A Catalytic Emergency

A call to action:

Notes from an encounter in learning how to learn.

Tomorrow we are inviting your fellow students to an event. Between now and then we will craft a performance. We will take certain beginnings we’ve gathered and we will prepare.

We won’t be making a program. We won’t rehearse and then repeat what we’ve done in front of others. Today Jeppe and I will be demonstrating different ways to interrogate a situation. In the hope that you will discover some form of understanding. We will then share these understandings. They will not just… they will not at all… simply pour out in a pedagogical flow from us to you. They will come to be present to us, among, and between us.

This understanding will inform us; bring shape and form to what happens tomorrow. We will ask you to trust us, at the beginning. At least a little bit. But, the purpose of this trust is so that we can help you find another trust: a trust in what you can discover on your own, what can come into being through you.

We will investigate a variety of entry points. Ways into questioning. Ways into recognizing. Ways into sharing and ways into communicating what we find, with each other, and then with your fellows.

There is one broad vessel that can hold what we are/will be doing. It’s there within this story, Stone Soup. This will be our focal point, a possible center of gravity, for our inquiries. This tale dramatizes the role of the artist as someone who identifies meaning. Who discovers how to recognize what matters and communicate meaning. How meaning may be shared.

He is also a craft-er. Specifically he crafts a space for meaning. Just as we will be doing here. And, he also takes on another, related role that of… let’s call her a minister, a pastor. Someone who voyages between the world of our questing, of our needing, and helps us find our way into the realm of the sacred.

Our vagabond does all this. And, with his help, we shall embark on emulating his example together.

We will greet our audience. Welcome them into our space. And then, bring this space into life. We will do this by discovering what matters to us. We will not be carrying out an exercise. We need to find some connection within ourselves. Feel something inside us, between us. Something we discover that we are compelled to share.

We’re going to deal in specifics. It’s important that you can tell the difference between the vague and the specific and why this distinction matters.

Let’s be patient in looking. When we suggest something, we may do it quickly, without “thinking it through.” It’s one way of breaking out of fussy thinking and finding surprise. A surprise is not something shocking. It’s something we recognize as unexpected. It is specific.

It’s not a surprise to enter a room and find ourselves surrounded by stereotypes, generic characters. We don’t recognize such characters. We might ask, “Whose party is this?” Finding a room filled with friends we are surprised. They are specific. Once we see them, even out of context, we recognize them in all their specificity. We relate. The same is true with anything specific that we might see, hear, feel, taste….

It’s not obvious what is helpful. We need to begin where people are. We always need to begin where people are….


Creating a performance, any piece of Art, we are working on culture. Either tilling the soil of an inherited culture or struggling to change it. We might even strive to abandon what we consider to be a dying culture.

We need to stop thinking we can develop a “counter-culture.” Such a pose traps us in opposition. We are caught in hubris. Imagining we can create culture by fiat.

As soon as we step out of opposition and stop trying to “make a statement,” create a culture, we begin to participate in bringing about a vital culture. One that evolves and coalesces from all the various strands woven around and through us and our time. No monoculture becomes vital by the imposition of any binary oppositional view. A vital culture flows in a broad, meandering stream with many channels, many currents.

Culture will over-top any dam. Seep through its cracks. Out-flank it. We don’t need to dig a deep, artificial channel. Culture will scour its own path. We just need to pour ourselves into its flow.

Last week we all worked together to do something that was not trivial. A dozen people crossed the lake and returned. We did it smoothly, safely, enjoyably. We did it silently.

Why was that important? It has to do with attention. With how silence awakens a sense of mutual responsibility. No one was going to warn us of impending trouble, sort out a log-jam, dictate solutions. We had to rely on each other to discover what needed to be done. To do what could not be left to chance. We had to listen….

Everything went well. We didn’t lose anyone. Can I say the same today? Can we do this and still talk when we need to? I think so. I hope so…. If we can attend in that same way; in a way that rhymes or reminds us of what that crossing was like; we will stand on another shore this time tomorrow.