Creativity, Memory, and Staying Young


Moshe Feldenkrais never taught anyone how to move. He taught how to forget.

I know he taught me, through my teacher Dennis Leri, how to forget my old self. It was as if I shed my old skin like a baby kangaroo emerging from its mother's pouch. Sometimes the space you're in is just too tight!

The New York Times published an article recently about how relearning something you forgot is the best way to gain deeper insight. (Forgot Where You Parked? Good)

“When we relearn something we couldn't recall, we often develop a richer form of understanding,” the author says. Our brain is built to forget and remember, over and over.

“If you add new neurons, it effectively overwrites memories and erases them,” says the researcher Blake Richards.

Unsurprisingly, I associate this with Feldenkrais. When relearn how to move, in every sense we uncover a richer understanding of ourselves. You might say we overwrite the previous version.

The article goes on to say there is huge benefit to relearning something we've forgotten. “People are better able to spot connections,” the author says, “if the memory is too rigid, you miss the conceptual forest.”

I often say at the end of a class, "And now forget everything you've just learned!" While it sounds funny, it's meant in all seriousness. Moshe Feldenkrais was insistent on not trying. He didn't even want people taking notes while he talked. His maxim was, "Learn to do well, but do not try. The countenance of trying hard betrays the inner conviction of not being good enough.” (How to Learn, by Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais)

When we do not try, we learn. When we do not overthink, we see. When we forget, we remember.

In the act of wriggling away from the person I was, I had to re-member what it meant to be me. One of my favorite quotes is from Doris Lessing, “That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you've understood all your life, but in a new way.” So loosen up your memories! Let 'em drift!

One of my clients said the other day, “I want to see how you do it,” in response to a movement she was exploring. I said I wouldn't do the movement like she did because I had a hip injury. My client said, “Oh, I don't want to do it that way, then.”

Even if I didn't have an injury, it never helps to mimic someone else, unless you intend to repeat something the exact same way for ever and ever. By mimicking another person, we take on their idiosyncratic habits. The way I move around my limitations will be different from how my clients move around theirs.

Instead of correcting you into perfection, my mission is to help you forget and become, forget and become, finding your own richer understanding each time.