ALCHEMY OF THE DIALOGUE
SEPTEMBER 29, 2011. Something interesting happens when a person plays the role of a major problem, in a dialogue.
It doesn’t matter what the problem is. It is personified. And then the conversation begins.
I do this in some of my consulting work with private clients.
Suppose Craig’s problem is his inability to begin a project. He becomes the project and speaks as the project, and I take the role of Craig.
Suppose his problem is his sister. He plays his sister and I play him.
A problem becomes a problem through its silence. In other words, the problem is never given a voice BY THE PERSON WHO IS MIRED IN IT.
“Okay, you’ve been working at your job for five years and you keep going up against your boss. So let’s try this. You be your boss and I’ll be you, and we’ll talk.”
How long does the conversation last? Impossible to predict. It might be an hour. It might be six hours, over the course of several weeks. And then we switch. He plays himself and I play his boss. The length of the dialogue depends on how fertile and deep the dynamics of the relationship are.
“Okay, you keep talking about God. You play God and I’ll play you.”
Looked at from this viewpoint, every problem is a dialogue waiting to happen. Every problem is an opportunity to play “an opponent.”
The next step is to understand that every human relationship is an opportunity to play the other person. And when that relationship is a problem, the opportunity should be taken.
Let’s say that Joe watches five hours of television every day. He’s a news junkie. I would say, “You play a news anchor, Joe, and I’ll play you.” The funny thing is, Joe has stored away a great deal of material about the news anchor. He knows him backwards and forwards. But now he gets a chance to inhabit the role and speak as the newsman. In some sense, he’s wanted to play that role. And because he hasn’t (yet), he has a problem. And when you reduce down the problem to its core, it comes out as something like this: Joe wants to play a news anchor and he hasn’t been able to. It’s that simple. We all want more THEATRICAL experience. We all want to play roles.
If Joe hasn’t been able to play a news anchor, he keeps watching him on television.
Or a priest has a problem. With the Pope. So the priest plays the Pope and I play the priest and we talk. Finally, the priest gets to play the Pope.
Or a mother has a problem with her son. So she plays her son and I play her. On some level, she wants to play her son. And now she has a chance. She has a great deal of material stored up about her son. She knows him backwards and forwards. She has a subconscious THEATRICAL desire to play her son. Now she finally does. And in the process, a great deal of clarity is reached.
An aspiring executive in a company has an odd problem with the CEO. He barely knows him, but he’s seen him speak on numerous occasions, and for some reason, he dislikes the CEO intensely. The aspiring executive has stored up a great deal of material about the CEO, and now he gets a chance to play him, to give voice to that character he’s subconsciously desired to play.
Mr. Smith has written five books on the JFK assassination. He believes he’s identified the real killer. Mr. Smith is very frustrated that his books haven’t received the attention they deserve. There are a number of ways to approach this situation, but here is one simple way: Mr. Smith plays the real killer, and I play Mr. Smith. And we speak to each other.
A very good surfer has one final obstacle to overcome: getting out in the water on the North Shore of Hawaii and riding the biggest waves. He’s nursed this fear for years, and it’s a problem to him. So he plays the biggest wave and I play him and we have a dialogue. He knows that wave backwards and forwards, and he finally gets a chance to inhabit the role of the wave and speak as the wave—we’re doing alive theater. And the problem is shattered. This isn’t to say the surfer will now ride that big wave or not ride it. But either way, it won’t be a problem.
Sometimes, the most introverted people are those who have the most intense theatrical desire, who are acute observers of others and have stored up much material on them, but have never had the chance to inhabit their roles. If they could be coaxed to play a few of these roles, enormous changes would take place.
Playing a role and doing it with conviction is, in this context, quite transformative. Why? Because there are many dynamics at play in the process. It isn’t just a matter of playing a particular person. It’s an energy shift—from being at the apparent mercy of a problem to being the apparent reason FOR the problem: that role shift, for instance, from aspiring executive (who has the problem) to CEO (who supposedly is causing the problem) is “educational” at a deep level, a visceral level, an emotional level.
From my notes on the Magic Theater: “The peasant who plays the king experiences a long-repressed desire. He knew all along that he knew HOW TO PLAY THE KING—and then he confirms it by playing the king. He not only feels the energy of the king, he not only expresses it in dialogue, but he catapults his own IQ in the process. He acts out a point of view, so to speak, that has a higher IQ than he, the peasant, ordinarily displays. And then he realizes that he has been acting out the role of peasant for a long time—which is a revelation. He has taken on a role, with all its downside, to accommodate the fact of life that he is working the soil on the manor of a lord who is, in turn, a servant of the king. And now he can begin to think clearly, for the first time, about how he might escape from and transcend his life as a peasant.”
Fortunately, none of us is quite in the real-life situation of the medieval peasant. We already have choices. For us, these theatrical opportunities I’ve been describing can, if acted out, automatically transform our lives in the world.
The old alchemists were searching for a way to transmute consciousness. The kind of dialogue I’m talking about here does that very thing.
The impact of life delivers us the message that we really have only one basic role to play in life, and we should stick to it. In the long run, that’s a losing proposition, no matter what the basic role is. The entertainment and media and advertising industry sells us the idea that people exist who, in their “natural roles,” are happy and fulfilled, and the best we can hope for is to admire them and fantasize about them. And then, in addition to that message, we are also told there are “natural villains,” and we should despise them and enjoy that exercise and thank our lucky stars we weren’t born into such circumstances.
This is all hogwash, of course. Cracking open the illusion, we discover the central theatricality of the world, and we look around for ways to play and inhabit other roles. But where is the outlet? Where is the venue? Where is the platform, the stage?
The platform is what I call the Magic Theater. In it, all roles and dialogues can occur. I’m already engaged, and the first workshop of the Magic Theater will take place in San Diego on December 10th. I continue work with private clients in this arena.