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Ramadan meditations: The art of spontaneity

  • Published at 12:02 am May 29th, 2018
  • Last updated at 09:46 am May 30th, 2018
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Improv is filled with joy

We have not come here to take prisoners

But to surrender ever more deeply

To freedom and joy.

-- Hafiz


One of the beautiful realities of South Asians is their inclination towards improvisation, whether it is in everyday life, or the performing arts. 

I had a grandfather who would burst into song for no reason at all, surprising the people around him. The songs would be improvised. He did it because it brought him a lot of joy. 

Joy indeed brings us freedom. 

Researchers Charles Limb and Allen Braun found that the brain activity associated with improv slowed down a region of the brain known as the dorsolateral pre-frontal cortex, (the front of the brain and its sides) which controls self-censorship and planning. 

Slowing down this region would reduce hesitation and quiet the critical voice in one’s head that prevents creative expression. 

While the front brain slows down during improvisation, the researchers found that the medial pre-frontal cortex (located in the centre of the frontal lobe) speeds up. This means one becomes more eloquent in expressing one’s thoughts, as well as exhibiting more unique traits.

The Qur’an is a sacred opera, an epic about greed and its dismantlers. Many surahs mysteriously begin with notes. Some surahs begin with the same notes, but different scales. Listen to Surah Ash-Shu’ara, Surah an-Naml, Surah Al-Qasas. Beautiful. 

If one were to listen simply to the surahs without wanting to decode, translate, and complicate, one would find an utterly different sacral experience. Does this mean Allah is an improv artist, the finest?

“Long before there was planning, there was improvising. For millennia, humans functioned naturally only by thinking on their feet, problem-solving in the here and now. I wake up. I look around carefully. I hunt for food. I share it with my fellow primates. We find a warm dry place to sleep. We have a few laughs” said Patricia Ryan Madson, in her book Improv Wisdom.

We don’t have to go back to our primal lives but we can certainly hold onto the magic of improvisation. This Ramadan, you can play improv games throughout the day with your children, becoming your best selves. 

The process is filled with joy. The following are steps to play discovering the game by Amy Lisewski at Finest City Improv: 

1.  Recognize the opportunity to play

Discovering the game means to recognize the unique things that present themselves to you in your life.  It may be something that’s said, a way someone moves, or an obvious “mistake.” Then, in those moments, you and your scene partner will build upon those unique findings together. 

Discovering the game this way will put you in the vicinity of great ideas you can explore together, rather than being pressured to bring a great idea to a scene.

Discovery is more important than invention.

Tempting as it may be, beware of trying to get a quick laugh or slipping in a side comment. Doing this will almost always let you down. 

Instead, listen, and accept what is actually happening in the moment. Make bold choices, commit to your character’s point of view, give gifts, and be present, you’ll discover the game (in life). It’s right there waiting for you.

How do you recognize a game? How do you know what to look for? Look for moments of incongruity or silliness. The best games come from tiny moments of silliness. 

If you see something, say or do something about it. Listen to your gut and trust your partner’s reactions. Remember, you are in this together. Co-inspire together. That’s half the fun.

2. Entertain yourselves

Once you discover the game, entertain each other with it. This will naturally heighten the game. Keep following those little associations and tiny developments. 

All games have rules. The rules elicit reactions. We should see these reactions played out by your character. You don’t need to invent. Just follow the rules as you discover them together and play.

2a. Heighten your intensity

Once you find yourselves in a game, it can be difficult to know how to heighten the game. The most important thing is to extend that one fun thing you just discovered before you continue on with all those big ideas rushing to your brain.  

Repeat a small detail while finding variations on the pattern and heightening/building the intensity of the variations. Think of heightening as the “build-up” phase.  

Relish each level of intensity in this phase. Our tendency is to rush through it because we are concerned with making sense of the scene and telling a story.

The key is to be engaged and keep following the rules of the game. Each level of heightening/building must have an effect on you, and that effect must be amplified by all scene partners.

3. Recognize when the game ends

All good things should come to an end. Once you’ve fully entertained yourselves with that game … move on.

Now, be ready to discover the next game and pick it up when it presents itself. 

Shireen Pasha is a contributor.

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