Playing With Not Knowing
Nov 06 2023
I’m still buzzing and recovering from the Clown Congress 2023 where 50+ clowns spent three incredible days at Bristol University; talking, listening, workshopping, eating, singing, playing, dreaming, planning and scheming; exploring the theme of identity in clowning.
I was invited to deliver Creative Clarity sessions at the end of each of the days, offering participants opportunities to “process the day’s learning through play and reflection, accessing [their] inner wisdom, through movement, meditation, embodiment, writing, artwork and structured dialogue.” (my programme description).
I’d brainstormed a range of things we could do and gathered some pens, paper, post its, props and paraphernalia. My plan was to participate in the talks and workshops and take time during the Open Space sessions (in the slot before mine) to design each day’s Creative Clarity session. This was an intentional choice, as I wanted my sessions to respond directly to the themes and content that had come out of the days’ talks and workshops, rather than be pre-planned.
This blog charts what happened during my first Creative Clarity session, which I have retrospectively titled, “Playing With Not Knowing.’ The blog includes a Not Knowing Meditation / Sensory Exploration which you can do wherever you are, and a poem from Bee Golding capturing some of the participants’ insights from the session.
Day One Of The Clown Congress
Clowns of various shapes, sizes, ages and experiences shuffled, sprang and shimmied into the black box theatre at Bristol University drama department, finding their place in an enormous circle of chairs. After the organisers had welcomed everyone in, the first contributor, Saskia Solomons began facilitating their session on Multiple Me’s: where clowning meets Internal Family Systems. An amazing session, which I will write about in another blog, but this blog is more about what was happening behind the scenes…
Whilst the participants were embodying their inner parts, mark making and sharing their explorations with each other in Saskia’s workshop, the organisation team was running about, trying to figure out what on earth to do. Through no fault of their own, the next contributor was running late, time was ticking and it was starting to feel like they might not arrive in time for their session.
“I’ve got it!” said I, with 5 minutes to go, “I’ll just do the Creative Clarity session next, then they can have some landing time and do their session after lunch.”
Playing With The Unknown
So there I was, having had absolutely no time to prepare, with 50+ pairs of eyes looking at me. I imagine this might be many people’s worst nightmare, but I took a deep breath and and a deep breath out and started by telling the truth. “Our next contributor hasn’t arrived, so we’re switching up the order of the sessions. Welcome to Creative Clarity. I haven’t had any time to prepare and I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
50+ people drew breath whilst 50+ pairs of eyes widened in (what I perceived as) disbelief, fear, excitement and wonder. Luckily I have had a lot of practice at being with the unknown, as a clown, a facilitator, a meditator and most recently as a human who has committed to Not Knowing As A Lifestyle Choice, so I knew exactly what to do.
“We’re going to start right here, with not knowing, because this is what’s here.”
I offered a guided meditation / sensory exploration to bring people into the present, inviting them to connect with their experiences as if they didn’t already know, to bring the qualities of curiosity and discovery into each moment. Here’s a version of it that you can try right now if you like.
Not Knowing Meditation / Sensory Exploration
- Feel the parts of you connected with the ground right now, really notice the contact points, what is that like?
- Feeling into the whole of body - what do you notice?
- Maybe you notice your body expanding and contracting with each breath cycle? What’s that like?
- Maybe you notice where your clothes touch your skin? What’s that like?
- Maybe you notice sensations inside your body? What’s that like?
- How is it to approach these sensations with the spirit of not knowing?
- What’s it like to have a body right now?
- Can you detect a sense of your emotional state in your breath or your body? What’s that like?
- How’s your quality of attention right now?
- Is your mind steady or bouncy or distracted or elsewhere? What’s that like?
- Would you like to spend a few more minutes meeting your sensations, emotions and thoughts with the spirit of not knowing?
- When you’re ready, begin to explore the textures of your clothing with your fingertips.
- Slow down, take time to really feel the different textures.
- Let your fingers travel outwards to explore the various fabrics and surfaces in your vicinity.
- Notice when your mind makes assumptions about what things will feel like and slow down to notice what they actually feel like.
- Feel free to open up your other senses to this exploration - smell, taste, listen, look, take your time to discover each sensation as if for the first time.
- When you’ve had enough of that, come back to the parts of you connected to the ground, come back to your body breathing in and out.
I asked the participants to reflect back on that exercise (hey, you could do this too if you like):
How easy was it for you to stay with the not knowing?
What helped and what hindered access to the unknown?
The Creative Clarity session continued to unfold, moment by moment. Participants were invited to play with Not Knowing in pairs and then small groups, before reflecting again on their experiences.
For the final exercise, participants were asked to complete the following sentence on a post-it note:
“When I enter the unknown I…….”
Moving back into a huge circle, participants were invited to read out their sentences, in any order, to create a collective group poem. While the poem was being read, there was also an invitation for anyone to step into the circle and embody any part of the poem in any way they liked. An extraordinary spontaneous, improvised, ensemble performance unfolded.
Clown Congress’ Poet in Residence, Bee Golding took all those sentences and shaped them into a poem.
Peculiarly, the poem appears to have gone walk about and only a fragment remains. If the rest of it turns up, I’ll add it in later.
When I’m with the unknown – a snippet of a lost poem
when I’m with the unknown
I feel flutters through my middle
I dissolve, I reform
dissolve and fizz
forget that the ground is there
sometimes I speak my truth
How Was It To Facilitate From The Unknown?
For me as the facilitator, I felt a thrill of excitement, to be discovering the content of the session alongside the participants. It felt like a relief to come back to working in this responsive, spontaneous way, after a year of co-facilitating the same wonderfully robust, tried and tested six night retreat, over and over again, at the Devonshire meditation centre where I was living and volunteering.
There were, of course, hairy moments where some of my fearful inner parts piped up: “THIS IS NOT GOING TO WORK! THIS IS CHEATING! YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO HAVE A PLAN!” Especially at the beginning with all those eyes looking at me. But having been committed to Staying In The Not Knowing as an embodied research experiment for many months, I trusted the process enough to stay open and keep discovering, moment by moment.
Creative Clarity Weekend In Bristol
If you’re interested in playing with the unknown, there will be many opportunities during the Creative Clarity weekend in Bristol on the 9th and 10th December. Check out the details and application form here. Deadline is Friday November 10th.
You can find out all about poet in residence, Bee Golding here.
Find Bee's instagram account here.
To read about what happened in the Creative Clarity session on day two of the Clown Congress go here.
You will be able to read more about the Clown Congress soon, watch this space!