First published in Thrive Global 16 September 2020 https://thriveglobal.com/stories/similarities-between-improv-and-meditation-behind-the-blue-door/
I often decide to do things on a whim. Sometimes I think I want to be more strategic than that, but the reality is, I’m not. Acting on an impulse and not overthinking allows me to be taken by the moment, to do something without any real purpose and do it ‘just because’. One of the reasons I decided to take-up Improv classes was to have some fun, and the other was to shake things up a bit. Let’s face it the chances of me being able to take an Improv class from my lounge room again were slim, or so I reasoned. It’s kind of cool doing a course with people from all over Australia and some abroad.
There are so many disciplines in life that cross over. The most recent one cross over I’ve discovered is between Improv and meditation. My aspirational self wants to meditate, and my actual self finds that a challenge. Like most people, I’ve often found it hard to sit in silence, meditate and just BE. I know it’s good for me and the benefits are well documented. For some of us, though, our mind never stops, or it wanders… For others, their body won’t cooperate as some of us need to move. Think ADD or ADHD! And, yes I hear you, meditation would be good for that very reason.
Improv integrates mind and body beautifully. You can only really integrate mind and body when you are being present. If you’re ‘in your head’ trying to plan chances are it isn’t going to work; you get stuck in ‘working it out’ when there’s nothing to work out. Too much gets lost.
For Improv to work, you have to BE present. Present to yourself, present to what you’re given in a scene and present to those around you. You have to be here now. You also have to be grounded. Being grounded where you are doesn’t mean you are stuck. It allows you to surrender to the moment. It’s the moment and being present to it that reveals where to next.
What’s behind the blue door?
The blue door is a metaphor for life. We never really know what’s behind the blue door. We can postulate based on what we think might be there and if we have experience with this particular door, then we are running on a form of auto-pilot and aren’t really present in any case. Improv, like life, involves others and we mostly don’t know how what they are going to do, how they are going to react, or even whats’s going to happen. Whilst we do need to do the thinking (it’s not about not bothering to prepare) and get our planning brain warmed up to what’s in front of us, plans themselves are often useless. Moreover, if we cling to them to rigidly, we can get stuck and lose our flexible thinking. We miss opportunities and connections when we are rigid.
Yes, but versus Yes, and!
Which leads me to the next point. How often in a conversation do you hear the words “Yes, but”. The word yes signals agreement which is immediately negated by the word but. Improv, like mediation, allows for us to build connections and build on what is already there and what you are being presented with. In Improv “Yes, but” is replaced with “Yes, and”. Yes, and moves us forward and creates new possibilities that you can’t foresee when you’ve already got worked out what’s behind the blue door.
Give up knowing, surrender to the moment and build on what you’ve been given is probably one of the greatest lessons I’ve had from Improv. I’ll never look at what’s behind the blue door in the same way again.