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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