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