Category Archives: Relationships

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Dear James: Am I On the Right Path?

Dear James,
I recently left my husband of 11-years: it has been a battle from the very beginning. It was an abusive relationship including alcohol and drugs. My question is am I making the right choice by leaving and planning on divorcing him? I’m struggling with my decision to do this.

I also recently applied to go back to school. I want to do this and I have everything paid for, but I need a job. I’m struggling to make the decision to go to work or school and I need to get a place so I can move back to a different town where my kids will attend school. I’m afraid I’m making all the wrong choices, but since I have left, so many doors have opened up to me. I’m excited but also afraid that I need to stay with my husband: that he will truly change and be a good husband.
Answer:
You are indeed on the right path: it’s why it feels so right: and yet so uncomfortable.

Eleven plus years have been spent in torment, anguish, denial and pain.
A decade of hiding the truth just so you could feel the slightest bit normal…sane.
Addicts routinely make promises they never keep: it’s in their DNA. Their need for the next fix, score or drink is so strong, it eviscerates all rational thinking: judgment: responsibility: or accountability.

Substance Abusers and Addicts are illnesses in need of treatment. By second-guessing your decision to remove yourself from this toxic environment by separating and ultimately divorcing, you leave the door wide open for yourself to continue as an enabler.

The only thing you want to enable: is your forward momentum and recovery.
You and your children would be wise to seek counseling in order to truly cleanse your souls. To unburden oneself is to wash away the residue of that which was left behind by lasting impressions.

You never have to stop loving your husband and father of your children. You just have to love your self more: and him enough so as to allow him to fall, so he may yet rise…if he so chooses.

Empower yourself by educating yourself.

Demonstrate to your children the depth and determination of your will, the levity and gaiety of your spirit, and the strength of your convictions.

Open yourself to the many doors and windows that will continue to open for you, as you seek to move and align yourself with your highest purpose and ideals.
Be forgiving of yourself and others, as forgiveness speeds the momentum of your recovery.

Be patient, yet confident, in all your dealings and decisions. Life is not a sprint, but a marathon.

Enjoy the journey, as you will come to discern the destination is fluid, not fixed.

Above all else, believe with all your being that you are doing the true and right thing.

Be steadfast: not steely.

Ultimately, Peace comes to those who willfully believe they are worthy of it.
Be worthy of Peace.

DearJames

DearJames™ provides intuitive insight, answers and advice…to your life questions. DearJames™ is an Intuitive Advice Columnist, Radio Host and Consultant.  DearJames™ is available for private intuitive consultations and you may also listen and call in live every Wednesday at 9:00AM Pacific on the Contact Talk Radio Network during DearJames Live – EXPRESS YOURSELF: an all live call in show where you Tell It Like It Is…And Then Hear What DearJames™ Has To Say. ASK DearJames a question or find an abundance of Inspiration, Advice, Wellness Resources & Tools and Charitable Giving opportunities at www.dearjames.com.

From Intent.com: You Are Not Alone

“Maybe ever’body in the whole damn world is scared of each other.”
― John Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men

The thing they don’t tell you about getting older is how hard it is to maintain relationship. As a grade-school child, you’re in a room with 25 other kids your same age from your neighborhood and for roughly eight months, you have built in best friends. That’s how it goes for 13 years or so and then you slowly add more and more people until you realize, unless you’re intentional, you might not know anyone.

I can’t name one person I met in college. Seriously.

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As an adult, I’ve learned that if I want to have more than surface-level friendships, I’m going to have to put in the extra effort. I don’t know that I’ll ever find the consistency I had in grade school. I work from home. I’m a single adult. If I want friendships, I have to make them a priority. Here are some best practices I’ve collected over the past years:

1. Don’t expect your friends to be psychic. I’m not even sure the people advertising themselves to be psychics are psychics, but we expect our friends to know when we’re sad or sick or feeling left out. While you don’t want to end up in a one-sided relationship, involvement with another person is always going to require putting yourself out there in some form. If you’re feeling blue, invite a friend to dinner. Decide you aren’t going to let it ruin your night if they aren’t available. Maybe think of 3 or 4 people to ask just in case. The point is just to get some quality time!

