Friday, November 19, 2010

The Happiness of Now.

This week, I read a thought-provoking New York Times article called, "When The Mind Wanders, Happiness Also Strays." After research into mind-wandering (both positive day-dreaming and also worrying) and happiness levels, the conclusion is that people fully focused in the moment are more happy than even those who are day-dreaming about something positive. The article references the idea of "flow," which is simply when one is fully focused on the moment and what one is doing in that moment. You know when you get so caught up in doing something and completely lose track of time and everything else? That is "flow" and this article says that it is the state of highest happiness. The article also points out that, at any given moment, forty-seven percent of people have wandering minds. So, about half of all people are not Fully Present in any given instant. Which I find discouraging. And totally believable, given how "connected" (distracted?) our society has become overall. (And I include myself in this assessment.)

Thinking back to a particularly intense summer of theatre training and the idea of "flow" and focus, I am reminded of how all the training came down to the idea of being focused, present, and completely open in every moment onstage. One of the instructors said it was as if, when each foot landed on the stage, the left foot said "I'm here," followed by the right foot's own equally strong assertion, "I'm here." Actors in this deep state of focus who also can maintain openness are completely compelling onstage. Often focus in life creates tunnel-vision, but this training emphasized acting with focus while maintaining openness. It was difficult, beautiful, invigorating, and exhausting. And although this state of awareness is amazing, it is important to point out that living at this state of deep awake-ness to everything-all-the-time in life would be unhealthy and unsustainable. It is good to be able to tune out some things while in transit or sleeping or whatever. That ability keeps us sane.

Anyhow, that summer was the most physically challenging thing I have ever done, but it was amazing to spend so much of the summer actually being in the moment. In my head, I am all about the idea of seizing the day, but in reality, I am much more the kind of person who spends the present planning for the future. However, this training required so much energy and focus, there was only enough to give to the present. I don't remember worrying much that summer; I just remember existing moment to moment, as each day fully stretched me and allowed no room for the unnecessary. The experience was life-changing and courage-instilling. I felt like if I could survive that summer, I could do anything. When the summer ended, I went back home and started acting on one of my Big Dreams. And I pulled it off, then rested a bit because it was rather exhausting. Then, when I was ready, I pursued two other Big Dreams, at the same time. And that led to an international move, job change, and new adventures. And some fatigue. Going after dreams is invigorating and sometimes tiring, because pursuing Big Dreams is hard work, after all.

I guess it would not be an overstatement to say that summer of training changed the course of my artistic journey, which changed the course of my life. Here I am, over four years after that summer training program, in a different country, several projects later. I am mid-project on a project I care very much about, but am currently in a not-so-fun part of it. It's hard to stay focused on this part that feels So Very Much Like Hard Work, so I can get to the part I am most passionate about. I want to plow through to the other artistically fun side of the project though, and I am taking steps to get there. But realistically? It's going to take a while. And that feels disheartening.

And in moments every now and then, my mind my wanders off into the land of "what ifs" and I find myself confronting the unknown, wondering about this project and how it will end up, and questioning the bigger picture beyond this project. Will I be able to pursue a career in theatre in Qu├ębec? What about language- how is that going to impact my career here? Will I have to have a soul-killing day job just for the income? Are there other things I am interested in pursuing as a career or side-career that might actually be able to bring in income? I have a lot of passions and interests, but I don't know how many actually have income-potential. And then the possibility of having a kid someday floats around in there too, but I won't get into that now, because I only have so much energy and ability to handle unknowns, you know?

So, I sorta I feel like I am in-between career islands. I feel amazed to have ended up where I am and to have had the experiences I have had thus far, but I'm not so sure exactly where I want to go from here and what might be possible given where I now live. And since I don't know those answers right now, maybe it's best to focus on the present and hope the rest becomes more clear in the not too distant future. Maybe I can stop feeling in-between and just stop and look at my left foot and say, "I'm here," and follow through with the right one after it? Yes, that is what I think I will work on for now.

PS. Interestingly, this article I also read the same day in the NYT talks about Mark Rylance and improv, addressing the idea of being present and fully open. Maybe I am supposed to get the message?

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