Category Archives: Zen

“The instant you speak about a thing you miss the mark.” Anonymous

Shut-up.  It is not necessary to talk as much as we do.  It is not necessary to explain your actions.  Why explain yourself?  It is almost as if the only way most of us can substantiate our lives is if we talk ourselves into existence.  Our actions truly speak louder than our words.  If someone doesn’t understand you through your behavior, he won’t understand you by your words.

 

This says something very important to us about our acting.  If we have to explain our character to someone before that person understands him, then we are not doing a good job.  Your character’s actions should speak for themselves.  If you are off track you should know it by your explanations.

 

I have also found that whenever I talk about a project in the midst of the project, it dissipates.  It is never as strong as if I had just presented the finished product.

 

Let me give you an example.  You tell someone a wonderful idea.  She will tell you all the reasons why it won’t, can’t, shouldn’t happen.  You start to doubt yourself and soon you believe that it probably wasn’t that great an idea to begin with.

 

I say all ideas are equally good but they can become brilliant when accomplished.

 

No one sees life like you do.  To give them an idea which has not been fully thought through is courting disaster.  It is much easier to criticize than to applaud and most people will take the easiest path.  Give the person a complete performance and then go on your way without explanations.  Let them decide by and for themselves if it was meaningful.

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Finding the Truth

“If you cannot find the truth right where you are,

where else do you expect to find it?”  Dogen

 

A similar Zen expression goes “The only Zen you will find at the mountaintop is the Zen you bring there.” Zen and acting are both an exploration of self.  You do not have to look beyond the skin you inhabit to find everything you are looking for.  Understanding comes from within you and so you must be the subject of every character investigation.

 

Every character, no matter how different from yourself, is easy to find. Just hold a mirror up to yourself.

 

Imaging – Write down a character description for three very different characters.  Commit these descriptions to memory.  Stand in front of a mirror and stare into your own eyes.  Start to describe the first character.  Try to see in your own eyes the essence of that character.  Look only at your eyes.  Describe the character out loud in the first person, using phrases like, “I am an alcoholic.”  Try to see him in your eyes.  Keep repeating the description until you feel that person.  Say another description.  Widen your vision to include your whole face.  See that character in your face and then your body.  When you feel one with the first character, close your eyes and let that character go.  When you open your eyes again, see yourself.  If you feel up for it, move on to the second character and then the third.

 

After completing this exercise, you will see that any character can be created by looking within.  That is where you should begin every characterization.


The Plain Truth

“If you want to get the plain truth,

Be not concerned with right and wrong.

The conflict between right and wrong

Is the sickness of the mind.”  The Hsin-hsin Ming

 

Don’t make value judgments in relation to the characters you portray.  Every character is just a person.  Do not attach good and evil.  That way of thinking can only lead you astray in your characterizations.  Your character is just a person with a strong agenda and tries to pursue what he feels is right in the best way possible.  We have to try to understand the character.  We have to fall in love with the character.  But the love must be a clear headed love.  We must understand him for his strengths and weaknesses.  Once we understand him, we can attempt to step into his shoes.

 

I always use the example of having to portray George Washington.  Would you just try to imitate the famous painting “Crossing the Potomac?”  How could you? He was a real person like you or me and had many flaws.  George Washington was not always the father of our country.  He had a childhood that influenced him greatly.  He probably had disagreements about petty things with friends and relatives.  Unbelievably, he ate, drank, slept, went to the bathroom, and fornicated pretty much the same way we do those things.  To realistically portray him, we have to study the good and the bad and root him in ourselves.  Anything less would result in a caricature.

 

The point of this is, do not make value judgments.  Make an honest in-depth exploration of your character.  Good and evil change with each passing day.


The more you know, the less you understand.

“The more you know, the less you understand.” Tao Te Ching

 We live our lives as experts.  We know why this person does this or that.  We surround ourselves with things that make us comfortable and look at life from our fortresses.  The walls we have constructed are impervious.  They let neither good or bad in. It is living with a safety net and it is boring.  Acting with a safety net is deadly.

 Let me be totally frank for a moment.  We do not know anything.  We cannot be sure of what will happen one hour from now.  How can we be totally sure about what will happen one second from now?  Why act like we do?

 You may ask, “Hey, Dumbo, doesn’t writing a book make you an expert?”  All I can say is “Mu.”  The book shows a point in my development, in your development.  Is this the be all and end all, of course not!  Can it help you down the correct path? Of course maybe.  That is up to you.

 Getting back to the saying at the top of the page,  do not live life as an expert.  Do not think you know the answers.  Explore the possibilities.  Nothing is ever exactly the same as before.  Every experience is a new experience that may reveal truly miraculous events to you.

There is a poem by Ekai:

 “In spring, hundreds of flowers; in autumn, a harvest moon;

In summer, a refreshing breeze; in winter, snow will accompany you.

If useless things do not hang in your mind,

Any season is a good season for you.”

 Any season is a good season.  Any experience is a good experience, if we view it as such.  See the joy.  See the good.  Anticipate each moment of your life.  Live life as a child, open to the possibilities, and you will find peace wherever you go.

