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Clown state

Clownfish photo by Sebastian Pena Lambarri on Unsplash

Tina Hodgett finds the similarities between pioneering and clowning hit her like a custard pie in the face.

Perhaps you’ve never given thought to this, but there are parallels between clowning and pioneering.

“‘Clown state’ is a kind of playful mindfulness, where you are in the world again as if everything was new and puzzling.” – Tina Hodgett

I discovered this on a week’s clown course in April. It was five days of learning by doing. We didn’t read a book, listen to a lecture, watch a video. The teacher demonstrated something, then we were up and doing. No planning, no tools, just ourselves, being spontaneous, failing, trying again, getting a laugh, paying intense attention all the time to the responses we were getting from our audience, and shaping our next move to lead them deeper into laughter.

We laughed a lot. We were a team of being-birthed clowns. We were foolish, fabulously free and (sometimes) funny, once we had been taught how to transition into ‘clown state’. This is a kind of playful mindfulness, where you are in the world again as if everything was new and puzzling. I think in the Christian world we have idolised knowledge. In the clown world innocence, curiosity and persistence in problem-solving are highly valued qualities.

It was on day two when the teacher (a 69-year-old who had trained at the feet of a French master) said, “The clown doesn’t know what he’s doing. And that’s OK.” And I thought, those of us experimenting with new ways of being together with God in Christ often feel like this.

When I’m engaged in some form of ecclesial enterprise, I’m working on the basis of intuition, hunches, prayerful discernment, responses from those around me, patterns I think I’m seeing… but do I know what I am actually doing? Do I know what God and I and the wider team we’re with are co-creating? Not often at the time. Sometimes, later.

There were other parallels. It was clear we learnt most from not being funny. Powerful for me was when the teacher reflected, “If you believe in what you’re doing, and you don’t get the laugh, tell yourself: they don’t understand it yet. So do it again, but bigger and with more commitment.” I received so much divine reassurance from this statement.

I thought about all the times in my life when I’ve believed I was doing something I’d been called to do, and the audience (or much of it) around me didn’t understand. My inner critic often has told me I have got it wrong, it’s my fault it hasn’t worked. But perhaps it’s just that the audience hasn’t got it yet. And I – we – need to keep repeating it, bigger and with greater emphasis, until they do.

If you’d like to hear more about my clowning reflections you are welcome at www.tinahodgett.net

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