©2019 by David Westerlund. Photo credits: Ramona Laird, Alvin Shim, and David Westerlund.

Yes!Resilience

How can we build resilience in our times?

 

YES - Chronic stress is a given for marginalized and vulnerable populations. Facing so much instability and uncertainty takes a serious toll. This is true for those who are experiencing homelessness, incarceration, addiction, and those emerging from these situations.

 

AND - Organizations that come alongside vulnerable populations are often comprised of many people who care deeply. Burnout, fatigue, and high turnover are common. Important conversations are occurring about how to promote trauma-informed self-care.

I have discovered the power of applied improv to bring a fresh sense of levity, joy, and freedom even to those severely weighed down due to trauma and for caregivers/therapists/social workers/chaplains who experience secondary trauma.

 

My vision for Yes!Resilience is to create opportunities for vulnerable/marginalized populations, educators, non-profit leaders, faith communities, to experience the transformative power of participating in applied improv – that is, improv beyond the theatre.

 

As people feel safe, risk vulnerability, and feel supported, in an environment of play, trust grows, confidence expands, and joy naturally emerges. This connection, support, trust, and joy builds resilience. And resilience is a critical faculty in our times.

 

Play and laughter move our cognition out of the amygdala (fight, flight, freeze part of the brain) and into the neocortex where we can process higher social functions. (Brad Fortier quoting Mithen, The Prehistory of the Mind)

 

A Story of Building Resilience and Sustainbility in the midst of Difficult and Important Work

 

Barbara Tint is a psychologist, professor of conflict resolution, and global trainer, facilitator, and consultant who has done conflict resolution work on small and large scales. In 2009 she was extremely weighed down by the trauma of the people she was working with. “My latest project had been working with the refugees of the genocides in East Africa and I had moved from one heartbreaking story of loss and displacement to another.” She knew that she couldn’t leave this work. “And I also knew that for my sake and for the sake of the people that I worked with, I needed to find a path that would allow me to move forward with more sustainable energy.”

 

She ended up discovering the Applied Improv Network. Their annual international conference was in Portland where she lived. Four days later, “I came out a changed woman. All the heaviness I was carrying was lifted by the spontaneous, joyous, freeing collaborative work and spirit of improvisation and its participants.”

 

“In my attempt to figure out how to connect improv to my work, I initially felt that I had two seemingly disparate realties: the “important,” difficult, and heave world of international conflict, and the “frivolous,” playful, and joyous world of improv. How could I bring them together? I couldn’t exactly approach genocide survivors or my students with clapping games or word-at-a-time exercises. Or could I?

"I slowly began to see that these principles and methods provided some of the most transformative and healing potential I had ever experienced." 

 

(Barbara Tint, p 200-201. From Hell, No to Yes, And: Applied Improvisation for Training in Conflict Resolution, Mediation, and Law in Applied Improvisation, eds. Dudeck, Theresa Robbins and Caitlin McClure)

Yes! Resilience for Lighthouse 

Mission staff and those in 

recovery from addiction

"David’s improv workshop felt very freeing, because we got to play together. Especially in the work we do – working with people experiencing homelessness — there is a lot of relational give-and-take that goes on between staff and guests, among the staff, and its really fantastic that his workshop requires us to tune in to each other… to really hear and see what’s happening and be able to respond in a way that is helpful. There’s a real power in people feeling like others are attentive to their presence – what they are saying, and who they are.”

"“David knew how to create a safe space for all. As the workshop got started, we all felt the energy shift. … Joyful, necessary, bonding, community-building . . . these were the kinds of words we heard [from our staff]…This hour was incredibly well-spent, and something I will plan again in the future, because it brought us together in a unique way, that helped us to draw on our own and one another’ strengths, and to carry those into the days that followed.

Any deep and vital work needs a cohesive team. My Advisory Board for Yes!Resilience pictured above. Many thanks to Jeff Curtis, Sarah Satre, and Bonnie Drewes.

AND thanks to the generosity of donors who give to this work via Allied Arts, I am able to bring applied improv workshops and classes to places like Lighthouse Mission and Cordata Elementary, free of charge.