On Experts

If my appendix explodes I would like to be around someone trained in performing an appendectomy.

In more complex situations, experts in the same field can give varied recommendations. They may even give information that is contradictory to one another.

A friend recently injured their knee. Included in the advice they were given by various expert sources: Swim. Do not to swim. Do Tai Chi. Don’t do Tai Chi. Don’t move in ways which bring pain. Move into the pain.

How does one know what to do? Who do you trust?

There are no easy answers here. Below are a few, quite intense stories. I feel the intensity is necessary to speak to the complexity of our situations. For, it is when we are in intense situations that we most often seek ‘experts’ to support us.

This is a brief version of an extremely personal story. My sister was very sick. She was unable to be helped by several, highly touted therapists – psychiatrists, psychologists with certified somatic training, clinics specializing in depression and suicide, and clinics specializing in anorexia. My sister did not live through this experience. What I witnessed was a person in a situation too complex to be properly held by a variety of experts in their field. She needed more and different care than they were able to provide. Many of them sent her away, stating that they did not have the capacity to help her. Her therapist openly stated that he had failed to give her his full attention. I walked next to her for a large part of this journey and felt – as I intimately knew her – that she did want to live. Yet, we could not find her enough, fitting support.

Another story, years later. I was in attendance in a somatic sexuality course. During one exercise in this course a participant was touched in a region specifically marked as ‘out of bounds.’ The violated participant had previously been sexually assaulted. This new violating touch resulted in a trauma response of freezing, unraveling into many difficult months of recovering from this experience. No participant in the course remembered bringing touch to this participant; and, the violating touch (not the person who brought the violating touch) was seen by the instructors. After this, effort was put forth by the instructors to process this situation. Still, the person who was violated did not feel the situation was adequately addressed and has since distanced themselves from this community. There was a general note given to the class to look into learning more about trauma response. That said, the person who brought this touch remained a mystery and the entire class carried on, en route to become certified somatic sexuality practitioners.

Pausing a moment to take in these stories. Then I bring you this question: which expert  is not also a fallible human?

 

What are the qualities that you seek in an expert? What do they seem to be paying attention to when you meet with them? How did they come to learn this expert knowledge they are sharing? Does it feel like they are listening to you?

How do you feel while you are with them? After meeting with an expert do you create space to sense into your entire reaction (including cognition, emotions and the murky unknowns within you)?

 

Somatic work is about learning to feel. It’s learning to taste the nuances of sensations – thoughts, emotions, all aspects of our experience. Do some thoughts taste acidic? Do some people make you feel like honey? Do some activities make you feel vital?

Somatics is about feeling into all the information – the expert’s advice, your own cognitive knowledge, how the all-of-you feels when you consider a situation. Then you take a small step in some particular direction and notice again, how does this feel? Maybe you stay still for a long time if you don’t know. Maybe you try a step and then step back. Maybe you try a step and then shift towards the right.

It’s slow going. There are no easy answers here.

 
Fall seven times, stand up eight – Japanese Proverb
 

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An Ordinary Dance

Dear Diary, may the ideologies of “the West” (wherever that may geographical reside within the context of globalization) feed itself with more nourishing fruit.

A beautiful thing is never perfect – Egyptian Proverb

Not Even as Fast as an Evening Primrose

Dear diary,

I have been training. Working in the studio. Working on my performance through dance, strength + endurance building, qi gong, kung fu, aikido rolls. All of this with: awareness. And what I find is that I am always suddenly hungry for sugar. Or sleepy. Or hungry. Or tired. Or hungry for sugar. Or…anything that I can think of which will delay my arrival to this time of concerted effort and hard work. Sometimes I’m not able to get myself to start working until eleven at night.

I spend hours and hours reading and writing and talking about neuroscience and awareness practices and movement. In spite of that, today I just realized that ‘O, yeah, it’s just like I was writing/reading/talking about: my goal is TOO FAST.

I am the kid that has to write the sentence on the chalk board 1000 times. “But I want to reach a certain goal by a certain deadline!” I scream in cognitive dissonance. As usual, my eyes are bigger than my plate (and here I switch to thinking of food as a metaphor.) I just cannot comfortably digest that much food. Yet.

When a woman is pregnant her belly swells over the period of some nine months. Still, if you watch her, you cannot see her belly grow. It is too slow. And yet! the speed at which it grows is SO fast that it can leave speed-growth scars on her skin.

