I just finished this book, which was a disappointment at first. Since the subtitle is The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, I thought it was going to teach me how to get things done without actually doing them. You can imagine my excitement at this prospect, since having to do things is one of my major beefs with life. I dreamt there might be chapters like Vacuuming without Vacuuming, Feeding Children without Feeding Children, Remembering Stuff Without Remembering Stuff, things such as this. But, no. It’s mostly about the effect our unconscious has on our judgments and reactions and decisions, which is actually quite fascinating. Today I’d like to discuss a particular section of the book that’s been swirling around in my head for days.
There is a chapter in the book about improvisational theater. You know, when actors get up on a stage with no script and feed off one another to create a scene and a story on the spur of the moment. My friend Joanna spent years on an improv team in California, and the mere thought of what she did every night in front of hundreds of people terrifies me. I’ve always wondered . . . how do they do that? How do they not pee in their pants every night from fear? How do they make it look so effortless, so natural? How are the actors so confident that all will go well when they have NO idea what’s going to happen next?
Here’s what the book had to say about how they do that:
“One of the most important of the rules that makes improv possible is the idea of agreement, the notion that a very simple way to create a story – or humor- is to have characters accept everything that happens to them….If you’ll stop reading for a moment and think of something you wouldn’t want to have happen to you, or to someone you love, then you’ll have thought of something worth staging or filming….Most of us are very skilled at suppressing action. All the improvisation teacher has to do is to reverse this skill and he creates a very “gifted” improviser.”
And so, of course, I started thinking about how Shakespeare said “all the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” And how, if this is true, then we’re all improvers . . . because certainly nobody’s handed a script each morning. We never have any clue what the hell is about to happen to us.
And then I thought about how the author said that we are “skilled at suppressing action.”That seems true . . . we are so afraid of action entering our lives…..we don’t want it, we resist it, we reject it. But action, or conflict, is exactly what makes a story or life interesting, worth living, worth telling. Conflict in a story or a life is what changes the person living through it. Conflict is what turns someone into a deeper, better, wholer, person. And that change is what life’s supposed to be about. We are each presented with different conflicts, but the purpose of each of our conflicts is the same . . . change. No conflict, no change.
What hero do you have that wasn’t presented a curve ball by her improv partner – Life – and allowed it to change her for the better?
And that got me thinking about how most of my pain and anger and confusion result from resisting life’s suggestions. Not necessarily from what happens to me, but from my refusal to accept what happens to me. My discomfort stems from the way I hang on white knuckled to what I expected to happen, or to the way things used to be. This resistance is draining, fruitless, wasteful, damaging even . . . like an actor having a temper tantrum on stage because he wanted his partner to take the scene somewhere different. This resistance takes me out of the moment. It cuts off energy, ruins the scene, the whole vibe. And it blockades the road that I was supposed to walk down. The road that was built to change me for the better.
The rule in improv is to accept your partner’s suggestion. You must say yes and respond. Adapt. Allow your ideas and expectations to be fluid. Allow what happens to change the scene and change your character. Improv is about change.
So I thought . . . if life is like improv, would a good rule be to accept life’s suggestions, to say yes and respond? To allow my ideas and expectation about my life to remain fluid? To allow what happens to me to change my life and my heart? Because isn’t life about change, too? Isn’t life about allowing conflict to change me into who I was meant to be?
And then I started thinking about what would happen if I started saying yes, yes, yes to my Lyme instead of hating it, instead of being so pissed off at it and resisting it and waging war against it. It’s not really my personality to wage war, so my Lyme war takes a lot out of me. I wondered if there might be a different approach.
And that got me thinking about how Lyme has changed me.
I don’t think I really knew how to take care of myself before I got Lyme.
A Monkee emailed me recently about how she felt so drained by other people and responsibilities, about feeling like a doormat, about being sucked dry by others and finding no time for herself. And while I read and sympathized and remembered having those feelings in the past, I realized with surprise that I hadn’t experienced those feelings for months.
I haven’t done a single thing I haven’t truly wanted to do for about a year now. I haven’t given away my time or energy to anyone but the people I love. I have done nothing but learn how to nourish my body with good food, nourish my mind with books, nourish my soul with prayer and quiet, care for my family, seek out time with life giving friends, and follow my little dreams. With whatever energy I have left over, I’ve cared for my home and I’ve written. That’s it. When I think about it, it’s actually sort of a wonderful way of life, managing a disease.
Since disease has forced me to slow down and pay attention to myself . . . I am in touch with what I need all the time. I say no thank you to things I don’t want to do and to things I do want to do all the time, and Lyme gives me the excuse not to have an excuse. And I seem to worry a whole lot less about disappointing other people, and what they will think of me when I inevitably do. This makes me wonder if Lyme is changing my character, because I used to worry about that more. I’m fairly certain that worrying about what others think of you stems from pride . . . so maybe my Lyme has tamed my ferocious pride. Nothing else has been able to do that, ever.
Maybe my limited health and energy is a gift, too. You know, when people win the lottery, they always think their lives will be better but often they end up blowing all their gobs of money and losing friends and finding themselves miserable. It’s like God gives us these resources, money and energy and health, but maybe when we have too much of something, it loses its meaning and we get lost in it. We end up giving it all away because it’s not precious to us anymore, and we’re left with nothing. But when our resources are limited, like my energy and health are, we watch how we spend it. We notice it and enjoy it when we have it. We’re grateful for it and we make good decisions about who we give it away to. We quit being wasteful. We make more out of less.
And then I think about the Big Curveballs that have made me who I am – bulimia and addiction. These are diseases that left me healthier and wholer in the end. I’ll go farther, they gave my life meaning. They brought me closer to my faith and my family and my real self. They turned me into a writer. They led me to my vocation. Jesus, they saved me.
There was a price to pay for my addictions and there’s a price to pay for my Lyme. My family pays through the nose, sometimes. Even so, as I‘m writing this I’m thinking that I’d choose them all again. I like who these curveballs are turning me into. I like the change I see in myself.
There have certainly been times in my life when I’ve felt better, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been better.
So. Today I say yes, yes, yes, Lyme. I’m not going to fight with you anymore.
All the world is a stage and my improv partner, Life, has suggested Lyme. So I’ll roll with this. I will listen carefully to you, Lyme, and when you suggest rest I’ll rest and I will learn to care of myself through you and that will, in turn, help me learn how to care for others better.
Through conflict, Life teaches us each differently the same lesson: “Love others as you love yourself.” Implied is that first we love ourselves wildly and carefully and fully too, and Lyme, you are teaching me how. You are a teacher.
*Wait, what’s that, Lyme? What’s that you say? You want us to quit saving for college this year and hire a babysitter several hours a week so I can rest??? Really, Lyme? Okay. Yes. Whatever you say. Yes. Yes. Yes. I say Yes, Sweet Lyme.
Thank you, Lyme. Thank you, God, for my Lyme.
Let me accept it and learn from it and allow it to change me.