“I can use this!” is a phrase that I find comical in the acting world and, as it would happen, I find is most often said ironically. Yet, it strikes me as a somewhat unconscious mantra in very real operation. On one hand, of course, every experience that we have ever had or will have is something that can be drawn from in the hands of an actor, skilled or unskilled. On the other, the sarcastic tone it’s said with seems to reveal another nature. One that in my own experience can have a very troubling consequence.
Actors spend a lot of time observing the lives of others and mostly their own. I won’t deny that there is a great value to this capacity, it can help us escape trappings of victimization and offer a productive lens in overcoming challenges. But, for a time in my life, this became the primary experience of my life. When I initially came to this realization I was deeply troubled.
“My life, my experiences, every event was happening at a distance, almost as though I was not really participating in it. In the midst of whatever I was experiencing I would already be in the process of analyzing it, dissecting it, applying it.”
As such, I noticed there was a split or numbness to full, present engagement with life mixed with momentary flashes of radical blood and bone attention. For the most part, however, I was somehow removed from my own existence. I was there but not really, not entirely. I felt but was never really feeling. And when you stop really feeling it becomes harder and scarier to do so. I retreated further and further into my mind to cope.
“I can use this” can lead to an objectified operative in one’s life. This is a much larger social and cultural issue beyond the actor which is much deeper and complex than I wish to venture into here. The actor simply illustrates these wider phenomena in a unique way — memories and experiences becoming a utility or function to pick up and put down to meet perceived demands of a role whereas, in the general public sphere, they are used to meet perceived challenges and threats from the outside world. That is to say, both are more or less an attempted means to control. And where there is the need to control, there also arises anxiety and fear.
When this becomes our dominant reality, our work takes on an air of superficiality, and more concerning, so do our lives
This was my experience. But the truth is that we don’t live life from the head up at a distance. Our entire body and environment are a part of our consciousness that is ever constantly sensing, feeling, and changing. We are experiencing life deeply and profoundly, and always presently — whether we realize it or not. We are living and experiencing our lives in every moment not out there but here, here, here…
If we can recognize this, even if we only glimpse this, it contains the power to transform. For unless we have the capacity to be fully with our true and immediate experience, our ability to reflect on these experiences will always and unavoidably be incomplete.
Evan C. Schulte
I encourage actors to engage in some kind of regular mindfulness practice, whether that be meditation, journaling, regular walks alone, or therapy. Below I have included a simple exercise that you can do almost anywhere.
What is it like?
Take a walk, anywhere will do, but if you can get into nature it is preferable, taking moments to stop as well. As you’re walking or still, ask yourself: What is it like to see…? What is it like to hear…? What is it like to smell…? What is it like to touch….? Give each question a few minutes to explore. Keep in the back of your mind the awareness that you are this sensing body in constant engagement.