What Would Moshe Do? The Limits of Certainty
Monday, October 18, 2010
by: Gabrielle Pullen, GCFP

Section: Art of Living

In this month’s spotlight on those who trained directly with Moshe Feldenkrais, I spoke with Russell Delman, whose interest in body/mind perspectives and human potential began in 1969 by pursuing a course of study including psychology, yoga and Zen. Now a trainer, he has taught more than forty professional training programs internationally.

systemic vs. linear thinking - the limitations of certainty - unified consciousness - how the concrete provides insight into the abstract

S: Take me back to your initial encounters with Moshe, what was it about meeting him that really made an impact in your psyche?

D: He really made me question almost everything – that was the primary influence. And a second thing grew out of that questioning: we were his first committed Western audience that was going to be with him for a number of years, and he was committed to teaching us how to think. We were sloppy in our thinking. We were these hippies from the mid-seventies and we were not well-developed thinkers. He was really rigorous in getting us to question ‘cause and effect thinking,’ linear thinking. He actually nicknamed someone in that training ‘Mr. Cause-and-Effect,’ because he always asked things like, ‘If a knee has this problem, do you do that or this?’ But Moshe was adamant in getting us to think systemically, and systematically, in whole patterns. His rigor with that was profound. I can remember him just laying into me for asking about the relationship between reflexive movement and conscious movement. His response was, ‘Well, do you know what a reflex is? What’s the difference between a reflex and an instinct? Have you really thought about this from many points of view? I think you’re just asking me this off the top of your head and I’m not interested.’ It would be like that. And I was well educated, had been to a good college, but my thinking was so linear, and he gave me many opportunities to take it deeper.

S: Did he teach using the Socratic Method? Was his tactic to ask a question in answer to question?

D: Sometimes. He kind of enjoyed putting people on the spot. He didn’t shy away from making a public spectacle, almost humiliating people, but he would also come back with a compliment, later.

My favorite story about him was when I was giving him two lessons a day in Tel Aviv after his first stroke while he was recovering and just starting to work. It was July of ‘82, I think. We’d spend the day together. I’d give him a Functional Integration® lesson in the morning, and at night, and I’d watch him give the one lesson he did each day with this young girl who had a clot on her brain.

At that time, Israel was sending airplanes to bomb Lebanon. We could hear them flying overhead, and every hour he, his nurse, and his brother, Baruch, would each put on their radio listening to three different reports. I remember saying to Moshe – I was a hippie, putting up a peace sign almost - “When will human beings stop killing each other?” He looked at me, playfully, and said, “Russell, you’re so stupid. Would you take fever away from the organism?”

“What? No, that’s part of healing!” I answered.

“Is it possible that these little skirmishes are needed so that we don’t blow up the planet? Did you know that historically war has served to bring rights to different populations, and to spread genes around the planet? And, have you thought about how it generates a form of population control?”

He went on and on with six or seven different ways of looking at it.

S: You mean he was construing war as a sort of global inflammation?

D: Yes! But, it was more about how I came to a conclusion, a sense of certainty very quickly: war is bad; peace is good, and stop thinking about it.

S: Cause and effect, black, and white.

D: I remember walking home, being dumbfounded with the realization that I really don’t think about things. I thought, “God, I was so sure I was right! How did I get lost in my certainty again?”

Then, in the next few days we would be at his place and the planes would be flying, the reports coming through on the radio and I said, “Moshe, isn’t it great that there’s a healing of the planet going on right now?”

He replied, “Russell, you’re so stupid. What could be worse than the killing of innocent women and children?” He wanted us to be able to tolerate paradox.

S: It sort of ties into the principle that what we resist persists, doesn’t it?

D: I got this first from him and also through my Zen training. It’s something I really try to convey to my students: the importance of being able to tolerate paradox, of getting big enough inside that there’s an ability to tolerate different points of view that look contradictory.    

S: This is a major issue for our times, isn’t it?

D: Yes, and one of the reasons it’s so hard for people is because it’s a bodily experience. It’s having enough breath and enough space to tolerate these kinds of opposites. For me, it’s what makes it possible for me to be with people of very different political views and really not get cramped inside. It’s an opening that allows me to want to understand how this alien point of view might be right also. Or, what is the true need and value that they’re standing up for? It’s not that they’re stupid and I’m smart. It’s that they’ve got a piece of the truth that I’m not valuing enough. It’s a kind of an inner width that I’m very grateful for.

S: What you’re describing would seem to be more than a way of thinking. It’s an embodied experience of how to hold differences simultaneously. It’s almost like a different way of being with paradox.

D: It is.

S: Are there other ways that Moshe affected, not just your thinking, but you’re way of experiencing the process we call living?

D: Well, one way is by example. I observed how present he was with people when he was working, this reminded me of a Zen Master. Also, he allowed his first students to learn by working on him. When on the table, he was a very generous client, always taking in what he could learn and not criticizing.

S: People assume there needs to be some sort of physical impairment to benefit from Functional Integration. You seem to emphasize the change in the person’s thinking and in their consciousness in addition to the physical change. Is there a larger dimension beyond fixing physical problems?

D: Yes, Moshe was really helping us change our ways of viewing life and of living in the world. We began to sense the possibility of living our dreams. I will forever be grateful for this. In addition, moving together, learning together, we began to realize that a significant facet of human consciousness is that human beings deeply influence each other in surprising ways.

It still happens in professional trainings today that often a trainer will give a single lesson in front of the group and big things will happen. Then the practitioners go back to their own private practice and things happen more incrementally.

If you look in the trainer’s private practice, things usually happen more gradually as well. But if you look at the environment of the training, the attention of fifty people looking adds a lot to the experience of the person on the table. And that field actually makes for a very powerful effect. Very often, you give a lesson in a Training and not just the person on the table, but everyone there is a witness to the difference, making it somehow more tangible, more real, a more, ‘Wow, look what happened!’ experience.

S: You mean, it’s like a field of consciousness that serves as if to amplify the experience for everyone present?

D: Yes, it is a powerful element. It’s certainly not the only thing going on, but it’s a factor that points to a unified field.

S: It’s a great illustration of the fallacy of cause-and-effect thinking. How, if we can have that great an effect on each other, can we hope to reduce experience to something linear when in fact so much is going on behind the scenes?

D: Think of it this way: What are the habits that you have that seem to create the same response over and over again? Do you have a habit of talking to your child in a certain kind of voice? One that may, in fact, beg a certain kind of response? Or, do you find you have a habit of recreating the same kind of relationship? That even after you break up with someone, you find someone else with similar traits? Do you find you have the same points of conflict with your spouse? What are the habits that you have that seem to create the same kind of response?

Look: here’s how you can make a leap from the physical experience of how habit can, at times, confine us to certain outcomes, into the realm of the more abstract kinds of habits, like how we relate to others, or how we affect each other in that unified field of consciousness, or how we could learn to think in new, more systemic ways. Tomorrow, when you wake up in the morning, just try putting on your pants with your non-dominant leg, or brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand. The stories I hear from people who try this are hilarious. It’s an opportunity to see how habit can constrain us to a certain course without our awareness.

S: What keeps you coming back to the Feldenkrais Method®, in spite of all the other things you’ve studied; yoga, Zen, meditation, and transpersonal psychology, among other things?

D: I love working with the place where the concrete experience of physical habit provides insight into other dimensions of how we live our lives. That’s where I find the work most interesting. It’s in using the moving experience to touch into the living situations, relationships, and work situations that I find the work the most fascinating. And, it’s entirely doable for most people.
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