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The art of living in the moment for an actor

Last week I discussed the importance of listening for actors. Well this week following on from listening I decided to take it one step further. Being in the moment. 

So easy to say but so hard to do! 

Three important points:

  1. Listen! Listen! Listen!
  2. Breathe, Be aware of your breath to bring you back to your reality of where you are and where you need to be.
  3. Be generous and give your all to your fellow scene actors.

 

I have written down 6 points that I found helps to focus on the here and NOW and to help take you out of your thoughts of nervousness and self doubt.

1. To improve your performance, be unselfconscious. 

When you focus on your immediate experience without attaching it to your self-esteem is always a good way of divorcing your fear from the reality. 

The fact that you maybe doing a lousy audition/ performance, or have fear of “what are my lines?” seem less threatening when you listen, breathe and be generous.

Focusing on the present moment also forces you to stop overthinking. Being present-minded takes away some of that self-evaluation and getting lost in your mind—and in the mind is where we make the evaluations that we are not good enough! 

Stop those thoughts firstly by listening and by being aware of where you are and what your character is going through.

2. To avoid worrying about the future, focus on the immediate.

In her memoir Eat, Pray, Love, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about a friend who, whenever she sees a beautiful place, exclaims in a near panic, “It’s so beautiful here! I want to come back here someday!” “It takes all my persuasive powers,” writes Gilbert, “to try to convince her that she is already here.”

Often, we’re so trapped in thoughts of the future or the past that we forget to experience, let alone enjoy, what’s happening right now.

Be mindful of where you are how you are serving the moment.

3. Inhabit the space you are filling NOW!

Mindfulness decreases ego, allowing people not to link their self-esteem to events and more likely to take things at face value. Mindfulness also makes people feel more connected to other people—that empathic feeling of being “at one with the universe.”

Listening allows mindfulness. Listening to what is being said. Listening to the body language around you. Listening to what is being created around you.

Mindfulness boosts your awareness of how you interpret and react to what’s happening in your mind. Focusing on the present reboots your mind so you can respond thoughtfully rather than automatically. You get the opportunity to say to yourself, “This is the emotion I’m feeling. How should I respond?”

Mindfulness also allows you to regulate your behavior. That’s the other irony: Inhabiting your own mind more fully has a powerful effect on your interactions with others.

And remember there’s no better way to bring yourself into the present moment than to focus on your breathing.

4. If something is bothering you, accept it.

We all have pain in our lives, whether it’s the ex we still long for, the jackhammer snarling across the street, or the sudden wave of anxiety when we get up to give a speech or an audition. If we let them, these distract us from the enjoyment of life. 

By focusing on what can happen and what might happen takes us away from the moment and so gives us stress. This then feeds on itself. And the more we try to avoid it, avoid the conflict, avoid the pain, the more we magnify the situation.

The more we think about our pain or our stress the further we are from being in the moment.

 The solution is acceptance—letting the emotion be there. That is, being open to the way things are in each moment without trying to manipulate or change the experience—without judging it, clinging to it, or pushing it away. The present moment can only be as it is. Trying to change it only frustrates and exhausts you. 

Acceptance relieves you of this needless extra suffering. When you are feeling nervous about your next audition, face the fear and reason with yourself as to why you are feeling this way. Then go back to where you are, the opportunity this is creating and the relationships within this moment. 

In other words, if you feel anxiety, accept the feeling, label it as anxiety—then direct your attention to something else instead. You watch your thoughts, perceptions, and emotions flit through your mind without getting involved. Thoughts are just thoughts. You don’t have to believe them and you don’t have to do what they say.

5. Notice new things you have never noticed before

We’ve all had auto pilot moments where you were maybe reading a page of a book and you realise you have no idea what you actually read, even though you know you read that page!

These moments are called ‘mindlessness’ – times when you’re so lost in your thoughts that you aren’t aware of your present experience. As a result, life passes you by without registering on you. 

The best way to avoid such blackouts is to develop the habit of always noticing new things in whatever situation you’re in. That process creates engagement with the present moment and releases a cascade of other benefits. Noticing new things puts you in the here and now.

This is especially useful for theatre performances where you are performing the same material day in day out. If we see the world with fresh eyes, we realize almost everything is different each time—the pattern of light on the audience, the new faces in the auditorium, even the sensations and feelings we experience along the way. Noticing imbues each moment with a new, fresh quality. 

By acquiring the habit of noticing new things, we recognize that the world is actually changing constantly. We really don’t know how the espresso is going to taste or how the commute will be—or at least, we’re not sure.

Orchestra musicians who are instructed to make their performance new in subtle ways, not only enjoy themselves more, but audiences actually prefer those performances. I’m sure actors are the same.

The more you notice, the more you see. And the more excitement you feel.

6. Just think ‘NOW!”

Living a consistently mindful life takes effort. But mindfulness itself is easy. 

Mindfulness is simply a matter of realizing where you already are. You can become mindful at any moment just by paying attention to your immediate experience. You can do it right now. What’s happening this instant? Think of yourself as an eternal witness, and just observe the moment. What do you see, hear, smell? It doesn’t matter how it feels—pleasant or unpleasant, good or bad—you roll with it because it’s what’s present; you’re not judging it. And if you notice your mind wandering, bring yourself back. Just say to yourself, “Now. Now. Now.”

And breathe. 

As you draw your next breath, focus on the rise of your abdomen on the in-breath, the stream of heat through your nostrils on the out-breath. If you’re aware of that feeling right now, as you’re reading this, you’re living in the moment. 

Nothing happens next. It’s not a destination. This is it. You’re already there.

 

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