Mindfulness Meditation and Improv

 When you think of an improv show, what comes to mind? For many, it's fast-paced, wacky, over-the-top scenes. It can appear to be joke after joke. During my improv workshop, I've seen students try to top each other with funny lines or crazy scenarios. It never succeeds, however. The basis of improv is not to have the funniest line or the quickest response. The basis of improv is focus and attention. Improv is less like stand-up comedy and more like mindfulness meditation.

Mindfulness meditation is inspired by Buddhist teachings but it also has its roots in ancient Christian prayer as well. The Practice of the Presence of God was written by Brother Lawrence, a Carmelite Friar in the 17th Century. In his book, Br. Lawrence teaches how to be fully present to God in every moment. Even when he is cleaning the monastery's toilets, he reminds himself that in this menial job he is serving Christ himself. Eckhart Tolle writes in The Power of Now that we are to live fully in the present moment and not dwell on the past or over-speculate on the future. Be "in the moment" for it is in the moment that we meet God.

So when you watch improv it certainly may not look like meditation. Improv works, however, when we force the brain to actually slow down. Don't jump to the first funny thing you can think of. Focus on the now, pick up details, nuances, and subtext. Improv is about having a heightened level of awareness in order to react and adapt. When you are real and in the moment, you can start to play and let the creativity kick in. You'll notice your partner do or say something that you can build upon. You then make the offer, enabling them to "yes, and." The key is that nothing is forced, nothing is strictly "played for laughs." The scene is organic as two, or more, individuals come together to form a whole. Each person is connected and mindful contributing their piece to the scene. The whole then becomes greater than the sum of its parts. The first step is to enter in and learn to be mindful.


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