Right now, the best thing you can do with me is open my scalp and put my mind out of the square box of stress, performance, wage, and academic rationalism. Luckily it is Monday and I can revisit the right friends for this mind-ical surgery at the De Universiteit. The greeting hugs that I share, that we share, already sooth my keyboardy arms and tight shoulders. What’s on the learning menu tonight? I look into the now-familiar faces of the ‘fathers’ whom I just hugged and know they have little idea, but bet a beer crate (in some common Dutchism) that it’s gonna be awesome. I bet too and take my late seat, because we’re starting.
De Universiteit is taught by everyone, new and familiar. Tonight a team of four will carry us through (Joost’s memory was there too). The feeling of familiarity I have with the circle is teased away the very first moment of the ‘formal’ session when Hanneke, actress and midway DU-traveler, is interrupted by Eline, wise thinker and second or third-timer: “You feel glad? GLAD? Please, let’s put emotions aside, we have an evening to organize.” Or something like that she spoused with an angry voice. Everyone was silent and I couldn’t make up if anyone took this to be real. I was nearly falling backwards, whilst a hand rushed to silence my wide open laughing mouth. It was one of those rare moments of human performance when you were given the bare experience without the destructing forces of proper introductions.
It became clear Hanneke was Water and Eline was Air; hence their collision over emotions. Air is the element that analyses things (even nothings) into lines and particles. But emotion needs liquid harmony to be conveyed, not broken down onto void. IJnte was Earth (and though Water was glad to see us, she was sad because Earth had apparently dumped her steadfastly). Joost’s Fire couldn’t make it that night, and I was wondering if that was because all four elements in one space would make too many fights. Especially Fire’s desire would burn Earth, cook the hell out of Water, and annoy everyone endlessly by juggling ash, vapor and oxygen inimitably.
It later turned out that it wouldn’t. It was only my over-emancipated Earth-side that hoped so.
Like always, the night was not a mere stage show. So we were instructed to provoke the very Four Elements in us by acting scenarios. There was even more turkey. My personal frustration with my pen, my computer display, research literature, and my immobile and so not sportive chair at work was acted out by two fellows and the Four Elements (can you guess what elements belong to what objects?).
At times it seemed a bit arbitrary that we had four elements and four-sided personalities. What if we took the enneagram’s nine elements and worked that out, or the complicated orderings of the Wheel of Life (Bhavacakra)? Presentation of these theories together evokes a sudden conflict. Which one is the true one? I believe that would be the wrong question to ask. The truth of these systems is not in them, but in what we do with them—it is that when we start thinking in the order that they give, we are suddenly enabled to reflect, understand ourselves, identify points of balance, and act. I think I had understood before, but this night once and again, that we are making these ideas true by acting them out. And tomorrow I can make the enneagram system true, or make new truths with Fire and Water.
The night was a true night, as we weren’t told the truth by a science teacher, but engaged in creating it together. We gave it space (in de ruimte) and gave it our bodies and minds. We literally danced the elements, so free we became. Our hands became flames and reached into the room beneath the ceiling, where we otherwise would never get. Our feet stepped on earth in patterns we never realized with straight walking. We steamed up chunks of air as if we gave it life. And we were carried through the night like drops in a river, together. We didn’t forget about a comrade who found it all too much, I hope we didn’t, and we didn’t forget about Mister Fire himself. I’m sure he was somewhere else, doing capoeira with Air, Earth and Water.