Yes, And…

 

I have enjoyed following the Improv Everywhere missions since I first heard about them on This American Life a few years back.

What I especially enjoy is their aim of shaking people out of their everyday routines in a way that is enjoyable for everyone (unless someone is set on not enjoying it), and also their long form improvisation guideline of Yes, And.

Accepting an offer is usually accompanied by adding a new offer, often building on the earlier one; this is a process improvisers refer to as “Yes, And…” and is considered the cornerstone of improvisational technique. Every new piece of information added helps the actors to refine their characters and progress the action of the scene.

This is not a bad guideline for life in general.

Life throws something at us, and we can respond with a Yes, And… We say yes to it, and then add our own, advancing the story from a place of Yes, And. The Yes is an invitation to allow it, and even find peace with and appreciation for whatever is happening. And the And is an invitation for us to bring it something else to it, to take it further.

Or we talk with someone, they say something that has a grain of truth in it, which just about anything has, so we can acknowledge that grain of truth, and add another perspective. The Yes is an invitation to find the truth in their perspective, and the And is an invitation for us to bring something new to it.

The Yes is a wholehearted Yes to whatever is happening, an invitation for receptivity and appreciation. The And an invitation to actively add something to it, bring something new to it, advance the story in a way that may be interesting, entertaining, beautiful and touching.

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The Work and owning the shadow

 

Through some of the subquestions, The Work helps us explore how our beliefs and perceptions are formed and maintained by culture and community and more.

For instance, asking the question when did I first have that thought? tends to bring up the whole initial context, how it came from family, society and more, and how it continues to be maintained by those around us and our culture. Question no. 4, who would I be without the thought? and the turnarounds help us see that having that belief, that identity, and that way of filtering the world is not inevitable. Other people and cultures may indeed see the world quite differently. Their experiences and interpretations may be very different from what I initially took for granted, and I too glimpse this now.

The Work also helps us work with the he/she/it, you and I dimensions. The initial statement is about Other, a he, she or it. When we read our inquiry to the one it is about, for instance our partner, the you dimension comes in. And the I dimension is there throughout.

Here are some of the ways The Work works with the shadow

  • It brings it up and out by encouraging us to find a stressful statement. Whenever there is a stressful thought, aka any belief, there is also a shadow inherent in it.
    • Often, a part of us see that belief as unacceptable, even if it is there, so we squash it and try to not make it visible to others or even ourselves. In this case, we may partly be aware of our shadow, and uncomfortable with it.
    • Other times, we may be completely identified with the initial statement and corresponding identity, so don’t even question it. In this case, it is usually a blind shadow, and we see it only out there in the wider world.
  • It works with the shadow in its many forms, as a shadow of a belief, an identity, and a group identity.
    • We work with the shadow of a belief through the turnarounds, which help us see the grain of truth in its reversals. The shadow of a belief, a statement taken as absolutely true, is exactly there, in the grain of truth of its reversals and also the limited truth of the initial statement.
    • Any belief creates a corresponding identity, at the very least an identity as someone who has that belief, filters the world that particular way, and behaves in relation to that identity (whether these behaviors are aligned with the identity or not.) When I explore what comes up through question no. 3, what happens when I believe that thought?, I explore this identity and its consequences. Question no. 4 and the turnarounds helps me explore what happens when this identity is not blindly identified with anymore, and I allow myself to move more freely among the different reversals of that identity. These reversals are the former shadow of the initial identity, and this is a way to begin to make more friends with it, bring it more actively into my daily life, see what it asks of me, and harvest its gifts.
    • And from the shadows of the belief and its corresponding identity, group shadows form. Again, through questions no. 3, 4 and the turnarounds, we get to see and explore this group identity, its consequences, its shadow/reversals, and what happens when there is a release from blindly identifying with it.
  • Through taking one or more of the turnarounds into daily life, we get to explore it more actively there as well, with the insights inquiry gave us.
    • We get find the truth in the reversals/shadow of the initial belief, live from a space holding the limited truth in all of them, and find a fluidity among them in daily life.
    • We get to find in ourselves the the reversals/shadow of the initial identity, explore how it is to admit to and live from those reversal identities, and finding a fluidity among them in daily life. What is different when I live from an identity that previously was not acceptable? What gifts does it offer? How it is to find more fluidity among them in daily life?
    • And we get to explore the corresponding group shadows as well. Which groups in my life have these shadows, and how are they expressed? What happens if I deliberately move outside of the group norms and acknowledge the grain of truth in the reversals of the belief, and maybe shift into the reversals identities? Is is accepted or not? Does it help shift the group into a wider embrace? If not, maybe I could leave the group?

The impulse to explore this in a little more detail (not that I haven’t many times before) came when I read some discussion about The Work in the context of the Ken Wilber type integral framework. Sometimes, we can be so intent on finding how things does not align with a particular framework that we miss how it does. (Not that it has to, or even should.)

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“Not gay” and flawed thinking

 

The Republican Senator Larry Craig insisting that he is “not gay” reminds me of some of the flawed thinking about these things that seems to be out there.

The polarization into either gay or heterosexual seems, even on the surface of it, pretty suspicious. Why should it be either/or? In most of these type of cases, it is more often both/and.

This polarization and either/or thinking seems to be a product of taking on an exclusive identity as one or the other. I see myself as either heterosexual or gay, so then filter myself, and my impulses and attractions and even my behavior, through that identity.

If there is an attraction or action that doesn’t quite fit with my conscious identity, I can always dismiss it as something else.

These attractions are not really what they seem to be, or they are, but I can’t be the one experiencing it, so it must be somebody else. My actions are not really an indication of my conscious identity being too narrow. And, to prove it to myself and others, I may reinforce my identity as “not gay” even more.

And finally, these identities in general do not take circumstances into account. They assume that there is something inherent in our personality that is always that way, independent of circumstances, which again is a dubious assumption. In the right situation, I would guess that any one of us can experience and act either way, even if it doesn’t match our conscious identity.

It seems that it makes more practical sense to see all of us as bisexual, and what comes up for us, and is lived in our lives, depends more on circumstances than anything else… such as culture, subculture, who is around, and more.

The depth of the shallow

 

I used to be identified with an identity as cultured, which lead me to read a good amount of literature classics, philosophy and art history, watch obscure and sophisticated movies, listen to music such as Arvo Part, Palestrina, Bach, Philip Glass, and so on, and although I genuinely enjoyed it and got a lot out of it, it was also a one-sided life and identification.

During the dark night this identification, as so many others, wore down, and there is now more of an open space for anything… deep and shallow, artsy and popular… it matters less now.

The irony in this shift is that now, finding more fluidity within the wide landscapes of literature, movies and music, I am also more easily able to find the depth in the shallow, and the same dynamics and patterns in all of it. Popular or sophisticated… it is all reflections of the same basic dynamics and patterns of the mind.

There is a depth in the shallow that, although I was aware of it all the time, I held at arm-lengths distance. Now, that it is right here in my life with no distance, I can appreciate it much more.

Conversely, I guess I can say that there is a shallowness in the deep as well, often an identification with a particular identity which sets up boundaries where there really are none, and a self-congratulatory attitude about things that are really not that sophisticated, and sometimes not even that important.