In this Transmission conversation we chat about Matan’s dedication to – and brief hiatus from, his podcast – ethics in leading, life in the Israeli army, and thereafter transitioning from a dedicated meditation practitioner living in celibacy to be relentlessly coaxed back into the world by erotic desires that surfaced from intense meditation practice, and how all these things tie into commitment, personal realizations and growth.
Matan is a dancer, teacher and graphic designer. In 2015, he founded Movement Lab – which he considers a vehicle for movement education, choreographic work and personal inquiry.
His own practice is inspired by his enthusiasm for physical and theoretical research revolving around the question of how to develop a meaningful relationship with the body and mind.
For over a decade, he devoted himself to educate people from all over the world about better movement while reflecting upon what Matan describes as “the urgent social phenomena” through the medium of performance and also via conversations through his podcast ‘Material for the brain’.
His passion for research and discovery drives to expand his understanding and to further develop himself as a human being.
His own choreographic works have been presented in various dance festivals, cultural events, art galleries and museums in Austria, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, England, Greece, Slovakia and Israel.
Matan’s focus as a teacher is rooted in “movement research”. He started teaching in Israel in 2008. Since then, he has had the chance to teach under different circumstances and to different audiences; ranging from professional and amateurs, dancers to teenagers, in open workshops, festivals and immersive group seminars.
- Transition from developing Podcast channel to jumping back into In-Person Teaching
- 6-month Movement Program focused on Contemporary Dance and Contact Improvisation
- Traveling Guest Teaching versus Teaching to Committed Students in One Location
- Contemporary Dance Culture: Not committing for Novelty
- What can be Gained from a One-time Workshop Experience
- Contemporary Dancer’s Craft versus Ballet Dancer’s Craft
- Leadership and Work Ethics in the Dance World
- Israeli Army Experience, Leadership, and concept of Freedom
- Constant Praise and Extensive Support in North America and Question of Resiliency
- Balance Between Structure in Learning and Building Resilience
- Maintaining the Ability to Recognize one’s Role in the Learning Hierarchy
- Teaching Style of Encouraging Freedom for Discovery
- Vipassana Meditation, Practice Process and Serving Experience
- Outcome from a Disciplined Dedicated Meditation Practice
- Meaning of Commitment and the Aspect of Curiosity and Growth
- Tension between Being Committed and Not Being Committed
Selected links from this transmission:
- Matan Levkowich
- Material for the Brain Podcast
- Movement Education
- Tom Weksler
- Contemporary Dance
- Contact Improvisation
- Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
- Iyengar Yoga
- Israel Defense Forces
- Vipassana Meditation taught by S.N. Goenka
Examples of praise in education:
Informative and relative to building resilience: Carol Dweck – Growth Mindset vs Fixed Mindset
JP Sears on Millennials (parody) – Refers in part to how praise in education has influenced the millennial generation.
Connect with Matan:
Patrick Oancia (00:00:07):
Hey everyone. This is the first time that we’re meeting. My name is Patrick Oancia and I’m the founder and co-developer of the Baseworks Method. The Baseworks Method at its core is a movement conditioning approach. Yet I personally found over the years of committing to practice and teaching that practice inevitably has an effect on perception and quality of life. These Baseworks Transmission conversations, look at both concrete and abstract realizations that come up as the result of committing to any kind of practice and or pursuit to achieve life goals. And the aim is to come up with a common vocabulary to better describe these experiences.
Patrick Oancia (00:00:55):
I met Matan in Nataf, Israel, in the foothills outside of Jerusalem in 2017. We were both invited by our mutual friend and collaborative partner, some of you may know him, Tom Weksler, to participate and share what we both do in Tom’s Bows and Arrows residency. The group consisted of capoeiristas, pro athletes, martial artists, dancers, and physical theater artists. And during the week that we were all together, we shared a lot of really cool stuff. I was particularly intrigued by the way that Matan shared his craft and with equal conviction demonstrated a humble curiosity as learner. This inspired me to invite Matan to Tokyo, to teach a week of seminars and practice Baseworks with us and exchange ideas on practice and sharing as teachers. That time transformed into a sustained dialogue, meaningful connection and ongoing collaboration. Matan is a dancer, teacher and graphic designer.
Patrick Oancia (00:01:42):
In 2015, he founded Movement Lab, which he considers a vehicle for education, choreographic work and personal inquiry. His own practice is inspired by his enthusiasm for physical and theoretical research, revolving around the question of how to develop a meaningful relationship with the body and mind. For over a decade, he devoted himself to educate people from all over the world about better movement while reflecting upon what Matan describes as the urgent social phenomenon through the medium of performance, and also via conversations through his podcast, Material for the Brain. As a dancer, he performed in the works of Martin Nachbar, Alessandro Sciarroni and Marco Torrice. His own choreographic works have been presented in various dance festivals, cultural events, art galleries, and museums in Austria, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, England, Greece, Slovakia and Israel. As a teacher, Matan’s focus lies in movement research. He started giving regular classes in Israel in 2008, since then, he’s taught under different circumstances and to different audiences ranging from professional and amateur dancers to teenagers, in open workshops, festivals, and intensive seminars.
Patrick Oancia (00:02:47):
In this Transmission conversation we chat about Matan’s dedication to and brief hiatus from his podcast, ethics in leading, life in the Israeli army, and thereafter transitioning from a dedicated meditation practitioner, living mostly in celibacy to being relentlessly coaxed back into the world by erotic desires that surfaced as a result of his intense meditation practice. And how all these things tied into commitment and personal realizations. And on a last note, before we get started, for most of these Transmissions, we’ll have a companion episode or content that we refer to as reflections that we’ll go deeper into the topics discussed. You can find out where to access that in the show notes.
So Matan, how are you doing today?
Matan Levkowich (00:03:30):
I’m very good. Nice to see you again. How are you?
Patrick Oancia (00:03:33):
Nice to see you too. Yeah, I’m great. You’re in Vienna?
Matan Levkowich (00:03:37):
Yes, I’m in Vienna. I’m not so much traveling in the recent years, so mostly when you catch me, I would be in Vienna nowadays.
Patrick Oancia (00:03:46):
Can you tell us a little bit about the transition from having gone head into developing your podcast channel, and jumping back into in-person teaching when you had the opportunity to do it throughout the summer?
Matan Levkowich (00:04:04):
Yes, sure. The podcast started in while we’re in the midst of this isolated period with COVID. So it came for me as an answer for my need to have meaningful conversation with people, and I had much more time. And also because I’m a little bit of a perfectionist type, I kind of ran into a problem that the producing the podcast takes a lot of time, cause I really want to edit it properly and do some post production on the audio. Since this podcast doesn’t generate revenues, I couldn’t hire/outsource some of the things that it demands, so it became quite of a time-consuming activity. And then in the summer I took a break, we visited Israel with my family and I decided to take a break and also rethink the whole project and what do I want to get with it?
Matan Levkowich (00:05:03):
At the same time, also I was establishing the program that I’m now starting to run, which is a six month study group here in Vienna. So people from different backgrounds have decided to join me for a six month program where we are diving into contemporary dance partner work and movement training. And then, I suddenly found myself from a long period where I’m not teaching at all, to teach almost every day, some days even twice, in the morning and evening session. So I have much less time, and now I’m, I’m producing kind of an episode a month where I used to do almost three a month. But you know, for me it’s a positive change because I really missed the in-person work. Even though I’m generally enjoying every episode I record on the podcast, it’s really a pleasure to have these opportunities to converse with people, the people that I appreciate. But the in-person teaching is something that really gives me a lot of balance in my life.
Patrick Oancia (00:06:15):
I’d like to just unpack a little bit of what you said about the program that you’re doing this six month program. You said it’s a combination of contemporary dance, contact improvisation and movement practice. In what ratio are you addressing each thing? Is that dynamic, or as you go through the content are you delivering more of one or the other depending on how the progress with the group goes? And I’m just anticipating that this six month program is with the same group of people?
Matan Levkowich (00:06:45):
Yes. There’s actually two groups. It kind of happened organically. I have a morning group and evening group. And the people who committed for the morning, they wanted to do it more than once a week, so it’s people who are investing more time in it. And people are doing in the evening, it’s one once a week. The same group of people for six months. To be honest, there is this kind of movement umbrella that I’ve been gravitated towards, maybe six or five years ago, I started to gravitate towards this space and to teach more multidisciplinary crowds, not only dance oriented people. But now, more and more, I’m kind of coming back into my roots and my main training, even though it has been diverse, I would say that the main training that I’ve been doing was in contemporary dance and in contact improvisation. And even now that I’m already five years doing Brazilian jiu-jitsu, I still feel that my main lens to look at things is to some extent influence from my dance background. So, it is a dance program, but the reason why I include the word movement there is because it’s still a huge/wider umbrella and not everything is dance, but most things are movement. So that’s why it’s still there, but I would say that it’s majority a dance practice.
Patrick Oancia (00:08:28):
Are the majority of the people that are attending in both groups coming from a dance background, or are they coming from different backgrounds being introduced to dance for the first time?
