Method acting is when an actor lives as his character, day and night, even when the camera is not around. He becomes his character. He goes through the mental environment and moods that his character goes through. The actor’s whole life changes, changes into the life of his character. His likes and dislikes are replaced by that of the character’s. It’s an identity transplant, one that is eventually turned off, but what if it never does?
Believe it or not, we all have a character we play, and most of us are full time method actors, and that’s not a good thing. Our character is our ego. It’s who we are on paper. It’s how we would describe ourselves. It’s what people can say about us. It’s our sex, age, generation, ethnicity, political party, religious preference, you name it. Anything and everything that can describe you is your character. Height, economic class, common moods and habits, etc.
Your character is not bad. Well, if you’re an axe murderer or a psychopath, maybe that’s a bad role. What I’m trying to say is, it’s a part of life to have a character. No need to shave our heads and lose our identity to be free of our character.
What’s bad is when we confuse ourselves for our character. What’s bad is when we put too much hope in the success of our character, or too much pressure on our character to be amazing at everything. What’s bad is when we mistake our character for ourselves, when we take our fictional character much too seriously.
Ever see a really sad movie? Maybe you cry when a character in a movie dies, but you don’t sob and feel like your heart is being torn out of your chest. The reason is because on one level, someone died, that’s sad. It’s real to our hearts, but it’s not really real, it’s a movie, so there’s a control we have over our reaction to the death.
In the same way, the character you play is real, important even, but it’s a passing person compared to your soul, your heart, your inner person. It’s going in the grave within a hundred years! You, the actor, are not taking any of your earthly accomplishments with you after you die, so having a looser grip on many things tied to your character is a smart idea. Hopefully by now you’re asking, who is the actor? If I’m not my character, if I’m not x,y and z, then who am I?
You are you. There are no words to describe you. You are ineffable. That doesn’t mean you can’t have sex. It means you are so awesome that you are indescribable. You can’t know yourself by words and logic, but just by living as yourself. By being you, you live in contact with you. It’s a higher knowing than what mere logic can give you. It sounds so simple, and it is, but the average person is complex. They don’t get it. They are having an identity crisis. They are asleep, dreaming, looking out through the eyes of someone who is not them, the eyes of their character.
How does one wake up though?
The habit of being your ego is just that, a habit. No need to go on an intergalactic space mission to save yourself. There are no fancy, far out, spiritual technologies being offered here. You just need to practice being free from what Richard Rohr calls your “false self,” not your bad or evil self, just the self that, when compared to your true self, becomes drowned out like a tiny candle in the full, luminous blaze of the sun that is the authentic you.
There are two ways I know how to break the habit. The first is meditation, and the second is books, podcasts, conversations and things like that, that revolve around the truth of who you are, and how to realize this Self, this You.
In meditation, you begin to build a healthy separation and space between you, the actor, and your ego, the character. The thoughts, worries and plans of the character might be firing off in your mind like fireworks, and normally, you are going along for the ride, joined and tied up to your character; but in meditation, you’re not going anywhere! Your ass is staying put!, both physically and mentally. The ego can squirm, shake and make a ruckus, but you are making a stand, a stand that says, “Hey! I’m going to do nothing for a while. That’s that!”
It’s like life is a movie set. The director is screaming, “action!”, but you refuse to play the game. Don’t get me wrong. Acting is fun! I’m not advocating 24/7 meditation, but when is enough, enough? Actually, when you come to think of it, most people don’t live their life as actors, but they live and move as reactors. They have no control over themselves most of the time. If someone really wanted to, they could push the right buttons and get a recycled response, again and again.
You see, your character goes through what Buddhists call “disturbing emotions.” These emotions and passions make you and your character act like a jerk sometimes. Someone makes you angry, so you verbally, emotionally or physically hurt someone; something you would not have done if you had the choice. Some situation makes you sad, so you react and eat too much, call an ex, or decide to go and step on someone to get what you want. Again, something you would not want to do if you were in your clear mind. It’s like we’re robots doing the bidding of some programmer.
Aren’t you tired of being directed? Don’t you want to be the driver? You, the actor, not you, the character. The one who calls the shots? The one in the hot seat?
You can be! One of my favorite teachers, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, teaches that liberation is the one worded, main point of Buddhism, and indeed of all true spiritual practice. Jesus himself says that those who are, “born of the Spirit,” aka spiritual people, are like the Wind, they go wherever they damn well please. They don’t go to hatred realm, or depression world. They don’t visit asshole land or selfishness peak. They could if they wanted to, because that’s what freedom means, but free people and spiritual people don’t want to do that. They have no desire to hurt people or themselves, because they themselves are happy and peaceful.
Hey, let’s be real, disturbing emotions can still pop up, even for a “pro,” but they stay as disturbing emotions, they don’t become disturbing actions. In some Buddhist traditions, it’s even said that the poison of disturbing emotions can actually be experienced as the antidote that causes another glimpse of enlightenment. How’s that for a completely different way of seeing our dark side and shadows?
As we meditate, a calmness begins to abide with us. The muddied waters start to become more clear, and in this clarity, we begin to see and experience the person behind the character. As I’ve said before, this person is amazing, glorious, wonderful, and beyond any box or description that I can give it. You have to know it for yourself, but rest assured, you can know it yourself, and you can know yourself.
Please, don’t wait for some wake up call to begin to apply these lessons. There’s an extreme of religious hamster wheeling that I utterly detest, but the other extreme is to not take your life and your inner world seriously. Don’t be lazy when LIFE is so close to you. Don’t be a brainwashed, hypnotized, dreaming method actor. There is nothing in this life more important than you finding out what you are really, literally and existentially made of. Enlightenment is real. Do that first, and then everything else is just… better!
If meditation seems like the worst chore ever. Buy books. Listen to lectures. Talk to friends. Book a free session with me. Do something. As you take some steps, you’ll have light bulbs going off in your head, leading you to mentally chew on a topic, read a certain chapter again, replay a certain video. The Universe is your friend. She will guide you. It’s a fun journey, where every step is fulfilling in itself. Every step is freedom, completely and fully.
There’s more to life than the movie set, a whole world and universe actually. There’s more to you than the script you’ve been given. The matrix is real. Things are not as they seem. Jump in and find out for yourself.