when the discomfort monster invites you to dance
Last night, my girls were watching “Whose Line is it Anyway?” and marveling at how talented the people are saying things like, “How do they do that?” or “They are amazing.” While it’s true that they are talented improvisers, it’s also true that we can all do that. My training has taught me that improv is nothing more than accepting an offer and being willing to handle the discomfort of the unknown. When your scene partner reaches out your hand, you take it. When you are given a game, you play it. It’s messy and sometimes uncomfortable. You cannot predict what’s coming next, you just keep accepting the offers and staying in the game.
To my mind, life is one big improv game: We can only respond to it, accept offers and keep playing.
The truth is, it’s not always fun. Sometimes it feels like a big hairy discomfort monster has come to visit. (I’ll give you a moment to imagine what said monster looks and smells like.)
Got the image? Good.
Maybe it’s having to take the bus for the first time because your car is broken and you don’t have the money to fix it or maybe you don’t have a car and it’s getting your bus route cut by the city and having to adjust your schedule to account for that.
Maybe the monster is a little scarier. Maybe you got laid off or got pulled over and arrested because you forgot to pay a ticket (this happened to a friend of mine recently). You’re not sure what to do or how things are going to work out, right? That not-knowing can either be paralyzing or liberating, in my experience. Liberation comes when we open and accept the offer. When my friend got arrested, he had to scrape the money together to pay all the fines and he had to ask for help. He had to be vulnerable enough to realize he couldn’t do it alone. He had to trust. Guess what? He made it through.
I’m not saying that all of this is supposed to be cheerful. When something hurts, I say ouch (sometimes “ouch” rhymes with truck). I am not an advocate of putting a smiley face on everything but, rather, of learning to dance with the monster, with the chaos so that I can learn and grow from it rather than just walking away feeling beaten up. Sometimes I like to imagine that Loki or some other Trickster is just messing with me to see how I’ll respond. (I try to be entertaining whenever possible.)
Speaking of Tricksters, I ran across this article about the latest prank from the group Improv Everywhere, a “New York City-based prank collective that causes scenes of chaos and joy in public places.” The article has some fabulous pictures that show people being given money from strangers and hundreds of blowing bubbles into the air. I imagine that despite the joy present, it might have been uncomfortable to the people who weren’t in on the prank, even those having money thrust into their hands. We aren’t given enough training in our culture about how to respond to chaos with aplomb but perhaps it’s time we were.
I’m not saying any of this is easy but that doesn’t mean it all has to be so hard or painful. So often, we put ourselves on lock down in times of chaos out of fear. We stay stuck because we think it’s safe but all that happens is we forget to live juicy and engage in ways that bring us joy. These little ecstatic moments can be simple like going outside and looking at the stars, taking a little dance break or simply taking several deep, conscious breaths.
Another way to dance is to include others. Ask for (or give) a hug or include someone in your experience. For example, today it’s summer and it’s beautiful outside. I’ve been working on deadlines all day. My ten year-old has been keeping herself busy but, as I’m typing this, she started to seem bored. I said, “I have an idea! Want to help me?” She said yes and asked how. I asked if she could draw me a picture of a big, scary monster dancing in a tutu. Her response? “On it!” She was overjoyed to help.
She accepted the offer and now we’re happily working side by side together.
Dancing through chaos is a choice. It’s an embrace–a leaning in. It makes our hearts stronger and our bodies more supple.
Seeing discomfort as adventure wiggles out the stuckness.
I challenge you to go mindfully find something that makes you uncomfortable and dance with it–lean in. Chose your chaos instead of letting it choose you and see how that feels. Report back on Facebook. I would love to hear from you! Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Take the bus, ride a bike or walk if you don’t usually.
- Go out dancing.
- Strike up a conversation with a stranger.
- Ask someone out on a date if you’re single or tell someone how you really feel.
- Ask for help. Reach out.
- Write a poem and share it with someone.
- Start learning a new language. (I’m doing that here and I love it!)
Here’s the Dancing Discomfort Monster as drawn by Gigi while I was writing this:
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With all my love,