This past summer I met a woman who teaches comedy improv, and our conversation piqued my curiosity since I teach extemporaneous preaching, which is its own sort of improv. So I started doing a bit of research into improv, and what I discovered is that many of its principles — just as in the case of extemporaneous preaching — are the very same things that make for a spiritually aligned life.
The most important principle in improv is known as “Yes, And.” What it means is that when your improv partner does or says something during a scene, you accept what has been offered and then build on it with your own interesting response. By doing so you keep the action moving forward in an unexpected, creative and sometime hilarious direction.
One thing that kills improv is if one of the players takes a stance of “Yes, but” or simply “No,” refusing or ignoring what has been offered and instead forcing the scene to move in a direction based on his or her own desires which have nothing to do with what their partners have already created.
I see life as spiritual improv. It presents us with situations, sometimes quite unexpected, and it’s up to us what we do with them. If we let go of our resistance to what is and accept our situation, then we are able to respond imaginatively in a way that allows circumstances to evolve in an innovative direction.
Deepak Chopra wrote a short and wonderful book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, which I highly recommend. I would rename his book if I could to The Seven Spiritual Laws of Co-Creation, since I am more of a Taoist when it comes to the question of “success” and “failure.” In our culture, we value success and disdain failure, even though it is usually our failures that teach us the most. In fact, another fundamental principle of improv is the willingness to fail, and fail spectacularly. Accepting the possibility of failure is a key to personal freedom.
Aside from the title, though, Chopra’s book is brilliant, and in the chapter titled “The Law of Least Effort” he talks about the same thing that improv artists call “Yes, And.”
Chopra says there are three components to the law of least effort: acceptance, responsibility, and defenselessness. Acceptance is the “Yes” to our circumstances, while responsibility is the “And.”
Chopra writes: “Responsibility means not blaming anyone or anything for your situation, including yourself. Having accepted this circumstance, this event, this problem, responsibility then means the ability to have a creative response to the situation as it is now. All problems contain the seeds of opportunity, and this awareness allows you to take the moment and transform it to a better situation or thing.” (p. 58-59)
The third component of the law of least effort, according to Chopra, is defenselessness. That is when “you have relinquished the need to convince or persuade others of your point of view.” (p. 60) In other words, with defenselessness we come full circle back to nonresistance, otherwise known as acceptance. “Yes, And, Yes.”
I’m sure you can think of examples of people who accepted their circumstances and then offered a creative response to them, and perhaps you are in a situation right now that you wish were different. If so, I invite you to consider what it would be like if you were to drop your resistance and accept the situation for what it is, and then consider how you could offer an interesting, perhaps even playful response. You might be surprised by what happens next.
I believe we all have the capacity to become masters of spiritual improv, which is a way of being abundantly, joyfully, playfully and freely alive. And it all begins with a simple affirmation to Life: Yes, And.