the mystical power of saying yes
Om means 'Yes'. Always, wherever we cast our glance
to search, in one word the answer is 'yes'. Yes, what you are searching for,
is. You are searching for happiness, pleasure, joy, fulfillment.
You are in want, & in one word, 'yes', fulfillment is there.
SRILA SRIDHAR MAHARAJA
What does it mean, as an actor, to say YES to everything? I'm not really talking about saying yes when a director gives you a note, (but that too.) I'm talking about saying yes to whatever is in the present moment. Not just to lower your blood pressure, but as a tool, a technique for doing your best work.
I'm talking about saying yes to the way things are right now with your agent & yes to the process of auditioning & how you feel about it, & yes to waiting in a long queue or an annoying sales call or gaining three pounds . . . And even saying yes to the tougher stuff. Losing your agent. Dealing with a health condition, or an aging parent, or a divorce.
Saying yes doesn't mean jumping up & down for joy when bad things happen. It doesn't mean you're passive, that you don't take action to change things when you need to. It means accepting the person / feeling / event as it is now instead of railing against it. It means, if not being at peace, accepting whatever is in the moment, rather than being at war with it. Saying yes to the way things are right now. & even saying yes when you absolutely can't -- as in, "yes, it's okay that I can't tolerate this right now. "Yes," even though I haven't found a way to say yes to this yet."
Why am I even talking about this? Because I want us all to aspire to the sensibility of a zen master? No. Because it cuts to the core of craft. So many times, in big ways & in tiny ways, we let some condition on the set, or with the other actor, or with feelings of competitiveness or insecurity or outrage or judgment keep us from having the creative experience we want to have.
Because they kept me waiting for an hour I can't do the audition I wanted to do. I hate waiting. / Because the other actor is an jerk, I can't have the experience I want to have in the role. I despise him. / Because I'm acting with a big star I feel inhibited. I hate myself when I'm like this. / I'm just too nervous to do this audition. I want it too much. I have to change the way I feel. I hate myself when I get like this. / (here's my personal favorite:) As long as there is noise off-stage I simply can't concentrate. I can't work with this!
Saying yes to the above works like this: Yes, I'm waiting a long time, but that's okay. My character's been waiting a long time to say what she has to say to the police / her boyfriend (whatever!). / Yes, the other actor is a jerk, but my character is really good with jerks. She actually likes the challenge of it. / Yes, I feel inhibited acting with this big star. & my character isn't -- he's really confident. But… maybe he's learned to act "as if" he is. Maybe that's how he gained confidence. / (&, well, you get it:) Yes, my character is also feeling nervous about what she has to say. She feels like she is 'auditioning!' / & Jeanie, YES, there is noise off-stage. There is always noise from the servants / the party-house next door / the ghosts in my head. The noise actually serves to feed the scene.
So much of what challenges us in art has to do with the resolved & unresolved / adjusted & maladjusted . . . stuff . . . we have as people. The same stuff that makes us suffer or succeed in other areas of our life also infuses the way we engage with the work. & enhances or impedes our ability to grow & improve.
Some of it is our fuel. Some of it is why we became actors in the first place. It contributes to our drive, our expressiveness, our originality, our talent. This stuff = why we need to engage, to act, to be seen. & some of it feeds our talent & some of it blocks us from working at our potential. It has got us in a choke-hold before we even get up to bat. Or it keeps us from showing up in the first place.
Procrastination, discipline, optimism, addiction, depression, anxiety, self-care, exercise, meditation, productivity etc. As much as I want to write about the tangible & mysterious components of the craft itself, as much as we all just want to muck around in the space of what goes into the joy of discovery & invention & creativity; our potential as an artist is fused with our habits, our values, our ability to take risks or not, sleep or not, bond or not. Grieve or not. To truly know ourselves -- or not. &, I think, to be able to say yes to what is in the moment & not demand it be different.
Here's the catch: we can't cultivate this "yes" attitude in the work if we don't play by the same rules in our everyday life. It can't just be a trade trick. As with every facet of our craft, as actors our work on ourselves must be constantly attended to, almost before the real work can even begin. It's work that is all-encompassing, never-ending & in my mind, awesome & heroic. We go about it in acting class, on the therapist's couch, with our wife & kids & parents & even, yes, with the person who bags our groceries.
So, cool. We attend to the self-work. & eventually we master getting up on time & getting to class on time & paying bills on time. We prioritize & exercise & stop smoking & drinking & get along with people & find the perfect mate & stop blaming our parents & start forgiving ourselves . . . now, all well & good but how does this relate to the acting work?
Saying YES = a way 'in' -- to the possibility of achieving great work, meeting our maximum potential, when we have gone beyond tuning our self-instrument. 'Yes' is the password for a process / ability / potentiality / means / of achieving the kind of work that only occurs when we no longer resist ourselves -- or anything else. Yes = when we are ready.
