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How to “Yes, And”… Yourself!

Play your way to self-acceptance, clarity and creativity with 5 whole-body, improv-inspired exercises.

Have you ever wondered how you could have fun accepting whatever is going on inside of you? How you could play with any feeling, any issue, or sensation? What might be possible if you said, “yes, and” to what’s happening within you?

Anything. Literally anything is possible. Because when you improvise with what is – transformation happens. It doesn’t matter if you’re on stage “yes, and”ing your scene partner, or in your room, “yes, and”ing your feeling. I’m going to walk you through five playful ways you can apply the “yes, and” magic to any inner experience.

If you’re not familiar with what it means to “yes, and”, it’s one of those things that’s simple to explain, but not always easy to do. You acknowledge and accept, “yes, this is what’s happening”. Then, the “and” is something that you add to what’s happening as a direct response to that acceptance.

Time to get real: resisting your inner experience is the quickest way to NOWHERE. Avoiding a feeling, dismissing a sensation, or pushing against an issue only gets you more of the same. You get to stay stuck. Like the pain of watching two improvisers ignore each other’s offers on stage – the pain of you resisting your experience is more than cringe-worthy; it’s stressful and can cause long-term harmful effects.

Join our “YES, AND”… YOURSELF Playgroup! Transform your experience from being stuck to creating new choices. Thursdays, April 29 – May 27, 2021.

But here’s the thing I really want you to get. Accepting your feelings, sensations, thoughts and stories doesn’t have to be serious business. It doesn’t have to be WORK. In fact, if you’re used to “working on yourself”, and you’re hell-bent on that model of transformation, this article isn’t for you. “Working on yourself” often comes with a filter of self-criticism or self-blame. Basically, you’re saying that you’re broken and need to be fixed. You’re making yourself wrong for having your experience (psst, that’s the definition of resistance). Play is the new work. You learn faster, you’re more creative and you get a dose of happy chemicals that keep you coming back for more. Potent ingredients for changing your life. Unlike the work model, play provides sustainable fuel for transformation.

Improvisers have been playing with “yes, and” and experiencing the magic of transformation on stage for decades. However, it’s not just “magic”. Research in the last decade has shown the positive impacts of improv on the brain, specifically the concept of “yes, and”. An article by Clay Drinko, Ph.D. in Psychology Today quotes one of the most recent studies focusing on the effects of “Yes, And”:

Improv’s rule of Yes, and is the access point to the brain as it creates the safety, attunement, and flexibility needed to achieve these neurobiological changes. Whether one’s trauma has created a state of hyperarousal or hypoarousal, the conditions created by Yes, and drives the nervous system to self-organize towards integration and balance, thus shifting the individual from the mental state they are in to one better able to function cognitively, physically, behaviorally, and psychologically.

Mary DeMichele, in “Short-Form, Comedy Improv Affects the Functional Connectivity in the Brain of Adolescents with Complex Developmental Trauma as Measured by qEEG: A Single Group Pilot Study

So if “yes, and” creates a context of safety for neurobiological changes, then it’s the perfect stage for shifting from being stuck to making new choices. But we’re not going to just go through some mental “yes, and” exercises. I’m talking whole-body, get-out-of-your-head, transformational PLAY. That’s that kind of improv I love and that’s the kind of improv I’m going to show you how to do… with yourself.

We’re going to combine two powerful catalysts for transformation: improvisational play and whole-body involvement.

In my 12 years of studying personal transformation, coaching and leading my own groups, I have not learned a quicker, more enjoyable way to transform my experience than whole-body play.

Engage your whole body in creative expression. Join our “YES, AND”… YOURSELF Playgroup! April 29 – May 27, 2021.

The following five exercises – hold up, that sounds like work! How about we call them play moves – like moves you make in a game? These five moves invite you to embody “yes, and”. So there’s no half-assing it. You’re either in the game or you’re not. But hey, I’m not that tough of a coach – you get to choose what you’re willing to play with. I’m letting you know that once you start your move, only kinda “yes, and”ing is still going to take you nowhere. As in most things, commitment is essential. Are you willing to commit to playing full out?

Let’s begin.

1. Exploring and Heightening

Explore and heighten is a move as old as time, which is why I’m completely astounded that more people don’t do it. You notice what you’re doing (explore) and then do that more (heighten). Like all of these moves, I learned how to explore and heighten in both my improv classes and my transformational seminars.

To explore and heighten start talking or thinking about an issue or something you wish to shift in your life. Then notice what your body does in response. Look for repetition in any of the following areas:

  • Movements – especially in our eyes, extremities (hands, feet) and position of the head
  • Verbal shifts – tone, word repetition, word or syllable emphasis, paraverbal communication (like sighing).
  • Attitude – overall posture, voice, tone and speech patterns
  • Breathing – holding our breath, irregular breathing
  • Posture – leaning left, right, front, back, etc.
  • Sensation – tightness, spaciness, heaviness, etc.

Start by only heightening one thing at a time. Heightening is an art that takes some practice to master – start small. As you heighten, notice if you’re willing to go all the way while also being friendly to your body. I like to ask myself, “Am I having fun yet?” as a barometer for whether I’m taking myself too seriously with this move. If I’m not having fun, then I add, “Hmmm… I wonder… how could I have fun with this?”

Example

My fear about my upcoming launch kept building within me. I had 15 things left on my to do list and time was ticking down. And still, I kept cleaning, aka, procrastinating. Does anyone else’s house get really clean all of the sudden when a deadline is about hit? The worst part was that my mind was on my launch, but I was cleaning. I felt disconnected, worried and irritated.

