I met with Dennis Leri at his home in San Rafael at the end of March, in 2015. We talked about the role of recording in the Feldenkrais Method, some of the concepts that Dennis used to think through what Feldenkrais work is about, a look back on the various phases of Dennis' career, the shapes of the Feldenkrais community as Dennis saw them, Feldenkrais in terms of art, the East-Meets-West dimension of the work, and Feldenkrais as a community of inquiry.
To record this interview, I met Dennis in San Rafael where he lived with his wife Maria in a small, cozy place, with a garden level studio where Dennis worked. We spoke upstairs in the front-room for a half an hour, then we went out to lunch. We continued the interview when we returned.
I found Dennis remarkably open and engaging, both in this conversation and in general.
I didn’t have a plan for releasing the recording we made, but when he died at the end of 2016, I felt it would be appropriate to share it with people in the Feldenkrais community.
Now I share it here to make it available in a more ongoing way.
Dennis was one of the very important teachers in my life. I’m happy to share this conversation I had with him.
EC: In my training you said that Feldenkrais careers go through different periods the way that artists’ careers go through different periods. Picasso had a blue period and then went on to something else. How do you think about the different periods of your career? What are some notable characteristics of your early, middle, late work?
DL: First of all, doing the training process with Feldenkrais was great, but at the time there wasn’t anything else to compare it to. When we came out of the training, I think that many of us didn’t have a concept of function. An actionable concept. For two years I worked, and people liked what I did, and I liked what I did, but I wasn’t tailoring the work to the individual. We could still do the work. It was close enough, like two magnets come close enough together and then glom on.
[when did you go to Israel? How long after your training?]
But, being in Israel, watching Feldenkrais work, I saw many things that were far beyond anything that he ever showed in the training, and his thinking was in the moment, not predigested, not preordained. He would just think in the moment, and the leaps were amazing. When I was first there, I would try to watch everything, but after a while I could only watch 3 or 4 lessons a day because I’d get so fatigued trying to stay with it, you know?
When I was in Israel, Mia Segal had me give her some lessons. I don’t know whether it was just out of kindness or if she really wanted them. Then she would ask me questions about what I was doing. Working with Mia and her questioning, watching Moshe every day, getting lessons, and working with all of the other assistants, Gaby Yaron and Yochanan Rywerant, and everybody else… I think the scales fell from my eyes in terms of what Functional Integration is, for me. Everybody in Israel was unbelievably gracious. Unbelievably kind. One was just as nice or nicer than the next. Really wonderful.
Then when I hit that mode where I kind of understood Functional Integration, it was analogous to when I’m in the middle of an Awareness Through Movement lesson, and I think, “Oh God, this lesson is really a lesson for me.” Like somehow it’s really working, and what does it feel like? Well I realized for me, the feeling of learning and being at that edge in Awareness Through Movement can be very synonymous with the feeling of doing Functional Integration. So, when I would feel that in Functional Integration, I would just go with it until I started to diverge and then I would find a way to try to come back to it. It was just like following some sort of inner compass, relative to the person. And that took me a certain place.
In Israel, when we were all over there, both my generation and the Amherst generation, you’d have a conversation with Feldenkrais where he would say something and an idea would get planted and eventually it would grow out of the ground of that conversation. For me it was the idea of the archimedean lever. He talked about how typology systems are useful, but at best they’re 75% effective. Like the Enneagram might be 70-75% accurate which is pretty high. But he said, if you work the other way around, from Where is that person organizing themselves to be that person, then that’s the Archimedean lever. And if you find that, you can do very little work and have a global effect. So that became my obsession, of trying to find it working with people. What did it mean, verbally, non-verbally, conceptually, aesthetically? What did it mean?
EC: Didn’t you do a workshop about the Archimedean Lever? Is there a place that people can get that?
DL: I think through Feldenkrais Resources. I did a workshop for David Zemach Bersin on the Five Lines, on the primary image, and that’s in post-production now.
EC: So archimedean lever is kind of like a period for you, where that was one of the guiding things.
DL: It’s still in the background of everything I do. You know, the way that I developed my work was.. Wherever I was living - first the Bay Area then Santa Fe then Boulder - I would spend a week or two out of every month on the road. So I would teach in New Orleans or San Diego or somewhere, and the workshop would be Friday night, Saturday, Sunday, and then during the week, either before or after the workshop I’d give FI lessons, and then I’d go to the next place. And I’d do 11 or 12 sessions a day. But then I started thinking, How can I do this and keep my interest and economize? What can I do that I can do even less, and have the effect right? That’s the point of it all.
EC: This is kind of an insider question, but How would you go somewhere new and get that many people to show up for a workshop and private lessons?
DL: Early on, I just told myself I’m not going to advertise myself, but I’m going to go wherever I’m asked to go. And I’d just follow that, as a principle, until it didn’t work. So one time I ended up in Greeley, CO in somebody’s front room with like 2 or 3 people, right? And I was up from Santa Fe, so it was hundreds of miles just for that, but that led to somebody setting up another workshop at a community college nearby, where there were 90 people in the room.
EC: That’s huge. You just followed it.
DL: I just followed it. And the funny thing was... Do you remember EST? Let’s say someone at my San Diego workshop had been in EST, so they would always want to “acknowledge” me and thank me for sharing… The jargon right? And then I would go to Tuscon and everybody there was into their spirit guides. You know, “Grandfather Crow came to me during the lesson.” “Well, Cousin Eagle came to me.” And I’m thinking, “I don’t know what they’re talking about, but they’re very happy and they seem to be doing the Awareness Through Movement just fine.” Then I’d go to Texas and people would be into auras. “Oh I get there’s a lot of gold in your aura.” But somebody who was into Auras would bring me there, so that was the vocabulary. So that’s when I learned to ask, “Well, has anybody had any experience with Feldenkrais?” “Yes.” “Well what was it?” And they would answer with the local vocabulary and set the tone for the room, and then that’s how I’d pitch my material. Otherwise you’re just spouting stuff and maybe they have no concept at all.
EC: Have there been any times in your career when you’ve seriously thought about dropping Feldenkrais?
DL: I never.. Yeah, there are always up times and down times. But I was fortunate to be in the San Francisco group, early on. At that point, if you were out there, you were the only person around. And plus I got a lot of experience, like I said. I travelled a lot. So it was interesting. It was interesting to keep moving and then finally when the trainings started happening, I started doing trainings. There’s been an evolution of the thing.
