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Journal of

Daoist Studies

Volume 5
2012
JournalofDaoistStudies
TheJournalofDaoistStudies(JDS)isanannualpublicationdedicatedtotheschol
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Table of Contents

Articles

JENNIFERLUNDIN RITCHIE
The GuodianLaozi and Taiyishengshui: ACognitiveScienceReading1

LUCASWEISS
RectifyingtheDeepStructuresoftheEarth: SimaChengzhen
andtheStandardizationofDaoistSacredGeographyintheTang 31

PAUL CROWE
Nature,Motion,andStillness:LiDaochunsVisionoftheThree
Teachings 61

IAN JOHNSON
TwoSidesofa Mountain:The ModernTransformationof Maoshan 89

BEDEBENJAMINBIDLACK
AlchemyandMartialArts:WangYannians GoldMountain
Daoism 117

Forum on Contemporary Practice


YVES RQUNA
TheBiochemistryofInternalAlchemy: DecapitatingtheRed
Dragon 141

DYLANBOLLES & LYNETTE HUNTER


ScoringDaoistEnergy:ARhetoricofCollaboration 153

FELIX BREUER
FeldenkraissSpontaneousActionandLaozis Wuwei 169
PATRICIA KARETZKY
DaoistThemes byWomenArtists 184

SUNGHAE KIM
TheGourdofSmallPenglai: EnvironmentalEthicsinQuanzhen
Poetry 202

News of the Field

Publications 223

Conferences 236

ResearchProjects 242

Scienceon Qi 246

NotesonContributors 249
Forum

on

Contemporary

Practice
Feldenkrais Spontaneous Action
and Laozis Wuwei

FELIX BREUER

MoshFeldenkraisinhisbookThePotentSelf(2002)presentsauniquely
Western approach to body and personality transformation that works
strongly with spontaneous action. Seen from a Daoist perspective, his
visioncan be understood asa valid interpretationofLaozisconcept of
nonaction (wuwei). Without making any claims about the original in
tendedmeaningofeitherThePotentSelf ortheDaodejing,Iwouldliketo
argue that they each contain insights that illuminate the other and that
theirjointinterpretationyieldsaconsistentphilosophyofaction. 1

Feldenkrais Spontaneous Action


Mosh Feldenkrais (19041984) was a physicist and Judo teacher, who
developed the socalled Feldenkrais Method. At first glance a set of
gymnastic exercises, itis a subtlemethod ofpersonaldevelopmentthat
involvesbodilymovementandhasphilosophicalunderpinnings.
The subject ofhis teachings ismaturity. Feldenkraiswantedto en
ablepeopletoachievepotent,maturebehavior,whichmeanstheability
toactspontaneously.Spontaneousactionisperhapsthemostimportant
concept in his work. It requires careful explanation, the idea behind it

1 I use the letter F to refer to Feldenkraiss book, followed by the page

number.LstandsforLeGuin1998,mypreferredtranslationoftheDaodejing.
Lisfollowedbythechapternumber.
169
170/JournalofDoaistStuides 5(2012)

being not that spontaneity is enacting any wild urges that happens to
exist,butthat allactionisspontaneouswhenitisnotcompulsive(F153).
Feldenkrais characterizes spontaneous action in a number of distinct
points.
Spontaneous action is not compulsive. A large part of typical human
behavior is governed by compulsion; most human behavior is learned
andemotions are attached tocertain forms ofbehaviorthrough success
or failure, praise or criticism. This phenomenon is particularly acute as
most learning takes place during childhood, when the individual de
pends on grownups and seeks their approval. So we screw ourselves
uptodothings becauseouremotionalwellbeingdependsonit,andas
aresultthelearnedbehaviorbecomesentangledwithanemotionalaffect
(F58).
When we learntofreeourselvesfrom the affect that is associated
with every situation and action spontaneous action becomes possible
(F57).Andindeed,bythetimetheyreachadulthood,mostpeoplelearn
howtodissociateemotionfrompatternsestablishedunderthestressof
dependenceandtofixtheurgeforactiononwhat[theyfind]expedient
(F103). For Feldenkrais, this is the very definition of maturity: Mature
adults have the ability to direct their emotions in a way appropriate to
theintendedbehavior.
Often,however, thereremain instances ofbehavior wherethisdis
sociation is not learned. The results are what Feldenkrais calls cross
motivations:conflictingmotivations that give risetocompulsivebehav
ior.

