Category Archives: Everything Else
Why are we doing this?
It’s important to ask ourselves this question.
For whom? Do you ever stop and ask yourself why you want to act? Or Create? Or live your life as an artist?
Sometimes we lose connection to – or allow the business to contaminate – the original reasons why we wanted to create. And for that reason alone, it’s important to revisit the deeper reasons we call ourselves artists.
If it’s for the applause – that will fade away.
If it’s for the adulation, that will be replaced by someone else being the flavor of the month; younger, hotter, smarter, more “in.”
If it’s for approval, or acceptance, or worthiness, or love – you won’t find it anywhere outside of self – ever.
You can’t get it from a teacher or lover or friend or parent or casting director or agent.
You have to start doing it for you. For the reasons why you wanted to do it to begin with.
To create. To express. To have fun. To be human. To actually discover yourself.
Those are the real reasons we’re doing it and we’re not even aware of it. We’re not even aware of the deeper forces at play within ourselves that compel us to make art. To tell stories. To feel. To emote. To risk. To share. To live life courageously and vulnerably as an artist.
We’re brainwashed into thinking our challenges will be solved – we’ll have your “come to Jesus” moment – when we book the TV series or are starring opposite Russell Crowe or have the perfect boyfriend or the great house or nice car or perfect C-sized boobs – and what we realize is that the outer can never replace the inner.
Those things may be gratifying. Intoxicating. Exciting and fun. And those things are deserved. They’re wonderful. They can be career-building and part of our journey.
But real fulfillment is in our discovering not only who we are – but overcoming all the limitations we’ve placed on our humanity – simple restrictions of ourselves for being human – in the pursuit of this thing called acting.
We must start doing it for ourselves. Celebrate who we are. In the audition room. In the performance. In getting or not getting a job. In the victories and the struggles. In our deepest primal and spiritual connection to the reason we wanted to act in the first place:
To reflect back to humanity what it really means to be human.
Throughout your life and your career, you’re going to have to give yourself the green light.
Again and again.
No one else is ever going to give it to you.
It doesn’t matter what level of success you achieve. How many people know you or your work. How many previous projects you’ve done or if you’re about to embark on your first endeavor. The call into acting – into any art form – is always about giving yourself the permission to do what you want to do. Over and over again.
You will be faced with a flurry of “No’s.” You’ll meet lots of resistance and rejection. You’ll be denied and thwarted. You’ll be typecast and put into limiting boxes.
And again, you must come back to the reason you wanted to create in the first place.
Ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” “For whom?”
If it’s truly for yourself then you won’t have a hard time giving yourself the go-ahead. If it’s really for the joy of self-expression and wanting to share your creative self with others, you’ll stop waiting for people to “allow” you to create. No one has that kind of power over you. The will to create and then acting on that desire is really what it takes.
Giving yourself the green light simply means you have to start having a healthy sense of selfishness in order to create.
Selfish in this regard means to honor the Self. It’s not of ego. It’s the higher, intuitive Self that wants to show up and express and be expressed. Create. Have fun. Play. Go for things. It’s not concerned with what other people think. Whether or not they like you or your art.
Selfishness means not having to apologize for who you are – even if you make mistakes or have no credits or are new to this profession. Even if you aren’t perfect and fall apart and fail.
It’s the part of you that wants to show up on a level-playing field and say, “Here I am.”
It takes balls to do that.
And of course a green light. Self-given. Because if you don’t give it to yourself, you’ll never get one.
The act of creation is born out of joy. We forget this because we listen to the ego conversations we have with ourselves, “Everything’s so hard,” “I can’t do it,” “I’m never going to make it.”
When we get challenged by creative work, we falsely equate challenges with pain. When we get stuck or meet obstacles or are asked to confront our deeper selves we repress, suppress, shut down feeling, retaliate, get angry and resentful, self-critical and resist.
And for sure, that’s not joyful. That sucks.
But that’s not the true state of our being.
How we actually are born into this existence – the procreative act – is an act of love, of joy, of connection, of intimacy.
