On Thursday, our Butoh teacher and Zen Zen Zo's co-artistic director Lynne Bradley shared a peice of wisdom from her teacher and Zen Zen Zo's "spiritual advisor" Zen Master KwanShi (Lawrence). When she was experiencing the heart-wrenching loss of a grandparent, he talked to her about feeling whatever emotions that come up completely, honestly, consciously, and fully, but not giving in to the "story": "I feel (sad/angry/grief/etc) because...". Instead, he advises people to be with their emotions only, and not to try push them down in any way (which only prolongs them anyways), and to experience how and when they pass. This was something that I needed to hear, as I so often play out the story in my head. Instead, allowing the emotions to sit on their own, to express themselves,
is a beautiful experience.
One of my fellow interns Earl, and I have had a hard week this week. Can't you feel it? Something in the universe has been off. It's the 7.0 earthquake in Haiti. Officials fear that there are more than 100,000 dead. I can't imagine 100,000 paper clips or pieces of Lego, let alone 100,000 people, individuals with families, aspirations, hobbies, passions, dreams. pet peeves, favorite songs, lousy habits, emotions - all gone from this earth. 100,000 stories wiped out.
Mixing this with some of the intense work of this week has been very intense. On Thursday, we did a Butoh-inspired dance called "Dante's Inferno" (not linked to our upcoming Internship show of the same name), that involved people dancing in "hell", enacting their death scenes over and over, other dancers in purgatory, desperately reaching for heaven, falling to the floor, leaping up and tying again, etc., and finally angels who attempt to "save" those in purgatory, as the latter members are pulled between hell and heaven. As Lynne says, Butoh is excrutiating to watch, and extremely cathartic to perform. Many of us had tears in our eyes as we watched the other group, and tears in our eyes as we danced. It was a very moving experience, but brought up the pain we felt over the earthquake in Haiti, and another one of our interns had lost his grandfather that morning as well.
Earl and I live near each other, so often we walk home together, cutting through Victoria Park, enjoying being off the busy, noisy streets of Brisbane. As we shared our collective grief, Earl talked to me about what he had learned about Shambhala Buddhism while at Naropa University in Boulder, Colarado, while doing his Undergrad degree in Theatre Performance. Naropa is a renowed and highly respected University that seeks to "combine contemplative studies with traditional Western scholastic and artistic disciplines" (http://www.naropa.edu/about/history.cfm
). Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, founder of Naropa University, was also the founder of Shambala Buddhism, a practice that sought to provide practical teachings for practitioners. He also founded a Buddhist monastery in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia.
For more: http://www.shambhala.org/teachers/chogyam-trungpa.php
Earl said that he had been meditating on the earthquake, and was really feeling "The Genuine Heart of Sadness". When I asked him what he meant, explained to me three main tenants of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche's Buddhist approach:
1. The Great Eastern Sun - The sun will always rise, no matter how bad things get, take heart that every being is essentially good, that "no human being is a lost cause", it "...is the expression of true human goodness, based not on arrogance and aggression, but on gentleness and openness. it is the way of the warrior", it's a gentle approach about "seeing that there is a natural source of radiance and brilliance in this world - which is the innate wakefulness of human beings." (http://www.glossary.shambhala.org/#THEGREATEASTERNSUN
2. The Cocoon - this is how we "protect" ourselves - by cutting ourselves off from other, secluding and excluding ourselves, we buy into the perception that we are separate from all other beings, shielding ourselves from the Great Eastern Sun, "In cocoon there is no idea of light at all, until we experience some longing for openness ... When we begin to examine that comfortable darkness-look at it, smell it, feel it-we find it is claustrophobic. So the first impulse draws us away form the darkness towards the light of the Great Eastern Sun", it "is a longing for ventilation."
