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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.

 

 

 

Revealing Performances

Recently, I’ve been getting feedback that I look really comfortable on stage. I have mixed feelings about that. On one hand, I think it shows that my dedication and practice to improving my improv skills is working. I can play a character, listen, make up stories and do object work (mime) while on stage. I want to be comfortable performing. However, when I received this feedback I was actually really scared and not satisfied with my performance at all. I didn’t enjoy myself. So what am I doing when I’m enjoying myself and feeling at ease on stage and off? I’ve been wondering about this for a couple months.

I started improvising at a drop in class that I only attended once or twice a month. My first big “a-ha!” moment came when I realized I could simply play with whatever I was experiencing in my body. I didn’t have to make something up. If my belly felt tight, I could clutch at it and bend over. If my hand was shaking a little, I could shake it more. If my head felt light, I could lay down. I realized that my choice to say yes to my experience and then add to it by making it bigger was an offer and a gift to my scene partner. It was also a gift to myself. My experience would immediately begin to shift once I revealed and began to play with it. Then I would feel at ease.

dhira_scared_balloon

So when I’m feeling ease, I’m revealing some genuine part of my inner experience, I’m allowing my impulses and I’m playing with what’s here now. If go through a whole scene not doing those things, my fear persists and it’s generally slow and clunky. I might be listening to my partner’s words, responding with a logical story, staying true to my character and the scene might be good. But it won’t be great. In great scenes the improvisers are playing and truly enjoying themselves. The audience can tell when an improviser is having a really good time. It’s contagious.

Somewhere along the way I let my skill override my in-the-moment experience. More specifically, I let my head-centric skills take over. I’ll never have enough skill to outshine the power of being with my experience. That’s why I do improv. That’s what it’s all about and I think this applies to any occupation, hobby or relationship – AKA, life. As I learn to tell better stories and create more compelling characters, I want to always keep my experience, including my experience of my partner and the space, as the primary fuel for my creativity. My skills are there to support and embellish my experience.

Feeling at ease on stage will come with allowing myself to be seen. When I allow what’s on the inside to be witnessed, I relax. Even if it’s just a little bit to begin with – the shaking of my hand, the crinkling of my brow or the bounce of my step. I consciously choose to show the audience what I’m experiencing. The thing is, they can already tell I’m scared or excited or angry, but when I choose to ‘yes, and’ my experience and incorporate it into what I’m doing – everyone, not just me, gets to breathe a sigh of relief. It’s the magic move of improv and comedy. The audience knows that you know what they know. It creates a resonance and in that space the next thing can emerge.

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Play as a way to dissolve self-criticism

Hello Play-enthusiasts!

I’ve been quiet for a while as I’m in the midst of co-leading a five week series: 5 Reviving Play Moves to Reinvigorate Relating. We’ve been exploring some of our most gnarly characters. Characters who help us get through or get in our way… I’ve got a bunch of ’em! My Angry Cleaner gets the house sparkling when she doesn’t want to face her anger. My Broken Record is really good at telling my son the same thing over and over again without getting heard. My Unlovable showed up the other night and she really just wants to FEEL. And then there is my Open Arms character who enjoys welcoming new people and appreciates new playmates.

None of these characters are bad. They all have a direct line to our essence, who we truly are, but some of them got attention in the form of approval and some of them got attention in the form of disapproval. Another name for them is persona (you might know them by other names), which literally means ‘mask’. We learned to put on these masks as we grew up discovering what gets us the attention we need and what doesn’t. Because we all require attention to survive.

They all worked at some point in our lives or we wouldn’t still be playing them out. But now that I’m an adult, seeking out approval and trying to avoid disapproval through these personas feels unfulfilling. I never truly get what I really want. So I try NOT to put on these masks and I wish they would just go away. That doesn’t work, at all. I might end up thinking I’ve replaced them with something better, like the Mindful Mother who “never” gets angry, but inevitably they come back around. That’s because each of these characters have a message for me. They are here to invite me to discover, “what do I really want?” What part of me have I yet to welcome. What feeling am I keeping myself from feeling by wearing this mask?

We can’t answer those questions when we look at ourselves and our personas through a critical lens because again, we are looking at ourselves with approval or disapproval, the same environment in which they were created.

