Learning to Embrace the Unfamiliar

It is not in my comfort zone to embrace the unknown. I don’t think it’s probably something most of us are very comfortable with. Most of us like to be in control. It’s understandable to want to have control, especially for those of us who have experienced environments that were unsafe or chaotic growing up. But even when we feel safe we tend to have an aversion to what is unfamiliar and crave the familiar, even when it’s not good for us.

I take a movement class once a week called Feldenkrias. This movement is done lying on the floor for about an hour. Feldenkrais involves some challenging movements. These movements can help us re-pattern our muscles through paying attention to the choices we make in our movements and how our parts are moving within our body as a whole. We are instructed to carefully come to standing after class and notice how we stand and walk around the room after our practice.

In one class, someone commented on how unbalanced she felt when she walked around the room. Some others could relate. The teacher of the class, May, explained how not knowing where we are may be a good thing. When we don’t know where we are then we have broken free from where we have been. In terms of movement and posture, this means that we may have broken out of an old pattern.

From what I know from Body-Mind Centering which I trained in (Body-Mind Centering and Yoga), is that for a lot of our movements, we tend to do them with our eyes. When we do small movements with our head, mouth hands and feet, and we go underneath our eyes and into our inner ears and mouth and orient ourselves from this place, we are working with our nervous systems. We are receiving new information to our brains. This can create a kind of disorientation. (When this happens, it may be important to take a rest.)

Before running back though to what is familiar we may first pause, notice and give some space to ourselves to just be in what we don’t know. We can practice sitting in what is unfamiliar and all the stuff that comes up with this.

It may also be useful to understand that what may feel like imbalance, like in the case of the woman after class, may not be something to be afraid of. It may be a relief to know that it could actually be a positive thing to feel a little out of balance. You may actually just be finding a new orientation.

This is almost counter-intuitive. We are often taught, especially in the holistic health and various movement classes, to strive for balance, clarity, alignment and so on. That’s the reason to take the class right? The interesting thing is that you may not be learning anything new by focusing only on muscular strength and form. In a practice like Body-Mind Centering and Feldenkrais, a huge part of the point of the practice is to learn. Through orienting yourself differently and working through your nervous system, you are changing your movement patterns. And it doesn’t matter if you get it right. The point is the exploration and the learning.

Isn’t that a relief? You don’t have to get it right! There is no such thing, really. It’s just your experience of you, in your body. You don’t need to look or move like anyone else does in the room.

Although, within your own experiences you may notice that some choices are better than others. When you are lying down and you want to lift your head and look at your thighs, it may be better to exhale and then inhale. This may help your movement. But you have some choice to try both, play with it, and see what works for you.

One of the reasons why I love somatic practices like Body-Mind Centering, is that I get to explore the unknown and unfamiliar in a safe space. What I mean by safe space is that I have time and permission to rest. There’s no pushing or forcing of my body. I’ve experienced again and again, whether it be in movement or in therapy, that change often happens when I’m feeling safe and therefore can allow myself to be surprised by what arises in my body-mind. Then I am conscious of my movement and choices as opposed to unconsciously moving through life.

Being out of balance may not be that at all, it may be you’re just in an unfamiliar place. Not knowing is actually really quite important for change in the body to happen. When we don’t know where we are, change is possible. If we are holding on (gripping on for dear life!) to where we have been, there is not much opportunity for change. But we need to feel safe enough to let go, and then change can occur and a new place of being can arise.

This can teach us a lot about self-compassion, because patterns come up again and again we slip into old ways of being. There’s nothing wrong with this, but this is why we must keep up our movement practice and keep changing it up. We need to continually forget and be in an unfamiliar place for something new to happen.  We need to know, and then not know, as my teacher and creator of Body-Mind Centering Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen says. We need to go back to an unfamiliar place.

This relates as well to our relationships. We need to forget what we know about the other person to change our patterns and break our habits. New information and energy needs to come in for change to happen, but without breaking out of the old, we cannot accept the new. This may require the unfamiliar and the unknown. We need to forget what we think we know about the other person.

What a relief that we don’t need to know. Feeling into this, our body-mind can more easily release tension without trying to force or change anything.  All we need is a safe space, an open mind and readiness for learning.


Photo by Milan Panet-Gigon at the 2016 BMCA Conference at Concordia University in Montreal, QC, Canada; http://www.bmcassociation.org

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