EC: And you were always on the front edge of it. You could always ask, “What’s the next new thing that we’re going to do?”
COMMUNITY - BUREAUCRACY
DL: I think there is always a tension between Feldenkrais bureaucracy and Feldenkrais practice. And it’s not unique to Feldenkrais, it’s going to be in everything. It’s just the way it is. Early on I felt like I can’t deal with the bureaucracy of it very well. I remember, I was secretary of the Guild once upon a time and Elizabeth Berringer said, “You know, every time you tell somebody that, you tell it like it’s the punchline of some joke.” I’m not that kind of mind. I can organize a training. I can organize and deal with things that come up. But the meta concerns, the social dynamics of a community are really difficult to deal with when I am also trying to do the work. That’s not true for other people. Other people can do both. I can’t.
FELDENKRAIS ART - COMPOSITION, CULTURE, JEWISH ROOTS, LANGUAGING, POETRY
EC: I’m always amazed by the compositional dimension of Feldenkrais work. Whether there’s a theme and then variations or there’s some other kind of organizational idea... I wonder where his compositional skill came from. He created so many of these abstract movement sequences that have beginnings, middles and ends, and that mean something.
DL: I think that’s the.. The more that we’re removed from.. What we end up left with are the Awareness Through Movement lessons, the more appreciation I think [and the more of them that are available] the more appreciation we have of that medium. And you know.. It’s like.. They’re like fugues. They’re these incredible structures that have self-reference, they have a beginning, middle and end. There is something that happens through. They evoke a whole theater of possibilities and different levels of histories that are there and everything comes together in like a half an hour or forty five minutes or so, that’s there. They’re..
I was just doing, Flavia.. Have you ever met Flavia? So, she’s really really bright. So we were talking one time. There’s a concept of a Darwinian - a Darwin Machine. Well it’s the idea that.. What do you need to do to have something that evolves? So then there’s Darwin Machines, which is one defenition of an organism. Or you have semiotic machine a la Pierce. So I think in a sense, there’s something about the domain of experience that Feldenkrais presents, or that it invites. It’s like, when you go to theater, you go to a movie, you know it’s not - driving to the movie, eating dinner before hand - you know it’s not like that, it’s something else. But yet there’s something about it - it’s profound, in some sense, or whatever it does - enlarges in some sense or makes smaller or it’s a different perspective on the world for that period of time, and you come out at least seeing something differently inside, but later on the world’s different, as a consequence. And that’s what Feldenkrais. Because the movements are taken out of.. like in a lot of dance, movements are taken out of any utilitarian.. It’s not folk dance, it’s not folk movement. You take it out of that, and you might take it out of that and you might tweak it a little bit or you might tweak it completely. And so you’re out of that dimension, and so you suspend, in a way, the strictures of your own historical biasing, and you suspend that, in a sense. And then, like any really good piece of art, things could be really different afterward. And it may not be.. You know, it’s like, I remember going to some art in San Francisco one time and looking at it and there was a discussion - I was in this class and we were talking about how astrology couldn’t be real because Pluto was so small in the universe so mechanically speaking it couldn’t have any affect on us, you know? But you’re looking at this painting and there was this little yellow dot at bottom part of the painting, and if you covered it over, you just realized the whole field of the painting was different. It might have been smaller than Pluto, but without that it just doesn’t vibrate. So that’s why, you’re thinking What’s the purpose of a lesson? Well, you just don’t know what little part or the grand brush stroke or.. you don’t know what’s going to move you, you just don’t know.
EC: And I’ve had that experience so many times.. As things get laid out at the beginning of the lesson, there’s a period of going into it where I’m kind of adjusting to what the world of the lesson is and then either in the middle or at the end or even toward the beginning, there’s some thing that happens where, there’s some kind of transition from how I was before that moment to how I am after that, and sometimes it’s a big reveal at the end of the lesson where it’s like, Oh that’s what this was about the whole time. And that always reminds me of some narrative structure where I’m like, oh that’s like the detail from the beginning that nobody..you know, it’s like a detective thing where that guy you saw in frame 5 of the show is like all of a sudden the guy who did it. But it’s amazing that he was able to invent - I don’t know if invent is the right word.. organize a situation where people can have that experience in such a..
DL: I agree with you and I think that the bias in the community has almost always been that functional integration is the jewel. But Feldenkrais realized early on that.. How many people could he give functional integration lessons to? Maybe 20,000 in his life if he lived really long and saw a lot of people. But, with Awareness Through Movement you create something that not only is affective for a group of people but it’s affective for a group of people over many many years subsequently, as we’ve seen. There’s something about it that I think.. You see people do really good functional integreation.. Like if you go to a conference, you see all these people who came from all different kinds of trainings all around the world doing really nice work. But how many people have made really good awareness through movement?
EC: I don’t know.
DL: It’s very few. Very few have made up really good ones. I know a lot of people who think they have. But they just don’t measure up. They miss something. They become kind of.. as Mark Reese said, they become ritual because you.. It’s almost like propaganda. When you look at a piece of.. Like a sign or somewhere, where there’s a slogan it’s propoganda. That’s the point. This is the point they want you to get. Whereas, with a good art piece, there’s that but it might be slightly skewed. It’s like.. I was listening to Terri Gross one time and there was this Rabbi on and she was asking, What do you think of these televangelist christian preachers? What do you think of these guys on radio? He says, Well I occasionally go through the south quite a bit, so there’s not much else on the radio. So he says, “I’m interested in hearing what they have to say. Especially when they talk about what the christians call the old testament. Which is my whole thing. I don’t have the new testament, I just have it. So you’ll have some kind giving his talk, and then he’ll cite something in the bible as if that nails it down. And that’s it. That’s definitive, and there’s no argument. Now, if my rabbi friends and I take that same passage, until we can get four or five defensible positions out of that one line, we don’t feel like we understand. Now we don’t nail - this is the meaning - but unless we can generate 4 or 5 really solid defensible positions, we feel we’re not beginning to understand it. So there’s that kind of explication.
EC: Maybe that’s a clue about where some of.. I know that there’s a book about the hasidic roots of Feldenkrais.
DL: I think that’s a really important version of it.
EC: Yeah because that’s his definition of really knowing how to do something is being able to do if 4 or 5 different ways.
