- How To Move Past Your ‘Blurred Lines’!
- The Audition Room And How It Triggers Our Reptilian Brain (Part 2)
- The Audition Room And How It Triggers Our Reptilian Brain! (Part 1)
- SHARE YOUR CRACK! PART 2
- KEEP REACHING TOWARD THE FINISH LINE (Some thoughts and prayers for the victims of the Boston Marathon)
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Author Archives: Anthony
How do we move past our “Blurred Lines”?
You know, the stuff that often makes us unable to see our emotional situations clearly.
Well it won’t be by staying at the level from which confusion or blurriness is created.
If you want peace, equanimity, clarity and access to wide-open spaces in your mind, you have to cut through the clutter, the white noise, the mental static and step into the empty space that actually originates thought.
That can be a tad tricky (and mind-bending) but if you think of consciousness or pure mind as having non-locality and from which everything is created, it gives you an understanding that there is a space or a gap or a repose of silence between the thousands of thoughts we think. We all have access to it but often don’t realize it’s even there.
Think of your left brain like a system of circuitry that is constantly being lit up by “calls” to the main switchboard. These “calls” are generally our self-dialogues that are caused by conflict, negative self-talk, judgments, self-criticism, fear, and feedback loops we get stuck in.
When our switchboard gets inundated with emotional data, we short-circuit.
Which is simply, we lose our shit.
We get triggered emotionally and our corresponding behavior might be to scream or get defensive or hyper-reactive or shut down or get into a fist-fight or bail or down a whole bottle of tequila in 30 seconds flat.
But if we can learn to step outside of the emotionality of the event and see how our circuitry is often set on a “default” mode (i.e., react!), we can then learn to become more objective about our circumstances and not get triggered so easily.
We move from unconsciousness to awareness. From autopilot to making choices. From being asleep to wakefulness.
It’s simple, really.
Always, one way is simply to remember to breath.
Another is to find a mantra or a healthy self-dialogue with yourself that gets you out of the constant looping in your head. You could say, “I choose to let this go,” or “I’m OK,” or simply bless yourself and the person you feel is triggering you (which really has more to do with you and your reaction than anyone else anyway).
Simple tools to get your footing again.
Because what life is about, truly, is to live in equanimity and peace. That’s what we’re all after.
Peace doesn’t exist somewhere “out there”. It exists in our mind. We have a choice. It’s sometimes as simple as remembering, “Do I want to be right or do I want to be happy?”
It’s not worth our being in an upset so trivial – which is what we often do – and it’s simply because of the default setting that most humans are set on.
Blurred lines can become less fuzzy. Less chaotic. Less painful. Less upsetting.
Maybe the question you have to ask yourself is whether or not you want them to.
Last week I discussed not letting our reptilian vagus nerve get the better of us in stressful situations (like auditioning or asking Heidi Klum out on a date or parachuting at 10,000 feet) and thereby shutting us down from the potential of expressing empowered, authentic feeling that these experiences may evoke.
But just like training your pet snake to do something (besides eat rats and constrict!), it’s difficult to make changes that are permanent in our own physiological system, if we don’t know how it works.
Dr. Alan Watkins, who lectures on neuroscience (and could very well be an acting teacher!) – teaches that to understand optimal performance, it would help if we understood the science of it.
And in order to understand science, it helps to become aware of feelings and work with them so that they don’t shut us down or overwhelm us and cause our system to spark and overheat.
According to Dr. Watkins, emotion is just energy-in-motion created by our biochemical responses that occur due to our physiology.
So physiology – which is information sent from our organs to our brain – is then expressed as emotion. Our bodily systems (electrical signals, chemical waves, electromagnetic waves, etc.) send these permutations of energy to our brains, and feelings, then, become our awareness of the energy that is there.
For example, physiologically-speaking, if we’re in a situation that causes anxiety, the symptoms of that state that our body generates could be a fast-beating heart, sweaty palms and our gut starting to churn. We might get short of breath and feel nauseous.
I often ask actors, “How are you feeling?” during a scene. And they say, “I don’t know.” Or “I’m fine.” Or they describe it in a way that doesn’t actually pinpoint what the feeling is; describing it vaguely.
But we can’t change physiology without knowing that we have control over how our physiology makes us react to things. So changing physiology can change our patterns of behavior.
One way is the breath. (Hmmmm . . . something meditators and yoga instructors and spiritual teachers have been teaching for thousands of years.)