Matan Levkowich (00:08:38):
I would say there’s a good mix of both. And there are people who knows me and I was their introduction into the world of physical practices. So they kind of entered into this world through my practice, which is, I would say still little wider than pure contemporary dance class. There are some people who are coming from a many years of contact improvisation training, some people coming from professional dance background, and also some people are coming from various, I have two people who are coming from background of skateboarding, which is pretty nice.
So there’s a mix. But I must say that, it’s like for years I’ve been kind of chasing this international status with pushing my seminars, and maybe when we met for the first time, I was already starting to run on low gas. Like I didn’t have that drive anymore, even though I reached this kind of pinnacle with arriving to teach in Tokyo with you.
Matan Levkowich (00:09:44):
It’s such a different experience for me now to really have this committed people. And we talked a lot about it in the recent years about this, the difference with having a commitment from your student versus this guest position. And I’m so happy with it, it’s so rewarding to see the same people every week.
Patrick Oancia (00:10:11):
Yeah, we did talk quite a bit about that. For the people that are seeing this for the first time, Matan had come to Tokyo to do some guest seminars at our studio in 2018. And during the time that he was there, we talked a lot about committed groups of people that were ready to jump into a practice and see it through from an introductory infantile standpoint, right through into something that can really develop into all different directions. We also discussed this idea about workshops, seminars, traveling and disseminating the wealth of knowledge that one would have, to groups of people on weekends or for short seminars over a few days in different parts of the world. And whether people would be able to, coming in from whatever background that they’re coming from, whether they would actually be able to adhere to what was introduced to them in a meaningful way, and being able to sustain it.
Patrick Oancia (00:11:23):
The other flip side of that would be, would somebody be able to sustain the continuity that connection with the teacher that’s teaching the seminar. And when you say you’re running low on gas from that whole situation, I very much empathize with that. Back in the in the two thousands, I traveled and taught a lot and as rewarding as an experience as it was, as we discussed, returning to Tokyo and focusing entirely on working with the same group of people over and over again was when I saw a real shift in how I approached teaching, and a lot of the associated interests around it. That was just a bit of trivia for people that are watching, trivia and realizational tidbits from our conversations. We had a lot of great conversations when Matan was in Japan and thereafter. When you say this six month group I’m anticipating this is the first time that you’ve done something so intensive with a group, or I’m sorry if I forgot that you had done similar things in the past? Is this a regular thing?
Matan Levkowich (00:12:40):
No. I had intensive processes, but the longest continuous work that I did with the same people was something that was like a month and a half. And this is the first time that the commitment is for much longer.
Patrick Oancia (00:12:59):
Does everybody show up, or for the most part of it in those two groups, or do some people drop off?
Matan Levkowich (00:13:09):
At the moment, I would say that the attendance rate is pretty high, especially when we are dealing still with this Corona situation that is always in the back of the mind of everyone in the room. So I think people appreciate the continuity and that’s one of the things that people were really asking for, and coming with as an intention to find regularity back in their lives, not just from a training oriented perspective, but more like just put some kind of an anchor of stability in their lives.
Patrick Oancia (00:13:48):
And would it be correct to assume that from this point forward, you’ll be focusing more on programming like that? Or will it be a kind of a hybrid where people can pick up if they’ve already gone through something like that, would they be able to come in and do a pickup session with you for a shorter period of time? What’s your ideas on that?
Matan Levkowich (00:14:09):
So definitely I realized that that’s the next step for me to explore. I’m trying out to develop a structure here that will be able to contain also other local teachers so that, you could call it a school, that will run simultaneously several programs that some of them, I will lead in-person in the studio, some not, but I will be managing it from a pedagogical and artistic perspective. So that’s kind of the main focus, but recently I started to get more invitation for like coming to do things outside of Vienna, even though that I’m not searching for it anymore. And I feel it now, I actually am ready to teach again, to tour again a little bit. Because what I think that was missing is, and that’s really related to contemporary dance culture.
Matan Levkowich (00:15:11):
And for those who are listening, who don’t really have an image of what does it mean, the contemporary dance culture. So in the contemporary dance world, there is really an established culture that you don’t commit to anyone. And that’s kind of because of the need to always be updated with the newest trends. There is much more of a culture of picking up short workshop with many teachers and to be exposed to a lot of ideas, versus a more traditionalist path of committing to one person and diving very deep into something very specific. So as a teacher, it was not so much in my mind to imagine that I can take a group of people that will just commit for my work. So I was really kind of merging into that kind of market of workshops and trying to offer as much as I can.
Matan Levkowich (00:16:04):
But I think that when you don’t have a certain base as a teacher, and you’re just dependent on these random situation when you’re teaching, your practices as a teacher is way more limited because ideas needs to develop over time. This kind of sporadic meeting with people that are changing is not the best ground for developing ideas. And now that I have this base, I feel that I will have much less projection on the students that I will meet when I will travel again. Because before, there was a part of me that was, it was really important for me that people will appreciate the workshop and that they will really enjoy. That they would think wow, Matan is a special teacher, because they were the only students that I would have, the people who are admitted at the moment.
Now that I have this group of people that are already just by committing, I get this sensation that they are interested, they’re committed. Like what is more an evidence than the fact that they have committed to a process? So I don’t have this need to get this appreciation anywhere else. And now, I’m supposed to go again on the road in April to do something small, and then again in June. It’s not something that motivates me. It’s kind of like a dessert, it’s not the main course anymore. So I feel much more ready to tour again with a very different perspective. And of course, also so much of my practice has been evolved and changed in this. I think 2018 was the year I decided actively to stop touring. So it’s been three years already.
Patrick Oancia (00:17:47):
Two things I’d like to touch on there. For one, when you made reference to the contemporary dance world where nobody wants to be committed, and people want to get a lot of new information from going out and doing workshops with various different people in the industry potentially, and also maybe in the health and fitness industry that can offer them different insights on how to better analyze or move forward with their practices. I guess you would agree that depending on someone’s skillset in movement, to whatever level they’re at in understanding their game, whether that be contemporary dance or whether a compilation of different things related to dance or fitness or sports or whatever, do you think anybody can benefit?
Patrick Oancia (00:18:47):
Have you ever benefited from the situation of just jumping into a workshop or a seminar with somebody you didn’t ever meet before in your life that you’d heard something about, you heard something good about that maybe that person could teach you or impart something to you that would help develop your practice? What would be the ratio of people that you think can really take something beneficial out of this one-off experience and apply it back into their practice and make use of it or understand it?
Matan Levkowich (00:19:26):
It’s a very interesting question because I think different practices would be placed differently on a scale between progressivism and conservativism. So for example, if I think about martial arts, most martial arts are a little bit more on the conservative side, there’s a certain system that you follow that has been established for many years, and now you’re going to dive slowly and be exposed to that. And contemporary dance is connected into a bigger umbrella of the arts, and in the arts, there is never a need to redo what we already did. So, the practice by itself is constantly about finding new ideas.
And there is some exception. I practice Brazilian jiu-jitsu, which is a combat sport that constantly evolves because it’s also a competitive practice,so people want to always find new ways to win. I think you can benefit a lot from jumping into something shortly, but that would be less. I think if you encounter a teacher that really can change your understanding on a more conceptual level into your practice, so not so much from the actual training that you’re doing. Because what can you do in a weekend? You cannot really radically change anything physically in a weekend, but you can really have completely new ideas that will open your perception radically. I had a few teachers that I met in my life that opened some door that I wasn’t even aware that existed. And then there is like a leap of evolution, it’s like a certain growth in your consciousness, suddenly you can recognize there’s actually much more on the horizon. For that purpose, I think it’s very useful. But if you’re just depending on that and there’s no regularity, then I don’t know. I think you’re missing something in the same way that you’re missing if you’re only going to your Iyengar yoga week after week after week after week.
Patrick Oancia (00:21:45):
The image that may be a lot of people get of contemporary dance, and again, maybe this is completely subjective. When I first heard about contemporary dance, the image that I got of it is that the training/education for contemporary dance was obviously looking at a cross section of modalities and dance. I could be wrong about that. So cross section of modalities and dance would help people understand fundamentals to better develop skills that may be necessary in interfacing a creative output into the movement, according to how you would work with a choreographer or whatnot. I’d like to talk about contemporary dance specifically, because different to that of Iyengar yoga or Brazilian jiu-jitsu where there are a lot of very archetypical structure in the learning and the method, which lead people to do similar things.
Patrick Oancia (00:22:47):
They may have their own flavor of the experience, but in contemporary dance, my understanding is that maybe the fundamentals are taking you more towards a more free and open realization of how you would express yourself as a dancer. In this way, might a contemporary dancer benefit more than a professional athlete, in your opinion, from doing random workshops here and there with different people and utilizing that experience? Particularly when it comes to dance, can one contemporary dancer who studied at a specific dance school, then go off and study under a bunch of different contemporary dance teachers and have a better output from that than say a traditional ballet dancer, for example. Are there a lot of differences?
