Upon entering the As One experiential event premises in the Benaki Museum Pireos St Annexe, I’m handed a locker key and asked to put away any technology used for timekeeping or outer communication (phone – optional). Being the mum of a toddler this is quite challenging to do. Next starts a walk through a series of rooms separated by curtains, in each of which a black-clad volunteer guides participants through exercises for shaking off the outside world, stretching, breathing, opening up (lungs, muscles, mind), creating flexibility. Participants are then shown to a large table covered in black headphone sets and invited to take one. The moment I put them on I am immersed in complete silence as if plunging deep underwater, and as I turn the corner along the wide corridor leading into the main hall where all the mindfulness exercises take place, it looks more like a performance art piece that enhances my light-headed feeling of surrealism.
At the same time, somewhere inside me is the blissful sense of connecting to somethin new – an idea? a possible reality? – that feels real and moving to me. ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing,’ I think to myself, ‘if any day, like today, people could come to a place like this after work, or before they start their day, or when they need this time, or want to work something out?’ It’s like a mind/soul gym and there’s never been anything like it before.
I am a firm believer in trying to practise a consciousness of Living In The Now as much and as often as I can. Whilst standing squashed in the metro, or sitting down especially to meditate (rare these days), listening to Eckhart Tolle on YouTube while doing the washing up, cooking, doing yoga, remembering to breathe or stretch, focusing on where I feel thoughts and emotions within my body, and following the feeling around or simply pausing to remind myself that despite my frenetic, anxiety-fired, flesh-eating thoughts at any given moment, right at this second I am actually quite fine, at least I can breathe! There are blessings in my life. I can make choices.
So, even if a little too formulaic in its set-up, the Abramović Method feels right up my street. I find it exciting that a world-famous artist of her calibre is so passionately dedicated to introducing as many individuals as possible to concepts such as mindfulness, the expression of compassion and love, the recognition of connectivity between all beings, learning new ways to become receptive to life and art. Apart from introducing, teaching and spreading her method to as many people as possible, her greatest goal is to create the Marina Abramović Institute in Hudson, upstate New York, with the dual aim of reaching mindfulness and becoming receptive enough to take in the performance art experience.
I start off by sitting at the counting table. A pile of rice mixed with lentils awaits for me to separate and count it. Looking at my neighbour’s lentil-rice arrangements and the calculations they’ve scribbled on the A4 paper that’s provided for the task, I observe that some of them have been at this for ages, possibly hours. As a maths dyslexic I’m not fond of counting, it makes me dizzy and highly frustrated, I would rather be assigned to making an artwork with these, but I decide to do my best at pushing way past my comfort zone. I separate and count three piles of 100 lentils and two piles of 100 rice grains, playing with ways of ‘grabbing’ and moving them around with the tips of my fingers, before becoming bored. I might do this at home one day and really dedicate enough time to sorting the entire pile (doubtful, but I like the idea!).
Next, a piece of bright yellow cardboard on the wall draws me to sit before it. I sit and stare, for a moment thinking that I am only doing this because I feel so strange being here and don’t really know what I want to do next, but I then actually enjoying appreciating the qualities of the colour.
I now feel ready to go and stare into a stranger’s eyes. The exercise is not new to me, I have tried it in other workshops. The most eye-opening (excuse the pun) experience I’ve had was when I was once paired with a woman whom I disliked from the moment she entered the room. She was brash, loud and opinionated, yet while looking into her eyes for those 10 minutes I saw her deep sadness, her beautiful vulnerability, and my initial judgemental feelings had completely dissipated. Doing this exercise reminds me yet again how minimally people look into each other’s eyes on a daily basis. Maybe it’s fear of what we will see or what will be seen in us, or what may entail if we connect more deeply, when real truths are revealed or if misunderstanding ensues. I sit down facing an empty chair and wait. A young woman around the age of 18 sits across me. My immediate ‘reading’ of her tells me that she’s nervous and unhappy with herself. We look into each other’s eyes almost persistently, and I try to connect somehow but find it difficult. Her eyes tear up a few times. Then something strange happens – I have an image of her happy and carefree, she’s in a Greek island house preparing dinner for friends at sunset, laughing and confident. At the moment I imagine this, she sits up straight, softens her eyes and lifts her chin. I wonder in turn what she sees in me, what she is thinking, how she is feeling. When it finally it feels right I get up and smile gently as I depart.
