What is it to be human?

Photo by McKenna Phillips on Unsplash

I started writing this as a description of a multi-day learning activity I participated in during my last Feldenkrais training segment.  Today, with the physical isolation and daily evolution of our global pandemic, this learning activity is taking on a new meaning for me.

To start:  The learning activity was set up like this:  You are encountering a humanoid looking being.  How do you explore what the humanoid can do?  How do you discover how they can move, how they react/interact with their environment and your presence? 

Day 1: I played the role of the humanoid being which meant I lay on my side on the ground as my team members role-played their exploration.  How did it move?  What would it do if approached?

We had a lot of fun.

 As the activity played out, I realized that they approached me the whole time as if I was a hostile alien.  I felt an inner sense of conflict – here I am lying on the ground, playing the role of a being in an unfamiliar environment and my first experience with other beings is being treated as a dangerous stranger.   Strange feeling. 

I am feeling the same thing this week when I walk in the park and sneeze.  People anywhere close to me look at me and withdraw, their gaze concerned.  At the beginning I would try to explain, “Irritated sinuses – happens every winter!”  But people who don’t know me are not convinced.  As a being who sneezes, I represent a threat.

Day 2: This time I get to be the expedition leader so I can guide my team mates in exploring the humanoid looking being.  I began my exploration of our being from a place of building connection and trust.  Not touching the being but inviting the being to initiate touch, seeking touch without imposing it.  The way was a slower pace of exploration, one that included seeking consent and slowly bringing our being into the spirit of discovery together.   Treating my being like a person, not an object.

In practicing functional integration, the hands-on Feldenkrais approach, I had always felt fear.  I had in subtle and not so subtle ways organized around my fear.  It was such a stark contrast to enter into uncertainty while exploring another being: operating from fear or operating from connection.   In experiencing my exploration of this being, I could see how different I was, when my first concern was connection, building relationship and trust – I tended to listen for rather than impose the next moment of contact, to look for the possibility in the next movement rather than make movement happen.

Shift to today: I have taken to walking in the river valley park close to my home daily as a way to exercise, get into nature and feel more connected to people.  As someone who lives and works alone, I am used to a certain amount of solitude.  In this pandemic mode, I am having a good level of contact with people by phone and computer.  What I miss are the conversations with neighbors, with people at stores, the casual connections that fill in my sense of connections to other humans.  Right now, dogs are having a good time!  The off-leash section of the park has become a place of casual community, greeting dogs and people while maintaining enough physical distance to feel good about it.   Connection with caution.

Day 3: In our learning activity, we were asked how we would interact with our humanoid being to remind them how to be a human in gravity? On this day, the backstory had our humanoid taken and then returned to Earth after a long period of time.  How could we help our humanoid being discover how to be human again?

By Day 3, as the learning activity involved, I started to see what a big deal it was to be a being, a human being in an environment.    If I had to relearn how to move, how to interact with an environment through my senses, what would I need to know?  What would I need to experience?  All of a sudden, the concept of a Functional Integration session being a lesson on how to be human had a new kind of meaning.  How has the history of our life changed our shape, the ways we know how to move, the ways we know how to be human?

What does it mean to be human? 

How does this learning activity relate to being a human right now?  In a pandemic-organized environment, we are living in physical isolation.  We are asked to be self-reliant, leaning on the resources immediately surrounding us.  We are cut off from other resources – friends, co-workers, for many their place of work, the recreation center, the sports club, from family.  For me and for some people I know, we are disconnected from the flow of our livelihood as workplaces have closed or contracts have vanished under state ordered bans on movement and gathering in spaces that connect us.

Seems like we have some choices about how we play the role of human. 

From fear, we hoard toilet paper.  Same with food and other goods we fear will not be available.   When I went to the grocery store a few days into pandemic shut down, some shelves were empty, not everything I wanted to buy was available.  Some shoppers had loaded carts, stocking up so they could have resources if the situation become worse.  I admit that when I put groceries away at home, more items than I typically buy but not even a full shopping cart, I felt a niggle of fear in my belly recede – feeling more comfortable in the resources I now had at home. 

From fear, we shut ourselves away, numbing out on Netflix binges or sifting news sources with a hyper-vigilant attention.  In the body, self-protection patterns tend to leave us constricted, isolating parts of ourselves, sometimes contracting to limit movement to prevent further injury.  Movement based from fear is uneven, some parts of ourselves working harder than others and usually takes more effort, more energy to maintain.

From connection, we can care for ourselves and check on people around us looking for ways to support one another.  One friend orders food online from locally owned stores.  Another starts a neighborhood site to coordinate people who volunteer to help neighbors and neighbors who need help.  And another friend asks to start a gratitude meme to thank health care professionals.  (Trees of gratitude for health professionals https://www.facebook.com/pg/yourkindofpower/posts/?ref=page_internal  Movement based from connection is more easeful, freer, more related to what is happening in front of us. 

Krista Tippett the host of the On Being project has said, “This is a species moment.”  We may not get a choice on getting sick with the virus, or how we are constricted in our homes or at work.  I am pulling for our human capacity to make choices, to connect, to support, to find creative ways to stay human, together.

I also offer access to a free recording, a Kind Movement lesson to support you to reclaim your calm in this occasionally disorienting, disturbing time – take care of yourselves – we are all in this together.

Check out my Calm under Pressure free recording at: