This exercise arose out of a game I learned from Philip Beaven in an improvisation workshop. The original game “Switch” helps actors and musicians practice fast mood changes: from happy to sad, from introverted to extroverted, and so on. We’ve slightly changed the original to create a great tool for understanding what is meant by “being present.”
We’re all familiar with what it’s like to run through an airport when we’re late: while we don’t bump into people, we also don’t really see them as individuals. So the first part of the exercise takes us there: one could also call it “mall mode.” When we slow down and meet another person as an individual, we see a person—but we easily judge. The next part of the exercise brings those judgments to mind and makes room for a new perception—the reality of the other person as someone with a unique history, family, and past—more like we see ourselves. This shift brings us directly to the humanity of the other. The attention in this space is non-judgmental, open, soft, and fluid. We relax without losing ourselves.
We use this exercise to wake people up, to get them moving—and then to bring them into a space of individual and shared focus and receptivity. It can be very powerful, and the art of facilitating it involves being sensitive to the timing. You want people to dwell a little bit in the awkwardness of really seeing each other. I’ve seen this simple game work wonders in groups. Enjoy!