Friday, August 23, 2013

The Jellybean Approach

This video floated past my Facebook feed today...

Now:  I am a big believer in "living life to the fullest" -- but I have great reservations about what it means to "get the most out of life," and how it can be accomplished.

I don't believe our days, hours, and minutes break down so easily into "time spent doing this and time spent doing that..." So when you say, "Well, I spend X amount of hours sleeping, eating, working" -- that is not necessarily time that is not a part of, or worse detracts from, living life to the fullest.

In my case, living life to the fullest means working on my show and all that goes along with it (i.e. taking workshops, classes, rehearsing, promoting, etc.). It's a lot of work, and some of it is enjoyable, and some of it makes blood want to pour out of my eyes. But it is what I want to do at the deepest levels of my being. And even in the moments where I seem to be procrastinating against doing the very work I want to do -- other processes are happening that contribute to it, and to the general feeling of fulfillment I have about my life.

While it's true that I have not had a "sitting on the beach" vacation in over a decade -- this is not because I am so driven to create this show, but more because I don't find that kind of vacation restful.  If I were to have a non-dance/theater vacation, then I'd rather swing on a vine in Costa Rica or scuba dive or sail in the Virgin Islands than sit on a beach reading 50 Shades of Grey. Because that is not my thing.

But for someone else, sitting on a beach is EXACTLY what would make their life more joyful. And for others, hammering out the wording of a legal agreement gives them enjoyment and satisfaction.

And so that is what they should do. It is not necessary to divide the time between "stuff you must do" and "stuff that gives life meaning." It can all be part of the same experience of living life to the fullest.

I've heard it said, I believe, by the Abraham-Hicks people, when addressing what it meant to "win" in life: "He [or she] who feels the most joy wins."

Now, at this point in my life, I am at my most joyful when I am doing my show -- sweating onstage in a whirlwind of word and movement for two hours in front of strangers.

That may not always be the case, but for now it is, and I'm mindful of it (and if I didn't have a pure, insane, unbridled passion for this work, I'd have to be crazy to put myself through the rigorous insanity that goes into doing it each week).

But that is me.

Joy may be something entirely different for you (and if you are sane, it probably is).

So if you are going to use the jellybean approach, I would say:  look to find joy in all the days, no matter what you are doing -- working, sleeping, eating, commuting -- and in directly pursuing those activities that are our passion.

That is what I do with my time, and it's worked out pretty well.  How about you?

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Best of Times

I am exhausted.

From Thursday through Sunday -- 9am to 7pm -- I went to a stage combat intensive and did more falling, rolling, punching, kicking (fake and not fake), sword- and knife-fighting, than I have ... probably ever.

And then Sunday night, I had my solo show -- which isn't quite a solo show anymore; three dancers now join me in certain parts, but within the mammoth two-hour performance time I am alone onstage talking, dancing, and even singing -- in Arabic!

So it's a tad tiring.

And on Monday, it was back to my full-time day job.

It usually takes a full day to recover from doing the show -- but that's without the four days of crazy workshops beforehand.

So, yeah, every part of my body hurts.

I am indeed completely and wholly exhausted -- deliciously exhausted -- and have never been happier in my life.

This Shaw quote from Man and Superman is pinned to my cubicle wall, and it has become my credo:
This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.
In other words:  The very source of my exhaustion is also recharging my battery!

Joseph Campbell said: "I say, follow your bliss and don't be afraid, and doors will open where you didn't know they were going to be."

And my experience of working on this show -- of pursuing all of the different crazed combinations of performance arts from stand-up to Shakespeare to bellydance to Bollywood to mime to stage combat and beyond that have congealed to form this work, and are even now conspiring in the back of my mind to create new and wonderful projects -- has borne that out in more ways than I can count.

The path towards it was never clear; in fact, I had been flat-out told to give up on performing altogether by teachers and colleagues alike during the course of my circuitous path through the theatrical world. (When one teacher "compassionately" told me many years ago that I should "consider other aspects of the business" a fellow student said, "Well aren't you glad to learn that now...?")

I was in misery for a lot of years knowing that there was something inside me screaming to be put onstage, but what and how and where ... ?? I had no idea, and no one to guide me, and was mostly discouraged along the way by those in "the business." (Thankfully I did have the enduring support of wonderful friends and family, but when one is discouraged, it is difficult to feel love and support.... )

That was The Worst of Times.

During those times I suffered from exhaustion too -- but that was the exhaustion of depression, of spinning wheels going nowhere, of confusion, doubt, and despair.

But I kept Campbell's words at the back of my mind and fine-tuned my bliss-sensors.

As I attended classes in improv and sketch writing, lectures on Jung and archetypal analysis -- and even went back on the stand-up stage -- I kept close watch on my Level of Joy. Where did I feel "tuned in, tapped in, and turned on"?

I kept asking:  Where do I find myself seeking the approval of others? And where is the endeavor its own reward?

Bellydance class was an earshattering clarion.

Even though all rational sense told me I had no hope of dancing professionally -- EVER -- the level of joy I felt in those early classes surpassed everything. I felt compelled to practice every day, increasingly feeling more and more to be my True Self.

I practiced to exhaustion, and often to frustration, as I struggled with each new movement.

From the outside, it was a hopeless, unrewarding endeavor. But from the inside, something deep and powerful was being explored and expanded and expressed.

I could say it was like an addiction, but an addiction implies an easy, ephemeral high with a destructive aftermath; this bliss was solid work, and the work itself was pure joy and passion.

It's here that I begin to lose the words to describe what happened next... perhaps I'll find them in a later blog entry ... but the best I can say is that, having honed my sense of what James Hollis calls the "tuning fork of the soul" with this dance, I was able to return to theater with an ability to speak in a voice that was wholly mine.

And so came the show -- almost of its own accord -- fashioning itself from my life experience; and all I had to do was let it emerge. At least that was the first step. :-)

Then, of course, came the rough and painful work of building a compelling and cohesive narrative -- but even that was a joy, as people and opportunities appeared at exactly the right moment to give me the help I needed.

Take, for example, my dear director, Jeff, to whom I'd whine and moan for half of our allotted rehearsal hours about how much I hated a particular part of the script -- or sometimes I'd complain about some ridiculous and unrelated personal problem. But he, being a gifted writer who was all too familiar with the Creative Process, knew that even my wildest diversion would lead to the A-Ha! moments of finding the right words or movements or intentions.

Everything began to fit together, becoming clear -- like pulling back from a pointillist painting and finally seeing the image you had sensed existed all along.

And so The Worst of Times became The Best of Times ... and now I am realizing the one could not have come without the other.

Had it not been for what seemed to be rootless, frustrated searching -- for what seemed to others to be procrastination and wasted efforts -- had it not been for the very ability to endure confusion and despair that developed during that time, I would not have culled the very resources that are making this show and the intense efforts behind it not only possible, but absolutely, unambiguously, wholeheartedly, exhaustedly and exhaustively joyful!

How could I possibly ask for more?