Matan Levkowich (00:23:45):
Yeah, for sure. I would say that, you can also reverse engineer this question and look at it from the market perspective, like how does a contemporary dancer exist in the market of dance? You go and you do random auditions to different choreographers. Maybe at a certain point in your career, you have several choreographers that are kind of interested to work with you as a dancer. So if you’re a freelancer and you want to make a living, you probably need around between three to four of those different people so that you can keep having continuous work, and you need to be able to shift/transform yourself according to the wishes of the director you’re working with. And there is no common ground at all, nor between the different choreographers, and definitely not between each choreography that one choreographer is doing.
Matan Levkowich (00:24:51):
So it could be that in one performance, you need to have certain skill set. And then in the next performance, you need to have a completely different skillset. So you really need to be able to have really a lot of doors, but in no doors, you go to the depth that a ballet dancer will go with their craft. So the craft of contemporary dance is way less refined than a craft of a ballet dancer. Then one says the perfection, the control, the overall understanding of what you’re doing is not that deep, if you compare it to a ballet dancer. So I can assume that it would make more sense for the contemporary dancer to keep exposing oneself to new ideas in order to be able to stay connected to what is happening. Also, it’s not only on a technical and skill level, but I think that contemporary dance in comparison to ballet which is a traditional art form, you also need to be aware like where does the discourse leads us now, and that really depends from a place to place.
So for example, I can make a performance in Austria that maybe here will be on the conservative side of ideas, and I can travel them to Greece and it will maybe be extremely progressive there. So, this is also something that you need to always be kind of aware of, especially if you are starting to become a maker, and not only a person who is executing.
What do you mean maker? Choreographer?
A choreographer, when you start making art and not just participate in the art of others. But also as a dancer, me personally, I wouldn’t want to dance and work with somebody that I have strong disagreement with they’re overall message. I’m not saying I’m that stubborn, but if it will be way too far from what I believe in, it would be very hard for me to collaborate with such person.
Patrick Oancia (00:27:05):
Can you give me an example, you don’t have to throw any names down, but would it be more like the way they execute the choreography? Would it be ethics? I don’t understand because contemporary dance seems like such a broad, very subjectively artistic experience. So what would the criteria be for your wanting to work with a choreographer as a dancer?
Matan Levkowich (00:27:32):
First, work ethics that are quite problematic in the dance world.
Patrick Oancia (00:27:39):
Can you give me some examples?
Matan Levkowich (00:27:41):
I think that there’s a strong diffusion, artificial diffusion of the hierarchies in the space. So there’s many people who would work with kind of like in a non-hierarchical space, even though they are in a position of leadership and they wouldn’t own the fact that they are leading this space, which means that they need to be more responsible for the safety of others, because they are the leader. And then demand from you as a dancer to take care of your safety in situation that you are being pushed to the edges of your capacity, and the person who is in charge doesn’t really take the responsibility for that. And I’ve been in situation in the studio, the thing that I can compare the most is almost like a relationship between a father or mother to their kids.
Matan Levkowich (00:28:43):
As a dancer, I was more on the child side, that I’m being led somewhere. But then when I get into a place that I’m confused, disturbed, overwhelmed, then the person I was working was unable to actually support me there. I just talked about it today with the student in the university where I’m also teaching at the moment, it’s a funny example, but when I was in the Israeli army, which was mostly a challenging experience, but still I could extract some important things. So the structure, even though it was extremely hierarchical in the sense that the commander is responsible, tell you everything that you can do and not do in your life when you’re in that system, still, in the moment where you are going into action, the base understanding of the Israeli army operates is that the commander tells the soldier come after me.
So as the leader, you’re in the front line, and you’re not saying to your soldier “march forward” and you look at it from behind. And that’s a very big difference. And I feel that in many situations that I was working, I didn’t feel that the choreographer is actually trying to march forward with me, but like, okay, you go to that experience and I will extract whatever I need from you there. And that’s it. Rather than really actively being with me and leading me from the front.
Patrick Oancia (00:30:17):
Do you think that there are people that would do well in that environment?
Matan Levkowich (00:30:23):
Of being pushed forward?
Patrick Oancia (00:30:26):
Well, both. Let’s first use the example of not being pushed, not being led. Do you think there are people that can really manifest in that environment? Having a choreographer that’s not willing to lead, but rather just tell somebody to go and to get what they need from that experience, and hopefully the choreographer can get what he gets. Does that dynamic work for some people?
Matan Levkowich (00:30:56):
Yeah, for sure, for some people it works. But when we say works, it’s also a question, what do we mean by that? Do we mean that they can handle the job? I remember the thing, this specific project, I found myself in a position of minority. I told my colleagues, after we finished the rehearsal, we would go to an apartment where we live together, and I told to my colleagues, look, I really think that it’s part of the responsibility of the choreographer to acknowledge in which emotional situation they are placing me and then to take care of it, that I’m okay also there. That it’s not just, okay, what is the material that you’re doing, but I’m working with my body. And many of my colleagues told me, no, no, no, no, it’s not the responsibility and you should be completely responsible for your own mental health and being okay.
And maybe it could sound contradictive to some people who know me because I always advocate for self responsibility. But why in this working situation, I would say that it’s not like that is because it’s all a question of who place boundaries in the working space. And of course in a situation that is too much for me, maybe I can say, I’m leaving, I don’t work here anymore, but there’s tremendous amount of pressure in those environments, especially because in the dance world, there is such a scarcity of opportunity. So the moment you get a job, especially as a beginner, you want to do everything in order to make it work. You don’t want to fuck it up. You don’t want to be the one to be saying it’s too much for me. And then when a person who decides what is the boundaries in the room keeps pushing you forever, you don’t always have the capacity to place your own boundary and say, look, this is enough for me because you are really being…. It’s a very subtle, subtle dynamic. And for some people, for me, it didn’t work.
Matan Levkowich (00:33:10):
I think that maybe for some people it’s okay to work with somebody, that certain level, doesn’t care about you, and you develop your own resiliency, but I don’t know. I feel for me, some people are kind of willing to sacrifice everything for the art. It’s like, okay, you know, I’m a servant of the art. But for me, an art that compromises so much the wellbeing of the people who are doing the art, I don’t see how it can be anything progressive. How the art itself could be progressive, if it really destroys the people who are actually doing the art form. And maybe it’s a philosophical thing that we can debate, but that’s where I am at the moment with my intuition.
Patrick Oancia (00:34:02):
There’s no doubt that there would be a lot of people out there that would feel that, that’s debatable. I personally agree with both scenarios. I agree that somebody does have to sort of build their own resilience in under certain circumstances and without being given the opportunity to be hung out to dry, if you want to use that expression, people don’t build resilience. But with that being said, I don’t disagree with what you’re saying at all. I do believe that support mechanisms in place, can also support resiliency. So that those things they go hand in hand. Now you mentioned this about choreography and dance and being led by the right person for your own personal preference, what was it like in the army?
Patrick Oancia (00:34:55):
When I think of an experience in the military, I think of commitment for one, a strong commitment, a discipline, and those two things alone, they can mean different things within the setting of serving for an army for your country. When we talk about Israel and the Israeli army, what kind of mechanisms are set in place that you may be experienced in having gone through military training of whatever type of training that you did, that were supportive and or maybe not supportive. I want to bring this into it because I’ve met so many Israelis over the years that have become very dear friends of mine, and every one of those friends has some story about the army or their experience in the army. And more specifically than anybody from any other country I’ve ever met. So can you share with us a little bit about maybe the comparison and/or polarization to that support and, or lack of support, in dance, in your experience in the army, and maybe how has that shaped your opinion in all the work you’re doing today?
Matan Levkowich (00:36:20):
I think maybe one of the reason why, to some degree, that’s right, what you’re saying. That every Israeli has some story about the army, because maybe Israel maybe I’m wrong, but I think it’s one of the last Western countries that is still going through a continuous armed conflict. I don’t know if any in the west countries are still fighting kinetic conflict with other neighboring countries, and that’s something that is still happening in Israel, unfortunately. And I think the situation Israel is very particular because first of all, it’s a compulsory army service. So it’s not like somebody in the US that, for some reason, or it’s for one reason or another, decides that they want to volunteer for the army, and they come with all the drive of somebody who wants to make it in the army.
Matan Levkowich (00:37:15):
In Israel it’s like, whether you like it or not, you’re being pushed into the system. And me personally, before I went to the army, it started when I was 17 in high school. When they start to recruit everyone to check where you’re going to fit in the system, I was not very motivated about the situation. I was questioning it already then. And I was thinking, do I want to be in the army? It was not obvious for me that I want to be in the army. Many people, it was obvious. Yeah, they want to do it, they want to go to the best unit. For me, it wasn’t obvious. And there was a, there was a period that I was actually planning, it’s a funny anecdote, but I was planning. My brother was living in Germany, and I was planning that I’m gonna report to the army psychologist that does the examination, that I want to change my sex, and that I’m now traveling to my brother in Germany to start a hormonal therapy. So that was my initial plan. How to deal with the fact that I was being recruited.
