Faith and the Vacuum

May 04, 2015

One who could make of himself a vacuum into which others might freely enter would become master of all situations. (Okakura Kakuzo) 

I probably share with many a terror and trepidation around the process of creating new work.  I am often frightened and apprehensive of an upcoming rehearsal or difficult encounter.  My stomach churns in a chaotic mess. But there is a saving grace that keeps me moving forwards: the image of my shoes.  Literally. I look down and see my shoes walking, one step after another, towards the rehearsal or towards the encounter. The fuel that makes this dreadful walk possible is faith.  I try to cultivate the faith that something positive will occur once I arrive.  

Faith is not necessarily a religious dogma, but rather an inner resource available to each of us.  And faith is a central ingredient in the creative process.  Faith allows me to relate to the present moment despite my anxieties, so that I can move forward rather than be lost in resignation or despair. The word faith is easy to say or write but immensely challenging to embody.  Naturally I want to control the circumstances and the art being created.  I want to make things happen.  But ultimately, after adequate preparation, there is nothing to invent, there are only things to edit.  The practice of faith requires that I calculate less and feel more. In rehearsal I must be willing to invest in loss.  I must walk into the center of the maelstrom, listen closely, and trust that events will organize themselves around me. 

And yet, the theater is also only as good as its execution.  Good execution requires my sweat, innate stubbornness, and demanding nature.   It requires discernment and preparation. And therein lies the paradox: all of my preparation, groundwork and truth telling at critical moments are important, but ultimately I must also trust that, with patience and attentiveness, the process will yield fruit.  I must have faith. 

The work of preparation lies in the arrangement of circumstances. I prepare for the acts of faith by choosing challenging subject matter, by deep study and research, by selecting the best collaborators possible, and by taking care of the conditions of the rehearsal and the context of the presentation. My job is to make sure that everyone is telling the same story.  Then comes faith in the process.

Faith is not about the outcome; rather it requires a willingness to make space for change. Faith does not require an abandonment of reason but it does imply that belief and confidence or trust is possible despite the absence of proof.  At critical moments in the creative process, proof is simply not possible or desirable.  

The key to working with faith is to seek the vacuum rather than the volume.  I start by looking for empty space and empty time. The container itself creates empty spaces.  A vase is the space made for its contents.  Okakura Kakuzo writes about this brilliantly about this in his insightful and influential The Book of Tea

Faith in my collaborators allows them the necessary space to contribute.  But how can I exercise that faith without losing the condition of the room? How is it possible to create a vacuum into which others may enter and function freely and yet in which I am still able to remain present?  

In the theater we attempt to create enough space, enough of a vacuum that the audience, at a certain moment, may also join us. If we can create a vacuum in which others may join us, we will have achieved something profound.  In a vacuum alone motion becomes possible. 

“In leaving something unsaid the beholder is given a chance to complete the idea and thus a great masterpiece irresistibly rivets your attention until you seem to become actually a part of it. A vacuum is there for you to enter and fill up to the full measure of your aesthetic emotion.” (Okakura Kakuzo)

Faith is not something that I have any more than a vacuum is anything that I can retain.  Faith is an action.  A vacuum is available at any moment; I simply have to become aware of it.  To work in the presence of faith I must be willing to embark upon a journey with no guarantees of the outcome.  I must cultivate the courage, the faith, to step into the vacuum, to walk into the unknown, to meet whatever the next moment brings.  What a thrill!