A few months ago I took a 2 week intensive improv class at UCB in Hollywood. Taking this class was a challenge for me because improv requires very little self-criticism. The very idea of it is to be in the now and only the now. One basic rule of improv is to never say "no" and instead say, "yes, and.." No matter the situation, you accept it as your current reality and then you add to that reality. When two people continue this process a reality has formed, one that would have never come out of critical thought process and this is usually why it is so hilarious! I guess this is also a really great way to think about life, no matter what it throws at you. For example, life has thrown you a bunch of lemons and you say, “yes, and I'm going to make lemonade.” Bad analogy? You get the idea.
Over the weekend we had a series of unfortunate events happen to the RV we were driving to Joshua Tree and by the time we got the RV going again, all of the camp grounds were reserved. We ended up on a friend of a friend of a friend's property that we got to by pushing the RV down the road at 11:30pm. By we, I mean the guys. (LOL!) None of the obstacles we encountered over the course of our drive were expected, yet didn't seem out of place. We all carried on as if the fun was to be had in the small moments rather than in the expectation of what we went there to experience. Here's a taste:
When I let myself, I can get pretty silly and there is actually a scientific explanation as to why it's easier to do that in certain circumstances. The part of your brain that is responsible for abstract thinking, thought analysis and self-criticism requires a dimming when you're letting yourself be free of self judgement. Studies have been done on the brains of elite athletes and rappers while they are in the “zone,” which demonstrates the pre-frontal cortex as less active when they are in what is called a “flow” state. This is something I'm familiar with because when I lose myself in dance, the world around me disappears and all self-doubt and criticism fades. I'm one with the music, the choreography, the audience and the universe.
This "flow" state was especially present at a young age, which is probably why I loved it right from day one. What I have noticed, though, is that at times in my career and in life where I have been self-conscious or have doubted myself or abilities – I didn't shine like I did when I was allowing for freedom and expression to flow through me. The many years of strict and rigorous ballet discipline (and fear of making a mistake) got to me from time to time. During those periods, I didn't excel like I wanted and I didn't get to revel in the intoxicating feeling of becoming one with everything.
In improv, I had to let go of that self-criticism. I had to put my silly self up there for all to see and it was a challenge for someone who is accustomed to spending so much time perfecting things prior to sharing them. The interesting part about this is that it very much reminded me of being in middle-school and early high school. I have vivid memories of many weekends with girlfriends where we would giggle until the sun came up. I was so silly and goofy, which is unfortunately a side of myself I tend to conceal and only share with a select few.
It can be difficult not to take things so seriously, especially when our minds are so saturated with external ideas, concepts and beliefs. I know that for me, I have to make the effort to take things with a grain of salt, embrace the moment and enjoy the simple blessings of life when and where I can. Here's to finding laughter in all the right places, embracing our inner goof and most importantly letting it shine through a little. Can't hurt right?