Memory Loss  –  Learning the lines or improvisation, or neither?

by Joan Calder, retired/volunteer work, Frome, UK 

It is a known fact among actors that there are moments on stage when you cannot remember how you arrived at the point you have reached, but more terrifyingly, you just cannot remember your lines. The mind goes blank and panic sets in. This can happen more frequently as they age until some have to give up their profession entirely. It is not only actors who suffer this in older life, all those who develop some form of dementia follow the same pattern.

Often in life we hear people confessing they find themselves somewhere and have no idea how they arrived there, or they can’t remember names, or what they were going to do next. Perhaps not so surprising, if as per Shakespeare, “All the world’s a stage” and we are all transient actors entering and leaving.

Recently there was a research project with a group of older actors which came out with some surprising results. The research team followed a group of older actors as they took part in a course of improvisation classes at the National Theatre. Many actors who have been used to learning their lines and having to remember them find it difficult to improvise, the same with musicians, especially those older actors who were trained in the old way of learning lines by rote or memory and did not experience the newer style theatre training with lots of free form improvisation.

This group of actors were monitored whilst receiving a course of classes in improvisation. It was discovered that their memories improved, their confidence increased, they became more alive and active in the classes and also in their lives. With improvisation there was no possibility of the embarrassment, criticism, judgment or sense of failure they experienced with forgetting their lines mid performance.

They went on to form a company called “Lost without Words,” and they toured around the UK. No two shows were ever the same. They had no script, but on meeting a new audience each night they dialogued with them and took a theme and improvised on it. Their memories continued to improve, and their confidence continued to grow.

I believed in the past, and it is probably what I had been told when I was young, that learning reels of poetry was a very good way to keep your memory active and would prevent dementia in old age. Now I can see it may be the opposite.

What happens when we learn lines? They become ingrained in us so they seem to flow effortlessly, but it has been a lot of effort to put them into the system, and if we forget them we panic and make a big effort to remember. In this effort to remember, the brain squeezes and contracts itself in the search.

What happens when we contract in the body? We hold our breath, we reduce our blood flow, we limit space within us, reduce ourselves, withdraw from life. Vibrancy disappears, and dullness takes its place. It encourages a roller coaster of continual very subtle remembering/forgetting all the time, highs and lows, and the seeming flow is broken by minute moments of interruptions.

And making the effort to remember takes us from the present, we are going into the past, away from this lived moment where all can be fresh and new and expansive as we express ourselves here and now.

There is also learning the lines of life – the rules we have been taught to live by, the knowledge we have had to learn and abide by, the beliefs which were handed down to us and become ingrained in our consciousness and way of perceiving the world. They lock us in the past rather than living a continual unfolding of feeling what is appropriate, respectful, or necessary, discerned from our sense of what is going on in that moment.

The universe is ever expanding, and if we live an expanding life within this expansion then we grow and change and live vital and open lives, embracing all. This is what we begin to experience when we become students of The Way of The Livingness. There are no rules, only values; there are no beliefs, only felt truth; there is no nostalgic longing for the past or dwelling on it but learning from it, and an encouragement to be present, and to feel the future unfolding towards us, to even live it now – for we are shown how past, future and present are all one in the present moment, everything we have lived and that we return to is NOW. We can claim ourselves in every moment for who we truly are, and there is no need to remember, especially any lines. Everything is spontaneously felt and expressed.

Of course, we have to learn about life and the world, facts and figures, and how to do things, but there is this other way, which is not about cramming in information and recalling it, but living, sensing and feeling in the moment what is needed from the innate wisdom we all have within.

Serge Benhayon gives us the tools to live this way and demonstrates it in his own life. All he says is lived and expressed from within him. He never has a script or even notes prepared to refer to during any of his presentations, courses or even five day retreats. Even when he repeats a message or a truth, which he does often, it is never expressed the same way twice, and will vary according to the context, and what is being discussed or presented at the time.

In the Expression and Presentation Workshops, Serge gives us a subject to talk about, with no time to think, just speak. It seems like an improvisation class but not for playing a part on stage. This is for living all of life, being present with ourselves and speaking what is true and real from our hearts and our innermost being.

We are not there to play a part, we are there, in that moment, to express ourselves.

Living in this way frees us from holding on to an old belief that if we repeat lines we’ve said before we will feel safe, and encourages us to be open to whatever comes without expectation of any particular outcome. This gives us confidence (contrary to that old belief system that says we will be more confident if we know our lines) and an amazing feeling of expansion, of freedom to express from our own firm foundation, and it turns out it’s nothing to do with improvisation at all but is a sense of knowing oneself well and speaking and moving from that place in continual flow as we unfold.