That is how slow we humans change. It does not match the demands of contemporary society, civilization. We are amazingly, wondrously slow creatures. Not even as fast as an evening primrose.


The stones of my river are as soft as a pillow – Tajik proverb.

The Being-Mindfully-Present-with-the-Awareness-of-Consciousness Series: Learning About Somatics – Part 4

I was talking to a performer-dancer friend about my somatic school. After telling him about spending several hours ‘considering our pelvis’ in class, he exclaimed, ‘You’re in Jedi school!’

Bam. Now I had a way to explain to my family wtf I am doing. Soon enough I found myself at a family gathering wherein my salesman uncle and aunt asked about my school. I explained that I am in Jedi school, sans the light saber business. My uncle asks me, ‘So, do you do a lot of core muscle exercises?’ I said, ‘No. Just think about what a Jedi would learn.’ To which my aunt replies, ‘Oh, you do a lot of mental work.’

Poetic and science-specific explanations of ‘somatics’ are ideal in my world. But, how do I get people not related to the arts fields interested in coming to one of my workshops?! After hearing about the Jedi description, one of my teachers suggested that I start advertising for Jedi workshops at places like Comicon. Genius.

Thank you ISLO. Just as I hoped, you have taught me how to fish. Now I am off to spend the rest of my life practicing, at the water.


 

Where I make my living, there is my home – Somalian proverb.

O, That’s a Pretty Package!

Okay, Erin, check this out,

You love moving and you are white and western and you like high art and you etcetera, etcetera and so naturally you are drawn to contemporary dance.

And because you like to prance around in this specific performance world, you frequently come into contact with ‘dancers.’ The subtext definition of ‘dancer’, which you’ve found in this world, means ‘trained in ballet, or other contemporary approaches which are derived from ballet.’

You, Erin, move in the way that you move. You move in your ‘style.’ You move with your ‘habits.’ And these ballet-based dancers watch you and say things about you being too/not enough this or that – in accordance with the benchmarks set up in this world. You are judged and deemed appropriate ‘to be hired’ or ‘to be accepted into a specific dance education program’ or ‘to be given a grant or a residency.’ there is an audition and you either pass or fail.

Ironically, all of these benchmarks are sitting next to a stage where “white people not dancing,” talk about everything being dance.

So, what type of movement is being looked for? And, really, beyond that question sits my theory: in order to have the contemporary dance world engage with and accept a specific type of movement, this movement must be framed within this world’s aesthetic. It must be in a pretty package.

Regard: the movement quality between ‘pop and lock’ and ‘vaudevillian movement research’ are intensely similar to my eyeballs.

The point here? Well, there are many. But I will limit myself to this one: Continue to focus on making quality art and let the definitions and categories fall by the wayside. Continue to make genuine work, neither mimicry nor determined-by-defiancy. Rest assured, you either will or will not pass the audition.


Do not speak of a rhinoceros if there is no tree nearby – Zulu Proverb.

The Being-Mindfully-Present-with-the-Awareness-of-Consciousness Series: Learning About Somatics – Part 3

Look Erin, I was thinking:

it seems somatic practitioners get turned into a Moses, of sorts. As though, their particular way of doing becomes envisioned into a calcified tablet handed down from on high.

We somatic-ers feel safe when wrapped in the technicolor dream coat of Alexander-Gindler-Trager-Laban-Bartenieff-Feldenkrais-Authentic-Rosen-Bainbridge-Improvisation…

We, meaning those of us studying in a Western-based universe. A universe where not all, but many, of our Western teachers studied martial arts or other wisdom found in an Eastern universe.

I am new here. My eyeballs are still adjusting to the brightness of the somatic light. The essential shape that I am able to recognize is awareness.

 

therockteacheswhatitdoes


 

Nobody gathers firewood to roast a thin goat – Kenyan proverb.

I Know it’s Good for Me. Butt!

Erin, dear,

In the pursuit of trying to behave differently – to grow, to change, to establish an “healthier” habit, etc etc, new neural bridge formations are arduous to build. It is slow and it takes a lot of repetition. That’s just how it goes.

Many people say that change triggers an auto-response of fear – something new-unknown could potential harm me. And/or it is related to homeostasis. More on the WHY-WHAT-FOR of these ideas this later.

