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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.
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.
In his book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz mentions four principles we might want to follow to live a more present, joyous and drama-free life.
1). Be impeccable with your word.
2). Always do your best.
3). Don’t take anything personally.
4). Don’t make assumptions.
Ahhhhh . . . yes. Assumptions.
We assume all the time about all sorts of things, and mostly the assumptions (often generated from fearful thinking) leave us feeling empty, powerless, agitated and disconnected.
Assumptions aren’t based in fact. Most of the assumptions we make come from our subjective past experiences that we then recall when something gets emotionally triggered within us that cause us to worry, catastrophe-ize and come up with doom-and-gloom scenarios.
The assumptions triggered by past experiences and habits of thought then keep reinforcing our negative self-images, so they help feed a self-perpetuating, negative cycle.
So assumptions literally become a rejection of self.
You go to an audition and you beat yourself up for making a mistake assuming the casting agent thinks you’re awful.
You don’t hear from your girlfriend and assume you did something wrong or she hates you.
You get rejected by a manager and assume you have no talent or are unhirable.
Assumptions reinforce the inaccurate ways that we see ourselves through a limited prism from which no one else sees us, based on our own self-limitations and self-judgments. We create unnecessary pain by listening to the stories we weave from an assumptive statement. So we reject ourselves even if someone else hasn’t.
So assumptions have less to do with what we project onto – or assume – about another person or an experience. And they have more to do with our own limited beliefs and low self-worth as we spin scenarios in our heads that further support how unworthy we are, or how we F***ed up, or are stupid.
And they’re also a distinction of not being in the moment because the very nature of assuming something is a fast forwarding into the future.
Perhaps that realization right there is the easiest way to recover from an assumption. As you catch yourself out of the moment you actually become present.
So take a breath. Breathe. And relax into knowing that there’s nothing really to assume anyway. It’s a waste of energy and time to engage in that kind of guesswork and conjecture when the truth will ultimately reveal itself.
So assume less. And wait for proof. You’ll be glad you did. Because even if the news isn’t what you were wanting or expecting, it’s still never worst than the assumptions you made.
A student of mine said recently that while she’s driving around town she often asks herself, “What am I doing with my life?”
We can all relate.
But when we ask ourselves that question, we often do it out of panic and undermine how much we’ve actually accomplished. We beat ourselves up for where we are, comparing our lives to some idealized fantasy. We denigrate our real journey of being an artist just because we don’t have everything lined up exactly like we thought it would be. Our questioning almost suggests that the pursuit of acting – or any kind of art – is futile and therefore a waste.
Who you are as an artist is not the sum total of the jobs you book. The means do not support an end. The means support the means. The act of doing, the act of expressing, the act of celebrating who you are through your work – which is really your art – your life is your art – are the reasons for doing it.
Don’t denigrate yourself for going for things that make your heart feel alive even if there is struggle and rejection and the media’s portrayal of what success or achievement looks like hasn’t yet been bestowed upon you.
Many people think artists are “crazy.”
We’re considered crazy because we allow ourselves to feel. To emote. To dream. To pursue something we love that makes us feel deeply alive in spite of the odds against us. That takes bravery and a certain amount of foolhardiness. Passion and guts. Patience and play.
It’s called being human.
I think it’s how other people who call us “crazy” wish to live. They want to risk. They want to be more freely expressed. They want to feel. They want to be liberated from the burdens of living life like a “business.” But the paradigms of seeking security and living a stable, “normal” life are hard to break if you’ve been told you have to have those things to be safe.
The irony is, if you’re seeking security you’re not going to find that even when you find a “secure” job; a “safe” life.
No one is secure on this planet. The things we amass that make us feel safe – the titles, the cars, the money, the “stuff” – are all illusory.
Security implies being shielded from the things that affect humanity. But even if you have financial security – and everything else – you still won’t be immune to the inherent insecurity of simply being alive: loneliness, despair, rejection, termination, getting old, loss, heartache, desire, falling in love, conflict, death.
The poet David Whyte says “Anything or anyone that does not bring you fully alive is too small for you.”
So remember that the next time you tell yourself “What am I doing with my life?”
What you’re doing with your life is . . . living it!
Why do we run away from who we are?
Well, it seems pretty obvious. We feel we lack his charm, her looks. His intelligence, her sexiness.
We erroneously think that the qualities we possess are inadequate and unlikable.
And we judge them.
But something you might have discovered about life is that no matter how much you run from yourself, eventually, you keep returning to who you are.
If there’s no escaping it, there’s only one choice.
Learn to love yourself.
Accept all parts. Embrace the qualities you judge and are scared of. Unapologetically.
As artists, it’s only by understanding and using all our parts that we can get work.
The business is built on “types.” And you’re going to get work according to your type. But we often have so many judgments about those parts of ourselves that we exclude ourselves from even being considered for the job.
A “type” doesn’t have to label you. It doesn’t have to limit you. You do that to yourself.
It merely indicates the kinds of parts we can play because the medium (of TV especially) doesn’t see beyond the physical.