“Approval/disapproval is keeping you from a direct experience.” – Viola Spolin, the mother of modern improv. It keeps me from a direct experience of myself, of others and of the world around me.

But we can invite our personas out to play. We can give them a curious attention. When we step into authentically playing with our personas, we dissolve our self-criticizer and step into the field beyond right and wrong. This is sometimes so “far out there” it can be difficult to even imagine. And that’s why improv is a magnificent place for us to start practicing. The field of improv that I intend to create is beyond right and wrong. It’s a place of pure creativity and we get there in incremental steps. We make a few agreements beforehand between players to set the context of the game and give us a foundation on which to play and then we let our creativity stretch and run.

If you’re ready to let your creativity loose in a full-body play experience, then I invite you to one of the follow events:

Sunday, March 31st, I’m leading a half day playshop where you will learn to melt your fear, engage your body’s intelligence and improvise your way to creating what you really want in life. I bet a persona or two will come out to play and we can discover what you really want together. I’ve extended the early bird deadline until March 28th so sign up today for Play It Out! Intro to Manifesting Through Improv. $37/person.

Monday, April 22nd, you can experience a free improv class with me! This will be a laid back, all-are-welcome, improv play session focused on creating fun in that field beyond right and wrong. Free Improv Class in West Seattle.

So, will you come out to play?

Warmly,

Dhira and Open Arms

How to Fail at Playing in Your Relationships

Playing: It seems like such a simple thing. We did it all the time as kids. We watch our dogs make it look easy. Playing seems like a natural thing that we should be able to do in our relationships. At its basic level, playing is an exchange of energy back and forth, like tossing a ball. Should be simple, right? So why do we suck at it sometimes, and other times it goes swimmingly? Here’s how to fail at playing, especially in relationships.

  1. Don’t face your partner. Turn away from them. Look at your phone. Find something else to busy yourself with. Okay, now that they’re completely not expecting it, try to tell them something exciting about your day. See how that toss lands.
  2. Close your body. Cross your legs. Cross your arms. Cross your eyes. Anyone who’s ever played sports knows your BODY has to be ready to play. It has to be organized to receive and to throw playful tosses, whether those are actual balls, or words, or looks or anything at all. Try catching a ball with your arms crossed!
  3. Be more committed to being right than to playing. If you’re a parent, you see this ALL the time. One kid knows the RIGHT way to play and the other kid isn’t doing it that way. Game OVER. Adults have our own version of this and it’s the fastest way to call off the game.
  4. Only be willing to go so far... “Okay, I’ll play your little game, but if you do <insert that thing that will happen>, I’m outta here.”
  5. Analyze yourself, your partner and the game. “She’s not following the rules! Oops, that was dumb of me. I wonder how I look? He looks bored. How long is this going to last?”

Does any of this feel familiar to you because it sure does to me. If you know me, you might know that I’ve played sports all my life, that I play all the time with my 7 year old and that I’m even in a performing improv ensemble. I’d say I’m a darn good player. But you know what, I also know to FAIL big time at playing. It’s something that’s challenged me in my intimate relationships and I’m beginning to grok WHY. The times I’ve tried to play with my partner and it’s failed is because I’m doing one or more the things listed above. Here are some moves to try on instead:

  1. TURN TOWARD your partner
  2. OPEN your body posture
  3. BREATHE
  4. Get CURIOUS
  5. CHOOSE to give your attention

How to FAIL at Playing in Your Relationships (1)

This is the foundation that all play moves thrive in. For me, even the first simple (yet not always easy) move of turning toward my partner immediately opens up the possibility of connecting and playing. I find that something that I might have taken as a criticism (even if he was joking) I receive differently. I actually notice myself smiling when I don’t “think” I want to!

With that foundation laid down, we can get to the juicy, creative play moves. Play-enthusiast and Creative Resilience Coach, Kristina Turner, and I have created a class series for you to re-energize your relationships. 5 Reviving Play Moves to Re-invigorate Relating is for you if you want to

  • Bring play and silliness into ANY of your relationships
  • Rev up your creativity
  • Feel more alive in your day-to-day interactions
  • Discover how to play through anything in your way of authentically expressing

Each week in this five week series, we share and explore how to change up the action and find satisfaction in our real lives as we dip, wade or dive into 5 Reviving Play Moves. We look forward to splashing around in the pool of our collective wisdom and foolery. Wanna come play? The first class is FREE!