Patrick Oancia (00:38:19):
Was that your actual plan?
Matan Levkowich (00:38:22):
That was my actual plan. I didn’t execute that plan.
So to not to keep you, the audience, intention about if I did went through this process or not.
Patrick Oancia (00:38:34):
Had you actually considered the change of gender?
Matan Levkowich (00:38:38):
No, no, no, no. That was just a plan in order to convince the doctor or the psychologist that was doing the examination that maybe I’m not going to fit in that structure. Because like, there are the people in Israel that when they’re 17, they’re doing their research about how can I get to the best unit? And there are other people who are doing the research, what should you say to the psychologists in order to go out? And I was a little bit more on that side. But then, I cannot still explain to myself what happened, but I was traveling in Thailand before I went to the army and somehow there, some patriotic feeling awakened inside of me. One of it was related maybe to the fact that everybody who met me there from Israel immediately asked me, hey, what have you been doing in the army?
Matan Levkowich (00:39:40):
Because they assume that since I’m traveling in Thailand and probably post army, because it was not that common to travel in the far east in Southeast Asia before you finished the army service. And anyhow, I went to the army. So I didn’t come with this kind of hyper motivation initially, but it kind of developed during the army. Because, I mean, I don’t know what you and the audience have, like in the imagination, when you think about what does it mean to have an army, like going through the process of militarization and being part of an army. But I would say that the main parameter is like really breaking this need for freedom. The hardcore of the training is just to control you to the finest level you can imagine, and to get you accustomed to that situation, that you are completely available to be used for whenever you’re needed.
Matan Levkowich (00:40:44):
That’s the most important thing. All the rest, it’s just the technical skills, but that’s the fundamental process that you’re going through. So it comes with the fact that when you wake up in the morning, somebody comes and tell you, okay, in the next seven minutes, you’re going to brush your teeth, shave your beard, clean your shoes, and appear in the court to make the morning routine. And then you do that. And then they tell you, okay, in the next seven minutes, you’re going to organize your bed. It’s really to that level. And that’s what you’re doing for six months. You’re constantly opening your timer to make sure that you’re not late on an interval between 30 seconds to maximum one hour. And when you’re going through such a process, your whole notion of agency and independencies dissolving completely. Things that I would have accepted doing back then would feel for me now, like on the level of insanity, you know?
Matan Levkowich (00:41:49):
Cause I think that that’s the core of the process. And there is no support there, because it’s not about you. It’s about you supporting the, it’s about taking something from you. It’s not about supporting you. Where you can find support is in this human connection with the people that are around you, like you go through such a harsh physical condition that there is some kind of an empathy that is being developed by you and your teammates. Like the people who are in the same unit as you were, when you’re lying together in the mud, in the middle of a training exercise after you didn’t sleep the whole night. And you’re just finding a moment of making silly jokes together and finding some bond in this situation, which is mostly bizarre and unthinkable. So the support is on that level, but I wouldn’t say that the structure is built for support, not at all.
Patrick Oancia (00:42:49):
So, would it be correct to say that it would be what somebody’s archetypical image would be of military training whereby if you didn’t get out of bed and brush your teeth and show up on the court for your morning routine, that you would be reprimanded by your Sergeant in front of everybody type of thing?
Right, and that reprimand, from your experience in the army, was it very assertive or was it just somebody telling you clearly, look, the way that it works is that you have to be on the court in seven minutes and please don’t let this happen again. Or was it like, get the fuck on the court and you fucking asshole, or something like it. How was it?
Matan Levkowich (00:43:44):
There’s no animosity to that degree in the sense, like, it’s not like that your Sergeant is kind of a gangster that wanna, you know, just exploit you for their own benefit. We are still to some degree are together, and eventually this Sergeant will lead me from the front, so there is a certain contradiction in what I’m saying. Because he will leave me from the front. I will follow him as a soldier. And I would feel like that the relationship between me and my Sergeant was, who was maybe one and a half year older than me, was the same relationship that I have now with my son. He just does whatever I tell him, like I tell him come, and he’s coming.
Matan Levkowich (00:44:34):
Actually, I was more obedient than my son. He always tell me he doesn’t want to come. But on a certain psychological level, if I tell him, look, we go there, he’s like, my daddy knows where we are going. And that’s the relationship I had with my Sergeant. So, if you would tell me, look, now we are running this hill, I’m like, yes, if you’re running it, I’m running with you. There is such a level of commitment and trust to this person because they broke your sense of independence completely, you are not an independent person anymore. So really, you need this strong figure that you can follow completely because you’re like, you’re out of the womb again. You have no capacity to take decisions, or it has been distorted to some extent that you can really commit to that person. But it’s not harsh in that level, but it would still be very clear. Like if you’re late, or if you say a word when you’re not supposed to say a word, so they will tell you, okay, drop, give me 20 pushups, this kind of attitude. Or you see this tree, in 10 seconds you be in the tree, so then, you have to start sprinting somewhere with all your equipment. Or different type of physical punishment that will really break your will.
And we had one guy that was really the most disagreeable person I’ve seen in my life. He was always pushing our Sergeant, exactly on that level to show him like, look, I’m doing everything you’re saying, but you don’t own me from inside. Inside I’m free. And that’s where you find freedom in the army, in your internal being, not in the external being, that’s where you find freedom. And that’s a very rewarding thing that I took from the army, to find freedom inside, not to find freedom outside, always. Because we are not free, always, outside. We are always limited by our environment, by the society, by the government, by our relationships. And that’s maybe similar to another topic that I know you want to discuss, which is meditation.
Patrick Oancia (00:46:44):
We’ll get to meditation. Meditation is its own military training of its own. I can relate my experience to that anyway. To extend on this conversation topic a little bit, I’d like to make a reference to that discipline of, maybe your experience in the army, and/or maybe that of a specific education systems maybe over the past 40 years, which have evolved now into, the reality of, I’ll just use as education as an example, or ethics in the workforce in North America. And I can just attribute this to North America because I lived in Japan for so many years, and there was a really strong element of comradery in Japan, where people had to work together collectively as a group to see things through, but on the other side of it, the education system in Japan was very much structured around discipline, from what I could see. You would have to comply both socially and within the structure of the education to get through without too many hiccups.
As to where in North America, from what I understand over the past year, I have friends that are educators here in North America, with the education system now that evolves, is altogether, it’s moved away from, I can’t say every institution is like this, but public education and/or a certain private education, focuses on praise. The constant praise. There’s a lot of people that do parodies of education now on YouTube. I can’t think of any examples right now, maybe I’ll put some in the notes for the show.
Even if somebody sucks at something you’re giving them praise, right? So that there’s an element of people not being able to build resiliency within the structure of this type of thing, and it goes to the opposite extreme. If someone is not praised by the educator, then the educator is getting reprimanded for not doing that. And there’s a fine line I can see between, I could just see from my own experience too, because I was a rebel, I did not want to be told what to do through my education in the 70s and 80s in school in Canada. And I opted to do my own thing, which was not very normal at that point in time. And education system at that time wasn’t really like it is now.
There was no real strong elements of praise. Maybe certain educators, certain teachers would be doing that to the students, but for the most part of it, it was very much about carrying through the curriculum, the linear structure of it to get through. Which something I learned later in life, I found very valuable. Which now, from what I understand, is that people, in say public education, teachers are encouraged to do everything possible to get their students through, to pass them, to get them through to make sure that they pass and they can graduate to the next level of education, to the point where people are missing out on, from what I can see, are missing out on a large part of this building resiliency in learning.
Patrick Oancia (00:50:22):
And that’s something, from what you said, and from what I also feel with many Israelis, I don’t feel like the army for Israelis has churned out a bunch of sheep that don’t have any autonomy, it’s very much what you concluded. I don’t know if there’s any mechanisms within the structure of military training, which helped you to conclude that at the end, you found the freedom within yourself. But many Israelis that I talked to, they don’t strike me as people that are compliant. They haven’t turned into sheep, but they’re also, there’s an essence of that appreciation. And I’m not, I don’t want to generalize. It’s not just Israelis. There are many people from all over the world that I find had the same sort of value system, which is whether that came from the army, or from the education that they had, or from the upbringing that their parents gave them.
Patrick Oancia (00:51:18):
But what I like to turn this conversation a little bit is everything that I just said about what I see happening here in North America. Again, I’m generalizing based on the conversations that I’m having with people that are educators in the system here, middle school teachers to college professors, and other types of education as well. And then, into the workforce as well, too, when somebody goes into the workforce, they’re expected at a certain level of their skill set to be able to perform. And if they don’t perform, obviously that the most obvious thing would be that they would lose their job, or they would be reprimanded for not being, not performing. Whereas to ethics in a lot of companies nowadays have a strong HR department, which come in and they really support. And maybe this falls more into the category of what you were talking about with the contemporary dance in a choreographer that took more of an invested interest in their dancers to be able to help them get through both the emotional and physical struggles of executing that creative process.
Patrick Oancia (00:52:21):
Where would we find this balance between, we could say linear structure in learning and building resiliency based on part marginally on reprimand and not stepping up. And to what extent, would there be a ratio of somebody coming in with a very strong support ethic in their values, where if they saw somebody dropping off irrespective of the reason for that person dropping off, whether that person was just really not trying and not caring, to what extent would/should there be, in your opinion, a balance of discipline or finding disciplinary measures, against trying to put yourself in the shoes of the person that needs support, and helping them to reach a similar realization about commitment.
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Matan Levkowich (00:53:55):
Yeah. It immediately pulls my attention to all the conversation I had in my own podcast. And I think that one sentence that I kept hearing from many people that I hosted, is that is this notion of saying, yeah, you have to be able to push your students enough that they come out of their comfort zone, but that you don’t kind of retraumatize them, so you don’t break them. But it’s something that I think that there is no formula for sure to that, and that it’s always changing based on the context that you’re operating in.
And I would say that it demands extreme amount of sensitivity and awareness to many factors. To some degree, I think that this kind of struggle that you’re addressing between this kind of more traditionalist values of resiliency, sacrifice hard work, is really now in a direct conflict with postmodern values of equality and letting everybody have an valid equal opportunity to be part of a big part in whatever we are practicing and breaking down hierarchies. I think that it’s, it’s a, it’s a good tension to have internally within yourself as a teacher, as an educator. When do I put myself more into the space where I let my students fail and experience failure and grow from it, and when do I catch them to prevent them from hitting the floor too hard, metaphorically speaking.
Matan Levkowich (00:55:55):
But in my estimation, what guides me is that I don’t want to establish a certain internal ideology around these two dichotomy. I don’t want to say, look, without residency, there is no progress, and I don’t want to also preach, if there is no support, you’re retraumatizing everyone. I also know that you cannot make it perfectly out there. Just yesterday, I had a situation in the studio that I was teaching in my study group that I had to place a very clear boundary around the wishes of my students. And I know that for some of them, it was very disturbing them emotionally that I placed this boundary. And for some of them I wasn’t sure if they will be able to continue in the class in that specific situation.
Matan Levkowich (00:56:51):
But in that moment, that was something that was extremely important for my wellbeing as the person who is guiding this space. If I’m trying to understand with myself, what is it actually a learning situation, what does it consist of? So, to my estimation and how I understand things, there has to be a certain hierarchy of competence in order for somebody to be defined as a teacher and somebody to be defined as a student. If there is no hierarchy of competence, then we are falling into kind of dominant hierarchy, that as a teacher you have to demand from your students to do what you’re telling them, and then you’re more falling into the army model. And if there is this competent level, different in competency between the teacher and the student, then there could be a very clear hierarchy that is not dogmatic, which is not abusive.
Matan Levkowich (00:58:00):
And in that situation, it’s the role of the students to commit to their position in this hierarchy, and to be open, to be led by the teacher. The teacher to own the responsibility that they are leading the process and to lead it as much as they can from the front. And then, there is a reciprocity that the student is also teaching something the teacher, in that situation. And then, you can say that there is a certain circular movement, because everyone who is teaching knows that teaching is also learning, and you’re not just teaching. But still, it’s based on certain differences between the position you are in relation to the subject that you are researching, and your student. Otherwise, you’re colleagues. If I know exactly what you know and I understand it, we can exchange because we could look at things from different perspectives.
Matan Levkowich (00:59:02):
If we talk about a subject like contact improvisation, we don’t have maybe the tools to say, who knows contact better because it’s open to so much interpretation. But even when we are diving into a more interior space, that demands interpretation, there are valid interpretation there are invalid interpretation. I’ll give an example. If I give you a task in the studio that you need to change your position from being perpendicular to the floor to being horizontally lying on your back. I can have a clear interpretation or on your competence level that will be not so far from reality, even though that my only tool is to imagine how it feels to be in your body, which is, again a place that is open for interpretation. But I would argue that there’s still interpretation that are just not valid.
Matan Levkowich (01:00:04):
If I see somebody diving all the physical weight through their knee into the ground, I know that they, in that moment, they don’t really understand what they are doing to their body. And probably, if they would have more awareness, they would take a different choice. Even though that we are not measuring objective things, we are looking into kind of sensations, internal experiences, we can still evaluate them. So again, for me, it’s all about maintaining the ability to recognize where I am in the specific hierarchy that we are studying. Whether it’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu that are more in the student side, or where it’s in contemporary dance that are more in the teaching side. And then, to really own the type of role I’m playing and not to shy away from it. Again, I think that one of the pathologies that are happening nowadays, and that’s maybe why we see these type of educators that are afraid of pushing students, is that there is a certain notion that hierarchies by nature are oppressive.
Patrick Oancia (01:01:26):
Well, I don’t even know if they’re afraid that they’re being told not to push students, from what I understand about education these days. And there’s that fine line: push the student too much, the fear comes from losing the job, if you do that, maybe.
Matan Levkowich (01:01:40):
Again, what does it represent? A teacher who is pushy, is a teacher that perceive themselves in a higher position than the student, and they want to bring them there. Look here, you’re not good enough, you have to travel up.
Patrick Oancia (01:01:56):
Hence the Sergeant that leads the group, the military scenario. The Sergeant does know what he’s doing, right?
Matan Levkowich (01:02:07):
Yeah, in some cases. In most cases, they know what they’re supposed to do, but I would say, army is a very complicated structure because it also not separated from the political domain, then it’s very up to interpretation, what is the right thing to do. But when it comes to, to the situation of an educator, if I need to teach you how to read and write, and so there’s no doubt that I’m higher than you in the hierarchy of competency. If you’re a first grade student entering your first step in from kindergarten to school, and there’s nothing oppressive about. It will become oppressive the moment I am basing my authority, not on competence. And for me, that’s something that’s the big failure of the, in my estimation, to the insistence on that every hierarchy got structure is oppressive by its nature, because it’s far from that, in my estimation.
Patrick Oancia (01:03:18):
Matan, I’ve studied under you. You’ve taught me and I’ve observed how you teach what you do. You’ve got a very clear focus on what you’d like people to learn. At the same time, you really are giving people a lot of space to be able to express themselves and putting more questions out than commands, when it comes to the analysis of what people’s experience would be studying under you. And I’m just wondering, have you always been like that, or was there ever a time where maybe you were more assertive, and reflectively you learned that that didn’t suit you?
Matan Levkowich (01:04:09):
I need to think. Not obvious question. I would say that on a certain emotional level, I don’t feel comfortable with completely dominating a space with the specificity of what I want to happen in the space. The type of freedom that I like to give to students, to people who are studying with me, is the freedom for discovery. So I would come maybe with a very clear idea of what is the subject that we are studying. But from my experience, when I come to a student and I tell them, now look, this is what you’re doing wrong, correct it and you will be fine, that’s very rewarding sometimes on the short term, because the student can get a moment of like, yeah, now it’s working, like I fixed you the problem. But I’m not 100% convinced that that’s the proper way to enable somebody to grow their independent capacity to learn.
Because, and I think maybe that’s something I think that you might agree with me, I once kind of coined this term, the teacher paradox. That as a teacher, your role is to slowly make yourself useless for your students to some degree so that you’ve been really enabling them to take everything that you can give them, that they’re independent of you, and not that for years they have to come back to get those correction from you. So I have the feeling that from watching students that, if I give a certain format that you have to solve a certain problem or deal with a certain quality that is still mysterious for you, and you get enough time to be around that problem, finding the solution by yourself is on the long-term better effect on your ability to become independent, and to really be able to understand your body. But it will affect on the short term, the evolution of your skillset.
Matan Levkowich (01:06:40):
So if you really want to learn a back flip as quick as possible, it’s very good to come to somebody who just breaks it down to you and has a method to achieve it in the quickest way. And many people are attracted to that idea, because people are attracted to result, because also, I think it’s something that our culture is revolving around now. And that really relates to the fact that we have been dominated for years by the revolution of modernity, we are only looking at what is empirical, what is something that we can recognize with the eyes. So, there is a very different working method when you want to be able to execute a back flip, and when you want to be able to experience the difference between paying attention to your partner and paying attention to the dynamic of your duet inside the gym, which is composed by many people. That’s a very different journey of learning.
Matan Levkowich (01:07:52):
One is empirically, we can look and say, you can do a back flip, or you cannot do a backflip, so it’s like raw result oriented. And one is very internal and is really open for interpretation in me, as many things that I enable my student to learn, I cannot tell if they’ve learned it or not, because it’s in their interior space. Not everything. There are also objective thing that, I do teach falling techniques and I do teach wave spirals, and a lot of things that you can really see with your eyes and as the teacher. But I’m also interested in penetrating the interior of my students, not in the way that I want to manipulate and affect it, but I want to enable them to pay attention that there’s a lot of learning there.
It’s not just about the split that I can do, it’s not just about the type of movement that I can do. But I think that nowadays we are in the midst of a very strong conflict between three different main cultural influence, traditionalism, modernity, and post-modernity, and it’s happening as we speak. And I think that hopefully it’s going to evolve into something that can integrate the positive ideas from each domain. But that’s definitely something that our culture is still very much dominated by the idea that what is real is only what is empirical, and I don’t fully agree with that idea.
