Imp Power at Work

imppower

 

How would you do business as unusual in 2016 if you knew – no matter what you chose – you would not fail?

 

Debbie Millman‘s prompt for Quest 2016 arrived in my inbox as I was in the midst of pondering parts of my personality as an exercise for a class I am taking this weekend.

One of the elements of my personality is my Inner Imp. This is my mischievous, playful self, my trickster spirit, the part of me that wants to trick my partner, shake up people’s assumptions, and turn things topsy-turvy, just to see what happens.

An Imp as it appears in Shin Megami Tensei

Imp from Shin Megami Tensei

This is the part of me that explains itself with “because I could” and “because it was there”.

When the Imp comes out to play, life gets interesting, unexpected, exciting, engaging, and fun. There is an element of danger, but it is always manageable rather than terrifying. The danger is of breaking social norms as opposed to risking physical death.

The Imp stretches the world of possibility open beyond the box I am currently living in.

If I knew I could not possibly fail, I would let my Imp run my business.

Lincoln Imp at Lincoln Cathedral

The Imp at Lincoln Cathedral

Heart Leaps [The Twelve Days of #QUEST2015 Day 4]

joy, #quest2015

Jeffrey Davis at Tracking Wonder put together a program to help business artists plan for 2015 in an unusual way. Quest 2015 consists of a community of people and prompts that are sent out for people to respond to 12 times during the month of December. Part of the community building is through sharing blog posts, so I will be posting more frequently between now and the end of my reflections. After the 12 reflection posts, I’ll be back to my regular, irregular posting schedule.

Prompt Four

The fourth prompt for reflection in Quest 2015 comes from Pam Houston.

Sit quietly and ask yourself, what in the last day or week or month has made your heart leap up? Not what should, or might or always had, but what did. Make that list. Be honest, even if it surprises you. Keep the list with you this month. Add to it when it happens. Train yourself to notice. Then ask your self today, how can I arrange my life to get more of those heart leaps in it?

 

This question is the easiest of the prompts so far because it is a specific application of a practice that I have been doing for years, a practice that embraces many of the fundamental principles of InterPlay.

Notice, Notice, Notice: Pay attention to what is, with a particular emphasis on your embodied experience of the good things. 

Inner Authority: Claim that knowing. What you experience in your body IS true for you. You are the only person who can speak to the truth of your experience.

Body Data, Body Knowledge, Body Wisdom: What you notice about your lived experience in a single moment is a unit of body data. When you collect data over time, you can see patterns and build up a catalog of body knowledge. And, with a library of body knowledge at your disposal, you can exercise body wisdom by making choices that serve your greater good.

In InterPlay, we often talk about body wisdom in relationship to making choices that serve our sense of grace, which we define as the physical experience that is the opposite of stress.

When Pam Houston is talking about heart leaps, I think she is suggesting a slightly more ambitious possibility for life design. She is not talking about ease and flow, two concepts closely related to grace. She is talking about that stretch us into awe and wonder. In many cases, these moments call us to grow in love and connection to the world and this growth is not always easy. In many cases, the things that make our hearts leap create a good kind of stress, eustress as opposed to distress.

For me, the things that make my heart leap are creative breakthroughs, deep connections with friends, laughter and smiles with my children, and the beauty of nature. I can cultivate opportunities for all of these. I can choose to take my free time to connect with people I already have deep relationships with. I can return to the page, editing my fiction, over and over again. I can be present with my children when I am in the room with them. And, I can make sure that my week has many walks in natural settings.

And, most importantly, I can keep noticing my experience and shift what I do if things no longer bring me grace or joy.

 

According to her bio, Pam Houston is the beloved author of four books including novel Contents May Have Shifted and the interconnected short stories Cowboys Are My Weakness. She is Professor of English at UC Davis, directs the literary nonprofit Writing By Writers, and teaches in The Pacific University low residency MFA program.

Compassionate Grit [The Twelve Days of #QUEST2015 Day 1]

CompassionateGritborder

Jeffrey Davis at Tracking Wonder put together a program to help business artists plan for 2015 in an unusual way. Quest 2015 consists of a community of people and a prompt that is sent out for people to respond to every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday during the month of December.

I signed up in November, but the illness I have been battling in December kept me from diving in earlier. I am starting late, but this is the sort of thing where there really is no late. Yes, I have missed out on some of the community building, but the reflection is always appropriate.

Part of the community building is through sharing blog posts, so I will be posting more frequently between now and the end of my reflections. After the 12 reflection posts, I’ll be back to my regular, irregular posting schedule.

Prompt One
Grit without compassion is just grind.
What would be most fun to create this year?
How can self-compassionate grit support you in that creating?

My life over the past decade has included a lot of grind. Too much getting through things; not enough ease in the perserverence. And when the ease goes, the grit leads to burnout, not success. I burned out in 2014.

When I say ease, I refer to the feeling of flow, the deep connectedness to doing the work that leads to focus and progress. I am not suggesting easy tasks. In fact, the tasks I have in mind are all difficult: raising kids, finishing two novels, and building a business.

Grit got me a long way – 11 years with a twice-exceptional kid and almost 8 after adding triplets, including another twice-exceptional kid, to the family, two novels in process, and a beginning to the business. But, I have been hard on myself, pushing myself to always do more, because there is always more that could be done.

I had forgotten to take care of myself to maintain the motivation for the truly long haul.

In 2014, I have remembered to take care of myself more, seeking out the friends who nurture me, who show me my strengths, who remind me to dance and play, and who tell me to take it easy on myself.

I am slowly building new habits: sitting quietly in the evening not working for a few minutes at the end of the day; reading fewer novels to study my genre and more novels I want to read; asking for help instead of doing everything myself.

The things I want to create aren’t changing over time. I still want to tell stories with depth and heart. I still want to help other people create lives that feel meaningful and worthy through my coaching business. I still want to raise emotionally aware, kind, and productive children who choose lives that are meaningful to them over thoughtless conformity.

When I create these things from a place of playfulness, inventiveness, and fun, I am more successful and more satisfied, and my whole life is enriched. When I create from a place of anxiety and a sense that time is short, I suffer and eventually collapse under the pressure.

It is time to remind myself that small steps forward are progress, that I can only do so much in a day, and that I must nurture myself to sustain myself for the duration.

Because the truth is, I do an astounding amount of work, and all of it is good enough – and much of it is a whole lot better than that.

This first prompt came from Jen Louden. According to her bio, she is a writer, pioneer in the personal growth field, author of several popular books, and guide for navigating your life with authenticity. She is founder of the TeachNow program, which has served thousands of teachers, service providers, and entrepreneurs.

Mysticism, Theatre, and the Space Between

This is a continuation of my riffs on the idea of Minding the Gap that started here. It also connects to my series Salvation via the Stage, with previous posts here and here.

When I was a student at Starr King, I was introduced to the work of Martin Buber. Buber wrote about existence as dialogue, encounters between individuals, inanimate objects, and all of reality. For Buber, God was the eternal other and could be experienced through moments with art, nature, other people, and the world. Putting Buber’s ideas together with my growing secular humanism and my theatrical theories, I came to the idea that God happens in the space between people.

I no longer use words related to God or the divine to explain my understanding of the world. However, I do believe that the space between people and between individuals and the wider world holds the potential for wonder and awe.

I have had three experiences in my life that I would classify as mystical, by which I mean transcending human understanding. All three have happened in the context of the theatre. And all three were experiences in which I felt a connection to the reaches of the universe in one sense or another.

Being Heard by the Universe

For many years, I had easy access to dark theatres. A theatre that is “dark” is one in which the stage is not in use for a current or upcoming performance. All that exists in a dark theatre is the potential for performance.

