Edible or inedible

I was reading how children learn to make sense of the world, how they learn about the world, how we learn about the world. How we know that Paris is a city, and a chair is a chair, and that we can sort postage stamps by – for example – country, size, colour, or type of illustration.

“Everything that a child can perceive—whether a piece of furniture, a dog or a cat, or a letter of the alphabet—must be represented by a different category within his cognitive structure. If he has no system in his mind that separates dogs from cats, then he will perceive dogs and cats as the same kind of animal.” – excerpt from Frank Smith, „Comprehension and Learning”

I felt so excited while reading this. Oh, this makes so much sense! Oh, this is so interesting!

“When the topic is the human brain, there is a natural tendency to talk about categories that have names. Categories that have unique names are often referred to in psychology as »concepts«. But it is not necessary for a cognitive category to have a name. We can distinguish many kinds of objects for which we as individuals do not have a name. Infants distinguish classes of objects from each other long before they have names for them; in fact it is generally necessary to have a cognitive category before a name can be learned.” – from the same book

I was thinking, „Oh! I know this one! Babies try to put everything into their mouths and they discover what is edible or inedible, that’s categories without names.” Edible items: banana, breast-milk, water, porridge, french fries. Inedible items: big toe, fist, blanket, mom’s nose. I guess: at some point early in our babyhood we had our first successful, sufficiently pleasant, sensory only „this is edible” experience. And shortly after an equally successful but disappointing „this is inedible” experience. And thus we found out about the existence of „categories”, something that doesn’t exist physically, but does exist somehow anyways, and that has the power to group items into edible and inedible. A powerful discovery. I guess that night we slept very well.

I was excited to write a commentary and relate this to what I know about movement. How would I categorise movement? Would I sort it by functionality? Or group it up according to adjectives? How could or would or should I do it?

I did a Google search to see what others have thought of so far. Planes of motion. Primary movement patterns. Rotation. Flexion. Extension. Anti-Rotation. Anti-Flexion. Anti-Extension. Anti-Lateral Flexion. Hip Hinge. Hip Dominant. Vertical Push. Rotational and Diagonal. The movement direction of an exercise. The primary joint lever.

Ok, there goes my motivation and excitement. Reading these technical descriptions in isolation, all by renowned researchers as well as strength and conditioning coaches alike, made me feel tired. I find these bland lists, even when connected to strengthening and stretching exercises, hardly exciting. At least not at a first glance. I find it immediately more exciting to read about apples:

„The primary products of the oxidation of apple phenolic compounds are o-quinones, and the resulting colour of the cut fruit surface will depend on the type of phenol oxidised. Use of a short heat treatment (70-90°C) to inactivate the enzymes, or ultrafiltration to remove the o-quinone products, are two ways in which discolouration can be minimised in commercial products.” – excerpt from Apple Facts by Quadram Institute

That’s how they do it! I wondered why stuff nowadays stays looking sharp on the shelves. Growing up on the countryside, 30 years ago, sliced apples weren’t like that at all.

So I found that out about myself. There’s something else, something deeper about movement, something that connects it to my soul. The soul. Maybe that’s why we have this »concept« of »the soul«, to know if something touches someone’s soul or not. How come Moshé Feldenkrais’s movement sequences touch my soul, but learning how to correctly lift a barbell – and name the muscles and primary movement patterns involved – does not?

Compulsory schooling: Injury and Healing

In my reading aloud morning reading session today was this sentence: „A remarkable working definition of memory might be the accumulated totality of all a person’s knowledge of the world.” From the book „Comprehension and Learning” by Frank Smith.

I paused. I read it again. Then I was relating it to myself and to what I already know. The term „memory” always – kinda – had a bitter connotation to me: „Stuff that is forced or required to be remembered, and I am – somewhat – able to reproduce as requested or needed.” I noticed that there’s not only bitterness, but also resentment in there. However, resentment is not a desirable feeling, even less so a feature of character. „Grateful, yes, but nobody wants to teach their children to be resentful”, Professor Peterson said in the podcast I listened to yesterday (The Psychology of the Psychedelics | Roland Griffiths – Jordan B Peterson Podcast – S4 E20). He was talking about Cain and Abel and how Cain became resentful over all his work that went unappreciated.