Dr. Watkins takes it one step further and his research has shown that rhythmic breathing (which is another way of saying mindful breathing) actually steadies our heart rate, reduces stress and drops our awareness into our bodies when practiced regularly and with awareness.
So breathe through the heart. Consciously.
It is the epicenter of feeling and also oftentimes, it is one of the prime areas we feel the experiences of stress in our bodies. Partly this is because it’s an immense power grid (and according to Dr. Watkins, generates more power than any other part of our body), but also by breathing through the heart we begin to move our awareness from our very noisy, turbulent and sometimes sabotaging heads into our heart center.
And really, isn’t that what we’re all striving for, always?
To be more heart-centered, fully expressed, free, emotionally available, less analytical and self-critical, more joyful and open?
It seems once again, the science is in.
Let your heart be your guide.
We’re living in an exciting time where many of the major tenets of a spiritual and meditative practice, neuroscience and the art of becoming present seem to be on an amazing synergistic parallel course leading to the same place: living a more creative, abundant, fully expressed and joyful life.
But in order to make changes at a causal level (and ultimately change who we are) we have to understand the currency through which we express ourselves and create in the world with others. (No, not money!) It’s primarily done through thought and feeling.
Most of us live in an anesthetized world where we numb ourselves from what we feel and are numbed by the repetitive habits of thinking the same (unhealthy) thoughts.
But we all have the power to change. We can all do it!
Let’s break it down via science to understand what’s happening to us emotionally first before we move on to how to apply the change.
Stephen Porges, a neuroscientist, talks about the vagus nerve in Frank Partnoy’s wonderful book, Wait. The vagal nerve consists of two fibers that connect our brain to the rest of our bodies. One track is reptilian and in times of stress controls our guts – our “flight” or “freeze” response – and the other is mammalian and tries to mobilize us and prepare us to “fight.”
But both are connected to the heart.
A recent New York Times article mentioned the vagal nerve’s connection to our heart rate variability – how our heart accelerates and decelerates – and that the strength of our heart-brain connection – and our capacity for emotional connection and empathy and feeling – is affected partly by our vagal nerve’s “tone” or flexibility in times of stimulation.
What this all means to the artist is that in times of real or perceived stress – going into an audition room, having to perform, giving a lecture in front of hundreds of people, doing scene work that brings up huge amounts of feeling, getting rejected by an agent, finding out your girlfriend is pregnant – you know, normal day-to-day life stressors (!) – our body has a physiological response that can often shut us down or basically over-stimulate our system.
In non-scientific terms it’s called Freaking Out!!!
But we have a natural, neutralizing and stabilizing instrument within each of us that can normalize and reduce the amount of stress we perceive and react to (whether real or fictionalized by our thinking) if we just become a little bit more conscious of it.
That’s right. We do it naturally – or rather the mechanism does itself automatically (Thank Gawd! One less thing to worry about!) – but a lot of our emotional breakthroughs occur when we learn how to become more mindful about the breath and let it work for us even more powerfully than it already does. (I mean, it keeps us alive and that’s pretty powerful, but when we forget about its function completely, stress can really wreak havoc on us, turning us into crazy reptiles! Sort of.)
More on all of that next week.
Until then. Breathe. Mindfully.
A couple week’s ago I lectured on “Sharing Your Crack.” Which is a metaphor of sorts on understanding that the neural noise in our heads is often generated by an original, false premise that tells us we are unlovable and undeserving of love.
But it feels real because of the paradigms that are built around this core belief that make us feel like we’re “messed up” in some way or “more damaged” than someone else and therefore we feel disconnected and alienated from our real feelings and from others.
However, the cracks are necessary because by having them, we are able to reveal shards of Light – which is really our true nature.
So there is the possibility of connection beyond the neural noise.
Some might call it Buddha Mind. Pure Mind. Peace Mind. Connection. Source.
It’s what we all are. Awareness. Consciousness.
You are not the things you tell yourself. You’re not the neurological rebooting of the (good or bad) things you hear yourself say.
It’s difficult to access that awareness when our minds are so busy churning up so much background noise. But one way our minds can get quieted is when we share with someone special to us the noise that seems to be so loud and troubling.
Unburdening some of the clutter of our mind gives us even just a tiny bit more space for something else.
Truth. Light. A breath. Repose. Calmness. Equanimity.
In the sharing of it, we realize the judgmental parts of what we believe about ourselves for having it or thinking it or acting on it begins to melt away.