When I had things on my mind that I wanted to get out, but didn’t have someone I felt comfortable sharing them with, I would go into a dark theatre, stand on stage, and deliver a monologue to an imaginary audience. I would simply say whatever I felt needed to be spoken. I would use all of my performance technique to give the space my story.

In InterPlay language, I was exforming through storytelling, passing burdens too great for me to bear out of my body.

One day, as I was speaking about whatever was coming up for me that day, I had a feeling that I was being heard. Not by a person, but by the air around me. Now, I don’t believe that there is a person-like God; I’m not comfortable with the idea of a transpersonal consciousness of any sort; and I don’t know what senses were triggered to give me that feeling, but I felt witnessed, heard, and accepted.

I have no explanation for my experience. The feeling was of being connected to the world outside me and held.

The Wonder of Possibility

A dark theatre consists of matte, black empty space in which an experience or story can be built. The paint is specially formulated to be a true black, absorbing all light. This creates an unusual atmosphere in a dark theatre.

Light from a ghost light, the small light that is left centre stage when the theatre is empty, casting just enough light for a stagehand to move safely into the space before the main lights can be turned on, is not reflected off any surface. There is a soft mystery to the black where the light hits. The lack of expected reflection tickles the brain, suggesting a lack of reality at the edges of the space.

In general, the true black of a theatrical space feels comforting and homey to me. This is not surprising. I have been hanging out in performance spaces for decades. But, once, when I was directing a play, I went into the theatre to have a look at the space in preparation for rehearsals and I had an entirely different experience.

The theatre was empty for a few hours. The previous show had been moved out that morning and the show that would be in the space while mine was in rehearsal hadn’t started moving in yet. For a brief moment in time, I could see the space empty and envision my show in there.

I walked from backstage across the stage towards the audience and planted myself in the centre before I turned back to look at the performance space with the widest view I could hold without stepping off the stage. I looked carefully around the space, trying to convert the ground plans and scenic design drawings into a three-dimensional image in my mind’s eye. Once I had that image constructed, I visualized some of the staging I was planning and imagined the actors speaking some of the important lines in various locations.

When I had an image that was strong, I turned out to face the empty seats, where the audience would be. I intended to continue the visualization exercise, to imagine the impact I wanted to play to have on the audience, but I didn’t get a chance.

As I turned, my visual focus softened. I saw everything muted, in a soft silence, and felt my body warm. The hairs on my skin stood up and I tingled everywhere my body touched air. Except for the fact that there was no visual effect, I would have said I glowed. I was struck with wonder at the infinite possibility of life, not only as contained within the confines of the theatre, but out into the rest of the world beyond.

Possibility.

And then, as suddenly as it had come, the feeling was gone and I was standing comfortably in a familiar theatre.

How Big is the Universe?

When I was part of the Summer Training Institute at Shakespeare & CompanySusan Dibble, the choreographer and movement instructor led an exercise that I wish I could remember in detail. It was part of the work she did to help actors bring the Elizabethan concept of the Great Chain of Being into their bodies.

The Great Chain of Being is a philosophical idea that there is a natural hierarchy of beings with God at the top, followed by the angels, the human hierarchy (king, noble, peasant, serf), the animals, plants, and inert matter. To change one’s individual place was to destabilise the whole system.

This concept was an accepted part of the culture in Shakespeare’s England, and being able to live with it in our bodies helped us capture the period more accurately in our performances. We did a lot of work trying to embody that idea.

In one exercise, Susan Dibble got us to imagine ourselves a each level of the chain of being and get in touch with it using some guidance she provided. When she got to the highest levels, one of the images she had us work with was omnipresence. And, I don’t remember what she said that triggered my experience, but I my whole sense of self exploded and I connected viscerally and emotionally with the vastness of the cosmos and the emptiness of the universe. I don’t know how long that experience lasted. From my lived perspective, time was non-existent.

What I remember even more vividly is coming back to normal reality. I trembled and retreated into myself, wrapping myself into a ball to bring myself back into my body, humbled by the enormity of the cosmos and the tiny, limited reality of human existence. Slowly, I integrated the experience and went on with my classes. But, I have never forgotten the vastness, the complete otherness of the universe.