Attherootofallanxiety,whereeducationhasfailed,liesinnercompulsion
toactortocheckaction. Andcompulsionissensedwhenmotivationforac
tionisconflicting;thatis,whenthehabitualpatternthatthepersoncanen
actissensedascompromisingthepersonssecurity.Thefeelingofsecurity
islinkedwiththeimageofselfthathasbeencultivatedinthedependence
period.Thus, forsome people,their good looks for others, absolute un
selfishness, absolute virility, superman ideas, absolute goodness, and all
kinds of imaginary, untestable notions, habits of thought and patterns of
behaviorhaveservedasameansofobtainingaffection,approval,protec
tion,andcare.Compulsionissensedwhenthereisathreatofanyofthese
means becoming ineffective;the person feels endangered and left without
anymeansofprotection.(F11).
Breuer,FeldenkraisSpontaneousAction /171

Crossmotivations can occur on several levels, the physical as well


as the mental. A few examples are the way people screw up their face
when trying to cut carefully with a pair of scissors, the way in which
greatambitionsmaybegovernedbyacompulsoryneedtobepraisedby
others, or the manner in which men may pursue sexual activities to
provetheirmasculinity.
A more extensive example that Feldenkrais provides concerns an
asthmatic: shecontinuously revertstoaspecialposture ofchest, throat,
and headtothe exclusion ofall other ways of aligning thesebody seg
ments.Thiswayofconstrainingherselfiscompulsive,anditisthiscom
pulsion that causes asthma, not her posture (which a wellcoordinated
person could assume without becoming asthmatic). The posture of the
asthmatic is a natural reaction to all onsets of fear and, as long as she
lives in constant fear of abandonment formed during childhood, this
posture is her best choice. She can begin to act differently only if she
learnstobeemotionallyselfsufficient(F109).
Animportantaspectofmaturebehavioristhatapersonhas control
over the intensity of their emotions andnotviceversa: there is nocon
scious or subconscious emotional pattern that compels them to or pre
vents them from a particular action. However, this does not mean that
the person controls their emotions through sheer force of will. On the
contrary:Wheneverwilleffortisnecessary,thereisunrecognizedcross
motivation,andthisisanextremelywastefulmethodofobtainingresults.
Onlyimmaturepeopleneedwillefforttoact(F112).
Theoppositeofcrossmotivatedactionsaremonomotivatedactions,
whicharegovernedbyasinglemotivation,wherealltheparasiticele
ments that tend to enact themselves by habit, conditioning, and stereo
typed motion have been excluded, and where the motivation to suc
ceedisnotstrongerthanthemotivationtoact(F20,F193).
Spontaneous actions make effective use of self. Mature individuals are
abletochooseanyactionthattheyseefitinagivensituation. Theyareof
courseconstrainedbytheirabilitiesandtheirenvironment,buttheyare
not constrained by any emotional compulsion, conscious or subcon
scious, and they are not hindered by parasitic behavioral patterns.
Theyuseonlythoseelementsof[theirexperience]thatareexpedientfor
thepresentmoment(F44)andarethusabletomakethemosteffective
172/JournalofDoaistStuides 5(2012)

