Deborah Lotus’ Feldenkrais Story: Whatever It Takes
Whatever It Takes
Suzanne Kronisch: Today I have the great pleasure of interviewing someone I actually haven’t seen since I was a kid, basically, since the Amherst training. I want to welcome Deborah Lotus to ‘Intention Into Action’, and thank you for offering to share your Feldenkrais story with us. Good afternoon to you in Massachusetts, Deborah!
Deborah Lotus: Good (COLD) afternoon to you in California, Suzanne! May I say I have always admired your ‘get up and go’.
Suzanne: Why, thank you! I have my moments. I’m kind of a mission-driven, early adopter, you could say. But this isn’t about me, this is about you!
Tell us, what was going on in your life when you first encountered the Feldenkrais Method? You’re someone who goes way back with the work, you’ve been involved for a very long time. What first brought you?
Deborah: It was 1969, the year of Woodstock, and I was 30. As part of my job as booking agent/music manager, I had booked three of our ‘acts’; the Incredible String Band, Hamza El Din and Ravi Shankar into this transformative event, and was responsible for the logistics of getting them there in the midst of torrential rains that turned the roads into one long muddy traffic jam. I had to obtain an Army helicopter to transport Raviji, Kamala, Alla Rakha and myself to Woodstock, the only way we could get there! Although frightened to the bottom of my sandals, I had to exude calm and competence.
Although the joys and excitement of my career as a concert impresario/musician manager were great, they did not offset the emotional stress and strain of the work. What might have seemed like the peak of my career had turned into a bit of a nightmare, culminating at Woodstock! Despite my bravado, I was carrying too much responsibility on my slender, rounded–forward shoulders; I had been overriding my fear and anxiety by holding my breath for too long. On top of that, I had just gone through a stressful divorce and the death of my father. With my teenaged C-curve scoliosis now visible and exacerbated, my physical and psychic pain had reached a breaking point.
I knew I needed help. I had quit my position of Vice-President of the music management business, moved in with a very supportive boyfriend, Ed Rosenfeld. (*see his 1973 interview with Moshe Feldenkrais in ‘Embodied Wisdom, Collected Papers‘, North Atlantic Press, p.191:The Forebrain: Sleep, Consciousness, Awareness, and Learning’) He was in training as a Gestalt therapist, and he urged and offered to pay for lessons with his colleague Ilana Rubenfeld. In my work, I had known Ilana Rubenfeld as a violist and Juilliard Choral Conductor, but also knew that she had become an Alexander Teacher/Gestalt Therapist through her exchange of Alexander lessons and training with Fritz Perls during summer residencies at Esalen. I knew that Alexander had something to do with the spine and posture and pain relief, and that Gestalt was a ‘new to me’ kind of psychotherapy (I’d tried all the others!) which had to do with emotional pain relief. My ‘psycho-physical’ pain was acute and constant, but I knew that pain pills and Freud were not the answers for such a seeker as me!
Ilana and I worked together for about 2 years, when in 1972 she said to me, “Deborah, I have gone as far as I can with you, with my bag of tricks, Alexander and Gestalt. I think you should go study with the man who knows more about the body/mind complex than anyone else on the planet”.
“Oh?” I said, “And who and where might this person be?”
“A ‘little old man in Tel Aviv named Moshe Feldenkrais” she replied.
Suzanne: 1972, that was the year Feldenkrais first came to the United States, to Esalen, was it not? It was at the time when huge changes were going on in the culture here, which obviously you were a part of. It was the beginning of the Human Potential Movement in the United States.
So, what happened next? Did you go in search of this ‘little old man in Tel Aviv’?
Deborah: He had actuallly come the previous year, 1971, to Berkeley, under Esalen’s aegis, for an extended ATM workshop, in which David Bersin, Ilana, Will Schutz participated, and was then invited to Esalen, Big Sur for the following summer, 1972. The ‘Human Potential Movement’ luminaries such as Ilana, Judith Stransky, Stanley Keleman and other ‘neo-Reichian types’, Ian Grand; Frank Stout, et al, had pooled their financial resources to bring Moshe from Israel.
