By Shona Lee, GCFP CM
Getting organized. What does that mean to you? Does a particular domain in your life come to mind? I see organizing as an act of bringing some sort of structure to chaos by recognizing patterns, establishing systems and relationships and decluttering what’s no longer useful. In the practice of Awareness Through Movement (ATM®) we’re interested in how something can be simplified to find more flow and congruence; in organizing your physically environment you’re examining the use of the space with similar objectives – how can I make the space more ‘user friendly’, fit for purpose, inviting and soothing on the senses?
Would you deem ‘getting organized’ at home to be effortful? If you classify that task as a ‘chore’ that you’d prefer to avoid, or something you’d wish would ‘just sort itself out’ without losing your weekend to it, then here is a chance to apply some ATM® principles to change your experience of the task. Principles such as breaking something down into smaller chunks, deciding when you’ve had enough, re-engaging with fresh attention and knowing you don’t need to get it right the first time – that it’s a process of iterations and approximations in the direction of improvement. This article is a reframe of the action of getting organized, from being considered potentially tedious and laborious to seeing it as a creative task that may even be playful, soothing and settling.
If you’re not pressed for time, if you can stay present without getting overwhelmed amid the upheaval of moving parts; organizing becomes a meditation in the present moment. Evaluating items from the past and whether or not they’re still relevant to you now, is a chance for reflecting on what is important to you and how you’ve grown and changed. What’s useful, what’s extraneous; when less is actually more? The tranquility of the end result, a well-designed system / layout, is the payoff for your time spent. But the other big benefit of having done it yourself is that you know exactly what resources you have on hand to draw on at any moment (and where to locate them). This is the reason we structure Awareness Through Movement lessons as an exploration in making your own discoveries – that way you own the knowledge because you’ve figured it out organically.
It sounds eccentric but I’ve always enjoyed the process of sorting through the contents of cupboards and redesigning the layout of furniture and my belongings. Part of this is probably because I’m fairly kinaesthetic by nature and ‘doing’ is my play, it’s how I think. I’ve become so comfortable and acquainted with this process of experimenting with layouts and storage systems that I’m really unperturbed by the unavoidable mess that is the midway part. The reason is that I know it’s in process, en route to the new configuration, knowing that I can always return things back to how they were before. A new layout evolves through the process of trying out ideas, like the many variations we experiment with in an ATM: how does it feel with my foot a little wider or a little narrower, a little closer towards my pelvis or a little further away; which option do I like the feeling of? Each decision leads to new ideas with the final result being something you arrive at via the variations you’ve experimented with along the way, rather than being an outcome that was fully preconceived before you start. Through the multiple different layouts that the rooms in my home and work environment have gone through, it seems that each iteration is a key proceeding stage for the next configuration to emerge from. Version A, proceeds B, allowing C to then become D, much like our successive approximations keep evolving in the embodied organization of our physical movement patterns.
During our Feldenkrais® practitioner training, Julie Peck, our educational director, would emphasize the idea that, in order to change one thing, everything had to change. In the systemic structure that is our interconnected body, details don’t occur in isolation, they’re part of a full system configuration that will continue to be reinforced if you don’t consider the overall pattern in which they’ve arisen and are intrinsically connected to. Changing something about how your ribs fold is going to alter the positioning of your pelvis, movements of which will change the way you use your legs and feet and how you support your head. I’ve found that my inspiration for rearranging my space often starts with a single idea – ‘what if that went over there…..’ Then once I get going, in considering the overall architecture of the room at large, the balance of solid structures and open space, the flow of what draws your eye as you enter, and the functionality of how it’s used for what purpose (the big picture thinking we like to consider in who our clients are and what is important to them); very often that one simple idea I wanted to try out results in an entirely new configuration of the space. Using what’s already there is my particular brand of arranging a space; working with the elements that are already present and seeing how we might best bring out their functionality and aesthetics. It’s much like how we work with people in a Functional Integration® lesson. Each individual is unique and we honor that in how we work with them. In Functional Integration, we’re not approaching our clients with the attitude that they ‘need fixing’ from us as the outside expert who knows best; rather our attitude is one of curiosity in coming to understand the choices of their intelligent nervous system and exploring what new ideas might be helpful – how can we best support their system, what are they ready for?