use of self. Indeed, Feldenkrais identifies mastery of any skill with the
abilitytoperformitspontaneously(F86).
Spontaneous actions feel effortless. The reason is that the subjective
experienceofeffortdoesnotstemfromthedifficultyofthetaskathand,
but arises from crossmotivations that cause the individual to unwit
tingly struggle with one self, one motivation striving with the other.
The sensation of effort is the subjective feeling of wasted movement
(F111). When actions are monomotivated the individual uses himself
effectivelyandspendsjusttheamountofeffortthatisneedful,thusmak
ingtheactionfeeleasy.Allfeelingofresistance,physical,mentaloremo
tional, is contrary to spontaneous action. Correct coordinated action
seems, and feels, effortless no matter how great the actual amount of
workinvolvedmaybe(F86).
Spontaneousactionsareoptional.Thismeansthatthematureindivid
ual may choose freely to perform the action or not. Neither of the two
optionsputstheindividualunderemotionalstress,consciousorsubcon
scious,astheactionisfreefromtheemotionalaffectthatmayhavebeen
tied to it in the process of learning. This does not mean that the least
strenuousaction is themostspontaneous.For example, if an individual
isscaredofspeakinginpublic,thisdoesnotmeanthatavoidingapublic
speech is spontaneous. On the contrary, because the individual is not
freetochooseeitherway,neitheractionisspontaneous.
Spontaneousactionsallowthepossibilityoffailure.Any action, nomat
ter how skillfully executed, may fail. An action is only spontaneous if
failure,orthepossibilitythereof,doesnotendangertheemotionalsafety
of the individual. This does not mean spontaneous actions have to be
inconsequential.Evenactionsinvolvinggreatpersonalriskmaybespon
taneous. Thedecisive factor is that for anaction tobe spontaneous,the
individualmayhaveadesiretosucceed,buthemaynotfeelemotionally
compelledtodoso.Thealternativeoffailurehasnocompulsivetension
aboutit(F193).
Spontaneous actions are reversible. A spontaneous movement can be
stopped at any moment and reversed in direction without a significant
increasein effort(F113).Indeed,toFeldenkrais,reversibilitywasoneof
the most important characteristic of spontaneous action in general, not
only in regard to bodily movement. The importance of reversibility is
thatitispossibleonlywhenthereisfinecontrolofexcitationandinhibi
Breuer,FeldenkraisSpontaneousAction /173

tion and a normal ebb and flow between the parasympathetic and the
sympathetic. The test of reversibility holds true for all human activity
whether it is viewed from the physical or the emotional standpoint
(F114).
Spontaneousactionsbothfollowandguidetheebbandflowofsympathetic
andparasympatheticdominance.Feldenkraisidentifiestwoclassesofmoti
vations. On the one hand, there are the motivations directed towards
selfprotectionandselfassertion,whichareconnectedtothedominance
of the sympathetic nervous system. On the other hand, there are those
motivations associated with recuperation,relaxation,calmness,content
mentandrest,whichareconnectedtothedominanceoftheparasympa
theticnervoussystem(F144,F167).
Feldenkrais sees mature behavior as governed by a neverceasing
oscillationbetween selfassertion andrecuperation. For either system to
be stimulated fully, its counterpart has to be fully inhibited, and this
pendulum of excitation hastoswingback and forthbetween these two
poles (F170). He notes, however, that the functions of selfassertion are
typicallyoverexcited.Thusthesetwoclassesofmotivationsbecomecon
flated which leads to cross motivations that particularly difficult to re
solve(F215,F227).
Conversely, one of the most important properties of mono
motivation is that it separates these two concerns and allows the con
tinuous ebb and flow between these two poles of human activity to
run its course (F114, F169). Moreover, the mature individual is able to
guidethisfloweitherwayasthesituationrequires.

The Feldenkrais Method


The main body of Feldenkrais work is not the abstract description of
spontaneous action and mature behavior, but the development of a
methodthatcanhelpindividualstoattainthismodeofbehavior,known
astheFeldenkraisMethod.2

2 Ofcourse,thisisnottheonlybodytransformationmethodleadingtoma

turebehavior.AmajorforerunnerofFeldenkraiswasF.C.Alexander,thefoun
deroftheAlexanderTechnique(seeAlexander1989).Hismaindiscipleandfol
174/JournalofDoaistStuides 5(2012)

