Making Yourself Solid

This entry is part 4 of 11 in the series Refocusing.

In this post, I’ll talk about why I find Refocusing to be a valuable experience. I’ll also share a video exploring how we make ourselves solid in preparation for interaction with another person, and what can happen when we inhibit that solidity.

A colleague at the Rand Corporation once remarked about a paper he was working on that “When I get this written, I’ll know what I really think about this stuff.” I thought that was a profound observation at the time, but I’m really appreciating it now. Bob and I evolved a rich intuitive familiarity with the experiential territory we were exploring, with no need to articulate it in any formalized way. But to share it, as I’m now attempting to do, requires a semantic framework. I have to clean it up and regularize it, at least somewhat, but I don’t want to clean it up too much. I’m using raw video from our practice sessions rather than a more polished presentation of the same ideas because I want to convey the chaotic and irregular adventure that it was for us. I want to encourage you to wander along similar paths of discovery, rather than just to show you what we discovered.

I’m looking for ways to tell this story, both describing the experience itself — the back and forth experience of creating and dissolving constraints — and articulating the broader implications of that experience for understanding our interactions with the world around us. If I was publishing this as a book, you wouldn’t see it until it was done — until I had figured out, as my Rand colleague put it, “what I really think about this stuff,” and decided on the semantic framework through which to present it.

Writing it as a blog, though, I’m making those decisions as I go along. I know that I can convey these ideas and experiences in hands-on person-to-person live teaching, but I don’t know yet if I can do it in written form. You get to look over my shoulder as I try, and see the trials and errors I make along the way, the cul-de-sacs I wander into and have to back out of, the ideas I discard, etc. I need your feedback to know whether or not I’m on the right track, so please don’t hesitate to let me know what makes sense for you and what doesn’t.

Why care about Refocusing?

You might ask yourself “Why should I care about this stuff, anyway? Why is this a worthwhile way to spend my time?” Those are questions I can’t really answer for you; you have to answer them for yourself. I can, though, give you the answers I’ve found for myself, and let you consider whether or not they make sense for you. I find my Refocusing experience valuable for at least four reasons.

1) Refocusing is fun.

Emerging from the experience of limitation, effort, and even pain, into an experience of openness, freedom, and flow, creates a wonderful sense of elation, empowerment and joy. You can see this, I think, in the Refocusing videos, at those points when the Mover “gets it.” And notice that this is true for the Holder as well as the Mover. This was not the only motive that kept Bob and me engaged in this practice for 30 years, but it was certainly the icing on the cake.

2) Refocusing gave me a new sense of how the world works.

As a young man, I bought into the conventional scientific worldview — a mechanistic view of a material reality governed by physical and chemical laws, where consciousness was nothing more than an epiphenomenon of electrical and chemical activity in the brain. I never felt completely comfortable with that worldview, though, and had begun to seriously question it by the time that Bob and I discovered Refocusing. Once we did, Refocusing provided me with a continuing flow of new evidence and experience to feed my newly evolving worldview, which was moving in the direction of seeing the universe as consciousness exploring itself. 

3) Refocusing changed my attitude toward life.

As my understanding of how the world works changed, so did my experience of my place in the world and my ways of responding to life. I became easier-going and less contentious, more able to relate to life as a series of lessons from which I could choose to learn, or not. The way I chose to engage with my experience became more important to me over time. Whether or not I acquired the “material goodies” it offered became less important.

4) Refocusing makes me a better Feldenkrais practitioner.

As a Feldenkrais practitioner I engage and communicate with clients on many levels, with touch as a major modality of communication. Refocusing has enhanced the sensitivity my engagement on all levels, but it has particularly enhanced the quality of my touch communication, through what it has taught me about the underlying nature of physical contact with others.

Making yourself solid

We generally experience ourselves as solid beings, living in a material world populated by other solid beings and objects that interact according to our understanding of the laws of physics. This next video explores the possibility that the solidity we usually experience may not be the inherent characteristic of reality that we usually believe it to be. Instead, it may be an artifact of the ways we habitually prepare to interact with other solid beings or objects.

Watch this video with a soft focus. Allow yourself to tune in to and resonate with the experience that Bob and I are engaging in, rather than focusing on details and trying to “figure out” what we are doing. Explore with a friend and see if you can duplicate our experience, switching back and forth between the roles of Holder and of Mover. Keep it a controlled exploration and don’t make it into a contest. The Holder’s role is to provide a consistent environment, within which the Mover can explore limitation and restraint, looking for subtle ways to alter her experience. Don’t force anything, and allow yourself to be surprised when unexpected things happen. And please leave me comments about how this works for you — or doesn’t.

This link will open the video in a separate window, so you can have the video and this discussion on your screen at the same time if you want to. If your browser is set to tabbed browsing, you can move that tab to a separate window by dragging it to the desktop.

As the video begins, Bob and I are exploring what happens when I grab Bob’s wrist. Bob’s initial response is to register my grab as a threat, and to stiffen defensively and anchor himself in place. This stiffening gives me a solid wrist to grab, and also provides him with a solid base from which to resist my grab. These factors all come together to produce the conventional outcome in which we end up each applying pressure against the other.

