Word Magic leading to suffering or wholeness

Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash

I realize that I have almost always picked work that requires me to learn on the job.  Coming from a family with a high number of teachers, grandmother, cousins, aunt, I grew up in an environment where the value of learning was infused in the air.  Growing up in my farming family, my earliest school room was the freedom to play outside as long as I was home for dinner.

It is no surprise to me that one of the people who influences my learning now is David Abram, an ecologist, philosopher and an accomplished slight of hand magician.  What I most want to share from his first book, The Spell of the Sensuous, is his ideas about word magic and how our language affects how we participate in what we sense.

My early outdoor expeditions in the shelter belt of farms in southern Alberta (the double row of trees surrounding the house and outbuildings) were wordless ones, shared with a black Labrador dog, sometimes a sister.  The smell of sticky poplar leaves on a warm spring afternoon, attaching anywhere I pressed close enough.  The sound and vibration of weighted wheat stalks tossing above my head to the persistent southwest wind, framing the autumnal blue sky.  These words may evoke the memory of what I sensed but it is not the same as the sense memory awakened when I smell poplar trees again or pause to listen to the swaying of a soon-to-be harvested wheat field.

The word magic he writes about is a simple sleight of tongue that hides what is right there in front of us. When we speak about touching the cat, about smelling the paperwhite blooms, about listening to the wind in the branches above the path – there is a word magic in “the”.  That small word renders for us a notion that the being we sense is an object.  Abram says, “To define another being as an inert or passive object is to deny its ability to actively engage us and to provoke our senses; we block our perceptual reciprocity with that being.”

Why does this matter?  It is grammatically accurate – a cat is a noun; the tree is a noun.  More word magic.  This construct shines a light on us as the sensing being and everything else as the thing being sensed.  It closes down what feels like real magic, that anything we touch, touches us back.  That anything we inhale, also shares the air.  That anything we hear, also feels our vibration as we walk by.  Abram says, “perception always remains vulnerable to the decisive influence of language.”

Word magic can magnify suffering.

In working with clients, I notice the impact of this word magic on their lives, as part of suffering that comes with pain.  Because one of the habits so many of us have learned, is to apply that objectifying language to ourselves.  The leg.  The neck.  If one of the superpowers of the Feldenkrais Method is making finer and finer distinctions as part of learning, this tiny distinction is a root of self-domination, the place where I try to control my leg to do what I want.  Without listening to my leg as a living being.  This small distancing in our self-perception, keeps us apart from ourselves. There is magic in claiming relationship with all of the parts of myself.  It doesn’t just change me, it changes the world I move in – how all of me can be part of all of we, living here.  Rather than part of me trying to control all of it, out there.  Expanded outwards, that small distinction makes all the difference. Please share this with someone you feel would enjoy it.

If this resonates with you, you might enjoy my upcoming In Touch series – starting Feb 4.

To register www.kindpower.ca/book


Are you sick of social distancing?


Photo by Wesley-Mclachlan on Unsplash

Social Distancing is the term used to describe staying away from people and microbial residue (or as our Prime Minister called it, “moist breath”) that people leave behind when touching objects.  Pre-pandemic, MIT’s McGovern Institute for Brain Research conducted an experiment with forty people who sat in a windowless room alone for ten hours.  In another experiment this group was constrained to a ten-hour day of fasting.  In the first experiment, they reported a craving for social contact; in the second, a craving for food.  In both experiments, their brain images showed a similar “craving signal” after both the social and nutritional deprivation experiences. We are all in this life experiment, managing our cravings one way or another.

The pandemic is shining a harsh light on privilege in a way that we don’t sometimes look at – the haves and the have nots in terms of social isolation. In Canada, the number of people living alone has more than doubled to 4 million people in 2016 and has grown fastest for adults aged 35-64. So, this post is speaking to people without the privilege of touch as a regular part of your healthy life style.  (A big nod to everyone living and working in a family bubble – working, parenting and schooling from home is mega-challenging too!)

Coping with a craving, an itch that we can’t really scratch to satisfaction is a life constraint.  One of the things I am coming to apply more broadly from my Feldenkrais practice is how to get curious and creative when facing a constraint in how I move through life.  To cope with my own physical isolation, I have turned to touch as a way to not feel alone.  The difference that makes a difference to feel connected through touch is conscious touch – where I both am consciously contacting the cat or the coffee mug and where I am filled with awareness.  It is an inside/outside affair of awareness.

  1. To get a sense of what I mean, try this movement experiment.
  2. Reach for an object, like a cup.  As you touch it, do you notice when you could feel the first point of contact?  Can you slow down and try it again?
  3. This time, put your awareness into remembering what you had for breakfast and reach for the cup.  How is that different?

Finally, reach for the cup as if it contains the most delicious cup of coffee, your first cup of coffee.  Does your desire for the contents enhance or diminish your sense of touching the cup?
In my life experiment to find a sense of connection through touch, I notice that I self-isolate daily, when I touch without awareness.  Conscious touch is a gateway to know how interdependent we are with others and with our environment.  When we bring ourselves more wholly into what and who we touch, we have an opportunity to feel ourselves at the center of everything.  The connections are already there, we just have to find them.

There is no substitute for physical touch, connection with others. There is a wholeness we can tap into when we shift from absent-minded touch to present-minded touch.

If this learning expedition appeals to you, consider joining me for my upcoming In Touch Series.  This 6-session series will explore using our senses to functionally connect with ourselves (our internal sensitivity to sensations and feelings or interoception), with our environments (our ability to perceive our position in space or proprioception) and with each other (listening through touch).  Unconscious touch internally can create habits that keep us separate from our own experience (have you ever moved from one room to another with no conscious idea of how you got there?) and can keep us self-isolated from our world.  We will contrast the state of being “absent-minded” in movement with being “present-minded”, learning about your own unique habits of mind that take you out of the moment now.

