Becoming human

It’s been a year, maybe longer, since I’ve taught classes in person. Instead, I find myself more and more often thinking about past experiences. Is this a function of the brain? Thinking about the past? Like flashbacks that happen while walking through a tunnel towards the light? Why does this happen?

The highest paid (by a long shot) class I’ve ever taught was in China. It was also the worst class I’ve ever taught. I recall the details with horror. A beautiful, large studio, but a cold setting. Hard plastic mats on a wooden floor. Students all dressed in the latest Lululemon gear, a hundred slim, fit and very flexible fitness instructors. Sitting perfectly cross-legged and well behaved, like good students trained by a master with a stick. Waiting for me, the odd Westerner, to teach them highly efficient tricks they can use with their own clients to make more money. And a translator with an unemphatic voice. I didn’t have a chance. Maybe I was still too inexperienced, or too unprepared, or maybe I was not strong enough mentally or not strong enough with my framing, or maybe I lacked the intellectual tools, maybe I should have gone full extremist myself, into my direction not theirs. Maybe that would have taught them something. It was a painful 6 hours. Now, that’s all in the past, and the money’s gone, too. I think I spent it on expensive food, luxury hotels and shady massages. Yet, the memories still haunt me.

When I think of fitness classes, or maybe even some Feldenkrais classes, I also think of John Taylor Gatto’s essay, The Seven Lesson Schoolteacher. An essay on meta-themes, about the structure of classes. He describes what students learn through the setting, through how a school (or class) is set up and what students acquire through the social dynamics and rules, rather than the content. Gatto brings attention to the fact that it’s not just the content that is taught in schools, but that the setting is the teaching as well.

For example, Gatto writes, “by stars and red checks, smiles and frowns, prizes, honors and disgraces I teach kids to surrender their will to the predestined chain of command. Rights may be granted or withheld by any authority without appeal, because rights do not exist inside a school [..] children sneak away for a private moment in the toilet on the pretext of moving their bowels, or they steal a private instant in the hallway on the grounds they need water. I know they don’t, but I allow them to deceive me because this conditions them to depend on my favors.”

That day in China, maybe it was a low-point in my career. To be perfectly honest, I was greatly dismayed by the view of a hundred perfectly trained, perfectly dressed, perfectly seated fitness instructors. Those expensive, same color-theme Lululemon clothes were not mere clothes, they were a uniform. And those perfectly toned muscles, the flexible bodies, those were not free people, those were soldiers. They were a combat division of the fitness industry.

I said, “Please come to rest on your backs, stand your feet, put your right hand behind your head, catch and hold your left knee with your left hand, bring your right elbow and your left knee towards each other. And they all followed as if I had typed that into Microsoft Visual Code Studio and ran my commands like a computer code.”

I said, “Ok, forget about that, please come to lie on your front side”, and I started again there, and then re-started again, and again, and after two hours I’ve cut through their great walls and I had them act like humans. And I could see that they would feel, sense, ask questions. And I think I achieved something in terms of helping them connect with themselves on an emotional level, to bring some life and love into their bones, to allow them to feel… but there were no happy faces. The organiser explained to me later on, “That’s not what they were looking for. Most of them were not here for themselves.” They wanted to learn some well defined routines, and some new tricks they could use with their own clients to make more money. They wanted to learn how to fix knee pain faster, or back pain, or become more flexible faster, anything that helps with the business.

In a recent Youtube comment Amurg Codru asked, “Trauma.. complex things. Could this be solved entirely through Feldenkrais?” It’s an interesting question, I have not answered, yet. Maybe one would need to define the scope of the term Trauma first. But generally speaking, I don’t think so. For example, in regard to the atrocities committed in compulsory schooling, when I look at my fellow certified FELDENKRAIS® colleagues, the teachers, many don’t seem to have resolved their own trauma… despite the hundreds (if not thousands) of hours they’ve studied Feldenkrais lessons themselves. In and through their classes, many of them seem to recreate the very conditions needed to not only uphold, but to create trauma. So, there’s the reason I didn’t pursue a career as Feldenkrais Trainer in Feldenkrais Professional Training Programs. The mere thought of having to submit to the stern rules and regulations of that system of indoctrination is driving me away. How could I teach in a setting that by its definition is a place of authoritarian discipline, class position, emotional, intellectual and brand-license dependency, and many more such monstrosities?

What is »human«? What does it take to become human? Maybe compassion would be a good start. Are there any efforts to create Artificial Compassion parallel to Artificial Intelligence? Because I don’t think that intelligence is the defining trait here. But in order to feel compassionate, one would need to be able to feel first. And who will grant permission for that, if not each person themselves? And who will catch you when you encounter what you will find? Whom will you share your horrors with, as well as your joys and triumphs? Who will listen compassionately? Who will help to make things better? Who will understand?