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Mindful : August 2015
nect it to the lifetime preceding the crisis being portrayed. If you don’t organize all of that, you risk falling into the trap of a merely generalized feeling, a surefire way to lose your audience. Specificity, fluidity, and precise calculation have to fuel your foundation as you spontaneously act in the moment. Reassembling Your Emotions Take a look at the characteristics listed above: clarity, spontaneity, verisimilitude, poise, and skillful listening. Those are exactly what mind- fulness engenders and why practicing it can deepen an actor’s awareness and inform his or her work. The practice of self-observation and inquiry leads not only to an informed self but to a self that can be forgotten. And it is in this forgetting that actors imbue performances with that subtle something that corrals an audience and leads them where we want them to go. In meditation, we suspend our everyday engagement with ourselves and the world around us, and engage in an entirely different way. We pay attention. We really pay attention. We practice paying attention. We notice every breath, feeling, and thought. We see them arise, reveal, and fade away. And the more we practice this kind of self-engagement the more informed we are about ourselves and the world around us. And, if we’re fortunate, we begin to realize that nothing separates us from others, and the entire universe, but how we engage with ourselves. By cultivating a mindfulness practice I give myself a much better chance at developing the insight necessary to understand the self and the art of acting. If, for instance, while meditating I notice some experience, or some memory, that relates to a character’s experience, I can begin to internally substitute my experience for the character’s. That personal reality can infuse the imaginary reality of the scene. Bring enough of that to your performance and people will think you are that character. Practicing that kind of substitution can only happen when the feelings you access are mallea- ble, pliable, and can be shaped to fit the needs of a scene. You have to be able to not only separate out the moment-to-moment aspects of the feel- ing, but also allow it to reassemble as a feeling of the character one is portraying. But it takes a lot of practice. It doesn’t just happen, although it appears that way to the audience. For the National Tour of Aaron Sorkin’s A 1 Star t by meditating for 15 minutes (or more). 2 Check in with yourself. Con- template “who you are”: your birthplace, your family, edu- cation, etc. Contemplate “how you feel” about your current life, its ups and downs, and your feelings about what’s going on in your life. 3 Meditate again for 5 minutes. 4 Survey the information. Ask yourself, “Am I these con- templated items, or is there more?” Consider that all of the above is a story, and it accrues meaning through the attention you give it. Finding Your Self (A practice for actors and anybody else) 5 Can you see through that story and experience yourself as something less solid, more transparent, and, in the end, abiding nowhere special, always right here, not caught between the past or future? 6 Rest in that understanding for a little while. That’s what some would call your “true self” or “who you really are.” It doesn’t need constant main- tenance and it’s no big deal. If you’re an actor, and you become awake to how fluid the self is, you could be anybody, over and over again. If you’re not an actor, and you step into the flow of “self,” you could be anyone, anywhere, anytime. Few Good Men, I played Lieutenant Kaffee, the military lawyer who transforms from someone half-heartedly doing just enough to get by in his work to an impassioned advocate who is taking on an entrenched and aggressive authoritarian culture, and risking his career and more to do so. I had to carry a three-hour performance and do most of the heavy lifting. The energy required to do theater is immense, and without a grounded meditation practice I’m certain I would have walked off the stage into the orches- tra pit for lack of concentration. Besides that, the fun of acting for extended periods of time while performing the same material eight times a week for several weeks is discovering how each moment is unique and liberated, though essen- tially repetitive every day. The routine takes on an aspect of ritual, and like a trusted prayer → August 2015 mindful 63