Clowning With Chaos, a mini workshop

Apr 30 2021

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Holly Stoppit in a windy hill by Joe Rosser

Ahead of The Online Clown Academy's Clowning Out Of Chaos Conference (21-23 May), I offered a wee workshop exploring chaos through clowning via Facebook Live.

I made a slightly edited version for you to play along with wherever you are. You can find the video here.

In this video, I begin by talking about the conference programme, laying out our banquet of delicious offers; a clown cabaret, laughter yoga workshops with Suzy Harvey, a Mindful Play taster session with me, an Activist Clown taster session with Robyn Hambrook, a panel discussion and an Open Space session, both exploring the theme of the conference: how do we clown with our inner chaos and how can clowning help us deal with the outer chaos in the world?

To start the workshop, I asked the live participants what images and sensations pop up when I say the word 'chaos.' They wrote in the comments: Wriggly Mister Man, confusion, my hard drive, me trying to interact with technology, I feel all over the place, my room, family, traffic, sirens, mess, vortex (tornados), whirlpools, my brain, my flatmate, disorder, disorganisation, I feel uptight when I hear the world chaos.

I spoke about how in times of chaos, I often find myself gripping in my jaw, hardening, defending and blocking out chaos, hunkering down or clenching my bum.

Robyn wrote in the comments: I quite like a bit of chaos though...it can be exciting. I spoke about this excitement as the flip side of chaos - how it can draw you out of what you know and into really unexpected places.

Another participant wrote that chaos is familiar, I spoke about how chaos can become home, if that's what you know, then you'll create it.

After a shake out to loosen the muscles, I offered three exercises to help us explore our reactions to chaos.

1.) Leaning into chaos

Taking your weight to the front, back or sides of your feet, finding the edge of chaos and exploring your reactions.

2.) Chaotic Interruptions

This exercise is inspired by something I did with Zen clown teacher Moshe Cohen in January this year. Place an object on your head and walk around your space. When it falls, notice how you feel about it and start again. Begin to up the stakes; walk faster, spin, climb over or under something, whenever it falls off, notice how you feel and turn it up (make it bigger): you might feel frustrated, embarrassed, sad. Stay with the feelings for as long as they last, then start again. Keep going, but find the opposite emotion: if you're playing with frustration, look for pleasure. If you don't really care about the object falling off your head, really invest in it, like it really matters.

3.) A duet of Chaos and Control

Find out where your object's eyes are. Introduce your object to a few of your things. Notice how it feels about the things you're introducing it to, somethings it might like, other things, not so much. Switch, so the object starts to lead you through the space - it has its own will and desires. Then take back control. Play a duet between you and the object, control and chaos. Notice how you feel when the object is in control - are you cross or worried? Is it pleasant to be lead? Let the feelings be part of your play. Explore the opposite of your natural feeling - instead of cross, try curious. Play with the transitions between who's in control - sometimes they can be quick, other times slower.

At the end of the physical explorations, I asked the participants if they had any insights they could take from these exercises into their clowning or their lives, maybe something about how they meet chaos or how chaos meets them?

While I was waiting for them to answer, I spoke about my recent investigations of surrendering to chaos and allowing it to do its thing, which is very different from my natural response which is to resist, harden, brace and tense up and say "NO." I've been softening and saying OK to chaos and finding out where it can take me (you can read about that here).

Participants wrote: Was cool to experiment with the opposite reactions to my defaults e.g. being happy when something fell. Chaos can take you in unexpected directions. I love moments of accepting even embracing chaos. I love the idea of exploring the opposite emotion, I'll definitely try that in my life. I really enjoyed the chaos on this day which was full of beurocratic boring stuff... might try the opposite feeling while doing my paperwork next time... Chaos can be chaotic surprisingly & gives a little sparkle to the eyes.

I spoke about how chaos can be a great teacher, going on to qualify that I am not suggesting the chaos is The Way and we should all jump into the vortex. I explained that a little sprinkle of chaos can help us build our resilience and prepare us for bigger chaos to come. The participants then spontaneously offered some of their favourite quotes:

Trungpa Rinpoche said chaos is extremely good news

Love this Don King quote: If you're in trouble, spread confusion, because out of confusion you will get something

I closed with some thoughts about how opening ourselves to chaos can be fertile. When we do it, we are opening ourselves to something new and unexpected, something we have not experienced before.

If you'd like to know more about Moshe Cohen, the Zen Clown teacher who inspired parts of this session, check out his website.

If this style of playful inquiry floats your boat, I will be offering a Mindful Play taster session as part of the Clowning Out of Chaos Conference, and a 5-week online Mindful Play Inquiry course in June.

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