpretation, guarding against such dangers as “impatience, precipitancy, self-satisfaction, rigidity, narrow thoughts, presumption, indolence, indiscretion, instability, and whatever else the entire retinue might be called.”‘
Mia and Leora chose three ATM’s which we used over the five days both as ATM’s and the basis for our FI practice. The FI practices were very interactive and allowed for — even necessitated, for me — using the intentional activity of the student in doing the movement. In Leora’s FI’s as well, there was much more switching back and forth between “FI” and “ATM” modes. There was a very effective use of asking the student to do intentionally what they were doing unintentionally.
The FI practices were broken down into small pieces, which was helpful. And yet, each piece stayed related to the whole movement. Even when working just from the knee, the development of the process meant that we were simply feeling through ourselves, through the knee to the whole movement, the whole experience. So there was never the sense that a practice was an artificially isolated piece that would somehow fit into a whole at some later date.
At this point, I could include the specific instructions for the ATM’s and FI practices we did, but perhaps this report is already long enough. Many of us commented that the practices we did were not significantly different than what we learned in our trainings. The big difference was the lack of tension to know or to make something happen. The difference was that the practices were to develop our skill in sensing, not in moving.
So instead, I will only describe one more thing.
Mia was working with one of the attendees who has severe shoulder pain with a frequent tendency to dislocate the shoulders. Mia watched, observed, asked us what we thought. (We jumped into analysis: “She should unlock her knees!” “She needs to move her computer screen!”… It was strangely discordant.) Mia just looked. Then she said, “I don’t know. I’ll have to think about it.” The next morning she said, “Come here. We have to stick with what we know. What I do know is function. The large bones and muscles are for large movements tapering to small refining movements at the peripheries. See this: this person moves a great deal in the arms and the fingers with no movement at the shoulders. Movements from the pelvis stop here and here. This creates great strain at the places in between — at the shoulders. I don’t know for sure but I believe that if I worked with her to show her how movement at the pelvis is connected to movement at the arms and fingers, I believe her shoulders would improve. Let’s stick to what we know! Remember the basics!”
This reminder to stick with what we know was both demanding and a big relief. It’s a relief to know that what we know is simple and effective. It doesn’t need to be more than that.
Observe, Confirm, Connect
The framework that Mia and Leora taught us over these five days was based on a rigorous but simple method of phenomenological observation. It can be used with any ATM, any FI, any person, in any situation, to develop a moving, effective relationship which reveals in each of us “the essential core of a thing that makes it what it is and what it becomes.”