I replied to Ilana: “So you think I should drop my brilliant career and go study with this little old man in Israel?” To which she replied, “Well, are you happy?” Sadly I said “You know how miserable I am”, to which she shrugged and replied “So, what do you have to lose?”
Suzanne: Ilana is a wise woman.
Deborah: Yes she is! So I went home and started thinking about how I could drop everything and go to Israel, if he’d have me…
Suzanne: So you were willing to do whatever it took.
Deborah: Yes, and I started preparing right away. However, a few months later, having divested myself of a lot of material and psychic baggage, Ilana announced: “Good news! The mountain is coming to Mohammad! A group of us at Esalen have put together our life savings and invited Dr. Feldenkrais to give us an ‘Awareness Through Movement’ seminar this summer.” The book had just been published in English, and the intention was they could add ‘ATM’ to thier own repertoire of ‘human potential’ work.
She went on. “Of course you cannot ‘participate’ because you are not a ‘professional’ in this work, but your public relations skills could be helpful to Moshe, and he will need a ‘demonstration model’ for the hands-on movement work. He will take one look at your spine and find it a challenge he can’t resist!”
Suzanne: Hmm, fascinating.
Deborah: Somehow she finagled my invitation to come, tuition-free, and accomadations also provided, as I slept in the ‘treatment room’ of the motel.
In August 1972, I left NYC and got on a flight to Big Sur, California. Half-way over the Continental Divide, I changed my married last name from Steinfirst to Lotus, and vowed to change my striving NYC career woman self-image, to that of California flower-child with my recently shaved head, flowing hippy dress and love beads.
So I did leave my whole life behind, as much as possible, of course. I believe the ‘geographical solution’ can greatly help in dropping deleterious movement habit patterns! A new interface with the environment, which we address so much in Feldenkrais. I love the pragmatic call to action that ‘awareness’ can bring!
Suzanne: My first experiences with Feldenkrais® always involved travel as well. A journey. It enabled me to move in the world again.
How long was that seminar at Esalen?
How fortunate you were to have that opportunity, and how awesome that you TOOK it!
Deborah: Yes! Even just getting the time and money together is part of that journey.
The seminar was 6 weeks, July-August. I wasn’t able to pull myself away from a “Om in the Sky” project in NYC until the last 3 weeks. Among others, David Bersin visited, and Bob Knighton, whom you must have met at Amherst. Feldenkrais surely helped him live a longer and more productive life than he would have otherwise….
Suzanne: Yes, I remember Bob Knighton. So was Ilana Rubenfeld correct? What happened for you that summer?
Deborah: You might think me brave, but I was actually DESPERATE! But once I felt his hands on me, I thought ‘I’ll follow these hands anywhere’
‘Whatever it takes’, I thought, and here I am 42 years later, following those hands.
Suzanne: I get that. ‘Whatever it takes’ is a great mantra. And obviously, inspires great action.
Deborah: Suzanne, I’m suddenly feeling tired and I’d like to recover and continue at another time. It brings back emotions and I’ve been processing them as we speak and all of a sudden the wind has gone out of my sails, and I need to ‘lie on my beck, and scan’.
You see, I am exemplifying a major Feldenkrais edict: ‘Don’t power on through, REST, and start again!’ (Except when you are in a walkathon of course! LOL)
Suzanne: You have a powerful story, Deborah. I can feel the determination that fueled it. Yes, please take a rest, I will take a hike (I’m training for my 7th Walkathon!) and we can continue with Part Two at another time.
Deborah: To answer your question briefly, yes Ilana was right! But that summer was only the beginning; a spine that takes 30 years to bend itself in certain ways would take at least 3 years to unbend itself.
Suzanne: Yes. The process had begun though. Thank you very much. This is really great. These stories are priceless.
TO BE CONTINUED…
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