The basic rule of improvisational comedy is “Yes, and…”.
It’s a simple formula. You accept what your partner presents as a given (Yes!) then you add something to it (And…). Your partner then takes your contribution and adds more. Together you create something unique and immediate and fleeting. And sometimes humorous. And sometimes not. But you’re off to the next moment now, so you let go of the triumphs and the disasters and bring your whole being to create something new.
It works because you must accept the proposition as presented, without negation or negotiation. It’s up to you to come up with an identity that plays off that choice. You accept that reality and create something new which your partner now includes into the developing story. Your partner is now a mall cop, so deal with it. You become an elderly woman in sweats and head band doing a power walk. He informs you that it’s closing time. Etc. The scene works or it doesn’t, then it’s on to the next one.
The same model works for other forms of improvisation too. My daughter, Micaela, teaches Argentine tango. Within the boundaries of that particular dance form, each moment is created anew in dialogue with your partner. She writes in a recent post, called “On the Intimacy of Nonverbal Communication,”:
When I dance with someone it’s like checking in with them physically, emotionally, mentally, and creatively. That last one’s what I find so pivotal, considering the prevailing opinion that art is reserved for artists and looks a certain way. Because the priorities in tango are around improvisation, interpretation, exploration and extrapolation we find ourselves to be artists in the company of artists every blessed day.
Consider one of the great hurdles in learning to lead; that feeling of not wanting to bore your partner. What if I run out of moves? What if all I can do is walk? I don’t have enough material to make my dance entertaining yet. But if tango truly is a dialogue, a moment shared equally between dancers, two people coming together for a unique spin around the floor, then that fact alone should allow for a perpetual state of entertainment. If we can’t step in the same river twice, then every step is itself a moment to be explored and enjoyed. Or every non-step for that matter. Every moment a moment to be explored. If you find THAT boring then I’ll eat my shoe!
The same could be said for push hands, no? Each push hands encounter, even the most competitive, is an opportunity to engage in “improvisation, interpretation, exploration, and extrapolation.” How done better than, “Yes. And…”? You receive your partner’s communication without resistance, taking in the energy rather than batting it away, and then add your contribution to the dialog/ creation. To do that you must MEET your partner and the challenges with your whole being. And that means letting go of fixed ideas of what the appropriate response “should” be. Each moment is new, and needs to be respected as such.
I have found myself using “Yes. And…” several times recently when coaching clients through life/relationship challenges. We all encounter “Ideal/Reality” conflicts occasionally. Some people get stuck there. They have a concrete idea of the “way things should be,” and struggle mightily to make it that way. If you are an ant trying to move a rubber tree plant, or a little engine trying to pull the train over that mountain, such determination is laudable. It is the early spring wood energy shown by the daffodils in my yard that have been pushing up through the snow and frozen earth for several weeks. “Single-minded determination” certainly has its place and time. Perhaps not if you are trying to find common ground with your significant other, or getting your teenager through a personal crisis. “My way or the highway” is a hard way to go.
“Yes. And…” in personal relationships means that you receive your partner’s communication and actually look at the situation from their perspective, rather than just batting it back. (Yes!) Then you offer your two bits. (And…) It doesn’t mean you necessarily agree with the proposition, but you do accept it as a starting point. You don’t just refuse/ignore the communication. It establishes an important foundation for a co-created relationship.
This points to a broader application: One’s relationship with Life.
While there may be some emotional satisfaction that comes with a good, “Noooooo! This can’t be happening to me,” any real change for the better usually follows a clear idea of what the actual situation is, right NOW. Let your personal narrative reflect your actual circumstances, not how you wish they were or feel they should be. (“Yes, I have just been fired from my job. I have enough in savings to get me through the month. Not a great situation, but that’s where I am. What other resources do I have?”)
This approach has a Stoic practicality, surely. Marcus Aurelius said, “The first rule is to keep an untroubled spirit. The second is to look things in the face and know them for what they are.” This is the “Yes.” part of the formula. Calmly meet What-is with your whole being, even before you start constructing the narrative that explains the event to yourself. Then try to get the story as close as you can to what is really going on.
Embrace each moment. Recognize it for what it is. Love it, even if it sucks. (This takes practice!) This brings you into the present. NOW. It is in NOW that you find your full power. With your “untroubled spirit” you can move to step 2…
While continuing to meet the moment with my whole being, what do I want to add to participate in co-creating the next one? The dialogue is no longer just between me and another human, it is now with Life…with Destiny…with Spirit. Karma has led to this moment, no matter how insignificant it may seem, and the direction it takes from here is co-created by the choices I make now. It is this partnership that gives meaning and depth to our lives.
Martin Buber said:
“This free human being encounters fate as the counter-image of his freedom. It is not his limit but his completion; freedom and fate embrace each other to form meaning; and given meaning, fate–with its eyes, hitherto severe, suddenly full of light–looks like grace itself.”
We are not here merely to witness life, but to fully participate with our whole being. Say “Yes!” to the moment that is given you. Then say “And…” to let Life know that you are Awake and ready to play.