„Memory is the accumulated totality of all a person’s knowledge of the world.” I like that. Soothing. Yes. Why all that resentment?

The paragraph I read then was equally life-changing. I quote again from the book „Comprehension and Learning” by Frank Smith, „I would like to conclude with a word of guidance to the reader: read to comprehend, not to memorize. As long as you understand, read on, and where you meet difficulty try to go forward rather than backward. If I were asked to summarize the message of this book in one sentence, it would be that the effort to learn is an effort to comprehend. The principal implication for teachers, therefore, is that the effort to teach must be an effort to make comprehensible. My aim has been to interest rather than teach.” 

Finally a professor who values comprehension over memorization. What will the far future of education hold in stock for us in terms of values? Proficiency? Elegance, enjoyment, and ease? After my final graduation from my country’s schooling system it took a good two decades for the nightmares to disappear. But I’ve just realised that the absence of nightmares is not the end of the healing process.

Oh, and one more thing: when I study the movement sequences of Moshé Feldenkrais sometimes there’s movement instructions I can’t quite comprehend at first. In such cases I don’t know what he wants or what he’s talking about – since the audio recordings and transcripts are missing the live aspects of his classes. But afterwards, through my comprehension of the lesson in total, these instructions that were unclear at first will come together nicely. That’s a process I re-modelled for my videos. Sometimes I re-create these ambiguous moments of confusion by asking open-ended movement-based questions, or by not showing a movement, or by giving movement instructions first and moving myself later. Feldenkrais Sudoku.

Wednesday

I worked too much yesterday. I started out right after getting up and fell into bed at midnight, exhausted, headache during the night.

The hours I „bought” yesterday, I had to pay for them today.

Today went like this: the morning was lost. Brain fog, zombied out. The client call via Skype at lunchtime was all right, but I was terribly tired. Had a clear broccoli and cauliflower soup with cashew nuts and two bowls of rice. Then slept for one and a half hours, which threw me further off rhythm.

The evening was better. Watched and moved to one of my Youtube videos, then played with the movements from the Skype call earlier. Ate two small bananas and a toast, listened to a psychology podcast. Went for a walk in the sweet summer night and bought a durian fruit from a supermarket nearby.

Sitting on the floor with straight legs

„Would you please come to sit on the floor,” with your legs long, your knees extended. See if you can sit upright comfortably. „How far can you spread your legs apart from each other, comfortably?”

Point and roll to the left

And then lean on your left hand. Lean a bit back onto your left arm, as it was a bicycle kick stand, and you would park yourself like a bicycle. Then raise your right arm up at shoulder-height in front of you, as if you would point to the ice-cream truck in front of you. Not that there is one, but let’s just say. So, there we have ourselves the starting position for this movement.

And let’s just say that a movement is like a paragraph in an essay. „A paragraph should present a single idea. All of the paragraphs have to be arranged in a logical progression, from the beginning of the essay to the end.” to quote Professor Jordan B. Peterson’s Essay Writing Guide.

Then the ice-cream truck starts off to the left, around the corner to the left, to disappear behind you to the left. Think of all the delicious calories in ice-cream. Track the truck with your right hand, with your eyes, with your shoulders. Allow your right buttock to lift, allow yourself to roll onto your left buttock, allow your right knee to bend. All that. 

And how does your movement change when the calories are not delicious, but malicious? Is this a different way of pointing and turning?

Point and roll to the right

Then do the same thing to the right. But this time there’s no ice-cream truck. Focus solely on yourself. On your movements. On your contact points to the floor and to the air all around you. On all that is happening and not happening in yourself, with yourself, on all the things you’re thinking of, the things you could notice… Where do you initiate the movement? What’s the kinematic linkage, the timed sequence of parts involved? How much and when does your spatial orientation change? Where do you feel safe and comfortable, and where do you feel strain?