Trying not to change anything about my thoughts or feelings, I shifted my attention to exploring what my body was doing: Lots of straightening up things around me and my clothes, holding my breath and then sighing it out, and rubbing my eyes and forehead with my hands. I chose to heighten the rubbing my eyes and forehead with my hands. I did that more – gradually amplifying that move. Soon my hands were rubbing all over my head, but then I noticed that my head was actually trying to push through my hands. My head was trying to get through the resistance my hands were creating. And a clear thought popped in, “I’m trying to get through this head first.”

Of course I am. Because that’s how we do it our head-centric, big-brained world. Head-first is also how I came into the world so it makes sense I would choose this way of birthing my own project into the world. With this insight, I felt a sense of “ah, I get it”, a sense of clarity. That’s what I’m doing. I also felt a desire to play with this pattern more. I share how I played with it under our next play move, “Experimenting with New Choice”.

2. Experimenting with New Choice

New Choice is a game where you try on new ways of doing or saying something in order to shift your experience and shake up the scene. In improv, New Choice is often played where whenever someone shouts “new choice!”, the last thing that was said is “erased” and something new is said. But new choices can be literally anything, not just changing the words that were said. It can be a new physical posture, a new tone of voice, a new movement, or a whole new character.

I love to play this game when I notice I’m stuck in a repeating behavior pattern or telling the same story over and over again. I particularly love changing the context, rather than the content. The content is what we say, it’s the story. The context is everything else: our body language, tone, inflection, rhythm, timing, quality of sound and movement. It’s what makes up the majority of our communication. Most of us try to change the story without changing the context. It’s why you can think you’re telling a new story about your life, but all your friends are like, “oh yeah, here we go again.” New choice is a way to say yes to your story and change something about how you’re telling it.

Example

Remember how I heightened rubbing my face with my hands and discovered that I was trying to “get through it head first?” Immediately, I thought, “how much fun could I have getting through with other parts of my body leading the way?” Experimenting with new choice, I used my doorway as a symbol for “going through it”. I started with my head. Ploughing through the doorway head-first. When I got to the other side, my attention was critical and focused on what was wrong in the room. I played with dancing butt first, sliding hand first, crab-crawling feet first, and wriggling shoulder first. Now I was having WAY more fun. I chose the most fun move, dancing butt first, and noticed that my attention was on the spaciousness of the room I was leaving. I decided to apply this to my to do list. I looked at what I had completed so far and appreciated myself for all that before moving on to what was next. In this way, I interrupted that typical pattern of ploughing ahead (ha! get it? A head!) by pausing to turn around and celebrate all that I’ve completed.

3. Whole-body Expressing

Ah, the joy of expressing with your whole body… and no, you don’t have to be an interpretive dancer to do this. Anyone can use their whole body to express their inner experience. We’re just so used to only using our pie-holes (aka, our mouths) because that’s what we were told was “appropriate”. “Use your words, Susie”. Well, I’m here to tell you NOT to use your words. When you first start expressing with your whole body, I want you to drop the words and only use sound and movement. For two reasons: 1) words can keep you stuck in your head and get in the way of fully expressing 2) some experiences simply can’t be communicated with words – it’s not because you’re inarticulate.

Example

I once came home from a seminar and was so excited about what I had experienced. I wanted to share it with my partner, but in the past when I’d tried to, I wasn’t satisfied with my communication and it never felt like it really landed with him. So this time, instead of using words, I expressed with my whole body through sound and movement (I’d just learned this in my seminar). For the first time, I was able to fully express my experience of a transformational seminar and felt totally satisfied. Meanwhile, he let me know that he felt like he “got it” better than ever before.

Whole-body expressing is used quite frequently in improv through gibberish games and silent scenes. The mother of improv, Viola Spolin, called it whole-body involvement and was the creator of gibberish games. She designed these games to give improvisers the experience of direct communication – communicating without adding any analysis. I want you to let your body communicate directly with you. Let your experience LAND.

4. Interviewing a Persona

Persona means mask or character played by an actor. Theater actors used to have to wear special masks to help them project their voices (per – through and sona – sound). So they wore masks that represented the characters they were playing. Later persona also became known as the mask or character that we show the world, rather than our true self. I like the definition by Drs. Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks: A persona is a role we learned when we were young to get positive attention or avoid pain as distinguish from our true self.

Your personas are going to show up from time to time. We all needed to get attention or wanted to avoid pain at some point in our lives. So why not “yes, and” them and see where you go together? (Spoiler alert: “Yes, and”ing your persona leads you straight back to your true self.)

My favorite way to play with my personas is to interview them. And again, I love Drs. Gay and Kathlyn Hendricks’ persona interview process. This process has been tested and refined over decades of coaching.

Example

This example is really vulnerable for me to share. And I want to share it and show how you can use these moves to deeply listen and be with yourself.

I’ve been struggling with feelings about my cat’s health since she was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. I was able to get her on medicine and she got much better. However, in the last couple of months she started to get sicker again. Every time I say I’m going to take her in to the vet to get her checked out again, I create some sort of excuse and don’t do it. I keep giving her the medicine and hoping she just gets better.

In order to discover which persona is running this repeating script, I began expressing all of the reasons why I haven’t taken her back to vet and used whole-body expressing to really get into it. I asked my persona what it wanted to be called and got “Bad Pet Mom”. Then I went through the following questions:

Bad Pet Mom, what’s the most important thing to you?

To just keep trying.

Bad Pet Mom, what are you most proud of?

Nothing. I’m really bad no matter how hard I try.

Bad Pet Mom, when did you make your first appearance?

When I was about 10 years old and babysitting a friend’s hamster and it suddenly died.

Bad Pet Mom, who did you learn your style from?

Maybe my dad.

Bad Pet Mom, what are you most afraid of?

Not doing enough and being responsible for my pet dying.

Bad Pet Mom, what do you most want?

I most want support with this. I want friendly encouragement to face my feelings and take action.

