How do you get to the point of being able to play or improvise when you’re just plain STUCK?
“We want to go to the fair as a family today. Do you want to go?” My partner asked me this past Labor Day weekend.
“No,” I replied, as I turned slightly. I immediately felt my belly tighten and my focus go inward. I felt scared. I made up that my partner and son wouldn’t like that answer and would try to convince me to go. I braced myself and prepared to stand my ground. I didn’t want to go to a crowded place when we had just spent the day before at a conference with thousands of people. I just wanted to have a chill day at home. I was having a nice time relaxing and take care of things here… and the reasons bloomed in my brain as my fear fueled my fleeing mind.
And then they did begin to question why I didn’t want to go and explain to me why it would be fun. I tried to hold onto my “no” without too much justification despite my mind being fully prepped and ready for a fight. I didn’t need to justify and I definitely didn’t want to fight!
Oh, but I did. I had already started before they said anything. I was fighting in my head with them and myself about whether or not I wanted to go. Now I felt confused, aka more scared.
I could have followed one of my familiar patterns of push-pull, or resist-give up. “No” is a perfectly perfect choice. No. See that? It’s a complete sentence. No, thank you. Also, a great choice. What I did was “No, because X, Y, Z reasons” layered with fear and resistance. The resistance part was not a choice, but a reaction. I could have then swung the pendulum to the other side and given in and said, “Oh, okay, fine. Let’s just go.” Also, not really choosing.
But I decided instead to actively “go with” what I was experiencing. I took two minutes alone to express full out all the stuff clogging up my mind. I used as much of my body as I could to let loose. I blurted, “It’s your fault I’m confused (about what I want)!”
I’m not sure who I was referring to when I said this, but the words reverberated through me like a gong. Hmmm, that’s interesting. I’m blaming someone else for my confusion and fear. In this case, I’m blaming my partner and son.
All of a sudden I felt clear and curious. I sensed an effervescent energy moving up through my body. My choices are my own. I don’t require any explanation once I’m willing to take responsibility for them and my feelings about them. I cannot declare, “No, I don’t want to go” while simultaneously blaming someone else for the way I feel about my no. Well, I can, but it creates resistance and dissonance.
Exciting! I had unstuck myself by saying YES to how I felt! I had allowed myself to play with expressing, gotten out of the fear loop in my brain and felt a new sense of presence. Now I’ll be clear about what I want to do, right?
Whaaat?! I asked myself again if I wanted to go to the fair and I didn’t know. WTF.
I chose to own my confusion. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And in that moment I decided to pull out one of the most important improv moves I know.
Be inspired by your connection with your partner.
I took my confused – and willing to connect – self to my partner and son and asked for a family hug. That’s it. I asked to connect without having to know what I wanted to do next – without making up stories about what any of us would say or do.
After that, I didn’t need to “do” anything. My partner suggested we let my son decide where we would go, and then he tossed the idea of going to Seattle Center International Fountain. I immediately felt a big YES inside me. And off we went to play all day.
I love to teach a game called Sound Ball in my improv classes. It’s a simple game where players toss sounds to each other around the circle. It can be easy to get caught up in making up sounds: a new sound, an interesting sound, a funny sound, a really good sound. Even in this simple game with no stakes, we tend to go up in our heads to make the “right” sound. Every time someone goes searching in their head to find the “right” sound, they lose connection with themselves and the other players. The flow of the game is interrupted, no matter how briefly, to disconnect from the whole – which is in the space between the players. When we make eye contact while playing this game, we keep our focus in the space and allow our sound to emerge from the connection between us. When we come into the relationship not knowing, instead of with preconceived ideas, we allow the connection to inspire the next move, the AND. That’s improv. That’s play.
If you’re interested in learning more about how improv practices can help us be present, connect and play, play, play – check out my upcoming classes:
Improvising with Life Lab: 4 Sunday evenings, once a month. 6:30-8:30pm. Register individually or sign up for all four for a discount! Explore the juicy intersection between improv and conscious living.
Free Improv class: 3rd Mondays of the month through December. 7:00-8:45pm. We’ll learn skills that will help us be present and connect with each other while playing out hilarious games and scenes.