The Much-at-Once

To be read by those involved with the performance of Timetable...

In his book, Role Playing and Identity, philosopher Bruce Wilshire writes about attending a theatre work by artist Robert Whitman.

“It is an early spring evening in a semi-darkened warehouse in New York near the docks. The hour has passed at which Robert Whitman’s theatre work ‘Light Touch’ was to have begun. People are still buying tickets . . .

Awaiting the performance, we sat in the damp and gloom, uneasy over the continued delay . . .

Then a strange event of disclosure occurred—a disclosure of disclosure. In the darkness, the main door of thewarehouse in the middle of the wall before us slowly rolled up and opened. It went from floor to ceiling . . . the soundsof the city could be heard . . . and cars appeared occasionally, framed by the door, as they passed on the street directly outside. Appeared, but appeared transfigured, as if a spell had been cast over them. Details of their shape and movement, ordinarily not noticed leapt out . . . It was as if cars were being seen for the first time . . . The driver’s intent gaze on the road in front of him chipped out merely a fragment of the world in which he moved.

After a car had passed by in this side street, the space in which we were living would relax and expand again toadmit the sounds of the vast city—Then again, as if we inhabited a breathing organism, events on the street would takeprominence. Slowly and majestically, matters unleafed through time, yet also sadly, as if all of us—rapt and silent inside the warehouse—were aware that the spell that had been cast was fragile. One felt grateful to be alive and conscious.”

‘Light Touch’ took place in a warehouse next to a side street with occasional activity: a passing truck, a few pedestrians, a policeman who shone his flashlight through the warehouse door. None of what “unleafed through time” was planned or was the work of actors. The experience had a life of its own, “as if we inhabited a breathing organism.” When a car passed, “the driver’s intense gaze...chipped out merely a fragment of the world in which he moved.”

There is much to consider in Wilshire’s description, but it is on this last point that I would like to linger: “the driver’s intense gaze...chipping out merely a fragment of the world in which he moved.”

Often this is how it must be. When driving, for example. When safety or security is a concern. We “chip out” the part of the world most likely to affect us. However, there are moments in everyday life when neither safety nor security are a concern and still, we “chip out” or focus on only a small portion of the world through which we move.

If, during those moments, we were to relax our focus, our “intense gaze”, our “grip”, and allow all our senses a say in what we take in, we would open gradually to the total environment in which we move, the full “surround”.

With sight, for example, we see what is in front of us. Hearing, on the other hand, gives us access to the sounds in front and behind us, to either side and in the distance. We smell and taste and touch the environment... temperature, pressure, balance, the positioning of our bodies in space. Other senses, hard to name (extrasensory?), offer additional connection to what surrounds us, a cellular connection, some say. And if the mental framing we have learned to impose on our experience is suspended even slightly, then the result is a sense of connectedness we rarely enjoy. We feel the body-self coming alive with the experience of what William James called the Much-at-Once.


Sometimes, however, it is not a matter of opening ourselves and willing it so. Sometimes the Much-at-Once simply overtakes us. Our resistance, our cynicism, our hardened habits of perceiving and interpreting no match for what a great work of art, or the splendor of the natural world, or an act of selflessness and love can do to us.

In Timetable, where the More and the Much-at-Once are terms used interchangeably, Don Juan offers the following:

“... we have a beautiful long history of inventing rituals, meditative practices, extreme activities of one sort or another through which we hope to experience the More. Our great works of art, literature, music, architecture, what purpose do they serve more central than to conjure the awe and wonderment that lifts us out of our trance. And poetry… that ingenious invention… when the last line of the great poem is read, one senses a total surround, one senses the Much-at-Once.

To experience the Much-at-Once, however it comes our way, is to experience something akin to awe. Not the awe that leads to fear and cowering but the awe that mystifies and captivates, that conjures a sense of the sacred and one’s own life, inexplicably, connected to it.


The philosopher Owen Barfield argued that the disease of modern life is called cutoffness. We feel cutoff from one another, from the natural world, from ourselves. It is the disease, he suggested, at the heart of our ecological crisis, at the heart of our alienation and despair, as well.

With the experience of the Much-at-Once, the cutoffness is dissolved, however slightly. As indicated above, the experience of the Much-at-Once is, by definition, the experience of connection. A connection that feels meaningful and so, is enlivening. That is the assumption or hypothesis to which Timetable is anchored. With the Much-at-Once, mental suffering is reduced by degree; and by that same degree one is enlivened.


In the Epilogue to Timetable, Joe offers the following:

"After the play ended (referring to the play within the play), a day or two later... I wasn’t thinking about anything, a complete blank, and there it was, like it had been there all along. Every instant lived in the Much-at-Once… isn’t that what Pops used to say? It was a re-setting for me."

Joe’s statement brings forward one of life’s most profound questions: Do you know where you live?

Every instant lived in the Much-at-Once, every instant lived in the More.

We are unconscious much of the time, not to mention fearful, distracted, “distracted from distraction by distraction” as the poet, T. S. Eliot, put it. When the Much-at-Once shows up in our life, perhaps by dint of good fortune, we are reminded of where we live, given then the opportunity to “re-set” (and “re-fresh”), given the opportunity to see how far we may have drifted from the desired “set point”, becoming isolated, confused, angry, warring...

The experience of the Much-at-Once is the primal experience of wonderment and awe. William James defined the Much-at-Once as “the cellular connection to the surround made conscious”. We are body-selves capable of experiencing the Much-at-Once, capable of knowing, feeling, and remembering where we live. According to Wilshire, the Greeks defined “Cosmos” as The Beautiful Place.

Timetable is a play about reconnecting to The Beautiful Place, often enough, at least, to see where the honoring of life, one’s own and that of others—in all the ways we might imagine are needed—can take us.

David Thomas


One other point... Perhaps it’s the same point in other words.

There is preliminary research to suggest that the experience of awe may have long term health benefits. In one study, people who reported feeling more “awe, wonder, and amazement on a given day had lower levels of interleukin-6 (IL-6) in their systems. IL-6 is a marker of inflammation (too much inflammation can lead to a host of chronic diseases).”

Whether future research will prove this to be the case biochemically, physiologically, I nevertheless believe it is so psychically, spiritually. The Much-at-Once reduces inflammation. It furthers wellbeing; that is one of the assumptions—an underlying theme—of Timetable.


“The heart of Zen training lies in introducing the eternal into the now, in widening the doors of perception to the point where the delight and wonder that characterize the satori experience can carry over to the ordinary events of day-to-day life. ...The indescribable wonder of being must be sensed...” Huston Smith, The Religions of Man, p. 150.

As Don Juan says at one point in Timetable, “The ethical is inspired into existence as much as it is willed.”