I had a lot of feelings come up with this exercise, most of which were tied up in my old story about being a Bad Pet Mom. By tied up I mean, I wasn’t able to fully feel all of my feelings about my cat being sick because I was stuck recycling this scary, guilty story from my childhood. When I finished, I stepped out of that persona and back into my whole self and let myself feel my feelings. Having created some space around this issue, I decided to ask my partner and a friend to help me with this so I take care of my kitty the way I really want to.

Here’s a blog I wrote which includes a video of a persona interview. Personas often mask unfelt feelings, deep desires and unexpressed communications. Playing with your personas gives them the friendly attention they desire, dissolving their need to replay their script over and over and freeing you up to make new choices.

5. Playing with Space

Playing with space is probably the trickiest of all the moves because it’s so far out of the imaginary box. Like object work in improv, you interact with space like there’s something there that isn’t. In this case, you play with your experience like it’s a real thing in space.

Say, what now?

Here’s the thing, your issue or feeling is taking up space inside you already in the form of thoughts and sensations, why not put them in the space around you? As you act out how you’ve been engaging with your issue, you’ll gain a different perspective.

Example

I’ve struggled with balancing running my business and homeschooling my son. When I thought about this issue, I immediately felt stressed and scared. After noticing my inner experience for a moment, I asked myself, “hmmm… I wonder… what am I trying to control that’s beyond my control?” I asked myself that question a few times, taking a couple connected breaths between each. 

The answer: My son’s happiness. I imagined putting his happiness in my hands. It looked like a very fragile, small white egg. I kept it very close to my chest, cradling it. Every time I tried to put it down, I felt like I couldn’t. It was too fragile to be left alone. I thought it would fall and break. So I held onto it protectively and anxiously. As a result, I couldn’t do anything else (including take care of myself or my business), because all my attention was on it. It also couldn’t grow, change or do much of anything. 

After a couple of minutes, I was willing to let go of trying to control his happiness. I opened my hands and the egg transformed into a small bird and flew about the room. My breathing became easier. I felt lighter. And, I was ready and willing to give my attention to what I needed and what I could actually control.

From Here To Space To Somewhere New

In each of these moves, I’ve shown you how you be with what’s present – what you’re experiencing in the moment. When you start by playing with what’s here now, you create space for what’s next. In my experience, if I try to add something new without creating space, I just layer on a bunch of conflicting thoughts and feelings. I’m not a fake-it-til-you-make-it type of person. Ugh, I’m cringing just writing that line.

Remember the difference between content and context? We often “fake it” by making up a new story while clinging to the context from our old story. I hate to break it to you, but anyone with the slightest bullshit meter can detect that you’re trying to overwrite your feelings. Including the most important person of all… you.

I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to push through your fear, cover over your sadness or dampen your excitement to have fun and get stuff done. “Yes, and”ing yourself can lead to easy self-acceptance and the clarity to know what you really want. The creativity and fun that playing with “yes, and” generates will give you the resourcefulness and energy you need to create what you most desire for yourself.

All of these moves encourage you to say YES to what’s really going on within you AND they invite you to weave in a simple, transformational play move. That’s how you Yes, And… Yourself!

If you want help applying these moves to your experience, I invite you to join my “Yes, And”… Yourself Playgroup. We’ll meet for 5 Thursdays in a row beginning April 29th and ending on May 27th. Each meeting, we’ll play games and do activities that promote presence, spark connection and fuel play. We’ll specifically be focusing in on these 5 play moves outlined here. When first beginning to practice these moves, it can be very helpful to have supportive listening partners. Sign up today and let’s practice “yes, and”ing ourselves together!

Writing A New Christmas Story

We all have our stories, our beliefs. This is the season of believing, is it not?

Unfortunately, if you’re like me, this time of the year might reveal some of those not-so-nice beliefs. And that’s not surprising given that many of our entrenched stories began within our family of origin when we were young.

My New Christmas Story begins like most stories, with the status quo. Every Christmas: I have to choose between what I want and connecting with my family.

My coaching colleague, Kristina Turner, and I jumped at the chance to explore this story as an opportunity to play while discovering something new. Continue on to read chapter by chapter as I write a new Christmas story or you can watch the whole transformational play session straight through on YouTube.

Kristina begins by asking me to state the facts, just the facts. Even with years of practice, I am still sometimes challenged by this task.

Chapter 1: The Facts

Then she asks me to bodify what was niggling me. Bodify was made up by Dr. Kathlyn Hendricks and it means to express anything with your whole body using movement, gestures and sounds. Niggling means to cause slight but persistent annoyance, discomfort, or anxiety. We love bodifying our niggles because it allows us to quickly and playfully get to the source of old stories without the struggle of trying to figure it all out with just our brains.

Chapter 2: What’s Niggling?

Here’s where the old stories emerge, beginning with a classic, Why do I have to choose between what I want and connecting with my family?

Chapter 3: Three Ghosts of Christmas Past

You can see in the above clip that I sound very young. How old would you say I sound? About 5 years? It’s no wonder then that 5 year old me launches into a REALLY familiar old story… “I don’t know what I want.”

And I don’t stop there. It seems I’m like Benjamin Button, getting younger and younger. 2 year old me asks, “What about me? Why doesn’t anyone want to come to me?”

Kristina then asks me the money questions: “What’s your new story?” But I answer from my pouting 2 year old’s perspective.

Why don’t I just shift into a new perspective?

Because I haven’t changed anything about my body. And in the words of body intelligence genius, Kathlyn Hendricks:

The quickest way to change your mind, is to change your body.

Kathlyn Hendricks, Ph. D., BC-DMT

Bit by bit, body part by body part, Kristina coaches me into new movement choices. New choices that spark my aliveness and tickle my funny bone.

