|Albert Einstein playing the violin|
Article by Jude Treder-Wolff
We are already living in the Age of Complexity, which is in some ways it is like being flown to foreign country without our consent or any formal preparation. Of course that makes some of us highly anxious and wrestling for control, but if we instead say “yes” to the premise of the present moment, then we can add to it or change it up in some creative way that heightens the possibility of success in shaping the outcomes we seek.
“Through spontaneity we are re-formed into ourselves. It creates an explosion that for the moment frees us from handed-down frames of reference, memory choked with old facts and information and undigested theories and techniques of other people's findings,” writes Theater Games originator Viola Spolin.“Spontaneity is the moment of personal freedom when we are faced with a reality and see it, explore it, and act accordingly. In this reality the bits and pieces of ourselves function as an organic whole. It is the time of discovery, of experiencing, of creative expression.”
“Yes-and” thinking is an open-ended and expansive approach to communication that has gained credibility in business and other realms not specifically artistic in nature. “Imagine you’re improvising with a comedy team and someone throws you an idea,” challenges an article on leadership and listening skills in Nonprofit World.“You can’t deny it or ignore it; you have to accept it and add to it to keep the improv going. The end result is better, richer, because of all the different inputs and viewpoints. Practice saying ‘Yes, and.....’ It’s a conversational technique that builds on another person’s ideas. It promotes a sense of real dialogue and shared discussion while sending a message of commitment and positive assertion.”
The “yes-and” and other spontaneity-enhancing ways of thinking work to make us better thinkers, problem-solvers, and actors on the stage of life because problems in living are very much like the problems encountered in the arts. An example: Early in my career as a creative arts therapist, a sixteen-year old young man with spina bifida attending a school for multiply-handicapped children and adolescents was referred to me by his treatment team for music therapy in the form of guitar and voice lessons. The idea was to strengthen his confidence and sense of self by responding to his desire to play and sing popular songs—and hopefully impress girls. At the same time we hoped to provide a means for him to work through his deepening sadness and alienation over the physical limitations that would be with him for life and support his independence navigating life on crutches or a wheelchair. His natural musicality, singing voice, and great personality made him a pleasure to work with, but the 20 minutes before and after each session were surprisingly important—and agonizing—for both of us.
His therapeutic plan required that he bring the materials for the lesson to the music room and set them up without my help, while my supervisor and I observed through a two-way mirror just to monitor his progress and safety. It was a noisy, messy process, painful to watch. He tried to carry the guitar, music stand, and books all at once while making his way on crutches, sometimes simply dropping everything out of pure frustration. He used the wheelchair to drag whatever would not fit into his lap, which made an unbelievable racket and usually left a trail of music sheets down the hall. At times anger at his limitations so overwhelmed his desire for the music experience that he would procrastinate so long his lesson was only 10 minutes out of a half hour. It would have been so easy to step in and finish the set-up for him, but it was clear that his psychological development depended on his ability to manage the emotions, process and consequences. And he did gradually learn to pace himself. To organize the tasks. To work within boundaries. To express rather than act out his feelings.
Then there was the music, his adolescent impatience with the process, his insistence I teach him songs beyond his level of mastery. Forging ahead too fast on his own, he would botch things, feel inadequate, and want to give up. He could not be bothered with learning scales—too boring. But working through each conflict that came up around the music training raised his self-awareness and strengthened his competence to deal with emotional tensions gradually, consciously, and honestly, at the same time that he gained mastery as a musician.
Dr. Elliott Eisner, author of The Arts andthe Creation of Mind, writes that working out the issues we face when training in an art form prepares us for the uncertainties and ambiguities of life, and perhaps most importantly, teaches through lived experience that “small differences can have large effects.” [vi] The obstacles and issues that arise when we pursue a passion are the same stumbling blocks to psychological maturity we would have to face through any number of harsh and potentially heartrending disappointments. Arts education trains the mind and personality to persist in a visionary process toward an unknowable outcome, as we deal with situations that have no single correct solution and call for a range of perspectives to find a way through. Every play, movie, painting, song, or building was at one time a vision in an artist’s mind, which developed, step-by-step, into material form. In the same way, a desire to change dysfunctional relationships or be a better parent/spouse/friend/citizen or take our life in a new direction begins with the conception of a possible future that exists only in imagination. Perfectionism and its paralyzing fear of mistakes can be replaced with an adventurous search for the interesting, novel, or possible “next steps” that emerge through trying things out. In releasing control over outcomes, we quiet the inner critic so that we can express ourselves with heart and candidness, maybe even defeating its negative judgements about us in other areas as well. Through building upon what we have been given, engaging in co-creation with fellow actors on the stage of life, we become more adept at holding the tension between big-picture, expansive goals and focused concentration on the work at hand.
“Every musical experience that we have changes who we are,” writes Bennett Reimer, Professor Emeritus of Music at
- There is a balance between challenges and skills;
- Action and awareness are merged;
- Distractions are excluded from consciousness;
- There is no worry of failure;
- Self-consciousness disappears.
- The activity becomes an end in itself.
Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, RMT, CGP is a trainer/consultant and writer/performer. Her storytelling show Crazytown: my first psychopath will be performed at The Triad in New York City on May 18, 2014 at 3 pm. To buy tickets click here