DL: Also, in Judiasm, you don’t have any images of God, there’s no idolatry. So in Feldenkrais, there are not any images of how to do it, like follow me. It’s just not there. There’s another kind of inquiry. All the science and everything that he knows fits in. Like doing a scan, so you do it like a scientific experiment, you set up your initial conditions and you come back “what’s perturbed? what’s perturbed?” then you perturb it some more, come back, come back. Then you compare something from the beginning to the end. All different ways of doing it.
EC: Well another question I have is like, it seems like there’s ATM, there’s group work, and then there’s FI, individual work, but then as I went through the training it became more and more clear that there’s this other mode which is like a talking mode, or like explication or like you know, getting into how to use language to really give people more options of how to think about it. I’m finding that, with teaching classes, it’s like people are very happy to come back when I’ve said something either before hand or after about what it is they experience. And I’m wondering, for Feldenkrais, the style sheet was like so much science, so much anatomy obviously, so much jewish culture, so much.. he had a really deep bag of tricks. But then going through your training, we definitely got a lot of your narrative, or you - I don’t know if theoretical is the right word - but there’s this thing that happens that’s like question and answer, but it seems to me like by the end of four years, I was feeling like that was a third way of doing the Feldenkrais method was just talking about stuff.
DL: I think for me, there’s a whole - like the black mountain poets and the san francisco poets - there’s a whole poetic tradition or William Carlos Williams even before that, so there’s a certain american idiom in poetry where you.. It’s free verse and it’s not.. And what rhymes in situations aren’t the end words or syllables or consonants, but it’s the idea that a chair rhymes with table. There are these situational rhymes, so that you’re.. So that the images and the progression of images set up this rhyme or rhythm within it, or they can work against that. It’s also to not just be sentimental. You can have sentiment, but not be sentimental. So I think out of that, for me it’s like.. You have the idea, let’s say - I think Lakoff invokes it, but I don’t think he invented it - so you say furniture. And people can form an image of it. But if I say kitchen furniture or bedroom furniture or living room furniture then you can put a collection of objects that make sense, right? And so furniture’s like an over arching concept, and then there are all these one’s that are related to human activity, sitting, standing, sleeping, eating. Those kinds of activities. But then below that, there’ll be.. like if you say legs. Well there’s legs of a chair - but it can be kitchen, dining - so there’s a level of generality below the midlevel that is common in a way but not discernible, but when you look at the alphabet, you see that most of the parts of the letters that are on the line are like people, but if you look at the top part it’s like peoples faces, so letters have these orientations and shapes, it’s really a phenomenal thing.
So I think with languaging, there’s.. you work from the middle out. So that’s basically.. so What’s the functions? The functions are always going to be those kinds of activities that are related to that mid level in some way. Like you go to a door, and the door handle is where for most people it’d be convenient, so it’s not like you put it at the top of the door or the bottom of the door, or the wrong side. You put it where it’s useful, so it makes things move easy, like the life you want.
So with languaging, you want to do that but at the same time you want to elicit meaning. You want to elicit that concrete level that’s concrete below which people have any particular mid level relationship to.
EC: So what’s an example of that?
DL: If you’re gonna lift your head and you’re on your back, so you do these activities and you’re breaking something down and you’re just dealing with the efforts of it and the weight of things, so you’re just dealing with weight, direction, trajectory and things like that, so it’s not really related to an activity. You could relate it to an activity later on. And you know, okay, well if this particular set of relations can’t be effected sitting, if you lie on your back maybe you can do it, or you lie on your side or your stomach, maybe you can close those same joints in a way that’s affective for sitting, or standing or walking or running, cause you want to.. cause it’s the pattern that trumps the muscles.
But then, you need the framework for it. Like, I’m always talking more concretely and more abstractly than the people in the room have access to. Not that they’re not better abstract thinkers than me, or more concrete thinkers, it’s just in the context of Feldenkrais, I know from my experience they can’t tie things together the way that I have or my colleagues have from all those years of experience. At the same time, I know the little microdistinctions that I can make, in sensation, movement, timing, duration and things is beyond what most people can sustain. So I’m always constantly using the middle level and taking up residence there with the above and below, so I always want to talk just what’s slightly outside of people’s concept and then what’s slightly out of people’s concrete experience. But there’s enough of it - there’s enough of the center stuff - sandwich, right? - there’s enough of the center to be able to make it.. that it has some resonance. So the conceptual distinctions are ones that grow out of the work. They’re not one’s that I impose, and that’s true for most people. And the finite ones are ones that we’ve all developmentally had to sort through, whether consciously or unconsciously or whatever, it doesn’t make a difference, we’ve had to figure out, if you lean to far you’re going to fall, without putting your foot.. one things going to happen. So the language for me, in terms of the talks, have to bring both of those in, right?
And then I’ve found, when I was doing all the Eriksonian work, there are all these ways to induce trance or receptivity to learning.
DL: Well if people talk science or mathematics, people just glaze over, but if you say it in a way where it’s almost accessible, then you see it’s like a trance state, because it’s like, Just give me the damn movement. Can we get to the damn movement? But if you do a lot of movement, at a certain point you have to know what’s it related to? Cause you can’t overburden that part of yourself without context. This is the metaphorical, metonymical - you know, all those different kinds of linguistic devices. Cognitive devices. Metaphor will contain or relate things and metonymical ones will indicate things. So when you’re lying on the floor, feel this heel feel that heel, well it’s a very specific thing, so until you.. But then after a while if you keep doing that, it begs context, what is this about? So at that point, depending on your audience, you can insinuate context, you can explicate context or you can actually work against context. Like this is about Martial Arts, this isn’t about dance, and if you keep saying it’s not about.. It’s like don’t think about a pink elephant. They can’t help but.. there’s all kinds of ways of doing that.
EC: I’ve been listening to Amherst recordings a little bit and it’s amazing how the lessons will have four movements and the rest of the time is just talking. But the feeling I have getting up after an hour an a half of that is obviously comparable to if I were doing movements the whole time.
DL: He does an interesting thing. Yvon does it this way too. You start the lesson, like lie on your back. Sometimes he starts by talking, sometimes he starts with “lie on your back”. Then he does one or two movements, then he comes out of it. But he never steps out of.. He does a parenthetical thing, but you never leave the beginning of the lesson, he’s never said, okay now we’re gonna talk, and then he comes back to it so all this stuff is folded in. I used to do a lot of teaching like that until I started teaching in Europe and then… it was too much to ask of people. I’m hard to understand in English. Think about German or French or something.
