Three Agreements

  • Tell the truth.

  • Stay in the conversation.

  • Be open to alternative points of view.

Those are the agreements I ask people in my workshops to make. They represent the most basic practices I've found for arriving at a mutual understanding of “what is.” They also happen to work really well in our everyday interactions with people.  Of course, the devil is in the details! Here, I want to elaborate on what these agreements mean to me.

Tell the truth

If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it? ~Dogen

Philosophers have debated the nature of truth for centuries, but we needn't go there; the truth I'm talking about isn't esoteric at all. It's the simple truth that's rooted in our moment to moment experience. This may seem at first blush too simple to be of value, but as a practice it is rich beyond measure.

Jigsaw puzzle piecesThankfully, this approach relieves us from having to be authorities on “the Truth.” We only have to be faithful reporters of what is true for us in each moment. With another human being, or in a group, it's as if we're each a piece of a jigsaw puzzle. Reporting what is true helps us fit with each other, as we form connections based on our authentic shape.

There is no Truth.  There is only the truth within each moment.  ~Ramana Maharshi, attributed

That's easier said than done, though. Most people are not reliable reporters of what is true for them. So, an important part of what we do in Radical Improv is to explore the places we have inaccurate perceptions of what is true, and the ways our minds and mouths modify what is true to make it more acceptable – or suppress its expression entirely. We develop a language for communicating these moment to moment truths, and expose the ways in which we try to make ourselves appear different than we are.  

Now, what's the point of making these mental modifications, of misreporting what is true? As Byron Katie has said “When you argue with reality, you always lose – but only 100% of the time.” What's the payoff when you're only setting yourself up to lose?  It's essentially a risk avoidance strategy. Better the devil you know, than the devil you don't! We can control what we can know, but deviating from the known creates uncertainty, risk, anxiety.

Stay in the conversation

The conversation we're referring to here concerns the mutual exploration of what is, the verbal and non-verbal back and forth between us. What's true for you, what's true for me.

Staying in the conversation means sitting with the the feelings and sensations that arise in the body as we say what is true for us, and listen to what others report as true for them. In a way, this is where the rubber meets the road, because it evokes the unconscious processes we have been using to keep ourselves “safe.” Exposing that level of truth can be scary indeed, because it leads rather naturally to real engagement with others, and sometimes that means conflict. For the most part, we've trained ourselves to avoid conflict, rather than engage in it constructively.

This agreement forms a deeper commitment to the process of uncovering the truth, and to each other – a willingness to feel the fear and do it anyway.

Your comfort zone vs Where the magic happensThe feelings that arise can be intense, indeed we are likely to suddenly find ourselves outside our comfort zone. But this is exactly the place where change can occur! This is the context we create in Radical Improv, the context where magical transformations can take place.

What are some ways we don't stay in the conversation? Avoidance is a popular one! Denial, of course.

Blame. And naturally, reverting to any other forms of deception that obscure what is true.

I don't want to exclude anyone, really, but it's like those amusement park signs: “You must be this tall to ride this ride.” This is the place where authentic relating begins. Until you are this honest, you're really just manipulating your facade, and your connections with other people will be based on illusion. This is a game for people who want the truth so bad they are willing to hear it – and speak it.

Be open to alternative points of view

Owing to the fact that all experience is a process, no point of view can ever be the last one.”
~William James

I think the first two agreements, if followed faithfully, are sufficient to bring any conversation to the bedrock of truth. However, in some cases it can help to have a third or fourth or fifth viewpoint represented.

To be honest, when I'm facilitating a group I want my own viewpoint to be considered! And there is also a group wisdom that often puts in place a missing puzzle piece, bringing clarity to the big picture.

The approach to take with these alternative points of view is to “do the experiment.” Try the alternative viewpoint on for size as if it were true, and then see how you feel. What do you experience in your body? This is where the acting/improv aspect of Radical Improv can be fun! Rather than it just being an exercise of the imagination, we can create “what if...” scenarios and experiment with other players.

What People Are Saying

    "I got to be very vulnerable about my truth – I got to step out of lies to self and lies to others in order to act authentically."

    — Workshop participant

    "Liam uses the tools of Radical Honesty and the playfulness of improv to challenge participants to move beyond their comfort zones and open themselves to a new level of experience."

    — Workshop participant

    "Radical Improv – improv that can change your life through radical truth telling, curiosity, and the opportunity to express the range of human emotion and experience."

    -- Workshop participant

     “ Discussion and acting exercises created a safe container for my attempts at self expression. I felt vulnerable at times, but the group held a safe boundary for me to go deeper inside. Liam’s gentle guidance and integrity helped me navigate the confusing waters of my own self. He is a gifted facilitator who urges participants into scary and intense situations while maintaining compassion and appreciation for their experiences. ”

    — KN, Mountain View, CA

    “ Radical Improv is a provocative and endlessly inventive way of accessing personal truth and learning responsible communication in a spirit of honesty, respect and play. ”

    — GH, Richmond, CA


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