To Improvise

I am grateful for Patricia Ryan Madson’s book, Improv Wisdom. One, for it’s clever, snappy chapter titles that are the best and most needed kind of pithy. By pithy, here, I mean deep and useful values and practices. I’m grateful for the focus on innovation and the reality of making it up as we go. I think I’ve lived most of my life feeling that I must plan it, which is mostly a good thing, except for all the inherent fear parts of course, rather than, well, living it — which seems to just grow more aliveness.

This passage below from Improv Wisdom is an easy one to use with groups to set up an important conversation on improvising. Even better when also inviting some somatic experience — our bodies know things our minds can’t.

Long before there was planning, there was improvising. For millennia humans functioned naturally only by thinking on their feet, problem-solving in the here and now. I wake up. I look around carefully. I hunt for food. I share it with my fellow primates. We find a warm, dry place to sleep. We have a few laughs….

Leapfrogging thousands of years into the present, we find ourselves nearly strangled by the planning instinct. For some of us it is our life. We plan when we should execute. We make lists, worry, or theorize (often endlessly) when we ought to be responding. We choose safety above all else. We seem to have lost the knack of looking at the day with fresh eyes or doing anything out of our comfort zone.

With the value of being with life itself, the questions for the group encounter are easy — so as to animate the quality of improvising together.

  • Ah, what’s a story of a time when you had to think on your feet? What was that like for you?
  • What do you worry about that you would like not to worry about? Share a story.
  • What’s an example in your life (or work) of when you saw with fresh eyes? What was that like for you?

And for other questions (that help a group encounter itself), well, you can improvise.

Drop Into The Breath

I met Janice Rous 12 years ago. I was co-leading a workshop in Florida at which she was a participant. I was taking a break, sitting outside by myself near a pond, across from which was a beautiful white Heron. She asked if she could sit with me a bit, she also on break. Yes. Janice was easy to connect with.

In that moment, Janice, who would become a dear friend, offered an observation about stretching my shoulders. Mine were very tight and angled forward. “You are protecting your heart.” Wait, what?

Janice wasn’t forceful. She was just seeing what she could see, and offering that. For me she brought forward an emotional awareness expressed in the physical that I was not aware of.

Janice and I have stayed friends. She offers a unique kind of work and presence in the world (see her website, Body Dialogue). She is keen on naming how the body knows things that the mind can’t.

Janice recently created this three minute video above (with Katie Teague) that describes for her how breath brings us to our expansive and creative selves, in the midst of all that life is compiling and even imposing on most of us. Her message is an invitation to be with life. Janice is the one who taught me that though most of us humans feel we know how to breathe (and don’t really think about it), it turns out, that most of us don’t. Our breath is shallow, and often only from the neck up.

I love the simplicity in this. I love her vibrancy. I love the wisdom in this little film that starts with the breath.