It has become clear that the spontaneity of an action is foremost a


property of the emotional state of the actor. The Feldenkrais Method
thushelpspeopleattainadifferentemotionalattitude.
Emotionalattitudesaresubjectiveexperiences.Assuchtheycannot
becommunicateddirectly.Allwecancommunicatethroughhumanlan
guagearelabelsassociatedwithcertainemotions.Aseachpersoncarries
their own dictionary for translating between words and subjective ex
periences, communication about emotions is both difficult and error
prone.Moreover,ifanindividualhasneverfeltanemotionormadean
experience, it is almost impossible to evoke that experience in them
throughlanguage.Theywillhavetomakethatexperiencebythemselves
(F223).
Feldenkraisseekstoevokenewexperiencesinotherpeoplethrough
physical movement. According to Feldenkrais, body, mind and envi
ronment form an indivisible unit (F149). One cannot be treated inde
pendentlyoftheothers.Inparticular,theemotionalattitudeofaperson
isreflectedintheirbodyand,conversely,changingthewaypeoplemove
willhaveanemotionaleffect.
TheFeldenkraismethodconsistsinguidinganotherpersonthrough
aseriesofmovementsthatevokenewsubjectiveexperiencesofselfand
allowthemtogainanintuitiveunderstandingofthisinterdependenceof
emotion and movement. This direct teaching of the person to under
standsubjectivelythecorrect meaningofhissensationsmakeshimseein
hismotivationmorethanheisnormallyawareof.Theawarenessofmo
tivation is necessary before the person can learn a new management of
motivationandthuschangehisbehavior(F153).
Takeasanexamplethedefensiveattitudelinkedtoahunchedpos
ture,whichiscausedbytoniccontractionsofthechestmuscles.Thegoal
is to help the person relax the chest so that theycan experience an up
right posture along with the accompanying emotional change. Neither
instructionstorelaxthechestnorrepeatedexerciseswillbeofusehere,
asthepersondoesnotknowhowtorelaxthesemuscles.Themovement
requiredofthemisnot intherepertoireofmotionsthey canintentionally
execute.Thustheywilltrytochangetheirposturebymakingsubstitute

lower was Thomas Hanna, who developed Hanna Somatics (see Hanna 1988).
They,too,havequiteafewinterestingsimilaritieswithancientDaoistthought.
Breuer,FeldenkraisSpontaneousAction /175

motions, such as contracting their back muscles, which increases cross


motivationsinsteadofdecreasingthem.
The goal of the Feldenkrais method is now to make the person
aware of the crossmotivations governing their movements and give
themaccesstomotionsthey couldnotintentionallyperform.Aninstruc
torguidesthestudent throughasequenceofexercises designedinsucha
way thatpreciselythosemovementsthatcould, upto now,notbe exe
cutedintentionally,areextremelyhelpfulforcarryingouttheseexercises,
whilethecompulsivepatternsofmovementareahindrance.
The student is now encouraged to explore their repertoire of
movement,observingcarefullyhoweachmovementfeels.Thegoalisto
discover a reversiblemotion that makes the exercise feels as effortless as
possible (F162). Students should use only a smallpart of their available
physical strength for the exercise and they shouldnot try tomake their
movements as large aspossible, asphysical straindecreases sensitivity,
andawarenessiscrucialtodiscovernewwaysofmovement(F135).Also,
an ambitious attitude towards the exercises is strictly discouraged. In
steadtheyshouldbeperformedwithaplayfulattitude (F164).
Thisprocessofexplorationisdesignedtohelpthestudent makethe
revelatory experience of (re)gaining accesstomovements they werenot
aware of. Compulsive resistance becomes superfluous and thus cross
motivations are resolved(F160).Whenthe individualhasmade this ex
perience a couple of times, they will be able to resolve other cross
motivationsmoreeasilyasonecansensethatthetensenessandanxiety
are due to something that one actually enacts and something that one
knowsnowhowtobetterdealwith(F148).
Thustheindividualcanlearntoactspontaneouslythroughcareful
and active selfobservation as well as a curious and playful attitude to
wardslearning.

Laozis Wuwei
Thephrasewei wuweiappearsinmanyplacesthroughouttheDaodejing;
it is most simply translated as do not do. On the one hand, this is a
word of caution, phrased in the negative, saying that you should not
do.Butitisalsoapositiverecommendation,whenwuweiisreadasa
verb on its own, telling you to donotdo or act by not acting. It is
176/JournalofDoaistStuides 5(2012)

