The Layers of the Onion
Silent Tension without Who, What and Where*
It had been maybe two years of Wednesday afternoon workshops with Viola before we did an exercise called Silent Tension without Who, What and Where.
“I don’t do this one right away.” she said to us. “But now that you have No-Motion and some games behind you, I think you’ll find this interesting.”
She asked us to pair off. My partner was a guy I’ll call David (not his real name). I’d been in scenes with him before – some good, some not so good. He had difficulty, like I did in the beginning, (and throughout) and when Viola would evaluate us or sometimes excoriate us when we got in our heads, we reacted differently.
“What was going on with you?!!” she’d shout at us. “You were acting your head off!” or she’d holler “Didn’t you hear me!?” when her sidecoaching didn’t penetrate. “I don’t believe it!” – things like that.
When Viola hollered at me, I took it very seriously. I’d beat myself up for it at first. Later I tried to analyze what stopped me and put me in my head. (which of course put me more in my head)
I vowed every time to double my effort to ‘get it’ next time. Little did I know that that clenched determination, often was the thing that held me back.
Looking back now, I see that I was working to get Viola’s approval. (more on that in another post)
I liked it when I could achieve the focus of a game, and although Viola never praised me for it, her laughter or satisfaction was reward enough. I still had that approval/disapproval thing going on.
But when Viola would get on Dave, he’d kind of act like he didn’t care. I’d see this and think to myself, “He’s just dense.”
To me, it appeared that he was blithely walking through workshops, not taking it seriously. I also remember that sometimes he’d talk boastfully about the work in what I took to be a know-it-all attitude (I think he was teaching at the time). I got the impression that he had some ‘ego’ going on.
“He’s not taking it seriously” I thought him “Cocky.” I never brought it up to him though. I learned from Viola that pointing out resistance in a student with labels like ‘ego’ or ‘lazy’ did little to help them and that labeling their resistance was not a good thing, especially if you plan on sidecoaching.
“That is critique!” Viola declared. “Personal opinions have no place in evaluation!”
Still, when you’d get an earful of “What were you thinking!? (rhetorically of course) or “How could you not hear what I was saying?” (also rhetorically) or “I don’t believe it! Use the Focus! Let it work for you!!” in a loud, impatient voice, it was hard not to take it personally.
And now, I was paired with Dave in this particular exercise. “Fine.” I thought. I’d seen him do some nice work and hoped for the best. I made a conscious effort to ‘not judge’ and in doing so, judged him all the more. (talk about ego!)
“Sit across from each other and use a table for support.” There were some small folding tables and each pair put one between them to rest elbows or arms on.
“Now I’m going to coach you to hold each other’s gaze in No-Motion and in Silent Tension. Stay with your partner throughout. OK, go.”
It started out to be a staring contest. I looked at him and he back at me. There was some giggling and laughter from some students. I smiled and so did he. Staring is such an ‘in-your-face’ thing and sudden intimacy is intimidating. Laughter is a natural reaction.
“Now let the space around you support both of you.” she coached. “Let the silence go between you. Hold it in No-Motion.”
The smirking soon faded and we faced each other in the silence. I remember his brown eyes and semi-serious expression. He had dark hair and well proportioned, good looking features.
“Let the space support you.” Pause. “There’s space above you, space below you, space around you, behind you and between you.”
I felt the space cocoon us, supporting us and feeling ‘safe’. I continued to hold Dave’s gaze.
Viola repeated the phrases very softly, “There’s space behind you. Space below you…, Space above you…, Space between you. The Space supports and surrounds you.”
Silent tension began. As in the game Silent Tension, you are to communicate through the silence your Who, What and Where. But this time there was no Who, What or Where. There was only Space and each other.
“Stay with each other.” she’d softly say.
I saw questions in Dave’s eyes. He saw my noticing and answered ‘it’s okay’ through the silence. I communicated back my okay. Then I got that he knew that I knew that he knew. (You know?)
We smiled. We went on smiling, enjoying the knowledge of what was going between us. Soon we both tired of smiling and resumed our serious stares. That made us smile some more.
“There’s space behind you… Space below you…, Space above you…, Space between you. The Space supports and surrounds you.” Viola softly coached with long pauses between. It went on a long while.
I noticed his eyes getting sad and he noticed that I noticed and raised his eyebrows. “It’s OK” I said in the silence – with the silence. He relaxed and then I relaxed. It felt very nice. Then I felt a little embarrassed how I had previously judged him. He must have seen the look in my eye and inquired (silently) with his gaze. I smiled sheepishly. He, of course didn’t know what I was sheepish about, but he did notice and did respond.
I smiled back, letting him know I acknowledged and appreciated his concern. He smiled, I smiled and we both shared a very pleasant moment of knowing. Not knowing ‘what’, but just knowing.
“Let the silence support you. You are together in the space.”
Our communication continued. We worried, forgave, accepted and laughed, silently sharing the joke of knowing I know that you know that I know… etc. The communication ebbed and flowed at will and we both were held safely and sweetly by the space around us, above us, below us and between us.
“Alright. That’s it.” Viola announced, declaring the game over.
I felt very close to Dave at that moment and we spontaneously got up and hugged each other. We looked around and there were teary or happy versions of our hug going on with every pair.
“What happens?” Viola asked “When you share the space without Who, What and Where?”
“There’s just you.” I said. “And your fellow player.”
“How did it feel?” Viola asked.
“Great!” came the general response from one and all. Comments were offered about how close we all felt to our partners and how it was sometimes a rollercoaster and sometimes so intimate that some had difficulty at first. Some did not and declared how wonderful to be with another person like that.
“You fall in love, don’t you?” Viola said. “You connect without judgment.”
It was so true! All my opinions fell away as my partner/fellow player and I shared the silence and our relationship felt beautiful and loving and for that time, we shed judgement and were together in the space, holding each other silently in No-Motion. It felt timeless and good.
*NOTE: Viola told us that this is not a game for a new group. Trust has to build and is fostered by a lot of playing and a lot of experience with things like Silent Tension and No-motion.
My advice: Play, have fun, enjoy one another, note judgment and don’t do anything about it
and don’t not do anything about it. Play this when you feel everyone is ready and you’ll have a very rich and memorable Direct Experience.