Patrick Oancia (01:09:27):
It’s interesting because that empirical achievement based mindset, like you said, is at the forefront still of what happens within culture and society today. But looking at the education models that we’d mentioned before, for example, North America, whereby there’s a lot of praise given, it’s also generated this type of growth hacker mindset, we’re looking for hacks and shortcuts to be able to achieve those things. And this is maybe where I’d like to bring in this topic of meditation to kind of reflect on this, the concept of letting something cook or brew or stew for a while. Where I think the culture that we’re in right now, where we’ve found so many different, interesting, productive shortcuts to be able to achieve different things via the plethora of tools that we have as a result of modernity and growth in society and technologies. That we’re bypassing some of those really beneficial processes, in baking an idea into the point where you’ve lived every different aspect of it, and that becomes an experiential output of what you represent in the world.
I’d like to talk about meditation this way now, because meditation for myself has been one thing that’s really helped me to understand this process of cooking, not the meditation practice itself. The meditation practice for me, acted as a tool as a reflective tool only, a reflective tool onto my own projections, preconceptions, ideas about life. And from the way that I hear you discuss everything that you’re doing right now, and I’m just guessing, I’m anticipating that a large part of who you are and how you try to live your life, and the values that you structured around, both being a householder, a father, and a family man at the same time, executing your interests as a teacher, and also as an entrepreneur. You had a lot of background experience with Vipassana meditation and it was the Goenka Vipassana, am I correct? Or did you ever do the Teravata Vipassana sessions in Sri Lanka or Thailand?
Matan Levkowich (01:12:02):
No, I was just in the Goenka army.
Patrick Oancia (01:12:04):
Goenka army, it’s a great way to describe it, because Vipassana is such a structured approach to meditation, and highly effective at that. But again, within Vipassana, as you know for yourself, that within that structure, there is a lot of space for one to come to interpersonal realizations about the development of the practice. And I’d like to know, you meditated a lot, and you also served in meditations as somebody that would facilitate supporting the group in whatever capacity. For one, what interested you in meditation? Maybe we’ll start with that question.
Matan Levkowich (01:12:56):
Like many things in life, more like a coincidence. My father, who has a nursery, is a farmer, he had a partner that has been working with him around more than 30 years. And his partner and his wife, they were both meditating doing Vipassana, not in Goenka, in another tradition for many many years. And to some extent, the wife of my father’s partner became kind of like my non-biological mother, and I still call her like my spiritual mother. And first it was kind of just provoking curiosity, and hearing that they are doing meditation, and sometimes even having a glimpse into watching them while they meditate in certain situations. So I developed curiosity to that, and funny enough, connecting it to the army, the first time I went to a meditation retreat was while I was still a soldier.
Matan Levkowich (01:14:10):
So when I finished, just before you finish going out of the army, you get like a one month vacation, you’re still a soldier. So like, let’s say in an emergency, you can still be called back to base. But if everything is going peacefully, you’re at home, and the next time you will come, it’s just to kind of give your equipment back in, you’re done. And in this one month, I’ve managed to register to my first Vipassana course and dive into that there. I was 21 of age, way too early. To be honest, I don’t think that I was really ready for that in retrospective. So more of coincidence, and I think like many other people who were grew up in the west, I was born in the eighties. Maybe nowadays, if you grow up in the west, meditation is not so far away from you. But when I grew up, meditation was really something esoteric, I had a lot of false imagination of what meditation is based on some language that I did not understand. Mainly false imagination of what meditation will be.
Patrick Oancia (01:15:30):
Why do you say that you were too young?
Matan Levkowich (01:15:34):
I think I met meditation was when I was in my twenties and to some degree, I’m happy about everything that unfolded because I’m quite an optimistic person and I’m happy where I am. So if you will extract those experiences, I wouldn’t be here now talking to you. So I wouldn’t say that I regret it. But I think that when I was 21, it was very hard for me to hold in my mind paradox, and I would have a much more like atomical way of thinking, really thinking in a binary way, right, wrong, correct, not correct. And when I got exposed into Vipassana, it kind of served for me more as an answer to all the questions, rather than some kind of a supportive thing to do what you’re doing in your life.
Matan Levkowich (01:16:46):
So I took it very extremely. And after the first experience, I remember that it kind of opened my mind to this possibility that life is not about life. It’s not about the worldly life, life can be about something that is completely out of the world, out of the materialistic world. And also, I grew up in a Jewish culture and the spirituality of Judaism is very much rooted in the idea that you have to be involved in the physical world in order to have spiritual gains. So you have to get married, you have to bring kids to the world, you need to find work, you need to be engaged in the word. Where in the traditions that I’ve exposed to meditation, the way of the monk, that’s the highest choice you can take.
Matan Levkowich (01:17:39):
So again, when I exposed to that, for me, it was almost like, wow, I found what I found, what I can do in life. I graduated, I finished my army service, I went, I did this short retreat of 10 days, and then I had a plan, that’s it. Okay, I’m going to go and live in a Vipassana center. Some people go to the university, I will go to the Vipassana center. So it was very extreme choice. And of course, there was many things in the lifestyle of living as a monk in a Vipassana center at the age of 22, that I was not ready to actually experience, or that I couldn’t really comprehend what I’m entering myself into. And I would say that the main conflict that I experienced in those times is around the topic of sexual energy, that was really not functioning for me to take the choice of celibacy. And that’s kind of to some extent, I would say , it took me out of the center.
Patrick Oancia (01:18:54):
In which way did it take you out of the center?
Matan Levkowich (01:18:59):
Practically speaking, I served one course in Israel. I was doing one course in Israel exposed to this Vipassana meditation, and then, I was so hooked about it so that I tried to arrange a possibility to serve in the center. And I came after kind of a month and spent a month in the center, just serving in Israel. And I really felt like, wow, that’s something I want to dive into and do fanatically. And then, I took a break. I traveled with my dad in Egypt for one month, we went to spend some time together after the army and enjoy each other’s company and travel. And then, I took a decision to go to South Africa to continue traveling. And I’ve checked online that there is a Vipassana center and I wrote them, I want to come in and serve long-term and stay in the center.
Matan Levkowich (01:19:51):
When I arrived there to the center and I started actually living there, which meant practically to meditate every day for around three hours, to eat relatively specific diet which was excluding meat and eggs and onion and some other stuff. And whenever there was a course, I would serve and help, and sometimes I would also join and sit for 10 days of silence myself during the six months that I lived there. But what started to happen is that I just started to have constantly erotic dreams all the time. I wasn’t ready to renounce sexuality, so it kind of manifested somehow because this energy was staying in my body. And at the same time, I did develop extreme sensitivity because of the amount of hours I meditated, so I would sometimes start to recognize that I’m dreaming because of the fact that in the center, you’re not supposed to be engaged in any sexual activity.
Matan Levkowich (01:20:59):
So as a 22 year old man, I was very stuck in this idea that if there are rules that I’m not supposed to do, I will not progress if I have an erotic dream. And at a certain point, a very silly story, but there was another lady who was also very much into serving long-term courses, and then we found each other very attractive, and eventually I went to Cape town and we hooked up together. And we both kind of broke our commitment to this rule of the center. When I look at it backwards, I think I was very naïve. I just kind of threw myself into a system, a new army, with new rules, with new regulation, and just expected myself to kind of immediately operate in that new environment, and I was very far from that.
Patrick Oancia (01:21:59):
Thanks for sharing, that was very conclusive, from celibacy to hooking up. I completely understand what you mean about self-condemnation about erotic dreams. I had plenty of erotic dreams myself on long sittings in meditation retreats, and very much felt the same way, coming out of it. Because particularly in Vippasana, there’s a lot of emphasis on refraining from ejaculation. And as you go through the retreat, just sort of turn your thoughts to become very aware of whatever thoughts are evolving around those things, to try to keep your mind focused on the structure of the method as you go through it, which I think is a great thing about the Goenka Vipassana specifically.
Matan Levkowich (01:23:00):
But it’s describing in a too linear way, and that’s maybe what disturbing for me as a young person. Describe it in like, you do these steps, and you get there. But it’s not like that.
Patrick Oancia (01:23:13):
That’s a good, and this is maybe the next thing we could talk about, the realizations that you came to, from that. And I also get it though, I get the linearity in the method, and I also get why some people would think it’s too linear. And that could be just transferred to a lot of other different types of learning structures as well. With that being said, prior to discussing your realizations about it having been too linear, outside the ideology of becoming celibate and becoming a monk and moving in that direction, what could you say now were the biggest things that you took away from a disciplined meditation practice? We just discussed a bunch of stuff about the ideas that you have in your life about communication, reciprocity, mutual consideration.