It’s not intended to keep you from booking jobs. Instead, it’s trying to show you how you can work. Casting directors want to hire you based on how they perceive you, but you don’t like your own self-perception so you prevent yourself from committing, from having fun, from being free and expressed in the audition. All because you possess qualities that somewhere along the line you have been taught they’re not OK to have. That you are less a person for having them. That if you show them you’ll be punished or made fun of or unloved.
No one is really perceiving you the way you perceive yourself.
Give yourself a break.
You are cast-able as you are.
You’re able to book jobs as you.
Life’s too short to waste any more time squandering the gifts you’ve been given.
Whether those gifts show up as incredibly good looks or an offbeat voice. An imposing physical-ness or an awkward nerd. A heavy or a dingy blonde.
Celebrate who you are. Because if you can’t, none of us will ever be able to celebrate with you.
I was asked to be a presenter at this year’s Global Alliance for Transformational Entertainment (GATE) Conference this past weekend. Some of the other speakers included Jim Carrey, comedian Louie Anderson, filmmaker Tom Shadyac, and many other inspiring artists.
I wasn’t prepared.
That can be a very sobering realization when you’re about to speak to a thousand people.
In the middle of my panicky, epic melt-down, I had an epiphany.
In creativity (which is simply a metaphor for life itself) we have two choices.
1). We can run away. Yep. When we listen to the thoughts in our heads that tell us we can’t do something or we’re going to be an epic failure or embarrass ourselves, our first instinct is to chuck it all and run for the hills. Or in my case my car! Or grab for that bottle of wine. Or light up the bong. We compare our worst selves to other people’s seemingly put together and perfect selves and then despair. When these thoughts consume us, creativity ceases.
Or we can . . .
2). Learn to use all these thoughts – all this stuff going on inside of us; the fears, the anxiety, the comparisons, the worst-case-scenario-thinking – and make it work for us.
This is where all creativity comes from anyway. (Sure, original creative ideas are generated from the silence of being plugged into the right hemisphere of our brains that gives us access to the quantum creative matrix of which we’re all a part.) But once we begin working with that inspired idea, creativity involves a whole other step.
Birthing creativity from the idea phase into the actual application and expression of form isn’t easy. It’s not perfect-looking. It’s hard and scary and weird and risky and crunchy and ugly and sometimes it yields amazing results and sometimes it doesn’t. But that’s all part of the process. To disregard one part in favor of something more palatable is to throw away all the potential creativity generates for us.
It’s simply learning how to harness all of this stuff that is going on inside each of us (a lot of the time), in a way that helps us understand that that stuff is the stuff that creates. It’s that stuff that produces the work. Writes screenplays. Expresses feeling. Dances the dance. Plays the instrument. Acts the scene. Tells a story. Auditions. Presents a lecture. Paints a canvas.
Your stuff is the stuff of creativity. Your stuff is your Creative Self. Your stuff – uniquely yours – and yet shared by all beings – is the stuff you need to transform, inspire, enlighten, entertain, move, educate, liberate, express and be.
Remember that next time you create. And always choose option #2.
I think part of the challenge of being on a spiritual journey is that sometimes we can get all “Lama-Dama-Ding-Dong” about it. We think enlightenment is serious or we express these platitudes of love and peace and Kumbaya – when in actuality, real transformative, spiritual change occurs by getting into the nitty-gritty of it all. It occurs by working with our stuff. The stuff we judge to be too dark or weird or messed up. The stuff we tell ourselves that leaves us feeling untalented or unworthy or unlovable. The stuff that makes us feel separate and alone and alienated from everyone else.
And that’s the left brain’s job: to make us feel separate because of the nature of the thoughts we incorrectly think about ourselves. We are left feeling we’re the only ones who think this way.
Yet everywhere you look in science, it’s been proven that humanity is pretty much the same. We are all made of the same shared stuff of the cosmos. From billions of years ago, we contain the stuff that birthed the stars – we actually are stardust – and contain these same atoms that have simply been reconstituted over and over again through millenniums.
Our genome composition is 99.5% the same among all human beings.
Psychologically and emotionally we are the same. Yes, we each have different individual, conscious experiences along our journey, but the universality of feeling is the same for everyone.
If you but realized that the person sitting next to you on the bus or at the movies is confronted by the same stuff you are, you’d be a lot more gentle with yourself (and humankind).
But we don’t connect to the sameness that we share with people because we listen to our thoughts that tell us we’re stupid, a bad mom, we drink too much, are lazy, or watch too much porn.
These things are not robbing you from the light that you already are. These things actually jettison you into the light when you take them out of the dark, scary places in your head and begin to work with them, share them, bravely confront them, breathe into them.
When you do, two things happen.
You reveal back to humanity what it truly means to be human.
And you become the kind of person (and artist) you’ve always wanted to be: dynamic, empowered, exciting, dangerous, funny, present, creative, compassionate, real, honest, raw, expressive, sexy and fearless.
Now what’s “Lama-Dama-Ding-Dong” about that?