Waxing physically and philosically...

After literally years of deliberation, and as a result of some delicate and some less delicate prodding, this blog is my effort to organize - to bring together - my thoughts about my work as a conductor and as a personal trainer, to rant and rave as necessary, to celebrate the little things and the larger moments of brilliance, and to share some conductive magic and life lessons gained through 'waxing physically and philosophically'.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Seeing is believing -- and believing is seeing

We often say seeing is believing -- and this is taken to mean that whatever we it is that we want to believe must first be demonstrated, must be proved, must exist, and must be objectively true.  Skepticism is considered healthy - be critical, suspend judgment, just the facts ma'am.  Our society values evidence over experience and intuition, and faith and hope are considered charlatan.  Conductive Education has been ridiculed and denounced and disregarded -- we haven't figured out how to quantify and clearly articulate what it is that we do; nor have external researchers, and why should they -- it is their job to be critical and objective.   And we, the 'global conductive community' -- for lack of a better way of describing the flotsam of people around the world working in the field of Conductive Education, supporting and fighting for Conductive Education, and benefitting from experiencing Conductive Education -- don't help the situation.  We talk about the intangible and psychosocial defining elements of Conductive Education and then try to find a tangible and objective way to be measured and defined so that we can fit in to wherever it is we are trying to eek out an existence.  Or we quietly do what we do and hope to remain unnoticed and therefore unscrutinized but never actually articulate what it is that we are so passionate about and protective of.

Where am I going with this ranting raving opening to this first blog, you ask?  I don't pretend to have the answers, just my experience, my stories, and my thoughts.  In this blog I plan to write about some of the unmeasurable and intangible conductive magic underlying the practice -- because it is important, because it is what makes us different, and because it is what makes me and many of the others that I have conducted love Conductive Education.  And I will start today with some thoughts inspired by KD about seeing and believing.

KD is an adult with cerebral palsy -- she attended a CE group I ran here in Sydney a few years ago.  She is also an elite boccia player and has represented her state and her country at major competitions.  KD thrived in the Conductive Education environment -- she came into the classroom with a determination of steel and an attitude that roared "I will until".  And she did, regardless of who told her she shouldn't or couldn't.  I'll never forget the relief and joy she expressed when we first met for our initial consultation when she expressed her goals and her dreams and I said let's give it a shot.  She was amazed that I didn't tell her it was impossible, and I continue to be amazed that there are people out there like KD who despite decades of discouragement still have the guts to have goals and dreams, let alone express them.  Over a few years I watched KD go from a few assisted steps with two conductors and a walker, to practicing with a friend outside the classroom, to walking across a beach promenade with her walker, unassisted, as part of a fundraiser that she organized so that she could afford to travel with the boccia squad to compete overseas.

KD contacted me a few months ago asking if we could get started again.  She said that she had had a rough year -- not just any old rough year; frequent and severe seizures, injuries, hospitalizations, life support; we had nearly lost her on more than one occasion.  KD said that as a result she had lost a lot of motor and sensory function affecting her entire life and well-being and, most importantly to KD, her boccia.

When I met with her for consultation, it was clear that she had not exaggerated any of what she had described.  Her struggle and fatigue were apparent, there was less fire in her eyes -- it still flickered, but it was dim.  I imagine a couple of years of illness, loss, grief, fear, worst case scenarios, and being told that she was lucky to be alive but that no recovery of function could reasonably be expected would extinguish most people's fires -- but KD was still fighting, dragging herself up for the next round.  We struggled through a first session -- very basic movements.  It was challenging for both of us -- because the last time we worked together everything was very different.  KD got teary as we tried movements that she hadn't tried since her down turn, and added more things to the mental list she was keeping of what she could no longer do.  I asked about her goals for our sessions she met my eye (which in itself is a big challenge for KD at present) and said, pleadingly but with determination "I don't care what or how much, I just want to get some of it back".  And I saw the fire -- I stopped seeing all of the deterioration and stopped wondering where we would start -- I saw the fire in her eyes, and I heard myself say "you will".  I couldn't see, but I believed.  And because I believed, KD believed -- without question, without proof, without a promise, without seeing, she believed.

We believed in hope, in possibility, in potential.  I believed in KD -- more importantly, she believed in herself.  And because we believed instead of doubted, the next week when we worked together it was totally different.  Same bedroom, same body, same debilitating last few years.  But it was totally different.  Her ability to initiate and control movement was different; her pain free range of motion was different; her ability to stabilize non moving parts of her body was different; I'm talking about significant, noticable differences in her head, trunk, and limbs -- despite a stressful week of seizures so severe she nearly missed her own 40th birthday party.  I knew it, she knew it.  No miraculous recovery, but certainly some conductive magic.

When I commented (excitedly and amazedly) KD smiled and said she had been practicing.  Practicing basic movements physically when she could, in her mind -- visualizing -- when her body was too tired.  Thinking the movement commands to herself or having a friend repeat them out loud to her over the phone.  I lift my arm; I hold my head up; I move my leg.  There was no reason that this could not have been happening previously -- except that despair and frustration and hopelessness probably made trying and practicing seem futile.  A bit of belief -- an attitude adjustment -- refuelled KD's natural determination of steel -- I can; I will.

We talked that day about the verbal intention used in the CE task series -- not in terms of what rhythm was used or in terms of connecting intention and movement through  external and internal commands and involving higher brain functions.  We talked about the affirming power of the statements in positive present tense expressing and painting a picture in her mind of what she wants.  I lift my arm; I hold my head up; I move my leg -- out loud, in her mind, over and over again stating the goal in present tense as if already achieved, speaking what she wants not what she doesn't, replacing conscious and subconscious I can't with I am; I do; I will until.  Creating an image and holding it firmly in her mind's eye -- believing, seeing; seeing, believing.

We say 'listen, say, do' when explaining verbal intention --
Perhaps we really mean 'listen-say/believe/visualize-do'; perhaps the conductive magic is about what happens mentally in those precious seconds before the 'doing' starts.  There is no shortage on literature about the power of positive thinking, goal setting, and affirmation -- perhaps this should be included in our quest to define and make sense of Conductive Education.

"What the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve"
   ---Napoleon Hill


  1. A long-anticipated but none the less heartfelt welcome.

    Keep it up... the world is watching!


  2. Excellent post and some good lessons for life in there too, not just for the world of Conductive Education. So many could achieve so much more with your mantra : 'listen-say/believe/visualize-do. I'm going to start now!

  3. '...the verbal intention... the CE task... rhythm... connecting intention and movement... external and internal commands... higher brain functions'

    I suspect that these mantras, verbal baggage that CE has picked up along its way from whatever source, are going to gave to be lost if CE is going to get much further, and that articulation, communication, theory, research, and public acceptance will all be better served by going back to basic roots, viz. the sort of interpersonal, human practice that you recount here.

    Keep up the good work, and unapologetically and unashamedly leave the jargon to those with less to offer.


  4. Great to meet you in Hong Kong, Lisa. Great start to a blog. And, would you believe, your story of KD gave me a lift when, awake at 4.45am here in Sheffield UK, I was feeling a bit low. Thanks and keep writing.

  5. Great start, Lisa, and I am looking forward to reading more...and more!