Nuances of Thought

We do not have a legitimate television in our home. That is not to say that media does not get to us here—it does. But it reaches us through Netflix or the internet. There are no newspapers here either, and we have by default, moved away from listening to the radio, except occasionally on the internet. The reason behind my media interests is that my key complaint is about commercials invading my consciousness. They not only intend to sell me. They intend to alarm. Cause stress, increase anxiety, and ultimately break us down psychologically.

Now this really has nothing to do with what I want to muse about today. It is just an introduction to my own media habit. Because even though I do not watch TV or network media in general, I have of late developed a like for one particular Fox show which I can access on Hulu.com. That show is Lie to Me.

lie_to_meIt is interesting to note, that my wife and I have both gravitated to particular shows on Hulu. She likes Bones which focuses on forensic anthropology to solve a crime, whereas I have developed a like for Lie to Me which focuses on the nuances of facial and voice inflections to disguise truth. This being used to solve mysteries.

Tim Roth plays the key scientist, Kal Lightman in Lie to Me and is expert at reading facial gestures. Little movements on the face that tell us whether his subject is hiding something, or feeling guilt or any other subtleties that are too in depth to go into here.

The reason this has occurred to me, stemmed from a conversation I had this morning with an intern at the school, and my observations of peoples faces on the subway after I left. As for the latter, I was standing on the train trying to ponder my own concerns, with calm, while at the same time, noticing that I was able to suddenly see someone overtly THINKING. The fellow I was observing, was moving his lips slightly and I could tell that he was trying to work out some major concern in his own life. As I moved onto the train, I could see that almost EVERYONE was in some state of worry or economic concern. One man was sweating profusely, with bloodshot eyes (not well?) as he stroked his forehead. Another, an orthodox Jew, was making a similar gesture, but it had the tone of business concern. All throughout the train I was in a state of heightened sensitivity to the facial nuances. What I saw everywhere was varying degrees of anxiety. This mirrored my own thoughts as I am in a period of very little paying work. I have worked hard to try to stay relaxed in the face of these life changes in order to see what my next opportunity could be. Too much worry diverts my energy, which in turn, blinds me to what is in front of me. These moments collided, and suddenly a truth that everyone was in the same pickle, but hiding it, was made apparent to me. It is one of those key insights that has altered my life at crucial times and places.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to take a workshop with Lavinia Plonka, a movement and drama coach (http://www.laviniaplonka.com/). We worked for only an hour or two, but in that brief session, she opened a whole world of awareness about the subtle movements we all make habitually, and what they infer. For instance, when someone begins to speak, but just before speaking, they scratch their ear or nose, it usually means that what they are about to say is emotionally charged for them. It would also mean that there is an aspect to what they are about to relate, that they have not come to terms with, and therefore are about to alter the truth about what they are going to relate.

In the workshop, she had me up front, with a friend who is a professional actor. We began to mime a whole interaction simply by moving our bodies in very specific ways. He would jut his head forward. I would respond by turning my hips 45 degrees. He would respond with another movement, maybe by looking up, and I would respond by looking down. It actually was very funny to the audience watching and I learned a great deal from the interaction. It made me much more aware of many of the habitual movements I make all the time. By becoming aware of them, it has made me fine tune my manner of self expression, and acceptance of myself in a very deep way.

Now how to relate my intrigue with Tim Roth’s character, to that of being a free school parent. I can’t. But I am talking about sensitivity here. You see, what I observed on the train speaks to something else about our society that we never talk about. Everybody is affected by the economic downturn, but everyone also feels like a failure in the face of it. They struggle to contain their shame, therefore it manifests in the facial worry lines that become embedded on our skulls as we age. To accept ones’ condition, and to continue to face it in, dare I say, a Zen way, then what was a worry, now becomes an opportunity for transition. It is through this isolation, that our problems become perpetuated. In a more perfect world, we could feel free to express our concerns and fears to each other, without judgment, as a way to finding a way out of our situations, or as a way to grow community.

Now the unrelated conversation that triggered all of this, started this morning at BFS.  I was sitting with an intern when one of the children just blurted out an extremely lucid and intelligent remark. It was one of those remarks, that you have to say “that came out of the mouth of a child?” The intern then began to relate to me the many things she has observed since she came to the school this year. She expressed her amazement at how our children learn in this environment. How deep and nuanced are their expressions and how complicated the games that they create.

One game she observed among the younger group was a game called Boys vs. Girls. In this game you have two forts, one with girls and the other boys. If a member of a fort tags an opposing player, they are immediately turned into the gender of the other team. What she found interesting in this game is that some of the younger ones seemed to relish being turned into a boy or a girl. What struck me, was the rich, psychological material that was being explored in the guise of a game. And another observation was that there was nothing malicious or competitive about the play. But it was very aggressive and wild.

Another thing she told me was regarding a certain young boy, who commonly gives the teachers and everyone a hard time. He throws tantrums often. He does not always respond to some of the few rules in the school. Chief among them, the STOP rule, which means that if someone says STOP, then the other has to stop what they are doing, which usually consists of bothering the other. As I am not a full timer at school, and just drop in, my observations of him have usually resulted in irritation, so I avoid too much interaction. But the intern observed this boy, who all the others have a hard time with, in an act of profuse generosity. One day at the park, he took money from his own pocket, to buy a special snack from a vendor, for all the other children to share in. The intern told me that afterward, his entire demeanor changed, and it filled him with a kind of happiness that lasted the rest of the day.

Now I will let you try to figure out if there is some connection between the two varied subjects I have written about in this post. My own feeling is that in the first, I was observing the prison we all live in. A prison constructed of worries, anxiety, shame, fear and shear fantasy of just about everything. And in the second, was seeing the rare situations where those prison bars can be diminished, or just plain obliterated. And if you have learned anything here, it is that I prefer the latter.

Studying Africa

Studying Africa

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