2. Know what you love. It can be really frustrating hanging out with people who love football to watch football if you don’t love football. Who’s fault is it really? If they know they love football, they are only being authentic to what they love. What do YOU love? If it’s not football, that’s totally fine! Is it hiking? Is it crafting? Is it going to concerts? The more you know about what you love, the easier it is to find your tribe or to invite people into experiences with you versus always feeling like you’re tagging along with someone else. It’s no one else’s job to find out what you love so take the time to really think about it and then share it!

3. Reconnect. There has to be some advantage to all the social media we’re glued to these days. Maybe it’s an opportunity to reach out to family or friends you lost touch with long ago. Upon moving to LA last year, I reconnected with one of those grade school friends I mentioned after I noticed on Facebook that she’d also moved to Los Angeles after graduating from college in Texas. We sent a couple of emails back and forth and scheduled lunch. It was a little nerve-wracking walking up to the restaurant. Would it be weird? Would we even have anything in common anymore? But, from the moment we sat down at the table, it was as if we had never missed a day!

 

It’s hard to be vulnerable. It’s hard to say “I feel alone” because it means you want people around and so much of society these days says you’re weak if you need people. To that I say the world isn’t big enough for everyone to have their own islands, so community has to happen. I also think that some of our best refining comes in the context of community.

It is where we learn to be selfless and also to stand up for ourselves.
It is where we learn to love ourselves and also to put others first.
It is where we learn what hills we want to die on.
It is where we learn the value of “thank you” and “I’m sorry”.
Those seem like worthy lessons.

So, don’t forget.
You are not alone.
You’re here and I’m here and so we can go ahead and put the notion that you’re alone to sleep.
You are not hopeless.
You are not unworthy of love.
I can say that with full confidence because your heart is beating.
So get out there!
A lonely someone is waiting on your friendship.

The Power Of The Positive Flow

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom, let it be

I stood outside in the yoga class and listened as a young woman told her friend, “well if it’s meant to be, it will be.” As I always do, the words from the Beatles above filled my head. “Let it be.” One of the lessons I have learned on the journey is that indeed, it is often to let things be.

But there is a second level of the process of more to it than being a passive observer of your life, and this is another very important lesson that I think gets lost in the desire to be in the flow, and to let things happen. I have learned this the hard way as well.

It’s almost a two-step process – especially for Westerners. We live in a society with technology at our fingertips. We’ve modified the organisms of the food chain. We feel that we are in total and complete control of our destiny and of the world around us. We’re not. We need to understand that as much as we think that we have controlled the world – the world still has mysteries and secrets that we will never understand.

Usually, this then translates, in yoga studio lobbies, to men and women talking about other men and women and debating the outcome of a relationship. It usually involves party A who has been trying too hard to force the relationship with party B whom they’ve either been dating, been wanting to date, been wanting to marry or procreate.

Faced with obstacles and frustration, they then declare that “if it’s meant to be, it will be.” It’s as if they have decided that it’s out of their hands and in the universe’s. This is, in my mind, a simple bastardization of the concept of flow and the role it plays in our lives.

To me, to be in the flow is first to listen. You have to understand what is happening around you, and most importantly, within you. You have to eliminate the chatter of the world and most importantly, the chatter within you. You might think that the reason you are nervous / scared / anxious about an issue or person is clear-cut and simple – it almost certainly isn’t and if you think you can see and understand what you are feeling and why without serious quiet and introspection, I’d be careful.

Let’s say you are deciding what you want to do for a new career. You need to think about it and ponder the pro’s and con’s in a logical way. How much money will you make? Where will you live? You will not become a yoga teacher by chance – it takes conscious action.

Once the input has been entered, then it’s time to sit down, meditate and think about it. How does it feel? What does it look like? What direction can you give yourself with the input entered?

If it feels right still, then here’s the important part – the power of positive flow.

I described it once to a friend in Burma last year like this.

