I got your last letter, so nice to hear from you & read your handwriting! I respond to you now with my typewriter. It seems like you have been so busy lately. So, I have an exercise for you, and a couple of follow-up tasks, if you have time...
First of all, thanks for being here! I hope you are well, that you can silence your phone for the next 20 minutes or so. Then, if you have some time after, I hope you get to try one or both of the tasks.
This moment is for you, where you can come even a little bit closer with the space you are in. You are safe here, the space will look after you. Remember - you don’t need to react or respond to any distraction: simply let anything wash over you and stay loose but close with your counting.
This exercise clears and prepares the self to listen, through the body. Our ears may be on our head but we listen with our entire body, and our whole self. Listening is actually visceral, I have realized!
The exercise is a chance to unwind and re-connect with your surroundings. It is powerful in clearing the consciousness, to become more still: as the nervous system sometimes becomes blocked with unresolved signals or processing, this exercise helps to clear them out. Please, be patient, it can take some practice to get through it.
> Clearing Exercise
Please allow yourself to be open to this experience, and repeat it as often as you like. There will come a time that you will do it with ease– I know that the first few times are challenging... I remember it took me a couple of attempts to find my tempo and to learn how to stay on track of the ‘rounds’.
Essentially, what we will do is breathe in a pattern – which I call a ‘round’ –
of In > Hold > Out > Hold.
Each of these – ‘in’, ‘hold’, ‘out’ – are called ‘segments’. We will do each segment equally count of 20, and we repeat the round (of 4 segments) 18 times, continuously.
Like I mentioned, this method will clear out anything within your body that needs to be released. It will discipline your mind and take you to listen through the body. The tasks after the clearing exercise will bring you so close to the space’s language and engage with your imagination, which hopefully means you will get to have some playfulness after clearing out!
- Bodily Orientation
So, you are in a space. You may be in or outdoors, whatever you like. You may sit, or stand, or lie down.
If seated, you are upright and shoulders relaxed, your legs uncrossed and feet on the floor. If you are standing, your feet are hip width apart with softness in your knees, your chin and lower back are slightly tucked and your shoulders are relaxed, with your hands resting on your thighs.
If you are lying down, which I recommend most, your lower spine curve is relaxed and neutral, your toes roll slightly outward on your heels, and your chin is slightly tucked. Place your hands either on the floor at your side, facing upwards, or one on your chest and one below your navel (bellybutton).
No matter which orientation you choose, take your breath to below your navel, meaning your whole stomach is relaxed. If you are not used to breathing like this (through the diaphragm), it will feel strange, but relax as you breathe, and push from the navel on the way out.
Always breathe in this exercise through the nose! Close your eyes if you wish, if it will help you to relax or not be distracted.
Breathe here like this without measure until you feel ready to begin the next part. Try some breaths with your exhale longer than your inhale. Try in for 4 counts, hold gently, then out for 6 counts. Do it a few times and then a few without a count, keeping your exhale longer. This may help to bring awareness to the breath as we prepare to move into the exercise itself.
This is a breathing method. You will do the 4-segments for 18 rounds – each segment to a count of 20 units. It is time to pick your tempo for the 20 units.
Pick something you can keep – not too fast, and not slower than 1second per unit – meaning it should take about 5 seconds to count to 20, if you take a pace of about 4 to 5 beats a unit… Usually, about 3 to 4 counts per second is usually a good place to start. I like 4 counts per second if I haven’t practiced in a while. 5 can be good too. It might feel a bit fast at 4 or 5 counts, but a quicker pace is better at first, to build up the stamina for the slower pace that can be taken after some practice. Maybe eventually even as slow as 3 or 2 counts per second…
Count all the way to 20, which would be between 5 and10seconds each of breathing in, holding, breathing out and holding, all equally...
Do a test-run. Release all air from your lungs.
1: In: Count to 20 at your chosen speed, breathing in.
2: Hold Full: Hold for 20 counts at the same speed.
3: Release: Breathe out at the same speed of 20 counts.
4: Hold Empty: Hold on empty for the last 20 counts of the round.
If you are happy with the speed, you will proceed now to repeat this 18 times, directly one after the other, keeping to the tempo evenly and always with the In, Hold, Release, Hold pattern. If it helps to keep track of the number of your repetition, start your counts with the number you are on (1,2,3… 2,2,3… … 8,2,3… … 12,2,3… and so on), or use your fingers to count.
If your mind drifts, gently come back to the count as equally as you can.
• IN: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20
• HOLD FULL: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20
• RELEASE: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20
• HOLD EMPTY: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18
Well done! When you have completed your 18 rounds, you may wriggle your fingers and toes. Rub your palms together and place them over your eyes. Look deep into the darkness of your palms. Take some unmeasured breaths. You can remove your hands when you are ready.
What if you didn't complete?
Not to worry. This exercise will clear any ‘signals’ that are unresolved in your nervous system. If you can’t complete the task – do not fear. You have not failed, but you have come closer to releasing something that holds you from being fully present.
Do not push yourself to get through the 18 rounds. Simply note how many rounds you got through and try to make passed it next time, how about tomorrow?
> Listening Tasks
Whether or not you complete all 18 rounds of the clearing exercise, you can do these tasks. You and the space are about to become great friends!
- Task 1: List
Take a paper and pen. Adjust your position to be seated comfortably. You will now make a 2 separate lists: one indoors, and one outdoors. The list consists of 25 sounds from your surroundings. The list is observational, so take some time to listen. Bring patience.
The first ten sounds will be easy – the second ten, not so much. The final 5 may even seem impossible. You will really have to listen, wait and be patient. The sounds come, if you give them time.
Think of the lists as a breakdown in levels of awareness : the first 10 sounds are the things we know well. The second ten are things we know, but maybe do not connect with. The last 5 items are the parts deeper or farther away in our awareness, which we are capable of connecting with, albeit from a distance.
So. Write! Stay in the same spot on both lists. Make yours and then read mine!
When you have completed your inside and outside lists, you will have made some really wonderful observations about your surroundings. Do you feel closer?
If you really like, you can come back to your list – how about with another colour of pen? Describe the sounds, in detail or concise 1 word descriptions.
> Task 2 : Buddy
Be still in the space. Ask the space some questions. See if it answers you. Use your imagination to form a dialogue out loud or silently with the space. You may be surprised what story it has to tell...
This task is for your imagination. Find a space you find really interesting – visually, historically, texturally… Use your impulse to get a response from the space – strike it, move something, test the acoustics by clapping or humming or shouting. Collaborate with the space to vocalize what it has to say. If you have another person with you, or a group of people, position yourselves at impulse-response places within the space. Make a conversation. It can be call & response, or a chaos of sounds. Document it! Draw, record audio or video, take a photo...
I hope you enjoyed this exercise and tasks. I did the Clearing Exercise recently after not doing it for a while – it took 3 attempts to make it through! I wasn't sure if I was missing a hold or not by round 3 or 4… So I remembered to trust the process. Then I got it. I forgot how pleasant the sense of presence is that comes with it…
Write back to me with your list, or send me some recording of the conversation you make in the impulse space from the Buddy task. I’d be delighted to know what comes out of your deep spatial listening, maybe even a story or performative element?