The world’s traditions are full of people who have had simliar experiences, labelled them with the language of their local religious traditions, and been inspired to do good in and for the world. My language of explanation is secular, science-based and humanist.

The words we use to speak of such experiences matter less than the fact that they are universal, human experiences: moments where our consciousness jumps into another state and we are no longer aware of the space between ourselves and the universe.

And for me, they have always come in theatrical contexts.

3 Ways Theatre is Like Church

This is part two of my series Salvation via the Stage. The first post can be found here.

TheatreCurtainsGodSky

Every human being has spiritual needs: the need for a sense of meaning and purpose in their life; the need for community; and the need for a sense of connection to the wider world. Every human being also has the capacity for spiritual experiences: moments of transcendence, awe, wonder, and expansiveness.

These needs and capacities are built into our being, part of our genetic endowment. They have nothing to do with religion or belief in a deity.

Some people get their spiritual needs met through religious organizations. Others meet such needs through art.

A friend once told me that libraries were his church. Libraries, books, and the community of people drawn to libraries and books met his spiritual needs.

Theatre has often been my church. Here are three ways a church and a theatre troupe function similarly.

1: People Come for the Product, Stay for the Company

People go to church because they think they should or because they want support in living a good and meaningful life. For many people, the most important function of a church is social, being part of a community. Often, vital moments in the life of a congregation occur during coffee hour, social gatherings, small group encounters, and rituals involving food.

Am I welcomed in? Am I listened to and appreciated? Am I supported and nudged forward in a comfortable balance? Do I enjoy spending time with these people? Without a “yes” answer to these questions, many people will leave the church.

Theatre is no different. New people want to be welcomed into a production team. They want their ideas listened to and respected, even if eventually rejected. They want to have fun while striving to do the best show they can. Producers learn when to push people to stretch and when to reassure them that they are doing well.

Important moments in the life of a theatrical community include conversation during rehearsal breaks, cast and crew parties, and gatherings at a local pub or restaurant after rehearsal or a show. Without these moments, the glue of community never dries and individuals leave after a single project.

2: There is a Place for Everyone

In many areas of life, we are separated into groups of people who are good at the same things, interested in the same things, or approach life from similar perspectives.

In theory, a religious community embraces all who are born into it, in the case of religions that do not welcome converts, or who choose it.

In the theatre, people with different skill sets, different approaches to life, and different interests are not just welcomed, but necessary. A group putting on a play needs actors, backstage hands, carpenters, lighting designers, electricians, sound designers, costume designers, stitchers, special skill coaches, publicists, sales people, costumer service providers, project managers, bookkeepers, and financial planners. All these people work together in the service of a greater good: the play. Without any one of them, the production will be weak.

3: Dealing with the Deep Questions of Life through Story

Religions are attempts to answer life’s big questions. Who am I? How should I live? Most religious traditions have central stories that attempt to illuminate answers to those questions.

Plays also address questions about the nature of life.

Every story has a question at the heart of it. How will this character act in this situation and what will the consequences be? No matter how trivial the play may appear to be, there will be some question about human nature in the story. Being part of a theatrical production gives everyone involved an opportunity to be touched by the question of the play.

Not everyone takes advantage of the opportunity, but it is there for the taking.

Are there any parallels between art and church that you have noticed in your life? Share them in the comments.

Introducing Kate Arms-Roberts

I am Kate Arms-Roberts and welcome to my new home on the internet.

Here, you will find me writing about the power of play, creativity, stories, and beauty to provide a basis for meaning-making in a troubled world. I have been blogging on these topics for several years now, and all my previous posts are available on this site.

From the links in the navigation bar above, you can find information about the classes I teach and the creativity coaching and writing services I offer.

