When I think of the beauty of dropping one’s guard and engaging the body in its entirety through the somatic practice, my mind often wanders towards the complex workings of the mind. After all, nothing changes on the outside during the practice; it is the subtle overturning of a rock in the mind that causes infinite variation in the body’s movement. When I began classes with Professor Johar I thought I would be leaving my major in Psychology at the door. I thought that while academia has a space within a performance, it is not vital or essential for practice. However, as I started to become accustomed to releasing my body to the somatic practice, I realized that several of the theories I was studying provided a very rational foundation for my actions. I thought it would be interesting to try and apply some psychological theories and concepts to examine the work of the body in performance.
To begin with the somatic practice itself, at times my being will be completely engaged and surrender itself to the body. However, at other times I find it hard to even imagine this other state and I am unable to access it at all. I am unsure of what exactly it is that plays this vital role in the mind that results in one of these two states. Upon analyzing it further, the role of attention seemed vital to me. Not in the sense of focus, as often I find I have performed the practice the best when my mind has gone away on a different tangent, but in the sense of what is currently occupying the mind. It has been found the mind is unable to hold more than seven (plus/minus two) items at any given time (Miller 1956) and I believe the nature of these items play an especially powerful role. If I have highly distracting yet performative elements playing through my mind, my attention will simply dissolve into them and I will be able to carry the practice out beautifully. However, if these elements are interruptive or in any way demand my unwavering attention I am unable to give myself into the somatic practice. Thus, before entering class I always try to set my mind upon a quietly performative path that cares nothing for the external world but harps upon the internal.
I believe the influence of attention spreads to other domains as well. In another class, we began by opening our eyes and tried to maintain the practice despite visual distractions. The role of in-attentional blindness, the phenomenon of not perceiving a stimulus right before your eyes unless you are paying attention to it (Mack 1992), is greatly heightened. While trying to occupy the space of Shakuntalaand attempting to see through Anusuya’s eyes we were asked to mentally sketch her entire surrounding and the atmosphere and the context of her surroundings (Excerpt from practice session). I tried to pick up on the factors of sexual oppression and isolation. To translate these mentally was hard enough; opening one’s eyes posed a very real threat to the fragile construction of this scenario. When I did finally open my eyes; however, the illusion remained completely intact. Everything I saw seemed to be cast in the colours of my mind’s architecture, both natural and unimportant. I think this happened because somewhere I believed the Anusuya would simply not see the things that my eyes were seeing, so my brain simply ignored and replaced them. The feeling of being unanchored greatly helped me access this alternate vision, which both filtered and coloured the world around me. When I tried to fall into this view outside practice it was not possible, therefore, the two phenomena seem closely co-dependent.
A similar thing happens to the auditory input during the practice. The room is filled with a wide range of sounds – the Professor’s instructions, the fans, noise from other performers, my own breathing etc. The process of selective attention states that at any given time we tend to focus our attention on one or few tasks rather than the entire mass of stimuli we are being exposed to (Pashler 1998). A study conducted using opposing different auditory stimuli presented to both ears proved that at a time an individual will only be able to hear one or another. Thus, at most times in class, I am able to isolate only the important sources of sound, that is the professor’s instructions and ignore the other numerous noises. This is especially useful when one is lost in the somatic practice, as then the information seems to reach you unconsciously with little or no effort from the side of the performer. Unfortunately, in the absence of competing sounds, only the interfering noises reach the ears and it is very hard to block those out, especially during exploratory or new forms of practice as the body attempts to remain as open as possible. Strangely enough, it becomes easier to concentrate in the presence of multiple noises and sounds, when the room is bustling than in the presence of only one sound.
I have found that memory also, quite obviously, plays a significant role in performance as a whole. In the practice itself it is both an aiding and a detrimental force. In the book Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning (2014) Brown and colleagues speak of various tried and tested methods for acquiring and maintaining knowledge. They write of massed learning or the repetition of a single or a set of actions. They claim that while this feels more familiar and comfortable, the mind is actually learning nothing new and will easily forget the actual practicality (here the impetus) of such actions. While I try to keep my practice varied and refreshing, the body does fall into familiar patterns of movement. Specifically while trying to construct my solo piece; it became very hard to carry forth the actions with the same wonder and inspiration with which they had first been created. Furthermore, the memory of the epiphany that had first accompanied the actions kept pre-emptively exciting the mind, and this excitement in turn broke the mind’s focus.