You can register for the series or drop-in for each class.

Learn more: https://www.kindpower.ca/book/

Aikido Handshake: Being Visible and Vulnerable

In a recent Feldenkrais training segment at the Feldenkrais Training Academy, I was grabbing a quick snack, having spent the break chatting with people.  Across the room I heard Jeff Haller (our lead instructor) calling my name.  I felt a little embarrassed, chewing my granola bar as I joined him on a table in the center of the room.  He wanted me for a demo, what he called the Aikido Handshake.

It took me a few moments to settle into being in the spotlight of everyone’s attention.  Not my happy place.  A classmate who caught the expression on my face (mostly me chewing without trying to look like I was chewing) called out, “Does she want to?”  Kind of funny that she saw my chewing face and read it pretty accurately that on the inside I didn’t really want to be center stage.

Jeff said, “I invited Cheryl because she has long experience playing with aikido.”  He called everyone closer to see distinctions in self-organization, how we can prepare ourselves for an activity, anchored in our sit bones.   The content of the demo – we clasped each other’s hands, sitting across from each other and he asked me to push through his arm.  His job – to listen.  What was he listening to?  He said he is listening to the schema of how I created the activity in myself.  Said another way, “We’re listening to how the person generates the force.”  He taught the demo – asked me to push through his arm and he would listen.  I found 5 different ways to generate the movement to push through his hand and arm (from my hand, from my elbow, from the top of my hip, from my shoulder blade, from my sit bone/pelvis); he sat and listened to the movement.  

I have this reaction so often – when the moment comes to be more visible, to step into the spotlight, whatever that means, I just flinch a little on the inside. In this case, I felt no room to stay in the shadows.  I was nervous inside at the beginning of the demo and this re-emerged when I was called up for a second time. 

Like my experience when my aikido teacher calls me up to demo something in front of the class, it is a lesson I really learn because I get to hands-on feel what is happening.  My body learns. After the demo with Jeff, when we partnered up to practice, I could relay that body-based lesson easily and clearly to my partner.  So if I know that I learn well this way, why am I so shy to volunteer for this kind of opportunity?

I see from this experience that at the moment of shrinking, when I feel torn between wanting to play and wanting to hide, that I can support myself to ride that moment out, to step forward, to let my competence show.  I have spent lots of time involved in the stories of why I stay in the background, self-esteem, confidence, feeling like what I bring isn`t relevant, fear of being judged, criticized.  With this experience of feeling deeply supported within my own body, these stories become thin, like a light tissue paper that dissolves on the surface of a bright, hot light. Just me shining through.

So I see it as a choice going forward – knowing this sense of myself, this image of myself that can solidly shine, that I can feel is easily, deeply supported – I can associate and identify with this self.  And bring this Cheryl out into the world.  Or I can collapse back into my familiar stories, the self who peeks out from behind the curtain, who takes the chair at back of the room.   I could just let this new experience go.  The familiar is so, well, familiar.  Except for one thing.  I know what is possible now. And I really liked that me – connected, strong, resilient. Powerfully present. 

In the second demo, when Jeff guided me into solidly sitting, feeling the structural support in my own body, he said, “Can you see the beauty of her organization?”  I reluctantly, many weeks after the training, re-watched the video to see what I looked like.  I looked beautifully present.  And that’s how I felt.

Do you find sometimes you are reluctant to step forward and be seen?  How do you support yourself when you want to withdraw? I would love to hear your stories – contact me at cheryl@kindpower.ca or join my Living beyond Limits group.

How I Show up

Entering into winter solstice, I often find that the dark,cold and quiet on the outside opens a window into the dark space within.  This time of year calls for soul puttering –inner reflection.  This year a question popped out of the putter – How am I showing up, in this time, in this place,space?  And in the way that can sometimes happen in releasing open questions into the cosmos, I got an answer during a recent Feldenkrais mentorship call.  Our skillful instructor, Alice, said, “How I show up is what I give permission to happen.”  

Nice.  As a coach, I often have a conversation with clients that goes something like, “I can’t say how the other person/people will react, but what we can focus on is what you are bringing to the interaction.  I have had enough clients who make a change in themselves and report sometimes extraordinary shifts in the attitudes and behaviors of people around them.   You can’t change others, you can only change yourself is an adage that encapsulates this. 

I would be shading the truth if I didn’t say I face family events over the holidays with a little trepidation.  This year, a couple days of family Christmas get-togethers and a family funeral.  Owning my own well practiced leading defensive edge, I feel an internal wince about the prospect of time with family.   Life practice opportunity detected – game on!  How I show up is what I give permission to happen.  So personal practice challenge – how I can show up differently, to by-pass the role I tend to play in my family’s dynamics and bring a different presence.   

For this year’s practice, I will focus on an intention to enter into the space of family, food and festive doings – Allow.  Appreciate. Ask.  For these 3 days, I will focus on letting go all of the ways I argue (inside) with how things and people are and just allow things to be what they are. Even more important is to warmly appreciate what is.  And to ask for what I need and want as part of the whole.   How I show up is what I give permission to happen.  I want to give permission for fledgling family dynamics with space for soft, tender,honesty; for perennial longings to be received without wrestling to resolve them.   I want to give permission for belonging to co-exist with personal preferences and all the ways we might feel the need to distinguish, to protect our identity. I want to give permission for love to come in, how it does, in all of its forms.  So this is on the top of my Christmas list, how I want to be present.