usefultotreatthesetwoverbsasseparatemodesofaction.Inlightof
Feldenkrais, then, these two modes of action can be read as follows:
Notdoing means spontaneous action. The doing that is advised
againstmeanscompulsoryaction.
ThefirstandforemostpropertyofwuweiintheDaodejingisthatby
notdoing you can achieve everything. Doing, on the other hand,
turnsagainsttheactor(L3,L37,L64).Thesestatementsappearparadoxi
cal intheDaodejing.However, when interpreted asreferring tosponta
neous action and compulsive action, they no longer appear self
contradictory.
There ismuchmore in theDaodejing, though, thatspeaks in favor
ofthisinterpretation.Indeed,thetextinmanyplacesrelatesthemodeof
actionto the emotional attitude of the actor.Tobegin with,it identifies
competitionasaharmfulmotivationforacting:Thebigwinnerdoes
notcompete(L68).Goodpeoplearenotcontentious;contentiouspeo
plearenotgood(L81).
The text further connects competition with the actors attitude to
wardachievement.Thedesiretowinmustnotbetoogreat,andthehold
ontotheobjectsofdesire,evenonlifeitself,mustbeeasy(L12,L16,L33).
Not competing, [wise souls] have no competitor in the world (L22);
Whatever you lose, you have won. Whatever you win, you have
lost(L42).Greatpower, notclingingtopower,has truepower. Lesser
power,clingingtopower,lackstruepower(L38).Thewisedowithout
claiming, achieve without asserting, wishing not to show their worth
(L77). To givebirth, tonourish,tobear andnotto own; to act and not
layclaim;todotheworkandletitgo:forlettingitgoiswhatmakesit
stay(L2).Sowisesoulsleavingselfbehindmoveforward,andsetting
selfasidestaycentered(L7).
The self to be left behind reflects the grim, competitive hold on
lifethatlackstruepower.Itispreciselythecompulsoryemotionalat
tachment to the ends of the individuals actions that, in Feldenkrais
view,standinthewayofmaturebehavior.Justasthe matureindividual
hastolearntoseparatetheemotionalaffectfromtheobjectofaction,so
thewisesoulhastoletgo.Trying,claiming,asserting,losing,
winning, and even holdingthese are all emotionally charged
modesofaction,andbothLaoziandFeldenkraisargueagainstthisemo
tional content. For whenever you try, claim, or assert, the end
Breuer,FeldenkraisSpontaneousAction /177

loomslargerinyourmindthantheaction,youfeelcompelledtosucceed
andfailureappearsthreatening.Thewisesoulormatureindividual,on
theotherhand,maycompete,buttheyarenotcompetitive,aslosingisa
possible result of action and one that they do not fear any more than
winning. Because they arenotcompelled topreferonecourse of action
overtheother,theyare freetochooseasthesituationrequires.
Laoziclearlytalksaboutcompulsionwhenhewrites,Soyoucome
tothedeepsameness.Then youcantbecontrolledby love orby rejec
tion.Youcantbecontrolledbyprofitorbyloss.Youcantbecontrolled
bypraiseorbyhumiliation(L56).Tobeinfavorordisgraceistolive
infear(L13).
The outcomes of your actions love or rejection, profit or
loss,praiseorhumiliation havethepowerto controlyou,onlyif
youfeelcompelledtoachievetheformerandpreventthelatter.Indeed,
by definition, behavior becomes compulsive whenever emotions exert
control. Note that in this interpretation neither Laozi nor Feldenkrais
adviseagainstfeelingemotions,onlyagainstfeelingcompelledbythem.
The wise soul orthemature individualfeels,but as far as theirchoices
areconcerned,their emotionsdonotholdpoweroverthem.
The rigid, compulsory quality of trying, claiming and cling
ingisperhapsbestsummarizedinthefundamentalhumanexperience
ofwanting.Laoziexplicitlywarnsagainstthedangersofwantingand
extols the merits of notwanting (L37, L64). The greatest evil: wanting
more. The worst luck: discontent(L46). The unwanting soul sees
whatshidden,andtheeverwantingsoulseesonlywhatitwants(L1).
TofollowtheWayisnottoneedfulfillment(L15).
In this regard, Laozi sounds more drastic than Feldenkrais. Fel
denkraisdoesnotargueagainstwantingperse,onlyagainstcompulsion.
Yet,there isnocontradictionhere. First, Laoziswantingcanberead
ascompulsion.Second,ifthematureindividualtrulyallowsthepossibil
ityoffailureinallactionsasFeldenkraiswrites,thenthisentailsastill
nessofsoulinthespiritofLaozi.Iwouldarguehereforaninterpreta
tion that lies somewhere inbetween.Themature individualmay want,
but his wanting never takes on a hard, clinging, claiming quality. As
Laozi writes,Invulnerable, unlimitedyou candowhat you like with
materialthings.Butonlyifyouholdtothemotherofallthingswillyou
doitforlong(L59).
178/JournalofDoaistStuides 5(2012)

