5 Obstacles to a Direct Experience


How to create more authenticity, spontaneity and creativity in your interactions?

Remove these Obstacles.

This is an essay published by Viola Spolin, the innovator and creator of Theatre Games and Improvisation.

1.      The Approval / Disapproval Syndrome

If you have survived by pleasing others, figuring out what they want you to say and how they want you to act – and then doing so with as much skill and originality as possible, your approval/disapproval syndrome is highly active.

Approval/disapproval received from others has no doubt become your own and, without conscious realization on your part, is dictating and critiquing the way you do things, creating a robot-like behavior in you with almost total loss of any insight.  You not only are prevented from having a direct experience, but also blind to what a direct experience is.

The approval/disapproval syndrome will monitor behavior if allowed to do so.  Watch it working on you when you are having guests for dinner, meeting people, or in a new situation.

Observe the roles and cover-ups in you and those around you, shown by attitudes and what comes out of every mouth: hostility, envy, competitiveness, put-downs, resentment, sarcasm, you name it!  What we verbalize as our own are the controls that tie and bind, keeping us earthbound and the victim.

2.      Self-Pity

An important ally to the approval/disapproval syndrome is self-pity, which dogs our steps from childhood onward, hiding itself, often disguised by pious statements such as “I won’t compromise,” “The time was wrong,” “It’s too much!”  “I’ll never be able to do it,” “He has influential friends,” “My family responsibilities won’t allow me,” “I could never afford it.”

Self-pity must be addressed as a separate state of being.  Expose it for the debilitating emotion it is.

3.      Success / Failure

Success/Failure is one of the products of the approval/disapproval syndrome which attacks and inundates us hour after hour, day after day.  Rushing to succeed and giving in to and accepting failure drain precious revitalizing energy, weakening our very life force.

If success/failure were not tied to the approval/disapproval syndrome, failing or succeeding could stand apart, distant from your private heaven or hell, and become a problem to be viewed and handled.  You could transcend the severe crippling stigma attached to failing.  But since we are culturally obsessed with success, inner ghostly voices from the past complicate the issue, saying “You’re a loser,” “You’ll never make it,” and the like.

When you find yourself in the grip of success/failure, stop!  Forget that negative is the opposite of positive; that success is the opposite of failure.  Transcend the opposites!

Look, listen, review.  Observe what is at hand: a problem – which can be solved, or must be lived with or discarded.  Being focused on the problem, you will be in a position to accept any outcome.  True, you might fail to get the job, might lose a lover, which could be real, sad, even devastating experiences, but if you have a focus, you will not be engulfed in fear or lose access to your intuition, the energy source needed to solve the problem.

4.      Attitudes

We live a culture preoccupied with appearances (status).  Attitudes “clog the machine” and play a heavy role in our day-to-day living, keeping us from directly handling a problem.

Consider the cat, which is washing herself when a collar is put on her.  Having no attitude about this obstacle, the cat continues to work in the same rhythm.  She continues to work on the problem!  When you have an obstacle put in your way, don’t let an attitude divert you and prevent you from directly working on the problem.

5.      Fear

Another obstacle that cuts you off from the ongoing event (problem) is fear – emotion that is trapped, buried, and hidden in the past.  Fear impedes present-time action, stirring up stress, anxiety, and self-pity and producing confusion and self-doubt.

When you find yourself unable to function, feel yourself under scrutiny (a specimen pinned to the board waiting for rejection) – drained, empty, in a void, everything alien, strange, not of your world, your viscera in turmoil, weak, helpless – heart thumping, hands sweating, mouth dry, panicked – everything rushing by in speeded-up time – on other words, very, very uncomfortable, you are entangled in fear and it has immobilized you.

Name the cause!  Know it is fear, which you must overcome, through a direct, right now! experience.

To Have a Direct Experience

When you recognize the signs of any of the five obstacles to a direct experience:

  • Side-coach yourself to pause!
  • Choose a focus and connect!

When you are focused, connected, giving full head-to-toe attention to ‘What’ is going on around you right now! – To Where you are, to Who is there (including you) – then you are no longer fragmented and disconnected.

Then Fear dissolves, clearing your head and silencing the interfering approval/ disapproval clutter of do’s and don’ts.

No longer blocked off or cut off from your ground of being, your own nature (self) emerges, ready for present-time action and interaction.

An essay from Viola Spolin’s “Theatre Games for the Lone Actor Handbook”