EC: So maybe that’s another period of your work, when you’re doing a lot of parenthetical stuff.
DL: I used to plan - I had tablets of these yellow legal size notebooks - where I would think of every atm and every story that I wanted to tell, how to bring it back in. I would work these things over, like unbelievably. Then after a while you don’t - that was my artifice and then after a while I didn’t need to or want to do it anymore, so you just trust the process for yourself.
EC: Yeah, I did a thing where I was transcribing mark reese lessons word for word and then teaching them word for word, trying to do all the pacing, trying to make everything.. Cause I never met him, but I wanted to interact with him, so I was just paying very very close attention, and it’s a really cool exercise to step inside something that’s incredibly controlled because it’s - either because you wrote it or somebody else spoke it - but then there was definitely a point where then the only thing, the only way forward was to just drop it and see what would happen if I just went in with nothing and tried to go for it. There are a lot of different ways to go at organizing the material.
DL: Some practicioners.. like Larry Goldfarb, he’s so logical - I mean logical in a big sense, not a dry sense - so he’ll.. Like you do a paragraph but you have a beginning topic sentence and [...] and so people transcribing him say he’s just so easy to transcribe because they fit into these outlines. And he fleshes it out. And people ask questions and he does these things, but he does these little flow chart that he does and he goes back and forth. Where if you transcribe Feldenkrais or you transcribe me, you don’t know, where’s the beginning, middle and end? And yet it always seems to make sense.
EC: Well it’s like what we were talking about earlier where if we thought of this not as a science but more as an art, there’s some kind of.. There’s a lot actually, there’s a lot of value in individuals coming up with different ways of solving this problem of “What is an ATM lesson?” or “What am I gonna do with this 45 minutes with this group of people?”
DL: And I think after a while you kind of realize your own mode of working. And so, in my mode, I can construct David or Elizabeth or Moshe or whoever, I can construct it. But if I just do my mode of working with people, it’s.. that’s generally what’s most effective. But sometimes you realize you can’t do this minimalist stuff, you have to do bigger work, you have to talk to people, you have to really engage them, otherwise they don’t know what’s going on. Other people are happy to do it, and some people just aren’t happy to do it. So you have to be able to be in different modes, right? So there’s just realizing, first of all just getting your craft down for yourself, and then parts of the work that you were anxious about, back filling it, picking those things up so you feel your craft is complete, you know, you can do things that you need to do. But then, you know, after a while you find, Well, What’s your interest?
EAST MEETS WEST
So, like to me, there’s this zen text called Uji, which is by dogen sensei, who was the founder of soto zen, and it’s about time, but it’s called.. Uji, or for the time-being. And it means for the time being or for the time-being and so it’s just one of these most amazing texts of all time. But it’s the idea that if you’re the buddha, it’s for the time being, and if you’re me or you in our limited sense, it’s for the time being, and so for all people who ever are or will be, this present is the time being, and so in that sense we share with everybody that sense, and everything else is idiosyncratic, right? But it’s even like, if you’re efforting to get somewhere, and being half way there is still for the time being. It’s still fully an experience of time. So however you demarcate the thing, there’s still this constantly revisiting the timeless, in a sense, without maybe knowing it. And so it’s just a matter of knowing it, but even not knowing it is still to know it as time being, for the time being.
So for me, when I think of a sensation, or I think of an image.. I think about the duration of it, that the most material aspect, or the most concrete is how it endures, how it carves itself out a little moment of duration, in the midst of another duration, so you’re rolling to your side and in the midst of that, there are little sensations that take up a very small duration within that cycle. Or there are thoughts within it that take up duration, so when you feel it, that every sensation, every thought, every emotional thing is a place marker for the mosaic of these interacting durations, then the fabric of it is just the most amazing thing. To me it’s like the most amazing vibrant place [...]. So it’s like, you’re not losing.. Like, if you look at something very pixelated, close up, it’s no image, but as you go back from it, you see the image there. It’s like, what’s his name? Close?
EC: Chuck Close, yeah.
DL: So it’s that kind of thing, at a certain frame.. So there’s these temporal solidities.. It’s hard to think of time as solid. So then the other part of it is that I think that every thing that we experience, which has a lot of recursion, like in terms of.. Like feeling the solidity of this chair and being able to rely upon it versus the contingencies of life..
EC: Yeah, like, I’m here for an afternoon..
DL: So there are these recursive elements of our existence and they are.. Whether it’s a thought, a feeling, whatever it happens to be, it’s a prediction. It’s a guess about how to have a world appear, so it’s all guesswork, hypothetical, but some things, like looking at this chair and realizing I can put my butt in it, that’s a guess that’s going to have a high probability of being accurate. But other things have very very.. 2% possibility. But if you realize it, wow, that’s pretty incredible.
So for me it’s like these.. The predictive aspect of it. So when you begin to listen to your environment, and to yourself, as what.. What are my operating predictions? And how am I.. And then how is that related to.. Like why is it those are working or not working? Or what part of it is working or not working? Then I think aesthetically, like for art or whatever, can you get to this very very tangible, but indiscernible level for most people who don’t pay attention to it?
And you can do the same thing with space. But for time, it really.. You have a column of time and you say okay, rolling from front to back, and then in between it, depending on what you’re doing, there might be something that’s frustrating or something like that, but then when you lose.. And then in that duration, some part of that limiting factor of that roll.. You lose the arc. And so there’s something.. To make that continuous, you have to do something usually, get a different trajectory or get a different sense of yourself.
So those are the things that need to make the.. Like I told you, when I was in the hospital and I was dying, there was hardly anything I could do, and I couldn’t effort. I had no energy left to do it. So everything was just either noise or presence. These thoughts would come in and feelings would come in and I realized they were just regrets of the past or negative anticipations of the future, and I just would think, you know.. I just mentally would say no. Just no, right? And then everything would clear up for a certain duration, and it was a very enjoyable duration. Cause otherwise..
