Nothing Is Something*

6 03 2015

CAM04814

Imagine sitting in a darkened theater, a strange and colorful set (such as the one pictured above) on the stage in front of you. You have come to this performance, as have those seated around you, with no notion what to expect: you’ve not read a plot synopsis, you’ve never seen a different production of this play, you don’t know anyone connected with the performance or the theater. The show has not yet started, but it is that moment when the rustling and murmurs of the audience have hushed and all attention has been focused toward the stage. It is the moment of pause before the action begins.

And in that pause is infinite possibility.

Something definitely will happen – but what? It could be – quite literally – anything. You don’t know. The person beside you doesn’t know either. You could begin naming possibilities and never hit upon exactly the one thing that will happen. Or you could guess it on the first try. Who knows?

In our information-overloaded age, with everything we ever wanted to know (and much we NEVER wanted) available to us in a moment, we’ve all become hooked on knowing “the poop” in advance. We have googled it, street-viewed it, tweeted and instagrammed it, asked Jeeves or Bing or Siri to tell us all about it. We rarely enter voluntarily into experiences that we haven’t heavily researched ahead of time.

I get it. There are practical reasons to know what we’re getting into. For example, we can dress appropriately. If we will need to provide our own sustenance, we can pack a lunch. Like all good Boy Scouts, we can “Be Prepared”.

I also understand that there are emotional reasons for getting the skinny on things before we agree to enter fully into something. Our fears are calmed by facts. Our hatred of being seen as socially awkward is assuaged if we’ve researched appropriate etiquette and attire beforehand and follow the norms.

All that said, I want to argue for intentionally seeking those “pauses of infinite possibility”. I want to argue for intentionally allowing organic experience to unfold with our willing participation.

Two years in a row I’ve attended the annual two-night concert event sponsored by our local public radio station to celebrate their birthday. The first year I didn’t have time to research the bands who were performing, the second year I purposely didn’t check them out in advance. I knew nothing about them or their musical genres. Consequently, I entered each performance completely open. My entire brain, not to mention my dancing muscles, engaged. I was inspired, moved, energized, and led to try other new experiences that I would have been otherwise closed to.

As someone who aspires to creative pursuits in my life, I’ve discovered that these moments allow me to access what has been called “beginner’s mind” in a way that I have difficulty doing in the normal course of my life. The attitude of openness that characterizes beginner’s mind is one that defies our need to control by knowing. The Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki says: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” When I’m writing a story, seeing myself as the expert who is telling the story is a quick way to kill any glimmer it has. At each decision point in the storyline, I must be open to infinite possibilities or I write my characters into corners they can’t work their way out of.

There are many big and small ways in life to bring ourselves into these moments of possibility – in addition to the many well-researched, well-crafted, well-planned-and-executed experiences we have each day. The most important one, in my opinion, is the practice of saying yes to the unknown. Yes, I’ll see what it’s all about. Yes, I’ll try it even though I may not be good at it. Yes, I’ll do it even though I haven’t stalked it to death on Facebook.

Yes, I’ll sit in a dark theater, before an empty stage, and wonder what is about to happen.

Yes, I’ll enter fully into the pause of infinite possibility.

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*Note: the title of this post, and the stage in my photo, are in homage to the Open Eye Figure Theatre of Minneapolis’ production “Nothing Is Something“. This production, created and performed by LIz Schachterle and Noah Sommers Haas, directed by Joel Sass, is a fascinating, magical exploration of a mysterious workshop. The show is fantastic, and if you are in the area, well worth seeing. Click on the link to learn more!

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2 responses

7 03 2015
Marion

Excellent, Jen!

10 03 2015
jenion

Thanks, Marion!

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