Patrick Oancia (01:24:19):
I’m guessing some of those realizations must’ve come out of the reflective experience that you had in meditating. And when I say reflective, when people discuss the output/outcome of meditation, there’s many different opinions. So just as a disclaimer here, I’m not claiming that meditation is meant to produce reflective output, because many teachers would say that the experience of just the commitment to it, helps you to build a higher resolution or understanding the realization around the complexity of the mind, first and foremost, and our association to the material world. Without the philosophical stuff blown into it, what came out of the practice for you, and having committed to it in such a dedicated way. Because not everybody that does Vipassana end up going and staying in a center for six months and serving. That’s something that requires a commitment. Apart from the commitment, what came out of it? What can you say the practice did for you, that’s been reflectively transferred to the other things that you do in your life, if anything.
Matan Levkowich (01:25:31):
So I think, let’s say that the essence of the Goenka seed, at least in the way it’s been presented to the western audience, because I do have to say that within this tradition, that’s what I’ve heard. I mean, you’re learning the course with videotapes because he’s not present in every center in the world, and now he’s already also dead, but there’s a very different content that is being exposed, if you’re taking the course in English or if you’re taking it Hindi, which is its mother language of the teacher. So I know that it’s also kind of designed to some extent to accommodate itself in a western context. And the essence of the seed that has been planted is to bring you to look at the interior layer of yourself and how certain things originate there.
Matan Levkowich (01:26:35):
And maybe it’s kind of a good antidote to this obsession that the west have through modernity about being outside, looking at things through the empirical lens. And what do I mean by this? On the more simple level, when you are getting angry, it’s something that starts inside of you. Maybe there is a certain external trigger, but the anger, the emotion is something internally to you, and the first person who suffers from that negative emotion is you and not anybody else. So you are the victim of your own lack of ability to maintain a balanced mind. And for me, that was kind of the essence of what the course was opening me, when it comes to new perspectives.
Matan Levkowich (01:27:25):
Before that, and specifically, I think that for me, the main thing that I’ve been working with Vipassana is dealing with fears and dealing with anger, with much more success around the domain of fears than anger. But before the Vipassana, I would always look outside. If I have fear, is there anything outside of me that I should be afraid of? And if not, why am I still afraid? Rather than what is inside of me that’s starting to open up, and what can I do with the interior experience of being alive and not just with what is outside of me? So this is the main thing that in that age I could have taken, I have taken from it. And I would say that to some extent, Vipassana meditation was the first choice that I took to dive into an experience that I’ve never done before with an open mind. Of course I’ve done also other things, I went to the army, it was a new experience.
Matan Levkowich (01:28:29):
And there was many other new experiences, a little bit with drugs when I was a teenager. But Vipassana was really like I’m diving to a retreat, I’m diving to a place that I will be guided, that there will be a certain teaching, learning happening, and that I don’t have a clue what’s going to happen there. And this kind of mindset is still with me, in the sense that I’m very open now to go and to a new experience, maybe around the domain of movement, or on other aspect of my curiosity for learning, and dive into the unknown with an open mind for learning. So that’s definitely something that is kind of detached from the actual practice, but it was been imprinted in me through the experience of going to the meditation practice. And definitely, being patient, knowing that the time is very relative, and the duration, and the way you can stretch the experience of time when you’re meditating is very different than when you’re doing anything else.
Patrick Oancia (01:29:47):
Matan Levkowich (01:29:51):
Yeah, sometimes, or it becomes hell.
Patrick Oancia (01:29:54):
Yeah. So that was the next thing I wanted to ask. Was there anything else?
Matan Levkowich (01:30:02):
What do you mean by that?
Patrick Oancia (01:30:05):
In how that’s influenced who you are today and what you’re doing, in that experience?
Matan Levkowich (01:30:14):
I would say it’s hard for me to detach also those experiences from like the context that they took place. You know, I was 22, I went to South Africa, I’ve never been there. And it was the first time that I could look at my identity as an Israeli from a very fresh perspective, because in South Africa there was no really context to what is Israel. Most people for them, it was like somewhere north from here, there was not so much association to my cultural background. And also just by being who I was, which was completely detached from that place, I was suddenly represents something that is very particular to the land. I was suddenly a white man in Africa, in South Africa, which has a lot of history that was detached from my own personal story, but I could experience it.
Matan Levkowich (01:31:01):
So it really affected me on many levels that were detached from this time, but it it’s hard for me to separate it because this is where it happened. It happened in South Africa, that god knows, why did I chose to go there? Now, when I look at it in retrospective, there was nothing that actually connected me to this place, I just randomly chose to appear there. And I still have strong memories from the view and when I’m standing in the courtyard of this meditation center, and there was a big gong that I used to go and hit to announce that there’s some food or whatever, and just like spending so many hours with myself. And I think that’s something that I’ve never done before, spent so much time with myself developing a certain intimacy with my interior space.
Matan Levkowich (01:31:52):
And that was definitely something that I could take more than if I would have just kept on taking some 10 day retreat and then go back to my life, because I spent hours alone in the center. There was a period of around a month that I was almost the only person in the center besides some guy that would come a few times a week. Because it was not that of an active center, like in Israel, there is every week, so you’re never alone. But in this specific place, it was more like every month and a half we would have a 10 day retreat sometimes twice in a row, but, so I spent many hours with myself and that was also not detached from the experience. It extended the meditation into the moment where I’m just being, I would practice meditation when I would have to go to the kitchen in the evening to prepare something for the next day. So there was a lot of values in these days, but I feel like to some extent, I threw myself into an environment that I couldn’t fully comprehend, and that’s how it happened. But if I would choose now to go to another retreat of Goenka, I will come with a very different perspective. Of course, it’s quite natural, I’m a different, I’m an evolved version of this 20 year old guy.
Patrick Oancia (01:33:16):
It sounds quite interesting actually, because as you mentioned, you went from Israel to South Africa, which had its own polarizing socio-political setup. Coming from a country like Israel, where you’d just finished the army, and that mix or combination of things, the travel to South Africa to being in that environment, going into the Vipassana center, serving for six months in a center focusing on yourself and meditation. That’s quite a unique mix of things that obviously would deliver a lot of interesting output in life, a lot of interesting realizations. Just out of curiosity, what was the timeframe? What was the year that you went there? So for one, when did you finish the army? What year was it?
Matan Levkowich (01:34:05):
I finished in 2005, the army, then I worked for kind of around a year to save some money, and then in 2007, I arrived to South Africa.
Patrick Oancia (01:34:15):
Interesting. For many people watching out there, obviously meditation has become such a prominent and normal part of life now, for many people. It’s gone very much out of its esoteric connotations or associations, into mainstream living. Whereby now you can download a number of apps and develop even a short practice every day to help mitigate some of the difficulties there is in focusing, and avoiding stress, or better managing stress, and so on. But that timeframe in particular, in anywhere prior to that, meditation would have seemed to be, as Matan mentioned, a very esoteric thing. And also, there’s something I’d like to add here. We’ve had a very interesting conversation specifically today about commitment and adherence to principles when it comes to teaching, imparting knowledge, to receiving knowledge and what type of influences that have come up from it. Specifically something I’d like to mention about contemplative practice, which is something that I am very interested in, and it’s something I believe that we’re both interested in, is that, reflection tends to, however it’s initiated, tends to bring a lot of stuff to the surface. Just for us to wrap up today, if I could end this with any insight that you have on, as you’ve gone through life, what does commitment mean to you in the big picture?
Patrick Oancia (01:36:17):
So you’ve committed to the practice, you’ve committed to the army, you’ve committed to being a teacher, you’ve committed to your family. And how can you summarize commitment in a way which it’s a reflective part of everything you’re doing. And what could you share with people out there about your interpretation of commitment, it’s importance, and/or anything else?
Matan Levkowich (01:36:44):
That’s an overwhelming question. I would say that maybe first, commitment, we can understand it linguistically as one thing, but I would say that there is very different types of commitments that we do in our lives, and that they are not equal in the way we act them. And also, maybe in their complexity and what they demand from you. For example, the type of commitment that I went through in the Vipassana center is a very different type of commitment that I’m experiencing now towards my children, and it’s a very different type of commitment that I have towards my students that I’m teaching. So it’s not that it’s always translatable, so that if you are very committed in your meditations, that you’re necessarily will be able to be very committed elsewhere.
Patrick Oancia (01:37:59):
We talked a little bit about the teachers not being committed to seeing through the emotional and physical challenges and difficult realizations. Not teacher, but a choreographer was seeing through their student’s progress or realizations. In that way, we could say that maybe that teacher would not be committed to leading. To reframe it, as opposed to like the experience of having been committed to various different disciplines, how would you see that aspect of commitment? Commitment being relative in your life? Not only from the perspective of being responsible, but it being reflective on your own growth?
Matan Levkowich (01:38:50):
When I think about the commitment as a theme in my life, I like to differentiate between things that I’m kind of actively revisiting, and things that are just inherited to life itself that you kind of don’t have the choice not to commit, I would say, or like that if you don’t commit in such situation, you’re gonna pay strong backlash to that.
