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Posts Tagged ‘characters’


Posted by Amanda Gray on April 19, 2012

Zippy! Zoom!

It’s a common idea among spiritual students, at least the ones in my circle, that a retreat begins the moment one commits to it.  This has certainly been the case before I’ve gone on retreats in the past and it’s been particularly noticeable for the past few months since I decided to attend a retreat that will begin in two weeks.  My lessons have accelerated and deepened.  There haven’t been the kind of startling revelations that usually inspire me to write a blog post, but it’s more like I’m swimming in this gentle pool of ideas that are shifting, swirling, inviting, welcoming.

The first thing that’s been going on is that I’m looking closer at my sleeping dreams and my waking dreams, and rather than examining the details of a particular dream, I’m considering the activity of dreaming as a whole.  One of the things I learned early on about my night dreams, is that when I was lucid, I seemed to have the capacity to “change the channel” of the dream, but I had no control of what would occur on the next “channel”, nor was I able (except once) to stop dreaming and wake up.  This is similar to my experience in waking dreams (the ‘real’ world) in that I can make a decision to change my life situation – a new place to live, a new job, a bigger house, a different boyfriend, etc. – but I can’t predict the outcome of that decision, nor, no matter how much I try, can I stop the dream from continuing.  Every time I open my eyes from a sleeping dream, a waking dream begins.  Therefore, dreaming, as a whole, is an activity that seems to proceed outside of my control.

This morning, upon waking from my sleeping dream, a thought arose: I’m still believing that I’m the hero of the dream.  Usually, my sleeping dreams revolve around the central character of “me”.  I might be an observer of the dream, like watching a movie where the activities of the characters have no effect on the “me” character, or I might be a participant in the dream, where the activities strongly affect the “me” and provoke the “me” to feel things and act in various ways.  There’s almost always a sense of urgency in the dreams in which the “me” is a participant, and fear is often the central emotion.  Sometimes, the observer “me” is outside of the body I would normally recognize as myself. 

Comparing this experience with my waking dreams, it’s very similar.  In the ‘real’ world, I identify myself with this body – mostly inside this body, but, on occasion, outside it – and the activities in my life situation provoke various feelings and actions. I can choose to stand back and observe the world or I can get involved as a participant.  In both dreams, waking or sleeping, I’m the hero.  No matter what happens to the other characters in the dream, I only care what happens to the “me” character.  I want only positive situations and pleasurable feelings to happen to the “me” character, and I act defensively if negative situations, or uncomfortable feelings, are happening to the “me”.

Which brings me to another idea that’s been shifting around in my consciousness: competition.  I never considered myself a particularly competitive person.  I’m not interested in sports or games, nor do I care who wins or loses in these types of situations.  Yet, if two pieces of pie were being served in a restaurant and I received a tiny piece, while someone else received a gigantic piece, I would be steaming mad!  If someone buds in front of me in a line, I would openly complain and verbally attack them.  Why is this?  Because I feel attached to this particular body, as the hero of the story, and I compete with others to ensure this body’s (perceived) gains and defend against its (perceived) losses.  The competitive feelings arise when I’m making a comparison of two things and perceive that something unfair is occurring.  If, instead, I realize that this body is no different from that body, that both are meaningless forms in a meaningless dream, then all impulse to separate, individuate, and compete is meaningless too.

Which then brings me to the idea: I must think I can create myself.  A few weeks ago, I was thinking about the beginning of my spiritual search 10 years ago when I completely abandoned my acting career. For some reason, at the time, I decided that acting and spirituality were incompatible and I totally tossed the baby out with the bath water.  For 10 years, while I focused on the self-concept of “spiritual seeker”, I rejected the self-concept of “actor”.   So I realized that there was a huge, for lack of a better way to express it, actor “energy” that I had been repressing.  I can’t help but notice that the repression of this energy in my waking life merely pushed it to express itself regularly in my sleeping dreams (see A Night at the Improv).  Reclaiming the actor energy, I experienced a strong desire to act again… specifically, to do improv.  Shortly following, I received a very clear instruction to put together an improv workshop in my town and invite one of my improv friends to come and teach it. 

I immediately set about all the preparations – renting a space at the school, placing advertisements in the local paper, hanging up posters – and the workshop is supposed to take place two days from today… except that… no students have called to register.  Huh.  Well.  That’s disappointing.  Why would spirit instruct me to set up this workshop, if it’s not beneficial for others to participate in?  Was I mistaken with the instruction?  Finally I asked spirit to help me see the situation differently. 

