Are You on Autopilot?

Christian Rabhansl

I see this article as an approach to explain the Feldenkrais Method from a specific angle. These thoughts were first written round about February 2012. You might feel free to make up your own interpretations based on the combination of what I wrote and your knowledge about the Feldenkrais Method or other somatic experiences. Throughout the text I will try to use the second person singular more and more in order to create a more dialogical atmosphere. To begin with, I would like to use a quote by the American Philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.”

 

What a wonderful morning. I was woken up by the wonderful sunrise in Seattle, St. Edwards Park and marveled about the mysteries or coincidences of life which bestowed me with a sense of awe. Some days I read through some old notes or aphorisms, so it was these days. When I thought about the lines of Reinhold Niebuhr, Wittgenstein often appeared in my mind by saying that “God does not reveal himself in the world”. I wondered what creating power god does have and if he, considered almighty, would intervene in the stream of events for the good? I never had an inclination to praying, although I would concede now that for the sake of relieving tension, in what way ever, I consider praying a good thing to do. Do you pray these days or in general? If you answer this question with <yes>, do whom or what for are you praying? I took the lines of Reinhold Niebuhr and rewrote it into one of my prayers:

“I focus on developing the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

On developing courage to change the things I can,

and to learn throughout my live to know the difference.”

 

I pray for personal empowerment to live a life that matters, considering Richard Feynman ́s first principle of not fooling myself. Considering this principle of not fooling myself, I would like to jump over to my beloved habits. You and me, we all have our habits; habits of thought, habits of feeling, habits of movement. They are all linked to each other. You may think about tying shoelaces, learning to drive and finally drive a car, dancing salsa, or, finding solutions to a problem through a creative process of thinking, etc. Consciousness is needed first to establish these skills till the point when training ends and these skills become flesh and blood. Taking the thought or the motor patterns alone into consideration proves to be futile in the long run. You could see this as a compartmentalized view. Taking the entire person into consideration would speak more for a holistic view, or, to use a more modern word, a multimodel view.

What an insuperable task? Well, it is possible, although it might not be simple. We need to start somewhere in this haven of complexity. Actually, going back to my childhood, I started quite dependent as a baby. Then as a toddler, I made moves towards independence. At one point during my adult life I figured out that we are all interdependent (more or less). That, you can consider the three stages of the development considering attachment. We move from dependence to independence and then interdependence. Depending on what we want, e.g. building a family, creating a business, travel the world, I would consider the last step as voluntarily. That means, you could decide to engage with others and become interdependent, or keep your independence till the end of your life. No matter what you do, most of the things you do run on automatic pilot.

I called the article “are you on automatic pilot”. How does this, I just wrote above, relate to the automatic pilot? Instead of automatic pilot you could also use the term “automatism”. Things we do on automatic pilot are quite useful, e.g. driving a car, tying one ́s shoelaces, riding a bicycle. These are all automated actions, which means it took some time for you to learn them, so they became part of your self. Now you have mastered some skills, as tons of other things, which you do now in an automatic mode. Sometimes you fall back into some of your automatic habits, which might not be beneficial for your life with its present circumstances any more. Let me clarify that you are definitely not a bad person for doing so. It happens every day. A bad word here, a bad deed there and so on, it sums up. Can you break this cycle? Yes, although breaking sounds quite violent. How about, can you regulate this cycle? Yes, you can. There are many ways to start, some have proven more efficient, but this also depends on the individual.

Think about this for a while: There is this idea in your mind, that someone somewhere on this planet could have a grudge against you, because you have caused this person harm. You may never ever see this person, but the very clear awareness about this possibility may trigger a need in you. The need to break (or regulate) the chain of suffering. You can take this thought now and watch yourself where this is going, how you feel during the process, what thoughts are triggered by it and if you can manage it, what kind of body language do you sense. Is something getting tense, like your neck? Are your feet starting to fidget? What does all that mean? Well, at the very moment I cannot tell you. I am not a mind reader, but maybe you figure out when you look at the correlations.

Another way to look at this thought experiment is through action. You act in this world. Your actions provoke reaction, in yourself and in others. These reactions might be violent against you, or at least, you perceive it as violent. You might think, why is this person violent against me, what has it to do with me. Hmm, that could open a long chain of rumination. You might find a solution but also searching for this solution could turn into a compulsion. That is not really where you want to go, do you? So, you have action and reaction and through introspection and awareness about your environment you might find another thing called proaction. You make yourself into an agent, an agent of proaction, by figuring out what you consider as helpful and distractful. Even here, the room of interpretation is endless.

Let me now plunge into the Feldenkrais Method. I will start with three quotes what I have learned from my teacher Angel Di Benedetto.

“Life starts outside of the comfort zone.”

“I fear what I want most.”

“Expansive always in all ways.”

 

Quite big quotes and I will confirm that fully understanding the power behind these words took me quite a while. But, what I am saying is, that I at least try to approach them and think about it, feel what these quotes are doing with me and sense what is happening in me. Am I twitching somewhere? Being on autopilot is somehow similar to a tunnel view or thinking inside the box or being constantly inside the comfort zone. From time to time it proves quite necessary and helpful to get outside the comfort zone. Do not stay there forever, except you wish to do so. Is the fear in the second quote not connectable with the first quote? Honestly, there are quite a few things I fear. I do not fear spiders, or fire, nor pain. What I fear is uncertainty to a “certain” degree. Could it be that behind these certain things something is hidden what I want most and I just do not see it at the moment because I am inside the box, thus being fearful of getting outside. Let me expand, in all directions and as often as possible. Let me see what this is doing for me.

Doing an ATM (Awareness through Movement) lesson, puts me into a situation, I have never been in before. This could also happen to you! I am doing new movements, becoming a baby again, exploring, being outside my habitual box, learning something about myself. And, last but not least, I am in a safe environment, where either an ATM Teacher facilitates this very environment for my growth, or I do it myself as my own teacher. Now, doing an ATM class may trigger past memories from your childhood and these past memories may come with tremendous feelings of guilt, shame, sadness etc. Now? I cannot say what you shall do with it but I can tell you what I did.

There were moments, after several ATM classes over a period of several weeks something changed in me, habits of thinking became clearer, I became more connected with my feelings, I was crying because past memories were really shaking me, I was moving with more ease, I felt more connected with nature and other people. That were just a few things that happened with me, although quite big ones. I am I and you are you. It might be totally different to you. I will stop right here since this was quite a lot of rumination or exploration. You pick, I am game.

Let me further explore the thing called “automatism” in the next article. Till then, enjoy life and keep moving.

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