An Actor's Heart Holds All Things

Actors come to acting for many different reasons. Some want to find an outlet for expression, some wish for fame, many want to feel more alive, and some actors come to acting because they desperately want to play someone other than themselves. They show up in class hoping to get as far away from themselves as they can by stepping into the shoes of a character. They think that this is what will save them. This is how they can escape their own life. However, once immersed in the actual work of learning to act they discover that in order to do it well they must become more fully who they are. They must become familiar and intimate with their own pain, with their own joy, with their own fears, sorrows, tenderness, humor, playfulness, and wisdom. They must do this in order to fully understand the experiences of all humans and to tell these human stories in an honest authentic way. 

 

All humans experience emotional pain. There are small ‘everyday’ sufferings in our Western culture such as being late to an important meeting or accidentally dropping your cell phone in the toilet or not being booked on the job you’ve been on hold for. And then of course there are the big ones like a bad breakup or the death of a loved one or a prolonged illness. We all experience both small and big sufferings. In this way we are all connected. We often think we’re the only one when we’re in the midst of our conflict, but our pain is shared pain and our joys are shared joys. As actors we must become intimate with these moments of suffering and also with our moments of happiness. We must be willing to open up to ourselves, to know ourselves in deeper ways in order to know others. We must be willing to be vulnerable and exposed - and this takes being very brave. We must let down our guards, take off our masks, and allow our hearts to be soft enough to be affected by the moment we are in. By doing this courageous work we learn to be present to the pain others, to truly empathize with the wounds of other people, to feel what they feel, to live in their shoes, to celebrate with them, and to grieve with them. This kind of deep inner exploration can make you into a transformative storyteller.

 

Mindfulness and the practice of meditation is the safest (and also perhaps the scariest) path I know to do this exploration. Consistent meditation practice teaches us to become intimate with our thoughts and all the sneaky ways we judge ourselves. It helps us to know ourselves deeply and to make friends with who we are, even the parts we despise. It softens our hearts and also builds resilency at the same time. We come to understand our own human condition with all of it’s foibles, upsets, and complaints, as well as all the fleeting moments of happiness, wonder, and beauty. We become comfortable with uncertainty and change - something an actor has to deal with on an almost daily basis. And then we are taught, in this silent practice, to develop great empathy as well as a light sense of humor as we extend compassion to ourselves and to others experiencing this same curious human condition. Meditation teaches us to connect to all of life by stretching, softening, and ultimately strengthening our hearts so that we can hold all things. It helps us become more of who we really are and in this way we can more truthfully embody the stories of others. 

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Replant Yourself to Grow

Have you ever repotted a plant? A plant will stop growing when it’s reached its full capacity in a small pot.  It’s roots have taken up all the space in the soil that is available and it’s stems and leaves have taken up as much space as they are able given the size pot it’s in.  As long as it has a source of light and water it continues to live just as it is, not growing or shrinking, just staying the same.  But take that plant and repot it into a larger pot and watch what happens!  It grows!  New bits start to burst out from the ground, the leaves get greener, fuller, wider, reach farther.  It expands and takes up as much space as it’s given. 

                                "Houseplants and Clean Air" by  Chiot's Run  used under  CC BY 2.0

                               "Houseplants and Clean Air" by Chiot's Run used under CC BY 2.0

Do you need a new, bigger pot?  Are you longing to replant yourself into something that will allow you to grow?  Sometimes we need to uproot ourselves and find a new pot to grow in.   That pot could be anything: a new job, a new location, a new relationship, a new hobby, a new class, a new dream, or it could be something simple like a new perspective, a new attitude.   

Here’s the catch though, when you take that plant out of it’s old pot, it is vulnerable.  You’re suppose to shake out the roots a little, stimulate the bottom of the plant so when you put it into new fresh soil it will take root.  It’s also important to give it water right after replanting it into that bigger pot with all that new soil.  The water helps to stimulate the roots, it makes the energy of the plant active, able to feed on the new materials, winding its way around this new territory.

It’s the same in our lives, we must be mindful of how vulnerable we are in the midst of transition. We can just pick up and go, we can move to a new location, we can change jobs, we can make new friends, we can get a new life.  We can shove ourselves into a new pot.  But unless we tend to ourselves, unless we water ourselves, unless we give ourselves the sunshine we need, we won’t take root.  We won’t grow like we need to.  We will continue to create the same situations with the same kinds of people over and over again because we’re still living in the old pot in our mind.    

The replanting isn’t just finding a new pot, the real task is caring for ourselves and our dreams once we’ve made the transition and being patient with our rate of growth.  Go easy on yourself.  Sometimes we want to be big already, we want to fill up the new pot right from the getgo, but as you know with a plant, it takes time, you can’t pull the green shoots out of the ground before they’re ready to come forth.  We must wait…but the waiting isn’t idle.  We are consistently watering it, exposing it to sunlight, and giving it love.  We are actively caring for ourselves and our dreams which needs to be acknowledged as progress in and of itself.  Just because you can’t see the results yet, doesn’t mean it isn’t growing. We must have faith and trust the plant will grow if we are tending to it properly. 

And if consistently cared for you will soon see the results of your patience and labor.  It will continue to grow…and grow and grow until one day you have to replant it again, or move it outside because it’s too big for your house!   

What's been your experience of replanting yourself?  Share in the comments below.