The Meaning of Life is to see. – Hui Neng, seventh century
Well there you have it. You’ve always wanted to know what it all means and now you know. But now, what does that mean? First of all, seeing an object is very different from looking at an object. Looking at an object is little more than noticing its existence. This cannot help the artist. Seeing is more of a visual understanding, where you and that object of observation become one.
Many teachers of beginning acting classes make their students become trees, flowers, and rocks. Often these exercises become jokes and the student receives no benefit from the exercises. The point of this exercise is to let us be one with an object, to have empathy with an inanimate object. The point is often missed by both teacher and student.
Why should we have understanding with a rock or a block of wood? Well in Tao, the uncarved block of wood is an important symbol. It indicates what is hidden, what needs to be uncovered, discovered. The sculptor does not carve just anything from the wood. He uncovers its true nature. We need to uncover our own true nature. One of the ways to do that is to truly see another person.
Here is a oneness exercise. Stanislavski used to build his characters up from his shoes. How his characters stood and moved around in space was the basis for everything his characters did. When I was in New York, as I rode the subway, I used to look at the soles of a person’s shoes. From the wear on them, I would try to imagine how that person would walk. Did that person wear down his heels first as he stomped on the ground? Did he wear out the outer sides thereby making him bowed-legged? Were the insides thinner than the rest of his shoes making him shuffle as he walked? From there I would look at the quality of his shoes. Was he rich, comfortable, or poor? Depending on the time, I would work my way up from the shoes, trying to take in every piece of clothing on that person and imagine what kind of influence it had on him.
I would often follow that person as he left the train, studying his gait and trying to become one with it. As my walk became more and more his, my thinking started to change to his thoughts also. It was then that we parted company but I continued to think and move as that person. I imagined what my home-life would be like. Did I dread going home? What kind of place would it be like? Who would be waiting there for me?
Soon I had a complete understanding of a person that I had never spoken to but only observed. This was not a test. I didn’t have to ask that person what he did or was he married. I had a deeper understanding of what made that person whole. Try this exercise yourself when you are in a crowded room. Pick someone who you do not know and go for it.