Improv and the Art of Being Present
Originally posted on AboutMeditation.com
I have minimal experience acting or performing, and recently I pushed an edge of mine and took an 8-week class in improv comedy which culminated in a showcase performance.
My personal goals with taking the class were to spend more time out of my analytical mind and be more fluid and let my natural silliness come out more. I didn’t quite realize how similar the teachings of improv would be to the teachings of meditation and mindfulness.
You Already Have Everything You Need
Each week of the class had its own theme. Appropriately, the week of the first week was “You already have everything you need.”
The idea in the improv class was that you don’t need to go and learn all these different ways to be funny, or a litany of different theatrical styles or concepts in order to be good at improvising. Stick with what you know and how you feel, and you’ll always have something to offer the scene.
The resonance this holds with the core tenets of meditation and mindfulness were immediately apparent. In the practice of meditation, there is no “there” to get to. There is no where you need to be in order to be a “good” meditator or even to be able to do it.
Meditation and being present are so deeply inherent to being alive that most of the process to “learn” how to meditate is to stop engaging in the processes which take us away from being present. Being present in our natural state. We already have all that we need.
Plans are Useless
A friend of mine once quipped that “Planning is essential, but plans are useless.” While it can be helpful to have a general direction for the journey you’re on, making a specific plan often creates undue rigidity and tension on your experience.
With specific plans in place, our minds tend to cling to those plans as the way things should be and we have difficulty handling the natural ebbs and flows and interruptions that life inevitably throws our way.
The day of our showcase I was simultaneously quite nervous and completely at peace. There was no script for me to have memorized, no instrument or musical piece for me to master. There was no preparation possible, which was both relieving and worrisome.
Even without the possibility to be perfectly prepared, my mind anxiously scanned for things that would be funny for me to remember to bring out that night when on stage. Even as that was happening, I knew that process was completely pointless. I had no idea what the situations I would be placed in.
There was equal chance that I would be in a scene at a high school graduation or a courtroom or in the locker room after losing the Super Bowl. Anything was possible, which made it impossible to plan for.
I found comfort in the fact that when I was present with the situation on stage, I would know what to do and what do say. Not because I had pre-planned it perfectly. But rather, I would surrender to the moment, and use what was in front of me.
In the end, that’s exactly what happened.
The same goes for every moment of our lives. We can attempt to plan out our days and cover as many details as possible, but when we let go and give ourselves the space to respond to how life has unfolded, that’s when magic happens.
Working with what life gives us in any particular moment gives us the capacity to respond fully and discover the outcome of our actions.
In the end, we are just improvising our way through life. I encourage us all to be present and enjoy the process of making it up as we go.