Laozi not only describeshow the wise souls behave, he also gives
concrete reasons why they shoulddoso.The wise souls donot do,not
because of some moral or divine imperative, but, simply because not
doing is most effective. They win without competing, achieve with
outasserting,dowithoutdoing,andthus,geteverythingdone.In
this manner they may live on, needing no renewal. Moreover, to do
otherwise leads to disaster and the opposite of what was intended. In
this regard, Laozi and Feldenkrais are in complete accord. To Feldenk
rais, spontaneous action is themost effective way ofusing one self and
conversely,thebestintentionswhenenactedcompulsivelyyieldoppo
siteresults(Fxxxvii).
Therearetwomoreaspectstothisobservation.First,bothLaozi and
Feldenkrais are not merely interested in effective use of self; they both
aimbeyond, at an idealmodeof action.WhereFeldenkraisgoal isma
turebehavior,Laozispeaksofthepower(de)thatcanbeattainedbyfol
lowingtheDao.Sothewisesoul,withoutgreatdoings,achievesgreat
ness (L34). So the wise soul, by never dealing with great things, gets
great things done (L69). To have without possessing, do without
claiming,leadwithoutcontrolling:thisismysteriouspower(L51).
Second,bothLaoziandFeldenkraisobservethateaseisacharacter
istic property of notdoing and spontaneous action. We have already
seenthisinFeldenkraiswork.The Daode jingdemonstratesthisinallthe
negationsitemploys(notdoing,notclaiming,notholdingon),as
well as its advice to let go. The way of heaven doesnt compete yet
wins handily, doesnt speak yet answers fully, doesnt summon yet at
tracts. Itactsperfectlyeasily(L73).
Notethateaseheredoesnotmeanthatitcomeseasilytoanyone
or that it is to be taken lightly. Indeed, as Laozi writes, since taking
things too lightly makes them worthless, and taking things too easy
makes them hard, the wise soul, by treating the easy as hard, doesnt
findanythinghard(L63,L70).
Instead, thecharacteristic ease ofnotdoingrefersto the subjective
qualityofnotdoing.Thissubjectivequalityisalsoevokedbeautifullyby
the poetic imagery employed by Laozi. One recurring image is that of
water.Whatssoftestintheworldrushesandrunsoverwhatshardest
intheworld(L43).Nothingintheworldisassoft,asweak,aswater;
nothingelsecanwearawaythehard,thestrongandremainunaltered
Breuer,FeldenkraisSpontaneousAction /179

(L78). True goodness is like water. Waters good for everything. It


doesntcompete.Itgoesrighttothelowloathsomeplaces,andsofinds
theway(L8).
The low loathsome places mentioned in the last quote, pose
somewhat of a problem at first glance. Why should the wise soul seek
them out? The answer lies in the connection to noncompetition. In a
world where the sense of self is tied to success, a state of mind where
successand failure areapproached withthe samestillness and without
resistancemustseemlikealoathsomeplace.Notethatinthisinterpreta
tion,thelowloathsomeplaceisnotfailure,butratherthetrulyspon
taneousmodeofaction.
Another important image is that ofthe infant who has softbones
[and]weakmuscles,butafirmgrasp(L55).Itservesasametaphorfor
thewisesoulholdingontothings,thematureindividualwantingwith
out compulsion. To Feldenkrais, the infant is also a metaphorical ideal
insofar as it is still free from crossmotivation or compulsion, but this
ideal isnot absolute, as the infanthasonly few abilities. Like theDaode
jing,Feldenkraisproposesthattheindividualachievestheabilitiesofan
adultwiththemonomotivatedunityofaninfant.Beingfullofpoweris
likebeinganinfant(L55).
The final image I would like to address is that of cycles. Cycles of
lifeanddeath,growthanddecay,strengthandweaknessaboundinthe
Daodejing(L36, L55).Together withthepairs of opposites thatcoarise,
one side depending on the other, it is these eternal cycles, that often
serve as justification for Laozis advice to do the opposite of what may
appeardesirable,nottheleastofwhichistheadvicetodonotdo.There
is, however, a more fundamental truth here. Dao itself is governed by
cycles: Heaven and earth act as a bellows: empty yet structured, it
moves,inexhaustiblygiving(L5).
This image of the subjective quality of Dao is strikingly similar to
Feldenkrais description of spontaneous action: the cyclic motion of the
bellowsbetweenheavenandearthmirrorstheebbandflowbetweenthe
sympathetic and parasympathetic system, between selfassertion and
release,betweenyinandyang.
Laozidoesnotmeancompletepassivityandtheeliminationofself
when he recommends notdoing. Rather, a balance between self
assertionandreleasehastobefoundthatisnotgovernedbycompulsion.
180/JournalofDoaistStuides 5(2012)

