Trusting the Moment author Jeannie Lindheim on unlocking creativity (transcript)

This is the transcript of my recent podcast interview with Trusting the Moment author, Jeannie Lindheim.

David E. Williams:            This David Williams, co-founder of MedPharma Partners and author of the Health Business Blog.  I’m speaking today with Jeannie Lindheim.  She is author of Trusting the Moment, a handbook for individual and group work that includes 50 exercises to increase cohesiveness and creativity.  Jeannie, thanks for joining me today.

Jeannie Lindheim:            Oh, thank you for having me.

Williams:            Jeannie, why did you write this book?

Lindheim:            Well, my whole goal in life is to empower people.  That’s what I’ve been doing in my 40 year teaching career: empowering people, giving them lots of tools and techniques for acting, movement, improvisation, and creativity.

Many years ago –28 years ago to be exact– I was teaching a short course at Boston University in the Human Movement Program and the gentleman who hired me came up to me and said, “You have to write a book about this!”

I thought to myself when I left, well, that’s not going to happen because I have two babies at home in diapers and there’s no time to write. But the idea really intrigued me and I thought, gosh, that’s a great idea.  So in between diaper changes and everything else, I started to write. Then I put it away and brought it out every few years and would add to it.

Then, about two years ago I thought, well, what do I really want to get out to the world?  What’s so important?  A lot of people had read it and seen it and they said, “You have to get this published.”  So I rewrote lots of it and sent it to a lot of readers. They said the same thing and then I found a publisher.

So I wrote it to really empower people who work creatively with people, whether they be teachers, coaches, people in the helping professions, therapists, people who work with people with disabilities, and also individuals who want to get more creative in what they’re doing in their life.  So that’s why I wrote the book, to empower people, in two words.

Williams:            You anticipated my next question, which is who the book is for.  Can you tell me an example or two of those audiences that you mentioned, how you thought about them as an audience.

Lindheim:            I’ve taught a lot of different populations, so when I say “people with disabilities,” I’ve taught quadriplegics and paraplegics in a movement workshop so I know that these exercises work with that population.  I’ve taught senior adults.  I’ve taught little children.  I don’t know that there is one specific audience, but as a theater person I would say definitely actors, directors, people who are teaching acting movement, and improv classes can absolutely use it. That’s because it really combines movement, improvisation, guided imagery and symbolic drawing in the book plus other experiential tools and techniques.

So I don’t really have one audience, but I think anyone who works creatively with people can look at the 50 exercises and find some or many that would really work with the groups they’re leading.  Individuals can use it, too: artists, painters, writers, actors.

Williams:            Jeannie, I noticed that a lot of the exercises focus on improvisation and I’m wondering why that is.

Lindheim:            That, to me, is the essence of creativity.  I named the book “Trusting the Moment” because there is nothing else at this one moment.  In one of the appendices (I have many) I describe the value of improvisation.  For improvisation, you have to be 100 percent present.

It teaches you to listen to other people.  It teaches you to spotlight and give the ball to someone else.  It takes away the judges, because if you’re judging yourself you are paralyzed with creativity at any level, not just improvisation.

It’s fun, it gets you to think on your feet. So you’re right, all of the exercises involve some form of improvisation, whether it’s a movement one or a vocal one or a writing one or symbolic drawings.

Improvisation really breaks you out of your shell. We all get our little sense of this is who I am, this is who I can be, and it really gets you in touch with all your different sub-personalities.  We’re many, many people, but we only function as two or three people during the day. But there’s a whole treasure trove of really exciting people inside.  When you’re doing improv and you take on different characters that are really different parts of you, then you begin to see the world in a whole new way and it is very exciting.

Williams:            Jeannie, on page 44 you write that, “The center core and essence of this book is love.”  What are you talking about?

Lindheim:            Well this is in the first section of the book.  It’s called “The Art of Group Leadership.”  If you are missing love in your groups, if you don’t really love the people you’re working with and get excited to see them and want them to grow and to learn from them that’s a problem.

Creativity is the space between us. That space between us has to be filled with support and care and nurturing and being tough too.  When I would critique people I would get tough, but it was always surrounded by love.

It’s interesting you picked that up because many of my readers, before I had the book published said, “That has to go at the beginning.  That’s the most important thing in the book,” and it really is.  You have to really care about the people you teach.

As I pointed out when I wrote “Love Defined,” there were three different group leaders I had as facilitators. Two were extraordinary and one was really good, but I didn’t get her.  I didn’t know who she was and she left out that piece of really caring about the audience that she was teaching.

Williams:            I first met you 10 years ago when you were leading what was the Jeannie Lindheim Hospital Clown Troupe (which is now Hearts & Noses Hospital Clown Troupe where I’m Chairman), and I know that you have a ton of experience working with patients and also with caregivers. So I’m particularly interested in these exercises and how they could be used with medical professionals.  Can you share some thoughts about that?

Lindheim:            Absolutely.  When I was teaching what I call the “Doctor Workshops” –and I did over 120 of them through the Risk Management Foundation at Harvard and also ProMutual and a lot of different medical national meetings– I used a listening exercise.  That was the number one exercise that we did after a brief bonding experience.

Many physicians and health care professionals when they’re listening to somebody, they jump ahead.  They’re trying to figure out what’s going on and they’re not really in the moment with the patients that they’re treating.  So the listening exercise, which I can describe if you’d like, really is the core, the heart of that workshop.  It was a three to four hour workshop that I gave for the physicians.

Williams:            I definitely would be interested in hearing about how that listening exercise works with physicians.

Lindheim:            Okay, well what I do is I have them find a partner, one person who they don’t know very well, if that’s possible.  Sometimes all the pediatricians or all the OB/Gyns know everybody, but I ask them to find somebody, preferably that they don’t know as well as other people.

They put their chairs directly across from each other so they’re not at an angle and they sit down and they look at the person for just a moment and then I ask them to share an experience in their life, many experiences, where they’re really excited about something, where they’re looking forward to something.  It could be a dinner tonight, it could be a trip, it could be playing with their dog when they get home, anything at all.  They share the experience for about maybe two minutes and then the other person who is listening, before they respond with their experiences, they have to repeat the essence of what the person said.

So they don’t say it verbatim, but they say the essence of what they said and then it’s their turn. Then they share wonderful experiences that they’re looking forward to and then the other person repeats the essence of what he or she said and you go back and forth.  This lasts about 20 minutes and they go back and forth maybe six or seven times with experiences that they’re looking forward to.

But if the person says the essence, but they don’t really quite have it, the person has to be honest (and I say this when I’m giving the directions) and say, “Well, you got most of it, but what you missed is this …” and then they repeat what the person might have missed and then the physician listening says that part again. They repeat the essence and then it’s their turn.  So they really have to catch them if they didn’t get the whole thing, not 100 percent but at least 90 percent.

Then for the second part of the exercise I have them close their eyes and I have them pick something either in their personal life or professional life that is stressful for them, that’s challenging, that gives them some angst. I always say, “Well, it would be great if you could pick something personal, but that’s really up to you,” because I want them to get to know each other.

By the way, this workshop is confidential.  That’s what I state in the contract.  Nothing leaves the room.  So it’s very important in the beginning that I state that contract because nobody is going to say, “Well, John said this” so they have that as a container to hold the exercise.

Then they share just one experience for three minutes, and I tell them when to switch, of something stressful going on in their lives.  Then the person opposite them has to, again, repeat the essence of what they said, and then it’s the other persons turn and they share.  That lasts maybe ten or fifteen minutes or so.

Then we get back as a group and this is the most fascinating part of this exercise. I ask them very open-ended questions; “What happened?  How was it for you?  What did you notice?” and unbelievable things happen.  These people that I’m training have been in practice probably 20, 30 or 40 years.  Most of them are not residents or interns.  They’ve been out there for a long time.  Many, many, many people in these workshops I taught said, “You know, I really don’t listen,” or “I was planning what I was going to say.”

