The Victoria Immigrant & Refugee Centre Society – VIRCS –recently hosted a workshop called “Improvise Yourself,” led by guest speaker Asha Mehrabi. For most Iranians, there is no need for introductions; the workshop was kindly interrupted for a few moments by her fans bringing her flowers and hugs. The energy and connection between Asha and her fans filled the room with kindness and love. Asha Mehrabi is an actress, writer, director and instructor in Stage, TV, Cinema and Radio. She received several nominations for Best Actress and won the Best Actress of the year in theatre and TV two times and five times in radio.
Considering this notable résumé, I was expecting to attend a workshop where I would sit and listen to her life experiences and all the challenges she faced during her career. Without a doubt, that would have been a great time already. However, this workshop was not meant to be a one-sided activity. “Improvise Yourself” was all about living the moment and being part of it. Instead of only talking about her career, Asha facilitated a group dynamic allowing the audience to live her experiences and dilemmas as an immigrant by putting them in a place where they could feel the experiences themselves.
…this workshop was not meant to be a one-sided activity. “Improvise Yourself” was all about living the moment and being part of it. Instead of only talking about her career, Asha facilitated a group dynamic allowing the audience to live her experiences and dilemmas as an immigrant by putting them in a place where they could feel the experiences themselves.
Asha started to set the atmosphere in the room by using simple dynamics such as walking around and throwing a ball as we learned each other’s names. It is interesting how challenging it can be to pay attention to the people around you, to really learn their names and look them in the eye. While we were concentrating on this dynamic, Asha explained the importance of being in the moment by showing how our minds were completely focused on that activity and nothing else. She explained that in order to receive all the good energy from the universe, you need to be in the moment. If you are stuck on the past or too worried about the future, you are not present. Therefore, you won’t be able to perceive the opportunities and signs that may appear on your way.
In the sequence, Asha proposed a mirror activity in which we play to mirror our peers. The first phase consisted only in imitating what we were seeing, repeating all movements that the “initiator” was doing. In the second phase, we also had to mirror what we were hearing, repeating word by word the other person’s speech. We were completely out of our comfort zone, facing each other and creating random speeches to be exposed out loud. That situation may sound terrifying; especially for an immigrant, who tends to be always avoiding this type of exposure; but it was fun and incredibly liberating. As a result of laughs and very creative speeches, Asha showed how important it is to see what you are looking at and hear what you are listening to. Every person needs to be connected with something or someone, professional or personally speaking; and the only way to achieve that is learning how to truly see and hear what is in front of you.
We were completely out of our comfort zone, facing each other and creating random speeches to be exposed out loud. That situation may sound terrifying; especially for an immigrant, who tends to be always avoiding this type of exposure; but it was fun and incredibly liberating.
Without a doubt, communication is the most significant challenge for immigrants in their adaptation process into another country. What we do not realize is how communication goes beyond different languages and cultural aspects. To illustrate this idea, Asha used her strongest talent in theatre to show us how we can communicate and understand each other without even speaking the same language. Simulating a TV Show, two people on the stage engaged in a conversation using non-existent languages while two “translators” tried to explain to the audience what they were saying only by observing their body language and hearing the sounds and intonations they were using. The result was many amusing and clever stories created on the spot, improvised only by seeing and hearing. We do not need language to express our ideas and understand each other. We should use language as a facilitator of something we already have: connection. We are all human beings with the same needs and limitations. There is no reason to limit ourselves from each other. See. Hear. Connect.
Because immigrants tend to overreach all the time, they can be their worst enemy. “My English should be better,” “I do not have enough time to pursue a new career,” “My accent is distracting,” “I’ll never be someone here.” For the purpose of reinforcing her concept of being in the moment, Mehrabi added the importance of saying “YES” to life. In this dynamic, a person would start a story with a true statement and the others should complete it by creating another phrase that starts with “Yes, and that means…” She explained that the simple use of the word YES in the beginning of the sentence allowed the story to be continued without any kind of blocking or limitation. By sharing our reflections and discussing the barriers we create to ourselves, we realized how transforming it could be if we practice this exercise every day. How many stories do we prevent from happening in our lives because we do not believe in ourselves? How many opportunities we left behind because we were too afraid to even try?
By the end of the exercise, we decided to throw our failures in the trash and keep only our wisdom sheet. At this moment, some people seemed to be hesitant about it and we discussed that you do not need to be afraid of throwing your failures in the trash, because you will still have them as lessons and experiences if you always keep your wisdom with you.
Finally, Asha asked us to draw on a piece of paper two columns separating the words Failures and Wisdom. We did not have to share it, we just had to write a situation, based on our immigrant perspective, what we considered as a fail and, on the other side, what we had learned from it. After everybody wrote it, we were encouraged to share one “wisdom” of ours. In this moment, I was surprised on how everyone in the room, women and men, felt comfortable to share their lessons and reflections. By the end of the exercise, we decided to throw our failures in the trash and keep only our wisdom sheet. At this moment, some people seemed to be hesitant about it and we discussed that you do not need to be afraid of throwing your failures in the trash, because you will still have them as lessons and experiences if you always keep your wisdom with you. Our failures are useful for us to learn and evolve as a person, but we do not need to embrace the feeling attached to it. This kind of feeling only puts you down because it is stuck in the past, and remember, you have to be in the moment.
In the end, I was completely impressed by how many lessons we could learn from all the dynamics we played that really felt we were just having fun, but at the same time it was so profound and rightful. Asha Mehrabi was able to show everyone in that room that we are capable of pursuing our goals and also that we are not alone as immigrants. She finished the workshop with “8 steps to level up” showing that we just need to identify in which level we are and then start to move up, one step at a time. We do not have to be scared of being on level one, because if you know in which level you are, it means you already know where you are going to.