How Do We Find Presence?

In Art of Living, News, Stress by Mary Rudd

Photo by Mostafa-Meraji on Unsplash

By Lindy Ost

Standing shoulder to shoulder in a crowded restaurant for an hour waiting for an open table takes its toll. There were five of us celebrating Matt, my middle son’s 21st birthday. As our wait time progressed, so did our edginess. Yes, it was hot and crowded, but we wanted to stay. It was my first time there and everyone in our party raved about the food. So, we waited. 

In his stewing irritation, Matt began to complain. I can’t remember what his complaint was, but I remember that it wasn’t anything that I could do anything about. However, that did not stop me from feeling a tightness, a tension somewhere in me; it was a feeling of contraction, a sense of retreating away from the conflict. 

I realized that I had a choice in how I responded. So I said, “I am not willing to get short over this.” He stopped mid-sentence saying, “What?” I repeated, “I am not willing to get short over this.” That was it. It was true. It was direct. There was no arguing about my truth. A tension released, a dawning of a satisfying insight for the time being and a point made. He accepted; whether he fully understood, I am not sure. There was a pause as we waited for a call to be seated. 

Moments like the restaurant example present opportunities for us to choose our response rather than impulsively react. One dictionary definition of the word, “presence” is “the state or fact of existing, occurring, or being present in a place or thing.” Based on that definition, we are always present. We are always somewhere. What does it mean, then, when people talk about “being present”?

We might find some answers in the Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education. Moshe Feldenkrais wrote Awareness Through Movement in order for anyone to learn how to improve without ‘fixing’.

Over the course of our lives we develop habits from our repeated exposures to life’s circumstances and situations. The more ingrained the habit, the more we are unaware of it. Acting habitually, unaware of what we are doing, works until it doesn’t. Suddenly, we are in pain or restricted or limited in a way that interferes with what we want for ourselves in our lives. 

One early experience of my growing awareness occurred at an annual state physical therapy meeting where another physical therapist who was studying the Feldenkrais Method taught an Awareness Through Movement® lesson. We were kneeling on the floor with our upper bodies resting on the seat of a folding chair, rocking back towards our heels, slowly, easily. The moment the lesson ‘got my attention’ was in noticing a difference between moving towards my right heel compared to my left. I couldn’t quite figure out the difference, but of course, I could feel it was there.

I thought I knew myself, but here was this very simple movement that exposed something new. That experience opened me up to wanting to learn more about Awareness Through Movement teachings, and so I took a four day course where the instructor said, “If you learn one thing during these four days, you will have been successful.” 

I was like, “What?” I had spent four grueling years in college, two in PT school, cramming for exams, striving for success through my young adulthood, and here is this crazy guy telling me that if I learn one thing I will be successful? As I listened to his description of success, I recognized in myself both a wish for truth and doubt. But in fact, I did learn two things in that course. First, It could feel so good doing a movement like a pinwheel while lying on my side. Second, one can learn to predict which side a person will roll to if they had to get up quickly from their back. 

When I returned to work following the four day training, I worked with a woman who had broken her wrist. One of her loves was playing the piano. After our session, where I used some of what I had learned, she got up and said, “I feel like my arm is a part of me again.” Those were not the kinds of things people had said to me after more typical physical therapy sessions. The same day, I was working with a 60+ year old man who had had a stroke and he said, “I have not moved like this since I was a kid.” 

What I heard from those two clients was an appreciation in sensing themselves in a novel way, just like I had experienced while rocking towards my heels on that folding chair. Such appreciation comes from awareness as we make small adjustments and learn to find comfort.  

As I began to read more about the Feldenkrais Method and watched others teach it, I became more fascinated. Reflecting on the 30 years since that four day training, I can say that what I most appreciate about Feldenkrais® is the integration of the emotional, mental and physical aspects as I move through my daily life. As I did that time standing in line with my hungry son, I still get anxious, especially doing new things that I don’t feel very confident about, but I live with more awareness through those moments. I am less held back by my fears and feel freer to explore. The previous conditioning of needing to do it right can still be a default, but I recognize it sooner and can make adjustments more quickly. 

Presence is being awake to one’s experience—the thoughts, the stories, the beliefs, the fears, the hopes, and the desires. When we awaken to those patterns, we can explore whether they constrict or limit us in some way. The Feldenkrais Method can help us cultivate a practice and intention to live with more awareness, giving us the gift of presence. 

Lindy Ost’s workshop titled, “How Do We Find Presence?” is on Saturday, September 12 at 11am PDT. It is open to Feldenkrais® Practitioners, Trainees, and members of the public.

Lindy has been integrating the Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education into her physical therapy practice for 30 years. She values “listening” and asking questions as a guide to deepening one’s ability to go further into the patterns of thought, feeling, sensing and moving. movementmattersme.com/about-us/meet-lindy