Things You Hear In Silence

When I came across this performance a few years ago, I was moved to tears. I knew even then that it had lessons for me that I was not yet ready for and would need to keep returning to, to embrace them.

Some time ago, I incorporated this idea into one of my performances myself. It gave me so much emotionally and in my understanding of the art of performance and of living.

Recently, the difference between thoughts and emotions have been occupying a lot of my mindspace. What constitutes intimacy? How do I justify feeling this for person 1 and that for person 2? What is one to do when logical thinking tells us that wrongness has to be ascribed to a person or a relationship? Are those feelings to be cancelled and if so, how?

I went back to the original experiment, inside my own mind-theatre. I imagined myself sitting, the way Marina is as a crowd of people pass in front of me, each staying for a minute in silence with me. I know now that I am quite capable of spending an entire minute with a stranger in silence because I’ve done two minutes of it on stage with a roomful of people I couldn’t see, some of whom wished me harm.

It got complex when I imagined the people I knew. People who came up in my mind were past lovers, former friends, family members. I started crying when I thought of one person. Crying because there were such complex and conflicting emotions and I know (have always known) they experience the same. I realised the world was never going to understand all the things that happened between us, labels did not adequately encompass it. I have not forgiven their actions because forgiveness is too simplistic a term – I know their reasons, they know mine, we both wrote the story that was us, what is there to forgive? I was able to just stay in that feeling and then pass to the next in time (like Marina did with Ulay).

Then I thought of another person. This one was never that important to me. They did something malicious to me once and I’ve never liked them since. What they did won’t be considered that evil by most, yet it profoundly hurt me because it hit on one of my early traumas. Each time I’ve seen them after that, I’ve felt a gut reaction, my stomach contracting, my face clenching. I know their reasons for doing what they did (not justification). I’ve spent a lot of time telling myself I’m wrong for having such a disproportionate reaction, trying to tidy it up. It is a lot of effort. And even inside my own mind theatre, this experiment doesn’t allow you any of the masks of words or lies. I knew if I actually had to do this in real life, I’d either throw up or run away, no control over my limbs. If somehow I was forced to stay in that chair (maybe restraints, physical or my own stubborn will), I would not, not be able to smile at them or even look at them impassively. I would burst into tears and not the kind I’d have cried for the previous person. Those were relieved tears in comparison. These would be frustrated, angry, hurt-animal-raging-painful tears.

I allowed my mind to go all the way there. And realisation settled over me. I feel what I feel. I am still me. My logic, my ethics (which are in the realm of thinking, not feeling) still stand and they watch as another part of me – my feelings – flow around uncontained. That means I am more than the beliefs I espouse, more than the stands I take, more than the ethics I champion. I am not made less strong or less woke or less anything because I choose to dislike the second person and allow the first person to be what they are.

This was a big thing for me, realising how much of my reactions have been peer pressure influenced. Only I can decide what/who I like and why. I may not be able to explain why and I do not have to justify it to anybody. When it comes to actions, yes, I may need to take a stand (such as ending a friendship with a MeToo perpetrator). But I do not have to negate whatever I felt for that person (meaning don’t have to question whether our past friendship was genuine and don’t have to think of myself as stupid for trusting them). I may be required to act and speak in certain ways out of consideration and respect for the world around me. This is not lying, this is merely adhering to the ethics of maintaining the integrity of the universe I inhabit. This is also not nullifying whatever else is inside me because those emotions that seem to contradict – they have their place too, inside me and inside this world.


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