Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Feeling a little prickly

We all have those days when normally small irritations loom larger than usual, when we're out of sorts, not on our game. For a variety of reasons this seems to be one of those days for me, and I'm trying to follow Pema Chodron's advice, to "lean into" the prickly bits, to see if I can learn from them.

In my reading this morning Kabat-Zinn points out that one important function of a regular meditation practice is that you can begin to develop an awareness of your thinking processes, so you don't get quite so caught up in what your restless brain is trying to tell you.

My brain was sending me a bunch of shaming thoughts today -- it does that sometimes, especially when I'm tired or attempting something a little out of my normal range of expertise -- so it was actually a relief to step away from that, if only for a few minutes, and say, "Hmm. Interesting. Where are these thoughts coming from?"

My first response, unfortunately, is to start coming up with excuses -- to try to fend off the blaming voices -- rather than to figure out where those voices are coming from. Frankly it's hard to stay focused on those originating thought processes, because the unconscious can get very slippery.

So, to be more specific, let's say you (or I) did or said something that didn't meet my standards for appropriate behavior. For example: In the dress rehearsal last night I forgot a prop and flubbed a few lines. I COULD get caught up in explaining that -- we were rehearsing in a new space, I had to change in a hurry, I was feeding lines and didn't have time to get into character -- lots of reasons.

But instead of excusing I should be asking: Why does this bug me so much? Why do I need to be perfect? Whom am I trying to please? What echoes of past experiences are being amplified so uncomfortably here? And what can I learn from this?

Dear earnest Theseus, in Midsummer Night's Dream, puts it beautifully: "Take time to pause," he says to Hermia. "Question your desires; know of your youth, examine well your blood."

Before you get caught up in shaming, blaming, and excusing, just stop a minute. Step outside the moment and take a look at what you're thinking and feeling. What is it that you are longing for, that you fear your actions may be preventing? What's happened before in your life, that may be triggering either your behavior or your responses? Where do the critical voices come from? What is it that flows through you, that feeds you and centers you, and how can you be more in touch with that? Where is your true path, what pulled you away (or did something pull you away?) and how can you return to it?

And if, like Demetrius returning to Helena, you realize you have drifted off compass, what will it take to come back; to be able to say:

"But, like in sickness, did I loathe this food;
But, as in health, come to my natural taste,
Now I do wish it, love it, long for it,
And will for evermore be true to it."

I'm reminded a bit of the behavioral psychology I took in college. It's a fairly simple matter to modify behavior; to -- in this case -- put the prop where I will remember it, to write reminder notes to myself, to rehearse my lines again.

But how much richer my performance will be if I also take time to explore the ways in which I resonate with my character, to tune in with the concerns we share, to find her mantle of power and take it for my own. Because if I can be more integrated, more conscious of my connectedness to my character, and to the other actors and characters, the lines and props will no longer be just "things I have to remember" but will emerge naturally out of my being in that attentive space.

Hmm. Could this be art imitating life?

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