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Become a holist: laugh, slow down

This summer I went to summer school. Not the academic kind, but the self-help, feel-good, self-actualizing kind. No, I didn’t spend the month at Hazelden; I took an improv class. In other words, I took Body/Mind 101, which finally cleared up some confusion regarding the validity of holistic learning methods becoming increasingly popular in the most mainstream of communities. Even here at the University, I can walk into rooms with chairs arranged in a circle and a few broken rows pushed toward the back of the room.

But why? What does sitting in a circle accomplish that sitting in rows does not?

Sometimes we do these things without question. We also drink vitamin C-enhanced, watermelon-flavored water or do what we can to experience “living in the now.” We try yoga and incorporate percentages of carbohydrates into our diets because we will supposedly find some kind of zone. In the long run, I guess it’s supposed to mean we were all working together to make harmony. But what the heck is harmony? Some kind of peace?

I decided to look into the idea of integral learning knowing there had to be more to this concept of being a “whole” person than eating enough carbohydrates. So I took a class at the Brave New Workshop.

Brave New Workshop is unlike any other improvisation school I have studied with; instead of focusing on being “bigger than life” funny, the class addresses being present in life’s little things. This in itself ends up being pretty funny. While I could detail the many wonderful things I did this summer in that hot basement classroom, such as quacking like a duck in a room full of peers, it wouldn’t do any good. The combined hours of laughter, moments of clarity and minutes of silence I collected by doing nothing other than slowing down and playing with my peers is enough for me to sail happily away into the sunset.

I have spent a lot of years trying to make sense of my misery. I have gone to retreats. I have bleached my hair. I have eaten organic answers plucked from the cyber trees of the future’s golden garden. I have done the Dew. I was the first kid on the block to get Atari. Nonetheless, I remained the most apathetic kid on the block well into my mid-twenties.

That’s the problem when you talk the talk. The walk, however, is really more like a sprint.

This summer, I learned to really walk, something I learned through improvisation. The idea behind improv is to “be in the moment” or “go with your instincts.” Forget about how it should be and what you should say. Just go with the first thing you feel before your neocortex has time to censor the deal. In other words, take a risk for a change.

Do something you can’t predict and haggle with the outcome. Don’t think before you speak. Ultimately, this nurtures a more authentic “you.” If you decide you want to talk to the cute guy in line at the rec center, any unrehearsed script you come up with will be much more interesting than the one you ripped off from page 34 of Cosmo. Suddenly you realize you do not need permission to be yourself.

I’m not suggesting you haul off and set up a mango stand in Aruba. If you do, however, I hope it’s because that desire emerged out of something you have been suppressing for a long time. Likewise, I’m suggesting that when we answer “fine” when passersby ask us how we are, it’s because we really are, not because we are afraid to say something different. If we integrate how we really feel with what we think, we will come closer to projecting our authentic selves into the world.

In other words, slow the heck down. How many times in a day do we ask a co-worker if they “got my e-mail?” How often do we shop for meaningless trinkets at e-Bay? How often do we hear ourselves complaining about our lack of time, only to find ourselves online at 2 a.m. searching for love on J-date? Of course when you actually sit down and meet the guy or gal face to face, he or she will have little to say other than: “I googled you.”

More important, how many times do we catch ourselves saying, “It’s all good” when clearly it is not. About as many times, I’ll bet, as we are asked in the classroom what the right answer is before moving on to the next challenge. What good is the answer without a dedicated amount of time to the question?

This quick-fix, know-it-all culture is becoming increasingly dangerous from day to day. We no longer know the answers to the things that matter, let alone the knowledge of how to ask about them.

If the world were functioning on television time, we’d have no problems. But it isn’t and we do. When we spotlight society’s grand belle of the ball – money, success and shiny cars – we lose track of the other ways we can get our needs met without having to go to unnecessary places like Chino Latino.

Not only did Brave New Workshop remind me of the simple steps involved in meeting my basic needs, but it taught me how fun the pursuit can be. In one particular exercise, we were instructed to do a particular activity while narrating exactly all we were doing, right down to the fingertips. My task was to enter the kitchen and make a sandwich, something that would usually take no more than three minutes. Of course I never made it farther than the refrigerator because I was too involved in looking at the photos of my nieces and feeling the cool smooth surface of the crisper against my forehead on a hot day. When it came time to find the bread, I got caught up in the absurdity of the countless plastic bags that sit empty in back of the soy milk. I also had to face the fact that I have the same two jars of pickles – “just in case” – unopened.

Just how much are our bodies missing when our minds are busy making other plans?

Roxanne Sadovsky’s column appears alternate Thursdays. She welcomes comments at [email protected]. Send comments to [email protected]

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