I realized that I was just attaching myself to self-concept again and that I needed to see beyond the borders of ALL self-concept.  A self-concept reflects the desire to create oneself in a particular image.  Which means that I must first believe that I CAN create myself… attaching myself to this particular body, defining what I want it to do, and then creating a situation that will satisfy whatever objective I defined.  Creating self also means I must assume the boundaries and limitations of my specificity, as it excludes other possibilities.  What happens if I take off all the boundaries?  What happens if I don’t call myself a “spiritual seeker,” or an “actor,” or a “body,” or even think of myself as the “hero” of the story?

Was the workshop arranged solely for the purpose of my awakening?  Was it a dream arranged only so I could recognize my faulty idea of self?  So I could see that I’m not inside the “idea” of “me”… or even “inside” the “me” character… or even “inside” a dream?

The dream continues… but if I’m not the hero of the dream, what am I?


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Dreaming, Acting, Living

Posted by Amanda Gray on June 5, 2011

The most important point to understand about dreams is that all the characters and symbols are aspects of the dreamer. So when I dream about a boy – it’s me, a teacher – it’s me, a house – it’s me, a bear – it’s me, a jewelled necklace – it’s me, etc. If I cast myself as a jewelled necklace, what does the necklace say about me? Am I a sparkly, diamond necklace, or a dull, unpolished necklace? Did I steal the necklace, or was the necklace given to me as a gift? Every aspect of the necklace may be considered, and what I learn will shine light upon the particular fragment of myself that’s showing up as a jewelled necklace.

Dreams that are most common to me are ones where I’m performing in a theatrical play or in a film, or where I’m participating in an acting class. Sometimes I’m trying on costumes, or I’m auditioning for a part, or I’m observing other actors as they perform. Sometimes, in nightmares, I dream that it’s time to go onstage, and I suddenly realize, in terror, that I haven’t learned my lines and I have no idea what to do!

As I discussed my theatrical dream anxieties with my family this morning, we learned that we all have the same dreams, in slightly different forms. My Aunt dreams that she’s in school, but hasn’t prepared for an exam. My Mom dreams that she’s supposed to cook a meal, but doesn’t have any groceries in the fridge. Does everyone have the same complex? Does everyone harbour fears of the same impending disaster?  What do these dreams say about our lives?

Then I started thinking further about life as a play. Like Shakespeare’s “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” Just as a dream at night is a microcosm of our ‘dream of life,’ so a play on a stage is a microcosm of our ‘play of life.’ I thought about how I’ve often judged the characters in the play of life, including myself, or times when I’ve judged the script, or the playwright (God). Then a number of questions arose in my mind:

  • Do I fear that I don’t know my part or my lines?
  • Am I afraid that it’s my fault that I didn’t study my part in advance?
  • Am I afraid to accept the part that was written for me? Am I afraid I’m unworthy of it?
  • Do I fear that the lead in Hamlet is too much responsibility for me?
  • Am I afraid that I’m unsupported by the other actors?
  • Am I afraid that I’ll make a mistake and ruin the whole play?
  • What if others find out I didn’t study my part? What if I’m a total fool in front of the entire audience?
  • Am I trying to control the play and the other characters?

Two of the most mystical experiences of my life happened when I was performing on stage. The first time, I was performing the lead role of Rose in the play “A Shayna Maidle” in theatre school. It was a short run, only 5 or 6 performances, and I realize now that I made the most mistakes on stage ever during that run. It was my habit to memorize my lines immediately, word for word, and so thoroughly that I rarely, if ever, called for a line during rehearsal. Yet, on the first performance of this show, on preview night in front of an audience of critics, I blanked, and had to call for a line. Since the Stage Manager was no longer ‘on book’ – we all had to wait an extraordinary length of time to get back on track. I was so embarrassed! On another night, I broke a ceramic lamp onstage and neglected to address the problem in the moment, by improvising some other way of turning on the light, or by taking the time to clean up. My acting teacher gave me heck after the show. He said that the audience expected me to ‘live’ in the moment of the play, and that I was cheating them if I ignored the moment, in favour of sticking blindly to the script. The mystical moment was when I had an ‘out of body’ experience – I found myself watching the show from the front row of the audience! I came off stage that night and complained to my teacher, “That was my most horrible performance ever!”

“No,” he said, “It was your BEST performance ever.”

“What? I wasn’t even THERE!”

“Yes, that’s exactly why it was so good.”

