METHOD ACTING FOR PEACE OF MIND?
It was not a good day. I was sitting alone in a MacDonald’s restaurant drinking coffee and feeling deeply depressed. I am not a clinically depressed person. I’m a sixty-seven year old semi-retired husband and father, and most times I feel very positive. But like all of us I have my times. And though I’m also not a therapist I am usually able to recognize why depressing feelings creep into my consciousness. Until that afternoon, however, overcoming those feelings was another thing.
On this day something unique happened.
In the midst of my discomfort an unbelievably simple idea popped into my head. What if I just refused to be depressed? Right. What if rather than wrestle with all the complexities and layers of depressing possibilities associated with bad feelings, I simply shut the door on them? Was it possible? Could I just declare: “Sorry, my destructive little cerebral demons, you’re not getting in this time.”?
I realized that if I was going to try to deny the negative feelings, I’d have to replace them with positive ones — fill the void, so to speak, with good thoughts, peace of mind, or… And that’s when something else occurred to me. I thought back to one night years earlier in my bedroom. I was lying across the bed with my young son and our Schnauzer, Stanley. The three of us were propped up on pillows watching “MacGyver” on TV. My son had just said, “He’ll figure it out, right Dad?” and Stanley was snuggled up beside me with his head on his paws. That night the stars were perfectly aligned. The world was an absolutely wonderful place, and I recall having the most amazing feelings of peace and well-being.
Could I fill my mind now, I wondered, with those feelings and simply lock out the bad ones? Believe it or not it worked! Not long after making that “mental adjustment”, I stepped out of the restaurant with my coffee cup in hand and a peaceful smile on my face. I had simply made myself feel great!
My next thought was, “Wow! How’d I do that?” Oddly, the answer didn’t come from a spiritual or psychological source. It came from my previous line of work. I spent 35 years in the corporate media business. That means I produced marketing, training and informational programs – mostly videos – for businesses. The bigger budget projects often required working with actors. Over the years I had learned that as a general rule, a director is best served if he or she first casts good actors, and then lets them do their job – act – without an overabundance of directorial input.
To help actors do that, in the early nineteen-hundreds a Russian gentleman named Constantin Stanislavsky, one of the legendary ground breakers in the study of acting, came up with something called “The Method”, or “Method Acting”. In a nutshell, Method Acting requires an actor to recall some emotional feeling or experience from the past, bring it forward into “the moment”, and use it to portray a dramatic performance. As an example, if a script calls for an actor to cry with joy because her husband has just come home from the war, she might vividly recall and bring into the moment the joy she experienced at the birth of her first child. Although the current scene is about a completely different experience, if done with skill, the performance would register credibly on the screen.
So, I realized as I walked out onto the sidewalk that day, I had just method acted my way out of the doldrums!
Now you might have one of two reactions to what I’ve just described. You may consider it an oversimplification. Something so simple, after all, couldn’t possibly be an answer to a complex problem like depression, right? Or, if you agree it might actually work, maybe you consider it a kind of Band-Aid solution: Since depression is a serious, complex condition, it shouldn’t just be “suppressed” temporarily. To properly treat depression requires a professional.
Let me answer these concerns in order.
First, believe it or not, it is that simple, though it might take a little practice at first. Will it eliminate deep-seated anxieties or other complex emotional baggage? Of course not. A professional is certainly called for in those situations. But it will give you temporary relief, and very possibly help you set a new course.
As for the second concern, I suppose it is a form of temporary suppression, but does that mean it’s a bad idea? As I’ve said, you should go to a doctor for treatment of depression or other serious psychological problems. That’s a no-brainer. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use positive, natural techniques to help you feel better when bad feelings occur.
As I said, I’m generally a happy and positive person, however I have my moments. And these days when those moments come, rather than waste precious hours of my life slogging into the mire of self-doubt and self-analysis, I method act my way to peace of mind “in the moment”! Really!
As I said, it may take a little practice, but in case you’d like to try it, here are a few steps that can help you achieve your own method acting peace of mind.
1. Think back to some event or time when you felt great. Try to recreate those feelings as vividly as possible in your mind. You might visualize where you were, what you were doing, how you felt, things that were said, smells, sights, noises, and perhaps other people that were with you. The main thing is to intensely re-capture and experience those wonderful feelings. If it takes a few tries, don’t give up. Believe me you will get the hang of it and find it’s definitely worth the effort.
2. Imagine those wonderful thoughts are like a pleasant breeze that you can sweep into your mind with a few long, slow deep breaths, and hold inside. Again, imagination and a little practice may be in order, but if you work on it, you’ll find it comes easier with time.
3. This is critical. Accept the idea that you do havecontrol over what you think and how you feel. Here’s a simple example. If you wake up one Monday morning and you know that the next day you have to go to a tax audit or some other unpleasant event, you might say to yourself, “I’m not going to worry about it now. I’ll deal with it tomorrow when I have to,” and then go on to experience a positive day. And when you do this, you will be controlling your thought patterns. You can do the same thing with depressing moods. If you simply say I’m going to put off feeling bad, you can do it!
4. Combine the two ideas: Swoosh out the bad and sweep in the good. Practice thinking and “feeling” positive, even when you don’t feel bad. Then, next time the depressing thoughts start to creep in, you’ll be ready to put those method acting skill to work and get your smile on!