Today’s fascinating *shared stories* come from former clown and master storyteller Arina Isaacson and body image expert Kimberly Riggins
I am 10 years old. I am sitting in the beautiful old opera house in the classic western mountain mining town of Central City Colorado watching my, first ever, live theater production. The Miracle Worker with Patty Duke and Ann Bancroft is the inspiring story of Helen Keller, born deaf and blind and how she first learned to express herself through non-verbal communication. My child heart is beating wildly and the hairs on my arm are standing in thunderous applause. Little did I know that the magic of this moment would define my life’s work, insisting that I follow my heart and do what I love.
In 1970 I received my Master’s degree in Communication and became a teacher of deaf children. At this time my best friend suggested that I take a mime class to enhance my teaching and my love of gestural language. I called my mother and I said, “Guess what? I’m going to become a clown.” There was dead silence on the other end of the phone. “You’re going to become a what? A clown? You just got a Master’s degree –Wherever did you get that idea?”
All I can tell you is that something very strong grabbed hold of my heart when I started doing mime, clown and improvisation work. I came alive and had to follow this tug wherever it was going to take me.
I quit my job, sold all my belongings, packed my Chevy and moved to San Francisco to follow my heart’s calling and pursue creativity. For the next 20 years I immersed myself in theatrical clown work, sacred puppetry and visual art. I found ways to combine my creative work with my love of teaching and began to experience the power of visualizing my dreams and healing my deepest wounds. The sacred art pieces that I created held the energy of my dreams. My inner landscape helped form sacred artifacts—mythic performing dolls; fetishes, charms, amulets, and shadow boxes. Each piece represented a different intention or prayer.
The Devouring Tree Mother
You see, by the time I turned 35 years old, I had lost my parents and grandparents to cancer; endured a hysterectomy, dashing my hopes of ever becoming pregnant and, survived a brutal rape by a stranger breaking into my home. Early on, I realized that I could view these challenging moments as opportunities to become empowered rather than victimized. And so, adversity has been one of my greatest teachers. It has provided me with the chance to get to know myself. The constant theme in my life has been the path of the artist. By consciously experiencing, working with, and expressing my inner and outer obstacles, I have been able to find my authentic voice, to unleash my passion and use it to cultivate wholeness and creativity. Adversity has been my inspiration for following my heart and doing what I most love to do. My commitment to pursue the creative path guided me toward building confidence and authenticity.
I used my own suffering to heal and make other people laugh at the same time. This unique approach to creating personal clown characters enabled me to explore the place of vulnerability where the funniest and most touching clown persona reside. I developed a process of creating clown characters based on externalizing my inner world. Clowning gave me ways to express hopes, fears, heal my grief and hidden craziness by forming a clown character.
I created five characters over a period of 20 years, based on my natural inclinations of movement, voice, gestured habits, inner feelings, and stories. Each season of my life, a new character would emerge.
Boo-lu was my first character. She was a feisty single mother who traveled with five white baby dolls with red noses, all named Baby Kaka. Each vignette told a story about the love/hate relationship between the mother and her babies. Then came Mimi the Clown. Me! Me! She was based on my tendency to be a narcissist. Mimi made a lot of mistakes as a way to deal with my perfectionism. She would say, “Oh, you’re right, you’re right,” you’re right”, you’re right!” “How do you know? How do you know” How do you know?” Baby Fatty helped me come to terms with my body image and food issues.
In my early 50’s, Ms. Lotta Bucks appeared to help me face my fears of growing older. She was an expert in cultivating “inner beauty” and counseled women about retirement. She taught them how to invest their “socks in the sock market and wash them grow!” And, finally, out popped Mrs. Milton, whose favorite advice is, “Just remember, dearie, it only matters what other people think!”
The treasured Clown School of San Francisco, which I founded, became home to people from all walks of life who wanted to explore and tell their unique life stories by creating personal clown characters. Computer programmers from Silicon Valley, priests and nuns from the theological seminaries, CEOs, business professionals, emergency room doctors, and criminal lawyers all converged at the Clown School to tell their stories, find their voice and experience their joie de vivre.