Or don’t. Maybe just do the movements without thinking, in a sort of attentive, receptive blank space, the same space we’re in when watching Netflix. But you’re consciously with yourself. You’re aware and present of yourself. You’re the main show.

Lift the right foot

„Would you please hold your right foot with your right hand,” and you might want to lean on your left hand again, probably place the left hand slightly behind you, a bit to the left of your left buttock. And if you want to be super stable you would point its fingers away from you, and if you would be ready to jump up to standing or roll backwards onto your back you would point its fingers more towards yourself. It all depends, it all depends.

Lift your right foot, extend your leg. Find a way to do this, to organise yourself. Once your leg is straight and your right foot up at shoulder-height (or higher) in front of you, that’s the new starting position. 

But somehow you need to get to the starting position first. Without pressure, without performance anxiety. Actually, if the knee doesn’t straighten out fully it’s ok too. It would be better for your lower back if you wouldn’t force it.

And then the movement: move your right foot a bit to the left, and to the right. See how far out to the right you can move your right leg. While it’s suspended in the air. You are still holding your right foot with your right hand. „And by the way, what’s the best way to hold your foot?” From inside your knee or from the outside? Would you hold your foot by its toes? By its big toe? By its arch or heel? What does make sense, what doesn’t? And why?

Lift the left leg, and both legs

Then do the same with your left leg. „What is it that we just did?” And then please lie down and rest on your back, get hold of both of your feet, and do the same thing with both legs.

Your left leg to the left, your right leg to the right. And if you would like to roll around and do all sorts of fun explorations, „Please be my guest.”

Rest

Remember to take rests in between. Whenever you need a rest lying on your back, for example. Or a rest by getting a glass of water. Something like that. Then continue.

Push and point and roll to the left

„Would you please come to sit on the floor,” with your legs long, your knees extended. Just this time lean on your right hand, as if your right arm was a bicycle kickstand. And lift your left hand up to shoulder height.

And again, turn to your left. Where’s the ice-cream truck? Where’s my ice-cream? This time the ice-cream is inside an Amazon drone, which is flying off to the left. Flying off. Up. Up!

Move your left hand to the left, up and around yourself, and your head, and your neck, and your sternum, the front side of your chest, all up and to the left. And again, your right buttock will lift, and you will roll on your left buttock. Your right knee might bend, and the instep of your right foot and some toe-nails might turn to touch the floor. Help with your right arm, push down against the floor with your right hand. Help yourself to roll. Where is the best place for your right hand? How do you have to organise yourself to do all that with ease?

Push and point and roll the the right

Do the same thing to the other side, to the right. This means: stand your left hand on the floor, lean on your left arm, push the floor with your left hand, and lift your right hand up, up and to the right. And all that.

Review

So here you have it. A whole bunch of ideas to play with. Try to find meaning in all this, and how the movements, the paragraphs, the ideas, connect. There’s a bigger story to it. A story of spreading the legs, of sitting upright, of twisting and arching, of feeling, noticing, and discovering. Some other day we might use the same movements to have a look at the Yoga Pigeon pose, the Feldenkrais Scout lessons, and the splits.

„My intention is to provide a broad framework, to encourage the development of a thoughtful and psychologically flexible person, rather than a programmed one. I try to present ideas from which implications flow naturally. Perhaps the greatest difference between this and more conventional exercise instructions is the almost complete absence of »implications and applications«. This is not a collection of helpful hints.” – this paragraph inspired by and partially quoted from Frank Smith, „Comprehension and Learning”

Alongside all of this, if you play with these ideas on a regular basis (whatever that is) you will, little by little, start to notice that your upright sitting might get better. Your hip joints might feel better. You might feel a lot better in many ways. But don’t take my word for it. This is not a hypnosis session. Try. Practice. Look for yourself.

On all fours, lift one leg at a time

„Would you please come to stand on all fours, on your hands and knees,” like in the balanced-table position in Yoga, or cat-camel or bird-dog position in fitness classes. And lift one leg, and then the other. And there’s different ways of doing so. As long as you extend your hip joints, and as long as you don’t arch your lower back instead of using your hip joints, an unreasonable use of your lower back so to say, all is good.

