What do the results of the U.S. presidential election mean to you?
If you find that the answer to that question is hard for you to put into words, let me offer you another option . . .
Today, November 9, 2016, I had a couple of opportunities to have meaningful discussions with good friends and colleagues who, like me, practice the Feldenkrais Method. Everyone had something to say about the headlines, of course, but very quickly we began to discuss something else: ourselves.
Who are we? Why do we do what we do? What are the contributions we want to make in our families, in our communities, in the world?
Feldenkrais practitioners work “with movement,” but that is a more of a description of how we do what we, not what we do. In fact, the movements we use are only a means to ask questions, in order to find answers that often lie way below the surface.
Among the colleagues I spoke with today, no two of us practice the Feldenkrais Method the same way. Even for those of us who had been together in the same training, no two of us learned the same things. In this sense, we realized we could say that each one of us actually had taken a different training.
Because a Feldenkrais training, above all, teaches you to listen deep inside yourself to understand better who you are and it offers you the opportunity to become more of who you wish to be. Your ability to make meaningful shifts in your life depends on your willingness to ask yourself question after question, and learn to stop arguing with the truth when you something inside that you speaks loud and clear.
But there was one thing we agreed that we had in common. Doing this work had transformed each one of our lives, and that is why we do it.
At the end of our discussion today, everyone involved expressed their gratitude for what had passed between us. Somehow we all felt a little lighter at the end. We all felt a little clearer about who we are, and what contributions each of us wants to make in our families, in our communities, and in the world.
I personally felt grateful for the way our conversation showed us the ways that each one of us is unique and also the ways that we are bonded together by what we have in common. Both things were celebrated.
I’m guessing that you too have spent today in conversation with important people in your life discussing the results of the U.S. election. And probably you also have an internal dialogue with yourself about this.
I wonder, where do your conversations go, once they move beyond the familiar names, faces, words and phrases that now dominate the headlines? Did you also begin to ask questions about yourself? What you do? Why you do it? The role you play in your family, in your community, in the world?
I have some other questions for you. These are questions I also ask myself, but I won’t make this about me . . .
Are you satisfied with your life?
Maybe that’s an easy “yes” or “no” answer . . . but how did you decide?
My guess is that you didn’t need to think about it. The answer was right there in your body. And maybe the answer wasn’t the same as a simple word or phrase. But probably that unique sensation that only you can feel is quite familiar to you.
What could you do if the feeling in your body, the one you connect with your overall idea of where you stand today after all your years on this planet, is not what you want to feel?
Maybe you would like to ask yourself a few more questions. And surely you will hear yourself forming answers in your mind with words, but please notice also what your body has to say . . .
What makes you unique? What is it that you do . . . or that you know . . . or that you observe . . . or that you discovered . . . or that you think . . . that others do not?
And how does that thing affect your relationships with the other people in your life . . . the people you love . . . the people you know . . . the people you put up with because you think you have to . . . the people who you form opinions about from a distance?
Do you feel that your uniqueness is a special thing that draws people towards you? Or does being unique in this way somehow “set you apart” from others?
What is it about you that you have in common with people around you? A common activity? A common origin? A common appearance? A common language? A common habit? A common worldview?
And when you identify yourself with other people in this way, what feeling does it bring you? Pride? Embarrassment? Clarity of purpose? Doubt? Strength? Weakness?
In short, what qualities in you makes you unique and different, and what qualities do you share with others?
And, most importantly – what judgements do you make about this?
Is it OK to be different than everyone around you in some way?
(Perhaps that depends on what makes you different. If the difference is plain for everyone to see, you probably already know what other people think about it, and you have to be very clear in yourself about whether you will accept their judgements or whether you will define yourself on your own terms. But what if the difference is something that no one can see?)
Do you ever find yourself celebrating something inside of you that other people do not appreciate? Do you ever find others celebrating something about you which does not bring you joy? How does this affect which parts of yourself you show and which parts you hide?
Is it OK for you to be “the same” as others? When you see other people who are “like you”, how do you define that? When you see those common elements, does it make you feel “special” and feel good about yourself? Or does is make you feel “ordinary” and feel bad about yourself?
