Help Me Obi-Watts, you’re my only hope.

About two months ago I discovered a podcast series of Alan Watts recordings. If you don’t know who Alan Watts is you can find more information about him here. Briefly, he was a Englishman who moved to California, embraced Zen and Taoist philosophy, and wrote a bunch of books on the subject. And like a wise Obi-wan to a community of Lukes, he blew the freaking minds of the beatniks and hippies who were in San Fran during the 50s and 60s.

Cue the sitar

Although my wife finds these recordings and his very speaking style annoying, I am a fan.

In a wonderfully bizarre sidenote, the creators of South Park (and the brilliant musical “The Book Of Mormon”) illustrated a few of Alan’s lectures and they are on YouTube.)

This last week as I listened to Alan discuss the nature of the universe and our relationship with it (in his wonderfully soothing British accent) he said something that really struck me:

Now here is the choice: are you going to trust it or not? If you do trust it you may get let down… There are going to be mistakes. But if you don’t trust it at all you are going to strangle yourself… To live I must have faith. I must trust myself to the totally unknown.   

Alan was of course talking about trusting the universe, but I immediately thought of improv because that right there is a perfect summation of the key to great improv: trust.

That is what makes improv so exciting, and so scary – and so damn hard. The challenge of improv isn’t being quick-witted or funny, or remembering the obscure rules to some goofy game. The challenge of improv is to trust. Trust not just your fellow improvisers, but trust yourself totally to an unknown and unknowable future.

We Westerners are bad at this. We want guarantees. We want to know that it’s all going to be ok, but that’s the catch. It might not be. Bad things will happen. In improv they will probably happen. Very publicly, on stage.

But if you don’t trust, you cannot go forward. Without trust you will strangle your own improv.

And (yep, Alan) this goes for all those pesky improv moments off stage as well, the moments we call life.

Today’s improvmantra: Trust. Go forward anyway. Trust that even if bad things happen, there will always be a way forward.

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About improvmantra

What is an improv mantra? An improv mantra is a phrase you repeat to yourself just before you go on stage, and continue to keep in your mind while you are in a scene. An effective mantra makes you a better improviser. Todd Erler, like all living creatures, has been doing improv every day since he was born. He has been performing improv on stage for more than 20 years. He is a teacher, writer, musicain, director, actor, and member of The Portable Reality Show.
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