It is only doubting ourselves that blocks this passage and throws us back on the old false ways of trying to stay in control and live within the lines. Many hold onto this to try and avoid dementia, but could it be the opposite is true?

The more we let go of control, memorising and recall, and live from the truth that lives in our hearts, being present in every moment with all that is occurring, where there is no need to escape or check-out, perhaps then we can live to a ripe old age with true confidence and a healthy responsive body and mind.

Read more:

  1. The forgotten side of dementia
  2. The Merchant of Venice and the ancient grudge

616 thoughts on “Memory Loss  –  Learning the lines or improvisation, or neither?

  1. For my studies I have to do many ‘professional discussions’ – talking about my work. I never prepare notes for these because I live what will be discussed. If I doubted myself I’d have to make notes and rehearse.

  2. Joan, nowadays, it’s not just the elderly that cannot remember, but the younger people too who have memory loss by checking out with social media or games etc. Technology may be advanced, but we are becoming lazier in many more ways than one.

    I can recall being excellent at reverse parking, and since our newish car, those skills have become dependent on the beeping or reverse cameras. And when I go into an oldish car, I feel the difference, my confidence has diminished.

    I love how Serge Benhayon presents, with no scripts no planning or format and as much as I have not mastered this yet, from time to time I experience it. It is beautiful when it flows from the body and is truly freeing, never laced with any pictures or expectation. Now that is expression from the heaven…

  3. ‘Living in this way frees us from holding on to an old belief that if we repeat lines we’ve said before we will feel safe, and encourages us to be open to whatever comes without expectation of any particular outcome.’ Learning to trust that I am enough without the need for any false props, supports with living life in the moment, spontaneously without the need to second guess – to simply express what is there to express when it is needed.

    1. I understand about repeating lines, it felt safe and now, it actually feels yucky, as though I am regurgitating something. Having experienced the two, the flow through your body, which is forever expanding and, the regurgitating which is forever keeping you small and safe – I know which I prefer.

  4. When we learn by rote and simply regurgitate words by memory, how much really are we connecting to what we are saying and how easy is it really to stay present when all we are doing is focusing on the mind and not the body? To me this is a joyless activity.

  5. So many things are geared to make us remember things we have learnt, like the current education system, instead of being in touch with what we feel and who we truly are first. From experience no subject I have ever learnt at school (apart from reading and writing) have I ever used since I have left, no maths, no science, no history NOTHING!

    But the things I really needed to know, like who am I truly as a person, what does it mean to be a young woman, what is self-worth and how do I ‘get’ this, how do I express what I feel when everything within me feels shut down, how do I discern what is around me, what is true vitality and well-being or why do I feel this (Monday-Friday, weekend thing) is just not it. Things like this which should be our very foundation of life were never discussed. Not once. So I love hearing when we step out of the confines of the boxes we are put in or put ourselves in, like these actors and go with our inner heart and what we feel with first. Super cool ✨

  6. I love this ‘We are not there to play a part, we are there, in that moment, to express ourselves.’ This just shows how recall can be damaging to our wellbeing (there is no connection with our innate essence and the truth of who we are) it is just regurgitating things we have learnt, but true expression is super supportive for us as it is coming from us from within.

    1. I have just had an ‘aha’ moment reading your comment, Vicky. I never fully understood the damaging extent championing recall based learning has on the developing child – the absolute suppression of true expression and from there, the encouragement to disconnect from our bodies and what we may truly be feeling to express. It helps me to have a deeper understanding of the resistance I felt throughout my school years to ‘learn’ the way I was being taught to learn.

  7. This morning as I re-read your blog, Joan, I am loving reading and feeling this: “..turns out it’s nothing to do with improvisation at all but is a sense of knowing oneself well and speaking and moving from that place in continual flow as we unfold.” Your whole blog expresses the beautiful feeling of truly gaining and having a sense of knowing oneself well and the exquisite feeling of moving from that place of knowing oneself well which then allows us to open up to the continual flow as we unfold… Giving up the control we think/believe we have in exchange for experiencing the world in this continuous state of presence is an undoing that turns out to be a graceful unfolding of immense proportion. I am witnessing this unfoldment in and of myself on a daily basis as I let go of long held ideals and beliefs and open myself up to curiosity and wonderment. The world that is unfolding before me as a result is stupendous in its simplicity and awesomeness.