Next, I came to understand that self-awareness and telling one’s compelling life stories, are the key to becoming an authentic and powerful person. I wanted to take the essence of the clown – the aliveness, the vitality of that unique voice further out into the marketplace. Joining with colleagues, in a theater-based communication training called ‘Active Communicating’ (www.corporatescenes.com) we focused on finding and expressing one’s authentic presence, voice and compelling leadership journey stories. For the past 20 years I have been traveling the world helping leaders learn the skill set to inspire, motivate, influence and connect with any audience.
The River of life
Over time I came to painting, spirit journals, and vision storyboards. The River of Life has become a central exercise in my story-telling curriculum. By creating a River of Life, one is able to clearly track the richness of his/her life experience and draw from those experiences to tell stories of courage, triumph, risk, struggle, values, adventure, mistakes made and lessons learned. My life stories provide the context for my experiences and through them, I am able to find the inspiration to make an impact on the world.
The ability to create and tell certain kinds of stories is not only a useful tool, but an essential prerequisite to finding my original voice. These stories have provided visual maps and images for conveying who I am, the authentic moments of where I came from and who has mentored and inspired me along the way.
My 40 year creative journey has been about the healing aspects of art, ritual and theater. The thread that has traveled through each act is creativity and communication. It is and has been my greatest joy to first find my authentic voice and then to inspire others to open to their full self expression. This process has helped wake me up to life! My art work is the deepest manifestation of my gratitude for the gift of living a meaningful life and doing what I love every step of the way. Thank you for allowing me to share my journey with you.
[All images courtesy of Arina Isaacson. Arina will be sharing her insight into storytelling in Hello Soul Hello Business in January. To find out more about Arina visit her website or her art site]
I truly believe we all have a choice how we show up in the world. How we wake up in the morning, how we go about our day, who we interact with, how we handle our emotions and where we put our energy. Regardless of our circumstances, we all have the ability to choose.
Doing what you love is also a choice. A conscious choice to do something that brings you joy, inspiration and fulfillment, regardless of what other people may think.
I most certainly do what I love.
But it wasn’t always that way. I used to think I needed to conform to societal standards of what is proper, how to speak, how to look, what to do with my life.
Standing at a crossroads in my own life, staring down the path of least resistance or the path of an unknown adventure, I chose the latter.
I must say, choosing adventure which includes being authentically myself has been the best decision I have ever made.
Today, I get to empower and inspire other women to stop conforming. To stand up for themselves. To live an authentic, beautiful, passionate life. I show them how they can fall head over heels in love with their own bodies, regardless of its shape or size. I teach them how to wrangle their negative thoughts that are just keeping them stuck and most importantly, I unveil a world that includes pleasure and lots of it!
I couldn’t ask for a better way to spend my time.
Believe me, my journey to get to this place was a bumpy one. I had to endure a lot of pain to get myself to this place. A rape, an eating disorder, depression, a crumbling relationship and a financial failure…all situations and circumstances that have the potential to break a person.
Rather than play the victim and let these issues consume me, I tried to find the lesson I was supposed to learn with each event. It wasn’t easy. There were a number of times I wanted to throw in the towel. Just give up!
But something deep inside me kept me going. It took years for me to realize that it was my innate strength that kept me afloat. That strength lives in all of us. Sometimes, it helps to have someone else help us pull it out.
Moving forward, my life is full of exciting things. My first book, “Love Your Naked Ass” will soon be published, I have an amazing new program coming out, I am rebuilding my relationship, and I am creating a new financial plan.
Looking back, if I had to do everything all over again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Because I love who I am today and without those life experiences, I wouldn’t be me!
[Images courtesy of Kimberly Riggins. Kimberly is Founder and Creator of The Art of Eating Chocolate Naked is a Body Image Expert, Self-Talk Warrior and Transformational Catalyst who inspires and empowers women to love and accept themselves just as they are. Find out more about her on her website.]
See here for more inspiring *shared stories*