My previous post on Empowering Autonomy has generated interesting and worthwhile comments, pointing out areas where my meaning and sometimes my thinking were less clear than they could have been, or where I could usefully expand on something. These comments seem to bear out my earlier observation that we each understand the world through our personal perceptual lens, shaped by our own interests and past experiences, and to support the truism that the meaning of a communication is in the mind of the receiver.
The commenters focused on different aspects of what I had said, sometimes inferring meaning different from what I had intended. They raised additional questions about the ideas themselves, and expressed varying levels of agreement and disagreement with me. In this post I’ll attempt to respond to those comments, hopefully clarifying my position as well as acknowledging some of the areas of disagreement that I see.
Adam Cole interprets my vignette about six year olds in elementary school being trained to suppress self-awareness as a criticism of elementary school teachers. It was not meant as that at all, but rather as one fairly clear-cut example of the larger process of social conditioning that deadens and restricts our autonomy as human beings.
I agree with Adam that many teachers do the best that they can in the circumstances in which they find themselves. They are also victims of the cultural conditioning they are helping to perpetuate in their charges. That conditioning seems to be a pathology of contemporary civilization, and the source of many of the problems and limitations that we as Feldenkrais practitioners seek to ameliorate in our clients.
In The Continuum Concept, Jean Liedloff analyzes this pathology in greater depth, comparing contemporary society with a culture with a different orientation much more congruent with our basic biological nature. That culture is in a contemporary hunter-gatherer society. It’s hard to see how we might move back to that in our urban industrial society, but it nonetheless provides a useful lens through which to examine ourselves.
Source and Authority
Moti Nativ questions my discussion of source and authority, He objects to my assertion that some trainings to rely too much on Moshe as the authority for what they teach. He suggests instead that Moshe has no authority in current trainings 25 years after his death, and that authority in those trainings is in the hands of the Educational Directors, Trainers, and others who run them.
I believe that both our statements are true, but that we each use somewhat different meanings of the term authority. I’m not using “authority” to mean “the ability to direct or give orders,” but rather “as the basis for accepting something as valid or true” in the sense that science provides authority for scientific knowledge and religious texts provide authority for religious beliefs.
The distinction I make between source and authority draws on parallels with my experience as a mathematician. Mathematics has its giants, as do all fields of human endeavor — men like Euler, Bernoulli, and Newton, whose contributions were as fundamental and revolutionary as Moshe’s. Mathematicians revere and honor these giants for those contributions, as we in the Feldenkrais community revere and honor Moshe for his. But mathematicians see them as the source of their contributions, but not the authority for the validity of those contributions. That rests on the inherent truth of those discoveries, independently validated. No mathematician would accept something as true just because one of the giants said it.
The same should be true for us as Feldenkrais practitioners. Ideas that Moshe taught are important because they are true, not because he taught them. Citing him as the source of those ideas honors him, but using him as an authority — asserting that something is true because Moshe said it — does not. My point in my previous post was that I believe this occurs in our community to an extent that makes me uncomfortable, and that it interferes with the development of autonomy in practitioners. I recognize that not everyone agrees with this assessment, but I also know there are others who share this concern.
There are additional parallels, and differences, between mathematics and Feldenkrais that are worth exploring, involving issues around the role of autonomy and articulating and validating the knowledge used by each. These are beyond the scope of this posting, but I do plan to explore them further in the future.
Moti was addressing a different aspect of authority — the authority to decide what is taught in a training, and how. He coupled that is the issue of responsibility — more particularly, with the responsibility of the trainers to the students. Those are also important issues, but I see them as somewhat different from what I was addressing.
George Krutz suggests that what I think of as Moshe being presented as authority in trainings may be more of a case of borrowed authority on the part of some trainers. He also observes that time limitations do not allow trainings to do justice to Moshe’s thinking and practice. I agree with both points.
The bulk of George’s comment, though, is an exploration of the idea of submission in acts of learning and teacher-student relationships. He describes this as a universal characteristic of learning relationships, but seems to focus primarily on intense apprenticeships such as might be found in traditional martial arts or spiritual apprenticeships. George cites Eugen Herrigal’s Zen in the Art of Archery as one example, while the boyhood apprenticeship of the character Kwai Chang Caine in the 1970s Kung Fu TV series occurs to me as another.
George’s point about the value of some deep form of submission in these apprenticeships is an important one, but the generalization of the idea to all learning relationships feels to me like a bit of a stretch. Learning does require openness to the material being explored, but in some circumstances it may be better served by a critical questioning that few would characterize as “submissive,”
While I recognize the potential value of submissive apprenticeship, my personal path has not included this form of learning. My most intensive and perhaps deepest learning experience was a 30 year exploration into the nature of physical interaction with a single primary partner, that grew out of and extended my Aikido experience. We would take turns putting each other in stressful and painful situations, then finding ways of dissolving the stress and becoming free by refocusing our experience of the situation into something different. With no teacher to guide us, to show us a “right” way to do this, we found that there was no single “right” way. In challenging situations, many different solutions are possible. What you experience depends on how you bring the situation into focus as much as it does on the situation itself. A simple example of this form of practice is described in the following video, which I discuss in my post on Composing Different Experiences. . .
This form of practice played a central role in the development of my worldview and way of knowing, which play a significant role the positions I take now with respect to understanding the Feldenkrais Method.
Motives and intentions
Russ Hall seems less interested in the content of my post than in my motivations and intentions in writing it. He says he also sees autonomy as an important aspect of Moshe’s teaching which is well articulated in his writings. He then asks why I did not reference those writings in what I wrote, but focused instead on my perception of a widespread lack of appreciation of them.
