LIGHTEN UP AS YOU LEARN TO LISTEN
When I was ill last month I had to lead a choir and give a storytelling performance. Feeling rotten and sorry for myself, I perked up when my daughter asked me what I wanted to do for Father's day. "Join me for my performances and help with filming."I said. She agreed. When I picked her up and drove to the festival I still felt sick. In this moment I stopped listening- to my body, and what it needed, and to my daughter. I hadn't noticed that she was uncomfortable. She was nervous about joining my choir. I ploughed on: sick, grumpy and irritable. The day was a disaster.
I told a friend about my disastrous day-out, and she said I needed to lighten up and take a break. She recommended a clowning weekend in London. Mysteriously, she said it would help me to listen better. I wondered how a coloured wig and red nose would help. But I was excited to leave Bournemouth. The workshop was led by Zuma Puma, a Canadian clown. After some warm ups and ice breakers, Zuma threw us into the deep end.
She told me to pick a red nose and a wig. I was suddenly on stage. 11 pairs of eyes stared at me. "Breathe out through your mouth. Relax your butt. Look at your audience." I felt nervous and awkward. As I met their gaze, one by one, I was surprised to see many of them smiling and laughing. They were with me. They understood my nervousness. They connected with my awkwardness. A clown gives us permission to laugh at ourselves. At all our funny and peculiar ways. Our strange emotions that make no sense. Our ridiculous efforts to improve ourselves and be better. All of these things are written on a clown's face.
Clowning is a serious art. Zuma has trained vigorously for the past 10 years to master her craft. At its heart clowning is the ability to listen to an audience. To listen, whilst letting all pretense drop. A clown is vulnerable. She shows herself in all her marvellous folly- with those fears, insecurities, desires and depressions that we all feel. To be part of the human family is to feel. The clown walks a tightrope between listening and feeling. Between the audience and her own heart. Her training teaches this difficult art.
A parent must walk this same tightrope. We must listen to our children, yet stay connected to our own heart. As a child there were adults I loved and trusted, and those that just didn't seem real. Their smiles were fake. Children want authenticity. But they also want to feel safe. An adult's anger feels dangerous to a child. When Zuma reminded us: "Breathe out through your mouth. Relax your butt. Eye contact." It had a magic effect- everything softened. Those words created space.
Parents need space. Around our frustrations and our hopes for our children. That's what I learnt from Zuma over the weekend. If I can breathe, soften and relax a little, the audience or the children I teach are able to meet me. Emotional intensity startles children-so they switch off, or become distracted. Yet they are drawn to real emotion-to authenticity. It just needs to be softened. If you want parenting to be easier then you know what I'm going to suggest:
"Breathe out through your mouth. Relax your butt. Make eye contact."
If we do this we can lighten up and enjoy the journey with our children.