    1. I agree with you be
      Joan to me seems to be expressing something I knew as a child that feeling of spontaneity that everyday had endless possibilities for fun. It seems to me that as we get older we soak up the ideals and beliefs of society and so we lose that sense of spontaneity, curiosity and wonderment of our world and everything in it.
      Serge Benhayon and Universal Medicine through the workshops and presentations has supported so many people to come back to themselves and in the reconnection feel again the flow of life. To be back in communication with the Universe is the most exquisite feeling and it is something we can all reconnect back to and we all will.

  8. Thank you Joan, I really enjoyed reading this again and can understand more clearly what you are sharing, the link between being present and engaged with our whole selves ready to respond, or memorising lines that come from outside of ourselves – truly, this is already a form of checking out as we have left our whole selves and that which is alive and responsive within us. This great line sums it up for me “there is this other way, which is not about cramming in information and recalling it, but living, sensing and feeling in the moment what is needed from the innate wisdom we all have within.”

  9. What you share happens when we panic is so true, but something we do not think about at the time as we are so busy panicking – “We hold our breath, we reduce our blood flow, we limit space within us, reduce ourselves, withdraw from life.” And then everything usually seems twice as horrific as it actually is. So, no wonder forgetting their lines is an actor’s worst nightmare, especially if they have no idea of how their body is responding or how to return to being present with themselves once again. Getting to know our body intimately is one of the most supportive tools for any unexpected eventuality in life.

    1. “Getting to know our body intimately is one of the most supportive tools for any unexpected eventuality in life.” This is so true and yet generally we are not supported in this by parents or teachers in our foundational years. Just by asking “what does my tummy say? Or what does my heart say? We begin to allow the body to communicate to us and align to it’s wisdom.

      1. As you have shared the ways to support a child can be so very simple as in “what does my tummy say”. And from these simple but very powerful lessons on how to read what our bodies are saying, there is the potential to grow a new generation of adults whose connection to their bodies is totally natural. How world-changing that would be!

  10. I absolutely adore this blog, Joan, and the message you deliver. Having learned and memorised a lot of lines throughout the course of my life very much took me away from myself and the present for all the effort I had to put in to do so and took up huge amounts of energy. It’s as you say, ‘…making the effort to remember takes us from the present, we are going into the past, away from this lived moment where all can be fresh and new and expansive as we express ourselves here and now.’ The more I can clear the old scripts running through my head, the more I can be in the present moment and express from the fresh and new and bring not only truth back into my expression, but expansiveness as well.

    1. I’ve recently started to notice this in myself, whether I am drawing on a form of memory or recall, or if the expression is truly fresh and from that present moment.

  11. Aren’t we all / haven’t we all been playing a part, even those of us who are not ‘actors’ on a so-called stage? We are taught and accept from a very young age that freely expressing ourselves is not welcome and makes others feel uncomfortable so we join the queue on the long memorising and mesmerising road to learning our lines and conforming to others expectation of us. After a lifetime of acting how amazing it is for this group of older actors – how amazing would it be for each one of us – to finally take centre stage and truly express from the depth of their being. Exit stage left takes on a whole new meaning when it is not the actor but the stage itself that makes a timely, orderly and uneventful departure.

    1. This is so true Brigette, in a time where many young people are currently taking their GSCE’s what are we teaching them to do? To regurgitate, recall information and lots of it. The amount of exams they have to do now to what I did when I was a teenager is crazy (I think I had to do around 8 whereas now they have to do 20!) Currently we are not supporting our younger generation to freely express themselves at all.

  12. All the times I have worked hard and tried to masterfully come up with the right thing to say are kicked into touch by simply being present in each moment, listening, feeling and responding… it is then that true communication, connection and relationship happens.

  13. Perhaps it is better to express words and lines with the impress of our own true nature rather than empty words imbued with another’s quality of expression that is not our truth.

    1. Agreed, what if we allowed ourselves to transform movies, theatre etc and become far grander in what is offered by having these forms of entertainment to truly educate and reflect the reality or the possibility that life offers.

  14. Some rules are certainly not to our advantage, and thus our education needs to be revised: “There is also learning the lines of life – the rules we have been taught to live by, the knowledge we have had to learn and abide by, the beliefs which were handed down to us and become ingrained in our consciousness and way of perceiving the world. They lock us in the past rather than living a continual unfolding of feeling what is appropriate, respectful, or necessary, discerned from our sense of what is going on in that moment.” It can be as simple as igniting our clairsentience and this is what supports our knowing of whether something will lock us in or allow us freedom to be.

