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Peter Brook’s 11 and 12
Peter Brook’s new play 11 and 12 is about the Sufi Tierno Bokar and Cherif Hammalah and a dispute that arose in Mali about whether to recite a particular prayer 11 or 12 times. I wanted to see it because I had heard what it was about and this resonated with my own work efforts, and because of Peter Brook’s connection with Gurdjieff’s ideas.
I think that the problems the play addresses are particularly pertinent to the Gurdjieff tradition as we work to continue to embody it after the death of the source teacher.
It has been said that we must not mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon. It is now up to ourselves, we must be the teaching, become it. How do we preserve what is true without pickling it and putting it on a shelf?
Will our spiritual descendants kill each other over Movements? Are doctrinal disputes inevitable? And what is my role in this? The forces that are driving the evolution and involution of the teaching and are great, much greater than I. Does this mean that I cannot influence them at all? And where does this leave me with regard to my nascent Conscience?
For me, 11 and 12 is about Conscience, in the sense that I have grown to understand it as a result of my inner work. I begin to recognise that I cannot do, that it is futile and a form of self-calming to try to change the world. The only thing I can work on is my attitude to what is. At them same time, Conscience requires me to be brave, to be ready to receive the blow, and leaves no room for a defeatist attitude. Conscience requires me to stand up and be counted again and again. It demands the courage to face, to abide myself and to bear the world and the people around me as they are. This is what Tierno Bokar does.
Peter Brook is known for an approach that embraces the empty space, and the set is pared down to the minimum. There are a few bare trees, some logs and a large sheet of red sheet of fabric, and the sand of Africa. A quiet man sits peacefully to one side with a range of exotic and ancient-looking instruments, from which he plucks and beats, blows and entices the most beautifully evocative sounds. The quiet, still stage resonates with my state when I am in Conscience, and in a sense evokes it. It quietens my busy mind.
The calm, mindful pace of movement and speech of the Sufis, and of the narrator as his and Tierno’s story unfold before us, had an effect on me that reminded me of my experience of seeing Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre. Although the Barbican stage is quite different in being separated from the audience and the unifying sky above us is absent, what appeared in front of me in 11 and 12 connected directly with my subconscious, which should rightfully be my conscious mind. The collected, centred acting and delivery of simple and rich words settled me into something like a hypnagogic, trance-like state, where I am present and my usual attitudes and postures fall away.
A casual observer might find the pace slow, accustomed as we are to the instant results of the internet and the quick flicker of television images. I found myself soon in a meditative state where the clean, pure pearls of wisdom that came falling out of the mouth of Tierno Bokar went straight into my subconscious.
“Aren’t you afraid of dying, of being beaten, of the martyr’s death?” he is asked when he manifests tolerance and renounces the 12 prayers in favour of the 11. His answer is “It is all the same.”
It is all the same, whether I am here, now, facing the demons of my inner world that are continually snapping at my heels, the negativity that fights to swallow me whole at any moment, the habitual destruction of my potential for being present, it is all the same whether I am facing a lifetime of physical pain or injury, of loss of a loved one, or death itself. The terrifying visions described in the Tibetan and Egyptian books of the dead, the terror-of-the-situation, is the same state. Disembodied or eaten up by rage, it is all the same.
My opportunity to transform is always now.
“If you really want to hurt me, forbid me from turning my mind to God.”
Tierno’s decision was made knowing what the consequences were, and in this he resembles Christ, fully accepting his fate of suffering not by succumbing to the inevitable, to his destiny, but from understanding what was needed, and by understanding to the extent that he was able to embody, to be, what was needed. His decision to embody tolerance leads to ostracism by his family and sect and he dies a lonely death from pneumonia, in exile in France; he was wearing only his African robes when he arrived.
“I pray God that at the moment I die I have more enemies to whom I have done nothing than friends.”
This play conjures up a state of joyful sorrow, a taste of living according to Conscience. This means knowing my nothingness, understanding that I cannot do and still facing what is with all my presence. It is an act of courage to see that I am nothing. It is an act of courage to accept and fully play my part in what is truly required of me, whether this means to die the martyr’s death or to abide myself.
To be is to be of the heart, to have courage.
A small cast of seven, all male, manage to portray a great range from the lumbering colonial power structure to the instinctive fierceness of a mother protecting her child, from torture in the name of faith to schoolboy curiosity with the same intensity coupled with a light-hearted detachment. Glances are exchanged with the audience acknowledging and mocking the fact that an adult male body is portraying a woman’s coy and feisty emotional manipulation simply by sweeping the African robes over his head. A quick glance is exchanged and a moment of self-awareness is shared, without relinquishing any of the dignity of the woman momentarily evoked.
The ending came suddenly and unexpectedly and shook me back to my usual state where I found myself again in a theatre surrounding by people who gave rise to all sorts of reactions in me. But the play left a taste in my mouth, a taste of something closer to my true home, and I knew that compassion, love for each man that stands before me is possible when I Am Here.
But Peter: How can we engage in fierce but peaceful debate if you do not speak?
The world needs this script, and the book it is based on. There are many pearls that my heart knows but which my head cannot yet formulate.
“I wish with all my heart the coming of a time of reconciliation amongst all religions on the earth, a time when these religions will unite and support one another to form a spiritual and moral canopy, an era when all religions will be at peace in God by resting on three supports: Love, Charity, Brotherhood. “ Tierno Bokar