“If you want to express truth, throw out your words, throw out your silence, and tell me about your own Zen.”
– An old Zen expression.
People talk a lot of trash. In this nation of sound-bites, we no longer speak what is in our hearts. We speak phrases that are easy to understand. But the truth is not easy. We need to constantly work on our vision to see the truth. It is a moving target that we always have to follow. Once we can put our lips around the words, the words are useless to us. This is why we shouldn’t talk about art to others because it usually is ox droppings. A bunch of words strung together that even a child can dispute.
How do we express ourselves without words or silence? This is a very big problem. It is similar to a Zen Koan, although I do not believe it is one. A Koan is a problem given to a student of Zen to bring about his enlightenment.
If you eliminate all outward limitations, you should find inner truth. This discovery of your own Zen is a lifelong process. But, your own Zen is the thing that makes you unique. It is the thing that makes you special. It is also the thing that ties you to the rest of us.
In acting we must know our own Zen. We have to know who we are without the external trappings of our lives. I know someone, who when entering his apartment, must turn on every electrical appliance he owns. He will show you all his possessions with the greatest joy one can imagine. But what is he without those belongings? There are many people who define themselves by their jobs. “I am an actor, but I’m waiting tables now. I work at Red Lobster. I have an audition tomorrow. My agent, who by the way thinks I’m great, set me up for it. It is for a commercial. I get to play a grapefruit!”
There is a middle aged man I know, who worked in a factory all his life but recently lost his job. He sits around all day now because he barely has the strength to move out of his easy chair. He lost his definition of himself and now, in his own mind, is nothing.
This is the problem with defining yourself by your profession or possessions. What if we lose them? We become nothing. So without mentioning the role you play in life, your job, or your possessions, tell me about yourself. Who are you without the external wrappings? Take out a pen and paper and write down for the next five minutes who you are.
It is very difficult, isn’t it? Were you able to write anything? If you did manage to write something, did it describe your true inner nature?
Let’s try again with a different type of question. If you were on a desert island, what three things would you take with you? No people, please. This will eliminate 99 percent of your possessions as unimportant. See how easy that was. What about the things you did take with you? Why are these things so important to you? What is the deeper significance of each item? Now, if you didn’t have these three things or any others, how would you define your life?
After you have answered this question to your satisfaction, go back to the first question. Don’t sell yourself short with easy answers to either of them. They are tough questions, and you may not feel entirely satisfied with either of them for a very long time. After all, Koans are not meant to be answered immediately. Often the answer will not become apparent for many years. When you truly know the answer, you will be able to tell me about your own Zen without words.