I have Eliza Doolittle to thank for one of the greatest discoveries of my professional acting career. Years ago, I was playing the lovable urchin-turned-grande-dame in a production of "My Fair Lady". It's a long show — two and a half hours at least. The demands of the role were high, vocally and acting-wise. I wanted to be the best Eliza I possibly could.
But, I had an issue. Approximately three-quarters of the way through the show, there's a song called "Show Me" — and vocally, it was a challenge for me. I was really stressed about it. In fact, I began to realize that, from the first MINUTE we'd begin a run-through of the show, the knowledge that I had to sing that song in another two hours and five minutes was already on my mind.
It was a problem.
A major goal for every actor is to be simply present; what we refer to as "being in the moment". On stage, you're supposed to be thinking only about the interactions you're having at any given time: Who are you talking to? What do you want? What are you doing to get it? It's incredibly difficult to do, and truly an exercise in mindfulness.
The anxiety I was feeling was at the core of my problem. But it was my inability to simply breathe, acknowledge the racing thoughts, and let them go that kept me from being truly present.
One day in rehearsal, I had a great personal epiphany, and a mantra was born. I realized that all I could do was go one step at a time, one line at a time, one moment at a time through the play. I would have to sing that song eventually — that wasn't going to change. However, the more I could simply live in the individual moments that led up to it, the more calm and truthful my performance would be. My mantra became: "Just step through it."
When those creeping, anxious feelings would start, I would breathe, acknowledge them ("Yes, I AM nervous about that song. Look at that."), and then say to myself, "Just step through it." This simple, mindful approach to performance changed my acting life. I felt my anxiety levels drop. I allowed myself to just be where I was. I could inhabit each moment, to the best of my ability, rather than beat myself up about what happened before, or what was to come. I felt more centered, and more confident.
And guess what? By the time I got to that song, I could handle it.
Everyone's talking about mindfulness right now, as well they should be. We live in a world full of distractions and anxiety. Life ain't always easy, and we've all got triggers that can send us down the spiral of difficulty and self-doubt. When this happens, our communication and our relationships can suffer. We feel wound-up like a top, rather than simply "in the moment", stepping through the challenges of our day.
Mindfulness is often the unspoken piece of our quest for professional presence and emotional intelligence. To me, it's the most basic building block of both pursuits, while being a worthy endeavor of its own. Whether or not you've done work on presence or EI, you can practice mindfulness by simply breathing and acknowledging "where you are" at any given moment. There's no need to adopt a mantra (although I'm glad to lend you mine if you'd like!).
Try this at some point during the day: Just breathe. Breathe, and acknowledge whatever is on your mind at that moment. ("Wow, I'm not looking forward to that meeting.") Try to just breathe through that thought, and imagine allowing the thought to simply "float away". It might not. It might hang around for a while. Don't fight it. Acknowledge that, too. The state of awareness and acceptance of your thoughts is what's important. If it's helpful to you to find a mantra, use one! But you don't have to. The nice thing about mindful, meditative pursuits is that they don't have rules. Practice in the way that's useful to you.
I think it would be a great thing to see the business space become more mindful, more self-aware, more connected and thoughtful. Time and time again, I've seen mindfulness benefit my communication, my confidence, and my career. I'm sure I'm not alone. With that said, I'm going to take a deep breath, acknowledge the fact that I'm thinking about coffee and this afternoon's schedule, and tell myself: "Just step through it."
Do you have a mindful practice that you use at home or work? What has your experience been? Let us know in the comments below!
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