One of my first adventures this summer has been taking an improv class with BATS in San Francisco.
I already feel as though there are many rich benefits to reap from practicing this art form. Here are a couple of them:
1. Improv is practice in not being attached to outcomes.
I often find myself in situations, interactions, conversations, etc. quickly developing an idea of what I would like the outcome of this situation to be. I then find that often halfway through the conversation or the next time I see someone, my interaction is often then dictated moreso by that idea of the desired outcome than what is actually happening in the present moment. The security of holding onto a specific goal, a specific destination is nice; yet, it is often not real.
But in improv you have no idea where the skit/activity/scene is going. You can’t plan it…or at least, you can try to, but your ideas might deteriorate in front of you faster than you can think them. You can develop an the idea that you’d like to be riding an elephant through the town square, but that elephant might quickly turn into a man wearing a suit at the town fair, take a detour down the Mississippi, and end up at Mark Twain’s house. The beauty of the scene comes in NOT being attached to any given outcome, but in accepting the offers handed to you by others in the scene and making something beautiful out of them.
Life, in a Buddhist-Improv-ian sense, is like this too. And practicing non-attachment (to ideas, to outcomes, to particular agendas) can help us see the beauty that simply is.
2. “It’s like a polaroid picture – it’s developing as it’s happening.”
Our teacher used this analogy in a scene in which 4 people each added something new to a room, building off what was there previously. After she said it, though, I immediately thought – “Yes, life really is just like that too.”
Life is like a polaroid picture. It’s developing while we are in it. We may never be entirely clear about what is happening. We may only be able to really see and understand what just happened after we are able to look back on a situation with some newfound wisdom and clarity. Much like Kierkegaard says, “Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. We must, inevitably, learn to live in the messiness, in the muddled, half-developed polaroid of our own narrative as it unfolds before our eyes.
3. I had a giggle fit in the middle of a round of a “telephone”-like game, where we imitated a gesture and sound from the person before us. The person after me (and therefore everyone else after that) then imitated my giggle fit as well as the initial gesture + sound. I was initially super embarrassed and felt like I had “messed up” the exercise, but it then became much more entertaining for all of us. Perhaps are “mistakes” are not really what we make of them.
That’s all for now. More improv life lessons surely to come (but why get attached to that outcome?).