It’s not nearly so dramatic. Or awful. Or dark. Or as scary as we think. That’s the trickiness of the mind. Its job keeps things in dark, shadowy places that only build on our fear of how scary and messed up the original thought is.
But by sharing it you might hear someone say, “Oh, I’ve thought that too.” Or, “Oh my, I don’t see you that way at all.” Or, “I’m so glad you shared that with me. I saw something was bothering you but I thought it was me.”
Insight. Healing. Connection.
Cracks that are opened, shared and pierced by the Light become infused by that Light. That’s the healing nature of having them.
So don’t continue to beat yourself up by keeping them hidden. Illuminate them and watch them be burned away by the power of the Light that is within us all, wanting to come out.
The sun can’t withhold it’s Light. Neither should you.
KEEP REACHING TOWARD THE FINISH LINE (Some thoughts and prayers for the victims of the Boston Marathon)
Why do we turn the things in our lives that are gifts into complaints and burdens and headaches and drama?
Why does it take tragedy (usually someone else’s) to wake us up to the gifts (however impermanent they truly are) to what we have in front of us right now?
Why do we take for granted the so many things that are working in our lives?
Habit. Familiarity. And a sort-of non-wakefulness to our life that is overflowing right in front of us. Oh, and we compare who we are and what we have to others thinking their grass is greener.
Partly this is due to society’s standards of what happiness is supposed to look like. It’s always dangled in front of us in the future. We’ll be happy when we get the house, or the girlfriend, or the million dollars. But once we get those things, the happiness bar is set further along our timeline, making it an impossible task to ever achieve. Happiness isn’t in an event or future experience. It’s a choice and it’s available to us now.
Another impediment to truly embracing all that our lives can be is this assumption that life is about striving for a state of existence that is trouble-free. So again, we put it on some future timeline and then compare ourselves to when we might get there. We never do and so we find ourselves frequently frustrated and feel as if life is against us.
The breakthrough occurs when we see that comparing our lives to some other idea is illusory. And then, armed with that insight, we can then create with where we are now and learn to adapt and make work for us events that are challenging.
Sure, maybe our lives still need some rounding of the edges. Perhaps there are areas that are difficult as we will always have to overcome personal challenges and setbacks. But these challenges aren’t meant to break you. They’re not meant to harden you and make you bitter and resentful.
On the contrary, these challenges are designed to bring our spirit foreground. And perhaps awaken us for the first time to the fact that we have one. That we have a resiliency and a strength and an impassioned creator in each of us.
So your favorite band didn’t play at Coachella this weekend. So you lost out on that acting job to Kevin Bacon. So you couldn’t get the Prius you wanted in the specialty color.
These are champagne problems.
Actually these aren’t problems at all.
It shouldn’t take tragedy to wake us up to this fact.
All it takes is a little bit more mindfulness. A tad more awareness when we lull ourselves back into the taking-for-granted-mundane. A bit more appreciation for the gifts we do have that – as we are reminded living on this planet – can be taken away at any time.
As the Dalai Lama says, “Human life is rare and precious. Do not make it a cause of pain. Take heed, use it well.”
Let’s try to remember that as we keep charging toward the finish line. That’s a worthwhile goal as long as we know that in life, there really isn’t any finish line to anything.
If there’s nowhere to get to, it might help us enjoy the gifts along each mile of the way.
Share your crack.
No, not of the plumber’s variety.
The kind that’s created from our neural noise that tells us we’re messed up in some way. It comes from this flawed premise that we seem to collectively suffer from, telling us we’re unlovable and undeserving of love.
Our neural noise gets fed by this false premise then solidifies our “cracks” making us feel more and more separated and disconnected from other people.
But as musician, Leonard Cohen, says, “There is a crack in everything that’s how the light gets in.”
So actually cracks are essential. It is through them that the unique light that is specific to each of us gets expressed.
Your light that shines upon the world is different from anyone else’s. How you shine is the individual expression of who you are. Your light isn’t more special than someone else’s – we’re all plugged into the same electrical grid – but it is unique to you. And it’s really only through your cracks that your light gets illuminated.
So to let your light shine you have to get into your cracks. They’re there for a reason. And the breakthrough occurs when you start to face them.
Work with them. Embrace them. Ask them to show you what you need to see. You have to be gentle with them and be as kind with them as you are with the parts you like about yourself. But you don’t because you have so many judgments about the hidden parts of who you are. You consider them to be negative reflections of your character. You cast them further into the dark because you feel they’re “not good” or unwanted. You hate yourself for having them because they’re reflections of the dark parts you’d rather not admit you have.