The most difficult cross motivations to recognize are the selfassertive


ones,mixedupwiththerecuperativeones(F215).
Feldenkraisobservesthatonthesociallevel,thisistheageoldun
resolved conflict between society and the individual, namely, collectiv
ismandindividualismandhegoesontopointthatthereisnoabsolute
solutiontothisproblem.Instead,wehavetolookattheproblemfroma
fundamentally differentpoint of view (F216). Tothisend,heputs forth
the concept of spontaneous action as a means of realizing a dynamic
evershiftingbalancebetweenthesetwopoles.However,thisfundamen
talchangeofperspectivealsohasamysticalqualitythatwearegoingto
returnto inthenextsection.

Further Similarities
BothFeldenkraisandLaoziidentifyeducationandmoralityasthemost
important factor preventing people from notdoing or spontaneous ac
tion. While Laozis assertions to this end often appear paradoxical (L2,
L3, L18, L19, L38, L49, L81), Feldenkrais offers a rational explanation:
The conflation of action and emotion which gives rise to cross
motivationsisinherentinthehumanprocessoflearning,butitisaggra
vated through education, the approval and disapproval of grownups
and,especially,absoluteimperativesforbehavior (F44,F52,F162,F200).
The avoidance of absolutes is also reflected in the skepticism and
caution with which Laozi and Feldenkrais treat language, as they both
realizethatnotdoingandspontaneousactioncannotbeexplained.Their
ways of dealing with this problem differ widely, however. Laozi is a
mysticwhousesparadoxandpoeticimageryto hintatdeepermeanings.
Feldenkraisontheotherhandisalwaysthewesternscientistwhodraws
on theory and empirical experiments to explain his ideas. At the same
time he is keenly aware that subjective experience isat theheart of the
subject matter, and he developed the Feldenkrais method to communi
catesubjectiveexperiencesthroughbodilymovement.
Daoism,ofcourse,wasalwaystiedtoapracticeofphysicalexercise
and it is still taught this way today (see Chen& Silberstorff, 2006;Chia
2005;Littlejohn2009).Thereisastrikingsimilarityinthewaysofusing
onesownbodythataretobelearnedinbothcases(F163).Themaindif
ferenceliesperhapsintheapproachtoteaching:WhereFeldenkraisen
Breuer,FeldenkraisSpontaneousAction /181

