Bliss and fear are the two sides of the ignorance coin.
On the one hand, there is a freedom to not knowing what comes next. It allows us to take on challenges we would otherwise talk ourselves out of. Most of us would never start the race if we knew at the beginning what we know at the end.
At the same time, fear of the unknown can cripple us and prevent us from even showing up. Improvisers experience this feeling through every step of the journey: fear of our first class, uncertainty of our first show, anxiety of others’ judgment of our performance, etc.
This doesn’t end as we advance. In fact, it can deepen. “I had a run of great shows, what happened?” “I thought I was good at this, and now I feel like I’m doing it all wrong.” In life, our internal voice will lie and judge and twist reality to try to keep us safe. However, improv teaches us that all of the rewards are on the other side of fear and safety.
Improv shows us that at every step of our journey we are always beginners.
Shoshin is a Buddhist concept that means “Beginner’s Mind.” According to Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki “in the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.” Our challenge in life and in improv is to approach our obstacles, whether we are novices or experts, with the openness, eagerness, and lack of preconception of the beginner. Every scene is a new beginning. Every show is a new opportunity to discover, explore, succeed and fail, and then succeed some more. Every opportunity to take a stage is a gift to share a new moment with a new configuration of audience and performers.
Improv reflects the message that no matter how far you’ve come, you are still always at the beginning. No matter where you are, there is always a road ahead with volumes more to learn and experience and grow. Approach improv and life with the wonder of a beginner’s mind and jump into the unknown with the comfort that we are all in this together for better or worse.