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/