I have been doing something interesting in one of my weekly women's groups as part of our commitment to creativity. In my Thursday evening group we spend an hour each week engaging in some kind of creative process, and we have done many kinds of things over the years ranging from writing to painting to singing to maskmaking to papier mache.
Most recently we have been spending our weekly creative hour exploring the world of drama. For example, one week we wrote down a bunch of personality traits on little pieces of paper. Everyone randomly drew one characteristic out of the hat ( like shyness, being obnoxious, arrogance, nervous fearfulness, being bright and bouncy, absent minded, lethargic, etc. ) and then we spent a few minutes interacting with each other based on the quality that was drawn. It's very difficult to do this exercise without completely cracking up as people outdo each other in how dramatic and outrageous they can be.
As part of my research in drama techniques, I came across a wonderful little book entitled Improv Wisdom: Don't Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madson that talks about the various principals of improvisational drama and how you can use those principals in your daily life. One of my favorite ones was "Say yes to everything that is given to you." In the book she talks about how when you are improvising with two or more people , part of the improv practice is running with and expanding on whatever is thrown at you. You don't change or alter or water down what you have received, but embrace it and if at all possible, take it to the next level. So of course, I thought this would be a great activity to try out in my womens' group.
It was interesting to observe what came up for people and how DIFFICULT this exercise was to implement. Saying yes to whatever shows up challenged everyone around things like control, identity, who's in charge and the willingness to surrender. This exercise requires a profound commitment to letting go of how you think things should be or even what you WANT them to be and being willing to embrace the unknown, because you literally don't know WHAT is going to happen next. It's about facing the reality of what has shown up in front of you, right here, right now, and responding always and only with YES.
However, for most people, the knee jerk response is not yes, but no. The reflexive, protective action is to close down to what is being given, or to back away from it or turn it into something that is more comfortable or familiar.
For example, during one particular improv sequence, an imaginary pink pool showed up in the middle of the room, which if you stepped into it, turned you into a frilly, girly Barbie doll. One of the women was uncomfortable with frilly and girly and so she stopped the flow of the process by refusing to step into the pool. She was clear about her No. No, I don't want to go there. Going towards pink and frilly will compromise my identity as a woman who doesn't embrace those things, so I'm not going to do it.
It was a totally unconscious process for her. She didn't even realize that she was no longer participating in the spirit of the improv. And she had even forgotten one of her own stated personal goals which was that she saw herself as being too serious and unexpressive and wanted to use this improvisational process to loosen up, be more goofy and playful and to have more fun. All of which stepping into the pink, girly pool would have given her.
Also, because this kind of improv is being performed as a group, everyone is dependent on everyone else's YES to keep the whole thing going. If people start saying no or refusing the invitation, before you know it the energy kind of devolves into something very boring and pointless, where people are literally walking around in circles. The energetic thread gets lost and tangled up by the fear and the hesitancy and eventually all movement grinds to a halt.
What kinds of things can happen when you allow yourself to follow the yes? One scenario started out with someone in the group imagining seeing a bright, shiny ball-like thing circling around the room. Everyone jumped into the fantasy and built on it until it it culminated in a final scene that I will never, ever be able to get out of my mind ( and this is a good thing). This was the sight of five women in a tight circle looking up , open mouthed and wide eyed, with their arms raised above their heads, and screaming hysterically as they all imagined themselves being sucked up by an alien spaceship! And then collapsing on the floor in a heap, exhilarated and deeply connected, laughing so hard that tears were coming out of their eyes.
Our lives are nothing if not an improvisation, and we are much better served by learning to trust where the energy of life is trying to lead us. Life is your improv partner, and is constantly throwing things onto your well ordered path, asking you to choose between yes and no. Circumstances change, plans don't work out or expectations are not met.
When that happens, instead of spending ALL of your time wanting things to be different than they are ( personally, when I get frustrated or disappointed I need to devote a little time honoring the goddess of whining, crankiness and pouting), what would it look like to (eventually) say yes to whatever has shown up?
It's not necessarily "making the best of a bad situation" which can start to feel like another should. It's more about seeing the new circumstances as a place where you can practice being creative, and playful and responsive and flexible, which always feels a whole lot better and is way more fun than just crossing your arms tightly over your chest, or putting your hands over your eyes and ears and saying, "This is not happening, this can't be happening, I don't want this to be happening."
What is the pink Barbie pool in your life right now? What is it that keeps showing up and knocking on the door asking for your attention? What hints, suggestions, nagging thoughts, interesting opportunities, strange compulsions, secret longings or unlikely synchronicities continue to come back around over and over again? Where is your life inviting you into a chance to have a new experience of yourself that might be unfamiliar but could also prove to be a really, really good thing? And what is stopping you from considering taking even a tentative step in that new direction? It's most often fear or an old story about yourself that keeps you saying no.
My husband pursued me for a very long time before I got smart enough to finally say yes to him. Before that it was no, no, no. "No, you're too young. No, you're not my type. No, we are in a professional relationship and if we actually get together what will people think?" While I was busy saying "No" my life was stuck, on hold and going nowhere fast. And then I said yes. And while the alien space ships never arrived, the energetic floodgates opened and all kinds of things began moving forward at warp speed. And he and I have spent the last 13 years falling on the floor and laughing in a heap of two every chance we get.