EC: One of the interviews on your website is the interview with Moshe about Judo, which is really cool because it’s an interesting look at East meets West, from before the 60s. Before the 70s. When, for people of my generation, that’s when east meets west seems like it really starts. But then, it’s interesting that Feldenkrais came to America in that same period, when Buddhism was coming here, Hinduism was coming here, psychedelics were happening, all that stuff.. To me it seems like Feldenkrais is kind of part of that moment, in a way. I have a bunch of questions about that, but mainly it’s this question of.. It seems like mindfulness is getting a lot of press. It’s on the cover of a lot of magazines.. And that’s both heartening, and it’s also.. You know, you wonder what it’s losing by being taken up by science and what it’s gaining by being taken up by science. So, I guess I could start by asking, What are some of the Eastern Modalities you’ve been involved in?
DL: I started.. So many people, the beat poets, like Kerouac and Gary Snyder brought a cognisence of Zen and Zen writings to everybody, or at least people who were interested, so that was like my first take on it. But even before then, I remember when I was in school, first year or two of college, you had to put your religion, and I put down Taoist. I had no idea what a tao-ist was.. I’d read a little bit about it somewhere and it sounded more like me than anything else that I could deal with.
And so then I went to Sonoma State, and so I.. At the same time, I think I had gotten into meditation a little bit and then 69 or 70 or 71, I met [Kennet?] Roshi who was a british born Zen master and she spent a couple decades in Japan and she was certified, authorized to be completely autonomous. So it was interesting to get involved with her. I got involved with her at.. Now it’s called the Institute of Integral Studies - CIIS - but then it was CIAS, the California Institute of Asian Studies, and so every class was taught by.. You know, if it was a Zen class then it was taught by a Zen master, if it was Sufi it was taught by a Sufi master, if it was Tibetan it was taught by a Tibetan Rinpoche. And so it was just like.. classes were small, and it ended up working with them, then you end up going to wherever they were to work with them. And so, for me it was really early on, and very much along the same time, like Zen and then with my Zen teacher I was ready to just shave my head and go become a monk, you know? And she was very smart, she said, “Let’s say it like this. You’re always welcome. You can come up and you can live there. But I’m in the business of cranking out Zen priests. And you’re just not Zen priest material. The reason is,” she said, “because you’re an artist and you’re a poet and you march to the beat of your own drummer. So for you, rather than sitting on a cushion, if you’re a truck driver driving down the road, if you’re a.. whatever you’re doing, just ask yourself, Does this path have the buddha nature? And if it does, you just keep on that road. When it doesn’t, take the first turn off and see whether it does.” So it was really interesting. And..
So then in 73, Feldenkrais was doing an extended.. It was supposed to be a professional training, but it turned out not to be. It was in Berkeley. And I was initially signed up for it, and then the guy who organized it talked me out of it because he was mad with Moshe. I still took the evening class - I think David took that class. I took the evening classes and I was studying at night time, and all during the day I was with this Tibetan teacher. And we brought Feldenkrais to work with the Rinpoche.
So in this group, it was called the Human Potential Training. It was nine weeks with this Tibetan Rinpoche, and we were supposed to learn all these very insider Tibetan tricks and all these things about the mind that would help people in the psychological helping professions. So there were psychiatrists and doctors and psychiatric social workers and other minor level gurus in the class, you know like that and you know, and Me. So we’re in there. And so..
It was this really amazing thing where after about a week and a half in the class, the Rinpoche realized that these westerners don’t understand mind at all, at least from a buddhist perspective. We did really amazing shit. It was these amazing pracitices, back then, it was like 73, who knows how old I was.. Feldenkrais came.
He came in the afternoon because every day, like an English tradition, we would have afternoon tea, and we’d usually take an hour or longer and there’d be somebody who would come.. There was a philosopher, a psychologist, some other spiritual teacher. And they would dialogue with the Rinpoche, right? Who was really bright and understood English pretty well, but.. People would come in and invariably.. So there were 65 of us in the intensive, and then usually the Rinpoche’s students and then visitors, so there were always about 100 people in the room. And invariably the people would come in and puff themselves up.. They got their schtick, they’d try to do their schtick, but the Rinpoche didn’t have the cultural coordinates to be impressed. And so he just would look at them when he was supposed to laugh and be impressed. And he didn’t laugh and he wasn’t impressed. And so all these people, their act would just die on stage, right? They couldn’t wait to get out of there. Claudio Naranjo, who had a whole little spiritual group at the time - it was a quasi-Gurdjieffian spiritual group, and so he had this round robin going this summer where he’d put two gurus, two teachers in a room and see which one came out on top and then he would pair them with the next one. And so Feldenkrais had… Like March Madness, right? So Feldenkrais was heading from the sweet 16 into the final four, right? Vanquished all these other swamis and gurus and so they brought him in. So Feldenkrais came in in the same pair of shoes he always wore, same shirt he always wore, same pair of pants and Yochanan. And then the Lama was up on a little bit of a throne with all these brocades and his lama garb, and.. So Claudio said, “Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche, this is Doctor Moshe Feldenkrais.. Hello, how are you?” He’s sitting on this couch. And Feldenkrais goes, “So. What’s your problem?” So.. it turns out that he.. That Tarthang Rinpoche has these problems in his feet, so he puts up his foot in the air, lifts it up with his other hand like with a monkey grip, and he goes, “I have this pain right here.. Right here.” So Feldenkrais knew the lay of the land with all these doctors, with all these people there.. “What have all these esteemed doctors told you about your problem?” And he says, “Oh, they said I weigh too much.” Feldenkrais said, “Excuse me, you weigh too much? I weigh 20-30-40 kilo more than you. My feet don’t bother me. So that’s not your problem.” “Well, they tell me this..” “No, that’s not your problem.” “No that’s not your problem.” So he kind of leans forward in this conspiratorial way and goes, “You know what your problem is?” Tarthang goes, “No, what?” He goes, “You sit on your ass, cross legged too god damn much.” And it was like complete silence. You thought the roof was gonna come off and these vajra tibetan thunder bolts were gonna come through and smite him right on the spot. People were just aghast. And then Moshe, ever the warrior, totally non-sequiter, he says, “And all these people who are sitting here, you teaching them how to be free? Or to be like a tibetan?” Lama says, well these people are free to come and go as they wish. And Moshe said, “Well obviously. But this is America. Of course they’re free to come and