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  1.    BEFRIEND the characters who run your stories! Make play-space in your relationship to interview personas you each adopted long ago. Discover what they really want now. Sign up here for just the first free class.
  2.   BREATHE and open to wonder. Hmmm…I wonder which opening will be the most fun to explore next.   Hmmm…..I wonder how my defenses want to play with you.
  3.  BODIFY what’s going on inside you. Drop the words. Express your thoughts and feelings in sound and movement.
  4.   MAKE IT BIGGER! Exaggerate and embrace your own quirks, goofs, fears & desires. (Invite your whole self out to play!)
  5.   CHANGE ONE THING. Before the conversation gets seriously dull or repetitive, change up your Pace, Posture, Propensity or Purpose for being in this conversation!

If you’re ready to play and you’ve received my toss, it’s your move! Sign up today for the whole series before it fills up!

Until next time… Play on!

Dhira

© Dhira Brown, Play It Out Improv, and Kristina Turner, Creative Resilience Coach in playful cahoots with The Hendricks Institute, http://www.hendricks.com

Improvifesting!

Improvifesting: A portmanteau of improv and manifesting, meaning to create what you want through improvisation.

What if manifesting what you really want in life was as simple as Yes, And? Those two little words pack a big punch in the world of improv and they can make a big impact in your life, too. Let’s take a fresh look at this thing we call “manifesting” through the lens of improv’s Yes, And.

These days, many see manifesting as synonymous with bringing into reality something in your life, usually something you didn’t have before that you wanted, for example, a relationship or a new job.

So I wondered, how do we manifest what we really want? Is it through our thoughts, visualization, writing, actions? I began by writing as if I had already created what I wanted, visualizing and sensing into what would happened and how I would feel. I generated a lot of success with that. My first blog, Imagination Realized, has lots of examples of how I used visualization to create magic in my life. One time I actually ended up in a dancing competition!

While this method was effective, I began to notice that it’s missing the Yes. I’ve learned that I need to say Yes to what I’m currently creating before I can move on. Why? Because there are feelings caught up in there. There is powerful energy waiting to be released to fuel my next move. There is truth that will inspire and guide me. I choose to face that I am always manifesting. So whatever I’m currently creating is due to my manifestation powers whether I like it or not.

And that’s where, if I’m only using my head, I can get really hung up. I can spiral down the rabbit hole of self-loathing and beating myself up for manifesting situations I don’t like. It makes sense to me that I would rather try to skip over this part. However, the price of skipping over this part is stuffed feelings and recycled drama. It’s maybe even getting what you think you want, but not really receiving it and not enjoying it.

So how can we make this part friendlier? How do we make it fun?

By adding PLAY.

When I’m facing into something I don’t like that I’m manifesting in my life, I know I’m not ready to move on until I begin to play with it. The most effective and quickest way I know to open up to play is to magnify or exaggerate with my whole body while I express. The magic happens when I go all the way with it using movement and sound.

The other place that I would get hung up with manifesting is knowing what I wanted. Yikes! I focused so long on what I didn’t want, how am I supposed to figure out what I actually want? Again, I could easily get stuck up in my head and give up.

But with the Yes, And approach to manifesting, playing with saying Yes to what I’m currently creating inspires what I really want. I allow my whole body to play through to discover what I want, rather than using my head to make something up that sounds good. This is the And part of Yes, And. The word, manifest, actually means to show plainly through action or appearance. For instance, His courage manifested itself through the look on his face. So by this definition, if you’re looking to manifest love in your life, then you must discover your unique appearance and action (movement) of love. As they say, be the love, but you can’t just throw it on like a mask over your pain. That’s why giving space to… Yesing… what is, is the first step.

Then what? Then I update my moves!

Body intelligence pioneer, Katie Hendricks says, “The quickest way to change your mind is to change your body.”

So again I invite my whole body to demonstrate how it moves in that space of creating what I want. When I’m creating love and kindness in my relationships, how am I moving? How am I breathing? Where is my attention? Then I move, breath and notice in that space for a while.

I can now go from complaining about what I don’t want, to playing with and accepting it, to discovering what I truly want in about five minutes. It takes practice and it’s totally possible.

