There’s a King Crimson track called Trio that I like a lot. It’s an improvisation recorded at a concert towards the end of a tour, when the band were exhausted, playing at the limit of their capabilities after however many weeks of getting in and out of buses in different countries. A lot of their music is loud, sometimes bombastic, but Trio is delicate, all about musicians listening and responding from where they are right now. The title suggests three musicians were involved, but four are credited with its creation. The fourth is the band’s drummer, who guitarist Robert Fripp wanted to recognise for his contribution of silence.
Absence is just as important as presence. In his online journal Fripp, who abandoned King Crimson just before they were about to get big, and went and studied in a community under the guidance of former Gurdjieff pupil J.G. Bennett, often talks about silence as a quality that’s active, rather than passive. For him at least, music emerges from silence — and that’s a perception I share with some of my writing. There are times when you can go through a process of some kind to help a concept emerge, often through a form of provocation — Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies cards provide some, and I’ve encountered others in exercises from impro comedy classes. Equally, there are occasions when concepts exist seemingly fully-formed, and the sense is of tuning into or downloading them. Some people recognise that experience, others treat it as a fanciful metaphor. Metaphor it may be, but it points to a powerful experience.
Looking in another direction, the concept of negative space is important to sculptures, and I will bow to tradition in using Henry Moore as the example in this context. It’s also implicit in Zen brushwork: what’s absent is as significant as what’s present. It’s elusive stuff, and where it connects with NLP for me is in the focus on elegance; the minimal solution. A simple arc, a few lines, the ghost of a Miles Davis composition in a contemporary trumpeter’s solo — sometimes a hint is enough to get you to experience a new way of being. And how minimal does a contributi0n have to be before arriving at the point King Crimson did, at least when they came up with or found Trio together, where the drummer who doesn’t play has the biggest say in the music?
When is it better to hold back than intervene? Some sort of process will occur anyway, and there are times when it does so differently in the presence of one person than another. This is tricky stuff, and can be handled badly — I remember an event where one person’s role was simply to “hold everyone in unconditional positive regard”, but the upshot was that I and several others present questioned the benefit of having a smug git in a collarless shirt (signifiers: religious and medical…’I am here to help’). Still. Still. Think of moments when not saying something to a lover was the right thing to do. When a parent withheld comment for your benefit.
Experiment with this a while and you’ll start to notice the distinction between the kind of nothing that is a contribution to whatever situation you’re in, and the sort you encounter at the edge of your model that tells you it’s time for an updated one. There’s a story Richard Bandler tells about how an apprentice of his (Lenny Darnell, I believe) calls him from the depths of the Amazon, at a loss regarding how to respond to a shaman telling him that he listens to the forest to find out what plants to use as medicine. Bandler’s suggestion is to get Lenny to discover where in the forest the shaman does the asking, and that leads to the rest of an anecdote that you’ll have doubtless heard if you’ve seen Bandler do his thing.
Actually, the distinction I point to is one that’s already out there: it’s the difference between comfortable silence, when people feel good, and uncomfortable silence, when at least one party finds themselves at the edge of a conceptual precipice.
How was that for you?
What did that little break do for your state?
More comfortable now that normal formatting has been resumed? People respond to absence differently. For some, the pressure to fill the void with something — anything — is unbearable. But how to notate these experiences, when NLP is primarily interested in tracking what’s there?
If you look at the situations you’re in as figure/ground relationships, what might you find in the background that helps make sense of what you’re focusing on?
Silence in prayer and silence in a police interview are very different, given meaning by context.
And rather than being reliant on others, is it possible that absence can make the heart grow..?
I don’t know. And to find out, you’ll need to go to the places where you don’t know either. And tell us what happens, as you cross the border from nothing to a new kind of something.