By Russell Scott
Many years ago I had a powerful insight that shifted the direction of my life. I thought I would share it with you. Perhaps it may inform your life as well.
In my mid twenties I was an aspiring actor working at Alberta Theatre Projects, a repertory company in Calgary. As an actor I was trained to willingly suspend my disbelief in the fact that I was on a stage and to totally believe I was the person in the role I was in as a part of the reality of the play. The more immersed and real I was in that role the better the actor I could become.
I thought that acting was the purpose of my life.
Then one day in a scene on stage during a period of time when I had no lines, I heard someone cough in the auditorium. My attention was drawn to him....
For a brief period of time my “willing suspension of disbelief” was broken and I noticed everyone in the audience with their rapt attention on what was going on stage, totally engaged in the made-up reality of the performance. Something remarkable and obvious hit me:
I saw that there was just as much drama going on in the lives of the people in the audience as on stage. This singular thought hit me:
Life is theatre.
One might say, duh, well of course Russell there is a lot of drama going on in life, what’s the big deal? Well the big deal hit me a few days later as the epiphany sank in. (by the way don’t stand too close to people when they say that word).
You see I had been trained to look at theatre from the point of view that:“Theatre was Life”…that theatre in its highest form was really a distilled version of life reflected back to its audience so that it would add and give insight to each individuals existence.
But I saw the opposite: “Life is theatre” and the metaphor was profound.
As I looked at life from this point of view, it revealed to me what is really going on in our human experience.
In many ways we are actors but unlike most actors in theatre or movies (who take on a role but underneath that, know that they are acting)…we are actors who are unaware that we are acting. More than that, we are unaware of who it is underneath the role, that is acting.
Imagine it this way.
We are all born into this life as unique individuals. One might say… as who we really are. Over time we learn how to behave according to what gets us a sense of love, attention and security. We are programmed to be a certain way by our parents, culture, schools, peers, work environment, religion, heredity and experiences.
(Just to illustrate this…have you ever met someone from one racial background who grew-up in a different culture from his/her background? I once met a Chinese man who grew up in Jamaica, who spoke with a Rastafarian accent and played the sitar. That really blew my mind!)
So in other words: we are being something other than who we really are. And when we are being someone other than who we really are ...we are acting. We are all actors in a role that we have been cultured to be. That’s obvious…but here’s something that’s not so obvious and a bit scary.
As young children we took on these roles from older adults and others who we thought were really being themselves. We took it for granted they knew who they were. They should know who they were, right? They were our all-knowing parents (Like the beer... older- Budweiser). The truth is they got their clues of how to act from a long lineage of their elders who were socialized as well.
So the truth about this is shocking. They were all acting in a role. But even more shocking is this: they were unaware that they were acting. Even more amazing is: they did not know who it was underneath the role that was acting. They all thought that who they really were, were the roles they took on!
Imagine the craziness in life if every theatrical actor forgot they were acting and went back into their life being stuck in their roles as hero, villain, victim, manipulator, saviour etc. It would be chaos right?
Well guess what? This is what is going on in life.
Life is Theatre.
Everyone’s got their protagonists, antagonists, plots, sub-plots, conflicts, climaxes, anti-climaxes, denouements, etc and its ongoing.
When you see life from this perspective... it’s disconcerting… but here’s something that’s even more bizarre. What’s the play all about? What is the purpose of our role?
Where do you think we got the purpose of our life? It’s the same place where we learned how to be. It’s all second, third, fourth…hundred hand knowledge all passed down through the culture, family, religions, etc of people we thought knew the purpose of the play. Throw in a bit of itinerant dogma that comes in and out of fashion all the time and what do we get… a lot of drama.
So life is like a stage that we are born onto, where everyone is acting but not knowing they are acting and not really understanding the purpose of the play that they are unconsciously stuck in.
Life is Theatre.
We really don’t need to go to movies. We can just stand on the street corner and watch. Sometimes I wonder if we go to movies just to get away from drama of it all!
So it appears there are two important questions in life that we need to answer if we are to make sense of all this.
It is probably apparent to you as you realize that we took on our sense of self and purpose in life from external sources... that we ain’t gonna find the answers outside ourselves…there’s only more drama there.
It’s an inside job. We need to find it in ourselves.
These are the two most important questions in my opinion we can ever ask and answer in life. Why?
Because in my experience you’ll be freer in life and you will have more energy.
When you experience your true self, the one you were born as, before you got socialized you will experience true freedom. I am not saying that you will no longer have a mortgage or be tied to a job….what I am saying is that inside you will feel less encumbered from all the pressures to be someone else. The one that defines you will be you. You will finally feel at home. You will know who it is that is doing anything you are doing in life. You will be more authentic and real. You won’t be relating to others behind a mask. You will be more engaged in your life.
There is a deep satisfaction in all of this.
And then when you find out what your real purpose is in life…what career matches who you are, a lot of the energy that you have been using to resist doing what you don’t want to do in life, will get released. That energy will come from inside you and will give you the natural motivation to be who you are and do what you were born to be doing in life. Inspiration on how to get what you want and to be yourself will be a more frequent event.
Life will be more exciting!
I know what I am talking about from experience. Because after I realized all this:
I got out of the theatre.
A few years later as I searched around in life trying to find who had been performing I came across a retreat called the Enlightenment Intensive (now re-named Coming Home) and awakened on the second day to my true self. In a beautiful profound moment on hill overlooking a verdant pond alive with the sounds of singing frogs and a red-wing blackbird, the actor vanished like a ghost blown away by the wind. For the rest of my life I got to be me.
I still struggle in other areas of my life but I am not trapped in the act anymore.
Then I trained in the method to help others find out who they really are.
I’m still at it and out of the theatre after 30 years.
But I still love the great lines. “To be or not to be?”
I’d rather be…me.
Retreat Leader, Speaker, Spiritual mentor and Author of Awakening the Guru in You
Get your copy of “Awakening the Guru in You” at: www.AwakenTheGuruInYou.com