During a recent Dr Joe Live Q&A session, someone asked me to help her build a model of understanding … and it’s a model we all can apply to our practice. Here’s an excerpt of what she said:
“I’m a professional actor … and sometimes I tell really intense stories for a living. Does the body truly not know the difference between the emotions I’m feeling and experiencing as my characters – when I’m prioritizing their lives and state of mind – versus what I’m experiencing myself?
“Doing your work, I started wondering … if I spend the rest of my life making my brain and body better when I’m not working, am I making them worse when I am?”
What great questions. And, while they may seem unique to someone in her vocation, they really aren’t. Because this is the plane of demonstration – so, in a sense, we’re all acting. This is all an act. And each of us is called to be – or become – whoever we want to be.
Creating a New Level of Mind and Body
When you think about the nature of this work, much of it entails laying down our old personalities – associated with our old personal realities – to create new ones. It’s about saying goodbye to old incarnations that no longer serve us, again and again … so we can give our time, attention, and energy to the new selves – the new futures – we’re creating.
Actors are brilliant at this. They’re masters of the neuroplasticity required to enact these sorts of changes. To embody a new character – and lay down the old character called your personality and your identity – is really the act of getting beyond yourself. And doing so to a degree that causes one to create an entirely new level of mind and body.
The more we do this, the more our mind and body become much more resilient – and much more flexible. Actors do this all the time (because they practice doing it) … and we can do it, too.
Making Active Choices
Now, let’s consider the model the questioner is asking about. That, too, may seem unique to someone who takes on new characters for a living – but it applies to anyone who’s practicing letting go of the old to embrace the new. It applies to anyone who’s in the river of change.
All of us, in this work, are in some stage of laying down an old “character” and taking on a new one. Our motivations may be different from a professional actor’s – and, one would hope, we’re only ever attempting to become a more evolved self, whereas actors sometimes must temporarily immerse themselves in worlds of pain and suffering.
In a sense, you could say we’re all living out a version of the hero’s journey – a story we’ve seen enacted time and again on stage and screen. Like any fictional protagonist, we have aspirations and dreams. To achieve them, we have to cross the river of change – or “follow the yellow brick road.” We set out on a path of adventure and discovery. We enter the unknown.
Inevitably, we’ll come up against obstacles – some of them external; many of them internal. Sometimes, the protagonist (the would-be hero) falls – and fails. In the theater, and in life, this usually can be attributed to a “fatal flaw” in morals or character – an inability to rise above limitations and challenges.
To transform from the protagonist to the hero, then, we must achieve a new level of mind and body. We must overcome those obstacles. We must overcome our limits … overcome our resistance … overcome ourselves.
Whatever our motivation, we’re all empowered to choose which aspects of which “characters” we want to take on – and which we want to leave behind. We can decide when it makes sense to fully release the essence of an old character … or, if we find value in that character, we can choose to carry some aspects forward with us.
In other words, if you develop a good habit, take that good habit with you. If you’ve developed a bad habit, leave it behind.
And if, as your old self, you’ve embodied someone who’s in a lot of pain, or has suffered a lot … you can decide you’re through with that “act.” You can let go of that character – and that suffering. You can choose not to carry any of it forward with you into your new life.
All the World – All of Life – Is a Stage
Just as actors are characters on the performance stage, each of us is an actor on the life stage – the plane of demonstration. Every day, we’re citing lines and acting out behaviors we’ve rehearsed, again and again. The question is: are we doing so consciously … or unconsciously? Are we actively choosing who we want to be – what feelings, thoughts, and behaviors we want to embody – versus who we no longer want to be? Are we performing the same boring, predictable “show” every day?
Every morning, we have a chance to make a choice – and then practice being that new character, all day long. In fact, we have that chance every moment. And the great thing is, if we don’t get it right the first time, we can begin again. And again. Just like an actor on a set, or in rehearsal, we can do another take.
Remember: there’s no such thing as failure in this work. It’s all information and feedback. We can keep learning … keep rehearsing … keep experimenting. We keep believing, behaving, and becoming.
And here’s something about our practice that differs from that of an actor learning how to become someone else’s script or character – or following someone else’s direction. In this work, we’re not only the actor taking on new characters. We’re also the writer, the director, and the editor. We’re not just learning the lines or following the directions; we’re creating them ourselves. We have the power to write the script – and change it – moment by moment.
Learning how to embody new roles and free ourselves from old ones – with confidence and skill – requires energy, awareness, intention, and practice. We’ll talk more about that in Part II.
If you’d like to learn more about how to take part in monthly conversations with Dr Joe, visit our Dr Joe Live page.