Chapter 4: Move It

NOW I’m ready to discover my new story…

Chapter 5: Back It Up

As I back up (beep beep), I discover that my new story is waking up on Christmas and dancing my way to what I really want to do. As a final step, Kristina invites me to take one creative action to move toward my new story.

Chapter 6: A Letter to Santa FutureMe

In 10 minutes of transformational play with Kristina, I shifted out of an old story that wasn’t getting me what I wanted and took action toward a new story. We said YES to what I was experiencing in the moment and then added incremental ANDs, like those small movements. This is an example of how Kristina and I improvise and play our way to new choices.

If you desire a playful field where you can come as you are and received focused attention from Kristina and me, we invite you to join our group coaching adventure, New Choice! We’ll meet weekly beginning Wednesday, January 13th 3:30-5:00 pm Pacific. Registration begins January 1st. Be sure to join my mailing list below or Facebook group to get a reminder to sign up!

Prissy: Interview with a Persona

Does it sometimes feel like someone else is acting and speaking for you?

Like you’re sitting backstage and they’re the one in the spotlight whether you want them to be or not?

I know how you feel. I’d like you to meet one of my inner characters: Prissy.

Prissy is very particular about how she’s spoken to and approached. No one will get past her who’s behavior hasn’t passed her “Appropriate Test”. She decided to show up and take the stage a couple of nights ago when she deemed something said by my partner as crass, vulgar and totally inappropriately timed!

Prissy is one of my many personas. Personas are roles that people learn to get positive attention and avoid pain. They are like clothes we learned to put on when we were growing up to get our needs met and they cover up our true self or essence. You can meet some of my other persona characters in this blog post.

Personas also cover up feelings and/or genuine desires. They see the world through an either/or filter, greatly limiting what’s possible. A friend of mine interviewed Prissy for me using a tranformational set of interview questions created by Dr. Kathlyn Hendricks. We found out that what she really wants is to be seen and approached as Holy. But instead of communicating what I really wanted, I criticized, judged and created disconnection. As soon as I let Prissy take over, there was no hope to be received as Holy, because as you can see in the interview below, she is definitely not embodying Holy! She’s uptight and judgmental. What I appreciate about her is that she’s a protector and she’s very clear about what she doesn’t want.

But I can’t get what I want by focusing only on pushing away what I don’t want. At the end of the interview when I started to feel into what I really wanted, I actually had a felt sense of “Holy Sexy”. Which was rather funny, because what my partner said to me was sexual. When I move in this Holy Sexy way, I am in touch with my essence. So if Prissy attracts vulgar comments, I wonder what Holy Sexy attracts?

The first step to discovering when a persona is running your behavior is to MAGNIFY your mannerisms and get curious. Join our private Facebook community to learn more about and practice playful, tranformational moves like magnifying and persona interviews. On Saturday, Dec 5th at 10 AM PST, I’ll be LIVE and diving into The Magnification Move. You can watch through our Facebook group and afterward I’ll share a Zoom link so we can all play together.

And feel free to invite any friends to the group who you think would be interested!

A Play Compass for These Serious Times

Personal transformation thrives in the presence of both STRUCTURE and FLOW, GUIDANCE and IMPROVISATION, INTEGRITY and CREATIVITY.

We created this Conscious Living Play Compass to have fun navigating and practicing play moves inspired by the abundant life work of Drs. Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks. Kathlyn and Gay have been on the leading edge of body-centered consciousness exploration for the last 30 years.

1) Four wonder questions set up the playing field. 

Am I willing to discover something new today?
Hmmm…what kind of attention do I want?
Who do I want to play with to transform my issue?
What agreements support each of us to play?

2) We start playing in the Center of the Compass with presencing skills that create openings within and between us such as breathing, wondering, listening and loop of awareness. The gift of presence welcomes our experience. 

3) As our aliveness gets flowing, we move to the Middle Ring of activities. Whole-body play moves connect us to what’s emerging. We magnify, bodify, do Fear melters™ and match our inner experience. The gift of playful connection befriends our experience. Often this is enough.

4) When we’re ready to move beyond our old stories, create new stories and take inspired action steps, we move to the Outer Ring. We investigate our felt experience and weave it into the bigger picture of what we really want – all while engaging in full-on play. With the Results Transformer, Essence Play, F.A.C.T. and Upper Limits and Willingness, we experience ourselves as players in LIFE. The gift of deep play inspires us to transform the game.

The gift of presence welcomes our experience.

The gift of playful connection befriends our experience.

The gift of deep play inspires us to transform the game.

Dhira Brown & Kristina Turner

If you feel a little lost or like you’re going the wrong way in life, we invite you to explore the next 7 weeks in Circle with our Play Compass. Check out our webpage for more information and to sign up. Last day to sign up is this Monday, September 28th.

Conscious Living Transformation Circle – Fall Session
7 Wednesdays, September 30 – November 11, 2020
3:00 – 4:45 PM Pacific Time on Zoom

By Dhira Brown and Kristina Turner
Co-Facilitators of the Conscious Living Transformation Circle

Outwit Zoom Fatigue with 2 Fun Moves

My partner in play and transformation, Kristina Turner, and I made a 6 minute video on how you can transform your online experience from draining to enlivening. Check it out!

I often wondered what people were talking about when they said, “Zoom fatigue.” And then I read more about it. Primarily it has to with two things: 1) It’s more difficult to process body language and facial cues when we can’t experience someone’s full body and when there is a slight delay (lag) and 2) We think there’s a right way to show that we’re paying attention and looks like sitting still and staring.

In an article on IDEAS.TED.COM: “Our feelings and attitudes are largely conveyed by nonverbal signals such as facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, gestures, posture and the distance between the communicators. In a face-to-face meeting, we process these cues largely automatically and we can still listen to the speaker at the same time. But on a video chat, we need to work harder to process nonverbal cues. Paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy.”

