Paradigm for a New Millennium
Practitioner Spotlight with Ralph Strauch
The Information Age seems to have devolved into the Miss-information Age as we are inundated with transmissions, opinions and perceptions paraded as truth. Sometimes our perceptions are fixed by previous experiences that are completely individual, yet form the lens that we view our reality through. How do we sort it all out? The thinking of Moshe Feldenkrais offers a dramatically different paradigm from which to respond.
In this practitioner spotlight, I spoke with Ralph Strauch, a practitioner who has practiced full time since 1983. His academic training was as a theoretical mathematician specializing in probability theory, with a Ph.D. in statistics. He is also author of The Reality Illusion: How you make the world you experience, and the recently released DVD entitled, Living In Gravity: that can help you recover your natural balance.
SA: What was the initial draw that made you interested in the work of Moshe Feldenkrais?
RS: I attended a weekend workshop that Moshe gave in Los Angeles in 1980. I had been exploring movement and body-mind interaction for some time, and was enthralled by his tools for exploring those issues. I went to most of the five day intensive he gave following the weekend, and learned there about the upcoming Amherst training.
When I thought about the training, the standard objections came up. I was in my mid-forties with a mortgage and two teenage kids, and couldn’t run off and do something like that. I applied, thinking they would probably be full and wouldn’t accept me, but then it would be their fault I didn’t go rather than mine. They accepted me, and I went. When I entered the training, I had no interest in becoming a practitioner. My interest was more in picking Moshe’s brain and understanding how he saw the world.
SA: What were you looking for?
RS: Basically, I went to explore my own layers. He seemed to have interesting tools for doing that. Then, as I got into the training, I also got a deeper sense of what he was about than I had had going in.
SA: Was there a shift in your world view?
RS: I had made most [of] that shift already. It was a shift from thinking that the world is how it seems and that the limitations you come up against are inherent in who you are and how the world is.
SA: As opposed to the common tendency to point the finger to blame someone else?
RS: Yes, going from that to a realization that you are really much more responsible for your experience than you’d thought. It was a sense that by inquiring much more deeply into HOW you assemble that experience, you can increase your capability and open yourself to new possibilities that you DIDN’T KNOW WERE THERE.
SA: Any examples from your own life?
RS: Well, certainly in the area of my own physical capabilities. It also affected the sense of responsibility I bear for my own health and well being.
SA: When contemplating something as dramatic as the changes in direction your life took around the time you met Moshe, and before that, some might call it a mid-life crisis; others might call it a ‘coming to your senses.’
RS: It’s both. But again, for me, it was a process I had been engaged in for several years already. For me, it’s hard to find big jumps. The changes seem to accumulate in little bits.
One instance that comes to mind was in the second year of the Amherst Training. We were doing some ATM where there was obvious torque on the rib cage and Moshe said something about noticing how the sternum (breast bone) is moving. The thought that immediately came to mind was, ‘What is he talking about? Sternums don’t move. I’m forty-four years old and my sternum has never moved.’ Then, while I was pondering that contradiction, I became aware of the fact that my sternum was moving. There was another level of understanding in terms of what I learned from that. What seemed to be fixed and rigid structural constraints aren’t. That sort of change, once you’ve institutionalized it in yourself, opens up all sorts of possibilities.
SA: What were your impressions of Moshe?
RS: He was a very complex personality. I didn’t find him particularly likable. He could be a really egotistical and crotchety old man at times. But I took what I wanted from him. I never developed the closeness with him that some people did.
SA: Could you talk more about how Moshe worked with people in ways that really caught your attention?
RS: There was an American concert flutist who had been shot in the arm during a terrorist attack on a bus in Israel who visited the Amherst training at one point. It’s hard to play a flute with one hand, and, after the attack, he felt like his career was over. He then worked with both Moshe and one of his assistants, Yochanan Rywerant, and recovered significantly. He still didn’t feel comfortable on the concert stage, but was again willing to get up there. Moshe made him tell us the whole detailed story.
My initial impression was that Moshe was showing off—making him tell us how much Moshe had done for him. Later I heard that it was Moshe’s plan to make him tell the story over and over until he got bored with it. At that point, it would lose its hold on him.
SA: So, Moshe had him tell the story over and over again until he was sick of it?
RS: It wasn’t so much a matter of getting sick of it, as of getting done with it.
SA: What’s the difference?
RS: The difference between getting sick of it versus getting done with it is that you can get sick of it in a way that it still holds emotional hooks in you. When you’re done with it, it doesn’t have those hooks anymore.
SA: Just to clarify the difference even more, you mean to say that when the hooks are no longer present, the person can hear the story, speak about it or be reminded of it without having an emotional reaction?
RS: Yes. You can deal with what’s happening now instead of what happened ten or fifteen years ago…What the Feldenkrais Method basically does, both Functional Integration (FI) and ATM, is to put you more in touch with what’s happening now in your immediate, current experience. As you get more in touch with your immediate experience, then it becomes easier to see what your options are, and what the choices are, and where they will lead.
SA: We all have so many reasons why things are not going as we would like, such as the economy, or the job market or the stock market or the war. Is there a way to have your own internal experience that’s independent of what’s going on in your environment?
RS: People really only get upset about one thing: that the world isn’t behaving the way they want it to. Then they get angry or resentful about it. That’s what creates the limitations.
SA: Are you saying that the inability to live with what is right now is part of what creates the limitations?
RS: That, I think, is the main thing that limits us, because then we fight against something that isn’t there. A lot of the rigidity and pain comes from being afraid, from trying to keep things out.
SA: People become rigid in the attempt to protect themselves?
RS: It isn’t self-protection so much as the illusion of self-protection.
For example, I was working with a woman who was a German Jew whose family had gotten out during the war in 1939. Eventually, she moved here. However, she still had a lot of memories that had hooks for her from the days in Germany. She talked about going to school with the other neighborhood kids, to walking to school on the opposite side of the street from them, to walking down the street while they taunted her, to not being able to go to school anymore - that kind of progression. That kind of trauma can often carry with it a kind of a poster frame, a visual image. For her, she described it as an image of “holstered pistols and black leather boots.” She remembered hanging on to her mother’s skirts as her mother was being questioned by two gestapo officers about where her father was, looking straight into those holstered pistols and black leather boots.
At a psychological level, that left her with a strong aversion to uniformed governmental authority. At a somatic level, it left her with a lot of tension patterns in her body that ‘embodied’ that aversion. As we worked in FI, it was around a knee and a balance issue and relaxing around what came up. She didn’t have any sudden cathartic release, but one day she arrived for her session a bit late just grinning from ear to ear, looking very happy. And I said, ‘What are you so happy about?’ ‘I got a ticket!’ she replied. Then I said, ‘Most people are not that happy when they get a ticket.’ And she said, ‘I joked with the motorcycle cop.’
Here was this embodiment of her demon with the high leather boots and the pistol by his side, and that demon had lost his hold over her. The emotional loading was gone. It isn’t the past that is the problem, but how you organize yourself around it.
SA: She was free of it.
RS: The core of what Moshe’s teaching has to offer is SELF-empowerment. Learning to be driven by your own sense of what’s right rather than by any external authority.
SA: It’s not about embracing the ideals of a guru.
RS: No, it’s not about doing something in a particular way because that’s how he said to do it. It’s about finding your own way to do it, because through your own explorations you’ve discovered that that’s the way that makes sense. And what you get from Moshe is help in that exploratory process, not the answers at the end.