By Fariya Doctor, FCFP CM
I would not describe myself as a great reader, like those people who devour books on a daily basis. I would say I am a slow, plodding, poorly educated reader that occasionally stumbles upon a “keeper”.
Well I stumbled. As I was doing some research for the upcoming Feldenkrais Method® workshop I found an article written by Maria Popova about Ursula K. Le Guin and was so excited I ordered the book!
Le Guin examines what it is to be a man in an extraordinary essay titled “Introducing Myself,” which Le Guin first wrote as a performance piece in the 1980s and later updated for the beautifully written, wide-ranging 2004 collection The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination.
It is a brilliantly political, and humorous article on the generic “he”. That in language, as a reflection of our self-image we are all “he” and that a “she” is an “imitation of man” and a very poor one at that. Le Guin goes on to describe her body image, but in a way that makes fun of societal perceptions.
“I admit it, I am actually a very poor imitation or substitute man, and you could see it when I tried to wear those army surplus clothes with ammunition pockets that were trendy and I looked like a hen in a pillowcase. I am shaped wrong. People are supposed to be lean. You can’t be too thin, everybody says so, especially anorexics. People are supposed to be lean and taut, because that’s how men generally are, lean and taut, or anyhow that’s how a lot of men start out and some of them even stay that way. And men are people, people are men, that has been well established, and so people, real people, the right kind of people, are lean. But I’m really lousy at being people, because I’m not lean at all but sort of podgy, with actual fat places. I am untaut.”
- Ursula K. Le Guin
This tongue in cheek commentary about being subpar, and not fitting what she is supposed to be, jumped out at me. At the same time I was preparing a workshop and had downloaded an original lesson by Moshe Feldenkrais about self-image.
Here is a quote from this lesson:
“We usually act according to our ability. That means no one decides or plans what he does and knows how it should feel, what it should be. He does what he does and, at the moment, feels what he does. In other words, everyone acts according to the image of himself that he created during his life.
What does it mean to continue to develop? To develop in a direction … in which direction? If you give an example to someone that he needs to be like this or like that – then he forces himself to adjust to this frame and stops being himself. He must be like the other one teaches him or demands of him. This is the way that is used in the whole world; not only in exercise, but with everything. People are educated how they should be.”
(As you can see the generic “he” is even being used by Moshe.) But, what he says does not contradict what we often feel about ourselves, how we tend to define our self image, and what the brilliant writer Le Guin complained about.
We (he/she) compare ourselves to others, to social norms, and to the detriment of our own wellbeing.
There are many Feldenkrais lessons that bring a person back to this sense of wellbeing, and even though they are not called meditation, they are deeply meditative.
These lessons bring a person to a quiet place of sensing, focusing inward and resulting in an expansive experience, without the pressure of expectation from others, without comparing to others, but being fully and completely ourselves.
This expansiveness of self showed up in a client who had taken a series of classes at a recent Feldenkrais® Festival. She appeared transformed. She arrived at her previous private appointment heavy with anxiety, and burdened with life’s challenges. After taking many Feldenkrais classes at the festival, she presented as a woman with unlimited possibilities and an empowered woman. She walked into my office looking differently, talking differently about herself and walking differently. In essence, she carried herself in an entirely different way.
You can not imagine how delighted I was!
Looping back to my own self-image on my reading skills, I had to reevaluate and relearn a new way of seeing myself. A recent review of The Potent Self revealed to me my own false internal evaluation of myself as a poor, and plodding reader. “The truth is, we can improve our ability to think abstractly, to adapt, and to grasp complex situations, simply because most of us have never learned to use any of these abilities to the full.” – (Moshe Feldenkrais, Ch 1, Human Capacity, The Potent Self).
As I reevaluate my self-image, I give myself a chance to grow. As I learn to use my reading abilities more fully, I am reminded of another gem of a book Listening with your Whole Self by David Kaetz. He reminds me of the complexity of reading, listening and truly understanding.
He points out that “tongue-listening is a prior condition of reading and writing”. We are taught to read out loud in school, but thereafter we are expected to read in total silence. “You will still be hearing the words in your head, but if you continue to pronounce them as loud as you read, you risk appearing to be less than fully literate”, but that reading for only content can lead us to be “listening impaired,” David writes.
As I reevaluate my self image and literacy skills, Moshe’s encouragement on harnessing abilities, Le Guin’s humor, and David’s perspective on hearing, are informative and helpful. It certainly has helped me realize that my memory and comprehension of what I read is affected by slowing down, sensing deeply, and knowing oneself, all key principles of the Feldenkrais Method.
Fariya Doctor is a graduate of the 2004 Toronto Training, and has a prior degree in Biology and a diploma in Massage Therapy. She is a passionate learner, mother of a neurodivergent son, and a lover of nature. Fariya is a Buteyko Breathing Instructor and specializes in helping people with Breathing Pattern Disorders. She volunteers as well on the Board of Directors of the FGNA. Fariya can be found at www.fariyadoctor.com