go. What I’m asking you, Are you teaching these people to dress and act and talk like a Tibetan? Or are you teaching them how to live in this world and be autonomous and live through their own devices?” And so then the lama looked at him, he looked at Moshe and then the lama got this huge shit eating smile on his face and then Moshe smiled and then they had this kind of conversation and Moshe gave him a lesson. Cause he wanted a lesson. So I had my table there at the time, I was doing something other.. And he took a rolling pin out of the kitchen and rolled his calves for this lesson, and it was really fine and then during the lesson, he’s saying in Hebrew to Yochanan.. He’s saying like, “This guy’s got a neck like butter, he’s strong as an ox.” He’s saying all these things, Tarthang was a very powerful guy, and so.. And so then they retired to this little room, you know 12 or 13 of us in this room. And so, Rinpoche says to Moshe, he says, “Can you tell me something about your religion? Your lineage,” he called it. Feldenkrais says, “You mean Judiasm?” And he goes, “Yeah.” He goes, “Well okay. Before I do that, let me ask, how many jews in the room?” And 13 of us, I’d say 9 people raised their hand. And he says look, “Outside of Leri here” - I knew him from the class and I’d written him before and corresponded - “so I didn’t know any body, but I was willing to predict that because any time there’s something to be learned, or at the forefront of anything, you’re going to find 2% of America.. Look it’s nearly 75% [jewish]. So that’s the first thing. The second thing, We’re.. It’s a very old religion.” Well, he said, “How old is it?” “6,000 years.” So the lama says, “You mean 600.” Feldenkrais goes, “6000”. Lama says, “oh I’m really embarrassed because I had no idea you have such a long lineage.” And so then Feldenkrais starts telling the story, “Well, I’ll give you a little history.” So he starts telling the story of the exodus and his namesake, Moses. And he just kind of mimes it.. It’s like completely accurate but unbelievably funny. Everybody’s just dying laughing. And in the middle of it, everyone’s laughing, and he turns to the Lama, “That’s another thing about my people, We have a great sense of humor.” So they go back and forth, and it’s all give and take, and the Lama’s understanding Feldenkrais, and Feldenkrais is understanding the Lama, and then Moshe says to him, “Look, I’ve taken away your pain today. Can you take away mine?” And so he actually had a little sore ankle from some swami had him on one foot with one arm towards the north star and doing something else and doing some kind of weird hopping, chanting and it got a little bruised. “He said, no no. My assistant Yochanan can take care of that. I’m talking about moral pain.” And so the Lama who’d understood him really clearly throughout says, “I’m not sure what you’re asking. Ask me again.” So Moshe asks him again. And he says, “What do you want from me?” So he asks him again. He goes, “Well, could you say it in a way that I can really understand what you’re asking from me?” So it’s like 6 or 7 times - and if you’d been around Moshe, you thought for sure he was going to blow up - but each time he thought about it and he asked, right? So then the Lama says, “Okay, I’m gonna say something and I want you to understand it.” He said, “There is nothing that I have that you need. There’s nothing that I know that you don’t know. Being with you today, I see that you are a man who has thoroughly explored his own mind. And there’s nothing that I have to teach you.” And so.. I didn’t know Moshe at the time, but my perception at the time was that Moshe was a little crestfallen, a little bit right. You know, it wasn’t major. So everybody was really nice, “We’ll hope to see each other again sometime.” “Oh that would be really nice.” Blah blah blah. Then as their going out.. as everybody’s walking out, the lama pulls Yochanan aside and says, “Take care of this one. He’s a precious one.” Which is the word for Rinpoche. So “Take care of him. He’s a precious one.” And so when I was getting a lesson from Moshe a few years later, we were having lunch, and I said, “You know, that whole summer. That nine weeks I spent with Tarthang, we got all these visitors, and they fell flat on their faces. You were the only person that he accorded equality status with, and it wasn’t because you were demanding, or you puffed yourself up, it was just because of the kind of interaction you had. He really enjoyed it.” And he said, “Oh, I really enjoyed it too. You know, every time he writes a new book, he sends me a personally autographed copy and asks how I’m doing..” Really interesting right?
He said, “You know, I really hadn’t had a face to face with a rinpoche, and all my life I’d heard about them. So why waste time? This is what I wanted to know.” He was totally obliging, and it was this whole thing.
COMMUNITY - COMMUNITY PRACTICE
EC: I have a friend that I met in Boulder who recently moved to this place in Vermont called the Center for Mindful Learning.
DL: Vipassana place?
EC: No, it’s.. I should know more about the lineage, but I don’t. But it’s a mix of a non-profit and a monastery, and so their whole thing is that they want to bring mindfulness into schools more, so they have a residency situation. People go there, and then half the day you’re sitting and half the day you’re working for this non-profit that’s putting mindfulness out there. And it’s.. The thing that I’m jealous of, is that Daniel has a place to go, put in a huge amount of time with an equally dedicated group of people on this thing that he really cares about that’s not necessarily mainstream valuable. And I’m kind of like, I wish there was a Feldenkrais monastery, or I wish.. And given the story you just told, it’s probably not the point. But, do you have thoughts about how people can put that much time into.. Or, cause maybe that’s not what it is.
DL: One of the reasons Tarthang was sent to the west.. You know, there’s a million lamas. He was sent - even though he was the same lineage as the Dalai Lama - at that particular time, which was 72 or 73, the Tibetans were dying like flies in India because the bad food, the heat and everything else. So it was really critical.. And Tarthang just had a gift for fundraising. So we would have these lunches and there would be all these heiresses and heirs there with all their family money, and you could just see the.. As he was talking you could just see the money, like some cartoon, flying from the bank to these needy people in Monasteries - cause he never kept any of it. It all just went to India because it was so critical for the survival of the culture right? So, it takes some kind of patron like that, because you.. And there’s a lot of them around. Like all these Tibetans have these patrons, and so it takes something like that..
Or else it would take an orientation in the community to go away from.. To move away from all the policing activity - which needs to be done - but for all the protection.. into trying to provide, to underwrite people doing sabbatical, to doing longterm study, like in Crestone, in my lineage, there are these retreat cabins up there where you can just go and you can do a dark retreat for 49 days, people will bring you food, or you can cook in them. So it means you can just go, and concentrate. And then there’s always some kind of Lama there to dialogue with, to check your practice and stuff, and to work with you.
People have had that idea, and it would be fantastic if somebody would.. But then it’s like, Who’s gonna run it? And what orientation? It’s just terrible to think about that, but it would be nice if there were something like that.