Now the time has come to do what I initially was so sure I wouldn’t be doing here – lying down to rest! Upon entering and seeing the row of grey ‘sick beds’ I had wondered why it would be necessary for anyone to need to do that. I close my eyes, laying one of my hands on my heart and the other on my belly, trying to do some reiki as I hear the thumping of my heart through the immense silence. It then hits me that the silence has brought me into a place where it’s just me and my mental chatter, my mind’s need to comment, reflect on, analyse, judge, make jokes, find solutions – and this is exhausting. I drift in and out of sleep, unaware whether it’s been two or 20 minutes by the time I stretch, reorient myself and get up.
After rising, however, I feel the need for yet more rest and amble to an area where people sit wrapped in a sheet with closed eyes. It’s all so weird and so soothingly natural at once. Why should it feel so strange to be in silence, to just focus on resting, awareness, connectivity?
I get up and go to the wooden platforms to stand among others and see how I will feel. My mind is wracked with thoughts, coming and going, endless, thorny, joyful, boring, annoying, empowering, sad, comforting, amusing, inane, genius thoughts and realisations about how I feel about myself, what I need, how I can really be true to my needs… So much for being in the now, when all my ego wants to do is use this experience as a fast-track to life-changing self-healing, instead of just being a ‘silent observer’!
I go and sit in front of Red. I am literally seeing red, but it’s surprisingly soothing rather than inflaming as if by immersing myself in the colour I can float peacefully in it and be one with it.
It’s time to go.
I’m curious about how long I’ve been here.
I ask when removing my headphones.
Two hours. It has been intense, but I thought I was here for far less. I need to get home and cook dinner soon. I will return and do it again, and then follow some of the performances taking place around the building.
I feel tranquil, the mutely tortuous stream of thoughts, even if they led to some empowering realisations, have been quelled and I feel more connected to myself as a result of having come here.
As I step out of the hall I hear that people are gathering in the museum’s courtyard area to hear Marina Abramović talk for seven minutes. I decide to join. I bump into a long-lost friend and we chat, a few minutes before Abramović approaches the stage.
The audience, with a heavy seasoning of fashionistas and edgy urban types who like to go to a lot of these “things”, listen on as she gives a short speech on how important it is for people today to learn to feel, centre on and express love, and that she has felt there is a heartfelt need for this in Greece. She asks that after the gong sounds we all to lay our hand on the shoulder of the person next to us and emanate pure love. My friend lays her hand on my shoulder and I lay my hand on the shoulder of the person in front of me, who happens to be a bouncing photographer who continuously takes photos of Abramović and the crowd throughout the seven minutes in heaven. I keep trying to feel love for everyone there, and for a moment I feel peaceful about being here, yet although I try to feel love for the photographer, I just want to shout at her to stop taking photos, fucking hell, just out of respect, just for a moment. But it feels forced, the whole thing feels somewhat forced, regardless how lovely the concept is. And when the seven minutes are up, Marina wipes her tears smiling peacefully and stops to allow an old lady to lovingly caress her cheeks before she is ushered out by her people.
I rush out too, with even more mixed emotions than I had before. Perhaps the worst has happened to me in life – I may have become a slightly jaded lady, a mortal cynic, I, who was always a pure-hearted dreamer with the ability to spot the unique beauty in everyone and everything. Yet I know I will keep trying, there are so many ways to do so, and maybe one of them is that which I experienced today.
“We are always doing the things we like in our life. That’s why you’re not changing. Nothing happens if you do things the same way. My method is to do things I’m afraid of, the things I fear, the things I don’t know. To go to territory that nobody has ever been. And then to allow failure, if you don’t fail you‘ll repeat the same things again and again.” — Marina Abramovich
ABRAMOVIC METHOD | AS ONE
10/03/2016 – 24/04/2016
Benaki Museum | Pireos 138
Tue – Thu | 12.00 – 20.00
Fri |12.00 – 22.00
Sat | 12.00 – 20.00
Sun | 11.00 – 19.00
Mon | closed
Visitors Age | 15 +