I have just returned from a family wedding and the joyous celebration of a new start and the witnessing of a new partnership filled with possibility. Having just ended my own marriage this past year, the happy event was littered with opportunities for feeling the heavy swirl of emotions that accompany difficult transitions.
Surrounding this event are concurrent experiences of friends who are swimming in their own rapids- one who prepares to send her middle child off to college with the fear and joy that accompany launching a fledgling whose wings are still wet; and another who is struggling with the sudden serious illness of his partner of many years and the terror that travels with the loss of control that accompanies those life transitions we do not wish for or plan.
In each of our collective experiences, we are faced with the choice of opening up to what we are experiencing and exploring with curiosity the nooks and crannies of the human terrain, or to close down to protect and defend ourselves against the fear that comes with loss and change. What stands out as a beacon of hope for me is the existence of choice. We can choose to be open to what is emerging or we can choose to become rigid and closed, insisting or wishing that things be different than they are. And so today I reflect on what opens me up. How do I mentally shift toward an open stance?
Certainly, my improv training has been a true pathway for exercising my flexible-brain, the open and receptive me. As improvisers we practice repeatedly, re-learning how to play from that childlike place of non-judgment and curious exploration. The resulting feeling of flow as new realities emerge beat-to-beat is intoxicating and keeps us coming back to the practice again and again. Carrying that euphoric feeling into other interactions and situations has served to help me stay open in more serious venues. I engage as a mediator in conflict situations with curiosity and playfulness which helps deescalate fear and invite connection. The practice of openness has helped me as a critical care nurse to notice, “What is needed now?” for a patient in distress. And as a coach, the improv training helps me to connect with my clients and be open to their story, their ideas, and their solutions for moving toward their imagined future. Turning this openness toward my interior world also proves to be useful.
Exploring more deeply what interrupts my openness and noticing when my ‘defender’ is triggered takes me into the source waters where the opportunity for choice resides. I discover in the moment the felt need to defend or protect myself as it arises and I notice in that moment there is also a choice- despite how instantaneous and automatic it may feel to constrict. I can notice my fear and I can choose to seek safety or I can choose to explore. This is as true on stage as it is in life. Picking through the rubble of old stones that are strewn about my psyche and turning each one over yields good insights about how easily fear can conjure up a dragon at the gate to keep my open and curious child from wandering too far from the castle walls. More on this later!
For now, I sit in wonder, how will I stay open today? How can my curious-self rise up like a mist over the craggy rocks that protect the tender roots of my being?