7 Reminders of How to be Awesome

We often don’t think we are. Awesome. Or we vacillate between delusions of grandeur (“I’m king of the world!”) and downright self-annihilation. What if we just set the dial more in the middle? That pretty much all of us – by being here on this planet, walking a walk (whichever one we’re on!) and doing the best we can with what we have right now makes each of us pretty remarkable. If you don’t believe it, remembering these simple facts might help you get there.

1) No one is thinking about you. Especially in this digital age where we’re bombarded with millions of data to process – our brains compute 34 GB of information everyday, apparently. If we’re all being overwhelmed with digital downloads, we’re all constantly moving on to the next sound bite. Good to know. Everyone is just figuring their own shit out most of the time. Period.

2) No one has a free pass. It simply doesn’t matter how pretty or popular or how many millions of followers someone has – everyone has to contend with his or her life through it all. The journey is a journey for each of us. Sometimes, people take detours. But believe me, in the long run, everyone in some way has to reconcile who they are and why they are here and what they are fundamentally doing with their life.

3). The stuff that goes “wrong” in your life isn’t wrong. Good isn’t always good or bad necessarily bad. The transmutation process of converting your suffering, your challenges, your setbacks into something sacred and learning how to sanctify all of it is the process of being alive. Life is not to be devoid of challenges. When we realize that and embrace the crunch – then, and I believe really only then, does our life take on real meaning and purpose. And we discover, it’s all ultimately good in the big scheme of things.

4) Martin Sheen said this working with Francis Ford Coppola on Apocalypse Now – “I remember complaining to Francis one day about my confusion about all that was going down. I said to him, ‘I don’t know who this guy [the character] is. Who is this Willard?’ And Francis just looked me square in the eye and said, ‘It’s you. Whoever you are, whatever we’re filming at the time. You are that character.’ ” Mic drop!

5) (Re-read the above quote again.) Then realize, if all we want ever – is more of you – then how could you ever be wrong?

6). Nothing is as it appears. Ever. Don’t get caught up in the way things seem to look. Like an iceberg, 2/3’s of the actual iceberg is under the surface.

7). As Anthony Hopkins’ character says in the film 360, “The fastest, most powerful prayer in the world, my friend, is fuck it.”

Amen.


What You and Beyoncé Have in Common

If all we want is more of you than how could you ever be wrong?

Think about it.

In all your artistic endeavors, what has been asked of you? As a musician, poet, painter, writer, actor, sculptor, designer, novelist, singer – the same has been asked of artists throughout history.

We want more of you in there.

Does this sound familiar? How can you be more honest? Tell us what really happened? What’s your point-of-view about this? This is great but how do you feel about it all? What are you so scared of? Why aren’t you showing us who you are? Go deeper. The real story is what you’re not wanting to tell.

And on it goes. The same theme over and over. More you. Always. In relationships. Art. Creating. To the point sometimes you might want to bang your head up against the wall, because you think you just can’t go any deeper. But then you take a moment and try again. Or you put the novel away for a few months and then revisit it months later with a fresh perspective. Or you hang up your ballet shoes for a couple years and then come back to it with a new passion and insight. Or you digest what your lover says to you and then have an epiphany about where you hold back.

I think Beyoncé’s new music video, Lemonade, demonstrates what we’re talking about here. It can be easy to take the easy way out. And sometimes we do. The over-commercialization of everything gives us a free pass. But she didn’t. She decided to tell us her story as she knows it.

Work that is significant to us – and that which really touches people (and is often controversial because it pushes people’s buttons, hidden fears and prejudices) is when we let our truth out all over the place in our work. It’s personal. Messy. Painful. Cathartic. Ugly. And beautiful.

So do just that. Let all of you hang out in the work. Go to those places you think people can’t take. Or maybe you can’t take it and you use other people as the excuse to hold yourself back. Stop editing yourself and thinking what you have to say has been said before or is uninteresting. If it’s your story and you lived it then it’s going to be interesting. I promise you. And yes, similar stories may have been told again and again, but that’s what makes the universality of you being you and me being me relatable.

It’s all been said and done millions of times before anyway. Except it hasn’t. Because this time it’s through you. You’re the channel. Stop turning it off. Don’t tune into someone’s else’s when yours is more than adequate. Yes, sometimes the reception is so freaking fuzzy and full of static because of fears and doubts and we listen to the naysayers and stop trusting that what we have to contribute is going to be any good. But you have to tune in. To you.

And stop worrying if it’s going to be good. If it’s truthful, it will be good. So just focus on getting more honest.

The more you start doing that you’ll see that life has a way of giving each of us (like Beyoncé ) the opportunity to make our own lemonade out of those lemons.


A New Way to Understand Auditioning (Part 1)

Academy Award nominee, Charlotte Rampling recently said, ‘‘I’ve always, since the beginning, had my antenna out, like, ‘You can’t get me.’ It makes you more interesting when people know they can’t get you.’’

She should know. She’s been in the business for over 45 years, made over 100 films and TV projects and started in the business when she was 17.

Mystery.

Why do we give it all away? Especially to people who don’t deserve it? I did that constantly in my 20s. If you think of sharing yourself as giving away a bag of jelly beans, I’d spill all the beans merely if a guy I liked said “Hi” to me. So much for mystery. How can anyone try to figure you out if you show them everything about you at first encounter?

We live in a world now where everyone is telegraphing everything about themselves all the time. It’s instagrammed, facebooked, snap-chatted and virtually sent around the world in seconds. People know what you eat, what you think, who you date, where you live, what you watch, what you buy and on it goes.

First date is drinks at a bar. Second date is sending nude selfies.

Where’s the mystery in that?

Being human is mysterious. The process of acting is mysterious. Getting to know someone is mysterious.

Just because culturally all the answers to things seem to be spoon-fed to us immediately doesn’t mean that we don’t like the challenge of figuring people out. It’s human nature, because as we do, we are subjectively projecting onto people the stories we want them to live out in our imaginations. They are our fantasies or ideas or prejudices or fears.

It’s subjective. But if you don’t create room for people to do their own personal imprinting on you, they lose interest.

When you go into an audition room, your job is to do your work. Experience how you choose to interpret a role and do it. That’s it. Casting directors may want to get to know you and that’s fine. But there’s a line between sharing and being desperate that they’ll like you. One is based on intrigue and curiosity and the other on obviousness and self-esteem.

Maybe we do that because we don’t trust that we’re enough. Or we need the job as some sort of confirmation to bolster our self-esteem. We doubt that we’re interesting. That we’re bad-ass. People will be intrigued. So instead we push, we show, we demonstrate, we reveal all instead of holding back.

When you watch someone simply being, doing nothing, you’re mesmerized about the person’s story. Who are they? Where do they come from? Why are they here? What are their dreams?

When you see a stranger in a café and your imagination runs wild with stories of who you think this person could be and all he or she is doing is actually sipping a latte . . . is there really anything else to do?

That’s the power we possess. An innate sense of presence that emanates from our being is inherently mysterious. It’s as mysterious as being alive. Let people project onto you as they will. (They’re going to do it anyway!) You just keep working on being. You.

As Ms. Rampling goes on to say, ‘‘Creative expression comes from places we don’t know. When I started out early in films, people said, ‘Oh my gosh, you can do this.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I can.’ I don’t know why, but I knew I could. I can’t explain what it is and how you get there, but it’s not anything to do with the intellect. I wanted to get to the being state of a character. Just watching someone being, living.’’


What Does It Mean to be “You”?

Be yourself.

We hear that all the time now from self-help books to TV shows, in songs and philosophies, indeed, even in the foundation of what it is I’ve been teaching actors for almost 20 years. Being yourself is all we can ever be. To think we will ever be anything but ourselves is not only pointless, but in circles of psychiatry, it might be suggested to be dangerous.

But sometimes I grapple with what being “yourself” means. Especially since we do everything in our power to not be.

Is it being myself as in who I am right now in my 40s? Is it not judging myself for who and where I am? Is it allowing the history of who I am and all that I lived be the source of my expression and creativity? Is it accepting my body for all that it can (and can’t) do? Is it holding on to the opinions and ideas that have shaped me?

At a relative level, yes, these are all things that make you you. From our mind’s perspective.

But the self that you’re going for – that we’re all after (whether consciously or unconsciously) is that recognition of the deeper self. It’s the you that’s connected to something beyond your identification with ego self-descriptions. The way we label, conceptualize, judge, control, calculate, and define. These constructs are not who we are. But rather functions that often prevent us from experiencing the true self.

To get to the core of self, one must smash all doctrines and dogmas. Examine all beliefs and narratives. But when you begin to question world orders, you begin to question yourself. That’s scary because you might lose yourself (or who you thought you were) in doing so. And who wants to do that? We’d rather hold on to our “principles” which are often thinly disguised prejudices, fears and judgments.

But artists do. Examining who they are is what being an artist means. They get lost in roles. They go to dark places in examining all the potentials of what it means to be human. They inhabit other universes and explore the taboo. They turn worlds upside down and traverse the unknown to get beyond the conceptual or academic.

And that occurs by allowing ourselves to be empty of all the stuff that is constantly chattering away in our heads all the time, and instead become the vessel for a greater self-expression to move through you.

That, then, purely becomes the essence of being yourself.

It’s difficult to find who you are when you’re told what to wear, how to look, what’s popular, what APPs to buy to get more “likes”, how to be happy, when to take your vacation, who is the most famous, how to have a perfect bod, who to vote for, and which God is correct.

The great filmmaker, Stanley Kubrick remarked: “The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death — however mutable man may be able to make them — our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

So that’s being yourself. Light. You are light. Almost all energy used by all living things comes from light. The sun and all the complex systems through photosynthesis that converts sugars into energy is light-driven. It’s all light that sustains us.

For you to be a channel for that fully is you being yourself. No filters, no restrictions. Just reflecting light.

Good to know that’s what we are without even having to do anything. Be light.

It’s life itself.

 

Actors in video: Hayley Shaw and Charlie Bewley


If You’re Going to Jump . . . Don’t Jump to Conclusions

They say when you assume you make an ass out of you and me.

Well that’s for sure. But we still do it all the time.

We get tiny parcels of information about things and then immediately fill in the blank based on our own stories. We jump to conclusions created out of our own limited understanding of the world. We project things based on our own fears.

It’s sort of like an iceberg. We only see 1/3 of something visibly. The largest part – 2/3’s – is hidden from us.

When we make assumptions about things we can get ourselves into all kinds of trouble. We react. We judge. At extreme levels, we marginalize people. Separate them. Make them different from us. Feel better about ourselves by making someone else feel less than.

I understand why we do it. We don’t like to feel out of control. Making up a story that fits a narrative we’re comfortable telling – because maybe we’ve been telling it for many, many years – allows us to make meaning out of something that disrupts our narratives.

But generally the meaning we make is false.

Things take time to unfold. Human beings are impatient and demand that the answers for things be delivered immediately to them. It’s sort of narcissistic when you think about it. Who says we have to have the answers to all things now? Why is it we can’t live in the unknown more? Why do we feel safer when we can categorize things in ways that allow us to be in control?

Part of why we are here is to live in the mystery of it all. Constantly trying to define the mystery doesn’t solve it. It just makes us feel better because we tell ourselves we have the answer to something that is – in essence – unanswerable.

Seeking doesn’t mean defining. It means searching for that which wants to be found. And the searching has been going on for millennia. If it had already been found, our journeys here would have ended long ago.


There’s No Going Back. It’s All Forging Forward (with Awareness)

If you’re reading this you’ve probably graduated from the 3rd grade.

That means there’s no going back. That’s a good thing. You got your lessons and are moving on up.

So why is it we don’t trust that the things we learned when we were at a certain phase in life have stayed with us?

Life is a bunch of circles, not a straight line. And because it’s circular we will repeat or revisit situations and patterns in different ways. But we have new awareness each time we go someplace we feel we’ve been before. So we have new tools to deal with old information. Yes, we stumble. Yes, we seem to make the same mistakes and wonder how we can be “here again.” Yes, it appears sometimes that we’re back in the 3rd grade.

But with progress in life comes awareness. And as long as we’re moving forward, awareness equals evolution.

When we face familiar roadblocks or obstacles or seem to be stuck in a problem that feels more like a pattern, it’s important to move through the challenge with that awareness.

Basically, don’t allow old habits to kick in and run the show. Sure, we’re going to get triggered. Sometimes the habit seems to have a mind of it’s own. It does because it’s not based in conscious choice-making. That’s why it’s a habit! So you’re facing the same relationship problem you had with your ex with your current lover. What do you do differently this time? Or, you’re about to reach for that doughnut even though you’re not even hungry. What’s it a substitute for? Sadness? Loneliness? Or, you want to go to the gym or take an acting class or start writing that novel, but every time you’ve tried before, something “came up.”

The same resistance or fear may be evoked the second or 10th time around. And that can be scary when we seem to be revisiting something that generated so much anxiety or heartbreak or discomfort the first (or fourth time). The difference is you can at least see your participation in this thing from a different vantage point. You may still fall apart and succumb to an old habit, but eventually with persistence you’ll overcome.

Let, “I’ve got this!” be your new mantra. Because surely you do.

Artist and writer Portia Nelson best summed up this journey of awareness we’re all on in her short story, There’s a Hole in my Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery.

Chapter 1: I walk down the street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I fall in. I am lost. I am hopeless. It isn’t my fault. It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter 2: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again. I can’t believe I’m in the same place. But it isn’t my fault. It still takes a long time to get out.

Chapter 3: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I see it is there. I still fall in. It’s a habit. My eyes are open; I know where I am. It is my fault. I get out immediately.

Chapter 4: I walk down the same street. There is a deep hole in the sidewalk. I walk around it.

Chapter 5: I walk down another street.

 

Actors in video: Liliana DeCastro and Chris Cusano


Don’t Let Hotel Mirrors F*&K Up Your Life

I was in Fiji a couple weeks ago enjoying the clear blue skies and equally clear blue waters, not a care in the world, when I looked at myself in the hotel mirror.

Womp Womp. Cue Horror Music!

Who the hell put those there? And why? Why would they do this and destroy an otherwise amazing vacation?

Hotel mirrors are cruel reality checks that make us immediately see ourselves through the harsh glare of imperfection. But they also trigger the dormant (and not-so-dormant) part of ourselves which wants to kick in and criticize and blow up our life.

Life – and the work to do throughout it – is to simply find in each moment something to appreciate about ourselves. Our lives become these grueling battles because we immediately go to the dialogue in our heads that support what a sucky person (we think) we are.

When things are going great in our life it’s easy to love ourselves. It’s easy to ignore our flaws and incessant brain chatter that’s constantly trying to derail us. We look great. We drive a nice car. We’re successful or famous. We’re loved. We’re popular.

But it’s not so easy when you get broken up with. Or are dropped by your agent. Or did something you regret. Or gain ten pounds. Or get your car impounded.

Here is the new collective mantra:

Is there something about me right now in this moment I can accept and love about myself? Not when I book the job. Not when I lose that extra weight or get fit. Not when I have a lover or get that raise or have a smaller nose or a fancy house or 10,000 followers on Instagram.

Right now. In the face of rejection and imperfection and things falling apart and uncertainty. Is there something here that I can see in myself that I can acknowledge? Appreciate? Respect? Give credit to? Breathe into? Smile at? Love? Can that self-acknowledgment become certain even though nothing else is?

It needs to.

We are not our thoughts. Especially the turbulent, destructive things we say to ourselves. We are the awareness that we have thoughts. So having the “Ah-ha” that we can choose to see ourselves differently than we habitually tell ourselves and then self-correct is conscious realization.

And it can save you a lot of pain and anxiety while staring at yourself in an unforgiving hotel mirror.

That’s the work. It’s not “woo-woo” work. It’s science. It’s choice. It’s possibility. It’s determination to be the master of our thoughts and not let the lies we tell ourselves destroy our happiness in a moment simply because the wiring was set into place many years ago and the dialogue feels awfully real.

As you continue to change that wiring you won’t even need to look at a hotel mirror. Because you’ll be too busy living that beauty instead.

 

Actors in video: Justene Alpert and Katelin Chesna


How to Not Give Up During Pilot Season

It’s pilot season! A lot of people are booking work, and a lot of people aren’t. If you find yourself in the second group, don’t freak out. Who books work and how it happens is a complex process and there are no hard and fast rules.

Brie Larson said as much after winning her Oscar for the film “Room,” when she was asked how others could go about achieving their dreams: “I wish there was any sort of rules or code, but in fact, I think the way you get there is by breaking [the rules], by listening to what’s happening inside of yourself.”

There is a set point of what we think will work, but then someone breaks-through in a new way. So we make new rules based on how they did it, and then those rules break down and give way to…you guessed it, new rules. So nothing is absolute.

I had an actor tell me recently of an experience where they got bad feedback from a producer session. Word got back to their manager, and there was a panicked summit meeting, everyone freaking out, culminating in an end-of-the-world actor apocalypse.

The actor had been on an 18-hour shoot the night before the audition and was in no way ready to tackle 20-plus pages of heavy dialogue. He went in and gave it his best, but the result was definitely less than what the person is capable of delivering. So what? Shit happens. It doesn’t have to meanyou’re the worst actor ever! It just means you’re human and you’re not perfect.

I gave this actor some advice that at first may seem counterintuitive. “The next time you find yourself in that situation and are not in a position to give 100 percent to the audition, you have to be willing to walk away. Better to say no to something than go in already knowing you’re going to tank. Simply see if you can move the appointment first.”

Novel idea, right?

Actors, have that power. Casting directors, producers, and directors are looking for you. They may not even know you exist, but they are looking for someone like you. If they weren’t, you wouldn’t get the call to come in. But we get so panicked when we get the call that we are willing to sacrificeeverything—even our own well-being—just for a job.

So what happened? A week goes by, and this actor found himself in the same scenario. Another appointment that he was unable to prepare for. He passed.

A week goes by and then casting calls. “We really want to see this person.” (Even though he was originally told he wouldn’t be seen.) He went in and…wait for it…he booked the job. Boom. 

Realizing you have power doesn’t mean you have more power than anyone else. You are an integral part of the equation of creation. You have to walk into the room knowing that truth.

I’m not saying to blow off auditions because you’d rather be out clubbing or you’re nursing a hangover when you should have been preparing or using an excuse to not do your work. I’m not saying play hard to get. We need to treat everyone with respect and understand pilot season is hectic for everyone. Value people’s time. But what I am saying is that every now and then, you have to trust your gut and call your own shots. Even if in the short term it means saying no to something. A no can actually be a yes to self.

And isn’t your own peace of mind worth that?


The Problem with Perfection 

There are many.

It’s conditional. We equate love (receiving it more than giving it, but sometimes that too) with an absurd non-mathematical equation: If I do this, I’ll be loved. If I don’t do that, I won’t.

It’s illusory. The premise that perfectionism is built on is faulty. That is; there’s something fundamentally wrong with us that needs to be changed before we can amount to anything.

It’s a negotiation you can never win. That’s because the target keeps moving, and by the standards a perfectionist keeps, you’ll always fall short.

It’s exhausting.

It’s based in control. If you can control everything, no one will find out how much of a sham you (think) you are.

It’s based in fear. And the false belief that if we just work a little harder, or achieve a little more, or do a little better, we’ll be able to right the wrongs we’ve either experienced or believe we’ve perpetrated as children for being who we are.

It’s shame-based. We’ve identified with something as a child that we (incorrectly) believe makes us bad, wrong, unlovable, or worst – crazy, evil, psychotic, deviant, fucked-up, beyond hope – simply because of an action we took or a desire we had.

So if we just work hard enough, thereby fixing ourselves, the identification with what’s wrong with us will disappear.

A life in the Arts can sometimes promote perfectionism. In the Arts in general, and in many schools of thought specifically, as much as we are taught to be our individual selves, we often succumb to the pressures of perfectionism. If we do something perfectly, we’ll get the job. If we execute a pirouette flawlessly, we’ll be adored. If we just create something a little better than someone else, we’ll be rewarded.

All these points work against our ability to optimally create with freedom, passion and zero regard for the end results.

What if we just accepted once and for all the truth that we’re all perfectly imperfect?

And in being so, just like everyone else on the planet, we are still deserving of love, creative fulfillment, an outrageously awesome career we love, happiness, kick-ass relationships, breakthroughs in our work and in self-healing.