As a character in the play, I Hate Hamlet, exclaims, “Sex is wonderful! It’s right up there with bayberry scented candles, potpourri, unicorns and antique lace.”
That means it’s fun! Unicorns people!
I’m not sure why we still adhere to the mythology that dysfunctional creativity is true creativity. The lie that in order to do our best work we have to be f***ed up, in pain, chaotic and all over the place. That if we stay in confusion and turmoil we have something more to tap into. We don’t.
Actually, it’s just the opposite. The real things we want as artists come out of joy and were created from joy. To not create from that truth – a place of health and clarity and insight and intuition – is simply not optimally creating.
It’s like running a marathon with rocks in your shoes. You can still do it, perhaps, but why? It would hurt like hell and handicap you and make you want to give up. You simply wouldn’t be running at your potential.
The things we’re seeking in our creative work – freedom, vulnerability, safety, empowerment, risk – ask us to stay in a state of joy, and are actually derived from joy.
Try and remember that. We come from joy we are joy. Life is joy.
And if it weren’t, what would be the reason to create then anyway?
I was asked this past week to contribute to The Huffington Post’s ”Healthy Living Section.” Here’s the link to that post or you can read the abbreviated version below.
Do you ever feel like your brain just can’t possibly hold any more information? That it’s about to explode with all the sound bites and blogs and news alerts and status updates and tweets and talking heads and viral videos and “15 ways to eat an apple” or “8 ways to comb your hair . . .?”
Philosopher, Terrence McKenna – who died in 2000 before the real explosion of internet information and inundation – once said, “We have to stop consuming our culture. We have to create culture.”
That’s tricky because we seem to be living in a time where the act of creating is being generated for the end result only. We do it to get seen or be read or have a podcast or get hits or be the top tweeting trend or the headline news.
What happened to creating for creating’s sake? Simply for the joy of doing so.
Maybe the art of creating is partly being eroded by a culture that doesn’t leave room for failing anymore. (That word is a misnomer anyway because “failing” is a relative term. Our short-term setbacks and challenges we define as “failures” are actually – in the long-term – the genesis of new insights, learning and growth.)
Nowadays, though, we have the added stress of having to do things perfectly. We have to hit it out of the park each time and be at the top of our class and have everything figured out now. By the time our kids are four years old they have to already have the right colleges picked out and have an extensive resume when interviewing to get into kindergarten.
I remember when I was in kindergarten I slept on a reusable cot, ate crayons, put frogs in Miss Swanson’s purse, played Charlie’s Angels in the parking lot and often peed my pants.
I still came out ok.
The pressures of the future weren’t even a part of my consciousness at that age. I was allowed – and encouraged – to just be.
Remember when we did that? Allowed ourselves to be? To while away the hours – not by consuming – but by doing nothing. Being. It stimulated our imagination. Our curiosity. Our inner guide telling us, “Try this.” “Do that.” “Don’t be scared.” “It will be fun.”
Ah yes, that inner guide. We all have one. But sometimes, that voice within, the inner GPS system that is there for all of us, guiding us and showing us how to create our lives (if we were but quiet enough to hear it) – gets shut out because of the constant bombardment of stimuli on our phones, computers and everywhere we look.
The constant stream of information used to distract us has an anesthetizing affect and before we know it, we’ve killed three hours watching a cat video (!) rather than writing our own cat poem, or taking a dance class or simply looking into the eyes of a stranger.
Perhaps instead of consuming so much information by other people, we limit how much we absorb so that we are forced to make our own decisions, rather than deferring our intelligence.
Maybe instead of comparing and despairing over someone’s (perceived) glamorous life by the exotic photos they post of themselves on Facebook having the time of their lives, we might actually turn the computer off and take our own plunge.
Instead of getting miffed reading about someone else’s success, we attempt something ourselves. And make mistakes. And have fun. And “fail.” And create again. And enjoy the process. And realize we know a lot more than we thought we did about “How to Survive the Zombie Media Apocalypse.”
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.