A book, a table, a leaf, and an old man
Thursday, November 19, 2015
by: Oliver Reimer, GCFP

Section: Vision

The book hit me in the crotch. I was rolling around on the floor with my foot toward the ceiling and the offending book, no longer balanced on the sole of my foot, slipped and fell. I hardly noticed the “ouch” because - as is the nature of pain - what I was engaged in doing overrode it. This process of trying to keep the book on my foot while rolling from my back to my stomach was just way too interesting to be distracted by mere pain.

At first I worked hard watching the book so I could see if it was balanced or if it was going to slide off my foot. I’d adjust my foot according to what I saw. But, as I rolled onto my stomach, I began to lose sight of the book and it would hit the floor. My reliance on vision began to be a handicap. I remembered a workshop in Toronto where David Webber said that we see with our whole body, not just with our eyes. Maybe I needed to “see” with the sole of my foot, with my proprioception. So I began to experiment with keeping my eyes unfocussed or closed.

The sole of my foot began to dominate my awareness and then as the book went out of sight there was only proprioception. I was also thinking about my tendency to tilt by foot toward the floor as I got over onto my stomach.
This kind of exploration fascinates me. I wonder if I could have done this at all before I began to study the Feldenkrais Method of somatic education. I suspect not.
I then sought to perceive more clearly the weight of the book by shifting toward my toes and my heel, from the outside and the inside borders of the sole of my foot. Was I cultivating at the same time in some way a finer quality of vision or other senses? What about the sense of the pressure on my body as I roll my ribs into floor and twist my spine, looking for a way to keep my foot flatter? What about the intensity of my desire to actually roll over and over still with a book balanced on my foot. It actually happens sometimes - I don’t know how. 
Balancing a book on your foot is a silly thing to be doing. Maybe the best thing that I’ve been learning from the Feldenkrais Method is to play. To do it as if it doesn't matter in the least how well I do it. 
What do I think and feel as I attempt this balancing act? I can follow some of the process. Sometimes it is “I’m going to do this, dammit!” Usually that coincides with the book hitting the deck. Sometimes it is just observing the sensation on the sole of my foot and the experiment of where in my spine, hips, ribs, and neck I can find a bit more bend-ability to keep my foot on the horizontal plane. It works better when I don’t care about the achievement and focus more on nuances of sensation as I move. 
What inspired me to write about these experiences began with what at first seemed like a purely visual experience. A day after a recent cataract surgery on my left eye I compared it with my untreated right eye. I was amazed and delighted with my new eye: astonished by the saturated colour and brightness. I realized with the cataract eye that I’d been looking through a brown smog. A day later, driving on unfamiliar roads at night with heavy traffic, I noticed how relaxed I was. I had not realized how much effort driving with poor vision required. I’d thought that getting new lenses was  like changing headlights or cleaning the windshield, but the cataract surgery did more than just change how well I could see. It began to change my idea of myself. I used to be an old codger who didn’t return your greeting  when you waved at me from across the street. Now I’ll wave back because I recognize you. I also notice a new confidence when in unfamiliar places. The changes have made me curious about other changes in my self-image, my idea of myself.
This Wednesday I was sitting on the floor in my front room, lost in thought. I was taking a break from the balancing act. After a time, I realized that my eyes had fixed themselves on a small geranium leaf. I’d brought the plant in for the winter and  placed it on a table in front of a window. From where I was sitting, it was back-lit . The leaf was the epitome of green - edges traced in exquisite detail with light. It was a wonder, a revelation - that finely contoured edge, that delicately contrasted perfectly drawn line. I was transported.
The plant sits on an old drop leaf table that was built by my father before he went off to be a soldier in WWII. Whenever I see the table, it evokes memories of him.  I was an infant when he left and when he returned he was a stranger invading the pleasant life I’d been enjoying  with my mother and my aunts. My Dad and I had a bad start. Even though I didn’t like him much then, I like remembering him now. How does that relate to visual perception?
There is the experience of sitting on the floor lost in thought and then realizing that my eyes, on their own, had fixated  on a particular leaf in the  space above my head, between me and the window, between me and the dull light of an overcast fall day. There was the sensation of my bum on the floor, my weight on my pelvis, and my arms angled out behind me. And then there’s me sitting in the shadow of the table my father made -- a kind of presence beside me. My head was  tilted up and my eyes, no longer mediated by glasses, saw a leaf as if for the first time. I again remembered what David Webber said about seeing with your whole body during his workshop. At the time, we were tossing juggling balls back and forth and I realized that I could close my eyes and still catch the ball most of the time. Balancing a book is like that.
Dr. Feldenkrais said to do it as if it doesn’t matter. My father would’ve disagreed. His table says work harder! Be a credit to your family! Amount to something! During my life, I’ve reluctantly worn that shadow. I think Freud said that you don’t become a man until your father dies. Pretty late in life I’ve cast off that cloak and started to play.
When you roll around on the floor doing absurd things, noticing nuances of sensation of ribs pressing into the floor, of spine rotating, of tiny sensations on the soles of your feet, of the difference between seeing with your eyes and seeing with your sense of touch, you can’t be anyone else than who you are. Just a thinking, sensing, emotion laden, thoughtful person. I don’t think there is any other process that could have liberated me or revealed me to myself in such a remarkable way other than the movement based exploration of the Feldenkrais Method.
I am an old man. There are many things I’ll never do again, but I increasingly find delight in the way I move. I love knowing that I can continue to improve in the way I move, the way I see, and the way I feel about myself. I take pleasure in what I learn as I see how my fellow human beings use their bodies to move through the world. I am happy continuing to explore and learn and find unexpected pleasure in the mundane: freedom in my pelvis, a perfectly shaped geranium leaf, pleasure in the moment, and confidence in my ability to keep growing.

Oliver Reimer, GCFP, studied general arts, Theology and Fine Arts in Canada; Chinese language, calligraphy, painting and taijiquan in Taiwan and China. He currently teaches Taiji and the Feldenkrais Method in Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Images of people balancing books on their feet taken by Celeste River.
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Comments (2)
Karen McFarlane
1/4/2016 7:20:42 PM
I like this Oliver,reading about your thoughts and observations and pleasure in the present.

Carolyn Andrich
12/1/2015 10:55:29 PM
Thanks Oliver. I enjoyed reading this! I'm trying to find a way of doing notation for lessons, and wish I could draw. Do you use drawings to make your notes for teaching ATM classes? I've just started teaching classes. Carolyn Andrich, greetings from Winnipeg!

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