Imagine you are standing on a river bank and the water is moving by you. You won’t get anywhere if you just stand on the river bank. The water is not going to come out and get you and pull you in.

You have to step into the water.

Then, you have two choices.

You can go against the current. And here I often think of my friends who are lawyers, and are miserable being lawyers (not all are, but a lot seem to be.) They turn into the stream and trudge hard against the current. They try to swim and fight upstream. They won’t succeed.

So you turn the other way, you are in the river and you let the river take you.

Here’s where positive flow comes in.

The river will take you but you will get there faster if you move with the river. If you have ever swum downstream in a river that’s moving fairly fast, you know that a leisurely swim moves you quickly – it’s almost as if you are flying down – that’s what you want to do.

If the man or woman you are interested in moves to another city, you can’t simply hope it will work out. It’s going to take real work and real effort. I have learned this recently with this wonderful woman in my life. It’s work to talk and communicate and share – more work than I have experienced before. It’s not just simply going to happen.

I also learned a lesson a few years ago. A woman I really enjoyed was flying to South Africa and the schedules got topsy turvy and I wasn’t going to be there for much time at all when she was going to be there. I debated changing my ticket home (I was on a business trip with a good friend.) My friend advised me not to. “If it’s meant to be, it will be.” And I left. The last email that the woman flying in sent was “Wait, we’re not even going to have dinner?”

I should have stayed.

So now, I feel that it’s a combination of swimming and floating. Of listening and acting. Of holding and letting go. The right place for me is a pulsing between the two. I listen now to myself and to the people important to me.

I always make sure that I am in the river. And I always make sure that if I am headed in a direction that feels right, I don’t mind floating and watching the world move by me.

But I also don’t mind putting my head in the water and slowly helping the river push me.

Let Your Actions Say ‘I Love You!’

i love youWho doesn’t want to be loved? It doesn’t matter if you’re educated, uneducated, young, old, rich or poor, every being on this planet loves to be loved. Although it’s great to say ‘I love you’ often to your loved ones, how many of us really mean it? How often does it come from your soul? The most precious things in life are said in silence. I am going to mention some of those below and let you say ‘I love you’ without uttering a word. Some of these suggestions may apply to your romantic loved ones while some for even the stranger on road. Apply these suggestions wisely and you may just fill your (and others’) heart chakra with a lot of inspiring energy!
Compliments: Genuine compliments are hard to come by. We don’t hear or see them very much! What if you start a practice of complimenting someone everyday? Keep in mind that some people may block your compliments and give you a cold shoulder. This has nothing to do with you, and everything to do with them. Don’t take it personally. Try with them again after a few days. Most people love receiving a genuine compliment and the ones who don’t are the ones who need it most.  So let your intention be to compliment those who seem to reject it. You may end up creating more trust and love in their lives and, ultimately, in our planet.
Hugs: Hugs come with therapeutic power. A hug with right intention allows a sacred exchange of healing. I just saw a post on my Facebook newsfeed that said a longer hug brings about feelings of joy and bliss. The post further mentioned that a sincere hug produces a hormone called “oxytocin” which makes us feel safe, relaxed and calm. It is recommended to hug for a duration of 20 seconds. Start with those who already feel safe with you or who need and  expect love from you. Once you are comfortable enough to spread this 20 second love, you are free to spread it all over.
Kiss: A small peck on cheek or a long, passionate kiss in the rain, both can speak volumes. A kiss says that you are loved, admired and cherished. Let kissing and being kissed become a new addition to your love menu. I am not asking you to jump on anyone that you feel like kissing (I know there may be a few or many!). But at least let your loved ones feel that you said ‘I love you’ with such a gentle gesture.
No tweets: Actions speak louder than your tweets. Instead of writing fancy love posts on your Twitter or Facebook, try to just give your undivided attention to your loved ones when you are around them. This means no Facebook or Twitter or Instagram use while they are with you. If they see you doing it, they may also follow your example, which leads to comfortable distance between people. Be need more genuine connection, more heart-felt interaction, more intense presence with our loved ones.  Don’t Instagram the special dinner before acknowledging the actual presence of everyone sitting at the table. Give social media a rest and arrive in the now, with love.
Gratitude: Express gratitude as often as possible. Your ‘Thank you’ is more touching than ‘I love you,’ at times. Pick small moments in the day that you can use to express gratitude. Don’t limit your gratitude either.  Acknowledge each and every person who helps you in some way.  The cleaning lady in your office, or the building security manager, or the stranger in supermarket who helped you. There are so many people who are deserving of your gratitude. Open your awareness to all the souls around you!
Since I don’t have any way of showing my love to you right now, I will use my words to express love to all who took time to read this post. My intention is to help you spread the silent love all over the globe!
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Committing to Presence for the Sake of Love

