Adam Blatner

Words and Images from the Mind of Adam Blatner

Why Enactment?

Originally posted on November 23, 2013

Enactment involves physically “doing” the action implied, rather than just thinking or even talking about it. It embodies the encounter that’s implied. Enactment is needed because it “anchors” what is expressed and associated insights in consciousness. One is more likely to remember the the intention behind the action or other thoughts that come to mind in the interaction.

People tend to forget, you see. The mind has a tendency to be flabby, to drift off from what it was talking about, especially if loaded feelings are associated with the thoughts. People in conflict tend to dissociate a little. This is often overlooked because people have a tendency to think they know what they’re doing even when they don’t—me included.

For example, yesterday at a restaurant I carelessly ordered lemonade instead of water with a bit of lemon, and ended up being charged for this slip—just costly enough for my guardian angel, “Bud,” to nudge me and say “wake up just a bit more.” What? I thought I was awake; but I wasn’t; I really didn’t realize I was saying “lemonade.”

This intrinsic flabbiness of mind also explains not only why it’s important to write things down, but, more fundamentally, how writing operates as one of the major technologies of humanity. When I say “writing” I am referring to a huge complex that involves the discovery and manufacture of paper, the invention of printing, creation of legible type faces, the evolution of writing systems, writing implements, and all this has evolved over thousands of years. (I describe the history of writing on my website.)

Without writing, whatever goes on just in talking tends to be be too elusive. Thoughts alone, unexpressed, internal, tend to be too easily attacked by a host mental dissolving processes: Thoughts may be dismissed as too puny. The unconscious mind, objecting to anything that might be forbidden, may be buried, repressed. This happens more if we even dare touch on forbidden topics. The mind broils with tiny (and sometimes not-so-tiny) complexes, like little parasites, who mock us, as if to say, “Who do you think you are, someone who might think something worthwhile?”

Applying this idea of externalizing and concretizing expressions, enactment thus helps “anchor” thoughts and feelings, as I said above. Saying the thought out loud, as if the other person was there to hear it; saying it in “as if” or dramatic sense of imagining the other person was hearing it—this act helps. It helps more if you have an audience—even one person—or better, a few—who hear you make that affirmation or set that boundary.

Enactment, then, is in a way similar to writing, only uses the dynamism of action. More people “get it” when they see it and, by intuition, feel it. (The “mirror neurons” become involved.) So it’s actually more effective with more people than writing, which is more effective than keeping it bottled up inside.

Externalizing, whether through writing, drawing (or other art media), dancing, or drama, puts the underlying feeling or intuition or thought “out there” where the person can review it, return to it, re-consider it. It becomes explicitly conscious and—more important—thoughts are then able to be dissected, differentiated. How much do you feel it, are there other sides to the problem, do you have mixed feelings, what might be the other person’s viewpoint—such thoughts can only be exercised in consciousness. Thus, writing has been a major advance in not just technology, but also thinking. Using drama in an applied fashion—i.e., psychodramatic methods—extends writing! To say again, writing and enactment externalize the thinking process—puts it out there. You can see it and reviewed. Writing and enactment make thoughts and feelings “objective,” which means that what is thought and done can be not only reviewed, but also revised. which makes it an object, one you can not only review, but also revise. It’s out there. You can see it and return to it.

Role play in this sense is not frivolous (one association to the word “play”) so much as provisional, a type of practice. This helps you fix the point and then build around it.

For example, the capacity for empathy can be developed through role playing the predicament of the other. One must stay in role and be asked questions. Rare is the person who can do it by himself just on being told how. Like writing supports talking, adjunctive enactments support thinking empathically. Thus, empathy-building is better done in small role plays with a few people present to help. Minimally, perhaps, just one other and an empty chair will do the job. The person takes the role of the other and is warmed up by being asked questions by the facilitating person present.

There are a number of things that are best learned by doing them, from swimming to sewing. It’s a matter of “getting the knack.” Lectures won’t cut it. That’s why enactment is very variable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *