Starting the Search for the Ox.
Alone in the wilderness, lost in the jungle, the boy is searching, searching!
The swelling waters, the far away mountains, and the unending path;
Exhausted and in despair, he knows not where to go,
He only hears the evening cicadas singing in the maple-woods.
What the heck does that mean? I find it interesting that the boy just finds himself in a jungle. The poem does not describe how he got there. He is just there, like waking up from a bad dream and not really knowing where you are. At this point there is no ox. The boy is thinking only of himself. He is scared and alone. He doesn’t know where he is or what to do. For me, the beginning three lines describe when I first got off the bus in New York. I studied acting, but I knew nothing of my chosen profession. I was lost in the asphalt jungle.
But enough about me, doubt has taken hold of your soul. You know that the beginning of any search starts long before you take that first step. You have come to realize that something is missing. The reason may be unclear at this moment, but it is forcing you to take those first tentative steps towards the truth. What your truth is, who knows? In this poem, the truth is an ox. In Zen, the ox is one’s own true nature. To search for the ox is to investigate your true nature.
But this search is a bit misdirected. You see, the ox has never been lost, so what is the need to search for him? The boy does not know where the ox is, is because he is the one who is lost. He has been misled by his senses. His home is moving further and further away. His grasping pulls him in the wrong direction. But at least he knows that his journey to enlightenment must begin. And so do you.
Becoming enlightened and becoming a theatre artist is the same journey. All is one. In life, this search will take the rest of your existence. In acting, we have many searches. Each one begins when you are cast and ends closing night. The methods are almost identical. We have to question, question, and question. We cannot waste a minute of rehearsal or a moment of our lives. This is the start of your journey. A major part of this process will encompass your training. This is the time when you are able to explore a problem at your leisure. You are able to view the problem from many different angles and come up with reasonable possibilities.
The most important thing in the rehearsal process is that we must be comfortable enough to take risks. Taking risks just means that we avoid the easiest, most obvious answers. We must ask better, more probing questions. We must try things that we know will be wrong because sometimes they will be right. We must listen to the director and our fellow actors and respond with a pure vision of our character’s reality.
In rehearsals, we wrongly look to the performance and try to figure out the quickest most efficient way of getting there. We should enjoy the process. It is in the process that the magic occurs. In rehearsal, as in life, we try to foresee the future. When you are looking into your future as it stretches out a great distance in front of you, you become impatient. A little impatience can be helpful, a lot of impatience can wreck us. Let us begin…slowly.
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