A life lesson that transferred across early on during my Feldenkrais training was the ability to not compulsively act on a rearranging impulse as soon as the idea occurred to me! It’s important to get excited by the spark of an idea but to pause and consider whether right now is the right moment to get stuck into enacting it. Perhaps there was some time later in the week that would be better to embark on this experiment. Because once you start the process of rearranging, with the ‘mess’ that gets swirled up in the process you kind of have to see it through to completion (for the sake of everyone’s sanity!) Incubation time between an idea and acting on it actually helps it form and mature in your imagination. In movement, it’s the difference between automated repetition like crunching out as many reps as you can at the gym and the mindful, exploratory investigations that we’re after in ATM, allowing you to discover something new by inhibiting the preset reactive response that would be merely repeating what’s familiar.
The other thing that I’ve learnt about rearranging is that people are comfortable in what’s familiar to them and may be reluctant to ‘mess with what’s already working’ (in their eyes). I suspect part of this is that they associate rearranging with lots of effort that they’d prefer not to embark on if they can avoid it. I’ve also found it’s a particular skill set I have in being able to envision what something might look like in a different layout and that not everyone is so spatial visual. So in order to ‘sell’ my new configuration to others who share the space (living in a shared house and working in a multi-disciplinary practice and sharing my treatment room with other practitioners), I’ve found that it’s easiest to rearrange by myself and then show others the finished result. Then they can give their verdict on whether they’re happy with it without having to do any of the grunt work and I promise that I can always put it back the way things were if they’re not partial to the new configuration.
Over the years I’ve built up a bit of a reputation for having ‘an eye’ for these things and along with that comes trust – giving me permission to experiment when the fancy takes me. But I’ve also learnt that it’s really important to forewarn relevant parties before you upend their familiar surroundings as home is a very very personal space and not everyone is as ‘turned on’ by the change as I am….
Shared spaces also bring with them certain constraints – some non-negotiables about what needs to live in a particular spot according to strong personal preferences of all parties. These provide the parameters and starting place for what possibilities you can concoct. A particular spot for the couch that someone is super attached to, a particular shelf for the wine glasses etc, are catalysts for creative problem solving around those defined criteria. Like the variations that are presented in an ATM, there are many, many ways to go about a particular task but if you have to keep this part where it is on the floor what options are then available to you? If your space is entirely your own, you can free-range it in the choices you make but invariably we all have certain preferences that show up in the process – ‘I want the table next to the window’ the other stuff I don’t mind but this detail is important to me etc.
Of course getting organized isn’t at all confined to your physical environment at home, there are plenty of other (perhaps more pressing) domains at work that we might greatly benefit from getting more organized with. However your home environment can be a suitable starting place for ‘organizing practice’ as it’s likely you don’t need to seek permission to reconfigure systems. Plus the payoff is a soothing sanctuary for you to return to, for recharging your thoughts at the end of the day sans the distraction of clutter. Often as Feldenkrais practitioners one of the very first things we’re doing is quietening down the noise in someone’s system and that’s what getting organized does in your physical and mental environment.
If you’re ready to tackle an organizing project at home, start by defining the scope of something that excites you, that you genuinely desire to reconfigure. If you take on too much it’ll get out of hand. What’s a manageable morsel that would feed back a feeling of ‘satisfaction in completion’? That feeling feeds itself and perpetuates the likelihood of continuing on, just like we orientate towards the pleasurable sensations in ATM. Start with the obvious and easy. The other stuff will follow when an insight arises as to what you might do with it.
I think sometimes we associate ‘being organized’ with a particular image of lists and spreadsheets. But being organized is as unique as the individual. It’s the farmer who plans when they sow the seeds according to the seasons. It’s setting things up to be able to take a long vacation. I see being organized as having an overview of priorities of what you’re looking to make happen so that you can recognise suitable opportunities to do so. Being organized is not a compulsion to stick to the plan but rather frees you up to follow ‘spur of the moment’ ideas that present themselves because you’re not caught in last minute ‘all-nighters’ come the final crunch time. For me organizing has become an activity I find fun! It’s the feeling of ‘having a handle’ on the various strands / tasks / priorities at play at this particular point in time. It’s like that sense of accomplishment and capability you feel at the end of an Awareness Through Movement lesson when all the strands of the variations weave together into a satisfying global movement that draws it all together. When you know what you want to get done, you can play with how you go about it!
Shona Lee is a new Feldenkrais practitioner (SEAUS1 2018) who has always loved rearranging spaces. Bringing out the underlying potential of space to better utilize the elements that are already present for both functionality and aesthetics. Essentially what we do with our clients! She is also a remedial massage therapist, blending a hybrid thought process to how she works hands-on. She is based in Sydney, Australia and loves tackling a mess to establish systems, order, and harmony. The thought of moving house isn’t daunting for her…. oh, the possibilities! Her website is https://www.movingintune.com/