    1. There are certainly many ‘rules’ in our lives which we have taken on, without discerning, which we use as props to get us through our days, and if we were to lose any of those props it is probably inevitable that we will feel adrift without our usual anchor. A bit like an actor who loses his place in the play. But to ‘ignite our clairsentience’ and to trust what we feel, offers us the wise support no matter what life throws at us, as our anchor in life – our clairsentience – will not cast us adrift.

  15. Joan this is a great sharing and makes me question how public speaking is taught at some schools where they insist on the student rote learning the speech to be presented to the public (what I have been witness to). Memorisation is not what allows true expression and it is true expression that engages the audience and delivers something for all to grow from and be inspired by.

    1. It certainly is ‘…true expression that engages the audience…’, Henrietta. Once the heart opens, what is being expressed can be felt in the way it is being expressed and in the movement of the body and eyes not only by the person expressing, but by the audience as well be that an audience of one or an auditorium full. And like you say, if it is true expression the delivery is there ‘…for all to grow from and be inspired by.’

  16. Another interesting factor to add to this discussion is our ability to recall or remember past lives which in my experience is not a recalling at all but a moment when something seems to just ‘drop in’ and all the details of what once was lived is instantly known in a way that you cannot deny or doubt its truth. All the sounds, smells, images etc. of former lives become instantly accessible and is a very real and tangible bodily experience.
    This is not some random occurrence but a very specific package of energy we can all have access to if we learn to move in a way that frees us of the binds we adopt when we adhere solely to a mind-based intelligence.
    Why bother with attuning ourselves with something that has already been lived and exists (seemingly) in the past? Because we are where we stand today because of what we have lived and the many choices we have made across multiple lives that have led us to this point. The past is very much living within us and this is known when we stop restricting ourselves to living along a straight trajectory that conveniently leaves things behind us (a sure fire way to renege responsibility) and adopt a more spherical approach to life.

  17. We as humans have created an entirely mind-based intelligence based solely on recall that we then use to pitch ourselves against each other – the sharper your ability to recall and regurgitate that which has been previously memorised, the more clever you are deemed, or so it goes. And while there are certain situations and circumstances in life where we may need to call upon this skill, it falls far short of the depth of wisdom to be found in our inner-heart, the seat where our true intelligence is found.

  18. If only our early days at school were not about learning subjects but about connecting to the body and the innate wisdom that is within us all, it would be so much more enjoyable and confirming of ourselves than trying to recall things that have no real meaning for us.

  19. I was appreciating today how much I now choose to live from my body and what it feels, and am not ruled by what my mind/head wants me to do. Not having to ‘figure things out’ that I find hard to get my head around, but to trust that my body knows what it needs to know is so refreshing.

  20. Our education and development is all focused around being able to use what we have been taught rather than accessing all that we innately know – not a good start.

  21. Having prided myself on having a good memory and then started to visit the fear of losing it, I realise that the ability to recall is not where true intelligence is at at all. There is a simplicity to true intelligence that is well supported by simply being present in the moment… literally, that’s it. If I am present in whatever is going on around me and for me that means being connected to and aware of my body, then my whole body has lived that moment and never forgets… not necessarily recalling in words or verbatim but absolutely knowing what occurred and what the next steps are.

  22. Repeating what we have done before, whether it’s lines in a play or old ways of being that ‘got us through’.. when we rely on this then we close ourselves off to the possibilities of more- of letting go and trusting that the way we need to do things, move and express in any given moment is never a fixed point or fixed way, but a way that we need to feel, every time.

    1. Is it possible that working at a job that only requires repetitive motion, is just a way to trap us from expressing?

  23. We have the intelligence of our body to guide us and this is everything and makes the world a real and vibrant alive way to live in and the knowing from there. This is so different to what we are taught from young but something that is always accessable to us and to connect to if we choose it and Universal Medicine simply shows us the way.

  24. The problem with dementia is that you can remember items from long ago but not from recent times. This ability to continue to learn and remember needs to be kept up throughout one’s life time.

  25. Trying to remember things we have learnt in the past is literally exhausting, whereas when we connect with our bodies and feel, we have access to all the information we need. We literally know so much more than we even begin to think we do.