Frankly, it just hadn’t occurred to me to quote Moshe as I wrote, but I didn’t think about why until Russ asked. There are two reasons, I think. First, my intent was to articulate the role that autonomy plays in my understanding of the Method, and in the wider practice of the Method by others. It was not to document Moshe’s views on the subject, nor to convince anyone that my perception was “correct.” I accept that differing opinions on subjects like this exist and have no need to convince anyone that I’m right and they’re wrong. I make my ideas available for those who find them useful, and am content to leave it at that.
Beyond that, as I reflected on this question, I realized that my understanding of Moshe’s ideas rests primarily on my experience of his live personal teaching. His writings, for me at least, are important but definitely secondary sources. They can be tricky to understand and must sometimes be interpreted, not just taken literally. And as the Chinese sage Chuang Tzu puts it, we should not confuse “the footprints with the man who made them.”
Russ objects that some of my observations about the ways the Method is currently taught are “a bit vague” and lacking in particulars. He is correct in that. I do cite one example in my response to Moti which follows this one, but as I said earlier, I’m not interested in documenting or arguing the merits of specific cases. I’m reporting my opinions, based on discussions with other practitioners about how they were trained and other observations.
Russ ends his post with the observation that:
I get the sense that you have some specific perceptions of your own; and disagreements not just with ’some trainings’ or with his language in some ATMs but with Moshe’s Method itself. As you know, I am not convinced that ‘there is no method’. I would be interested in knowing how instructive and central [or not] you find his remarks on pages 33-39 in Awareness Through Movement.
As Russ observes, I do have specific perceptions of my own, and disagreements with some of the ways in which the Method is currently taught and practiced. I have no disagreements with “Moshe’s Method itself,” though I interpret it in my own terms –that’s what I’m writing about. I’m quite comfortable with the existence of multiple perspectives on the Method. I have no desire to argue with anyone who sees it differently than I do, and no need to convince anyone that I am right. But I’ve found that many people find my insights useful, so I do intend to continue writing about them.
I’m now in southern Utah, hundreds of miles from my bookshelves, Russ, so I can’t check the passages in Awareness Through Movement that you cite. I will look at them when I get home.
Is there a Method, or not?
Russ states with some implied emphasis that “I am not convinced that ‘there is no method’.” Moti raises a related question about “people that say that there is no method and no principles” in a comment he posted today. Before responding, I want to include some additional context.
I and all the commenters so far are also subscribers to an internet mailing list called Feldyforum that serves as forum for discussions among practitioners, where issues like these are frequently discussed. One point of view sometimes expressed there is that Moshe was not teaching a “Method” to create change so much as a way of being, and of connecting with clients and students, that supports change and allows it to happen. Others object strenuously to this point of view, arguing that “of course Moshe had a Method. He was methodical in everything he did,” and that it is the responsibility of the practitioner community to practice and perpetuate that Method.
We need to distinguish between two different aspects to this argument. The first has to do with the meaning of the term “method.” My dictionary lists several meanings, the primary one being “a particular form of procedure for accomplishing or approaching something, esp. a systematic or established one.” The anti-method argument, as I would support it, at least, is that the term “method” implies a set of fixed procedures and protocols, a recognizable series of steps that a practitioner will go through to address a client’s problem. It sees what Moshe did, and taught, as something else — something involving sensitivity, intuition, and being and acting in the present rather than by applying previously learned techniques and procedures.
Some of those who object to that line of reasoning do so on the ground that that definition is too narrow and that the term “method” is applicable to what Moshe did and taught. I think there are also some who would accept that narrow definition of “method” and still argue that it applies — that what Moshe practiced and taught could be reduced to a set of techniques, procedures, and principles that can be taught, applied, and perpetuated as “the Feldenkrais Method.” I sympathize with the argument that what Moshe taught was not a “method” in the narrow sense, but I find the term acceptable even if not preferable given how long it’s been in use. If we were looking for a term now, I think saying that we all work in the “Feldenkrais Tradition” might be more accurate.
There’s a lot more to be said about this, but it really goes well beyond the issue of autonomy. It’s one of the things on my list to explore in a future post.
Moti brings up the idea, from the martial arts, of preserving the tradition and passing it on to the the next generation, and asks how that ties into the ways that trainings rely on Moshe as authority for what they teach. As I see this, what matters in passing on the tradition is the passing on of the skills involved, and of respect for the elders who developed those skills. The validity of the skills being taught, however, rests on the effectiveness of those skills in the current generation of teachers and students. In the martial arts, this effectiveness is relatively easy to measure — a techniques works or it doesn’t. If the players can enact it autonomously and effectively, then it works, and there’s no need, or reason, to appeal to the genius of its originator in teaching the technique.
In teaching Feldenkrais, though, the same kind of clear validation isn’t readily available, and here’s where appeal to Moshe as authority for what is being taught can come into play. One example concerns the idea of working initially with the good side. This was something that Moshe recommended, and it is often an effective way to start a lesson. When it is effective, though, that’s because it works in that particular situation, not because Moshe says to always do it. I have talked with practitioners who were taught to always start on the good side, because Moshe did it that way. Under the authority of “this is how Moshe did it,” they were taught to blindly follow a rule without any judgement about whether or not that rule is applicable to this situation. They were taught, in effect, to submerge their own autonomy as a competent practitioner to an external authority structure which was attributed to Moshe.
I don’t think this was what Moshe really wanted to teach. I don’t know how prevalent this is. I haven’t made detailed studies, and I haven’t been involved in the basic training process in quite a few years. But I do know, from what I see and hear about how practitioners are trained, that it does happen, and it happens often enough that I think it should be a concern to all of us. Again, I know others will disagree, and that’s life.