 Romantic Heart from Love SeedsJeff was convinced he’d fallen out of love with his wife, Arlene, and that nothing could salvage their twenty-six-year marriage. He wanted relief from the oppressiveness of feeling continually judged and found wanting. Arlene, for her part, was hurt and angry because she felt Jeff avoided any real communication or emotional intimacy. As a last-ditch effort, she convinced him to attend a weekend workshop for couples sponsored by their church. Much to their surprise, they both left with a glimmer of hope for their future together. The message they took away was “Love is a decision.” Their guides at the workshop had insisted that while we don’t always feel loving, love is here should we choose to awaken it.

Yet, back at home, when their old styles of attacking and defending were triggered, deciding on love seemed like an ineffectual mental maneuver. Discouraged, Jeff sought me out for a counseling session. “I don’t know how to get from point A to point B,” he declared. “Like when we were together yesterday . . . my mind told me to decide on love, but that didn’t make a difference . . . my heart was in lockdown. Arlene was blaming me for something, and all I wanted to do was get away from her!”

“Let’s take another look at what happened yesterday,” I suggested, then invited him to close his eyes, put himself back into the situation, and let go of his notions of who was right or wrong. “Just let yourself experience what it’s like in your body to feel blamed and want to get away.” Jeff sat still, his face tightening into a grimace. “Keep allowing the feelings to be there,” I said, “and find out what unfolds.”

Gradually, his face softened. “Now I’m feeling stuck and sad,” he said. “We spend so much time caught in this. I withdraw, often without knowing it . . . that hurts her . . . she gets upset . . . then I very consciously want to get away. It’s sad to be so trapped.”

He looked up at me. I nodded with understanding. “What would it be like, Jeff, if instead of pulling away during this kind of encounter, you were able to let her know exactly what you were experiencing?” Then I added, “And if she, too, without accusing you of anything, were able to report on her feelings?”

“We’d have to know what we were feeling!” he said with a small laugh. “We’re usually too busy reacting.”

“Exactly!” I said. “You’d both have to be paying attention to what’s going on inside you. And that runs counter to our conditioning. When we’re emotionally stirred up, we’re lost in our stories about what’s happening, and caught in reflexive behaviors—like blaming the other person or finding a way to leave. That’s why we need to train ourselves to pay attention, so that we’re not at the mercy of our conditioning.”

I went on to explain how the practice of meditation cultivates our capacity for presence, for directly contacting our real, moment-to-moment experience. This gives us more inner space and creativity in responding—rather than reacting—to our circumstances. When I suggested that he and Arlene might consider coming to my weekly meditation class, he readily agreed. They were both there the following Wednesday night, and a month later, they attended a weekend meditation retreat I was leading.

Some weeks after the retreat, the three of us spoke briefly after class. Arlene said that thanks to their meditation practice, they were learning how to decide on love: “We have to choose presence with each other, over and over and over,” she told me. “We have to choose presence when we’re angry, presence when we aren’t in the mood to listen, presence when we’re alone and running the same old stories about how the other is wrong. Choosing presence is our way of opening our hearts.”

Jeff nodded his agreement. “I realized that it’s not about getting from point A to point B,” he said with a smile. “It’s about bringing a full presence to point A, to the life of this moment, no matter what’s going on. The rest unfolds from there.”