I thought, “Oh, that’s why I’m not experiencing Zoom fatigue all that much. When I’m online, I’m in situations where I’m encouraged to utilize my whole body to express fully, which we call bodifying. Bodifying invites me to shake up my online movements while making it easier for other people to read my body language. I create online spaces that welcome moving freely and experimenting with how we engage with others. So I feel reinvigorated after a period online connecting and playful expression.

Kristina and I invite you to join us in THIS kind of online experience. Together we created the Conscious Living Transformation Circle to give people who love authentic connecting a friendly place to make playful and profound changes in their lives. If you are looking for reliable, weekly support to love yourself and presence, connect and play with others, amid the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism, now is the time to join. Our next session begins September 30th and goes for seven weeks (until Nov 11). You can choose between three investment options. Visit our webpage to learn more and to sign up.

Who’s Masking Your Feelings?

I woke up this morning with a depressed feeling. Not depressed in the clinical sense of the word, but a steady pressure on my chest with tension around my throat and tears behind my eyes. Maybe the word is suppressed or pressurized. I’ve come to know this feeling as grief. It’s my deep sadness about losing something. This morning I felt sad about losing the way in which I used to engage with people pre-Covid pandemic.

Immediately, my personas swooped in to rescue me from my grief. I hadn’t even made it out of bed yet.

A persona is a repetitive strategy we (often) learned when we were young to get our needs met and mask uncomfortable feelings. Usually these strategies aren’t very effective in our adulthood and they certainly aren’t satisfying, but we keep employing them because they’re familiar and we’re scared or don’t know how else to get our needs met.

First, let me introduce Indecisive Doer. The part of me who tries desperately to find something productive to do, but is both indecisive about what to do and unsatisfied by anything she chooses. Her inner monologue goes something like this: What should I do today? The day is young, I can’t waste it on this feeling. I had big plans for today! What do I want to do? I don’t know. I should know. Ok, I’ll take a shower and then figure it out. Maybe I should meditate first. But I want to drink my tea. I have to do all that before my son gets up or I’ll never get any time to myself. I just need to figure out the right order in which to do all the things and then I can start!

All that annoying indecision led me to half-heartedly turn toward my sad feeling. Clearly, I wasn’t getting anywhere with Indecisiver Doer so I guess I’ll have to do something with this feeling. “Oh, no, no, I don’t think so!” says Perfectly Processed as she dives in for the save. Perfectly Processed loves to use all of the consciousness tools I know to get rid of my uncomfortable feelings. She’s sneaky because practicing the ways that I learned to love myself, create ease in my day and be with feelings makes perfect sense. However, her motivation is what keeps me from actually being with what I’m experiencing. Like Indecisive Doer, she’s rooted in the belief that what I’m experiencing right now is not what I should be experiencing. The idea that maybe I’ll just be sad for the whole day sounds perfectly preposterous. Her inner monologue goes like this: You just need to get these feelings out, honey. That’s all there is to it! I’ll help you find just the RIGHT process and we’ll get through this together, I promise! Trust me, I know SO MANY ways to move through this stuff. Something’s gotta work, right?

I unconsciously created these personas, or strategies, to save me from my grief (and other feelings as well). They were born out of the fear that I’m having the wrong experience. Even with all the practice I’ve had accepting and allowing my feelings, I just now had the thought, what if I could allow this feeling for as long as it wanted to be here? Without trying to fix it? REALLY? Feel depressed for what… hours? The whole day? A week?

That thought freezes me in fear. My fear revolves around not knowing how long I’ll be grieving. And yet, I can feel my curiosity growing. Hmmm… I wonder how I can be with my grief now? And now? And now? Then there’s an opening. I intuitively get an image of carrying something around with me today to symbolically acknowledge my deep sadness. I can take it along with me, periodically check in on it and give it love and attention. Hmmm… perhaps I can be with my feeling and also go about my day. How could this be as simple as saying “Today is Saturday and I feel sad.”?

I’m now sitting here with a stuffed seal on my chest. Yes, I’m petting it and allowing my imagination to imbue it with my sadness. Being with my grief like it’s a dear friend… or a baby seal.

In Yoga Nidra meditation there is a practice (settle down now, Perfectly Processed) of alternating between being the witness of a sensation/feeling (separate awareness) and knowing we are the sensation/feeling (oneness). Consider this: How could something you’re sensing be separate from you when the act of sensing is part of you? Richard Miller explains in detail:

We mistakenly assume a sensory impression is a phenomenon separate from ourselves. The fact is sensory impressions are not separate from the mind that perceives them. At the moment of perception, there is only perceiving and the idea of being a separate perceiver arises only as a mental formation after the fact. In the actual moment of perceiving there is only perceiving. When we refuse a sensory impression, such as the sound of the ticking clock, we are in a manner of speaking, refusing ourselves because ultimately we are made of the same substance of the impression that is being perceived. Trying to block a perception is a movement born in conflict. We are trying to get rid of something that is ultimately our own self.

– Richard Miller, Founding President of Integrative Restoration, a form of Yoga Nidra

You can try it right now with a sound. Focus on the sound as coming from outside you. Now focus on your sense of hearing. Your sense of hearing is part of you. You are the sensing of the sound. Drop into that part of you that feels the sound. Alternate between witnessing the sound as separate from you and experiencing the sound as part of you.