  26. In public schools, pupils are taught public speaking by memorising their speech. They are permitted to read off a sheet as needed, but the ‘better’ students are seen as those who can memorise their speech best and need little if any reading off their sheets. This is very different to real public speaking that I know of, where one presents from what one knows rather than what one has memorised. In the memorisation of a speech there is much pressure placed upon a person, whilst in improvisation, one simply speaks from a lived experience and knowing.

  27. There is one form of intelligence to recall and retrieve knowledge and then there is the wisdom available by living present and connected in the moment.

  28. It makes absolute sense to me there has to be consequences for holding onto the past in any way, shape or form in the same way as dreaming or thinking about the future. We need to look at the effects on the body and mind when we are not being present with ourselves.

  29. Rehearsing lines just restricts us into regurgitating the past rather than living in the moment. I love the joy of expression that comes with a freedom of words – where we can talk from a lived experience rather than a rehearsed one.

    1. Spot on HM, there is a freedom in the natural expression. However, this is not what is taught in our current world, so it takes a bit for us to let the ingrained teaching of regurgitation to drop away and bring in our natural way of expression which is as you have so beautifully shared, from the lived expression.

  30. I can remember the fear of forgetting my lines, the few times as a child I stepped foot onto a stage, and that fear often grew so powerful that, yes, the lines were forgotten and the embarrassment overwhelming. In total contrast, when I have stood up to speak on a topic that was just that moment given to me at one of the wonderful Expression and Presentation Workshops, presented by Serge Benhayon, the words flowed with ease and I was always amazed as to the wisdom and understanding of a topic I knew little about, that came with them. It took me a while before I realised that this was because I was connected to me and therefore fear-less.

    1. Sometimes it can be interesting why we, as intelligent and aware beings, choose a way to be that makes failure inevitable. What is the benefit?

  31. “In this effort to remember, the brain squeezes and contracts itself in the search.” Reading this line Joan I know exactly what you mean. I can remember times when I would give myself a headache trying to remember facts and figures, especially when it came to exams. So to understand that actually we have all we need to know within us, and that we simply have to stay connected to who we are is incredibly liberating and very empowering.

  32. I can so relate to the head being compressed when forced to memorise things, and at school, we get rewarded for being able to memorise and recall things, and when it comes to simply expressing ourselves, we often do not know where to begin and don’t even know what we are feeling. We are definitely creating a disease here.

  33. More so recently I am realising how doubt plays a huge part in me not expressing all of me.Time to hit this one on the head – not expressing in full means everyone is left lesser.

  34. The more we connect with our body and be present in what we are doing moment by moment the less likely we are to develop dementia.

    1. Yes and the more we are equipped to deal with what comes up for us. We place the connection with our body at the forefront knowing that will support us in the moment and as we get older.

  35. I love that, in the title of your blog, you give us a third option, to ” live from the truth that lives in our hearts” Connected to our hearts, our inner hearts where the flame of absolute truth and love burns bright we express what is needed in that moment from a source that can be truly trusted.

  36. When we deliver things from our memory bank they tend to be a bit old and dusty compared with the spontaneity and freshness of inspired in-the-moment offerings.

  37. It feels like that the more we truly live life and not just exist and let life govern how we are, the less we will get dementia. The active engagement and full commitment feels key. No wonder many people get dementia in their older days, as often this time is used to check out and there is less purpose which is actually very unhealthy for us.

  38. I was watching a presentation on-line this week and the speaker definitely had presence, but he had very clearly learned his script verbatim and so at one point stumbled a little when he forgot what the next bit was. He covered well but there was a palpable moment of panic. Learning to trust that everything you have lived before that moment is with you and that we have access to all of that when we are connected to the body, not only delivers a very different presentation with authority, but it is one that delivers to what is needed to be heard by the audience at that time. It becomes less about what we have to impart for ourselves, but what is needed for everyone who is listening.

  39. When we connect to the body not only is everything we have ever lived found there, but access to wisdom that we would think is beyond our reach. Simply allowing myself to express from my connection to my body rather than my head, allows for a deeper authority that others can’t help but be engaged by.

  40. “We are not there to play a part, we are there, in that moment, to express ourselves.” This is so true in any and every aspect of our lives, to bring the truth of what we know in our bodies, regardless of where we are and who we are with.

  41. It is a reduction to call our ability to feel and respond in any moment improvisation, relegating it to a form of theatre and entertainment. We all were born to feel life and respond naturally but disconnected from this as we were not confirmed or met in life.

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