Something strange happened to me one day last month as I lay on the floor doing an Awareness Through Movement (ATM) lesson at the first meeting of Jeff Haller’s Feldenkrais Training Academy (FTA) in Seattle.
While practicing ATM, you move slowly and mindfully, exploring novel movement patterns. When you are present with your attention, you can find new internal connections that make it possible to construct your experience of being alive in new ways.
ATM lessons alternate between movement and rest periods which give you the opportunity to notice to any changes that may have taken place in your bodily sensation and your self-image.
The self-image is the idea we construct about ourselves in many interrelated dimensions – the physical, the mental, the emotional, the social, etc. Making a change in how we imagine ourselves in any of these dimensions can affect them all.
Moshe Feldenkrais once said that everything we do is based on our self-image, from how we locate our limbs in space to the ideas we carry about ourselves.
For example, recurring thoughts like “my right shoulder is my bad shoulder”, “I am a success”, or “I am a failure” – thoughts we treat like facts most of the time – will impact all of our behavior.
So anyways, there I was lying on the floor when something funny happened.
I thought, “There’s my right arm. It’s lying there on the floor too . . . right next me.”
When I was somewhere around the age of 12 years old (I really don’t remember exactly), I woke up one morning to discover that any movement of my right arm caused massive pain.
It made no sense at all, but eventually it was discovered that I had pinched my suprascapular nerve, apparently by sleeping in a funny position.
This was a pretty frightening experience for a pre-teenager who was proud of being able to throw a baseball faster than anyone else on the little league team.
What was truly traumatic, though, was one of the “treatments” I received for this situation.
There were many treatments (including things you’d expect like physical therapy exercise with a resistance band), but there was one clinic visit that I’ll never forget.
At some point, I was referred for electro-shock therapy.
I sat shirtless on the edge of a doctor’s table, my mother next to me, and my right shoulder and chest covered with wires and electrodes. A man (I can’t remember what he looked like) stood across the room next to some machine (I can’t remember what it looked like either) and said, “when I push this button, your arm might move a little.”
He pushed the button and nothing happened.
Then, just as I was thinking “nothing’s happening”, I received what felt like a sucker punch from a heavyweight boxer whose blow somehow landed inside my body.
And my arm moved “a little.”
In fact, it flew over my head as if I was the kid in class raising his hand to get called on. I remember looking up in surprise at my hand before the arm fell back down to my side.
(Looking at what I just wrote: “the” arm or “my” arm”?!)
I don’t remember much else about that session except that this man then told me he was going to do this several more times. I’m sure that he did so. Now knowing what to expect, I must have braced myself for those subsequent shocks, but all I can remember was the first shock.
Everyone I’ve told this story to thinks it sounds utterly crazy. But I know it really happened. It was unforgettable.
Except for the large quantity of details about the experience that I’ve forgotten completely.
Still, imagine my surprise earlier this year when I asked my mother about it, trying to understand why this was done – and she didn’t remember it at all!
That only makes sense to me when I guess that seeing this happen to her son was a memory she wanted to block out just as much as I wanted to forget feeling it.
Returning to last month in Seattle (which, by the way, is my hometown – during the training, I stay with Mom and Dad in my childhood home) . . .
That day, as I lay on the ground – my arm lying next to me (as if it was something different than the rest of me) – a new idea occurred to me which gradually made sense the more I thought about it.
I figured that most likely I had dissociated myself from my right arm in that terrible, painful moment when I felt completely powerless.
Upon further reflection, another idea arose that made perfect sense to me. The nagging trouble and discomfort I always feel in my right arm seems to rise and fall in the same rhythms as my emotions.