I went to see my old improv guru, Andy Sloey, in a show tonight. Andy’s troupe was really excellent, and as I watched them work, I was struck by one performer in particular. Everything he said was funny. I couldn’t comprehend how his humor brain worked. He wasn’t even trying. He was mostly just sitting there. Then it dawned on me: He was mostly just sitting there.
If “Yes” is accepting what’s given, the “And” is contribution to it. I realized last night there must be time between the two. You can’t start your second action until you’ve finished the first and according to the laws of physics, there must be some space (I don’t actually know anything about physics). A practically undetectable moment, years of processing, pausing for laughter: we can’t honestly move forward until we’ve taken time.
We have to wait. And there’s nothing to do while waiting in silence. So we end up listening. Maybe intentional, possibly accidental. It doesn’t matter why, but I’m 99 percent sure that it works. You don’t remember the silence: you remember the hilarious thing that-guy-in-andy’s-improv-troupe said that-one-time. You don’t remember the reflection between major life choices but you do remember that moment you sang in public, decided to have a baby, quit your job, and finally got his name tattooed on your butt. The action is the good stuff, but the silence is what makes it so.
I know it’s a lot more complex than simply shutting up for a second. It’s even more complex than actually listening. You need confidence, trust, awareness, curiosity, practice, a minimum amount of energy and enthusiasm. You need all that good stuff. But I don’t think any of that matters in the end if you don’t take a moment to listen.