For now, taking a moment to be aware of yourself will help the fear-panic-nervousness subside. Try one or both of these:

BREATH ten breaths as you pay attention to your breath going in and out of your belly. “Breathing is the most fundamental movement pattern that there is and consciously altering it is one of the most effective ways of entering the central nervous system.”

Or, “repeatedly expel air by tightening stomach muscles close to the pelvic area.” This muscular action has the effect of activating the organs in your stomach and it disperses the stress-induced hormones.

Pragmatically, towards implementation of a new “thing”, the most helpful thing I have found is this:

Define the goal. (Create a new solo performance.)

Shrink that goal to a miniature version of itself – until it is small enough not to feel scary. As in, make it a size that feels basically effortless to do. For real, is it small enough now? (Ie spend five minutes moving while thinking about your spine as a fish.)

Now repeat.

Go slow. Repeat daily.

Increase the goal size as your fear-panic-avoidance response permits. (If you have stopped practicing and instead have become a pile of panic and are eating/smoking/watching movies/shopping/drinking/etcetera this is a good sign that you may need to make your goal a wee smaller.)

And remember that positive reinforcement is scientifically proven to work better than negative. Ie, when you f-up, give yourself a lil’ pat on the back and get back on that horse.


He who must die, must die in the dark, even though he sells candles – Colombian proverb.

The Being-Mindfully-Present-with-the-Awareness-of-Consciousness Series: Learning About Somatics – Part 2

Dear diary,

My growing hunch, back here in Finland somatics school: I am finding that if I practice awareness, every part of my being will become better – no matter which brand of copy-right registered technique we are employing. Slowly.

Childhood wisdom, handed down from father: A snail gets mugged by three turtles and goes to the police station. The cops ask, “what happened?” The snail replies, “I don’t know, it all happened so fast.”


A razor may be sharper than an ax, but it cannot cut wood – Annang Proverb.

High Self Esteem Can Result in Problems as Well

The country of Finland has low self esteem, so told my Finnish friend who seems not to suffer from any personal signs of this phenomenon.

Sociometer Theory suggests that our self esteem functions as a barometer. It guides us towards how to act in order to have buddies, et al. Hence, when we’ve done something real swell, we do not want it to stay in a closet, we want other people to know about it.

O my gosh, I cried as I read this circa 2000 manscience-theory, this totally explains my relationship with low self-esteem around external accolades – and my belief that my lovers do not want to be in relationships with me because I do not have a proper amount/enough external validation.

And then I read about non-contingent self esteem. (In truth, there are far too many theories relating to the topic of contingent-or-otherwise self esteem to get an handle on – just in the Western realm of mental health alone. I’ve pared it down a bit.)

Ontological I’m OK, you’re OK. To be right with the world. Etc, etc. This business stems from paying attention to your authentic self. You get better and better at listening to your authentic self by practicing being mindful.

It doesn’t work fast. It works imperceptibly slow.


A lame crab walks straight – Afghan proverb.

 

 

 

 

The Being-Mindfully-Present-with-the-Awareness-of-Consciousness Series: Learning About Somatics – Part 1

Dear Erin,

Somatics studies “the body as perceived from within by first-person perception…[and the self-regulating nature of this relationship.]”

“somatic data do not need, first, to be mediated and interpreted through a set of universal laws to become factual…
all data [should be] considered…to avoid evidence that is ‘phenomenological’ or ‘subjective’ is…irresponsible.”

“the sensory motor system functions as a ‘closed-loop feedback system’ within the soma. We cannot sense without acting, and we cannot act without sensing.”

“awareness uses motor inhibition to exclude any sensory recognition other than that upon which it is focused…active focusing identifies traits of the un-known that can be associated with traits already known in one’s conscious repertoire.”

“consciousness is a learned sensory-motor function…a relative function: it can be extremely large or extremely small.”

“if one focuses one’s awareness on an unconscious, forgotten area of the soma, one can begin to perceive a minimal sensation that is just sufficient to direct a minimal movement, and this, in turn, gives new sensory feedback of that area which, again, gives a new clarity of movement, etc.”

“like two knitting needles, the sensory system and motor system are made to intertwine, creating a greater sensory awareness…” expanding the consciousness.
-Thomas hanna. The body of life. 1979.

Wisdom is in the head and not in the beard – Swedish proverb.