Analysis: Four men in a room
The vision expressed in the script *Four men in a room* is explored. Some basic questions about the expressive form and content of the play are addressed.
- What is the vision? (an attempt at expressing it)1
- More minds spend more time listening to the silence. 1
- How can listening to the silence be operationally defined?. 1
- Self vs. silence. 1
- Reflexive / obsessive behavior.1
- What concerns does the vision address?. 1
- What are some implications of the vision?. 1
- What influences contributed to the vision and its expression?. 1
- The vision expression:1
- Summary. 1
- An interpretation of the script1
- Is the vision effectively expressed for a given audience?. 1
- Origin of expressive form.. 1
- Discussion of main points (in the order they appear) not fully addressed in the summary:1
- Conclusion. 1
What is the vision? (an attempt at expressing it)
More minds spend more time listening to the silence
The vision is that more people become like me in the attribute I have that I think is most valuable. The vision is that more people spend more time interacting with the silence. People would spend less time watching TV and more time reading or writing, for example.
Another way of looking at it is that "experiences that allow greater dialog with the silence would be valued more than activities allowing less individual responsibility for the experience." Singing a song often requires greater skill, engagement, and responsibility than does listening to a song. The dialog with the silence, in the case of singing a song, is all that one goes through in bringing a song into being that was not there before.
I assume that this sort of listening to the silence is at the root of all the good things I see on my good days in myself, in others, and in the world.
How can listening to the silence be operationally defined?
No comment yet.
Self vs. silence
It is interesting that I emphasize listening to the silence and not listening to one's self. When I ask what myself is, it seems to be nothing, infinitesimal. The silence, however, seems vast and pervasive. My self is the product of my past, and it is my ability to make choices of where to focus attention. The self is also my inability to make choices, including reflexive behavior I wish I did not have to live with. If I sit quietly, I must often listen to myself before I can listen to the silence, and myself might babble on for hours, before it finally shuts up. Then, I'm at the silence/ stillness.
At the same time, the words I'm writing right now are coming from a listening to the silence... As do all my actions. Maybe the silence is an evaluative ability -- maybe it is that choice of where to focus attention. Maybe listening to the silence is listening to / being with the evaluative ability itself as opposed to focusing on achieving a previously selected objective. Maybe the silence is what the question is asked of, and the response forms in and is evaluated by the self. What word goes best here? This phrase does. When I must wait long for the self to quiet down, it is that I must wait long for the self to stop asking questions of the silence (or slow down, rather-- to stop entirely is death?)?
Reflexive / obsessive behavior.
What of those times when I am compulsively doing something that I feel to be foolish yet do anyways: eating quickly and hurriedly and a lot; staying up late messing with Linux; or obsessing and feeling about a recent (or not so recent) interaction in which I felt I'd done something wrong, or where there seemed to be a possibility of love and all that that might entail...
That must be a response from the silence. To a question that the self did not ask? The silence says: I want you to love her (without being asked). The silence says: I want you to eat (without being asked). The silence says: Mess with Linux till it does what you want (without being asked). The silence says: You fucked up! You fucked up! Remember and think about what you did, so you don't do it again! (without being asked).
The silence doesn't say those things though. Rather they are more or less hard-wired responses to questions the self or the species or the species' progenitors asked long ago.
The flip side of that is when the silence says nothing. What do I have to look forward to? (no response) What should I do with my life? (no response) How should I love? (no response)
Just kidding. There's never no response to a question asked. There might be a dismal response (I can't think of anything to look forward to), or a rejection of the question (The question you ask doesn't help you).
Where does this nascent cosmology lead us?
What concerns does the vision address?
The vision addresses concerns of the individual in which the vision formed. Beginning broadly, the vision is a reaction to the author feeling he is different from the mass of humanity around him, and wishing to form that mass of humanity more in the likeness of the good parts of his own mind. The author perceives that there are others who feel as he does, and who appreciate the same things he does, but he wants there to be more of these people. The author's vision is, simply, that there be more of these people. For this change to occur there must be a clear expression of and encouragement of the value the author wishes to foster.