If you like reading my work, please subscribe to the blog. I have a special gift for subscribers – an audio-recording of me leading the full InterPlay warm-up. Follow along with the guidance in the warm-up and enjoy a 15-minute self-care break and an opportunity to connect with the wisdom of your own body. Just sign up in the box on the left and you will be directed to a download link when you confirm your subscription.

Over on Facebook, I post inspirational quotes and links to articles about play, creativity, and story-telling. Please Like my page and enjoy those resources.

And now, for those who don’t know me or want to know a little more about me, here is an Introduction, 

If you met me at one of my InterPlay classes, you would see a tall woman in flowing black trousers and a black or jewel-couloured top. I would welcome you and provide a comfortable environment for you to connect with your own body-wisdom. You would find me compassionate and open, vulnerable and strong. You would hear a laugh in my voice. When I danced with you, you would see remnants of ballet and modern dance training abandoned decades ago but still present in my body.

If you met me as an actor in a play I was directing, you would see passion and drive. Always moving forward, I wouldn’t let you rest on your laurels. I would always be nudging you to find more truth in the moment, a deeper commitment to the emotional life of the story. And yet, when you struggled, you would find me encouraging – realistic about your limitations, but always striving to help you bring out your best performance, and always in service of the play.

If you met me only through my fiction, you would find regret, horror, magic, and transformation.

These are all part of me.

As a child, I suffered from existential depression and found meaning in my life through theatre and dance. My writing comes from the depths of my being, where I still wrestle with existential questions. My work as a director, coach, and InterPlay facilitator comes from the compassion for humanity I discovered through art, performance, stories, and my commitment to making my life meaningful despite the lack of external answers.

I am on a mission to bring beauty and meaning to the world, grounded in an Ethic of Play, with full acknowledgement of bodies and feelings as essential components of human experience, recognizing the immense variety of human beings in the world, and claiming the power of story-telling to bridge the gaps between individuals. I refuse to deny the horrors in the world, but I insist on seeing the wonders, too.

Kate

InterPlay is Coming to Oshawa

Want less stress in your life and more ease?

Want to excavate your buried creativity?

All while having fun in an affirming community?

 Try InterPlay!

Starting in January, I am offering two InterPlay classes a month. These are drop-in classes. No need to preregister. Newcomers and experienced players welcome.

InterPlay is a practice and philosophy rooted in the power of play. It’s an easy to learn, creative process that uses movement, storytelling, and voice —but does it in ways that don’t require particular skill or even nerve. The forms of InterPlay help create a life of greater ease, connection, and health. InterPlay celebrates and creates connection and community. Through this simple form of play, we learn more about ourselves and each other. It is incremental, affirming, and anyone can do it!

The Details

TGIF InterPlay: 2nd Fridays 7:15pm – 9:00pm

Friday Morning InterPlay: 4th Fridays 10:15am – 12:00pm

Location: Both Playgroups will meet at Durham Improv’s Oshawa location: 1115 Wentworth Street West, Oshawa. The space is on the 2nd Floor (above “Medigas”) and is unfortunately not wheelchair accessible

Cost: $15 per class or $50 for a 4 class pass (save $10)

For more information, contact Kate Arms-Roberts at 647-408-6133 or info@improvliving.com

Holding it Together When Things Get Busy, Part III

This is Part III in a series of tools for dealing with the busy times in life. Read the first post in the series here.

Create a Form or Game

One of InterPlay’s greatest strengths is the simplicity of the physical practices. In InterPlay, we call them “forms” because they are guidelines that shape the practice and give it structure. In practice, these forms are similar to what improvisers in the tradition of Second CityTheatreSportsWhose Line Is It Anyway?, and other comedy improv groups call “games.” The forms offer a structure that allows freedom within limits. In InterPlay, the forms range from what can be accomplished with one hand or one breath to forms that require groups of people using their full bodies and voices in operatic storytelling. In comedy improv, the games often have rules like each player can only say three words at a time. From simple to complex and sometimes off into the bizarre, these rules provide a structure.

