"In order to succeed as an actor, you have to lose consciousness of your own self in order to transform yourself into the character." - Sanford Meisner
"You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. Perform work in this world without selfish attachment." - Krishna, The Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2
The more I teach yoga and explore the depths of acting and performance, the more similarities I experience between the two disciplines. There is an art to losing oneself in the craft of yoga and teaching, as well as the crafts of acting, singing, dancing, etc. There is an art to "getting out of your own way" and letting the work do its magic, on students, on an audience, on the world. And I continually ask of myself - why am I doing this? Should I just go back to the easier thing of avoidance instead? The paradox is that I love these things so incredibly much, in that both yoga and acting continually put me into uncomfortable positions (physical, mental and emotional) and I am determined to not run away from these areas of discomfort any longer, but to come right up against them instead. In coming face to face with these obstacles, I often find myself coming up against my own ego, of course. My recent re-entry into the entertainment and performance world has particularly brought me up close and personal with this overly sensitive, seemingly immature ego of mine. The ideas of who I think I am (my "image," you could say) are tested every second I teach or practice yoga and every second I get up on stage and open my mouth.
My first instinct was to do what I did at age 22 - run, fast!! Travel around the world, meet new people, abandon the past and to create a new image, a new persona, one not linked to that which came before. But I've thankfully since embraced the path of the Fool -encouraging one to fall flat on one's face, to discourage stagnation. And anyway, human ego patterns are a funny thing. They'll show up again and again, until you deal with them. In the Yoga Sutras, they're called samskaras - the grooves we create on our karmic selves, that we must work out, else they will keep showing up through triggers, called vasanas.
It's so easy to be "less egoic" when in the woods, when reading yogic and philosophical texts (I suppose that could also be debated), or when otherwise sheltering oneself from the world. So, it is forever tempting to run into the woods and never come out - to once again give up the difficult thing that brings up the deepest insecurities and fears. But I have chosen the path of karma yoga - the path of action. And my action lately has been to re-immerse myself into a world I left, purely to try and remove the small ego and all it's many pitfalls. One must come to terms with the strong possibility of discomfort and failure - when auditioning, in yoga class, and especially when performing. And if we are stuck on doing these things for small, selfish reasons, we are bound to bruise our egos with each perceived failure.
An actor/performer must look in the mirror a lot when performing or preparing to do so (and I mean this literally and figuratively, of course). Social media, creating websites, head shots, resumes and even blogging can tip the scales of the ego towards self-absorption and its subsequent recklessness. Even the modern yoga teacher is finding this to be true-marketing, promoting one's classes, embracing yoga fashion trends. We can give into this, or we can work on what the Bhagavad Gita calls "skill in action." The path of action where we dedicate ALL of our efforts to the Highest (call it whatever you want), to something beyond our smaller selves. In doing this, we are not "burned by fire or pierced by weapons.'' The great acting coach, Sanford Meisner himself states that we must let go of the consciousness of our (small) self in order to embody a character, which in turn, makes us better actors. If we stay stuck in our self-conscious "what are they thinking of us?" personas, we cheat ourselves of the fuller, rich experience. The same is true in yoga - whether it be asana or meditation. We must get out of our heads and into our hearts.
I'm still working on that. But in the meantime, I continue to be grateful for my yoga practice, which led me back to my performance roots. Bring me discomfort, bring me failure, bring me all the fullness that the practices of yoga and acting can offer. I'll do my best not to run this time!