Headspace: Personal Analogies

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Headspace: Personal Analogies

Postby Spots » March 6th, 2011, 6:49 pm

This one is out there. I make no apologies, and I look forward to your response. ;)

Headspace. We've talked about activities people do before arriving at a show. Some people avoid caffeine or heavy foods. Some people just love to have engaging conversations. Then the discussion usually moves on to the subject of warmups. Whether to do them, and which warmups people prefer. So we all understand that headspace is unique to every person.

All this leads to a sort of abstract question... "How do you visualize your headspace?'

I'd be surprised if more than one person answers. It's a trippy question. See it as an invitation to create an analogy. Here's one that summarizes feelings I have about my headspace:

The Castle

When I'm inside the castle I'm not aware it's even a castle. I might be aware there are walls, but I'm more aware of the feeling of comfort and protection. I"m a part of something bigger. Maybe I feel warm and fuzzy and I'm sitting by the fire with friends. In this place I feel empowered to do anything. I can just take everything as it comes. I navigate these corridors on a daily basis so I know the layout. I'm prepared for surprises because I trust my footing. BUT, at any given moment the castle can be attacked and suddenly I pop outside the castle walls. Now I'm looking up at the castle and realizing how daunting it is. "Holy shit those walls are high! How do I get back in there? Everyone else is IN the castle! Is there a ladder somewhere? WOAH? I had a moat? I didn't know I had a moat! Shit, people are going to realize I'm not in the castle. Hide in the bushes!"

Any scene that I perform in this headspace may appear manic or in overdrive mode. Which is not ideal, obviously.

But since November I've been raising awareness of this tendency and I noticed it happens less and less frequently... I've learned to stay grounded inside the castle.

What are your thoughts /analogies?
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » March 7th, 2011, 10:30 am

i don't know that i particularly "visualize" it any particular way, other than the vague notion of "the space behind my eyes." but i sometimes conceptualize it in a certain way...

The Sensual Orchestra

I often describe my brain as "loud." There seem to be a number of streams of thought at any one given time and sensory data, language, music, memories, scenes from movies/TV/plays/books/comics, tactile recall, daydreams/fantasies, etc. all jockeying for position and focus. i used to think of it all as "noise" and tried to quiet it down with dominant thoughts, but that kind of active resistance was only slightly effective.

then i started to think of each stream of thought as an instrument or section in an orchestra. so i do some focus work to bring them into greater harmony with each other and then...i conduct. and i find that gives me much more freedom to play and USE what's in my brain in performance (both improv and, to a lesser extent, scripted), instead of trying to keep it quiet and categorized and having to flip through some file index to pull up relevant information.

oddly, i find that when i'm writing and need a little more focus and quiet internally, orchestral music (particularly film scores) helps the most.
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Postby Spots » March 13th, 2011, 2:32 am

Jordan, I'm always amazed at your memory recall. Or maybe it's some sort of encyclopedia housed in your brain.


Your description is making me think of the way my way of thinking has changed slightly over the years. Like, I guess that my conductor has grown larger and larger and the streams have subsided a bit.


Very cool analogy!
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Postby Alex Gray » March 13th, 2011, 8:11 am

There are most definitely voices in my head. Each is a champion of an idea, memory or point of view. At times there are a lot of them, sometimes only a few. Some I only hear from once - some voices are so familiar I name them. For example - "The Drill Sergeant" bellows at me to get moving when I'm starting to lose focus. My headspace is kind of like a Cloisters with a library beyond the arches. My voices bustle through the Cloisters. When I am focused it is serene but when my brain is going full tilt a throng of voices make it difficult to hear any individual clearly. Creativity can be the art of allowing the chaos so I can listen for inspiration. Doing any actual work requires order. Doing improv requires that I clear the Cloisters so it can be filled with voices inspired by my scene partners which is a different kind of creativity than the writing and design I trained myself to do. Maybe that is why I like it so much - it forces me to do new things to my brain, which feels good and makes me stronger.
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Postby ratliff » March 13th, 2011, 6:28 pm

If I'm doing it the way I really want to be doing it, improv does not come from my head. So I think "headspace" is an unintentionally loaded term in exactly the same way that "group mind" is.
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Postby Brad Hawkins » March 13th, 2011, 9:31 pm

ratliff wrote:If I'm doing it the way I really want to be doing it, improv does not come from my head. So I think "headspace" is an unintentionally loaded term in exactly the same way that "group mind" is.