Taking refuge in presence—choosing presence—requires training. When “point A” is unpleasant, the last thing we want to do is to stay and feel our experience. Rather than entrusting ourselves to the waves of experience, we want to get away, lash out, numb ourselves, do anything but touch what’s real. Yet, as Jeff and Arlene were realizing, these types of false refuges keep us feeling small and defended.

As I explore in my upcoming course on cultivating more conscious, vibrant relationships, only by deepening our attention and letting life be just as it is can we find real intimacy with ourselves and others. In more than thirty-five years of teaching meditation, I’ve seen it help countless people to deepen their capacity for loving, because if we are able to stay present, we can decide on love, and give it the space and attention it needs to ignite fully. When you are next in a conflict with a dear one, your might inquire, “What would it mean to decide on love? Can I commit to deepening presence for the sake of love?” Just the inquiry will draw you closer to your heart.

© Tara Brach

Note: Coming soon  – an online course on cultivating more conscious, vibrant relationships.

Enjoy this talk on: The Dance of Relational Trance 

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For more information, visit www.tarabrach.com

photo by: epSos.de

From Intent.com: Permission

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
-Eleanor Roosevelt, This is My Story

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You have to sign a waiver if you are going to have surgery.
You have to sign a waiver if you want to bungee jump or sky dive or get a tattoo.
You have to consent (in this country) to be married.
There are all sorts of potentially life-threatening/changing decisions we enter into that require our signature should we die/be permanently maimed/change our mind later and are mad. We sign off and say we understand the risks associated with our choice.

What if we went into emotional situations and relationships with the same mindset.
“Am I okay with the risks of this?”

I read a LOT of intents. Many of them are about reclaiming oneself from fear or doubt, blame or anger. The thing I want to drive home is that you can give or take permission from the things that drive you to those places as well.

Maybe it’s a friendship.
Or a work setting.
Maybe it’s a choice you keep making.
Don’t give permission for yourself to be torn down.
Don’t give permission to keep yourself in a negative space where you can’t trust your own decisions or worthiness.

Maybe that’s real dramatic or would require a lot of change. But what is more worth it? Is tearing down more okay than building up?

My hope is that somewhere, somehow you give yourself the permission to be amazing, to stop making excuses or to stop living under the cloud you’ve fought so long against. My hope is that you don’t waste another second feeling like you’ve handed over power to people and things that aren’t making you a better human.

Let me encourage you that you’re not alone in this.
Everyday people on Intent.com are sharing intentions of reclaiming their lives, in big and small ways. Don’t feel like you have to wait for permission to do the same.

“Dream and give yourself permission to envision a You that you choose to be.”
-Joy Page

From Intent.com: Living in the Abundance

I was going through intents this morning and stopped when I saw this one.

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“I intend to give from what I am abundant in.”
I’d never asked myself what I was abundant in.
Like so many people, I think about what I DON’T have.

I don’t have a new car.
I don’t have enough time in the day.
I don’t know how to make vegan recipes.
I don’t live close enough to my family.
I don’t, I don’t, I don’t.

Reading over this intent, it was the first time I stopped to think about what I do have.

I have room on my couch for a conversation.
I have a car to get me around town to meet with friends.
I have enough room in my budget for coffee and snacks.
I have a lot.

So- where are you in abundance?
Have you even thought about it?
Maybe what you need is 2 minutes over lunch to make a quick list.
What do you have?
Take a real inventory- of time, of tangible and intangible items, of ideas, of passion, of energy.
My hope is that you’ll discover that you have more than what you realize.
And, in turn, that you will find ways that are uniquely you to turn around and bless another person’s life out of the overflow. We were made for relationship, so get in there!

Don’t Date Anyone Right Now.

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I’m in a generation of people who are getting married later and later.
We have careers to think about.
We have money to amass.
We have ourselves to find.
I am not arguing those are legitimate reasons.

I say there are bigger reasons not to date anyone for a season and they aren’t always the things you read about in Cosmo.