courages playful experimentation and views corrections on part of the


teacherascounterproductive,repetitionisthekeyelementoftuitionin
the Daoist tradition and it is heldthatstudentscannot findthe way on
theirown,butaredependentontheconstantcorrectionsoftheirteacher.
In the Daode jing itself, there are many warnings against learning
andknowledge,butthesewarningsaredirectedagainstanoverempha
sis of intellectualpursuits,the desire for accomplishment,theprolifera
tion of rules and against taking words too seriously. The Daoist devel
opment of self is described with adjectives like closing, shrinking,
blunting,dimming(L4,L48),atfirstcontrarytheexploringcuriosity
requiredbyFeldenkrais.However,thepointisnotthatyoumustnotbe
curious, but rather that Dao is free from ambition and all the other
causes of crossmotivation, without compulsive seriousness (Fxxxix).
Nor does the Daode jing contradict the active development of self (see
Palmquist2010).
Both Feldenkrais and Laozi deal with language, learning, and the
body tocommunicate the inherently mysticmatter ofsubjective experi
ence.ButLaozigoesonestepfurtherwhenhewritesaboutdeepsame
ness,theOne,theunnamed.Thereisadeepmysteryattheheart
oftheDaodejing,onwhichtheentiremeaningofthetextrests.Howcan
Feldenkrais work, firmly grounded in the empirical world of manifest
things,becomparedtosuchathoroughlymysticaltext?
Firstofall,theimageofunityoronenessplaysanimportantrolein
Feldenkraisworkfromanentirelyempiricalpointofview:mind,body,
and environment are interdependent. Therefore, to change one is to
change all three. This logical argument provides an important insight,
butitdoesnotaddresstherevelatoryexperiencethat changestheworld,
whichisthesubjectofmystery.
IndeedFeldenkraisavoidswritingaboutmysterypreciselybecause
itcannotbewrittenabout(F161). Andyet,hewritesaboutitbriefly,call
ingitmaturitywhenhedescribestheexperienceofamanwhorecov
ersfromamedicaloperation.Hemaygetaninsightintohisowninsig
nificance inthe general schemeof things,andhis unique importanceto
himself and to those who depend on him. In short, maturity may sud
denlycatch up withhim, and he will get up a newman(F150). Then,
remarkably, Feldenkrais goes on to explain this experience in terms of
his theory of spontaneous action: Recognizing our insignificance, the
182/JournalofDoaistStuides 5(2012)

unimportance of what we think, do, orcannotdo, we find ourselves in


fullmasteryofourselvestothepotentiallimitofourability.Thatsortof
unstableequilibriumthatisabandonedineachactionandrecoveredfor
thenextistheessenceofhumanmaturity(F216).
While Feldenkrais steers clear of mysticism, he combines the de
scriptionofsubjectiveexperiencewithreductionistexplanationandlogi
cal argument to communicate what Laozi seeks to evoke through im
ageryandparadox.

Conclusion
Wuweimeans spontaneous action.Read with this simple interpretation
inmind, LaozisDaodejing andFeldenkraisThePotentSelfrevealstrik
ing similarities. In fact,they can be interpretedasreferring to thesame
thing. Themeritofthiscommoninterpretationisthatitallowseithertext
tobeviewedinanewlight.
If wuwei is interpreted as spontaneous action, many of the para
doxes and mysteries of the Daodejing suddenly become clear. Feldenk
raismanagestopointtothesubjectiveexperienceofspontaneousaction
using scientific explanations and empirical experiments. He does not
remove the subjective and somewhat mystical quality of this mode of
action in favor of an abstract interpretation, but instead makes it lucid
throughabstractargumentandplayfulexperimentation.Usinghiswork,
themysteriesoftheDaodejingbecomeaccessiblefromarationalistpoint
of view,revealingtheirmeaning without losing any of theirmagic and
wonder.
At the same time,this reading also challenges Feldenkraistheory.
Although Feldenkrais takes great care to steer clear of the mysticism
Laozi rejoices in, the Daoist perspective dares him to fully explore the
mystic and philosophical aspects of spontaneous action. What does it
meantowantwithoutcompulsion,toacceptthepossibilityoffailurein
allactions?Whatistheunstableequilibriumbetweenselfassertionand
release, individualism and collectivism? Spontaneous action provides
clear answersto thesequestions onthesmall scaleofbodily movement
and everyday behavior. Laozi asks how these ideas fit and feel on the
grand scale of life itself and connects them to the social and political
community.AsFeldenkraissuggests,spontaneousactionholdsanswers
Breuer,FeldenkraisSpontaneousAction /183

on these levels also,but thechallenge istomakethem asplain,simple,


andaccessibleasthoseonthemicroscopicscale.
Western intellectual pursuits of observation, analysis, abstraction,
and experiment have led to major technological progress. Nonetheless,
sciencehasfailedtoprovidesignificantinsightsabouttherealmofsub
jectiveexperience,whichremainstheprovinceofsport,art,religion,love,
and ultimately life.Feldenkrais ideasshowhoweveryindividualcan
makenewsubjectivediscoveriesthroughscientificexploration:byre
gardingtheinterplayofbothrealmswithplayfulcuriosity.

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