At a garden party in Tel Aviv in the 1950s Moshe Feldenkrais observed a little girl trying to catch a light ball. The adults would gently throw the ball to her, and she would try to catch the ball by throwing her arms wide. This did not work. The ball would hit her in the face. She would cry, but wanted to keep playing.

Feldenkrais had a theory about how to improve brain functioning. A first step is to observe what people do it makes their difficulty. A second step is to help people discover through their own experience a new possibility that works better. This is ‘functional coaching’.

Feldenkrais sat behind the girl and lightly touched her arms. As the ball came in, he closed her arms so she caught the ball. A few trials, and she got the idea for herself.

Something profound is going on here. We are looking at a new paradigm for improving brain functioning that can be applied to catalysing transformative social change.

There are three aspects of any skilled behavior, plus emotional factors. They are:

  • Our mental maps – our understanding of the situation.
  • Our intention – what we intend to accomplish.
  • Our modus operandi – how we go about accomplishing their intention.

The little girl’s intention was clear: she wanted to catch the ball. Her modus operandi was to throw her arms wide. No doubt the other adults at the garden party sensed that something was wrong; Feldenkrais observe precisely what she did that created the problem. He then helped her develop a new skill, a new modus operandi for catching a ball.

In a brilliant essay, Leverage Points: Places to intervene in a system, Donella Meadows pointed out that the most influential leverage point in any human system is in people’s paradigms, or mindsets. People’s behavior is based on their mindsets. The idea of improving people’s mental maps comes in here. If people really grasped the disastrous ecological changes that are coming down the pike (such as catastrophic climate change), presumably we would become all-out passionate about changing the system that makes them worse.

Regretfully, the brilliant thinkers who do grasp what’s coming, people such as Paul Ehrlich, Richard Heinberg, Paul Raskin, and Nate Hagans, show no insight into improving brain functioning – which is why I’m writing this. Instead, they lecture.

This is not surprising. It’s all they know. We have all experienced years of lectures.

What might an alternative look like? Consider this example.

The Witness is the part of ourselves can observe what we do without judgment. Spiritual teachers and psychotherapists know the value of activating the Witness; it enables us to detect flaws in our behavior and make changes. So it is a good idea to activate our Witness.

Just presenting the idea this way is standard lecture mode. It is putting forward a ‘good idea’ without a way to act on it.

As a functional coach I would add this exercise:

Pick an attractive object – perhaps a leaf or an ornate old bell.

Decide to observe the object for perhaps four minutes. Give yourself the inner instruction, “When my mind goes away, I will notice that it has gone away, and bring it back.”

The act of noticing that your mind has gone away is using your Witness function. It is not just a ‘good idea’; you have done it. Using your Witness is now part of your repertoire of skills.

The idea of improving brain functioning is developed in more detail in Introducing a new paradigm for social change. An important application is Kitchen Table Conversations, a tool to expand people’s mental maps.

I think that people in general as well as influential decision-makers need to grasp the catastrophic reality of current ecological trends, and the systemic drivers that make them worse. I suggest we catalyse a movement of citizen educators / Evolutionary Catalysts.

Catalysing mass commitment to transformational change outlines how we might do this. A small cohort of us are working on it. If you are interested, I would love to talk with you.

Andrew Gaines
Inspiring Transition
Greta Thunberg will have reason to hope when she sees that mainstream society is committed to turning things around