Finally, I wonder, “what is the simplest action step that I could take to demonstrate my commitment to creating what I want?” It could simply be practicing my new move everyday for a week, or some communication that I need to make might pop into my head. I allow my action to be easeful and organic versus making something up.

If this sounds like a practice you’d like to experience first hand, I’m hosting a playshop where I will assist you in Yes, Anding something in your life. I have two Play It Out Playshops coming up: Sunday, January 20th, 12:30-4pm and Sunday, March 31st, 12:30-4pm.

Check out all my events at http://www.playitoutimprov.com!

 

 

 

Second Circle: A Practice in Presence

Like me, you might have heard coaches and teachers say things like “be present”, “stay in the moment” and “don’t think”.  While I know what they mean in concept, presence is something that must be experienced, rather than taught. Returning to the moment might be a different journey each time depending on where I am. Unfortunately, I don’t think these well-meant words are helpful for people who haven’t had much experience with practices in presence.

That’s why whenever I learn a new practice that helps me cultivate presence, I love to share it. Today, practicing with my improv ensemble (check out our shows!), our coach shared First, Second and Third Circle energy and how they affect our ability to presence.

We walked around the room as a group noticing the doorways between each other and walking through them. In First Circle we looked down, briefly looking up to see others and then looking away. Our shoulders were forward and down. Our energy inward and thinking thoughts like “am I doing this right?”, “why are we doing this?” and “this is dumb”. An inward monologue ran while our bodies went through the movement of walking. We then jumped to Third Circle. Our chests puffed outward and our eyes searched beyond. Our stances got wider, too, but it was energy forced out, intended to take up space. Thoughts like, “hey, I’m looking good”, “look at me!” and “Oh yeah, I got this” rolled through. We looked at each other and our environment, but didn’t see or hear anyone or anything.

The our coach invited us into Second Circle. We relaxed our muscles. Our arms rested lightly at our sides, and hips and legs directly under our frames. She invited us to open our jaws slightly because she said that science is discovering that is the best position for listening. We imagined ourselves with antennae all over, receptive to the people and things around us. We began noticing details in the room. We saw our teammates, heard the sound of their shoes on the carpet and could smell the scents in the room. One thing we didn’t discuss, but I would include, is that we must include ourselves in our noticing. Noticing our breath, and the sounds and movements we make. We are part of the Second Circle. Here’s a video of Patsy Rodenburg, the creator of the Second Circle method.

What I love about this practice is that we had permission to experience First and Third Circle before Second Circle. First and Third Circle aren’t “bad” or “wrong” and can be something we choose. I know that I will be in First or Third Circle many, many times. This practice invites me to know what they feel like in my body and to notice the subtle shifts when I go from one to the other.

This reminds me of another practice in presence called Loop of Awareness by Kathlyn Hendricks. Loop of Awareness is the simple shift of attention from out to in and in to out. It’s noticing a tree blowing in the wind, then noticing your heartbeat. Noticing the breathing of your puppy and then noticing your own breathing. For me, Second Circle is like Loop of Awareness. It’s practicing circulating attention. Ultimately, when I’m present, I am aware of myself and my surroundings at the same time. In Third Circle, I’m stuck with all of my attention pushed out. In First Circle, I’m stuck with all of my attention sucked in. There is no circulation. Second Circle and Loop of Awareness are two practices that are tangible things we can do to cultivate presence.

I practiced Second Circle during a Nia (workout) class where we were free style dancing around the room. At first I didn’t even notice that I was in First Circle, focused inwardly, afraid of looking awkward and hoping no one paid me much attention. Then I was dancing my best moves, thinking how cool I must look and hoping that others noticed me. When I “woke up” I realized I had been alternating between First and Third Circle. I relaxed my body and my gaze. I began taking in all of the people in the room and appreciating them for being there. Once I was in a space of seeing others in appreciation, I let my body move however it wanted and connected with the other dancers. As Viola Spolin, the mother of modern improv, advised, I allowed myself to “see and be seen.”

Improvisation of any kind requires us to be in the moment and that means we must become masters of how we direct our attention. If you’re curious to experience Second Circle and other practices in presence through improv, join me in my next improv 6-week class series beginning Monday, January 21st, 2019. I’m hosting a free sample class in West Seattle on Monday, January 14th. It’s at the Fauntleroy Schoolhouse in West Seattle from 7-9pm. Drop in and let’s play!