Would this vision address the concerns of the author years ago when he was seeing life as meaningless?
I don't know.
What are some implications of the vision?The main question provoked by the vision expression in a reader who embraces it may be:
How does one best arrange one's life to allow for time spent with the silence and time spent with others who spend time with silence?
Who are the others who spend time with the silence?
Originally I mentioned some of the others here, but now, I think the excitement of the adventure is in listening to the silence and in discovering those others on one's own.
As to arranging one's life to spend more time with the silence... I don't know. It is possible to go too far that way, I believe. After all, death appears quite silent, and there's no need to rush that!
How can we help others realize this vision?
The basic things needed are time and access to attention guides (books, teachers, even TV). If one must spend a lot of time working for others' ends to pay for food and shelter, in general one will have less time to listen to and act on silence. Anything one can do to give people more time, combined with some orientation to this type of philosophy may help others realize this vision.
What influences contributed to the vision and its expression?
A long sequence: Some influences are Quakers, Ira Progoff, unschooling, and George Leonard and Michael Murphy's discussion on how a culture will foster excellence in areas where that culture emphasizes and rewards excellence. Also, the ProEvo book. Some relevant Joseph Campbell quotes from Myths to live by:
The statement of what the need and want is must come from you, not from the machine, and not from the government that's teaching you. p. 184
Working out of your own discovery, out of your own realization ... that takes a lot of waiting for the right word to come. p. 183
Lies are what the world lives on, and those who can face the challenge of a truth and build their lives to accord are finally not many, but the very few. p. 11
A less clearly relevant quote follows, but the subject matter of the book was a direct influence. From Secrets and benefits of Internal Qigong cultivation: Lectures by Qigong master Dr. Yan Xin. Amber Leaf Press (1997) p. 69:
Paying attention to the small thing at hand, but forgetting about the long term progress of a country and society is not enough. A lot of small virtues are not real virtues, great Virtues are real virtues. We must attempt to accumulate virtue that is beyond the personal and belongs to the entire society. This is my virtue.
Here's a link to part of that book on a site about Indigenous Weather Modification. Keep in mind that Qigong masters in China can be like rock stars in the U.S.... you may have heard of Falun Gong,
which is one of the 100s of Qigong variants. Interestingly, according
to MacRitchie (below) the term Qigong was invented by the Chinese
government in an attempt to recognize and have some control over the
cult-leader like status of some of the Qi- masters.
Regarding Qigong practice, the approach I use most often is Zhan Zhuang Chi Kung (Stand Like A Tree), learned from Master Lam Kam Chuen's The Way of Energy.
Or something like that. It is similar to the Wu Wei or Wu Chi (I think)
Tai Chi position. I just stand there with my arms out (you don't need
to read a book to give that a try) and try to focus on circulating Qi.
James MacRitchie's Alive with energy: the Chi Kung way was also
good. But most of what I use besides Zhan Zhuang I learned from Natalie
at the Peninsula YMCA (San Diego). She studied at the Taoist Sanctuary.
This concludes the section focusing on the vision behind the expression.
The vision expression:
Four men in a room attempts to foster support for working with the silence--the silence being the place from which creative acts begin. The actors, stage settings, and stage activities are used to model the behaviors and attitudes the author imagines he wishes to imbue in others and in himself. For example, the actors in the play concern themselves with how to bring about a shift in the culture to encourage more people to spend more time with the silence. For another example, the play is also meant to be a text that can be meditated upon to focus the viewer's attention in helpful ways. The play is part of a larger investigation into creating and effectively expressing visions.
An interpretation of the script
The characters, essentially all the author, come together with a common purpose: "to change our culture to be more as we wish." They also note that a female-gendered voice is absent. They mention the change they wish to see in stanza 2 (S2). S2 is the introduction of the concept of silence as something that can be listened to. S3 introduces the sense of the silence as something that can speak through minds. In S3, the initial instruction is received and spoken, which is simply: "Visualize how the change shall progress."
