When my date asked me if I wanted to go to a mindfulness class, as a trust exercise, I said yes without looking at what I was signing up for.
So when we turned up to the Museum of Happiness in North London to be greeted by what looked like a preschool, I became immediately apprehensive.
But my date is very handsome, so I tried to hide my anxiety. I took off my shoes, but only because everyone else had, and joined the herbal tea queue.
Trying to calm my fears with with a pink rose chamomile tea, we finally joined the circle of limp cushions on a carpet of fake grass.
Then the evening took the first of many bizzare turns.
Firstly someone sat down in the very little space between my date and me. Then it turned out this evening was not only about mindfulness; it was an improv class too.
Walking around the room like a drunk chicken
Suddenly, I felt like I was in an episode from the first season of cult British TV show Skins, featuring my teenage crush Maxxie, played by Mitch Hewer.
It pictures the college students attending a terrible drama class. They had the luxury of being late, standing apprehensively outside watching, before deciding it was too awful to enter.
I had no such luck.
Immersed in a room dedicated to the study of happiness, our warm-up exercise was to walk around like a drunk chicken.
I had not planned on sharing my chicken impression with my date this early into our relationship.
And perhaps more morbidly, when we were told to walk around the room like our grandparents, three people laid down on the floor – and depicted them dead.
Thank god Maxxie can’t see me now.
Yes, and – then a Unicorn came in to save the day
Or at least I tried to imagine a situation where that might happen. It was an improv class after all.
We progressed through a series of games, many of which you’ll recognize from slumber parties.
‘Yes, and’ and ‘No, but’ saw us sat in small circles making up stories where each sentence had to start with that phrase.
‘Fortunately, Unfortunately,’ had a similar vibe. You took it in turns to make the story positive and negative. My partner for this seemed overly pessimistic, even when it was his job to suggest the positive angle.
But there was a point to the whole evening. And this is where it got even weirder.
After each game, we talked about our anxieties around it – why some of us found it easier to come up with ideas.
And then, alas, came the last twist.
‘What’s the environment?’ – ‘Sesame Street does the Full Monty’
You couldn’t make this stuff up. An hour and a half into this hot mess of an evening, the final act was to go up onto the stage and do two minutes of improv in groups of four – to the rest of the class.
The teacher set a rule for each group. The first two groups had to handle ‘starting line’ or picking a prop out of the box to make a story from. Another had to speak without using the letter S in any word.
The rules were getting progressively harder with each round. So I dragged our group up, which included my date, to the stage. At which point the teacher asked the room to come up with the rules.
It was open season, with multiple suggestions thrown to us. ‘Do Sesame Street!’ ‘No, do the Full Monty!’
I screamed at the top of my voice, thanks to our various warm up exercises, ‘I heard Sesame Street.’ But it was too late.
The teacher merged the two, and with two strangers we sang the alphabet while dancing to the Full Monty.
And when one of the guys in our group started to take his socks off – I’m not going to lie – I concluded the entire evening had been a disastrous mistake.
In defense of mindfulness
Fully clothed, I sat down.
The evening concluded with a moment of quiet collectiveness to allow the ‘energy in the room,’ which was overwhelming even to the teacher, to calm down.
Finally, I understood why this anxiety fueled set of tasks was actually useful.
As someone who uses mindfulness to manage my chronic pain, I’m already on board with the concept. And as I sat reflecting at the end of the class, in the first lengthy meditation of the session, I did feel very relaxed.
It felt like forever, but when I opened my eyes after what was just a couple of minutes I did feel a sense of inner calm. And, after all, that sense of calm is difficult find in our busy and too often app-fueled lives. I certainly struggle.
So perhaps the whole thing was worth it?
However, as I turned to my date to ask him what he thought about the entire experience he said:
Thank the queer gods.
Jamie is Gay Star News’ Young Voices Editor – Follow @jamie_wareham on twitter
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