3. The Genuine Heart of Sadness - This is about allowing yourself to be so awakened and open, that you tap into the great well that is a universal place of sadness, a beautiful bruised place to experience: "When you awaken your heart in this way [meditation], you find, to your surprise, that your heart is empty. ... Your entire being is exposed - to yourself, first of all but to others as well. ... If you search for awakened heart, if you put your hand through your rib cage and feel for it, there is nothing there except for tenderness. You feel sore and soft, and if you open your eyes to the rest of the world, you feel tremendous sadness."
Earl gave me a lot to think about. Maybe there's something in here for you to take away with you too.
At the end of last week, a company member had been very complementary of my work, but had expressed the feeling that I was "holding back", that I could go much further. I knew in my heart that he was right. In part I was holding back my energy and commitment, as I focussed on getting the technique, but the next step in this training is to go with all cylinders firing at once, to not "pace yourself", to find that edge and push further. I decided that I would give myself permission to hit exhaustion in week 2, convinced that it would be much further than I thought.
Of course the practical application of such training is in order to build up an actor's physical fitness and stamina for performance, which cannot be discounted. Lynne taught us a dance move called "mixer", which involves the dancers squatting down, and making little hops upwards and forwards while making little "mixing motions with their arms" - only to be interrupted by wild vertical jumps, the hands extending towards the sky with one knee tucked to the chest. In one dance that Zen Zen Zo performed, the dancers performed this move for 10 straight minutes - and that was the beginning of their dance!
But another reason why the training methodologies that I am workshopping right now are SO physically exhausting and intense, is because you find out who you truly are when you push beyond exhaustion. For me, it's that place beyond steel, beyond that "iron-clad will", beyond "pushing". It's a final surrender. When you have nothing left, but you keep going. When you feel your shell, your protective habits, everything, fall away. When you feel totally naked, and you turn yourself over to the work. In KODO, the author desfribes being an empty teacup. That is what the last few days have been like for me. For every day of this workshop, I have gotten up at 5AM, worked out for 1 hour, then gotten showered, "breakfasted", and on my way to the workshop, where I am for 8 hours, 5 days a week, where the interns set up and clean up (washing the floors as a sign of humility, setting up speakers and projection equipment, opening up the windows and doors, etc.). In the workshop training, we do straight physical fitness training as well as physical actor training. I sweat, get fed-up with the muscle discomfort from the constant stretching, the muscle pain from the constant exertion, my knees ache, my legs and back burn, I get bruised and banged up, and I keep going. I'm reminded that it's a combination of fitness and attitude.
And I find out who is left when everything else is burned away, and I surrender. Once the music goes on, I'm on. 110%.
One more thing: Earl and I have both had the opportunity to train with the wonderful Barbara Dilley, a professor at Naropa. She was a dancer who worked with the legendary dancers Merce Cunningham, Yvonne Rainier, and Mary Overlie. She worked with the legendary composer John Cage. She is a beautiful teacher and human being, who has the ability to open you up and become a better performer almost immediately. She teaches a beautiful mudra. Because people like actors and musicians and other artists train so extensively, they raise and expend a lot of energy that doesn't go anywhere. However, most spiritual traditions (Christian, Buddhist, Pagan, Muslim, etc.) employ rituals/prayers that involve a raising of energy and a focussing of that energy towards a specific purpose. Instead of having performers raise all this energy and then let it dissipate for no purpose, Barbara teaches her students to take in all the work that they have just accomplished, to take in those who have shared the experience with them all in a clap, and then to throw you hands and head skyward, sending the work out "for the benefit of all beings in the universe". Or, if there is a specific purpose: (say the healing of the Haitian people as they struggle to get their lives back and come to terms with the earthquake devastation), then throw it skyward with that intention. The next time that you generate a lot of energy, either in art, or exercise, or any other activity, consider giving thanks. If there is a prayer in your heart, or a sick family member, etc, direct that energy to that purpose. Just take it all in with a clap, and throw your hands and head sky-ward. For the benefit of all beings in the universe.
Surrender and Gratitude.