Perfectionism runs counter to what we desire in our hearts. It’s all about maintaining appearances and making us look good. Real surrender to the moment without attachments or worrying about the end results is what we seek.

Think about the lesson Michelangelo taught us when he sculpted his masterpiece, David. When asked how he carved such a beautiful statue from a marble slab, he reportedly said, “In this marble I saw David. All I needed to do was take that piece of marble and chip away the excess stone so he could be revealed.”

We are already enough. Everything we need is already a part of us. We sometimes have to chip away at the stuff that holds us back from revealing our own beauty, power, and grace – our true unconditional self. But what we discover is that it’s been there all along. Trying to do something to fix what doesn’t need fixing isn’t going to do it.

Start giving yourself the unconditional love you sought outside yourself through other people, achievements, successes, or victories – which is all conditional.

The biggest challenge is to accept ourselves for where (and who) we are right now. Because the irony is, if we keep waiting for the imagined future to happen before we do it . . . we’ll be waiting an eternity.

 

Actors in video: Justene Alpert and Brian Flaccus


Two Life Hacks About Love and Phases of Life

It’s as simple as this: Just try to love yourself as much as you can no matter where you are on your journey.

And here’s why that’s so damn hard.

There’s life. Reality. Existence. Whatever you want to call it.

Then there are the illusions of life. The ideas. The lies. The smoke-&-mirrors.

We compare where we are to ideas. (In our acting and life itself.) We think they’re real. And then we have an immediate dislike for where we are, not because where we are isn’t okay. But because we compare our lives to the illusions that tell us I’d be happy or successful if . . . this occurs and when . . . that occurs.

The #1 reason for our suffering is our belief that we’re missing something that we think if we had, we’d then be happy.

So, I should be famous. I should have my shit together. I should’ve reached my goals by now because everyone else seems to attain theirs. I should have my acting in better shape. I should be better. Period.

No you shouldn’t. If you should, you would. Why are we constantly telling ourselves that where we are isn’t enough or okay? Or simply a place to start?

Acceptance takes breathing. It takes recognizing where we are and feeling where we are. That may mean we feel anger. So we get present with anger. We may feel sadness. So we get present with sadness. But feelings can be scary. So how do we feel them and not run away from them?

First off, feelings aren’t facts.

Science says that the physiological circuitry in our brains that releases feelings basically flushes them out of our body within 90 seconds. Any emotions held longer than that are caused by our re-engaging the circuitry. In other words, we choose not to let go and we create stories – generally of the “should” variety – that continuously reboot the emotional wiring.

As we move through different phases of our lives it’s important to remember that all that we were that has brought us to this new juncture is still a part of us, it still informs us, it’s created a formula for us to survive and be successful and achieve. But just like we outgrow a t-shirt we had in the 5th grade that no longer fits (unless you’re like me and try to keep squeezing into those tiny tees bought at the Baby Gap!), you let it go.

We let go of things from our past. The elementary school games are put in a box. The toys are given to charity. We lose touch with old friends we thought would be our BFF’s. And yet, why is it that we have a very difficult time letting go of those parts of ourselves we too have outgrown? If I’m no longer a little girl, why do I still respond to people from that place? If I’m no longer interested in the things I did when I was twenty, why do I still find myself being sucked into those social circles?

It’s process. It’s easier to stay connected to that which we know – even if it’s bad for us – because it’s known. The alternative – the unknown and all its inherent chaos and mystery and discomfort – is a lot scarier to embrace. So we hold on when life is encouraging us to let go. We seek the common path because the next mile on our own path hasn’t yet been shown to us. It’s awfully dark, desolate and lonely.

Walking in the dark isn’t easy. I get it. But stepping forward into the abyss with our own Light leading the way, must mean, eventually the darkness disappears. What’s revealed is everything we need and everything we wanted was here waiting for us.

In the dark, before it became infused with our light. We just have to keep taking those steps. And letting go of the “should’s”, the past, our narratives about them, our illusions and ideas. Pretty much everything that makes us want to hold on.

The more we practice the art of letting go and the empowerment that comes with it, the more we’ll begin to wonder why we were ever holding on to begin with.

 

Actors in video: Nick Kilgore and Juliette Hing-Lee


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