The Self-Image and the Support Network


When are you inspired? When do you read something and think ah, yes, this is true, this is right, this is important to how I want to live my life? Moshe's writing on the self-image has that effect on me. As much as we say the Feldenkrais Method is about movement, it's really about acting in the world, which is, of course, through movement.

The nice thing about the self-image is that it is not innate. It is malleable, plastic, and learned. Everything about human behavior is learned, except one thing: the fear reflex. I remember a book I read once, The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, and other stories from a child psychiatrist's notebook: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing. This book had an amazing insight for me: we need loving people around us to heal. Our self-image is developed in conjunction with how we relate to others. This ran counter to the idea that we should all be able to heal ourselves through self-love and a kind of warrior-like spiritual inner strength. I don't know about you, but my inner strength comes from my friends, clients, and loved ones. Like Dr. Bruce Perry, the author of that book, I believe we need a community of loving, accepting people to grow our self-image in a positive direction.

And guess what? The self-image can be rebuilt over and over through a lifetime. As humans we have a long period of growth leading up to maturity. What we forget is that our whole lives constitute a period of growth! Usually, "we do little more than move according to the self-image that we formed from birth up to about fourteen years of age," says Dr. Feldenkrais. This vague image works, more ore less, for we rarely need to complete it any further. 

Unless, of course, our habits become painful, restraining, or emotionally unwelcome. Then we reassess. Creating a life is like creating a work of art. Any creative act, such as poetry, music, or painting, requires a constant reassessing of the action until the image clarifies. Then our sense of aesthetic appreciation is satisfied. This is why a mechanical repetition is never useful, either for learning or for living.

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There is another book, Composing a Life, by Mary Catherine Bateson, the daughter of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, about how one constructs the components of a life when it takes turns and twists. She looks at four people and how their lives progressed toward more and more freedom. It's a brilliant, evocative book.

Looking at how we construct movement, muscle tone that has no choice but to tense is the same as living a restricted life. Moshe had something there: We can always grow toward freedom, but only with awareness. If we try to change restrictive, compulsive habits by layering new actions on top of them, we just engage the same old habits in the service of the new action. Instead, as habitual patterns assert themselves, if we bring awareness to them, they change. Entirely new habits must be developed by expanding the very way we sense the movement itself.

Just like the aesthetic appreciation of art, music, or poetry comes from the development of the senses, the expansion of the self-image comes from the development of awareness. As we do this, the components of life can be rearranged, and the right support for our growth can emerge.