The towering figures of light in our society don’t have them. Or do they? Might it be, actually, that because of them – their cracks being broken open – these people are able to illuminate others?
Like we all are.
We live in a culture that generates a great deal of guilt and shame around our shadow parts because we’re not taught that it’s all part of the same prism. “If you don’t have any shadows,” as Lady Gaga says, “you’re not in the light.” They’re essential and necessary. But because it seems as if no one else has them, we avoid them. Or we feel badly for having them. Or further perpetuate the false belief that because of them, we’re unlovable or undeserving. In many different ways.
In love. In career. In creativity. In expression. In abundance. In success. In fulfillment. In health.
That’s what the cracks do when we continue to keep them impenetrable to the light. They prevent us from embracing the variations of love that we deserve to experience in our lives.
But once we begin to break them open, something miraculous happens.
Part two next week on what that is and how we break them open.
There’s a military saying, “Embrace the suck.”
It’s a very Buddhist concept. When we deny what reality is giving us, we create suffering. So life is a dance between minimizing expectations and surrendering to what our lives actually reveal to us.
By embracing our lives totally (even the stuff that “sucks”), we get through it. The Armed Forces have no other choice. If they’re out in the Iraqi desert or in the mountains of Afghanistan, the only way they’re going to get through those challenging experiences is by embracing it.
But for us with our modern conveniences and propensity for denial, we can distract ourselves, numb ourselves, fool ourselves over and over to avoid, disconnect, ignore, postpone, procrastinate, and put our heads in the sand when we don’t want to look at what is.
And that’s ironic since the denial of something simply extends its presence.
So even though “the suck” sucks, the prolonging of it makes it even suckier. For longer.
So why do we do it?
The neuroplasticity of our brains fires neurons that support the habit. In the long run we’d be much happier, expressive and creative if we rebooted our neural wiring and developed a different habit. But in the short-term, we’re willing to sacrifice our long-term goals and possibilities because the moment would require us to let go of habits that keep us stuck. The alternative is the unknown which is scarier than “the suck” so we just reboot the old neural wiring.
The poet, David Whyte, says: “Anything or anyone that does not bring you fully alive is too small for you.”
If we can identify how we play too small and find the corresponding habit that keeps us stuck there, we can change the neural wiring to create something much more beneficial for us.
A lot of the things that make us feel as if we’re not fully alive are self-imposed paradigms and dialogues we have with ourselves. We might say things that are unkind to ourselves and we don’t agree with, but we say them anyway. Simply because they’re habituated.
Or we might be playing too small by the actions we take (or don’t take).
We might watch too much porn. Spend too much time on the phone. Drink too much. Want to stop smoking. We might have a friend who’s hurt us and we’ve not shared how we feel. We might be dating someone who’s cheating on us and we know it but we stay in the relationship, hoping it will get better.
Prolongs “the suck.”
What if this week, you wrote down 5 things that don’t make you fully alive? Examine why they are at play in your life. What could you do to make changes to eliminate them?
Eliminating them requires awareness of that which often “sucks.” Then, no longer avoiding it, we embrace the sucky quality to get to the other side. Transformation.
You can do it. If it’s not making you fully alive, you’ve outgrown the need (or pay-off) of this thing anyway.
Be brave. Have faith. Move on to the next level of your growth without looking back and feel fully, inspiringly, dynamically alive. It’s how you were meant to feel.
You just forgot because you got used to “the suck.”
If only we could stop telling stories that contradicted our hearts
Who would we be?
Amazing Adventurers. Dynamic Doers. Beautiful Bad-Asses. Courageous Creators.
But it’s hard because we’re invested in our stories.
And we give them so much credence because we tell them to ourselves all the time. You know the ones: “The business is hard.” “It’s never going to happen for me.” “I’m too F***ed up.” “I don’t have the right reps.” “I have no reps.” “I’m talentless.” “I’ve been doing it for so long and it’s still not working.”
Thoughts like these that are on automatic pilot (and we have up to 85,000 of them a day!) – are not necessarily true just because we think them. We think them true simply because we repeatedly tell them to ourselves.
They are fiction, so we essentially tell ourselves fictional stories. And like bad fiction, they don’t make us feel good precisely because they contradict the feelings of the heart.
What if you told a true story? Tell a story from your heart.
We live in a culture that encourages and rewards neurosis. It’s cool and hip and funny to be scattered and chaotic and all over the place. It’s humorous to not know. It’s attractive to be disconnected. It’s normal to be crazy.
