Loosening the grip of the fear of the failure

Picture credit and link -

Picture credit and link -

My fear of failure many times grips me deep in the quiet of the night. It seems that as the day’s defence wears out my critical voice clutches me tight and questions the choices I have made or how I responded in a moment publicly-  not good enough, too much this, too less that and so on. Each time I am amazed at how easily I slip into its grasp. Even with a logical explanation in my head about this being a momentary perception of myself, I can’t seem to step out of the feeling for a while and believing it to be true.

It is in these times improv attitude comes to my rescue. Similar feelings show up for me when I am improvising on stage - am I doing the scene right, is it interesting, why I said that, oh my god what do I do next.  We manage these feelings by reinforcing again and again mind-sets to free us up to be present in the moment. I find these sit well with my larger fears as well -

·         Accept the moment- Say yes to what I am feeling and stay with it instead of distracting or ignoring it.

·         Trust self- That I have the resources and wisdom to make creative choices that serve me and the others around me.

·         Embrace the uncertainty- Because I can never know what is to come and imagining it with anxiety is wasted energy. More of saying yes to the unsettling feeling.

·         Be Bold- Even though I am scared I still move into action. Confront the fear.

·         Truth over perfection- Focus on showing up fully and authentically each day, and less fuss about perfection.

·         Yes and- Add one more thing to what I am already working on daily. One more step to grow the idea just a little bit. No need to leap miles in a single step.

I have found that over a period of time I am able to witness the fearful side of  my inner landscape and not be enmeshed in it instead. The demands I place on myself of ‘musts’ and ‘shoulds’ are not as prominent anymore and that I desire discovery each day. And in overcoming each cycle of fear or disappointment I find myself more resilient, grounded and courageous. Will I still fail? Hell yes I will, but I feel more ready to slip, fall, ache and bounce back into a new moment. As Patricia Ryan  Madson says in her book Improv Wisdom- “Jump into the world of oops on your two feet and say Tadaaaaaa!”

Story Mandala- How personal storytelling enables creating inclusive workspaces

Last week my storytelling partner and I were delighted to kick-start a personal storytelling program called The Story Mandala, for a global organisation. Traditionally, a Mandala is a ritual and symbol to represent the universe– usually circular with aesthetic patterns. Creating Mandalas is a meditative act often practised by monks, to align the inner world with the outside. Story Mandala is the act of creating the universe by sharing personal stories as a collective and viewing the patterns that emerge as a symbol of the group’s cosmos.

This was a particularly exciting project for us because we were facilitating an experience for the participants, which is meant to move them and inspire their mindfulness towards the quality of relationships they are building in the organisation. In the context of creating culture and practices for inclusion at the workplace, we were to conduct several Story Mandalas across a section of employees, for exchanging stories that matter, is the most powerful way to inspire inclusion.

Away from models, PowerPoint presentations, case studies and manuals, each person was invited to gently dive inside themselves, allowing the memories to emerge and bring to light a story waiting to be told. It was a mixed working group and many of them did not know each other from before, even though they were a part of the same division. Doubt and trepidation gradually transformed into people leaning into each other silently with intense gaze, nods communicating understanding as the speakers spoke in soft strong voices about the paths they had walked this far.  The session closed with embraces and the thrilled laughter of newly discovered connections.

As we concluded, everyone on the group said they had enjoyed sharing a story from their life, since they felt safe in the way stories were being attended to by the listeners. Many were surprised by how they eventually felt comfortable to share very private stories from their lives, which left them feeling more accepted and less judged. A common refrain across the group was that it was such a relief to be human around colleagues and experience each other beyond work roles. A feeling of warmth , empathy and respect filled the air at the end of the 90 minute session.

 When asked what changed for them as a result of this process - participants shared how they experienced the power of  listening with curiosity, being authentic in who one is and speaking one’s truth. Creating opportunities for connection in this informal yet structured manner was insightful, for one realised that beneath all the diverse stories, the dreams and fears were similar- the human experience was familiar.

It got me thinking- A simple act of exchanging a story of pain or celebration from one’s life seems to create a ripple for these groups of 15 people. And a ripple begets a bigger ripple and so on. Every ripple matters. This very simple act of revelation, holds in itself the power to transform a whole ecosystem for, energy follows attention.  In creating such encounters, each one of us is shifting our attention from what we are trying to avoid or what’s not working, to what we want we want to bring into reality. Truly, transforming the quality of conversation between the people of an organisation is an invitation to transforming the quality of relationships and thought- which in turn leads to transforming the quality of the results. And what better way to do it than by creating spaces to let stories be heard and seen.

Image Theatre- Body work as language in group work

“Theatre has nothing to do with buildings or other physical constructions. Theatre - or theatricality - is the capacity, this human property which allows man to observe himself in action, in activity. Man can see himself in the act of seeing, in the act of acting, in the act of feeling, the act of thinking. Feel himself feeling, think himself thinking."

 -Augusto Boal

Image theatre is a participative style of theatre (actors and audience interchange roles to co create an act) developed by Augusto Boal, the father of Theatre of the Oppressed.  Based on the idea that a picture speaks a thousand words, image theatre enables the participants to express their stories in static images formed with body collectively (think the game of London Statue). Once images are formed, the facilitator creates discussions around how they view the images, what are the power dynamics they see emerging for example and what can be alternative ways of reframing the images in an empowering way, thus harnessing the collective wisdom of the group. By recreating new images based on possible actions suggested, the participants are able to experience new action. This is the “rehearsal for reality” that Boal has talked about extensively.

Such a processcreates a space for participants to enter their challenges physically, mentally and emotionally, in a safe setting,  view it from a distance as well as through the eyes of the group, brainstorm on reframing the perspective and allow oneself to discover a plethora of options in a seemingly choice less situation. As a facilitator, for me this process is very provocative, impactful and enjoyable in some of the ways I mention below-

  1. Embodiment- Image is a form of embodied language that emerges from our interaction within the world. Here words are suspended to let a new language emerge. Everyday experiences by the perception of the body, become an act of performance. This act (a moment of a story from someone’s life) can be witnessed, or be played with like a remote controlled video - moved backward or forward to the events in the past or future. This playing around with the images can offer several creative possibilities and perspectives for each person involved. Moments of insight become tangible and aesthetic, as the body pulsates with the memory of the emerging images.
  2. Story- Image is narrative. Since there are no words, participants share their interpretation of how they are seeing the story unfold. This often can reveal one’s patterned thinking in a non-threatening way. Often the images are not linear in its unfolding. This can make the analytical part of us feel stretched to make meaning of the constantly evolving story and thus step out of our comfort-zone thinking. When one relaxes into creating shapes in the air using one’s body, limbs in relationships to be named, without preconception, expectation - one can explore and uncover new possibilities that the thinking mind may not be able to fathom.
  3. Collective problem-posing process- it involves genuine participation of all those concerned in the learning and removes the teacher-learner hierarchy. The facilitator is not deemed to be the dominating voice of authority. The process is rather a collaborative venture between all present in the process. Due to its collaborative nature, this process becomes a powerful tool for learning and empowerment through dialogue.

Thus self-discovery through image theatre can be a very unique experience- as the body finds and leads expression in very fulfilling ways, towards deep insights beyond the realms of the thinking mind.