S4 is an attempt to clarify what the silence is and to model how one can interact with it. S5 describes how direct interaction with the silence is avoided, and ends with a prompt to consider being someone who has all the time in the world to do whatever she wishes. S6 picks up again with the visualization of the change. S6 broadens the terms used to refer to interaction with silence to include the idea of responsibility for the experience. An example is given to illustrate this semantic broadening. Finally, 3 asks us to consider whether this is a truly helpful distinction.
S7 is an intermission of sorts, but also a time to model what they are talking about. Perhaps I should give it more stanzas, e.g., preface it with S7-S20. In S8, reactions to the intermission are compared. 1 introduces a new frame from which to look at individual creative activity: if we weren't such a mass-media dominated society, it would not seem so improbable for many individuals to be valued for and to spend more time in creative expression. 4 chimes in with a seemingly creativity-crushing equation, creativity = arrogance... and yet the benefits he ascribes to such arrogance are compelling. 2 backs him up with another creativity-crushing statement, but 3 ends the stanza with, "well why not focus on what is beautiful to you?"
S9 begins with a different statement of the process the men hope to bring about: if someone is afraid of the silence, how could she come to love it? The guys begin talking about 4's past as an example of such a process occurring. Probably not the best example (it does not have a clear beginning in fear), but it's what they have to work with. 3 and 2 mention various incidents from 4's life. These incidents express a listening to the silence, but without appearing to get much response. The last incident that 3 mentions suggests an avoidance of the silence.
In S10-S12, the whole focus is on a time when 4 had loved. Perhaps that past love led him to love the silence? S13 is a break from the preceding topic, but also a glorification of the interaction with the silence. 3 mentions though, that we shouldn't and in fact can't really go overboard on it. 2 asks us, what if most of the world misses out on this glory? Which takes them to S14-S17 where they let that question hang in the silence. In S18 they leave.
In S19 they return, sort of as if they had been talking. It is meant to be a whole other time--like their second meeting, or perhaps not. Again, they are trying to visualize how the change shall occur. 3 questions the motive: are you trying to make the world like (in essence) the author? 2 thinks the topic has been fully explored. 1 mentions a funny strategy to grab attention of passerby. In S20, 1 thinks the strategy wouldn't work on him. 2 tries to create a more compelling scene and experience. 3 clarifies the strategy. That thread peters out, and 4 starts over with the original question.
In S21, 1 suggests that the looked-for change is occurring, inevitably. 2: what are we doing here then? 4 and 3 remind us that we're here to surf and to play in the change. S22: 2: if the change is occurring, we should see it. 1: So we do, sort of. In S23, 1 asks 4. 4 is skeptical, or, he's saying, things are as they always are. Effectively, this stanza expresses: it doesn't matter what we do, there will always be a raging mass of humanity caught up in trivial things... 4 ends it, seeming not to want to think in that way.
In S24, 4 launches into a visualization of the change he wishes to see. 3 wants to flip back to reality, but 4 restrains him. 4 imagines a society embracing inaction when there is not clearness on how to proceed. 2 believes this is folly. 4 says it's not, that he'll be a teacher, and others will learn. 1 takes the role of an ignoramus, who has lots of children. 2 really brings home the futility of 4's hope with a reference to the abuse of the children next door.
S25: But, for the sake of having something to do and someplace to go, 4 imagines that his ideas are powerful, and come to live in many minds. 2 points out what is clear: 4's ideas are not new. 1 plays along, expressing hope that even he (mindless begetter of children) is in fact not so mindless, and will learn, if shown a better way.
S26: 2: All that is nice, but how can we play in that way? 3: There are some basic deficiency motivations that we need to address before people are likely to consider listening to the silence. If he is hungry, it is unlikely 1 will sit still relishing creative inaction. If people are bored with life, and afraid of the silence, they will grope about for something, however destructive, that makes them feel anything besides that grey dullness. 2 ends the stanza, saying, "Yeah, we need to help people with all of those things."
S27: 1 takes this as meaning we become teachers. 4, ever idealistic, considers it a sort of holy order. 3 expresses the leadership by example ideal--which assumes, of course, that these teachers are people that others come to respect and look up to.