Ummmm . . . No it’s not.
But when we listen to all these discordant thoughts in our head, we’re part of the general neurotic malaise that permeates our culture. But that’s not the true nature of man.
We become invested in these paradigms that are created through fictional storytelling and begin to assume they’re real. As we act out of these fictional paradigms we lose connection to the stories our hearts have been aching to weave for a long time.
My friend, Nicole, put it best. She said listening to these outdated paradigms is like living your life operating on a PC system, when your heart and your consciousness are actually a Mac.
You’ve got to reboot your operating system! Download new software. Trash old files. Delete old programming that is holding you back and keeping you stuck in storytelling that never served you – and certainly doesn’t serve you today.
Simply ask yourself this instead, “What would my life be like if I got connected to what my heart wants?”
Now find the story that goes with that – and start telling it.
Because that’s a story worth telling. And living.
When I was in NY recently, I went out dancing with some friends and I tried to do a very Dance Fever-ish kind of move. The tightness of my G-Stars prevented me from getting as low as I could go so I got stuck somewhere in between. Awkward.
A sort-of Dancing Limbo Land.
I blamed it on the jeans, which is what one does when one’s ass can’t get quite as low as it used to.
My friend, watching the whole escapade, rolled his eyes and said, “You can’t blame that on the jeans!
I immediately realized that was a great metaphor for life.
It’s easy to blame outside forces for where we are (or aren’t) in life. In love. In career. Whether it’s too tight jeans or an agent (or zero agent) or a boyfriend (or lack thereof) or the business.
When we play the blame game we simply refuse to take responsibility for what actually is holding us back.
Which is essentially . . . you.
People don’t hold us back. We hold ourselves back. There’s no force outside us. That idea suggests someone else is in charge of your happiness. Your creativity. Your self-expression. Your success.
The more we acquiesce our power to external events and experiences, the more we get to remain the victim. We get to be stuck. We receive a pay-off in staying in stasis and not really doing anything to improve our situation.
I get it.
At times it’s easier to blame than to step up and face the fears we project onto others and onto external events. Doing that means we don’t have to examine our own insecurities, our own fearful thinking, our own self-imposed limitations. So we continue to experience more of what our own self-worth demands. And to be honest, our collectively low self-worth doesn’t demand a lot.
So we settle. Or complain. Or get angry. Or blame.
So who would we be without the blame?
Well try it and see for yourself. Even if everything doesn’t come up roses right away, there’s a freedom, a sense of empowerment in finally letting go of all the energy we’ve been expending toward blaming others.
It might feel like a sense of peace. Or resolution. Or lightness. In short, dropping the heaviness that we carry around with us and perhaps realizing, for the first time, that to not blame feels like . . . well . . . the jeans fit just right.
It’s what we’re all after.
But we mistake being “connected” (through technology) with real connection.
So we keep searching for it in things. Gadgets. Tweets. Status updates. Instagrams. Pics. Video streams. And the more we keep reaching for those things to connect us, the less we actually feel. Period.
Connection comes from being with people. And it doesn’t come from needing anything specifically from another person based on ego desires.
It’s simply part of our tribal, communal DNA.
When I was in New York last week I had an experience on the subway that reminded me of this connection – no matter how fleeting – we’re all seeking.
A woman missed the subway by a few seconds as the doors closed and I looked at her as if to say, “You’ll get the next one,” and we smiled. Innocent enough. Connection. But then it got really interesting. She kept staring at me and I began to assume all the things I thought she was thinking about me. From wanting to have my baby to mistaking my innocent smile for an invitation of marriage. So the experience turned into this weird, uncomfortable, intimate, surprising, uplifting, human interaction with a stranger. It lasted only for a couple moments and as the train pulled away from the station I looked back at her one last time and a sense of sadness of the impermanence of all moments overcame me. I wondered who she was. If she was happy. How life had been treating her. I’ll never know. And yet this experience created great meaning.
Why do we reserve these moments in life for just our friends and family? It’s not a commodity that will expire or can only be redeemed with people who are close to us. As you keep connecting with all of humanity, you also, simultaneously, begin to expand your circle of friends and family. So connection has a rippling affect. But this requires us to connect with others beyond our comfort zones.
Keep expanding your circle. That’s the job of the artist. It’s not to connect only in your work – which has a connective force anyway – but it’s to take that deep, human connection we experience in our work out into the world.
Technology creates robot hearts.
Connection actually allows us to feel them.