Ancient Egyptians believed that upon death they would be asked two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife.  
The first question was, "Did you bring joy?"  
The second was, "Did you find joy?"

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

No Motion

I had a teacher in college who told me that going on stage was like flying in a plane, once the curtain goes up, you have no choice but to stick it out to the end. Just like taking off in an airplane, where the captain is in charge, an actor really has very little control, it could be a bumpy ride, it could be a smooth landing, all you can do is be present and aware each minute of the journey.

The same teacher was a great fan of Viola Spolin who created a series of acting exercises called “No Motion.” The object of No Motion was to become aware of every movement and sound that you make in a scene. To do this, we would move and speak so slowly it was if we weren’t moving at all, making sure that every movement was vital and executed deliberately.

No Motion is easier to grasp if you picture a flipbook where someone has drawn a character doing something, let’s say a magician is pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Each page has a minor adjustment in action, dozens of tiny details articulated one by one, a page at a time; when the book is flipped quickly, it looks as if the character has come to life. Detail is key. If our magician is pulling a rabbit out of a hat it isn’t very interesting to look at the first page, magician and hat, and then cut to the last page, Magician, hat, Rabbit with puzzled look on his face. We want the whole story, the how, the why of the puzzled look, we want every nuance colored in and fleshed out.

No Motion is meant to teach actors that if they are completely mindful, they will have no choice but to live each moment of a scene. There’s no chance to take shortcuts, to omit important emotional storytelling elements. The actor is more present and the audience is never left out in the cold wondering how or why the magician pulled the rabbit out of the hat.

No Motion is rather terrifying. It’s scary being on stage and living every moment fully, acknowledging each tenderness, exposing every fault.

Mindfulness Yoga brings up the same awareness, only instead of being able to hide behind a character, it’s my own psyche and vulnerabilities that come to the surface. By focusing on each and every action of the body and breath, a person has no choice but to be present. I have done this kind of yoga before but maybe because I’m in India or because I’m older, this time is different. Instead of being intimidated by the process, I’m really understanding what a gift it is to slow down and complete each moment before moving onto the next.

That said, today has been a little challenging.

Mathew’s home is a sanctuary. I feel like I’m in a cocoon learning to fly differently. Mathew is fast becoming one of my favorite counselors. When I am struggling with something or feeling a little lazy, he invites me to participate more fully rather than berating me for holding back. At meals we have developed a boisterous camaraderie. Inside of a week we have running jokes. When it comes time for yoga, we get still and with each class I get closer to understating what “meditating on the movement” means. In between asanas, we discuss bliss and letting go of the ego. We compare notes on living outside the boundaries of more conventional society. Mathew views me as his teacher while he reminds me to stay present and to observe without judgment and expectation.

On top of that I went back to see Mary Kotti again. She massaged and bathed me. I tried to be present, to feel only her hands carefully wiping away my stress and cares. I was successful about 55% percent of the time. I’m not used to being taken care of and exposed so completely. We humans give that up as adults, that childlike ability to be nurtured and tended to without reservation.

Mathew is trying to get me to stay here in the hills until Monday when I go to Bengal to teach at the school I told you about (Yay!!!). Here’s where the challenge comes in. Instead of staying in the present, I’ve been obsessing on where to go next.

I am scheduled to go to Amma’s ashram on Friday. Mathew thinks Amma is nothing but hype. Like many gurus before her and after her, he feels any spiritual gifts she has have been consumed by her brand. I have been in the same room with Amma and felt genuine spiritual vibrations. I suspect her ashram, even if it is hectic and more of a business than a spiritual center will be a unique, once in a lifetime experience.

On the other hand, if I stay here I will continue to have one on one yoga classes with Mathew, twice a day.

The trees, those wise beings I often look to for guidance, have been sparkling and rustling their leaves all day; it feels like they are trying to get my attention. Maybe they are telling me to root myself where I stand, to trust that there is great strength in learning to be still and quiet. Maybe I don’t need to go immerse myself in Amma’s pageantry to find my center, to be connected to spirit. As Mathew would say, “Bliss is found within. If you connect to your true self, the self that is pure consciousness without judgment or expectation, you will be happy. From that place you will be able to truly connect and to have deeper relationships, relationships with synthesis.”

But I must admit that I’m inclined to go to Amma’s. My curiosity is quite keen to see what being in a space occupied by thousands of devotees of the Hugging Saint feels like, looks like, sounds like. I can see Amma in Seattle, but back home there aren’t elephants and salmon colored dormitories, or 3,000 people chanting in unison.

But at some point I have to leave this cocoon, I have to fly again on my own. What if this sanctuary is turning into my own Shangri-la. Am I getting stuck here?

This is the seesaw I’ve been on all day, sitting on one end of one plank, jumping off, running to the other end and jumping on that tangent.

As I was doing yoga tonight it occurred to me that by running all these possibilities in my head that I’m trying to get off the plane too early, I’m not coloring in all the details. Mathew doesn’t need to know if I’m staying or going till tomorrow night. That means the next scene is still quite a ways away. I’ve been spending so much energy today trying to get to the last page, to know if the magician pulls the rabbit out of the hat, instead of really taking in all the luxurious breathtaking moments of this day here and now.

So, I’m going to be brave, live in the now. I’m not going to decide if I’m going to Amma’s until tomorrow night when I would need to hire a car to get down to the plains on Friday. I’m going to see if I can slow down and become aware of all the tiny steps it really takes to get from one day to the next, one town to the next, one honest heart-felt decision to the next.


Tina Rowley said...

Brilliant as usual, angel. I will come back later when I have more time and say more, but you're going to do the perfect thing for you when that moment comes. And in the meanwhile - 5000 other moments!

Love you so, so much.

Kirstin said...

I know it felt like the doctor you saw didn't give you a real prescription but from what you have written, he did specifically prescribe less thinking. I'm glad you're going to take the next day to enjoy where you are. It'd be a shame to decide to move on and realize you weren't in the moment today.
I'm sure whichever direction you go, you will learn something new. I can't help but think that a big hug from Amma could only be a good thing.
You certainly could learn a lot by sitting there quietly with Matthew. Owning each breath and movement but there could be so much more to learn by trying to own that same breath and movement in the middle of a circus. The world will slow down, speed up, give you space and crowd you for the rest of your life. Might as well embrace that in India too. LOVE LOVE LOVE YOU!

Christopher said...

I was thinking precisely what you described in the paragraph about the trees i.e. "what is it she's really looking for? Spiritual grounding or the experience of seeing Amma on her home turf?" Not that the two are mutually exclusive, but it's been sounding from your last couple of posts that you felt perhaps visiting the ashram would provide some sort of "answer" to your dilemma, when it's possible you may already HAVE the answer where you are right now. But, because you were looking for it somewhere else, it might not have been so obvious.

Does that make sense?

Anyway, as usual you seem to have a good instinct in these matters and holding off on making the decision before you need to sounds like a good course of action. Either way, I'm sure it'll result in something strange and wonderful!