Cultivating Resilience Though Play

May 20 2020

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Joe Rosser

How are you faring in these strange new times? Perhaps you are easing into your new normal, discovering new skills, talents and facets? Perhaps you're raging against a system that makes questionable choices on your behalf, feeling powerless? Perhaps you're mourning your familiar routines, or the plans and dreams that once shaped your choices, your identity?

I've been oscillating between all these modes and more! Thanks to one of my Creative Consultancy clients, last week, I've now found the name for this flippy-floppy phenomena: it's called GRIEF. Of course!

During my client's one-to-one session, as part of us designing an online workshop, we decided to try out embodying the 7 stages of grief in relation to coronavirus. Here's a snapshot of what we found:

  • shock (frozen numbness)

  • denial (there's nothing wrong, let's just keep going!)

  • anger (they got it wrong, we won't be oppressed!)

  • bargaining (maybe if we stay in for a few weeks, it'll pass and we can get back to normal?)

  • depression (this is hopeless, it's always going to be like this, we might as well lie down and give up!)

  • testing (we will need to set up new systems, life will look different, but it will go on!)

  • acceptance (we are in this situation, we can contribute to our own health and happiness and the health happiness of others)

It felt powerful to briefly touch in with all the stages of grief, some felt more familiar than others. Which ones did you most resonate with whilst reading? Lightly hopping between them all helped me feel more compassion for people at different stages of the grief cycle and reminded me that things can change. We both struggled to embody acceptance with any degree of authenticity – we are not there yet, but it was fun to play with what acceptance might look like.

Throughout the lockdown, I've been writing about how play is my way of processing emotions and gaining insight into what's going on for me (see How Can You Play At A Time Like This and Exploring Emotions Through Clowning). Play is also one of the ways that I replenish my resilience.

Let's explore the theme of resilience through play together, by investigating three of the Clown Workout videos: Cultivating Resilience Through Clowning, I am I am I am and Making Your Own Clown Palace.

Cultivating Resilience Through Clowning

Last week I did a Facebook Live in the Clown Workouts Facebook Group, exploring how to cultivate resilience through clowning

In this video, I speak about two definitions of resilience:

1.) toughness – being able to withstand the pressures that come your way

2.) elasticity – being able to spring back into shape

When I think about resilience, I think about a willow tree, it's roots deeply anchored into the earth, offering both stability and nurture. In the video, I offer an embodied exploration of resilience through inviting you to become a willow tree, with feet firmly planted. A gust of wind blows and the tree goes with the breeze, before coming back to upright, demonstrating toughness and elasticity.

I explain how resilience is grown through many tiny actions of self care, together with the online participants, we made a list of what we'd done over the weekend to take care of ourselves: walking in nature, long phone calls with friends, eating really good food, looking after growing things, sleeping, resting, going to a poetry zoom, deep conditioning hair, inner child meditation, planting potatoes, baking lemon drizzle cake and eating most of it.

These actions could seem a bit self indulgent, but these actions of self-care are the things that build your resilience so that you're able to withstand the pressures and keep springing back to your shape.

For the next part of the video, I invite your clown to take you on an imaginary journey to your clown paradise – a place where you are safe and free. This is an exercise I adapted from something I did in Angela de Castro's 'How To Be A Stupid' workshop. It asks your imagination to conjure you up a safe and nourishing place, then to act 'as if' you are there. The body will have an experience of being in paradise, allowing it to relax and experience pleasure – as a temporary opportunity to step out of your reality and let the body rest and refuel. The body may well remember this state later on, you could in fact see this exercise as a 'rehearsal' for life; once the body experiences a particular state, it's more likely to be able to access it again.

I am I am I am

In this audio recording made for Clown Workouts, Jacqueline Whymark introduces three simple sentences to help you draw strength and power, develop vocal confidence and create connection through your voice.

This exercise again demonstrates the power of employing the imagination and body in service of cultivating resilience. Jacqueline invites you to call to mind one of your ancestors, a particular landscape you feel connected with and a body of water that has had an impact on you. She invites you to release a prayer for each, on a full out-breath, beginning with the phrase “I am...”

Invoking these three elements and claiming them as part of my identity felt deeply connecting and stabilizing. I felt a sense of irreverence from my cheeky eyed Nana, space and awe from the rolling hills of the Brecon Beacons and techno-coloured bounty from the still, tropical, turquoise waters of Tonga.

It felt good to cast my imagination wide, both in terms of time and space. I felt more anchored after doing this exercise than I had for weeks.

Make Your Own Clown Palace

In this daft wee video, Dominique Fester invites you to channel your inner Robert Llewellyn Bowen – a ridiculous home-improvement TV presenter from the 90's, to help you create your own Clown Palace.

Dominique invites you to cast wishes around your living space – envisioning your ultimate fantasy of how you'd like to live. 

She then invites you to bring together some magic ingredients (random objects you've collected during lockdown). She then shows you how to 'divine' with your objects, finding out where they want to be in the space and how they want to infuse your space with magic.

Next you'll need a magic wand, to help you decree all the interior design choices that you have dreamed up into reality, with the incantation: “From this point on, this [boring piece of furniture] is no longer [a boring bit of furniture] it is instead [something really beautiful / wonderful / magical]”

Lastly, Dominique invites you to enjoy your newly designed space.

In a similar way to the other two videos discussed on this page, you are again invited to use your imagination to help you ground yourself and build your resilience, by taking a moment to step out of reality as you know it and connect with something magical. However, this one invites you to play directly with the reality you find yourself in, offering you a chance to engage the fantasy mind to dream into transforming your space.

Play is a great container for flirting with transformation. Change can be difficult, as we explored at the top of this blog, with the seven stages of grief. All change brings some degree of grief for the life left behind. Fear of grief is one of the reasons we resist change. We have all experienced loss to some degree and rarely are endings neat and tidy. Whatever associations we've had with change can colour how we deal with transitions, or whether we're open to them at all. Magical play is a great way of exploring change and our reactions to it. Magical play also provides ample opportunities to rehearse transitions and transformations, which you can store up as body memories to help you navigate real life change.

Throughout these three blogs, I've been exploring how play is far from frivolous. Feel free to check out the other two, How Can You Play At A Time Like This? and Exploring Emotions Through Clowning.

I hope you're finding ways to play. If you need inspiration, check out Clown Workouts for an incredible collection of free mini-clown workshops. Check out our facebook group here.

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