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VII. The Importance of Improvisation

These interreflecting themes, the prerequisites of creation, are playfulness, love, concentration, practice, skill, using the power of limits, using the power of mistakes, risk, surrender, patience, courage, and trust — Stephen Nachmanovitch, Free Play

Let's return for a moment to a comment by Amy Mindell (1995). She notes, “As in a spiritual discipline, we must learn the tools of our trade while simultaneously developing and transforming ourselves”. Who among us can guess the way and path of those transformations before the event arrives? Be flexible and fluid in you approach to life and to your clients. They are, after all, connected by your unconscious projection of presence—the most effective metaskill we possess.

The flexibility and transformation that Amy Mindell stresses are themes I continue to pursue in learning more about the essence of interaction, communication, and spontaneity that lies beneath the techniques we learn and practice. For if we understand better, we can appreciate and value better, to ensure that what we value does not disappear amid the clamor for protocols of anatomy and technique.

Stephen Nachmanovitch (1990), in his book “Free Play”, develops similar themes about the inner sources of spontaneous creation. He writes about where art in the widest sense comes from—why we create and what we learn when we do. It is about the flow of unhindered creative energy: the joy of making art in all its varied forms. Mastery is not about lack of practice, for it is through practice, observation, refinement, and practicing again that we perfect our technique. If we stop there, however, Nachmanovitch proposes that we have limited ourselves to technical competence without extending onwards to deeper understanding and mastery. He notes that along with the collection of data and practice of technique, time is required for the unconscious reorganization and ripening of our skills. It is often a time when our conscious mind is not immediately directed towards learning, but simply the day-to-day tasks of working with clients. It is this time of redirection that allows the unconscious to assimilate and integrate what we have already taken in.

I believe that, based on these concepts, a strong case can be made for the necessity of interspersing clinical practice of massage with further learning. The optimum strategy is to create modular segments of learning in which the incremental cycle of learning and then application to practice before further learning, provides the redirection and fallow time that Nachmanovitch urges. It is this unconscious integration of our learning that gives us mastery of one set of skills before we add to them. It is why starting with less, at least in terms of the first increment of formal training, often leads to more in the long run. It is such mastery that Nachmanovitch invokes in the following statement stemming from discussion with a physician friend.

In real medicine you view the person as unique -- in a sense, you drop your training. You are immersed in the case itself, letting your view of it develop in context. You certainly use your training; you refer to it, understand it, ground yourself in it, but you don't allow your training to blind you to the actual person who is sitting in front of you. In this way you pass beyond competence to presence. To do anything artistically you have to acquire technique, but you create through your technique and not with it.

The whole enterprise of improvisation in life and art, of recovering free play and awakening creativity, is about being true to ourselves and our visions. It is about having choice and flexibility in our approaches and responses. It brings us into direct, active contact with boundless creative energies that we may not even know we had.

Keith Eric Grant — The RamblemuseSM, November 1999. All rights reserved.

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