Tuesday, November 11, 2014

No Time Like The Present

"You are not the voice in your head – you are the hearer of that voice." – Unknown

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The harshest critic most people will hear comes from the voice in their own heads. It’s certainly true for actors. I could be on stage, in the midst of a performance, everything going smoothly, the audience caught up in the play, but in the back of my mind the reviews are not good. Self-judgment is sabotage. That darn voice is pointing out every tiny imperfection in my work and creating self-consciousness – which is the very definition of bad acting. “Don’t think so much,” an acting teacher once told me, “just be.” I had no idea how to do that.

This is a problem for speakers as well as actors. Actors are the canaries in the psychological coal mine. By parsing the emotional grammar of life, they can illuminate behavior in ways that might not occur otherwise. Dealing with inner demons is a case in point.

I remember when I first became aware of the split in my mind. I was young and green and needy and ambitious and neurotic. I was floundering to make my life work, every failure a cue to despair, every success containing a fatal flaw. I felt unfulfilled and frustrated, driven by the inner voice’s demands for perfection, like a dog chasing its own tail. Fulfillment was an ever-receding horizon. Success be damned, that inner critic was never satisfied.

Then, one beautiful summer morning, I was driving down the Palisades Parkway with the sunroof open, a Mozart piano concerto on the radio, and it suddenly struck me that the only thing the universe actually required of me at that moment, was that I drive along listening to the music and enjoying the sun on my face. The voice was gone. I was supremely in touch with the moment, and the experience was overwhelming. Tears streamed down my face and I realized that I could be free of the inner critic. The voice was not me, or God, or life’s imperative laying on a guilt trip – it turns out the problem was my mind.

I’ve been reading a great book called The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. He says that in order to get into the present moment, you have to be out of your mind. That is, as long as you are living in your mind, thinking, you are out of touch with the now. If you think about it, you’ll see it makes sense. Thoughts are “time-bound,” always else-when, caught up in the past or fantasizing about the future – the present moment is that infinitesimally thin space between the two. ‘The Now’ is the absence of time, therefore the experience of NOW is thoughtless. We in this culture have very few experiences of the present moment because the constant yammering of our thoughts fill every nook and cranny of our consciousness.

When we are living in the present moment, thoughtless and simply being, we are as close to enlightenment as it’s possible to be this side of the grave, says Eckhart Tolle. The “egoic” mind exists in time, and time is the enemy of the now. Joseph Campbell referred to the present moment as our only experience of the eternal. Tolle calls it the absence of time, the end of suffering and the real definition of enlightenment. In the now is where we are able to feel the experience of being.

For speakers, being is the purest communication. Emerson said “who you are being speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you’re saying.” ‘Being’ communicates by itself. Imagine the impact of Phidippides, having run from the battlefield of Marathon to deliver news of victory and peril before dying on the steps of the Parthenon. Or remember Lou Gehrig, “the luckiest man on the face of the earth” delivering a statement of grace and courage. It was his being that gave the words such depth and meaning. You don’t even have to get the words right. Neil Armstrong botched his line as he stepped onto the lunar surface, but who cares?

No matter what the particular circumstances, there is always one thing that a speaker shares with his or her audience – the present moment. The experience of being human beings sharing the now creates in us the sense of unity with each other that is the purest definition of communication.

A Thought to Ponder

"The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are." - Joseph Campbell

©2001-2003 Michael F. Landrum