Expressive Shift and Discovery

There are three modes of action: reaction, performance, and expression. Reaction includes muscular reflexes, certain instinctual reactions and defensive behaviors. Those reactions that are not purely physiological tend to be future oriented, that is they address fears or fantasies of what will happen. Although reactions and reactivity might make a compelling discussion, for purposes of this topic suffice it say that in interpersonal behavior, the less mere reaction the better.

Performance is seeking to imitate an idea or mental picture of what should happen. Our complex culture rewards performance and so from a young age, most of us are coached and encouraged to perform. It becomes the dominant mode of doing. Performance puts all the emphasis on the state of having done something, not the actual doing of it (endgaining). Performance implies seeking approval from others. Performance ignores present feeling and uses the body as a tool.

Expression is acting or moving from the perception of what is happening now, inside oneself, and in the immediate environment. Expression is spontaneous and unique, although, humans having much in common, expression tends to be similar in similar situations. Unlike reaction, expression tends to the present moment.

When bodywork is done intentionally, the goal is increasing the capacity for expression. However, the drive to perform is very strong and almost unavoidable at first. The result is concentrating on the shell of a movement and missing the 'guts'. Many strains of body work, such as the Alexander Technique, are deliberately vague in what is wanted in order to avoid this rush to perform. Somewhat differently, the Pilates Method gives a 'shell' but constantly de-emphasizes or restrains completion, and instead emphasizes 'guts' or form. This mysterious target is just an inevitable part of regaining feeling and purpose.

A Buddhist saying captures an element of expressive shift: "Find where you are and work from there. Do not try to work from where you want to be."

A related experience is discovery. In bodywork, it is a given that participants are becoming aware of feelings, capacities, and sensations previously unknown. For people coming back to their bodies, discovery is a two part process: the discovery itself and (re)learning the process of discovery. Discovery is necessary to change old patterns.

The expressive shift is increasing the capacity, inclination, and tendency for expression. Of course there is a paradox here. In a 'corrective' tradition, change is desired, not expression within the same old limits. However, it is very difficult to perform a movement in a new way as an adult. This is because the already strongest muscle and already strongest nerve will 'hijack' the movement again and again. Imbalance seems to perpetuate imbalance. This is true of expression alone and performance alone. For neuro-muscular change both expression and training must interact. That is, a participant can neither be told exactly what to do, nor left to just "do his or her thing." This reality explains the ambiguity or seeming vagueness of most skilled bodywork traditions. It can be frustrating for the participant, but it is necessary.

There are two avenues of progress, and both are necessary. One is skilled help from someone that can 'block' old patterns and coach and insist on new patterns. This of course will involve some performance. Generally large classes in gyms cannot really provide this, because even if the instructor is capable, he or she simply cannot supervise any one person enough to stop the enactment of old patterns. By the way, no amount of theoretical knowledge will change the body. Aha! experiences can provide spurts of insight, but not spurts of real change. Insight can have role in change, probably as a consolidator of change, or leading one to engage in some growth stimulating undertaking. Trying to perform an insight is always hollow.

The second avenue is growth. As nervous systems change and alignment improves and certain things are attempted, new capacities arise and new actions and movements are spontaneously expressed. This requires patience because growth is slower than the speed of thought or the decision of will. That is, it is necessary to be patient and not to try to force things by trying too hard. Almost surely, at some point it will seem that almost nothing is happening. That is because almost nothing is happening. But almost nothing and actually nothing are completely different! Very small but actual change is cumulative. In fact real change is usually noticed by other people rather than the participant, because growth is so very gradual. If one perceives change is happening rapidly, that is probably an illusion.

Mastery is a hybrid between expression and performance. If there is difficulty mastering something, it is often a limitation in basic neuro-muscular development, which of course is improvable with the right body work, or it is incapacity for expression.

Most physical fitness training these days is based on practices useful for the already athletically adept or graceful, and therefore 'starts too high' and does not remediate basic neuromuscular patterns. The usual result is great effort at the beginning, with some change but quick plateauing. There is no real pleasure, but most people quit not because of that but because of discouragement.

The Games People Play

In relationships, reaction and performance combine to create 'games' or futile patterns of relating. Whenever a person acts not out his or her own feeling and belief but entirely in anticipation of the reactions of the other (perhaps even several 'moves ahead') he or she is playing a game. This can be mostly unconscious, but the lack of self-focus is so conspicuous that it should be discernable with some introspection. Of course all good people consider how the other person "will take it," but that should be a secondary process not the main one, as in a game.