Because chances are, we don’t know as much as we think we know – about ourselves and others, about the world at large, and especially about communicating collaboratively with other species.
This not-knowing makes Bugs want to holler.
Readers of my last post will recall that I have become inspired by the work of horse-trainer Alexandra Kurland. Alexandra is famous for training a miniature horse named Panda to be a companion to a blind woman.
I am simply thrilled and amazed that Alexandra incorporates the Feldenkrais Method® into her clicker work. For years I, together with a large segment of the Feldenkrais community, have felt baffled about why the work that means so much to us is so little known by the public. So it is heaven-sent to find knowledgeable interest in a person as eminent as Alexandra.
“It’s about time!”
Alexandra has grasped a fundamental Feldenkrais principle and made it her own: Ask, don’t tell. Alexandra writes, of Feldenkrais trainer Mia Segal, that “[s]he doesn’t tell the person what to do – bend your knees, turn your head this way or that. Instead she asks questions – how does this feel under my hands? Where does the movement begin? Where does it stop? How does it stop?”
So, likewise, Alexandra asks too. In a blog-post on schooling a horse to join with the handler and walk together quietly in a circle, she wants to know why the horse would leave the handler. Not to insist that the horse pay attention, not to jerk the horse around, not to punish, not to escalate – but to ask, instead: “[Is] the environment . . . too distracting? Are you leaving because you are so full of energy that you can’t walk at my pace? Are you leaving because you aren’t balanced enough to stay on a circle? Are you leaving because you’re afraid of me?”
Why ask like this? Because, “[a]s Mia Segal . . . would say, if you know the questions, you have the lesson.”
Or, as I would say: Because chances are, we don’t know!
Bugs emphatically concurs.
M.D. researcher Robert Burton writes that “[c]ertainty . . . is not a biologically justifiable state of mind.” He notes an increasing body of evidence suggesting that a feeling of certainty stems from primitive areas of the brain and is not the product of active, conscious reflection and reasoning.
I make a further case for “not-knowing,” here, based on brain science demonstrating our inherent biological cognitive limitations.
And then there’s family background. George Lakoff notices that those who find Donald Trump appealing subscribe to the conservative family model of the Strict Father. The analogy is painfully clear, too, in the way we relate to other species. Lakoff writes, of the Strict Father:
“When his children disobey, it is his moral duty to punish them painfully enough so that, to avoid punishment, they will obey him (do what is right) and not just do what feels good. Through physical discipline they are supposed to become . . . internally strong, and able to prosper in the external world. . . . [I]n a well-ordered world, there should be . . . a moral hierarchy in which those who have traditionally dominated should dominate.”
How Bugs feels about this.
This writer, on the other hand, subscribes to Lakoff’s “Nurturant Parent” model. This is one of being cared for and cared about, having one’s desires for loving interactions met, living as happily as possible, and deriving meaning from one’s community and from caring for and about others.
That’s how I want to live. And that’s how I want to relate to our brothers and sisters of other species. They are sharper than I am. They know how to pay attention. Their survival depends on it.
We humans can be distracted by thoughts and ideas, concepts of the way the world is or isn’t. We need those thoughts and ideas, but in balance. Balance is everything. I want to learn how to use my attention to perceive as much of the world as I can, as truly as I can, as innocently as possible of preconceptions and limiting ideas. That’s what the Feldenkrais work offers me and others, and that’s what I want.
Our brothers and sisters of other species can teach us about attention. Unlike them, we haven’t needed to know what’s going on around us in the natural world. Unlike them, our next meal comes from the fridge, not from the veldt. So we have rested on our laurels.
It’s time to wake up and listen.
Barney says: Ask, don’t tell.
In the clicker-crate-training over here, the boys and I have progressed into the crates, through the house, out the door, into the yard, and have come to rest right beside the car. But when I opened the car door in front of Barney, he freaked. So now I open the car door first, and then get Barney and bring him right up to the open car door (not into it yet). Seems to be working so far.