The second mystical experience was quite similar to the first. This time I was performing a monologue in a ‘contest’ for actors, models and singers. There was a judging panel and a full audience comprised of performers family members. Now that I think back, I remember that I also performed a song, and that the last note of the song was a horrible disaster. I can’t remember if the song preceded the monologue or vice versa, but never the less, about halfway through my 3-minute monologue, I left my body. I hovered high above myself, to the right side, and I became aware of this amazing energy. The energy was flowing out of ‘me’ toward the audience, and then, I could feel it flowing back to ‘me’ from them. I was fascinated with watching this energy flow back and forth. I remember seeing a lady with glasses sit forward in her seat, listening intently, and I remember looking down at my body, still doing its thing while I sojourned like a balloon in mid-air. Next thing I knew, I was finishing the last line of the monologue. I did as I was taught, to ‘throw and keep throwing,’ and then, I bowed my head and took a small step back. Suddenly, to my unbelieving surprise, the audience exploded with applause, cheers and hoots – more than I’d ever heard in my life! Apparently, when I’m not there – the body is an amazing actor!

Performing allowed complete control and safety. I knew the script, I knew the lines, everyone was going to do exactly what I expected them to do, and we were all going to do it the same way over and over, and over again. Within this perfect bubble of certainty, I didn’t feel afraid and could completely relax. I trusted the time and space inside the bubble, and I think that’s what allowed for those mystical out-of-body experiences.

What would it take for me to trust life in the same way? Must I have the same level of control? Must I have a perfect a script for every word I speak, or every action I perform? Do I have to ensure that everyone else is performing the same script? Must I automatically judge the ‘play of life,’ as it is, as inadequate and in need of my help? Do I have to become the playwright (God) as well as the actor? Yes, that is, exactly, what the ego would try to do.

What would happen if I didn’t judge the production? What if I didn’t have to control the play or the other actors? What if I just TRUSTED the playwright (God)? Even if it seems that I don’t know the play, or the lines, or my role, or every other actor’s role, do I really need to know? What if I could surrender my need to know? What if I allowed myself to drop my idea of the script entirely? What if I drop all the ideas of all the characters I would play? Could I simply improvise? And allow others to improvise? Could I allow the play to be written fresh in each moment?

Just as all the characters and symbols in my nightly dreams are aspects of myself, so all the characters and symbols of the play are aspects of myself. The stage – is me, the audience – is me, the candlestick and the mistletoe – is me, the other actor – is me. Is my fellow actor dressed as a Jesus or as an alcoholic? Do I invite him onto my stage to share the spotlight, or do I banish him off into the darkness of the wings? Could we both play the same part? Could we play the part so well, we stop acting? If we stop acting, could we wake up, entirely, from the play?


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Turning Japanese

Posted by Amanda Gray on May 29, 2011

I think learning to communicate with spirit is a lot like learning Japanese. Out of all the societies in the world, for the western mind, Japanese is probably the most alien to us. We’re drawn to it, fascinated; rebuffed by it, mystified.

The film, Lost in Translation, exemplifies this cultural dichotomy perfectly. The main characters, Lost In Translation (Widescreen)Americans, Charlotte and Bob, are both guests in a luxury Tokyo hotel. They have very little, or no, work to do, they are free from all financial concern, and they both have an excess of leisure time. As they encounter alienation from the cultural surroundings, and inadequate communication with their hosts, they claim comfort in the growing relationship between them.

What I love most about this film, is its innocence. Bob is a worldly, middle-aged man. Charlotte, a woman in her early 20’s. Right there, a modern audience expects sex and corruption. Yet, writer/director, Sofia Coppola, makes brave, authentic choices, and doesn’t opt out for gaudy drama at the cost of character integrity. The journey of a very real relationship is what gives this film its timeless resonance. Without being ‘spiritual’ at all, this film is deeply spiritual.

And so, spirit too, is ‘lost in translation’, as it communicates in ways that bypass the mind. Like a Zen monastery: spare, minimalist; and like Kanji or Kana writing: elegant, graceful; and like harajuku fashion: salty-sweet, playful. Where the western mind is habitually rigid and staid, like a straight line drawn on paper, spirit flows like warm, summer water and crisp, winter breeze, no beginning or end, a circle. I can’t opt out for gaudy drama when I negotiate a relationship with spirit, because it can only develop in the fresh, open atmosphere of truth.

So, I must be gentle with myself. I can’t expect learning, and turning, spirit-Japanese will be easy. Even as I take small, practical steps in content – learning a word or two, or a basic custom – there’s still a vast, subliminal context that I can’t yet grasp. The two ends of my stiff mind are taken up and tangled into a pretzel, like a cat’s cradle of string. Spirit plays with its four hands to form delicate, spider web patterns, and then, finally, I’m made whole again as a perfect circle.


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