I went to clown school. Yes, you heard me right: clown school. It wasn’t “white face and big scary hair” clown school, it was “eccentric performing” clown school- in the style of Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin (also known as “theatrical clowning” or “physical comedy”). While I did practice things like “walking an imaginary tightrope with your fingers” and “20 ways to slide off a chair”, I also learned some things that have been very practical in real-life applications. In clown school you learn how to walk onto an empty stage in front of an audience and create a world, a world in which you are fully present. It’s being fully present, in the moment, that creates moments of comedy (and tragedy). Basically the only way that you can live a balanced, well-rounded life is to be fully present for each moment of your life – that way you can have the most successful improvisation possible (because each moment of our lives is an improvisation). Clown school taught me some important life lessons, and in this article I’m going to share the two most important lessons with you.
Lesson #1: Breathe. When in doubt…keep breathing.
On a purely biomechanical level, you’re dependent on respiration. If you quit in-spiring, then you’ll definitely expire! Your brain needs richly oxygenated blood to do it’s thinkingest, and the rhythm of your breathing affects the way that you are perceived in the world around you. Unfortunately, in moments of stress (like say when you’re on a stage in front of people with no idea what you’re going to do), your natural tendency is to stop breathing. The resulting adrenalized state is great for running from bears when you accidentally stumble into a bear den in the woods, but not so great for responding to the world – or making an audience laugh.
The act of focusing on your breathing will actually help you relax in the moment. Take the time, as you breathe, to check in with yourself – what is your physical experience in that moment? What is happening in the world around you? How does what’s happening in the world around you actually make you feel (physically and emotionally)? Keep breathing and just notice. From your awareness of the situation the appropriate response will emerge. It will be an authentic response, from the core of your being.
Lesson #2: Say “yes” to the opportunities you’re given.
So you’re noticing, and suddenly the appropriate response comes to you. What do you do? Do you take it? Do you negate it? Do you wait for something better?
In clown school, we learned that the basic rule for improvising was to (almost always) say “Yes”. Strangely, when we’re untrained, our tendency is to say “no”. Not necessarily a literal “no” – here’s an example: in an improv someone says “I’m not feeling so good” – and an untrained actor will say “here’s a pill to make it better”. End of improv. Nowhere to go from there. The response negated the initial opportunity. A trained improv actor might say something like “You do? Me too. Maybe your contagious?!? Is it your shoulder?” Improv can continue.
A “yes” response accepts the situation as it is. You don’t try to fix it, you don’t try to make it something different. The power comes from seeing what’s happening and running with it – using the momentum of the situation to take things to a whole new level. So on that level, as you breathe and notice what’s happening in your life, try to be aware of whether or not you (or the people around you) are actually going with the flow. Are you seizing opportunities and taking them to the next place? Are you trying to make things “better”? Are you hoping that something more positive will come along?
You’ve probably heard the story about the dude who’s trapped in a flood – the water is rising, and he’s getting tired of swimming. But this guy has faith that God will save him. Someone comes along in a boat and offers to take him to dry land, but he refuses the offer, knowing that God will save him. I’m kinda bastardizing this story, but in the end the dude drowns. He winds up in heaven, face to face with God. The dude says something like “Geez, God, it’s great to be here in heaven and all, but I have to ask – why didn’t you save me?” God replies, “Well, I sent you a boat…”
Are you ignoring the opportunities that are there right in front of you? Learn to trust yourself, to trust the logic of the universe and the Law of Attraction, and to trust the power of saying “Yes”. The universe rewards you for seizing the reins of your own life through action, instead of waiting for something better. Tell you what, when something better comes along, say “yes” to that too!
There’s more to clowning, of course, just like there’s more to life. These basic strategies, however, will take you a long way. Your breathing will feed your inspiration and help you pay attention to what’s happening around you. In order to respond effectively to the world, you have to first notice what’s really going on – as free from mental judgement as possible. Accept what is. After you’ve taken it in, your riff begins. Saying “yes” to life means building on the opportunities that life gives you. When the universe opens a door you HAVE to walk through it in order to get to the next open door, and the route to where you want to be will involve lots of going-through-open-doors. You gotta do it if you want to get there. The Law of Attraction will take care of the rest, opening more doors like the one you just came through. So take care, keep breathing, and start walking.