global impro 12 - Dreams and a Heart

May 23 2019

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: GII

12.) Regina Mendes Dreams and a Heart

This blog is the twelfth in a series of blogs, charting my experience as a Theatre Bristol agent at the Global Improvisation Initiative Symposium, May 2019. If you'd like to get a little context, start here. Otherwise, welcome to my reflections on making a doll, meditating and realising it was time to leave.

'Dreams and a Heart’ awareness research... investigate[s] the impact of making dolls and meditation on our natural abilities of ‘attention’ and ‘awareness’. [from the conference notes]

Regina woke up at the beginning of 2011 with a vision. She needed to make a doll to represent each person in the world. She'd never sewn in her life, but she bought a sewing machine and began the task of making 7 billion dolls. It quickly became apparent that she wasn't going to be able to reach her target, so she reduced the zeros until she got to 700, that felt achievable. She started reaching out for help: “Every person to whom I talk about the project falls in love with it and most of them help in one way or another: making the entire doll or just stuffing them, giving me their old pillows full of dreams and also pieces of fabric such as clothes and mainly old sheets.”[From Regina's website]. Regina now has around 2000 dolls and she's still going strong.

“Each doll is roughly the same size and colour, the colour of our bones, suggesting that we are all the same regardless of our little differences.... With Dreams And a Heart we can help this suffering world to become happier, healthier and more just.” [From Regina's website]

I took an hour to sit with Regina and stuff a hand-made cotton doll with dreams and a heart.

"Dreams" are the insides of pillows, Regina explained that there is a ritual to collecting the dreams. The outside layer of the pillow is discarded, “this bit only contains superficial dreams” before the dreams are then left to air in the sun for 4 days.

The dolls are precut and sewn, apart from a gap in the leg. You take little bits of dreams and stuff the extremities of the doll, the head, arms, one full leg and the toe of the leg with the gap in it, using a pen to push the dreams to the very edges. “They need to be firm enough to stand up on their own two feet.” says Regina, regularly testing your doll to feel if it has enough dreams in it.

She tells us we can talk or just sit quietly and get on with stuffing our dolls, it's up to us. She's warm and curious and calm and grounded and absolutely lovely to be with.

Holly Stoppit
Image credit: Regina Mendes

As we settled into the activity, the two women and I who were sat together, stuffing our dolls began to chat. Before long, we're veered onto the subject of soul. I said I don't like flying because sometimes it feels like I leave me soul behind. One of the women said "that's a thing." I can't remember what she called it, but apparently, there is a recognised phenomena of a kind of jelly like shuddering, after landing. 

I spoke about Thomas Moore's philosophy on soul, from his book, Care For The Soul. He speaks about soul and spirit having very different time qualities. Spirit darts off here and there while soul plods along. Thomas Moore writes about soul's need for anchoring in time and space. Soul needs home.

When the extremities were stuffed, we filled the chests, making a “nest for the heart”. The hearts are circles of red fabric, kept in a rescue remedy jar. We pushed the hearts in between the dreams and the skin, making sure the hearts do not get lost in the dreams. When the hearts were in place, we kept stuffing our dolls until their bodies were totally full of dreams. We sewed up the legs and Regina led us into a meditation.

Sitting with one thumb on our doll's hearts, the other hand found a pulse in our wrists or necks. Then we sat quietly, bringing our attention back to our breath or pulse whenever it was drawn away by thoughts. Regina said "You can sit for as long as you need to."

The tears came, slowly at first, clinging to my eyelashes as I tuned into my pulse.

I breathed a bit deeper and on the out-breath, the floodgates opened, fat tears poured down my cheeks and splashed onto my lap, onto my hands, onto the doll.

This doll, all the dolls, all the people who have helped to make them, all the people who are suffering in the world, and me, and me, and my grief, The Grief, these are the tears of the whole fucking world.

The doll had, similarly to Victoria's Feldenkrais session, given me the opportunity to slow down and simply notice what's alive inside. I felt sad, overwhelmed, tired and I'd had enough.

I'd watched myself pushing, pushing, pushing for three days, with a familiar intensity, trying to take it all in, trying to learn and experience all that I can. Make the most of it. Apply myself, better myself, reach further, climb higher, achieve more, be someone who deserves this space in the world. Be someone who has an impact on others, lead the way, be the patron saint of all the over-sensitive weirdoes who don't quite belong, be the sacrificial lamb if there needs to be one. Carve out space for all of us to be.

To be.

Just to be.

It was clear- I needed to not be here anymore. My soul needed a need a softer, quieter place where I can just be.

Following the only law in Open Space, the law of two feet, I left the conference one day early and headed home, where I started writing this. 

3 days later, I feel like I got exactly what I needed. I met some brilliant people, doing brilliant work, I was inspired and fed by their insights, I got to move and play a bit and I got to think about my work in a different way. I now feel clear about wanting to pursue new directions:

  • I want to begin a programme for teaching teachers, especially around the issues of holding safe space
  • I want to put more focus on access and inclusivity in my work
  • I want to continue to pursue the question around how the audience's collective psyche affects improvisation... could this be my phD?
  • I want to continue to find ways in my life and work to reduce the intensity and just be

If you got something from reading these blogs, do feel free to drop me an email at I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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