Our Philosophy of Change
The McNatt Learning Center operates on an uncommon “philosophy of change.” The 8 Questions are built upon this philosophy. HANDLE and the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education, as we practice and teach them, each embody this philosophy. You don’t have to agree with this philosophy to benefit from our services, but you can read about it below if you’re interested.
One important note, before you begin: when we use the word “relationship,” we mean any and every relationship. The relationships you have with family members and the relationships you have with the parts of your body are unquestionably different—but they're still “relationships.” The control you have over moving your arm is, likewise, unquestionably different from the control you have over your blood sugar: the first you control directly, by beginning to move; the latter you (generally) influence indirectly, by eating food—and possibly taking supplements or drugs. Nevertheless, your arm movement is related to your satisfaction grasping a jar of jelly, and your blood sugar is related to whether you want a jar of jelly in the first place.
Some relationships—the family you were born into, for instance; the moral call you feel upon seeing suffering on the face of someone you love; or the eventuality of your passing from this life to the next—are largely or entirely beyond your control. Regardless, relationships themselves are inescapable, as long as we’re alive. It only makes sense, thus, to navigate them as best we can. Here are some basic things you can do, in terms of your thinking:
Know Who—and What—You Are.
You are not your desires. Even when you want to meet your own and others’ needs in a few, particular ways… you can meet them in many ways. You have options. You are not your thoughts. You don’t need to believe everything you think.
Nor are you your feelings. Feelings are cues about what you have been doing—but feelings come and go.
You are not your flesh, either. Your flesh will pass away. You will remain.
You are a product of relationships, which you gather in your body through movement and concentrate in your heart through love.
With God’s help, you can remake yourself by discovering anew how to move and love—provided the approaches you take don’t solidify the desires, thoughts, feelings, and fleshly habits that you already know… and provided they truly embody love.
There is a “you” worthy of love and respect—but you do not nurture or honor this “you” by trying to preserve this “you,” exactly as you are now. Love cannot be pickled; just trying to keep it from changing turns it sour. Likewise, you cannot preserve your true self. Just trying would make you sour, too.
Recognize Limits to What You Control.
You can control your body, to a degree—but only to a degree. Inevitably, force without intelligence eventually hurts. So, love—and allot time to nurture awareness of what your body needs. You do not have complete control. You can also control others, to a degree—but again, force without intelligence will inevitably hurt. So, love—and allot time to nurture awareness of what others need. You do not have complete control.
You are a product of your relationships, which you gather in your body through movement and concentrate in your heart through love.
You cannot know yourself as you know a thing, a plant, or an insect: the very act of studying changes what is studied. Self-knowledge is important, but often, self-study is like trying to catch the wind.
You can know others as you know things, plants, or insects—but the more you try, the less they may want to know you. Instead, know others as you.
Others—even your children—are not parts of you, nor expressions of you, nor primarily reflections of you. Others are products of their own relationships. At times, these relationships overlap your own. At times, they include you. Though you are distinct, you are not separate.
Love Your Neighbor…
Jesus of Nazareth once summarized a central part of the Law with these words: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mat. 22:39; c.f., Lev. 19:18). What does this mean?
- Not simply, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
- Nor merely, “Love your neighbor because you love yourself.”
These interpretations, which direct attention toward what you do, found their fullest expression in Enlightenment Humanism. They’re true to a point. They’ve been repackaged in various streams of Christianity for centuries.
“Love your neighbor as yourself,” however, means something more. It’s not primarily an admonishment to act rightly. Rather, it’s an encouragement to see your world, including yourself and including your neighbor, anew.
You are someone who loves and worships. This is not just some ideal of who you can be, as an individual. It’s not your potential, a standard against which you can be measured. It’s your—and everyone else’s—very formation.
“Someone who loves and worships” is the very definition of “person,” the central organizing idea of what it means to be human. It certainly applies to you: you are someone who loves and worships. You remain someone who loves and worships—someone who is free to love and to worship—even if you betray your true self, worship your fears or ambitions, or succumb to habit. As long as you live, you can repent.
… As Yourself.
To worship requires a God. To begin to love requires another: one who receives your love. This “another” is one with whom you can bond, whom you can trust and like, who trusts you, and who might well come to like you, too. To fully love requires at least one “other,” too—at least in mind: an “other” who may, one day, be influenced by how you love, lest the love that you and your partner share become ingrown… necrotic… yours alone.