Then get up and walk. Enjoy your day, or the thing you were about to do before you came by this post. 

Cheerio!

Frogs jump

„Frogs jump, caterpillars hump, worms wiggle, bugs jiggle” – excerpt from »Jump or Jiggle« by Evelyn Beyer

But do they? Do frogs jump? Whenever I encounter one of them they usually sit still and play dead. Why are you doing this, frog? Are you really that afraid of me? And sometimes, during hot summer nights, I would hear them make a loud, continuous noise. Much like cicadas make a loud, continuous noise during hot summer days. And I would have been interested to hear that cicadas are used as symbols of carefree living and immortality. And that they have been featured in many books, and in many pictures in ancient China. What is China? What does ancient mean? I would have liked to see those books and pictures. Many years later I would hear cicadas for myself at the Cote d’azur in South of France, to me they would become a symbol of hot summer days and a lavish lifestyle, with me lying on the soft, dry, sandy ground in the shades of large trees, or sitting with friends and family in front of romantic cottages.

I was a serious child. Maybe I was too serious. But I just couldn’t relate to my teachers. Not to their teachings, not to their books, and not to their ways of interacting with other people. My primary school teacher pulled a manic smile, like a crazy person, and then pumped forwards with her unrelatable teachings, her shrill voice, forcing me to ignore all of my questions, thoughts, and feelings. Why and when do frogs jump? I’ve never seen a frog jump before. I’ve once seen a big one sitting in the middle of a road, after the rain. But my mom said that’s not a frog, „That’s a toad.” I sat in class on my little chair in silence, hands on the table, without moving, as it was expected from all school children. I couldn’t feel anything, I didn’t know what any of that meant. My father brought me to this building every morning, where I would sit in silence on a chair, next to other children who did the same, while a strange woman would talk things in a loud voice. The other children would write something, and the teacher would order me to write something too – so I looked at my neighbour’s notebook and copied the letters and words he drew in there. Sometimes he would make an angry face and didn’t let me look into his notebook, therefore I had nothing to write and then the teacher would tell me to hurry up or come over and point into my notebook and tell me to write the same thing again, the thing which I have just written already. Sometimes the teacher would write something on the blackboard, so I copied that into my notebook. And at some point, every day, all children would get up and leave and I would be in front of the building, and everyone would be gone, and then I would walk back home again, just as my mom taught me to.

Come spring I found a little pond with tiny little frogs all over it. When I came closer they dived off, disappeared under the leaves and into the water. I saw some of them leap away in hurry. Frogs were a lot smaller than toads. And a lot prettier. Their skin was smooth, and their colours were bright. They were so cute! Some of them did jump indeed. Their tiny little legs did something and they looked like pebbles flying, diving, swimming, disappearing. The teacher didn’t lie.

Now, „Would you please come to sit down on the floor”, preferably on a hard wood floor, or on a big carpet. „And sit with your legs long, the knees extended. ” I would say. „How far can you spread your legs apart comfortably, without strain?”, I would ask. I would look at you to see if you’re comfortable. And whether or not you’re flexible enough to sit with an erect spine, or if you would sit with your pelvis rolled back onto your anus and your front side collapsed.

„Then please lean on your left hand, with your left arm extended”, I would say, and I would watch you attentively. I would be in neutral gear, alert, speak with a calm, slightly cheerful voice. I would give you enough time to respond, to turn my spoken instructions into a reality. I would see if you know how to lean on your left hand with a straight arm, if you know how to to shift weight onto your hand in this position. I would see how far you have placed your left hand away from your pelvis, in which direction you have turned your fingers, your arm, your shoulders, and how the rest of your body would hold and organise in response. By this time I would already know a lot about you, you as a person, just by looking at you, and how you’re doing and not doing things. I would look at you to see if you have any questions so far. I would look at you to see how you’re doing.