S28: 1: Can we get out of here? 3, not done yet, wonders how evangelical the holy order should be. 4 suggests if you can be evangelical in a way you find beautiful, then go for it. S29 to S40: They ponder the conversation. Sealing it in comes from the Yan Xin Qigong book (see above), as an important final step: seal in the Qi that your practice has generated. One thought among them: "How can that evangelism remain close to the silence, yet be a powerfully effective voice? Or will the babblers, the ones who would distract you from the silence, always have the upper hand in winning sheep to come babble with them? Again, if so, if the red dust is always there, does that even matter? S41: The leave, and as they leave, lights go down, there should be pitch darkness.
S42: Their voices trailing off and perhaps coming from different points of the theatre, 2, 3, and 1 express concerns with the uncertainty that is faced in the dialog with the silence. 4 seems to suggest that that uncertainty is part of learning how to listen. S43: 2 continues this theme.
S44: 2 asks about doing unbeautiful things in the name of pursuit of the silence. 4 does not have a good response to that, suggesting that as long as one is seeking closeness with silence, and is sensitive to the silence, and keeps awareness of the better way in mind, that is all one can ask for.
Is the vision effectively expressed for a given audience?
Who is the audience?
The script was written to be something the author could find value in reading over and over again. Later versions made with input from more people may help the play appeal to a wider audience.
For the most part the play will probably be read on a computer screen.
I don't know whether others will like it, or how much I will like it in the future. What do you think?
Characteristics of the expression:
The play is presented in stanzas of a sort. The lines are broken to guide the reader in his reading, to emphasize a particular pace and focus in particular places.
It is presented with white text on a black background, which is generally how the author prefers to work with text on monitor. At present the stanzas are spaced to allow isolating each one on the screen for contemplation with fewer distractions.
At times I imagined the stage directions calling for fantastic projections on the rear wall of the theater, and awesome, almost God-like characterization of the four men (awesome dancer, awesome violinist... awesome appearances). I considered having the dialog be more abstracted, more unreal, having the actors speak in rhythmic sequences, while performing uncanny feats (dance, music, paint, engineering). Maybe someday.
Origin of expressive form
The means of expressing this vision has its origin back in 1997 in the being group, where people met in a room or outdoor space simply to be together. Partly inspired by what we did at meetings, and partly inspired by one member's stories of the consciousness explorations he undertook while simply laying on his bed, eyes closed, I imagined writing a novel which in its entirety would take place in one room, with one person, maybe two, or maybe I imagined four. Since then, I have given myself on occasion the question, "If you would write a play, what would it be?" (one occasion (up 4 ¶)). December of 2003, after reading Goethe's Faust, I was inspired to write the first version of this vision. It was, in fact, from reading Faust, and learning of the effect it had (it was a work in the right place at the right time, redefining a basic myth in terms of a new life- / world-view), and also from reading Joseph Campbell, that the idea for this whole vision research project came about.
Discussion of main points (in the order they appear) not fully addressed in the summary:
Women in this society are generally socialized differently from males, and the author happens to be a male. While there are women out there who are interested in this kind of dialogue, they are probably on the whole fewer in number than similarly interested males? However: the author has not made significant effort to attract people to this kind of dialogue, but when he did (with the being group), there was not a clear gender difference in interested people!
Stanzas 9 - 12 (S9 - S12) are all autobiographical. The remarks by 3 and 2 in S9 are prototypical Byronic Hero, right down to the Napoleon image. I wrote and edited that stanza before reading Byron. Had I been well-studied in literature earlier, perhaps my life would have been different... cf. stanza 16 canto 3 (3.16) of Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage:
Self-exiled Harold wanders forth again,
With naught of hope left, but with less of gloom;
The very knowledge that he lived in vain,
That all was over on this side the tomb,
Had made Despair a smilingness assume,
I had originally written much more in these parts, but after repeated readings the remaining bits were all that continued to appeal to me. Each of the incidents mentioned occurred years apart, yet still remain current in me.
We've looked further into the vision motivating the
expression Four men in a room and into the means of expressing the vision. The vision is vaguely
defined, and the expression is targeted to a unique audience. Future attempts
at expressing the vague vision may be targeted at a broader audience.