Love requires others. Without other people, you are not fully you.
Who your neighbor is, thus—really and truly—an aspect of who you are. You are not you without your neighbor.
The command to “love your neighbor as yourself” is, thus, quite profound. It is an affirmation of your true identity. The command to “love your neighbor as yourself” was and is the Lord’s encouragement: “Love your neighbor, who is you.” It is his encouragement to “Love your neighbor, because your neighbor is you.”
In other words: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Create Options through Purposeful Action.
God does not throw life’s “happenings” at you, then expect you to respond alone. Life’s “happenings” are invitations to relationship. They are invitations to meaning. You respond through what you do.
If you seek to save your life, as it is: you’ll lose it (Mat. 16:25). How quickly will your false self atrophy—how quickly will your “old man” die? Through your movements, as you love… you are already deciding, each day.
Effort spent reforming your desires directly will only get you so far, because few desires are consciously chosen. New desires, however, can over time displace the old.
Even if you want to meet your own and others’ needs in a few, particular ways—ways which you already know, ways to which you may indeed be quite attached—remember: you can meet your own and others’ needs in many ways. There may be little choice in what you have to do, but there are almost always options in how you do it.
Accept Feelings as Cues.
Effort spent reforming your feelings will only go so far, since feelings are cues about what you have been doing. Affirming that feelings are a cue to what you have been doing is not to claim (ludicrously!) that you can always, instantly, marshal the resources to respond well.
There are some things that we cannot yet do, or cannot now do, whether due to a lack of of energy, the effects of trauma, a lack of know-how, or the progression of years. Children, for instance, cannot magically marshal the resources to respond skillfully to abuse, neglect, or invalidation. The emotions they feel, however, are still cues to what they are doing, in ignorance. As they grow and mature, perhaps they will learn to respond differently—and will feel differently, as well.
So, accept feelings for what they are. You can ignore or suppress them for a while—but not forever, and not without missing the hints they give: do you need to forgive? to drink water? to accept gradual progress? to eat food? to honor a friend? to celebrate success? You can explore what your feelings might mean, if you’re interested. You can also shape them indirectly and can remember: your feelings are not you. Your feelings are less you than is your neighbor.
Change Practices to Change Thoughts.
Effort devoted to thinking differently depends on awareness. To change your thinking, you must first become aware that reality is not, necessarily, as you have believed it to be. Old habits reinforce old beliefs. New practices make new awareness possible. So, adopt new practices.
We teach the 8 Questions and the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education; the Orthodox Christian Church is a school for prayer. Beyond these, there are a wealth of other good, supportive practices. You can, for instance, drink water, eat food, eliminate waste, and prioritize sleep. You can periodically evaluate, too, with wise counsel, how well your practices are working.
Finally, while you adopt new practices, you can remember: you don’t need to believe everything you think.
Develop Awareness. Practice Vigilance. Reduce Effort.
Practicing the 8 Questions, for better or worse, requires desire and vigilance. Fortunately, just doing the 8 Questions process develops desire, since the results the process produces are gladly welcomed! Moreover, just doing the 8 Questions process develops vigilance, as you and those with whom you train choose again and again to revisit the questions—and to quickly pause whatever you’re doing, if you answer a question “no.”
It takes effort to learn key distinctions, memorize eight questions, and use a timer to remind yourself to ask the 8 Questions regularly—but this effort is small, when compared to the effort of trying to change your desires, beliefs, habitual thoughts, or feelings directly.
Coordinate Your Intentions and Actions.
Effort devoted to reshaping your flesh can increase power, build stamina, and improve coordination. Each is trained differently; all are important. Lifting weights, with appropriate guidance, can increase your power. Calisthenics and active play can build your stamina. The Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education, in which movements are explored with little force and gentle curiosity, can improve your coordination. Increasing power, building stamina, and improving coordination will change you. Nevertheless, at some point: while your flesh will pass away, you will remain.
Just doing Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lessons in a spirit of playful curiosity naturally develops self-acceptance and a desire to learn—and these definitely make a difference in one’s relationships! Doing Feldenkrais also tends to reduce pain, facilitate ease, and improve coordination. Imagine not just being strong, but being able to coordinate that strength. That coordination, and the results you can achieve with it, are what the Feldenkrais Method of Somatic Education is all about.
Feldenkrais and the 8 Questions can become important parts of your life, if you want them to be.
So, how will you move? In what ways will you love? What will you do, to make a difference… today?