And I would stop you if you would be doing something you’re uncomfortable with, or something you could not relate to. If necessary I would explain: „Some folks can sit like this easily, and some can’t. Nowadays it’s not necessary to be able to sit on the floor like this, because we are using chairs instead. But I think it would be nice to be able to sit like this. To have the option.  Is there any situation you could think of when sitting on the floor like this could be useful?”, I would ask. And maybe you would crack a joke about that you haven’t sat down on the floor since over a decade, and maybe I would sit down on the floor to join you, do the same thing. Maybe you would need that from me, and maybe, on some days, I would need that too.

„Then lift your right arm up, your right hand up as high as your right shoulder. Extend your right arm forwards”, that’s the starting position. „And then move your right hand to the left, as if you would point at something with your right index finger, and follow it over to the left.” Repeat this movement a couple of times. „Return to the starting position, and move your right hand, with your right arm straight, over to the left”.

When you observe yourself doing so you will notice that your head can turn, will turn, to the left as well. That the intention of point-and-follow and the physical movements are in agreement, congruent. And that you can do the same physical movements even without pointing and following. That you can shift your awareness entirely to your internal processes, as a choice. And that your right buttock, your right sit bone, will come off the floor a bit, and you will lean more onto your left buttock. A funny kind of feeling, to roll over your left buttock. And maybe deep inside, you might feel your skeleton, your left ischial tuberosity, your left sit-bone, the shape of it. And you will start to notice many more things. You will notice things about your structure, how everything moves and moves in relation, your habits, your way of doing things, yourself. Within a few moments you will have had a successful somatic movement learning experience. You will feel great. You will feel at ease. Attentive. You will want to go on, try more. And I will be happy to be there with you.

Writing exercises, movement exercises

After yesterday‘s post I didn’t feel like writing today. Give it a day’s rest maybe. I wonder if the earth ever slows down? Or if the sun ever takes a rest? Maybe they do, they probably have their own rhythms too. Or humans are different than suns and planets, could as well be true.

Yesterday before bedtime I read a story by Raymond Carver, „What’s in Alaska?” 25 minutes of he said she said, a story that could have happened to people I know, a story that could have happened to me, too. Very particular and very universal at the same time. His writing keeps making big impressions on me.

„Carl got off work at three. He left the station and drove to a shoe store near his apartment. He put his foot up on the stool and let the clerk unlace his work boot.
»Something comfortable,« Carl said. »For casual wear.«
»I have something,« the clerk said.
The clerk brought out three pairs of shoes and Carl said he would take the soft beige-colored shoes that made his feet feel free and springy. He paid the clerk and put the box with his boots under his arm. He looked down at his new shoes as he walked. Driving home, he felt that his foot moved freely from pedal to pedal.” – excerpt from What’s in Alaska, by Raymond Carver

When reading ebooks at home I often put them onto my flatscreen TV in my living room. I walked up and down. Looked at the first sentence from different angles:

  • At three Carl got off work.

Which would make the time, three o’clock, more important than Carl, the character. What will the story be about? The shoe store? About work in general? Or will the story be about Carl? Or will Carl guide me – the reader – into the story, and then pass me on like a baton in a relay race?

  • After having gotten off from work Carl drove to a shoe store near his apartment. It was three o’clock when he left the station.
  • It was three o’clock when Carl got off from work and left the station, he drove to a shoe store near his apartment.
  • Off from work at three. Works at a station. The name is Carl. He has a car and drives himself. Next scene is at a shoe store near his apartment.

That’s how far I got. Then I read the story. Raymond Carver leaves it up to me if or how much I want to feel, and what. And what I want to make of it. I find it sad that he passed so young, at 50. I wonder how he would have developed his work later in life. „Carver, a heavy cigarette smoker, died at his home of lung cancer”, said the LA Times. „Genetics loads the gun, lifestyle pulls the trigger”, said Caldwell Esselstyn, Jr., MD. His life ended as suddenly as some of his stories. But there we have it, maybe it was the whole story.

James Joyce said in a conversation with the art critic Arthur Power, „I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal.” „When you tell things exactly as they happened, others can understand what you are getting at because they can relate to it with their own experiences”, somebody said somewhere.

