Who Cares How You Put On a Shirt?


"If you want to improve the self-image, you must first value yourself as an individual. If you can see yourself with compassion, with humanity, you will achieve the self-respect that allows you to further your own education. If you don't, you will only be furthering others' ideas of you." 

--Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais

Independence to think for yourself, to test what works and what doesn't, to decide on your orientation to life, to be free from a caregiver or parents' beliefs, these are vital requirements for directing your own learning. Self-directed learning is for Dr. Feldenkrais synonymous with maturity. In one lecture, Dr. Feldenkrais said (with considerable emphasis) that,

"Learning happens when you have conditions for introspection. We have to contact the path of our development as a person from the point we left it off. Many of us have left our own development long ago. Delving into ourselves like that will find some sad memories coming up. We believe that by alienating ourselves from that suffering it will disappear. It will never work. It will not disappear. Ever since the world had brains, all the great teachers say “know thyself.” Without exception."

He continues, "We cannot escape our past, we must bring it with us into the future. We can only change our actions. Actions are movement. We find out we can act differently, and therefore find our world changing."

Habits of Your Own Making

We all have deeply compulsive, repetitive habits of action that stem from personal history and experience. Although we cannot change our experience, we can loosen its grip by changing our actions. We may still be made of the same stuff, but we become adaptable in the same way that steel can be adapted to many uses.

It is not that habits are no good, the question is whether or not they are freely chosen. When they are freely chosen from among all the possible variations (which, granted, takes a lifetime or more to discern, but why not start now?), then you can direct your own education instead of others' ideas of it.

Consider basic habits such as how you get up from a chair, get into your car, do your laundry, ride your bike, put on a shirt, or go grocery shopping. You may think these are not compulsive.

Yet, what are your unconscious patterns around these things? How do you hold yourself? How do you orient your head and eyes as you greet the world? How do you breathe? What is the expression on your face?

Who Cares How You Put On a Shirt?

Dr. Feldenkrais has commented that learning is discovering how to do the thing you already know in twenty or a hundred different ways. Only then do you have a real choice.

Consider putting on a shirt. One person puts their head in before the arms. Another puts the arms in before the head. Another puts the shirt on inside-out and turns it around as it goes on. Another buttons from the bottom up instead of the top down, etc. One wonders what is the optimal way to put on a shirt, and whether there a universally "good" way. Do you ever need to think about these things?

The answer is yes, you do. When you're in pain, injured, or limited for some reason, the thing you knew how to do without thinking becomes an impenetrable conundrum. Walking becomes difficult, getting out of a chair seems light years from possibility. Finally, you realize that having more than one way to do something can be life saving, not only physically, but psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. Choice creates hope. Usually, this realization prompts a call to a Feldenkrais practitioner for help.

Self-Directed Learning is Not Automatic

Any Feldenkrais practitioner worth their salt hopes for a world where self-directed learning is as much a birthright as any physical trait, like a toddler's wiggly ribs. Unfortunately, at this stage of human evolution, getting to this, i.e., to maturity, is a long slog. We have to deconstruct the habits that were inevitably imposed on us, not to mention all the delusions, hangups, limiting beliefs, confusion, and good old fear that we picked up along the way. The method Dr. Feldenkrais developed does not have the monopoly on self-directed learning (other wise approaches can be found), but it is a brilliant place to start.