Mindfulness is a term that seems to have come to the spotlight of late. The ancient meditation practice seems to have been reinvented and rebranded for the modern day individual and, to all accounts, seems more important than ever. Ruby Wax, well-known comedian and writer, after suffering from depression turned to mindfulness after sending herself back to university gaining a masters degree in the neuroscience in relation to mindfulness.
Since then, she has made herself the poster girl for the practice and fights the taboo in talking about mental health. In her book “Sane new world” she states that our brains are not built to handle a 21st century lifestyle and that technology has advanced faster than us, in return giving us a backlash of more ways to worry, get depressed and stress. Mindfulness can help us cope with this!
For anyone who hasn’t tried it, it’s simply remaining present in this moment, at this time, in these circumstances. Whenever I have tried it, I find there is usually an anchoring system to focus the mind to be present. Your breath, the sensation under your feet, how you are sitting, the flame of a candle. I’ve even eaten a raisin mindfully, a process which was guided under instruction and took about 35 minutes. Bizarrely after this, I’ve never eaten a raisin since as in eating it mindfully, I realised I don’t actually like them. Strange how things change when you really pay attention to them!
Without diverting off the point too much here, whatever the activity or anchor, whatever is used to quiet the mind, you don’t pass judgement. If your thoughts wander off, and they do, simply tune them back to the anchor.
So, how can this relate to puppetry?
Well when I was first taught, one of the first things we did was taking a series of puppets and discovering their inherent qualities. It felt strangely disrespectful to drag a marionette across the floor and whirl a glove puppet around. However, in doing so, you quickly learn where the puppet holds weight (and also counterbalances), how it is jointed (and therefore how it moves) and how much force it takes to do so. You learn how the puppet likes to perform. I’ve seen this process done in many different ways with other puppeteers and puppetry practitioners.
Over the past few years I’ve thought of puppetry as almost a double act. Puppeteer and puppet work together to give a performance and communicate, even though one may be in focus more than the other. In this instance knowing what your fellow performer can do is exceptionally useful. In effect the puppet provides half the performance and does most of the hard work – this is where well made puppets come into their own.
I only made this possible connection between puppetry and mindfulness recently – through various other pieces of professional development work I am undertaking. When mindfully meditating, you focus on what is there. When road-testing a puppet you pay attention to what is there and try not to inflict (there are various schools on thought as to how much conscious handling is inflicting movement, but this is perhaps for another blog to discuss). I feel I need to experiment as to whether it is possible to puppeteer mindfully, and whether this is a valid form of thought and process, bearing in mind other approaches. I know many people who have never puppeteered before say they find the experience very meditative. Maybe it’s time to get some mindfulness practitioners, puppeteers and neuroscientists in a room together. What happens to the brain when one puppeteers?
As always, some links to further indulge your brains…
And for those of you who enjoy an audiobook, I can recommend “Mindfulness in 8 Weeks” by Michael Chakalson