Improvisation: Building Resilience

IMG_6752Improvisation is something we do from the minute we are born.

We do not need to think. We experiment, play, move, breathe, make sounds. It is a process of becoming human.

Without it we would not know how to walk, talk, or eat. Our ability to function as part of the human species depends on it.

Our brain’s plasticity depends on it.

The recognition of our mother’s face, the sound of our parents’ voices, depends on it.

In fact, our entire childhood depends on improvisation.

So what happened to that skill we had practiced so well as children?.


This question has been with me these past forty years since, as a young dancer, my greatest joy came from improvisation.

For many of us, schooling and socialization interrupted our ability to play and be spontaneous. Schooling is often about learning how to pay attention to others, how to conform, and how to get the right answers. It’s not about our inner world and imagination.

Some of us were lucky and kept our inner child alive by doing art, dance, music, but all  of those forms can also shut down the playful spirit in us when we start looking for approval, applause and acclaim.

In fact I fear that we lose practice listening to our inner lives and to our symbols and metaphors because we are not encouraged to explore our imagination in school.

I was exceptionally lucky because I sought teachers who cherish imagination and the inner world. Richard Lewis and his Touchstone Center for Children in New York City offered one such opportunity.  In 1969, I met this man who became my mentor. With him, I worked with young children, and they validated my joy in play and going into the unknown.

These are skills I honed. I believe transitions in life require us to learn to make time for reclaiming play, joy, and delight.

To learn to be resilient as we age, we’re required to be more trusting of our inner processes and our inner truths.

We’re required to learn how to find our center—how to breathe and move from that place.

So how do we go about this reclaiming work? Just as we did in childhood.

We need to practice skills that we once had mastery over but might have given up to the collective culture idea of socialization.

Some of the greatest artists, visionaries, and inventors have to rely on these skills.

We need to practice giving up approval. Not needing acclaim or applause.

We need to remember that joy of stepping into a moment as if it has no consequence.  We can hear new desires and experiment with letting our spirits soar and hearts expand,

We need to delight in what we find is possible to create from moment to moment. We need to release control of the outcome.

For me, improvisation starts with how I prepare my day, with how I move into time and space.

It involves choosing with whom I spend time and how I prioritize my activities,

When I get so stuck in routine or perfectionism, I feel my presence is dimmed and my joy restricted.

I need to make time for play and allow time to unfold.

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