EC: I was thinking about the story of.. I think you talked about it, in another interview, but it’s the story of arguing with Moshe about what kind of training to do after the SF training and him eventually saying, “I want to have as many people as possible do this, because.. Do you know who Mabel Todd is? We need to find that person.” I was thinking maybe that person isn’t going to be someone who invents 100s of ATM lessons, but could be somebody who’s incredibly gifted at setting up a situation like that whether other people could [study]
DL: I hadn’t thought about it like that, that makes a lot of sense, actually. The people who say they’ve gone beyond Feldenkrais, I don’t see any of that. Where are your 550 lessons? I just don’t see it. We talked about it earlier, I just feel awareness through movement is a more.. It has stricter requirements than Functional Integration, and so I feel like we’ll.. If somebody has the equivalent of 550 ATM lessons, then I’ll give them the due of going beyond Feldenkrais, or at least matching him. But as it is now.. Early on, my goal was to give some of the best lessons in the world, and after a while I realized, “This lesson is as good as anything.. In my own humble opinion - as good as anything Feldenkrais could do.” But the difference is, When you’re a genius you’re very consistent. Mine were very intermittent. But I would have them. And then you’d realize, “Okay, this is no big accomplishment.” What’s more interesting is to try to give some direction to the community, to where the learning goes. And I think that’s the.. I always felt like that’s my role. And then for me, it’s like the language and the Varelan and Maturana or the Piercian sense, is really unexplored in Feldenkrais work. Like I said on the Nagy thing, it was just ways in which you lie on the floor, there’s a set of verbal instructions, some how those go from whatever operating system into whatever language into the machine assembly language code and back out again, so how does that work? How does that happen? So I feel like, that’s where the focus.. It’s not all in Neuroscience or the body or things like that, it’s like our work is a specialized form of finding, of generating curiosity and generating break downs in our own habit structures and then bringing them, not just for us to fix, but then how to set up those fields where other people can create breakdowns in their own habits or the reassimilation of habits to different processes. That’s I think what the training and the class is usually about, even though it’s about sitting or whatever people want to do, walking gracefully. I mean all these things that are cultural.. cultural understandings but they’re not that interesting.
EC: It’s interesting that the whole thing about community, in the framework that you just laid out, is that you’re a part of a community when you’re taking a class and there is one person kind of setting up a context where you’re having these realizations or your curiosity is getting piqued, but then I’m finding when I’m trying to do this stuff that it feels.. It’s lonely, in a way.
DL: Yeah, it is.
EC: To be out there creating these contexts for other people, because.. I don’t know. To me at least, it doesn’t feel like a community endeavor. I can share.. I can talk with other people about it, but when I’m really doing it, it’s like, This is who I am and this is how I create this context.
DL: Once upon a time, I think in the early years I probably taught more awareness through movement than just about anybody. I was always doing workshops, always doing classes and on the road constantly doing stuff. And so you develop an understanding of the way the lessons work on so many different levels and you start to experiment and then more just keeps revealing itself. But then, Who do you talk to?
So I remember going out to dinner with Paul and Julie Cassin-Rubin, and it turns out Julie had the longest running classes forever, so she’d taught a gazillion classes, you know more than me for sure. And, so I made some kind of off handed remark and she completely picked up on it. And then I ventured the next thing, and she picked up on that. So then it turns out we just went back and forth and I realized, well okay, if you really work with these lessons - and she was a dance choreographer, she’s interested in composition and there’s all these things - these things are naturally going to occur to you, watching people do it, how do you work with it? And so it was like, I had a conversation which was great. And you find this same thing at conferences sometimes when you meet people and you realize, here’s somebody working in some god forsaken part of the world, they don’t meet or talk with anyone, and you talk with them and they start telling you about their practice or something and the things they tell you, you think, “This is a pristine example of Feldenkrais lesson or a Feldenkrais bridge or thought. Or taking what was this and making it into a Feldenkrais situation.” I mean, amazing stuff, and that’s the thing that you’re saying. And you realize, when Feldenkrais died, you’d say, “Okay, well the heartbeat and the brain of the community kind of passed away. And what are we left with?” Well, luckily, we have decentralized it all and have all these things set up, and so you find all this cross pollination, so then you found it’s really a field or a network where any one node in the network could come up with something wonderful and then within a matter of weeks, every training knows about it. Because trainers and assistant trainers and people work with each other, and cross pollinate, so then you realize it was the group mind that had taken over. And what you’re saying is, you just feel if there was some way that that could.. Like if you could say, okay I’m going to take 30 days off and go to the Feldenkrais Monastery, there’d be other people there that you’d have conversations with, out of which would last lifetimes worth of interesting thinking and practice. Maybe that’s the next place for it. It doesn’t seem like the online community is quite the place for it, but it might be a start in some way.
EC: That’s kind of going back to where we started about the role of recording, because there is something that happens, I mean people who come to my class even say, “You know..” I send out a free ATM lesson here and there, and people appreciate those, but then there’s something different about the act of going somewhere and being in the room with somebody that’s not..
DL: You feel that when you do ATM or when you do Functional Integration or get somebody into a class. But then in a training program.. no matter how much awareness through movement somebody has done, it’s not like being in a training program. A training program is so incredibly focused, and the machinations on so many levels are constantly intermixing in a way, and yet the trainer or assistant, they’re just marshalling this whole thing forward, they’re moving it forward, you know? And so I was telling somebody the other day about the people that I hire, it’s like, in the beginning, you hired people who were around but a lot of people have a certain schtick, and they end up promoting themselves or their materials or whatever it is. Or they want affection, you know? Some pathetic excuse for affection. For appreciation, your esteem when you’re out in front of a group, you know? And it’s just unsavory, you know. Whereas, the best people are the ones who look at the center of mass of the room, and say okay, at the end an hour, has this person moved this training an hour forward? And some people, they do such a slipshod job that they take it back two hours.. Because they’ll say things, because their language is so piss poor or their stories are so weird or they say something to somebody that’s so off the wall that you then have to fold it in, so you have to integrate it and make it..