Bob’s initial anchoring is quick and habitual — so quick that it can easily go unnoticed. But it is a critical part of the cascade. Take a moment and experience this anchoring for yourself. Bring your hand and arm up in front of you. Imagine that it’s just floating there by itself, that you don’t need to do anything to hold it in place. Notice what that feels like. Then shift your intention to reaching out to touch something, perhaps to pick something up. Go back and forth, between the intention of allowing your hand to float and the intention to reach out and touch something.

Notice the slight sense of stiffening your arm and anchoring your torso that occurs when you intend to reach, and the softening and relaxation that occurs when you shift back to floating. It’s subtle, but profound. That stiffening and anchoring is a central component in your experience of yourself as a solid being. (If you played with the earlier Being Moved by a Ball video, you may have noticed this shift as you shifted between moving the ball and letting the ball move you.)

When Bob attends to and inhibits this anchoring, everything changes. He no longer presents a solid wrist, so I can no longer grab him. My grab no longer represents a threat, so he has no need to push back against me. Having nothing to grab I stop trying, because it feels pointless to continue.

We change roles, and I become the Mover. Bob gives me opportunities to explore my own anchoring by holding my arms, applying a full nelson, etc. The results are similar. If I don’t anchor myself in place, Bob can’t restrict or constrain my movement. I feel unencumbered, while he finds me essentially untouchable. The storyline we’re exploring here sees physical interaction as possible only if we each participate, by providing an anchor against which the other can apply pressure.

As we explore, the language we use to describe our experience changes. We shift from talking about anchoring to talking about making yourself solid. It’s the same basic theme; described from a slightly different perspective. Our storyline now sees us as fundamentally fluid beings, who must solidify ourselves in order to interact physically with each other. We usually do this automatically and unconsciously; this is what allows us to experience ourselves as solid. But we are not solid. Becoming solid is something we do, albeit unconsciously. It is not our natural state.

At about 2 minutes into the video, we turn our attention to the process of acting — the cascade of events through which intention becomes manifest as overt action. We now see this cascade as involving two stages, selection and activation. I first select the next action I will take. I then put in energy into activating that selection, making it actually happen. If I inhibit the activation of making myself solid, I can apply that activation to my next action, of moving my arm, or whatever, and that will happen. This process of identifying and then activating previously unnoticed action-paths is one that recurs frequently in Refocusing.

At 3.5 minutes into the video, we shift the storyline again. We’re still working with the basic theme of making solid, but now experiencing that the way we make solid is by taking in. To get a sense of this, inhale deeply, then use the inhalation to stiffen your chest in preparation for exertion — for lifting a heavy weight, perhaps, or pushing against something. This is the experience we’re working with now, at a lower and subtler level.

Please leave comments on how your experienced this video and my description of it. Were you able to follow what was going on? Did my commentary help, or get in the way? If you found the whole thing unintelligible, please let me know that.

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4 thoughts on “Making Yourself Solid”

  1. Ralph, I need some help here:
    Is ‘making solid’ different from ‘offering resistance’?

  2. “Making solid” relates to my internal experience of myself, while “resistance” relates to my experience of interaction with an external object. If I push against you, I feel resistance, or I may resist your pressure on me. In order to feel that resistance, I must experience myself as solid. The “making solid” we’re talking about in the video is the subjective transition from experiencing myself as fluid, which will not let me experience pressure or resistance, to experiencing myself as a solid, which will. This stuff is difficult to deal with logically, but can make sense in the experiential spaces I’m hoping to evoke.

    If you’re read Castaneda, the non-solid state is the one that I think don Genaro was talking about when he described meeting the “phantoms” on his Journey to Xtlan.

    Let me know if this doesn’t help, and I’ll try to say more.


  3. Ralph, now I am really getting interested in this idea of Refocusing, in my own everyday reactions, but more importantly as a practitioner.
    This exercise was particularly helpful in FI:
    “Bring your hand and arm up in front of you. Imagine that it’s just floating there by itself, that you don’t need to do anything to hold it in place. Notice what that feels like. Then shift your intention to reaching out to touch something, perhaps to pick something up ( a wrist!). Go back and forth, between the intention of allowing your hand to float and the intention to reach out and touch something.
    Eager to learn and experience more!

  4. I’m glad you’re finding this useful, Chrish. These ideas have played a central role my intellectual and somatic development for more than 40 years, at this point, and they give me a rich intuitive lens though which to understand the world and what it means to be human. But I’ve had a hard time finding ways of coherently communicating that understanding to others. My first attempt was The Reality Illusion, which I was pretty happy with, and this blog was another. I was less happy with how well it was communicating, though, and let it trail off a couple of years ago. I’m working on a different way of articulating the ideas now, linked more directly with the Feldenkrais Method and some of Moshe’s central principles, which I hope will make it more accessible and useful to the Feldenkrais community.

    Thanks for your interest.

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