Don’t date anyone if…

-you don’t know what you love. I dated a guy for 2.5 years and the thing that ended up being the clincher was he had no idea what he loved. Sometimes you think that if you really love things, it’ll be enough when you’re linked to a person who doesn’t know what they love. But that’s not how it works. Finding out what you love requires time, space and freedom. It means allowing yourself the opportunity to be messy and try things and have them fail. Don’t expect a relationship to be what solves that for you. While a friend or love might inspire something in you, don’t doubt that there is a genuine experience to be had in you really getting in there and figuring it out for yourself.

-you’re aware of gaping wounds in your spirit. We’ve watched a lot of movies where people who are broken and down on their luck find the person of their dreams then they fall in love and live happy lives. I totally get that. I even know people who have that story as their own. What I am suggesting is that if you are aware of those wounds, don’t try and make a person a bandaid. Don’t avoid doing the hard work in your life by just finding someone to pour all your love and attention on. This other person is going to fail you. At least once. They’re going to have things you can’t fix because you aren’t a superhuman. What you do want to do is push them to be a better version of themselves. You want to put a high price on creating a healthy, safe space for relationship. So show that it is a priority by putting in the work now to address the wounds and speed bumps in your life. Don’t make a person a bandaid.

-you aren’t willing to manage your own life. You are looking for a partner- not a personal assistant, not a maid, not a foreman or your parent. So if you are looking for someone to come in and clean up your mess, then you would be better served to go on yelp and find a professional housekeeper.

So are you ready for a relationship?
Or is there good work for you to be doing in your own life?

From Intent.com: Get Happy!

I love that the sun is starting to stay a little longer every day.
Is there still a polar vortex? Is that still happening?
I think it’s safe to say everyone is over the polar vortex.
We’re ready for the sun.

It’s such a joy hanging out with the folks on Intent.com because no matter the weather- rain, clouds, Los Angeles- they are always so focused and driven to live whole-hearted, healthy lives.

Right now, in the wake of Spring and the Olympics, we’re hearing a lot of buzz about happiness. Some of my favorite words about happiness?

“Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.”
-Marthe Troly-Curtin

“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”
-J.R.R. Tolkien

“I’ve got nothing to do today but smile.”
-Paul Simon

What makes you happy?
What places in your life could use a little happiness?
Here are a couple of things you could do to help you find it:

1. Keep a gratitude journal. Some people keep track of happy moments or things via journal or awesome jar or some other method for recording and saving.

2. Meditation. Take a few moments in your morning to focus on what you’re looking for. “Today I intend to find happiness in even the smallest moments.” Keeping that at the forefront of your mind all day has this way of making those bight spots of happy all the brighter when they happen because you’re not bussing right by. You’re training your eyes to see them.

3. Set an intent. I’d be remiss if I did not encourage you to create your own Intent.com profile. You can share your intentions (the one about happiness seems like a good place to start!), get feedback and encouragement, keep track of how you’re doing, whatever you need it to be. You have the opportunity to combine the perks of a journal with real humans who are walking alongside with you. So why not? Check out these intentions:

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So, as the Patridge family so famously sang, “come on, get happy!”
We’re with you!

The Improv Rules For Better Relationships & a Better You

Screen shot 2014-02-18 at 9.33.42 PMI’ve had trouble with social anxiety since I was a kid. For holidays I would hide in the bathroom or some hidden corner of my room just to avoid having to talk to family members we didn’t see on a regular basis. Today I am the most grateful person for Dominoes online ordering service so I don’t have to actually call the store and converse with whoever answers the phone. Initiating conversations in general sounds pretty horrifying as far as I’m concerned (note my job as an internet blog editor).  So it is with a great flare of irony that I didn’t find my footing in Los Angeles until I started taking improv classes at Upright Citizens Brigade.

For those not familiar, Upright Citizens Brigade specializes in long-form improv. So you and your scene partner start having a conversation and build a comedic scene around a “game” or a repeatable funny idea. And it’s all made up on the spot. So basically, you spend 3 hours a week for 8 weeks starting random conversations with people you just met. At the end of the course you then try to have one of those conversations (praying it’s funny) in front of every friend and family member you could convince to pay $5 to see it. It’s insanity – the definition of my worst social nightmare – and it’s the best thing I’ve ever gotten myself to do.

