Family of Us

May the paw of light shed happiness on us all in this New Year.


I hope you enjoy the gentle vibe of this lovely song and video, “Famille Feat,” from Lokua Kanza of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Reminding us to find those whom we feel to be family — of origin and the greater Family of us all — and to tell them, while we are all still here, that we love them.


Lokua Kanza


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New Year’s Miracle

I want a miracle for everybody in the New Year like the one that has just happened for me. Here’s the story:

Last Wednesday December 28, I underwent oral surgery under IV anesthetic to extract a left-lower molar and to place a bone graft. The surgeon told me I would probably experience the worst pain on the third day.

Yesterday morning, Friday, I woke up at 4:00 a.m. with pain at 6 of 10. The pain felt like a seething molten pit where the tooth had been and it spread up the left side of my face to my ear, down through my neck, and into my left shoulder.

Although you could feel better just looking at this face . . . .

miracle1-002That was not quite enough this time. I spent around 1.5 hours doing Les Fehmi’s meditations: General Open Focus Training, Dissolving Pain, and Long Form.

The pain persisted steadily through the first two meditations, intensifying with the narrow-focus bits of Dissolving Pain. But by Long Form, I noticed that the pain seemed to be coming and going. I fell asleep at the end of Long Form.

I woke at 7:45 with pain at 0.

I was afraid to eat, but as I wrote this at 9:45 after oatmeal, the pain was around 0.5. I could certainly feel swelling and stiffness, and I needed to be careful with sudden movements, but, still, the pain was around 0.5.

The only other pain remedy I’m taking is homeopathic arnica.

In the past I have tried the Fehmi meditations less successfully with amorphous back pain. With this current pain, which I feel as more concrete than the back pain, the results appear to be nothing short of unambiguously fabulous.

The cats are not so sure. They seem to prefer straddling the fence.

Pick a chair, Bugs!


Pick a chair, Barney!

And by the way, Bugs wants you to know that Barney is not the only one who knows how to load up.


May everybody get at least one miracle in the New Year.


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Captured on Tape

Since I first wrote about clicker training in June, one month after my first equine workshop with Alexandra Kurland and Cindy Bennett Martin, the boys and I have been brushing up on our clicker routine every day. Cindy visited yesterday and was so kind as to take this video to show you.

Cindy explains it: “Who says you can’t train cats? Wonderful job teaching Barney to high five (party trick), spin (party trick + helpful for crate training), and to self-load in his carrier. No frantic, frustrating attempts to stuff the cat in the crate. He even waits to be invited out when the door is opened.”

Or here.

I think it was Cindy herself who suggested building the spinning behavior outside the crate. You can see how well it worked. Barney went from going straight in the crate and presenting his tail to the outside world, to the polished and elegant nose-front behavior you see in the video. (The occasional background banging was caused by photo-bomber Bugs batting at the screen door, demanding to be let out onto the Catio. Yes the front door was open. It was 60º F. In December.)


Barney is happy to accept your kudos.

Bugs can also do the crate-trick thing. He’s just too much of a dude to brag about it.


The book is by Maeve Binchy. It’s A Few of the Girls, a collection of stories full of the feet-on-the-ground wisdom and good cheer I have come to expect from Maeve, who, alas, has since passed over. I was so happy to find a story in the voice of a cat named Audrey. Maeve had a cat named Audrey. Here’s a picture, Maeve with Audrey or maybe somebody else. Of course Maeve loved cats:


Here’s where I got this pic.

In the waning days of 2016, filled with dread for the coming year(s), I hope all who need refuge find it. Maeve and I will be joining the boys in their crates.


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Thanks Return

I was in physical pain on November 9th. Ten minutes after I heard the US election results, I still could not draw a full breath. A big part of me absolutely could not grasp what happened.

closed-system9-006Neither Bugs nor Barney could look directly at this thing.

