Filed under: Feldenkrais, Gender politics | Tags: blur, convergence insufficiency, Feldenkrais, seeing, vision
Recently, I was diagnosed by an eye doctor with convergence insufficiency. This means my eyes don’t work together the way they ought. I’ve been getting headaches and this eye thing may be the culprit. When I asked my eye doctor what I could do, he suggested I wear my glasses as little as possible.
My eyesight isn’t terrible so I can get around pretty easily without my glasses – it just makes things blurry. I can see most important shapes. I just don’t see details. I can see a face a few feet in front of me but at a distance, the facial expressions disappear.
It is oddly refreshing not to see everything. It has revealed something I hadn’t realized I was doing whenever I walked around WITH my glasses. There is a way that seeing everything meant that I felt somehow responsible for things. I would note the facial expressions of every stranger that walked by and would somehow feel like I had to have a reaction – not to them necessarily – just – maintain a constant awareness of how everyone around me was feeling at all times.
I suspect that this is my female socialization in action – as well as a response to being an HSP. I think, when I can see, I cannot stop reading a room. Any room. And sometimes that is a useful skill. It comes in handy in performance and in public speaking – but this sort of hyper-vigilance can get exhausting and I suspect creates a kind of timidity in moving through the world. When I can see everyone’s faces, I can not help but move in a way that responds to them. When I take my glasses off and the faces disappear, I’m suddenly able to ignore a whole bunch of information that I don’t actually need in the moment. It allows me to move according to where I want to move rather than where I’m perceiving the group might want me to move. It is instructive. I feel as though I’m training myself to care less and less what other people think and more and more about my own needs.
But of course, there are times when seeing every detail is necessary. The are times when hyper-vigilance is required but practicing both ways of seeing has provided me with an interesting awareness of the benefits of less awareness. As a practitioner of an awareness practice, I am keenly aware of the benefits of self awareness – something I thought extended to the awareness of the world around a self. But I see now that there is a way that decreasing awareness of the outside world can increase awareness of the inside and make proceeding through the world slightly easier at times. There are benefits on both sides.
I learned from the culture to be more attuned to what was happening outside of me, than in. I learned to anticipate others’ needs. I learned to scan a crowd for safety. I can sense danger from any side. After years of living in an urban environment, I know I can sense danger or crazy coming up behind me so I don’t actually need to SEE everything. So now I’m learning how to turn the volume down on that hyper-vigilance to tune in, instead of out.
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Filed under: art, business, education, Feldenkrais, theatre | Tags: Feldenkrais, John Wright, Messenger Theatre Company, theatre
The Feldenkrais Method first began to move me in a workshop for my art. I was studying maskwork and my teacher, the incomparable John Wright, did a lesson with us at the start of every day. The lessons were inspiring and my performance work in the class felt like the best I’d ever done. I have no doubt that my progress in the art was due to the lessons we did and the attitude they inspired.
The moment that epitomized the experience for me was when John saw me struggling and touched me on the knee, saying rather ruefully, “You work so hard.”
It was the very first time I had thought to reconsider the value of struggling so much. Shifting my relationship with “work”, in the exercise, shifted my relationship to the work I was attempting in performance and it transformed me.
Since starting my training in the Feldenkrais Method in 2009, I have seen my self-organization shift and change many times. I’ve been moved again and again by the way reducing the effort, doing less and paying attention can improve everything.
I have found it impossible to not take these principles into other aspects of my life. It has had an impact on my teaching, on my relationships and my art. Last year, I began to think about how to better incorporate these ideas into my corporation (I cannot help but notice that the root of those words is rooted in the body. Corporeality is everywhere.) I began to wonder how to organize my organization in the Feldenkrais way.
I run a small off-off Broadway non-profit theatre company – emphasis on SMALL and NON-profit. I started it in 2001 and it has always been a great deal of hard work for very little reward. I felt like I was banging my head against a wall and I could barely work up the energy to imagine doing another show. With all the discouragement that comes with this sort of thing, I was very near to throwing in the towel altogether when I began to approach making theatre as if it were a Feldenkrais lesson.
I’d been toying with ideas about this for a while, but it took an experience with another theatre company to clarify it for me. I took a workshop with one of my all time favorite companies. From the moment I saw their work – a decade ago – I wanted to do what they did, discover their secrets. I’d always thought I’d give up my own work in a second to be a part of theirs. The workshop was a window on their process and it was exhilarating, illuminating and inspiring, but I discovered something; I didn’t want to do what they did.
They were interested in really rubbing up against the hard stuff, facing the difficulties in the group and those within it. They seemed to want to look closely at the walls and sometimes run into them. While watching the group struggle, I realized I had no interest in running into walls or examining the difficulties anymore. I didn’t want to focus on the problems in a group (because, as Dr. Feldenkrais said, when we focus on a problem, we get a very good problem.) I wanted to focus on what was working. I wanted to focus on where we could go and on making more and more choices instead of reinforcing our compulsions.
It seemed to me that how we work with people can be just like how we work with ourselves, that focusing on the difficulties in a collaborative environment must inevitably lead to more difficulties. I left that workshop recommitted to my own work and with a kind of internal mandate to do things differently.
Here are some of the things we remind ourselves again and again: Reduce the Effort, Do Only what is Easy/Pleasurable, Go Slowly, Rest between Movements.