Don’t get me wrong, I have to pry myself off the back wall for every initiation I make. I want to throw up before 90% of shows I do and when I see the pros do it I am astounded at their ability to make it look so easy. What I’ve learned through my two years of classes and indie shows though has not only helped me develop as a performer (When I moved here I would rather be hit in the face with a shovel than be accused of being an actor, but now I have head shots. It’s definitely part of the dream) – but the rules of improv have helped me become a better person in life. Don’t believe me? Try a few of these basic principles and see the good it does for your own relationships.

1. Listen – This is the first and most important rule of creating any scene – but it should be the first rule of any interaction you have. Get out of your head and stop thinking of what you’re going to say next and actually take a second to hear the words someone else is saying. Watch their body language. Take notice of the intonation of their voice and make sure you understand what it is they are trying to tell you. For better or worse, everything said at the top of your scene if your foundation but it is only through listening that you can lay down bricks next to each other in a coherent fashion. Listen first, and you’ll be shocked how much easier it is to talk second.

2. “Yes and…” – Tina Fey has a similar list to this in her book Bossypants (which everyone should read) and she talks a lot about the “Yes and..” rule. This is actually the first thing you learn in improv. Your job as a performer is to agree. What does this mean? Don’t deny anything your scene partner says. You do not have to agree with it, but you’re not allowed to negate it or say that it isn’t true. It’s disrespectful and ruins the progress their contribution made. In real life terms, saying yes being means staying open to someone else’s ideas. It goes hand-in-hand with listening, really. The truth of the matter is that we’re all on this planet together and no one gets anything done alone. Honestly, it’s a lot more fun when you’re contributing together and a lot less stressful than trying to build an empire by yourself.

That brings us to “and..” This is the hardest part. You have to agree, and then add to the conversation. You have to participate. Otherwise you leave your scene partner doing all the heavy lifting and often times a scene will stall. It’s the same in life when you just plod through saying yes without actually getting involved. You become an inactive observer and before you know it you’ve watched so much go by without ever being part of it. So be open and jump in.

3. Be honest – When you’re building a scene it only works when everyone agrees that what you’ve built is real. If halfway through someone says “Ha, but I lied!” then it negates all the work up until that point. If you tell one lie then it’s impossible to be sure if anything that you’ve said has been the truth – on stage or off. An extension of this is don’t be coy. A lot of beginner improvisers will pretend to have a secret or delay saying their full idea because they think it will prolong the scene but really all it does is prolong the frustration. When you’re direct with what you’re thinking then it can be dealt with and built into the universe. When you’re dealing with real life relationships being direct may cause more confrontation initially, but the problems can be dealt with immediately and you learn only to make issues out of things that you really care about. When you purposefully try to be sneaky you waste scene time on stage, and you waste time in your relationships, for what? Something you’re going to have to deal with eventually, so just do it now so you can move on to better things.

4. Be a human – My favorite improv coach started our first class by saying the most popular critique he would give us would be “Be humans to each other.”  It sounds like common sense, right? I mean, how would we not be human to each other? What he meant was to combine all of the aforementioned rules and react to our partners like real people. We may be making things up but comedy comes from truth and you create a richer scene when you play it real. Being a human means you have to listen to what your scene partner says and be affected. If they insult you then you need to be honest and show that you’re insulted. If you’re not insulted then you better “yes and…” with the reason why. Sometimes in the real world we don’t take the time to be affected by the things around us. We’re moving too quickly in our own bubbles to absorb the events in our lives. When you take a second and process how something makes you feel and you react honestly to it you make progress. You learn. You grow. You’re more empathetic to others and you’ll find that it’s much less stress for you.

Improv hasn’t changed who I am, but it has given me several tools to be a better version of it. I will probably always choose the online option over calling it in, but at least I know I can get off the wall if I want to. I know that not all the pressure is on me, and if I can listen and react honestly then there’s the potential to create something out of nothing. Isn’t that the magic we’re all looking for?

How do you try to be a better human? Share in the comments below! 

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