 In acting, keep your mind open to the possibilities.  Experts shut off all possibilities but one because in their way of thinking there can only be one right answer.  There are no “perfect” answers in the theatre or else we would have been done with Hamlet a long time ago.  Somebody must have gotten it “right” by now.  The fact is that many people did get it right, for them, for their moment in time.  But you are not them and that moment is gone.  Life has gone on.  And their truth is not our truth. 

 You might never find your truth but you need to keep searching.  Experts don’t search because they know the answers.

 


Riding the Ox Home 30

To my readers,

Thank you to all my readers.  I have just started posting Chapter 4 of 10 chapters from my book, Riding the Ox Home, A Zen Approach to Acting.

I believe that art reflects life and life reflects art. And philosophy can enhance both.  Eastern Philosophy has always been of interest to me as well as the arts.  This book combines the two.

The book is available in the Kindle format.

It is available at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DHX5F3Y

I believe it is also available to borrow.  Go to the web-page for details.

If you want the book in book form,

Riding the Ox Home, a Zen approach to Acting. is available at:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1463714912

Once again, I want to thank all of you for following this blog.

I’d love to hear your ideas and comments.

Thanks.

A.F. Winter


Chapter 4 – Catching the Ox

Chapter Four

Catching the Ox.

 

With the energy of his whole being,

the boy has at last taken hold of the ox:

But how wild his will, how ungovernable his power!

At times he struts up a plateau,

When lo! he is lost again in an impenetrable mountain pass.

 

After much time, patience, and energy the ox has been caught.  However, it is still wild.  The boy has managed to grab hold of the ox but the animal needs constant attention.  The ox still longs for his freedom and will run if afforded the opportunity.  It not only requires constant vigilance, but a free use of the whip in order to control him.

 

In your own life, you have experienced true enlightenment but the event is fleeting.  You have caught the ox by its tail but it is likely to run away.  You know the true path but there are many distractions along the way that can easily side-track you. 

 

You see, once you achieve enlightenment, the journey does not suddenly end.  You are still living in a world filled with hate, love, desires and pettiness.  The real test only begins at this point.  You soon realize that you have no real control over your true nature.  You have only felt the joy of its existence. Your inner nature is likely to disappear as soon as it appears and this causes you to worry.   It is very likely that you have terrible misgivings about the journey you have embarked upon.  You want to live your life correctly, but feel yourself doing exactly the opposite.  Your mind is in heaven but your body is firmly planted on the earth.  What will you do?

 

The answer lies in the free use of the whip.    You must tame your inner nature through the whip or discipline.  It is very important now to use your discipline and training to control your inner nature.  If we are meditating, we control wandering thoughts through our breath control.  When there are no wandering thoughts, the ox stays by your side.  The ox starts to move as stray thoughts enter your mind.

 

In acting, you have had some success.  The ox, here, can be likened to the “persona” of the actor that you have created.  If you let that persona out uncontrolled, he will run away, and get drunk with his friends every night after the show.  Your performances will eventually suffer as the persona becomes more isolated and disoriented.  He thinks that his reason for existence is to party with his friends.  He has completely forgotten about the job that lays before him.  Think of any number of Hollywood celebrities who are known more for their lovers and extravagances than their work. 

 

How do we stop this?  Through discipline.  We don’t stop classes once we have a part.  We keep up with our exercises.  We work out and warm up, and continue to explore our character’s world until the very last performance.  We do not let our success rule us, but we rule it.  We come to realize that our successes are fleeting and that once we start dwelling on our past or present successes we stop working to ensure our future growth as actors.  Our momentum will always slow down if we don’t keep moving in the right direction.

 


I Take Blindness as Vision

“I take blindness as vision, deafness as hearing;

I take danger as safety and prosperity as misfortune.”  Anonymous

 

Life is something unsure.  It is a constantly changing kaleidoscope.  We try to shield ourselves from life’s heartaches and therefore set up walls and barriers to many of life’s opportunities.  We insulate ourselves from life and stop ourselves from living.  From behind our castle walls we neither hate nor love, we only fear. This is not how life was meant to be lived.

 

So I take what is given me and I appreciate it.  The bad makes the good so much better.  The good makes the bad so much worse.  My handicaps show the way to enlightenment.  My successes point to my fear of failure.

 

If I accept everything as a part of the magnificence adventure of life, nothing can hurt me.  I accept all.  If I let go of my fear of death, than nothing can hurt me.

 

How does all this relate to acting?  See all your handicaps as something positive.  They are there to show you what needs to be accomplished.  Never be disheartened by your shortcomings.  They must be recognized and explored.  If you have a strong regional accent,  then you should work on your voice so that you can speak, when necessary, in a standard American accent.  If you are lazy and overweight, you need to start exercising. If you have no technique, then go and take classes.  See how easy that was.  Now instead of being a fat lazy bum with a strong regional accent and no technique, you are an amazingly motivated person who can speak several dialects, has a great body, and remarkable technique.  And all this becomes possible because you once were very far from it.

 

It also should make you think about the times when you do have everything.  Life is constantly changing so when you are on top, you are not very far from the falling.  This should give you the motivation to keep on working on all those aspects.  When you become flippant, lazy, or sidetracked, you will land in the gutter.  Of course that will give you the opportunity to start all over again.