Get Out of Your Head and Into the Scene
The arts have long been regarded as a source of healing and regeneration. Take, for example, the ancient Greek word catharsis. Wrapped up in this word is the idea of purging potent and painful emotions and experiences from one’s psyche so as to reemerge renewed and healed. A great work of art, the Greeks believed, did just this, acting as a catalyst, a switch or trigger-point setting off the release of anguish, despair, anger and the like.
As it turns out, catharsis is not the only internal (psychological, spiritual) benefit of the arts. This can be seen in the burgeoning popularity of arts-based non-profits whose primary purpose is to help at-risk, disenfranchised and/or otherwise socially, cognitively and emotionally challenged young people.
In fact, one of these many benefits is one we find in modern-day arts-based practices which integrate meditation and mindfulness. Improvisational theatre is one example of an artistic discipline that epitomizes this fusion of creativity and mindfulness. In fact, awareness of the present moment is not only a byproduct of doing improvisation, but the premise on which all successful improvisation is built.
Since improvisers don’t have a script, they must create characters, situations and storylines on their feet, as they perform them. While one might imagine that this would require some advanced preparation, or intellectual orchestration, intellect and preparation are the enemies of good, exciting improvisation. States Dan O’Connor, the Artistic Director of Impro Theatre in Los Angeles: “The best improv is created in the moment—if you start planning the future you will miss what is happening in front of you.”
Teachers of scripted theatre also talk about the importance of acting on impulses and listening and responding “moment-to-moment” to create scenes which are fresh and alive.
Theatre is not the only creative art through which one can rediscover the moment. Teachers of creative writing and visual art also offer the power of now as the wellspring from which creativity and, ultimately a sense of joy, may spring. Take Natalie Goldberg, author of Writing Down the Bones, whose series of writing practices are geared towards bringing one back to the breath and the grounding presence of one’s surroundings. In fact, Goldberg believes that everyone, not just writers, can benefit from her free-writing exercises. Like any good yoga or meditation, Goldberg’s techniques help to disentangle you from the webs of thoughts which, as we all know, offer little in the way of happiness.