Here’s two ideas I had in terms of writing exercises:

  • Turn a David Sedaris story into a Raymond Carver story
  • Make a Raymond Carver story funny

I can see how I will never try this. I wondered: can movement instructions, similar to stories, be written in various styles? Can they be particular and universal? Can written-out movement sequences be interesting not just for the movements et. al. but also for the way they are written? Guiding a real person through a movement sequence, alert, observant, reacting to difficulties or mastery, I find it exciting. It makes me feel alive. I gain from it greatly. But writing out movement sequences, stripped bare of the dialogic process? How can this be interesting? Would you please come to sit. Put one leg in front of you, one in the back. Lean on one hand. Which hand is it? What’s in Alaska?

Integration

One fine day, after all was tried, said, and done, I took my mother’s bicycle out west. I was already 38 years old. I pedalled through the city park alongside the lake, passed the prestigious yacht clubs, the campgrounds, cranked the old wheels over dirt-roads, bridges, through small villages. I kept going. I never rode out west that far before. I went hard for almost two hours. Then I stopped.

There came a deep breath. I breathed in, I kept it for a few moments, then the air passed out again. My body disappeared from my senses, dissolved, for the overwhelming beauty of the land; I could feel my heart, my breathing, how I balanced my head over my shoulders over my pelvis over my feet. It was summer, early afternoon. The air was rich, warm, a friendly kind of hot. Here the land was flat. The high mountains, the foot of the alps in the far distance, tiny and cute with their little snow caps – as if somebody put them there to complete a romantic landscape. The bicycle path put the corn and sunflower fields in my back, the marshland to my front filled the view to the left and to the right. A bird reserve and sanctuary. Green and brown and golden coloured reed beds stretching out under a blue sky. A few full grown meadow trees here and there. The lake glittered in the distance, the sun danced in it. I could smell the lake. Clean, pure lake water, the pride of the local people, drinking-water quality, life. The reed grass, the sun, the water. Calm wind brushing over the land. Over my face, over my clothes. The sounds of summer. The feeling of summer. Suddenly.

Suddenly I smiled. I smiled. I felt my ears pulling back. My lips parted and stretched my face wide. I was the one who was smiling, and I was the observer who felt myself smiling. I felt my upper lip move up over my teeth, up to the top of my gum line. It surprised me. It did not shock me, it surprised me. This is me? I can smile like this? I didn’t know that my upper lip could move up that far in a smile. I smiled a little bit more. I turned my head around, to the left, to the right, yes this was me. I smiled. I allowed the smile to get hold of my whole self.

It was not my first time to be by myself, on my own in nature. I’ve seen beauty before. I did go into nature before. I came to a lake side often, any lake. Or to a river, any river. Or to an ocean. Any ocean. To be in the day, the night, under the stars. The land, unaltered, preserved land. The water. The wind. The animals. When others were busy building their careers and families I was standing in forests. I had my moments with the fox, and with the rabbit. I stood in creeks. In the emerald streams up in the mountains of Taroko National Park in Taiwan. I jumped into the ice cold spring water in the forests of Alberta, Canada. I stood in front of streams as wide as lakes. I felt the earth under my bare feet. I felt the trees. The air. The water. The land. But there was always seriousness in my heart. In my face. In my feet. Hopes and dreams, expectations to live up to, failures to digest, things I needed to know, things I needed to figure out, things nobody talked about, things that were obviously right in front of me but I couldn’t grasp just yet. I knew about longings, desires, disappointments, assertions, lies, promises. „Not everyone gets to be an astronaut when they grow up”, someone wrote jokingly years before. I laughed back then, I thought that poster was brilliant.

But that fine day, when I stood before the overwhelming beauty of the land, suddenly, this seriousness was not in my heart anymore. There was no here-or-there anymore. No in-or-out, alone-or-in-company, faith-or-science, true-or-false. The sickness was gone. Just as sudden as electrical light shies away the terrors of the night. I never saw the darkness as darkness, but the darkness let go of me. And I never saw the light as light, but the light embraced me. The light was probably always there for me, all around me, waiting for me. Even though I worked on it relentlessly, I don’t know why it took me such a long time to get there. All I know is that it did indeed take me a very long time. From thereon after life was never as hard again as it was before.