When I ask students what they wish for most in their work, they often express a desire to ‘let go’.
Not only students, but almost every actor I’ve worked with, no matter how many years they’ve been in the business, is in a continual relationship with this desire to find ease and freedom in their work. To bring the Buddhist concept of non-attachment into the drama-filled world (both on and off stage) of a life in acting.
Some of us may find ourselves under the illusion, early on in our career particularly, that success or a positive reception to our efforts will offer a magical remedy for self-doubt or ‘holding on’. Very rarely is this the case. With recognition of our abilities arrives a whole new bag of pressures in the form of expectations we feel we must now live up to.
So let’s not kid ourselves that there’s some magic day on the horizon where we will suddenly feel we’ve ‘arrived’. The game that is our relationship with ourselves goes on and on.
When I was suffering a rather insidious case of stagefright a few years back, I asked an actor I was working with, a very well established and highly regarded one, if he had the occasional bout of this himself. His answer said it all. He leant over and whispered to me: “Every day for the last fifty years, dear boy!”
I was surprised. This actor seemed to me to be relaxation personified. Inside of course, he experienced a different reality.
Are we destined to feel a sense of uncertainty and doubt in our work? We are, after all, human beings. We’re paid to play people who have doubts and worries and, nine times out of ten, our own fears may not only be a necessary part of expressing the inner turmoil of whomever we’re playing, but also lend themselves to the desire to simply ‘be better actors’.
As the old saying goes ‘If you think you’re perfect or you’ve mastered it all…quit!’ There are, however, degrees on the spectrum. If our self doubts are preventing us from being creative and expressive, from taking risks and from enjoying our work, we must attend to them and learn to manage them.
This is where surrender comes in. What you resist persists. What you surrender to can be dealt with more effectively. It goes against a lot of what we’re taught in school but, trust me, it’s true.
As a recovering addict (alcohol was a big problem for me for many years) I found that my struggles with my addictive behaviour were insurmountable through self will. They would continue to be today, had I not let the penny drop that SURRENDER and not BATTLE was the answer.
I learnt this, amongst many other things that I continue to learn, from an organisation that teaches surrender and ‘handing over’ of one’s self will (For the sake of diplomacy, I won’t mention the name of the organisation but let’s just say you’ll find it very early on in the phonebook!)
If we maintain a pattern of attachment and self-seeking behaviour, we remain trapped in a vicious cycle. By seeking, through our controlling and gripping tendencies, the answers to our problems, we find that, inevitably, they multiply.
Have you ever asked yourself what is actually your responsibility and what is not? Is it, for instance, your responsibility to govern other’s opinion of you? Will your preoccupation with whether a casting director admires your work serve you any better than just attending to the work and leaving the rest in the hands of ‘what is’?
Is it your responsibility to earn that laugh you get every night on a particular line on the grounds that, if you don’t, you’ve failed, or simply deliver it truthfully and let things run their course?
If this sounds to you like you would be shirking your duties to let go of obligation, then ask yourself if it’s not your ego telling you that. Let’s try not to mistake an urge to ‘do the right thing’ in a controlling manner with the noble intention of
being a great artist.
You cannot control the world. You can only work effectively within it and control your own reactions to it. This calls for surrender.
Keep it simple
A good way to find this sense of surrender, and the ease that comes with it, is to do what we call ‘checking your motives’. This may sound like a very self-questioning act or somehow negative, but it’s a wonderful way to get beneath our habitual tendencies and purify our thoughts and actions.
Ask yourself honestly and without judgement the following questions:
1. Am I going on stage or in front of the camera for the right reasons?
2. Am I there to win praise, to get the part, or to feel talented instead of simply pursuing my objective?
3. Are my motives a little more self-centred than I like to admit and therefore I am protecting myself without even realising it?
Keep it effortless
Remember that you, the actor, are there to exist, to breathe, to listen, to pursue an objective and, as James Cagney suggested, ‘look the other guy in the eye and tell the truth’. Little more than that.
If your motives come down to self-seeking behaviour, you are clouding your instincts and your talent with unnecessary mess. You aren’t truly relaxing.
Surrender to what is and go about creating.