What are your hopes and dreams? Are they unique to you or are they common to everyone that you know?
And, does it matter?!
How important is it to you to be different? How important is it to be the same? Is one of those things more important to you than the other?
How do you feel when you see another person who is somehow “different” or the “same” as you?
These are questions without “right” answers, but if you are willing to ask them and listen inside for your body’s answer, you might learn something new about yourself. Perhaps you will even notice that some of the answers are to be found in particular places in your body.
Perhaps you could place one hand on that place and listen to your breathing as you look into the mirror of your life. Would you like to make a little more space for your breath in that place? Is there something you feel when you ask yourself these questions that suggests the need to make a shift in order to do that?
There are a lot of words in the air these days that have been repeated so many times that they begin to lose their meaning – unless we reclaim them for ourselves.
What does “America” mean to you?
Or “love”? Or “hate”? “Us” or “them”? “Same” or “different”? “Citizen” or “immigrant”? “Woman” or “man”? “United” or “divided”?
Do you feel the need to find the same meaning in these words as the people around you?
When you hear these words in conversation, how much are you willing to show of the parts of you that make you “different”? How much are you willing to show of the parts of you that make you the “same”?
And how does your willingness to show your true self or hide affect each unique fellow human being around you? Do you make more space for them or less?
In my experience, if I am totally honest, questioning myself this way is never easy. Often, the most truthful answer is “I don’t know”, but this doesn’t mean I get to stop asking the question.***
But I’ve discovered that the process becomes more meaningful and the answers that I find are more useful to me if I’m willing to listen beyond the words I find in my mind. Often I get closer to the truth if I acknowledge the feelings in my body – which are much less likely to lie to me.
I’ve also found that the more I listen to myself and get clear about what I really think and feel, the easier it becomes to be who I want to be, do what I want to do, and share what I want to share with the other people around me.
And it’s that last thing that I think is the most important right now.
How we relate to ourselves determines how we relate to everyone else around us. How we listen to ourselves determines how we listen to each other.
The U.S. election, just concluded, was not the same election for any two of us, but we all still share our humanity in common.
So here is my invitation to you: ask questions. Maybe the questions I’ve asked here are a useful place to begin, but surely you will discover many more.
Listen. Feel. And try to find the places inside where you might need to allow something new to move in order for you – and everyone around you – to breathe more freely.
Some questions are difficult, even to ask, let alone to answer. And sometimes listening requires you to remove yourself from the noise of your surrounding environment.
But sometimes we can’t go to a movement class or put down what we are doing for a moment of silent meditation. So in the end, in order to truly help us, the quiet practices we do on our own or with the people closest to us must also serve us in the louder hustle and bustle of our daily lives, among strangers as well as among friends.
How do we begin?
We begin with what’s comfortable, because that is the only place where we can be honest with ourselves.
But if we are willing to continually listen to the feelings in our body that accompany the words we hear and the words we speak, we also will not be able to ignore the places we discover that we are not comfortable.
Because usually these places are precisely the places inside that we have ignored for too long, the places where we have made ourselves blind by refusing to look at the parts we don’t want to see. Maybe we have become stuck in these places because we were afraid to ask ourselves the questions that might allow those parts of ourselves to move, and breathe again.
When we find those places, it’s a good moment to ask another question:
Am I more comfortable with truth I feel or the lie that I tell myself?
And there are no right answers, but maybe just asking the question will change the way you breathe. And that already will change how you relate to the world around you.
My Feldenkrais colleagues taught me one more important lesson today about how we become more of the people we want to be, do more of what we want to do, and give the world more of what we know that we each have inside of us to give . . .
Sometimes life seems to ask us almost impossible questions and at first we have no idea how to respond. Perhaps it makes sense that we sometimes have the instinct to hide. But there is something we can always do that makes it easier to show our face to each other.
We can stop worrying so much about whether we are the same or different. We can show each other our faces and look into each other’s eyes – no matter what it feels like – and we can begin to look for the answers together.
*** Thanks for reading – please see the comments for an important clarification by Allison Rapp on the process of asking questions . . . and please feel free to join the conversation! – SD