I rebel against structure all the time, but the truth is, I need it. And I never need it more than when many projects are demanding attention. But, it doesn’t have to be rigid or forced. Today, for instance is a writing day. I am only working on writing. I have several projects that require writing, so I may bounce back and forth among them or put in a few hours on each project or devote all day to one project. But, I am not working on website design, room scheduling, arranging insurance, or making phone calls. Yesterday was a day for my creativity coaching projects. Tomorrow I will focus on making Christmas gifts. It’s not a lot of structure, but it works for me. Within the day, I improvise exactly how the day will go, but within the container I have set for the day.

There is a resource that I keep meaning to investigate about form and schedule. Jeffrey Davis over at Tracking Wonder describes his new eHandbook, The Mind Rooms Guide as a method for shaping time. He asked me to review the book as part of its launch, but it arrived on my desk at a very bad time and I have done nothing more than glance at – sorry, Jeffrey.  But, I know Jeffrey’s work on helping creatives from his blog and I am looking forward to digging into it eventually. If you have already read it, please let me know what you thought of it in the comments.

Holding it Together When Things Get Busy, Part II

 This is Part II in a series of tools for dealing with the busy times in life. Read the first post in the series here.

Move Unnecessary Stuff Out of Your Body

We all get information constantly.

Unless we have a way of releasing it, we carry it around in our physical bodies. We truly carry the world on our shoulders if we aren’t careful. A physical practice for getting rid of the stuff you don’t need to carry is very useful. Teachers of young children who have embraced the song “Shake My Sillies” out as a tool for getting kids to focus in class know this. Getting the breath moving with a deep inhale followed by a sigh and shaking muscle tension out is a very simple form of Exformation. Repetitive physical activities that you can do without mental wrangling can all be exformational: washing dishes, house-cleaning, knitting, exercising, walking, running. It is a physical form of meditation – letting what you don’t need pass through you.

When we have lots of projects going on, knowing what we need can be challenging, so we tend to hold on to everything and then we burn out, suffering information overload. Using a physical practice to release, we can trust that our bodies know at some subconscious level what we can release.

One of my favourite release techniques is one I learned in acting classes. Hold your upper arms parallel to the floor. Raise your hands and clasp your hands in front of you. Take a deep breath. As you exhale, let out a big, open vowel sound while shaking your arms. The goal is to relax your jaw enough that your lower jaw shakes with your arms. It is hard. Most of us carry huge amounts of tension in our jaws. It is impossible to do this exercise without looking and sounding ridiculous, and if you do it right, your whole body vibrates and all your muscles relax.

Do you have an active practice that helps you release tension or let go of unnecessary concerns?

Holding it Together When Things Get Busy, Part I

When Things Get Busy

Have you ever found that all the projects you have on the back burner came to a boil at the same time?

It is exciting when projects move from potential to production. But, the transition can require some adjustments. When more than one project makes the switch, your routines may need more than a little tweaking. Changing habits is hard, and especially so with the pressure of imminent deadlines. How do you do manage the transition without tearing your hair out?

Everything in my life has been in overdrive in November except this blog. I have been working behind the scenes to set up several projects.

Coming in 2013, in addition to my writing and theatrical activities, I will be:

  • Training as a writing circle facilitator and setting up a new circle
  • Teaching InterPlay workshops at a new facility
  • Setting up a new business as a creativity coach

All of this started coming together at once. And although it has been an adrenaline-filled rush, it has had me drawing on all of my tools for managing a multivalent life.

If you have been reading this blog for long, you know that my favourite life-management tools come from InterPlay, improv, and theatre.

Coming up over the next few posts, I will share some of the tools I have been relying on heavily over the last month. But first, a quick look at getting started.

Show Up and Start Anywhere

It doesn’t really matter where you start, but you must start. When there are too many things that need doing, just pick something and do it. Activity builds activity. And it doesn’t matter if you could have made a better choice. Getting started will often reveal what needs to be done better than any list-making preparation.

If you are feeling overwhelmed, pick one small task you know will move a project in the right direction. Now go and do it.