The Potent Self, the Dynamics of the Body and Mind

by Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc.
As excerpted from the Introduction

One has to set about learning to learn as is befitting for the most important business in human life; that is, with serenity but without solemnity, with patient objectivity and without compulsive seriousness. Clenching the fists, tensing the eyebrows, tightening the jaw, are expressions of impotent effort. It is possible to succeed in spite of these faults only at the expense of truly healthy joy of living. Learning must be undertaken and is really profitable when the whole frame is held in a state where smiling can turn into laughter without interference, naturally, spontaneously.

The cumulative effect of compulsive teaching has brought about the notion that as long as one can do a thing without sensation of effort, it is not good enough. From early childhood we are taught to strain ourselves...If the child can do what is demanded of him with no apparent forcing of himself they will put him in a more advanced class or add something to his duty just to make sure that the poor thing learns "what life really means." That is, trying to do what one need not do in itself, but simply in order to be better than the rest, and one is not supposed to be satisfied unless one really feels the strain of pushing to the limits. This habit becomes so ingrained in us that when we do something and it comes off as it should, just like that, we do generally feel that it was just a fluke - it should not be that easy - as if the world were not meant to be easy. And we then even repeat the same thing, to make sure this time we strain ourselves in the usual way, so that we feel we really have accomplished something and not "just" done it. This sort of habit is very difficult to eliminate, as the cultural environment is there to sustain it. It is even glorified as a sign of great willpower. But willpower is necessary only where ability to do is lacking. Learning, as I see it, is not the training of willpower but the acquisition of the skill to inhibit parasitic action and the ability to direct clear motivations as a result of self-knowledge.

It is perhaps not unconnected with this that all creative people do things in their own way. Painters, mathematicians, composers and everybody else who has ever done anything worthwhile, always had to learn to paint, think and compose - but not in the way they were taught. They had to learn and work until they knew themselves sufficiently to bring themselves to the state of spontaneity in which their deepest inner self could be brought up and out. Such people are not free of compulsion - much to the contrary. The difference is that what they produce out of the state of compulsion has some value because of the true spontaneous nature of the production.


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