It’s like.. Dan Goldman, the emotional intelligence guy.. We were talking about different people’s response to stress. And he said, Interestingly enough, Lawyers tend to have back problems way above other people, they tend to somaticize their stress in terms of back problems. And he said.. for example, tell your brother this scenario. He’s got a capital case, the person is on trial for murder. Their life is on the line. You don’t want to put them on the stand. But the case is nip and tuck, and he’s gotta put the person on the stand, so he coaches them what to say.. And everything is riding on it. Put him on the stand, and the first thing out of the guys mouth is something that’s gonna fry him, gonna condemn him. He’s trying to improvise. He’s not sticking to it. Ask your brother, paint that scenario and ask your brother what he.. how he deals with it. So I tell my brother, he’s a criminal defense lawyer, he goes.. He got this look on his face and he goes, “I love moments like that. When even my own client is against me.” He said, “The room gets crystal clear. Time slows down. My mind picks up. And I realize I have to do everything. My first strategy is.. First of all, a jury and the judge and the opposing attorney can’t believe that he said what he just said, so I look at them, and I go, ‘That’s right.’ Like what he said was the thing that you wanted him to say. And then they’re kind of like off balance and then you say the next thing..
So I think it’s like that in training programs, we paint ourselves into a corner in ATM or FI.. it’s not different than Art, right? It’s the same kind of thing, but it’s like how you bridge that moment that’s so incredible.
EC: Does that feel like a good place to stop? Do you want to say anything else?
DL: I just think, to me it’s like the Piercian - CS Pierce - that he had these 4 modalities for fixing belief. First was the hermit. It’s called the method of tenacity. It’s like, I get this belief - god knows how or why - and I hold to it and I don’t change my mind no matter what. And this is the way it is, and this is it. Second way is the way of authority. The way of authority is the church or the state. And basically this is how most belief has been fixed. And so you have a canon of belief and you have to abide by it, and you believe accordingly. And we see what happens in this country and around the world. And then the third one is what he called Fashion, or a priory. So you say everything is yin and yang, so everything we’re going do, we’re going to figure out what’s the yin and yang in the situation. So you have something, it does generalize. It has some empirical qualities to it, but you’re starting out with the assumption that everything you do is going to bolster that or find some relationship to it. And the fourth one is what he called the community of inquiry, which he called science. But it’s not science as we think of it. Just the idea that you can be wrong. And that there are things about the world that a community of people - that they’re true beyond what our own beliefs have - and that a community of people working together can get closer and closer to it. Asymptotically maybe, but sometimes they can really get some relative certainty. But the idea is, Don’t block inquiry. So the church blocks it. A priori blocks it. Tenacity.. But at the level of the community based on people of inquiry - which is what I think our work is fundamentally about, is a kind of inquiry. And so that kind of inquiry - when you say you want a community of people, it’s like Not to thrust ourselves onto the bosom of Feldenkrais, to think this was the end all, be all. No, but you have to - if you’re a physicist, you have to know the Newtonian world and realize within the universe - the human universe - Newtonian physics is fine, you don’t really need anything else, but when you want to go bigger or smaller it breaks down, it doesn’t work, right? So the thing with Feldenkrais, it’s worked for the era in which it’s worked, but just the first in maybe a long line of iterations of what people can create. And I think with Semiotics on one level, with Varelan Model, or just the way in which Art engages.. The conscient in art these days, the kinds of media that people deal with.. It all has to be a concurrent dialogue, so that you realize.. Like the next Mabel Todd, someone will come along and go, God, this stuff is great, but you know? What do you think about this? And I’ve been doing this, and you think, “Well, of course.” Cause you look in a room, and you see some people doing something in FI.. Like you give people a set of problems to work with, and you’ll see invariably, even in a group of trainees, somebody will do something you’ve never seen but that is absolutely perfectly Feldenkrais, and you’ve never seen it and they’ve never seen it, and yet it generates the context of Feldenkrais by its very appearance. And you think, “Okay, well this is what’s interesting.” And when there’s enough of a solidity to the whole.. to the community of people who are either.. Like Russell or Anat who are on the periphery of it, but still it’s all part of the same web of relations. That when there is enough convergence, people will really recognize, and then I think something else like Mabel Todd or a group of Mabel Todds will emerge. And maybe it will be that somebody from the outside will perturb it in a way that we know, “Oh that’s the expression we were looking for.” I think it’s..
Pierce had the concept of what it means to be a sign. And it’s not like the french deconstructionists, it’s really different. The concept was formed by the medieval scholars from Thomas Aquinas on, so the concept of the sign. They had another concept of what we would call “intentionality” now, what the phenomenologists would call “intentionality”. Our structure of the world, like I say, everything is predictive so if it’s intentional, then our world is something that we are carrying forward beyond our present moment. Or even if it’s a retrodiction, like prediction backwards, it’s still carrying beyond the present moment. Whereas, I think with their idea of ‘intentionality’ is what they called.. it looks like the word species. But in italian it’s speh-chi-ey.. What it means is, out of a general set of possibilties, you specify this. So when specifying, it’s like an intended meaning, but it’s specified based on your ongoing sampling of the world. So it’s not from some transcendental realm or conceptual realm, it’s the world itself in this particular moment suggests a particularization or an instantiation of the world in a certain crystallizing or clarifying moment. So you’re specifying, so in ATM, you say well, What are you clarifying? What are you specifying? You have a general set of possibilties, and as you’re working you end up specifying them or realizing they’re overly specialized, there’s too much intention in one sense, so you have to work backwards from it. But it’s that idea, that you’re going from the general to the specific with having the general as being real. So it’s not like the general is abstract. The general now shows up in this particular moment. And then something else the next one. And so that’s..
I think, in our work as we. That’s why I just have a hard time with the slippage of language into science, science jargon, neuro-porn, you know all these kinds of things. Or into fix-it modes or into really esoteric spiritual modes, it’s the same thing. It’s like you’re already borrowing something, it’s like second hand stuff and you’re importing it in. It’s useful, but you haven’t crafted it yourself. [...] to make that work show up.
And then so if you’re working and it seems to be outside the context of feldenkrais but in general you find it there, who’s to say? I mean really. When you look at some of these lessons that he does in Alexander Yanai, and some of them are one of a kind, one and done. And then you think “God, that’s just.. I’ve had this thought but I’ve never dared put it out. There it is!” Or the five lines. I sort of figured out there are these five lines and I was teaching it and I didn’t know, I’d never heard these lessons. All of a sudden there are 2 dozen lessons that are on these five lines, I was just like the proverbial pig in shit, I couldn’t have been happier. But I reverse engineered it back to the place, but then there it was really worked out and then he gives incredible credence to how important these lines are.