The good thing -- & it is a good thing -- is that we will never be fully ready, we can never fully say yes to everything. Not easily at least. Not without an effort. As we claim our strength & authenticity & power, we will have hours & days of readiness, lots of them. But as we know, the work is never finished. Which means that the day to day process of honing the self that is our instrument, is, as it turns out, actually the very same thing as the result.
As I see it, a recipe for approaching mastery in art -- any art -- has 4 components. Three of these are tangible & knowable & though difficult, doable. One has been & ever will be shrouded in mystery. That's where this 'yes' thing comes in.
1. To become yourself. Joyful, curious, spiritual, playful, mindful work on yourself. Not only to make of yourself a better artist, but to make a difference during your time on earth. To fully live. So that you can successfully take on the biggies: love & work. So you know how to take care of yourself & your responsibilities to others & your time, craft, health, children, etc. This must happen in tandem with growing a career & a life in art.
2. To work, continuously. Doesn't matter at what level or with who or if you get noticed or if you don't. I am astonished to see people who in youth seemed only blessed with modest gifts turn into surprisingly nuanced actors due solely to this one thing alone: constant, on-going work in the field. Class, po-dunk plays, student films, street singing, LORT A, B, C, D, sit-coms, soups, commercials, you name it, they do it -- day in, day out. They don't just get better. They get ef-fing fantastic. They work faster & go deeper than you ever imagined they could.
3. To know why you are striving. It is not enough to want to become a great artist to satisfy your own ambitiousness. You must also be in possession of an answer to the a great big WHY question as to your calling. &, you must have some idea of what you want to do with success, when it comes. As you cultivate your personal why, it begins to inform everything you do, every decision you make. It is the the spine of your work, the raison-d'etre of your artist-being.
& now, the wild card =
4. The mystery of the journey -- & saying YES to whatever arises in your path. Mastery as an artist or the rewards fame & fortune are not the only interesting &/or acceptable &/or even possible results. Some of what happens to us is way off-road no matter what. It's all that stuff that's not supposed to happen, that's not at all the way we envisioned. Good stuff. Bad stuff. Stuff that we thought would be great that turns out to be empty & meaningless, & stuff that we imagined as really, really bad that turns out to be just the opposite of what we thought.
How I relate = There was a time I thought that if I did not have a child I would not . . . be able to endure my life. I thought if this didn't happen, I could never, I would never get over it. I would never be a full person. Well, I could not & did not have a child. I did not become a mom. & though I would not have voted for this, though I would not have chosen it . . . incredibly, I now can say yes to it. I can see the gifts that came out of this loss. I deeply enjoy my life just as it is, not as I demanded it must be.
Stuff. All over the place. The business changes. Or there's a war, or Dad gets Alzheimers or you have a child with special needs. They eliminate actors entirely via animation. The climate changes. There's an earthquake. The stock market crashes. For whatever reason, paper & canvas & paint & even pencils no longer exist. (Here is a profound 'Yes': They say Picasso could draw just as well with a stick in the sand as he could on paper.) & even all things being equal, even if not one thing goes wrong ever . . . even then, sometimes the greatest artists are not successful in their lifetime.
So. YES to the mystery of the journey. YES to how we didn't imagine it. YES to the glory of making art with a stick in the sand. Yes as a way to be in flow, as a way to breathe, as a way toward mastery of our craft. & YES as the best way, ironically, to actually change the things we don't like. Here comes the zen part: what you don't resist is actually more susceptible to change.
YES acknowledges that there are never, ever any guarantees. If the mystery of what the journey is FOR (if indeed it is for anything, which is also a mystery) supplants all else, we might as well say yes to it.
We certainly say yes to the sheer, inexplicable oddities of fate, of chance. The humbling coincidence of not getting on the plane that crashed & the joyful serendipity of meeting your favorite playwright at the dog park & the odd destiny of giving it all up for a woman who lives in Seattle & actually it's there your acting career finally takes off. There is no resisting this stuff. There is no complaining about it, or cursing it, or figuring it out. There is nothing but yes. Yes = respect for it, yes = awe & wonder.
In my favorite yoga class the other day, I learned that in Sanskrit, "Om" means yes. (You know, that word we're always chanting in yoga.) A little research & I found this passage in the Taittiriya Upanishad.
"Let the aspirant meditate on the supreme (Om) as the support; he becomes well supported. Let him worship Aum as great; he becomes great. Let him worship it as Mind; he becomes thoughtful. Let him worship Aum as Nama (homage); to him all desires shall come to pay homage. Let him meditate upon that as the Supreme; he comes to supremacy in Life."
Wow. That's enough for me. I am practicing saying YES. Yes to traffic on the 405. Yes to running late. Yes to feeling anger / sadness / frustration about a family member. Yes to the neighbors' sprinklers hitting my car every morning & to my agent not calling for a month, to how my pants are getting tight & the stupid thing I just said & that thing I should have planned for & didn't & even yes to feeling like NO, I absolutely cannot say "yes" to this particular thing (yet). YES, this is how it is. Oh & Yes, even with all this -- stuff -- yes, I can still do my work.