Matan Levkowich (01:39:32):
It’s hard for me to break it down. But I would say the one aspect that maybe is fundamental is that, there is an, maybe that’s more kind of going into the direction of giving some advice, is, you cannot sustain commitment without curiosity, it’s not sustainable. If there is something that you’re curious, and then you say like, yeah, I want to dive into it, you have to fuel your curiosity, hand in hand with you fueling your committed self into whatever you’re doing. And if I think about my kids, which is very obvious, I know that I’m extremely committed to them, but at the same time, every day, I’m kind of curious from these little moments of new experiences that I go with them.
Matan Levkowich (01:40:30):
It’s not just that I’m okay, I’m committed to provide, and that’s it. No, I would not sustain that commitment without the part of me really being curious about what this commitment is unfolding in my life. And I would say that it’s the same thing about any other choice that you will make, and maybe that’s some kind of a, let’s say more meta advice that we can look at this topic. And in particular, when I think about long-term commitment, it’s also nice to see, that when you stay long enough with something, like there is a certain spiral or wave, however you want to perceive this, this movement between the amount of genuine growth and evolution that takes place, and then natural stagnation that will also happen. So I can tell you about my own practice with dance, is that, around the time that you and I met for the first time, I started to enter a certain stagnation and a certain moment that I didn’t have any genuine inspiration anymore to dance, and I kind of got stuck. And for many reason, I kept on being busy with that, and then, three years later, I find myself in a situation that the commitment pays it dividends, because there is really a fresh wave of inspiration and growth in a place that I already felt that I’ve been there, I’ve already took everything I could for my life in that domain. There are moments while you’re committing to something, you cannot see, you cannot find curiosity anymore. And this is maybe a moment, a fundamental moment where you might depart, you might say, okay, that’s enough for me, let’s break the relationship between me and this person, me and this concept, me and this idea, me and this ideology, or whatever, so let’s, let’s depart.
And then, you wouldn’t experience this potential re-energizing whatever you’re doing. But again, curiosity can rise again, and then, you can really benefit from committing to something, because eventually that’s something that I definitely feel more and more. And that’s what I said about that I cannot separate the learning processes that I have from the context, is that eventually that’s the main story for me, like learning. And learning is constant, and it happens more deeply when you’re committed than when you’re not committed. So, if I have kids and I said, now I have these kids and it’s just something I need to solve, and they are annoying me, and I always kind of complain and want my freedom again, and I hope that they already mature, then I’m not fully committed, so I cannot fully grow and evolve from that situation, which contains a tremendous amount of transformative potential.
Same thing with my dance education. There has been people next to me that they were not so committed to the education because they were already been dancing for years, and they were in their journey already in the place that they couldn’t find genuine inspiration for what they were doing. So they were less committed, and when you’re less committed, you cannot go into the depth of whatever you’re doing and you’re just cruising around. But it’s a part, like we need moments like that. I definitely need moments where I’m just, you know, I know watching YouTube for no reason.
Patrick Oancia (01:44:40):
What about the non-committal part, an example you give is watching YouTube, but obviously I’m anticipating you’re also believing that there are times where not committing is comparably healthy to commitment. And first, I’d just like to say what a great analogy that you made of commitment being compounded in such a way that its output is like a dividend. And I’m going to use that in the show notes to highlight this conversation, it was a great reference. Compounded commitment, despite like the fact that nothing seems fresh about it, nothing seems new, and you’re just going through the motions. And it’s the post realizations that are the icing on the cake, the gems that present themselves in life. Just to summarize in not being committed, and on the topic of boundaries, I know this could be a whole other conversation itself.
I look at in a way, what I compartmentalize boundaries is in part, establishing a place whereby you’re no longer committed, or you’re not committing to a specific dynamic. So there’s a part where it is to do with commitment, there’s another part where the boundaries very much to do with commitment. In not committing, how does that feed everything that we just spoke about? The necessity to pull back and not be committed. As a householder you have to be committed to your kids, you can’t just abandon your family. But can you give us some other examples in life where you’ve had to pull away from it’s like not be committed? And how has that fed back into the entire process?
Matan Levkowich (01:46:34):
I must say that it’s very interesting, your thoughts about connecting the commitment and boundaries. I’ve never thought to look at it from that perspective, what is the relationship between it and how it can inform or dissolve boudaries? That’s an interesting thing to think about. First of all, there was a moment in my life that I chose not to be committed to my family. It wasn’t good. It didn’t unfold in a positive way, or let’s say that the aftermath of it maybe was positive, but during the harsh moment of this process it was not positive. And I think that maybe not committing to something kind of almost leads you to look at that you’re committing to something else, to some degree.
Matan Levkowich (01:47:38):
If I think about contact improvisation, it was the first thing that I’ve learned in the realm of dance, and for years, I was very committed to practice regularly and to dive into it. And at a certain point, I developed a lot of challenges, more on a cultural level to be part of the scene, and I stopped being part of it. And I would just come once in a while to teach some workshops, but I wasn’t actively engaging in committing to this practice, but it’s not that I pushed it away from my life completely. I just kind of lowered the volume that this particular song has been played around in my experience.
Matan Levkowich (01:48:43):
And now, I feel like that the fact that I kind of kept it very low, enable it to come back again, and now I’m kind of going through a period where I’m super excited about it again. So I think that when you’re choosing not to commit, you have to maybe kind of recognize to yourself, am I completely disconnecting and departing from that? Am I really leaving it behind? Or is it somewhere in the background? Because I also had this moment with dance, which relates to Corona, that at a certain point, I really asked myself, can I really be a dancer in this world, when there is no possibility for finding work. Can I still live this lifestyle?
Matan Levkowich (01:49:34):
But I couldn’t give up, I couldn’t give up this commitment completely and dive into something else. I’m also working as a web designer, so I could have taken the choice of like, look, I’m just going to invest my time and energy in design, and let’s just stop this dancing thing. But things have to keep playing the background, even if it’s a very subtle tune that you can recommit to them. And you can stretch things up to a certain limit, when you stretch anything too much, it tears apart now. It’s maybe also like metaphorically speaking. For me, I can really imagine ligaments fascia being stretched to a certain amount that it clicks, but if you keep it just enough, it can rebound back big time and very quick, because that’s the nature/power of tension, as in physics, when two objects are being pulled from one another, you’re storing kinetic energy in this moment.
Matan Levkowich (01:50:44):
And when there is a certain moment of release, bang, it can rebound back. And that can happen also on a level of ideas, in concept. So, I kept stretching further and further than contact improvisation, but not enough that it will just float away, but now, it surprised me how fast it came back to my life. And I think that it also came back not practically, but also internally with the motivation and the curiosity. So, this is something to pay attention to, to what degree am I splitting from certain things that I’m committed? I think that maybe there is a certain relation between the amount of stretch you’re doing the effect of the rebound. It’s definitely, this is something that you can observe in your body. And I have the feeling that many things that we can observe in our body, they can also be applied metaphorically and practically in things that are not physical.
Patrick Oancia (01:51:47):
That was a great analogy, and thank you very much for that. I think it’s a great way to end our conversation for today. There’s a lot that we wanted to talk about, and this is our second conversation, our first conversation being on your podcast. And I’d like to say, let’s pick it up again, as long as you consent. You’ve restarted your podcast just recently, and from just a point of information for people out there watching, will your podcasts be monthly? Is that what you’re planning on doing, or will you work up to doing three episodes a month again?
Matan Levkowich (01:52:39):
The plan now is to hopefully be able to manage to produce once a month. Now I’m stretching my commitment with the podcast and I don’t want to stretch it too much that it will disappear, because I really have a tremendous amount of value to what it gives in my life. So that’s the plan, to keep it running once a month, I’m already in negotiation with the next person that will come there. And when I find the ability to reduce the production time, I hope I can increase it, for sure.
Patrick Oancia (01:53:16):
So for everybody watching, Matan does a podcast called Material for the Brain. I mentioned that at the beginning, in Matan’s introduction, and you can find information about everything that Matan does in the show notes for this Transmission. I’d like to thank you Matan for making the time to have this conversation today. And I’m very much looking forward to the next conversation that we have as well.
Matan Levkowich (01:53:41):
Thank you very much, Patrick. And for sure, you can also expect to revisit my podcast, because I really enjoyed those conversations.
Patrick Oancia (01:53:52):
I’ll very much look forward to that.
Matan Levkowich (01:53:55):
Thank you, my friend.
Patrick Oancia (01:53:56):
If this is the first time you hear about Matan, his word, or his podcast Material for the Brain, I urge you to subscribe to his channel, binge listen to his first season, and stay tuned for what I’m sure is going to be a lot of interesting content moving forward. Check out, movementlab.eu/podcast. You can also check out his website, matanlevkowich.com. You can find these links in the show notes. Please, email us a brief voice memo, letting us know what inspired you or pushed your buttons to [email protected] Thank you very much for tuning in today, and again, please consider liking and sharing the episode with others, if it resonated with you. You can also subscribe and set up notifications anywhere you listen to, or watch this, to get real-time updates about all future uploads. To benefit from exclusive content delivered right into your inbox, consider signing up for our newsletter from the footer on any page of our website. To know more about Baseworks specifically in everything we’re doing, visit our website at baseworks.com.