Saturday afternoon I did something I’ve never done before: I took a “Mindful Improvisation” class for actors—not because of some hidden theatre longing (or if I have one, it’s really, really well hidden from me) but because I love taking classes of any sort, mindfulness is one of my major interests and one of my best friends was going.
We started out with some whacky, fun exercises and alternated with writing about our experiences.
One journal question in particular spoke to me, so I wanted to share it with you. We answered the following question: What project or creative activity calls to me at this time? I was blown away by my answer because it was something I have never thought of before, unlike the usual “chatter” in my mind (a boring, highly repetitive mantra involving what to make for dinner, which bills are due, and how to inspire my children to stop clowning around and listen to me blah-blah-blah-ing).
I wrote “I want to create a self-help coloring book for adults struggling with anxiety issues.” Wow! Weird! Fun! This heretofore unthought-of idea pulls together many strands of professional and personal interests: emotional self-soothing, creative play, repetitive motion to stimulate relaxation, and most important of all, it would be at least as much fun for me to create as it would be for others to use. (My litmus test for extracurricular activities: is it more fun than work?)
This journaling technique of asking a question and answering it as if you were holding a conversation with another person is known in mental health as inner dialogue journaling. Used the field of addictions and mental health (as well as—who knew?—theatre), inner dialogue journaling is useful for getting in touch with the various aspects of our personalities and giving them “voice.” Why should we do this? So that we won’t be sabotaged by their acting-out behaviors, or accidentally ignore them in the serious business of adulthood.
Want to try this at home? Think about a behavior or habit you have that is problematic for you. For instance, if you have a big credit card debt and can’t seem to pass a “sale” sign without pulling over and going shopping, you might have a dialogue with your shopping urge.
Count on spending ten to thirty minutes alone, depending on how quickly and comfortably you can go “inside” and how fast you write. Go to a quiet place and take out a pen and a notebook. Address your Shopping Urge directly (Note: This may or may not be loosely based on my relationship with Book Buying and Chocolate Eating, my own top two drugs of choice):
You: Why do I turn to you so much when I know you are only temporarily satisfying?
Shopping Urge: Don’t blame me! I’m not the one with the Visa, baby.
You: Sorry. What is it about you I find so compelling?
Shopping Urge: I’m new experiences, color, texture, social acceptability and hope. I’m all of the things you feel lacking in your life when you get anxious or depressed.
You: But what can I do instead of leaning on you?
Shopping Urge: so glad you asked! You could feel your feelings. You could make space and time to be less productive and more slothful. You could take care of yourself in more meaningful ways and then you wouldn’t need me as much.
You: Okay. I’ll try.
Shopping urge: good! I’m so sick of malls I could scream! I’m really more of a “Comfort Urge” than a shopping urge, after all.
(Noticing a theme here in this blog? An obsessive preoccupation with writing and storytelling as a form of healing, perhaps? I am nothing if not a consistent, predictable [and maybe just a touch boring—see repetitive self talk, above] therapist.)
Holding an internal dialogue is just one of the many ways you can open up and listen to the various aspects of you.
Try it and let me know how it goes! And if you want to try out one of Zoe Wright Bell’s Improvisation classes, you can email her for class info at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Additionally Freehold theatre http://freeholdtheatre.org teaches improvisation classes as well as a course on “The Artist’s Way*” a class in allowing personal creativity based on the book by Julia Cameron.
And let me know what you think of the coloring book idea! I’m pulling out my crayons as soon as I hit “upload.”
(*Full disclosure: The “Artist’s Way” teacher is a dear friend of mine. While I generally frown on [read: hate] blogs that promote BB’s, or blogger buddies, thus turning the internet world into one big nepotism-net, this woman is brilliant as well as being a buddy).