John, quit lobbying. We're not calling it "crotchspace."
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Postby ratliff » March 13th, 2011, 10:33 pm

Brad Hawkins wrote:
ratliff wrote:If I'm doing it the way I really want to be doing it, improv does not come from my head. So I think "headspace" is an unintentionally loaded term in exactly the same way that "group mind" is.


John, quit lobbying. We're not calling it "crotchspace."


Then I guess "grope mind" is out too.
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Postby Spots » March 14th, 2011, 5:30 am

ratliff wrote:If I'm doing it the way I really want to be doing it, improv does not come from my head. So I think "headspace" is an unintentionally loaded term in exactly the same way that "group mind" is.


ehhh? I'm familiar with alot of your views, and tend to agree with them. But this one is a bit of stretch, isn't it? Neurons man, neurons.


Improv quite obviously involves the head no matter what.
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Postby ratliff » March 14th, 2011, 9:15 am

Spots wrote:
ratliff wrote:If I'm doing it the way I really want to be doing it, improv does not come from my head. So I think "headspace" is an unintentionally loaded term in exactly the same way that "group mind" is.


ehhh? I'm familiar with alot of your views, and tend to agree with them. But this one is a bit of stretch, isn't it? Neurons man, neurons.


Improv quite obviously involves the head no matter what.


Involves, sure. Even I would never deny that.

But here's what I'm noticing: improv tends to attract smart people, meaning people who are accustomed to thinking their way through problems. I'm sure there are improvisers out there whose primary response to the world is emotional or physical -- Jet Eveleth of The Reckoning comes to mind, though of course I can't say -- but the vast majority of improvisers that I know are head people.

So far, so good. Smart is good.

But the more I do this, the more I'm convinced that there's a level of improv that can't be accessed by the rational, controlling mind. And because I'm by nature a hyperanalytical control freak, this level is (a) the most challenging aspect of improv, and (b) the real point of it all.

It's not the only way to do improv. As I mentioned in another post somewhere, you can go watch an absolutely stellar improv show that's nothing but rational people in complete control of what they're doing, and if the performers are skilled enough everybody walks away happy. It's not only a legitimate way do improv, it actually makes a lot more sense when you have a vested interest (creative, financial, or otherwise) in producing an end product of a specific style or quality.

But the way I was taught it, and the way that resonates most deeply with me, says that your ultimate goal is not control but surrender to something larger than yourself. What that something is is a whole different discussion, but if you'll grant me that it involves your intuitive subconscious, we don't have to split theological hairs.

Here's my problem: my rational thinking mind is never going to freely cede control to "something larger," and because it is in fact very smart, it has a million ways to prevent me from doing so. They usually take the form of completely sensible arguments about why I should rely on my brain over anything else, and the most sensible argument of all is that I have control over what I do with my brain in a way that I don't with my body, my emotions, or my intuition.

Even for someone as unathletic and emotionally retarded as I am, this is a lie. Scientific literature is awash in studies proving that we don't know what we want, we're not good at assessing our experience, and we have little or no conscious control over most of what we do. Yet the brain continues to insist it works better than everything else.

Proof that my brain is bad at improv: it's not willing to lose the argument. So at some point, if I want to engage the rest of my being, I'm going to have to circumvent it and go straight to my body or my feelings or whatever.

A more evolved person could access all these parts of herself without having to short-circuit the rational brain entirely. But I'm not there yet, and to be honest I'll be surprised (though delighted) if I ever get there.

To return to the original point: my objection to "headspace" and "group mind" is that my rational brain seizes on these terms as an invitation to strap itself into the driver's seat at the very moment I'm looking for the ejector button.

If you don't feel like your rational brain undermines your improv, or if you're less hypersensitive to semantics, this might be a moot point for you. Just throwing it out there.
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Postby mpbrockman » March 14th, 2011, 11:10 am

ratliff wrote:...But the more I do this, the more I'm convinced that there's a level of improv that can't be accessed by the rational, controlling mind. And because I'm by nature a hyperanalytical control freak, this level is (a) the most challenging aspect of improv, and (b) the real point of it all...


I picked up on this when I took 101. It's why I have no strong desire to be an improvisor onstage. I am rather fond of my rational, controlling, hyperanalytic mind and do not particularly enjoy the "letting go" experience.