I have in my file drawer in the basement all these letters of recommendation, and I would estimate that two-thirds of them say, “This exercise changed my practice in medicine.  Now I really listen.”  I also ask, “How did it feel when somebody repeated the essence?”  They felt validated, they felt heard, and they felt bonded with the person.

Trust is the most important thing in any field, not just for physicians. You’ve got to get the trust of the person. If you’re really present and listening, the patient really begins to trust you. I always say, “Trust happens in a moment.”  The patient knows in five minutes whether they’ll share whatever they want to share, so they don’t leave the office and say, “Oh yeah, by the way Doc, I have these heart things going on.”  And that happens.  I call it the hand on the doorknob.  When they’re leaving the office they tell you something that you wish they had told you 15 or 20 minutes ago.

So the listening exercise not only bonds the people in the group, but it also gives them some tools and techniques.  Then I ask them to please let me know how this works and many of them do it with their patients, but a lot of them don’t.  They say they don’t have the time. “I have 15 minutes or 10 minutes to see a patient.”

But all it takes is repeating the essence of what they’re saying.  Even if the patient comes in upset, saying, “I couldn’t find a parking space in your garage.  Oh my gosh, why don’t they redesign it?”  You say, “Well I hear you’re really frustrated.  I can understand that.  The garage parking is really terrible.”  Even that kind of listening before they get on to why they came to see the physician that day is productive.

Williams:            As I’m hearing you describe this, I’m thinking about the fact that I know that you yourself can facilitate a group of physicians, but for somebody who is reading your book, would you expect them to be able to facilitate a group like this?  How expert does one need to be to lead these exercises?

Lindheim:            Great question.  It really depends.  I think you have to have some experience in leading groups, but on the other hand, I never did.  I write something in the beginning of the book about about jumping in the water, just throwing yourself in.  If you, as a group leader or facilitator, are reading the book and your heart starts to go, oh wow, do I want to try this exercise, try it.

You can adapt it, you can change it.  That’s what I’m hoping people will do because this book is really a springboard to your own creativity, but I do think beginners can use the book.

There are three different sections in the exercises, beginning, intermediate and advanced.  So a group leader or facilitator can always start with the beginning ones, those which I think are easier.  I wouldn’t jump into the advanced exercises, although that’s my own opinion.  You might open the book David, to an advanced exercise and say, “Oh my gosh, this is really a beginning exercise for my group.”  So I label them the way I use them, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be changed around.

Williams:            Jeannie, you had mentioned that you work with all sorts of people.  I know you’ve traveled all around the country and around the world.  Are there any particular challenges or modifications that you have in working with groups either from a different cultural background or groups that are not homogenous but have a lot of differences within the group?

Lindheim:            Right. Well, now that you mention it, when I was training, I did a bunch of workshops for the Mass Medical Society –they hired me to teach international doctors.  In this group there were Israelis, there were Arabs, there were people from India, there was every different culture you can imagine.  So I did have to understand a bit about peoples’ culture although sometimes I would walk in and not really know who would be there.

I remember once I taught for the Bayer Institute in their annual meeting and it was in Colorado Springs. I said, “When you meet a patient” — we were doing just when the patient comes in the room or you get the patient from the waiting room–  “you shake hands.”  This one doctor said to me, “If you shake hands with the patient, their husband is going to kill you.”  And I went, “Okay then, let’s not shake hands with that patient!”  This was a cultural thing somewhere out West and the doctor seriously said that.

So yes, I think it’s important depending on who you’re working with.  In these exercises, if you’re using these with your own groups, the one thing I can say is that some of the exercises are very physical. So I always phrase that in a very careful way when moving around to find your own space. I don’t use the word “touch,” and I would be careful of that because in certain cultures, they don’t want touch.

Williams:            I’ve been speaking today with Jeannie Lindheim about her new book, Trusting the Moment, which is a handbook for individuals and group work.  Jeannie, thanks so much for your time.

Lindheim:            Well thank you David.  This has been wonderful.  You ask wonderful questions.

Trusting the Moment is available at Amazon.

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