This is how they showed up my theatre/organizational practice. First, I noticed what I was already doing, where I was working too hard, where I was over-efforting. But I also noticed what was easy, what was pleasurable and I decided to make our next show using what I was learning in training. My first course of action was to find performers that I could develop this with. I thought about who was easy to work with, with whom I could feel myself and create at the highest level with pleasurable rapport. At the time, there was only one person who fit that bill, so I asked her to make something with me. We got together in a room and made lists of what we wanted in a piece and before too long, we had an idea that fed our curiosity. We then took our time putting it together. We went slowly, paying attention, unconcerned with the end result, not trying to ACHIEVE the thing, just discovering it.
I would like to pause here to say that this runs counter to almost everything we learn in theatre training. We’re taught to push, to go to our limits, to drive toward performance, to set our sights on the show and go full speed ahead. Most shows are created in bursts of intensity, a few weeks of daily rehearsal.
In contrast, we took ten months to make this show, resting when we needed to, taking time to absorb what we learned from rehearsal to rehearsal. It was the most pleasurable way of making work I have ever experienced.
Now that the show has been made, I am attempting to find ways to make the promotion of it as pleasurable as its creation. This raises a lot of questions for me. How do I imbue the drudgery of administrative tasks with the same ease and pleasure of making the art?
What I have discovered so far: I start with what’s easy. I notice what I am already doing and see if there’s a way to reduce the effort. If there is an overabundance of effort somewhere, I ask myself, “Is there a way to find a support?” Or perhaps do it just a little bit less? Or to adapt it so that I can manage it? And I am giving myself permission to go slowly, even under the gun of grant deadlines and fundraising goals. The business of making theatre has almost always been fast and furious and in slowing that process down, I have found many pleasures I had been missing in my push to drive it all forward.
I have also found myself willing and able to overcome many challenges that I had previously found insurmountable. The spirit of awareness and curiosity that the training cultivates in me has helped me do things as variable as designing marketing materials, learning new software, negotiating prices and talking with people who make me nervous. I am more and more comfortable with the things I previously thought of as stuff I couldn’t do. The differences in the process of learning how to stand my hand over my head and how to organize a tour aren’t all that different really.
In this last year of my training program, I have noticed myself thinking I should be farther along, that I should have more of the answers by now. I wonder often how I could possibly graduate in four months when there’s still so much to learn. But, when I take the time to step back and think about it, what is at the heart of the method is learning how to learn and that’s somewhere to start and a way to go forward. The process of learning will likely continue to sink in and infuse everything I do.
Finishing the training will be a beginning and a continuation, I think. It will mean following the spirit of curiosity and inquiry that is inherent in the Method, everywhere it leads, starting in the body, into the art and into the organization of my organization and beyond.
* This article was published in the Spring 2013 issue of SenseAbility
** For more information about my Feldenkrais practice, see my Website: Feldenkrais Arts
Filed under: art, education, Feldenkrais, theatre | Tags: arts in education, Feldenkrais, Strengths movement
I’ve just come from another Arts in Education meeting for yet another Arts in Ed organization for whom I work as a teaching artist. It wasn’t a particularly bad one as these sorts of things go. It was, on the spectrum, one of the better ones. However, I fought nausea throughout it and came home with a kind of pent up anger and anxiety that has little to do with what this particular organization/project was about and more to do with how Arts in Education works in general.
I just watched a group of well meaning people get further and further away from art just now. Myself included. We’re artists. We got into this because we’re artists and we like to teach what we do. However – it feels to me that the more we talk about goals, blueprints, standards and benchmarks of education, the more we discuss our rules and regulations, our structures and our plans, the further away we get from art. There were problems with this program tonight, lots of people had problems at their schools and the meeting exists to help us solve them. We solve them by trying to create more and more structures. We solve them by formalizing things that were organic (or organically messy.) We plan for disaster and somehow take the fun of it all. More and more I feel like I work in EDUCATION and less and less in ART. And I’m not sure I believe in EDUCATION, so I’m a little at odds with myself in these situations.
EDUCATION tends to mean looking at stuff that doesn’t work and figuring out how to improve it. For example, kids don’t know how to read, so we must teach them. Teachers don’t know how to make a rehearsal schedule so we must help them. This kid is bad at math, so he must work harder on math. This is natural, normal education. But lately I’ve been interested in practices that work in the opposite way – my current training in the Feldenkrais Method for one. Dr. Feldenkrais said something along the lines of – work on the problem and you get a very good problem. In other words, by focusing directly on the thing that doesn’t work, that thing gets very entrenched and steals an enormous amount of focus.
Along these same lines, the Strengths Movement, which has taken off in the business world, is now opening up into Education. This too speaks to educating what is already easy. That is, if I’m sucky at accounting but awesome at generating ideas, the thing to do is not to teach me to be a better accountant – but to help me improve my idea generation. This so rarely happens in education, no one even knows what in the heck it could look like.
Tonight, at this meeting, I noticed that I was the only person at the table who didn’t have any real problems at her school. It was pretty damn successful all around. But no one asked me “What did YOU do to make this successful?” We all just assumed (myself included) that I just got lucky with my situation. The fact that this has happened twice now – in two different organizations with two different programs just makes me say “hmmm.” It might well have been the roll of the dice. I had some other programs this year that were the worst residencies I’ve ever had. Guess which program got discussed more?
Sometimes I get asked what I think at these sorts of things – and when I do, it’s usually to explain why a problem was a problem. For the most part, because I’m a freelancer with no guarantee that I’ll be working again in the fall, I don’t feel like I can say what I think at these meetings. Partly that’s because I’m in a very precarious position (a topic for another post one day, I think) but also because what I think goes so far beyond the particulars of each residency or each program or even each arts organization. I don’t know how to talk about it. This problem is too big to fix. But, there I go trying to fix the problem! And it’s a very good problem. It looms very large.