Thursday, August 01, 2013

Why be anybody else?



In yesterday's post, I went on a bit about how students (both in zen and in acting) sometimes learn how to pretend -- maybe to please a teacher, to show a result they feel pressured to show, or out of some distorted idea about the process. In particular, in both acting and in zen there are prevalent fantasies about "break-throughs" and what they might feel like, so that students begin beating themselves up when truth does not match the fantasy.  Adverse results include giving up, or pretending to be something we are not.  Which is worse?  Either one, bad enough. 

I quoted David Mamet from his introduction to A Practical Handbook for the Actor:

As you went from one class to the next and from one teacher to the next, two things happened: being human, your need to believe asserted itself.  You were loath to believe your teachers were frauds, so you began to believe that you yourself were a fraud.  This contempt for yourself became contempt for all those who did not share the particular bent of your school of training.  

For all the talk about "truth" that goes on in acting classes, that self-loathing was hardly ever addressed.  How can you be a 'truthful' actor if you do not believe in your true self?  How can you be a 'truthful' actor if your consciousness is consumed in checking, comparing, and fantasizing? 

This morning, I came across this statement by Zen Master Wu Kwang, aka Richard Shrobe, a psychotherapist and zen master who has written a few books about zen.  This is from the third chapter of Elegant Failure: A Guide to Zen Koans.

Right now, each and every one of us does not lack anything. Then why practice? That is the paradox of practice. On the one hand, we have an aspiration toward something; at the same time, right in this moment, every one of us is already complete. We do not lack anything. Our aspiration is to get a clear view of that fact: that here and now we do not lack anything. And whether that perception comes as a big lightning bolt or somehow imperceptibly sneaks up on us is not important. What is important is that we gradually stabilize and steady that view more and more. That is true practice. If we try anything else, we wind up striving to become something other than ourselves, which usually ends in disaster. 

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