Now that the consternation, confusion, and terror have receded somewhat, I have found some space to contemplate what has happened. I have found some comfort in the reminder, from Rev. William J. Barber, that the vicious backlash this election represents is but the latest in a long history. As we have struggled, over the centuries, to forge a more perfect union – as the psychic wound of slavery and segregation has been torn open again and again – there have been those heroic individuals who have stood up and called out for decency and humanity, sometimes even when standing as a minority of one.

“[O]ur foreparents were up against more with less. And they taught us that a dying mule always kicks the hardest.”

I have written again and again in this blog about our limitations as a thinking, feeling species. About “subjective backward referral” and “inattentional blindness.” About the strong tie between our emotions and the way we pay attention. About how closed systems of reliance on outside authority and rote behaviors lead to a pinched, punitive, domineering world-view that causes suffering.

Now, in casting around to try to come to grips with what has happened, I like another metaphor. This article compares our immune system with closed-off belief systems. Where our system is open to the outside world, we are armed with white blood-cells to protect us against bacterial infection. Where our system is closed, as it is in our cerebro-spinal fluid, when bacteria get in there they create devastation immediately.

Closed belief-systems are like the spinal system. There is no protection, in a closed belief system, from propaganda, lies, scapegoating. “If bad information gets in . . . it usually ends up very damaging to the whole. . . . Without built-in protective functions like critical analysis, self-reflection, openness to counter-evidence, willingness to re-evaluate any and all beliefs, bad information in a closed-off system ends up doing massive damage in short time.”

But, as memoirist Mary Karr writes, “anybody maladroit at apology or changing her mind just isn’t bent for the fluid psychological state that makes truth discoverable . . . . The human ego is a stealthy, low-crawling bastard, and for pretty much everybody, getting used to who you are is a lifelong spiritual struggle.”


And how.

So, with the current state of affairs has come a determination in me to stay open to counter-evidence that what I sincerely believe may not be true after all.

Take, for instance, my long-held conviction that the diet I feed my cats is good for them. Even so, though – as long ago as July 17, 2012 – I was trying to formulate a means of assessing why it was that Bugs has suffered from chronic dietary upseturinary problems, and skin sensitivities.

All this came to a head around this election. Bugs could not hold down a meal. After a day and a half of regurgitation, I took him to the vet. Naturally in this crisis our regular vet was out of town, so we went to a new one close by. Bugs was in such a bad way that the new vet hospitalized him over two days to treat him with antihistamine injections and IV-infused fluids.


Barney remains calm.

Her opinion was that Bugs was allergic to my blue-ribbon home-made diet.


Oh no. Why didn’t we think of that sooner?

Well we’re thinking of it now. I have given up my belief that with my blue-ribbon home-made diet, nothing could go wrong. To rephrase: My belief-system has now opened up to admit inconvenient counter-evidence. My blue-ribbon diet has been making Bugs sick for years.

Barney takes the elevated view.


“You did the best you could,” he says.

I have given up striving to create Bugs’s food. I have now resorted to Primal frozen raw. Bugs is doing much better. Even his clicker-learned acceptance of the crate has survived, though I feared it might be poisoned by the vet experience. No worries. Bugs is back to throwing in the crate behavior all the time to get his hypo-allergenic treat.


Gratitude has returned.

I was hoping it would. Thanksgiving is supposed to be the time when I rejoice. Bugs came to me on Thanksgiving in 2009, and every year I have reiterated rejoicing on this day for that reason among others.

This year, I could not see how I could rejoice.


I still can. Gratitude’s back.


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Creatures Great and Small

Continuing in last time’s theme of choosing what feels good, instead of submitting to Strict Father’s demands — On the importance of balance, both emotional and physical —

As the season turns, it feels good and balanced to meditate on small beings finding their place. Like this bright green grasshopper, suspended in a froth of flowering grass.

medley4-002medley4-004-cropOr this little one, finding a questionable place in the handle on my car-door.


I read recently that Moshe Feldenkrais, the founder of the method that bears his name, often talked about the importance of finding some action or activity that is aesthetically pleasing. That good feeling could be generalized into other areas of life.

Instead, we humans have been trained (and we train other species likewise, more’s the pity) to rely on outside authority and rote behaviors. These are stifling and, worse, they are unreliable. They’re too “heady,” too theoretical. They’re not grounded in humane functional rationale. For example, I mean the idea that “good” behavior has to be enforced by means of fear and domination.

Surely using aesthetic feeling as a standard is more sensible, more welcoming of creativity, spontaneity, and the conditions that create real learning instead of mere submission.

In our daily clicker-training, the cats and I have progressed into the car and, slightly outside the car, with car-doors slamming. Calmly and with no freak-out.

medley7-001-csPlus, I paid a solo visit to our friendly vet, who, using a toy tiger, gave me a run-down on how she examines the cats. So now I’m incorporating these moves in the training, so the cats become accustomed to being handled that way. Every day, a little more – from inviting the cats up on cue to the dedicated mat I’ll bring to the vet when we go, to chin-up-bare-your-gums, and eventually working downward to the nether ends.


I love this clicker-training caper, for the boys and for myself as well. I love how it invites the self-awareness that leads to aesthetic pleasure. Where do I position myself to pick up the crate, so I don’t strain my back. How gracefully can I negotiate the various doors, so I don’t bang the crates into them and the doors don’t bang behind me. Am I breathing fully. Am I paying attention to all these things, all of which matter: Balance, calm, ease, grace.

The cool weather brings us together.

Bugs is asleep by the window.

medley8-003Barney is his wise and good self, always, as in this portrait, except when he slips a wing-nut and tears around the house knocking things over. Like lamps.

medley8-002And how about this – a new person has moved onto the farm, together with her lovely little Arabian Sasha.


The best part is that Sasha’s human welcomes me to do clicker-training. I can’t believe the fun. Yesterday, in the cool of the evening, Sasha recognized the target, again and again and with exuberance. This, where, in our four previous sessions, she had seemed oblivious, puzzled, or just emphatically uninterested.

Maybe it’s the cooler weather. Less flies. Or maybe she’s learning! See Alexandra Kurland’s introductory blogs, here and here and here and here.

Whatever it is . . . . it’s . . .



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Why Ask?

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.

question1 035-cropThis 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.

question-stair-gif“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!

question1 020-cropBugs 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.”

question2 014-cropHow 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.

question2 006-cropBarney 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.

question2 010-cropcatrun

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::Click:: Seeing the Boys in a New Light

It’s been an eon since I last posted. Since then, it feels like the Earth has shifted in its orbit and I along with it.

The new orbit turns around clicker-training.

When Bugsy arrived around six years ago, at a friend’s suggestion I bought a clever little clicker-book to teach cats parlor-tricks. I was sorry I ever saw the durn thing. Letterman’s “Stupid Pet Tricks” comes to mind, especially one item entitled “Bitey the hamster loves to go bowling.”

Maybe it took bowling for unfortunate Bitey to feel the love. I don’t know. I never saw the episode and I don’t care to. These type-things evoke the “dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and all the domestic animals” biblical darkness and zoos and down-at-heels carnies and animal testing and let us simply not go there. At all.

This clicker-training is orders of magnitude different.

How about a before-and-after. I have no videos of any of this with my boys, so please take me at my word and I will simply intersperse with aesthetic moments of them looking cute and gorgeous as usual. Later in this post I will provide some links for you to watch the clicker pros in action, training cats and horses.

training3 007-crop

Before clicker, Bugsy often seemed anxious and ill at ease. He was spraying all over the place. He has hair-ball issues and he would squawk the house down every time I tried to brush him. Heaven forbid we should have to go to the V-E-T, as getting Bugsy into the C-R-A-T-E meant him bolting under the bed. I nailed the bed-base shut but there was still the problem, come vet-day, of Bugs fighting like a mad-cat, howling all the way to perdition.

Now, post-clicker, Bugs appears generally less anxious. He is spraying much less, as we have solved his urinary-irritation issue in the meantime and it seems, with clicker-training, that he may have found other, more-constructive ways to express himself. Now he jumps up into my lap for brushing, at my signal, and he sits there purring quietly as I remove wads and handfuls of fur from him daily.

training3 025

As for the C-R-A-T-E, no further spelling-out is necessary. We haven’t got to the point of going to the V-E-T yet, as we’re still doing practice runs to the front door and back for now. But let me just say this. One night I got home late. The cats greeted me as usual and then Bugs ran into his crate, whipped around, and stuck his little head out, as if to say, “Look, Ma, what I can do! so how’s about that treat now?,” and here you go, Bugs, and ten or twenty more for good measure.

Bugs now goes into his crate smoothly and voluntarily at my cue, he can stay there with the door open, stay there (purring) with the door shut, with the door open and me not cuing to come out just yet, coming out at my cue, and calmly weathering the crate moving and lifting to the front door and reversing back again.

training3 020

Barney, in his turn, has learned how to sit and watch the goings-on without photo-bombing. He can do all that Bugs can do re the crate, plus he can sit-and-stay on a hand-gesture and he can “high-five” with alternate paws for good measure. As for the crate, Barney has progressed to moving out the front door, into the Catio, and sitting in the crate peacefully outside the Catio. I did try carrying him to the car once but he didn’t like that, probably because a neighbor’s tractor started to blurp disgustingly nearby. So we have backed away from the car for the moment and we’ll get there in quieter times.

And with both boys, there is no doubt that they are thinking. I can see Barney’s eyes shifting side-to-side, as he apparently guesses what our next move will be. When Bugsy is in his “sit-stay” in the crate, he bobs his head and points his chin to the floor, where he knows he has trained me to deposit the next treat.

training3 040

These are no stupid pet tricks. For one thing, I want the cats as calm as possible going to the vet. For another, I have always worried if the need to emergency-evacuate should ever arise. Now, as the boys are moving toward smooth-and-easy crating and carrying, I have some peace of mind on both points.

As for seeing the cats in a new light: The clicker-training, of the sophisticated kind I now have access to and you will, too, shortly, is on another planet from the stupid-pet-trick book. Now I am guided by skilled, subtle, science-based teachers (see the videos, coming up below). Thanks to them, I now understand this: Clicker-training is a universe away from demeaning animals with stunts that are amusing to humans but have only questionable or no value to the animal. Rather, this is about communicating with the animal’s intelligence. As clicker-founding-mother Karen Pryor says, Reaching Into the Animal Mind.

And that is the different light in which I now see my boys. I now see them as thinking, emotional beings.

training3 015-crop

Truly, it is as if the cats have been waiting patiently for the light to dawn on me that they are thinking, emotional beings. The clicker has opened up a very deep connection between us. I now realize that my house-bound boys previously had a tendency to be dull, under-stimulated, bored. This even despite that I had made a whole-hearted project out of designing the house around their needs, playing games with them (e.g., see last post),
feeding them hand-made organic food, talking to them, pestering them with species-specific (i.e., human) hugs, loving them to bits, and all of that. Despite all that, they were not being asked to think, and they needed to think to become more themselves.

And now that I have begun asking them to do what they need to do, in this way, they have revealed themselves as thinking and emotional beings.

I find that incredibly moving.

Orbit-shifting, really. Now my boys are not just Mysterious Cats Dwelling in a Distant Domain of Being-ness, at the altar of which I could only worship helplessly and cult-like. No. Now we are thinking and emotional beings together in this household, and it is like finding one’s self in another world. Through the looking-glass, into a wonderland.


All this came about by serendipity. A friend lives in the country nearby. At the local library she saw a community-newspaper article about an upcoming clicker horse workshop. She knew I adore horses and I had begun to do hands-on Feldenkrais® work with them, and she clipped the article for me.

I looked into the workshop and I was electrified to find that the trainer incorporated Feldenkrais into her work.

And that is how I found Cindy Bennett Martin, the host of the workshop here in Arkansas, and clicker-trainer extraordinaire Alexandra Kurland of upstate New York.

Alex is famous for having trained a miniature horse to be guide for a blind lady. You read that right, really.

Alex is a genius in her own right, and for having grasped and understood Feldenkrais like the real thing that she is (more about that later. Probably much later).

