We are in the process of unpacking Moshe Feldenkrais’s article, “Learning to Learn,” which is a series of prompts or suggestions. Together they make up something like a guide to practicing his method of somatic education.
The first prompt is:
Do everything very slowly.
The second is:
Look for the pleasant sensation.
The third is:
Do not “try” to do well.
…Do not “try” to do well.
This is a magical nugget.
Do not “try” to do well
Trying hard means that somehow a person knows that unless he makes a greater effort and applies himself harder he will not achieve his goals. Internal conviction of essential inadequacy is at the root of the urge to try as hard as one can, even when learning. Only when we have learned to write fluently and pleasurably can we write as fast as we wish, or more beautifully. But “trying” to write faster makes the writing illegible and ugly. Learn to do well, but do not try. The countenance of trying hard betrays the inner conviction of being unable or of not being good enough.
For me, there is a particular magic embedded in this particular element of the approach. When I say magic, I am referring to a potent ingredient necessary for a profound personal transformation to occur. When I say transformation, I am referring to the re-imagining and re-defining of my relationship with myself.
How could NOT TRYING be so important?
How could NOT TRYING play a pivotal role in altering one’s self-image?
We’ve been trained, mostly by well-meaning and intelligent people who love us and want the best for us, that we should, in fact, strive to improve. We should try. Earn better grades, run faster, be more interesting, earn more money, etc.
But Feldenkrais here posits (or illuminates the reality) that learning and striving are mutually exclusive.
You can DO better (for a while) by striving, but the effort will be so great and so exhausting that the benefits will not be able to be maintained. For example you can try to run faster, but eventually you will get tired and can no longer manifest more speed.
However, if you want to BE better (be more coordinated, be more mentally agile, etc.) then you must stop trying to be better.
If you want to be better… Stop trying to be better.
Feldenkrais believed that the impulse to strive-to-improve is instilled in us as children by disapproving parents and teachers.
We start to believe (consciously or unconsciously) that who we are is not good enough. Therefore we manifest the impulse to improve in order to please the people we depend on for food, safety, and love.
This desire to please via improving becomes a habit. It is something we outgrow as we enter adulthood, instead we internalize the impulse and carry it with us.
Now this impulse to strive (to improve) is an organizing force that governs (or at least effects) our every thought and action.
The Feldenkrais method asks us to step outside of our compulsion to improve.
Feldenkrais is pulling back the curtain of cultural ideals here and posing the idea that striving to improve is not an optimal trait of a real go-getter, but a crippling habit born out of feelings of inadequacy and failure.
It’s hard to distill the most delicious aspect of the Feldenkrais method, but this may be it for me.
Nothing has ever been as freeing for me (a previously type A personality) than letting go of the desire to do more, to do better, to lift my leg higher.
Because by letting go of that desire I am submitting to the reality of what is easy.
Once I stop trying, once I admit what I cannot do easily, once I relent to the reality of where I am weak— there I am. Me. Honestly. The real contour of who I actually am—as opposed to who I once wanted to be, or who my parents expected me to be, or even the who that is constructed by the gaze of an actual or imagined audience.
Not trying is what allows me to feel the real me, which is defined, in part, by my limitations.