Sometimes imagining a feeling like a friend or something else you love, something outside yourself, can be a gateway to befriending that feeling. If your friend or pet was grieving, you could support them by being with them while they are grieving. Imagine sitting on a porch swing with your feeling, your arm around it like it’s a close friend. Beam a sense of comforting attention and love toward your feeling-friend. Now switch to noticing your body sensations associated with that feeling. In my case, it was a heavy feeling on my chest, tension around my throat, and teariness behind my eyes. I say “was” because I just did this exercise and the heavy feeling spread out and dissipated. The tension on my throat is there, and now I can also sense a cool effervescent sensation in the back of my throat. My eyes see more clearly and take in my surroundings actively instead of passively behind a curtain of tears.

Alternate between being with your feeling like you would a close friend and dropping into the sensations in your body. See if at any point you carry your loving attention over from the former experience to the latter. Follow any impulses that arise in you, like moving, making sounds or grabbing your own stuffie.

It occurs to me that I began opening up to this feeling yesterday during a session with my playmate and co-creator, Kristina Turner. We were playing with complaining about all the things we couldn’t do during this Covid pandemic. Yes, I said playing with complaining. We discovered our complainer personas and interviewed them to discover what they most wanted. I believe allowing myself to play in this way opened the gateway for me to feel my deep inner sadness. I realize that I had been avoiding complaining and feeling for many weeks.

I first learned how to befriend uncomfortable feelings in my Conscious Leadership and Transformation program with Kathlyn Hendricks. Both graduates of this two-year immersive program, Kristina and I currently co-facilitate an ensemble of dynamic explorers who love to play through transformation. Our Conscious Living Transformation Circle is open to new participants right now. There’s more information on Kristina’s website.

Our only requirement for joining Circle is that you are familiar with the teachings and principles of Kathlyn and Gay Hendricks. You can find more resources about their work at the Foundation For Conscious Living. This free online series of five 1-hour classes is a fantastic introduction.

If you want to read more about playing with personas, check out this blog I wrote, Play As A Way To Dissolve Self-Criticism. The most effective way for me to bring awareness to the personas trying to run my life is for me to play them out loud like I did here. Once I give them the stage for a while they reveal the feelings that I’m ready to befriend and be with.

What’s True About This?

I MISS YOU!!

I was scrolling through my Instagram and saw some of your gorgeous, silly faces and felt a deep sadness and pull to express. I miss you! We were just getting going – growing a cool group of improvisers and big-time players who were quickly connecting as a unique community. BOO-HOO!

Yes, I feel sad.

And… here we are… well, here I am… are you there? haha… check out this funny parody of Hello by Adele.

I just completed a Zoom intensive by the knowledgeable and generous, Spark Interactive. Also, I’ve been using a free Zoom account for a while so I feel like I have a good enough grasp on Zoom to make an online improv class happen. 

And yet, I’ve been resisting taking my improv classes online. “Lots of people do it” I hear in my head… “YES, BUT… all the physical and nuanced interactions of being in person are lost!” Boo! 

Is that true? 

That question inspired me just now to do the following exercise that you might find helpful in these turbulent times.

1. Think of an issue, current event, potential… anything you want to explore.

2. Ask yourself, “What’s true about this?”

3. Answer. Say the first thing that comes to you in one or two out breaths. Think of this as an improv scene with yourself and don’t go on and on. It’s not a monologue. You’ll have another opportunity soon.

4. Ask yourself, “Could that possibly be argued with?”

5. Answer, Yes or No.

6. Pause for a breath and/or say Thank You to yourself.

7. Start back at #2, but this time ask, “What ELSE is true about this?”

8. Repeat steps 2-6 for several minutes until you feel complete.

My example:

1. Leading improv online.

2. “What’s true about this?”

3. The physicality and nuanced communication is lost over the interweb and that’s what I’m good at!

4. “Could that possibly be argued with?”

5. Yes

6. Full breath.

Round 2

2. “What ELSE is true about this?”

3. I don’t WANNA do another Zoom call, OMG.

4. “Could that possibly be argued with?”

5. Yes

6. Thank you

Round 3

2. “What ELSE is true about this?”

3. I don’t know what I’m doing.

4. “Could that possibly be argued with?”

5. Yes

6. Thank you

Round 4

2. “What ELSE is true about this?”

3. I’m scared.

4. “Could that possibly be argued with?”

5. No

6. Thank you

And so on. Notice where you go to “find the answer”. Do you go to your head? Do you feel it in your heart or somewhere else in your body? Do you look outside yourself? Simply notice and then move on.

Some suggestions: If you have a partner, friend, family member who would support you, you can ask them to ask you the questions, but I highly suggest you/they follow the script. If you notice you’re analyzing too much about true or not true, just blurt something and move on. I did this while moving about my room and I suggest you get up and move about as well while you do it. I also recommend saying the questions out loud if you’re doing this by yourself.

This exercise helped me get into alignment with what I was thinking and feeling because I gave space to both. Landing on something that felt so true in my body that it couldn’t possibly be argued with was a major, freakin’ relief. I learned this from my mentor, Katie Hendricks, about three years ago and I come back to it again and again. You can check out their other centering resources over at the Foundation For Conscious Living.

Now I’m easily choosing to lead a Free ONLINE Improv Drop-In on April 20th at 7:00 pm PST. This is the usual day and time we have a monthly improv drop-in class. I love that acknowledging my experience helps me choose even while I still don’t know exactly what we’ll do! My intention will be as it always is… to practice presence, connection and play!

Last class I improvised an imaginary bumper sticker that goes… “Play It Out Improv – the quickest way to go from crappy to happy!” So… here… we… go!

I hope to play at a distance with you soon!

Playfully,

Dhira

Creating Space

We need space to improvise. Improvising becomes exponentially more difficult if the space is filled with thinking, planning or talking. Mostly these occur because we are scared of space. Many of us fear silence, the unknown and simply being. It’s challenging for us to believe that our presence is enough for the audience or that we can be in relationship with our scene partner without saying anything.

