“Become a whole new you! Transform yourself! You won’t believe the results. Your friends won’t even recognize you, you will be so changed.”
If I’m to believe the messages I get from advertising and other media, we should aim at total transformation in our lives. The culture suggests over and over that it is desirable to shake off the old self and become new. On TV, make-over shows demonstrate a fantasy of total self-obliteration.
For years, I swallowed this idea hook, line and sinker. I signed up for the workshops that promised compelling results. At a graduation from one of these I saw an anti-social crank turned into an affectionate hugger and thought, “That’s the class I want! I will be a whole new me!”
Before I signed up for Feldenkrais training, I asked recent graduates about their experience with the method (I learned what I should ask from Stumbling on Happiness, something I failed to do before grad school much to my detriment) and to a person, they all said something along the lines of, “It was the best thing I’ve ever done for myself.” What I didn’t hear, but made up anyway, was, “I was completely transformed. I’m a whole new person.” And here I am, 4 years later and I would agree that studying Feldenkrais was the best thing I could have done for myself. I would even concede that there has been transformation. But I am not a whole new me.
Here’s what Feldenkrais hasn’t done for me. I didn’t become the envy of all my friends. My hair is the same. I’m the same size. My eyes are still blue. I am not an overnight success in my career. I’m still struggling with money. I haven’t found myself at the center of a series of miracles. Feldenkrais is not wish-fulfillment. It is not The Secret.
But here is what it has done: My ankle, formerly wobbly and prone to spraining, is happy. My shoulder, on which I spent a big chunk of my student loans while in grad school, is now just my shoulder and not something I worry about. I have created boundaries in relationships that never had them before. Several jobs I have have become intolerable and some much more appealing. I wrote a novel (something I never thought I’d be able to do.) I learned how to do dozens of things I never knew how to do before. I put up with a lot less than I used to and that applies to people, to situations, to physical discomfort or crappy theatre. (I never used to leave at intermission. I do it often these days.)
And more than anything, I am more me.
While I am, in theory, very grateful to be more fully myself, I cannot deny that being fully myself has its drawbacks. I was a highly sensitive child. I would cry if you spoke at all sharply, even if it was to someone else. As I got older, I figured out ways to callous over my sensitivity. I got bolder and I learned to hide and pretend. But the cost was high. And it has been most evident in my body. I find that now that I am myself again, I must find a new way to deal with extreme sensitivity and anxieties. The whole new me is actually the old me. And it’s not any more socially acceptable to be this sensitive now than it was when I was 4 (though the sensitivity is hugely beneficial to my development as a Feldenkrais practitioner.)
The ends of most personal transformation seminars seem to end in similar ways, that is, with a great uniformity of personality and behavior. They often train people to be bright friendly sales-staff, glad-handing their way through life. As the Feldenkrais training drew to a close, I noticed that while the students’ physical variance in the exercises was more uniform, our personalities remained highly divergent.
Yesterday my teacher said, “We’re bonsai human beings.” That is, life prunes us and transforms our shapes according to the conditions that surround us. With Feldenkrais training, we don’t become different plants. We remain who we always were but we find the avenues for growth that fulfill our natural shapes. Sometimes that means growing away from the familiar and the old. And sometimes it means growing in just the way you started a long time ago.
Many years ago, I studied with Jean Houston, author of The Possible Human (among others) and a pillar of The Human Potential movement. She talked a lot about something called an entelechy: something in us that has always been there waiting to realized itself. It is the entelechy of an acorn to become an oak tree. An acorn will never be a water lily.
I think the Feldenkrais Method is an entelechy process. After four years of training, I still feel like an acorn but I know I am an acorn now, not a tulip bulb or a basil seed or tadpole. Understanding my own acorn-ness allows me to create the proper environment for continued growth and when I am an oak tree, I will still have that acorn in me. I won’t be a whole new me, just a more fully realized version of the old one.
Perhaps I will always be an acorn. And that would be alright. I have realized that I would rather be an acorn and be the full extent of that acorn than an acorn in disguise. (I just imagined an acorn dressed up in a tadpole costume and while it was awfully cute and funny. It would be exhausting to wear everyday.)
One of the benefits of the Method has been the ability to stop trying to make myself into something I am not. I am no longer trying to grow a tail out of an acorn. Instead I can focus on creating the right environment for the acorn to thrive. Rather than pushing myself to work hard to be someone else, I am now putting my efforts into nourishing the soil, understanding what is the right amount of light and watering the ground when it needs refreshment.
It’s a whole new way. Not a whole new me.
by Emily Davis, Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner