Skill vs. Will

Posted November 11, 2014

by Belinda He

belindablog2Following up on last week’s blog entry, on one paragraph of Dr. Feldenkrais’ article, ‘Learning to Learn’, I’m writing about another paragraph from that article, with the heading ‘It is easier to tell differences when the effort is light’.

Once again, in Dr. Feldenkrais’ words: “All our senses are so built that we can distinguish minute differences when our senses are only slightly stimulated. If I were to carry a heavy load (say a refrigerator) on my back, I could not tell if a box of matches were added to the load, nor would I become aware of it being removed…And anybody can tell with closed eyes when a fly alights on a thin match-like piece of wood or straw, or when it takes to the air again. In short, the smaller the exertion, the finer the increment or decrement that we can distinguish and, also, the finer our differentiation (that is, the mobilization of our muscles in consequence of our sensations). The lighter the effort we make, the faster is our learning of any skill; and the level of perfection we can attain goes hand in hand with the finesse we obtain. We stop improving when we sense no difference in the effort made or in the movement.”

While English wasn’t his first language (or second, or third), it is clear from his words that he is interested in developing one’s skill as opposed to utilizing one’s will (power) in aspects of movement, learning and living. Mastery (or progress) can be achieved more quickly with many lighter, smaller efforts, instead of with large, sustained efforts simply because our ability to sense differences and changes is heightened with the application of a lighter force.

I’ve been practicing applying this principle in all aspects of my life – dancing, teaching, choreographing, loving, learning, and so on, and have found it to be the principle that keeps on giving. Willful living is something I’ve done for a long time, and to a certain extent, it has served me. However, I’ve discovered that skillful living requires a level of attending to myself and to others that then engender positive outcomes because I can (hearkening back to last week’s post), simply “do”, and not “try”.

As always, feel free to comment or write to me with questions, at



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