Like dancing, music or writing, without space, without the pauses, there is no dance, no song, no story. Improv in particular thrives in space because if we fill up the space with thinking and planning, nothing new or original can occur. I would a say that as improvisers, it is our job to cultivate space and then harvest what grows there. What’s so magical about improv is that the more we improvise, the more space we create.

If you’re like me, you probably have a lot going on in your life. I’m very fortunate to have a home, partner, a kid and pets. I homeschool my son, I take improv and acting classes, I perform, I teach classes, I play volleyball and I volunteer at our local park. I’m very grateful that I get to do all these things I enjoy. And I can make myself VERY BUSY. This fall, my schedule was packed. I was running around all over the place to do as many of these things as I could fit into my calendar. One thing to the next. This schedule was of my own making, so it seemed ridiculous to complain and stress about it. Nonetheless, there I was, unsatisfied with my full schedule of amazing things I loved to do.

I began to get curious about my scheduling. I joked that I need to fire my Scheduler and I did, but she quickly snuck back into her job. I wanted to free up space in my schedule, but I kept unconsciously filling it up. I wondered what my unconscious motivation was? First, I want to be good at these things that I do. In particular, I want to master improv and I know that it takes lots practice to master anything. Second, I don’t want to have to choose. Somewhere along the way I decided that to be the best at something, I would have to give up everything else and focus solely on that one thing. When I was 12 I gave up dance to play softball and missed dance terribly. After 10 years of playing both softball and volleyball I finally gave up softball my junior year in college, but not to focus on volleyball, but to pursue a study abroad in marine biology. I always felt behind and second best to those who devoted their time year-round to playing just one sport. Even now, as peers from my improv classes audition for shows and take every opportunity they can to perform, I feel like I’m falling behind. But I HATE having to choose between things that I love and I love doing a variety of things.

I’ve created a mental story that keeps me from getting what I want. Choose to focus on one thing and become a master, but give up the variety and other things I love OR choose the variety and all that I love and fall behind my peers and maybe never become a master at anything. The epitome of between a rock and a hard place. The legendary “either-or” situation. Black or white. I’ve consistently chosen the latter and accepted that bitter taste of slight dissatisfaction. I’ve played this story out many times over the last few decades, so now I’m asking, what else is possible?

I’ve been looking at my time as blocks in my calendar. I see it as rigid and unrelenting. Time is a tool to be used, squeezed, manipulated, controlled and beaten into a schedule that gets me as much of what I want as possible. My schedule is a puzzle and time is an obstacle in my way of solving it. I can’t create a new story with time in this same old mindset.

Getting curious, I asked, hmmm… I wonder how I can improvise with time and my schedule in ways that are deeply satisfying? It seems impossible to create time, but I KNOW I can create space. As I create more space, my perception of time changes and become irrelevant. I do this by being in the moment and improvising. I have no idea what the answer to this questions is… that’s the point of wondering. An excellent wonder question creates a space where something unknown to me can emerge.

Shortly after I began wondering about this lots of spontaneously enjoyable things began to happen. A new friend and I found lots of time to hang out after months of trying to plan a get together. After months of trying to find a date to perform together, an improv peer and I spontaneously got to go on stage together. Things that I hadn’t even known I wanted started presenting themselves along with all the means and support to do them. You probably know what it’s like to have things spontaneously work out. Deeply satisfying.

My old story still lingers though. Stories tend to repeat – especially either-or, black or white stories – when I’m scared. Am I scared of space? I didn’t think so, but if I look at the result – my calendar – I see that I’m fleeing opportunities to create space. I tell myself that nothing happens in space, that I don’t get closer to what I want, to mastering improv. Interesting. I started this blog saying that we need space to improvise. This is a reminder that I can know something intellectually, but until I disrupt my old story and make space inside me for something new, I won’t actually embody it.

My new possibility is that part of my journey to mastering improv includes practicing creating space – anywhere in my life. I wonder how space catalyzes the mastery of anything we’re practicing?

What is your relationship with space and time? What stories do you tell yourself about them? I invite you to wonder and question any story that has a flavor of either-or, black or white, or “rock and a hard place”. Find what makes you feel spacious and practice that.

If you want to experience how improv can cultivate space in your life, check out my upcoming events on my homepage. We gather monthly to practice presence and connect through play in our free drop in class. Beginning in February we’ll use spacious wonder questions as inspiration for our Improvising With Life Lab monthly series. In the Lab, we ask big life questions and then play with them through improv exercises and mind-body centering practices. Register for all four Improvising With Life Labs by February 9th, 2020 and receive a discount, or drop into each individually.

Bad Players

Recently in our Improvising with Life Lab, we practiced a basic game of tossing a balloon with a partner. Using this basic tossing game, we embodied all the ways we avoid playing and “call off the game”. We gave ourselves permission to be bad playmates. We enjoyed tossing super-seriously, tossing with high expectations and not know how to toss. We noticed our mannerisms, thoughts and how our relationship with our partner changed when we tried on different ways to toss poorly and be bad playmates.

We made a list of what we discovered: all the obstacles we put in the way of play and reasons why we don’t play.

Word Art

Then I posed the questions: “Are you willing to create a new way of relating and playing? Are you willing to keep the game going–to keep playing? Are you willing to continue to discover and create new ways of playing the game?”

They responded with a unanimous, YES! We delighted ourselves with creating hide and seek games with the balloon, pretending it was a football, bouncing it off of body parts, and many more. We discussed how we felt while playing in this new way.

Play Moves

Simple enough, right? We just go from feeling scared to feeling connected? Shift from not knowing how to creating? Choose to participate when we just don’t wanna?

The magic ingredient is there, but let me illustrate with a recent example from my life. Thankfully, life always has a timely sense of humor and is willing to provide lots of experiential learning opportunities regarding anything that I’m exploring.

