Time to Stand Still, Listen and Connect

I’m back in red nose world, a.k.a. theatrical clowning. I’m taking classes with Sarah Jane Moody at Wise Fool New Mexico. In last week’s class, we were put in pairs to do a little performance. Our task at hand was to fold a sheet that was laying on the floor. Our efforts to complete the task are the show.  The idea is to take the audience on a playful journey with the task at hand. While it was not essential to get the sheet folded, doing so would give rise to much satisfaction for the audience. For my partner and I, the journey was a tough one. We both felt lost. What happened? In terms of my contribution to the situation, I think I was constrained by muddled and unclear connections. At the heart of this muddle, was a loss of connection with my self.

When we did feedback after the scene, our teacher observed that my clown – Matilda – kept rejecting the offers being made by the other clown character (who doesn’t have a name, yet). One time, for example, my clown partner wanted to play with Matilda’s ponytail and Matilda kept blocking her. And like this, my partner would make offers of connection and Matilda-who-is-also-I would block them.

Sometimes, such resistance isn’t a block. In a way, saying “no” to the offer is a form of saying “yes” because it gives rise to a playful tension that is entertaining.  More often than not, however, resistance is a block. For example, a character says “Let’s go to the park” another character can say “Yes, and…” and then build on it. This is accepting an offer. Blocking the offer is when “Let’s go to the park” is met with “No, I don’t feel like it.”

The scene finally drew to a close with my partner’s clown character being totally frustrated  as a reaction to uncooperative Matilda. Some folks in the audience were entertained by the on-going tension. My partner felt lost as a result of it.

So did I.

When I reflected upon our dynamic, I was intrigued that I hadn’t been aware I had been in a constant state of resistance. In the first instance, with the ponytail, I thought I was being playful – holding ground that Matilda’s hair was not to be messed with by others. After that, I was simply muddled. I wasn’t conscious of what I was doing, let alone whether it manifest acceptance or resistance.

What was the nature of this muddle?

I lost my sense of relationship. I didn’t have a heartfelt sense of the nature of  my relationships with my self, my partner, the audience and the object. Lost and befuddled in my heart and mind, listening to my partner was an after thought. How could I listen and tune in to her when I had tuned out from my self?

On stage, listening isn’t a matter of simply hearing words. Often no words are spoken. It is about paying attention to what kind of connection or relationship is existing in any given moment. It is about seeing offers and accepting them in ways that give rise to playfulness. Listening is about hearing when the audience laughs or sensing that the audience is waiting for the tension to be broken.

Listening is a tuning into my environment. It is also a tuning into what I am feeling and thinking. In this scene, I wasn’t able to listen to myself;  I was disconnected from my own thoughts and feelings.

Now, perhaps you are feeling a bit muddled. What am I trying to convey to you through all this muddle and disconnect?

Essentially, at one level, I think my partner and I had a communication breakdown. We ended up doing a little dance, moving this way and that while feeling lost and unsatisfied. At the root of this dis-satisfaction and navigational error was a lack of clarity on the nature of our connection. Were we in a fight? What was Matilda (my clown character) feeling? Because I didn’t know my self, I couldn’t express it – so my partner couldn’t know either.

And I’m wondering how often our relationships are like this – how often are we doing these awkward dances where we feel frustrated and lost? I’m speculating that when I’m in such a situation, the thing to do might be to go still and check in with my self. What’s going on? What am I feeling? What is important to me right now?

Where this muddling seems to have taken me is to this question: In our culture dominated by busy-ness and ceaseless doing, how much disconnect are we creating in our relationships with one another because we are lost and unclear in our connections and relationships with our selves?

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