Nevertheless, I can (and do) "let go" somewhat while playing music. So here's a question for you, Ratliff. Is this due to having been behind a keyboard for coming on thirty years so that playing is like breathing, it simply no longer requires much in the way of conscious thought? Or is it that the same thirty years has sped my conscious mind up to level where reading actors, making decisions/connections and playing happens fast enough that it looks like I'm operating on a subconscious level (on a good day, anyway).

I suppose that isn't an either/or question - it's probably some of both. Nevertheless, you also have been in my shoes (chair, bench?). What did you think was going on in your head?

I've never really put my finger on it; but musical improv aside, that question could be asked as a generality. If you do something long enough, do you get to a point where "muscle memory" or some other sort of subconscious process is running the show? Or have you simply reached a level where your conscious decision-making process is drastically "sped up" (or is time subjectively slowed down) when you're in that mode?

Put more poetically; is knowing where almost every book in the library is and being able to walk right to it without checking the card catalog what makes it look like a bit of magic, or is it having the right book come to you when you walk in the door a better way of describing it?
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » March 14th, 2011, 12:13 pm

the best advice i've found, in improv and in life..."let go."

i agree with Ratliff. i trip up on my brain so often onstage (and in life). even when i feel like it's benefitting me, because my brain is "wired" for story, i realize that improv wise i'm doing myself and my partners a great disservice by limiting my ability to discover and create in the moment as the narrative architecture starts to take over. it's so much more thrilling and rewarding to try and bypass those instincts and access a more primal intelligence (which, at its basest level, i suppose we could refer to as the "crotch space." ;) ) and a more transcendent intelligence (i guess this would be the "heart space"). to try and engage myself, and thus the audience, not only on an intellectual level but an emotional and visceral one as well. i started doing this in my scripted acting years ago...i don't know why it took so long for me to start doing it in my improv. ;)

like Ratliff, my brain has trouble losing an argument (with itself or with others. :P ). but winning an argument onstage isn't nearly as interesting as getting your heart broken. 8)
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Postby ratliff » March 14th, 2011, 1:32 pm

mpbrockman wrote:I suppose that isn't an either/or question - it's probably some of both. Nevertheless, you also have been in my shoes (chair, bench?). What did you think was going on in your head?


If I understand your question, you're asking whether I think the experience of getting out of your head playing music is transcending rational processes or is just speeding them up to the point where the same brain that's doing the work is no longer capable of registering what it's doing.

Short answer: I don't know.

My beliefs don't depend on the answer, so I have no problem acknowledging that what I view as transcendent moments in music or improv might just be the result of a highly trained brain and body at work, something like how most people think of athletics.

Arthur C. Clarke wrote:Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.


So I feel I've achieved communion with the Infinite Wow and someone else reads the exact same experience as the result of making their neurons run windsprints. If we get the same results, what does it matter?

I think not at all, as long as we acknowledge that we don't really know.

For me, the trap in thinking I can rationally understand the process is that if I think I can understand it, I think I can control it. And from there it's a short slide to my ego taking over and fucking everything up again. Maybe that's just me. (Actually, that's just me and a lot of other self-destructive people, but maybe it's not everybody.)

Whereas if I approach creative work by working as hard as I can to build up my skills and then surrendering to the process, I have a built-in guard against thinking I know better than the work. It doesn't kick in nearly as often as I'd like, but if I thought improv was something I could rationally understand and control, it would never kick in at all, and my work would be the poorer for it.

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***


Addendum: some experiences are available to you only if you actually believe they're possible (cf. William James, "The Will to Believe"). I think there's a good chance that if you've ruled out communing with something larger than your own brain, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. But that may be peripheral to the question at hand. [/i]
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Postby ratliff » March 14th, 2011, 11:58 pm

Jesse: sincere apologies for inadvertently hijacking this thread. This is an important topic for me so I felt moved to speak, but I didn't mean for it to supplant the original question.
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Postby Spots » March 15th, 2011, 12:30 am

No worries - I don't believe in thread hijacking. My original post was only intended to spark up inspiration about this OR that. Your thoughts included. Besides... I see nothing out of context.

Conversation doesn't thrive when someone is neatly forcing it into little rows. I prefer the winding rapids of dialog where ideas are created & expressed at will.
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Postby Rev. Jordan T. Maxwell » March 15th, 2011, 9:15 am

seriously, guys, get back on topic...

:twisted:

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