I homeschool my 8-year-old. He loves to build, play with his friends, create stories and draw. What he doesn’t like is to be told what to do. He also never lacks for energetic expression of how he feels about that which he loves and that which he despises.

I calmly stated that we were going to do math, because obviously, it was Math and Engineering Monday. I was feeling confident because we just finished playing a game together and I thought that we were connected and ready to practice some new math problems.

His resistance first came in the form of acting confused and vehemently exclaiming that he didn’t understand even before I had a chance to explain the problem. Two hours into this resistance I realized I was doing the “remain calm and stick to program” move sprinkled with sideways criticisms.  Then finally – complete meltdown. Me, not him. I felt frustrated that he was taking so long to do a task that I thought he could have finished simply and quickly if he focused. I was pissed that he said he “hated school” which I took as a complete lack of appreciation for all the creativity and effort I put into fun learning experiences for him. I began questioning my whole parenting and homeschooling capabilities. My mind dropped the stylus on the broken record that played, “Fuck it”, “I don’t care” and”Why does this have to be so hard?”. In my body, I felt a heavy weight on my chest and a pressing, blankness between my brows. My back felt as if I had a scary monster mouth across it, frozen open and ready to eat the next person who slighted me. I DID NOT WANT TO PLAY.

If I imagined our interaction as a game of toss the balloon, I saw myself try to force him to play with the balloon exactly how I wanted him to. I told him the rules, insisted that they were simple and good for him, and got frustrated when he wouldn’t play! Then when he tried to toss the balloon, I would criticize him for making up his own game that clearly didn’t work and only made it take longer. Meanwhile, I really just wanted him to play with the balloon on his own because I had other things that I wanted to do!

Obviously, this game was NOT working, but instead of recommitting to play and making up a new way of playing, I did the ultimate power move: I left. GAME OVER. I went upstairs and started doing laundry (cleaning is one of my go-to not going to play moves). At the time, stepping away felt like the best choice. I did not want to continue to criticize myself and him and I couldn’t find my way to play.

But I came back. Shortly, after sorting some laundry, I came back. I still felt icky. I didn’t go off and try to “fix” myself by myself (another move I’m familiar with). I came back grumpy and heavy, and WILLING. I was willing to play a different game. I invited him to do a mindful drawing exercise with me that we both really enjoy. He accepted, but right before we were going to begin, he discovered one of the balls I used in my Improvising with Life Lab class the day before.

And he wanted to toss it back and forth.

I thought, “OMG – really?! I just want to draw my feelings, damn it!” But he challenged me to come back and directly interact with him again. It was like he was saying, “Ah, so you think you’re ready to play, huh? We’ll see about that.” Of course, he wasn’t saying that. He had simply found a fun ball to throw. I said, yes to his invitation and then added, “And let’s make funny faces of how we feel when we toss. The other person copies that face and then makes up their own and tosses the ball back!” “Yeah! Except instead of just faces, we’ll copy our whole bodies and actions!” he replied.

Grrrrr… I felt my mind resist. I don’t want to bounce on the trampoline, smack myself in the face with the ball and fall to the ground. That’s too much! But I decided to play through my resistance. My willingness to play was greater than my desire to control.

I noticed that I half-assed his actions at first and as a result, nothing really shifted for me. Going through the motions and lackluster participation is a great way to stay stuck, I heard my inner coach say. I imagined myself at improv class only matching someone else’s emotions or actions half-way; thus, draining the energy from the exercise. So I kept going, adding more and more to my participation as I went until I was fully emphasizing “DUH, DERP, DEE, DOO!!” as I smacked my face against the ball, waddled over to the couch and fell into it.

As I allowed myself to let go of trying to control the game, I began to see my son differently. He was no longer an enemy determined to ruin my homeschooling plans and show me how much of a parental failure I was. He was a kid having a good time with his mom, feeling appreciated and empowered. Soon I began to also feel appreciated and empowered. I still felt those icky feelings in my body, the tension, weight and pressing feelings, but suddenly they weren’t overwhelming and driving me to react.

We enjoyed the next 30 minutes drawing, dancing and sharing. I felt my inner experience and body sensations shifting. Then we sat down together and completed the math I had originally set out to do. We easily made agreements about how many problems and how we were going to work together.

Throughout our class and from my experience with my son, I was reminded that it takes a willingness to play. Finding my way to playful connection DID NOT require that I know what to do. It did not demand that I get rid of my icky feelings first. It didn’t ask me to let go of my judgments or criticisms. They were all there. It only required that I be willing to play and when I noticed that I wasn’t willing, that I recommit to playing.

The fastest way to turn ourselves off from playing is to make ourselves wrong for how we feel right now. To tell ourselves that how we feel is incompatible with playing. Play doesn’t resist. It doesn’t exclude. So how can we play with whatever we’re feeling? How can we include that? It takes practice. We can start out small–we need not try to play with the most difficult aspects of our lives right away.

In class, we practiced noticing what it feels like in our bodies when we are resisting play–being serious, excluding, hurrying, judging. We gave our attention to how we moved, held ourselves and our facial expressions. Then we practiced playing with those play obstacles. Were we willing to play even while others weren’t? How could we shift our physicality to help us go from play obstacles to play moves?

If there’s one thing that I hope my son learns from me, it’s that play catalyzes our creative resilience: play includes, heals, inspires, connects and creates. All things come more easily and with more joy when we play.

Join our next Improvising with Life Lab on November 10th, 6:30-8:30pm at the Fauntleroy Schoolhouse in West Seattle. The last one of 2019 will be on December 8th. Or come play at our improv group on October 21, November 18 or December 16th, 2019. No experience is required for any of these classes, just bring an openness to play!

 

Inspired by the Connection

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?

Nope.

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.