First, though, I want you to see a good video that would have taught me how to clicker-train with the crates, except that I put together what I knew from first watching Alex and Cindy work with the horses – I only found this video as I was preparing this blog. The handler uses verbal reinforcement instead of clicks; clicks are more precise, though, and I will probably have more to say about that later, also probably much later.

Never mind. Many ways up the same mountain. This video is an excellent thoughtful demonstration of what’s involved. Many thanks to Dr. Sarah Ellis and Katzenworld for this.

Before you watch, I just want to say: Notice how high Herbie holds his tail. Happy Herbie. A study notes that in a domestic cat, the tail-up is observed “when an adult individual meets another one and . . . signals the intention to interact amicably.”

Also notice how Dr. Ellis never pushes the cat into the crate, but never!!! Notice, in Part II, how Dr. Ellis calls this a “game.”

OK. Now watch here.

training3 032-crop

Next I want to draw your attention to Alex and Cindy at work with horses. The video series in this blog-post of Alex’s was taken at Cindy’s spectacular ranch here in Arkansas, as Alex guides Cindy, a trainer in her own right, in working with Cindy’s gorgeous mare Scout.

There is so much to chew on here that I will leave you to your own devices. I just want to mention a few stand-outs (I have page after page of notes from this single post but I’ll spare you those).

First, as a counter-argument to those who object to clicker-training on grounds that food-treats distract the animal, Alex says, “Once a horse understands that treats come when he shows me good emotional self-control, I can use food as a reinforcer to help teach other things.”

Good emotional control. Absolutely.

And with it, to do this: To teach and to learn in a calm and happy (emotionally controlled) setting. Like here, for example, where Alex says “while it might look as though Cindy is simply feeding Scout treats, and that’s how she is getting her to turn, the treats are in fact reinforcers that come after Scout has been clicked for keeping her head away from Cindy . . . .”

It’s about learning. Like this: Dear Scout, don’t crowd Cindy, be calm and in balance. You will be happy when you’re calm and in balance, you see, because you will get reinforced for learning, and this is an excellent and important thing to learn, not to crowd or mug your human. A 1,200-pound mugger is serious business!

And Scout does the equivalent of Herbie high-tail: She bursts into a trot, but still right there alongside Cindy. No dragging, no mugging. See this in Part Six at 5:50.

A happy, polite, amicable animal.

The most beautiful sight on the planet.

training6 001-crop

And there’s also this, to make the crucial point that coercion, force, domination, and negative reinforcement are not the way, when it comes to transitioning the horse to follow a lead-rope: “I don’t want my horses to be afraid of the lead or to be worrying about what might happen if they make a mistake. That would poison the cues the lead is giving. If you are using a style of rope handling in which escalating pressure is at times used to enforce behavior, you will undermine the intent and the power of this lesson.”

This video is in just one post from Alex’s blog, where she is hard at work writing her next book. The blog is jam-packed. It’s going to take me many hours of study.

Just glancing quickly at the resources, though, I was gratified to see that Alex has drawn from the work of Jaak Panksepp. More connections. Years ago, inspired by an interview with Panksepp by Ginger Campbell of the excellent Brain Science Podcast (see link to Dr. Campbell in this post of mine), I bought Panksepp’s book, Affective Neuroscience (presents “complex material in a readable manner,” so what does that make me?). The jargon totally defeated me, despite that I am well familiar, in the legal context, with deciphering jargon. Oh no. Not Panksepp. I don’t even know where in the depths of the house I stashed that book, so beyond me it was. Probably donated it to the library. So thank you Alex for drawing on Panksepp, because now I don’t have to. I knew he’d be worth it but I just didn’t have the stomach.

I hope it won’t be this long before my next post, because I sure am looking forward to saying something (probably a great deal) about Alex’s understanding of Feldenkrais and the link between her work, Feldenkrais, and our beloved animals. But I better go feed those beloved animals right now.

In the meantime, here’s the link to Alex’s blog and the Cindy-Scout videos.

Happy tails.

I want these bookends. They’re at the Brooklyn Museum.



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