There’s been tons of research lately about the benefits of a regular meditation practice. I know for myself, it has made such a difference in my life that I’m currently going through teacher training to become a Vedic meditation instructor, which uses a mantra.
When the thought for teacher training first came up about two years back, I thought it was an insane idea; the program alone is a three-month commitment in India, many preferences are surrendered. But last year when I was working out of town, the impulse kept returning so I began looking into options. I ended up doing an integrated program here in NYC (the most challenging/rewarding year I have ever experienced). And being around other meditation teachers and neuroscientists as part of my research, it’s clear how the practice of meditation boosts creativity and courage.
As artists, particularly actors, we experience more rejection in one week than some adults in their entire lifetime. Showing who you are in the fluorescent light interrogation room, aka the audition, requires a level of precision and focus that’s on par with Olympic athletes. The industry is certainly not for the faint of heart, and fight or flight response always kicks in when we really want the job.
When we meditate, we begin to master the art of liberating our emotions by de-exciting the mind. Over time, we can begin to shed old stresses so those triggers don’t engage old behaviors. All fear, doubt, hate, and anxiety falls away effortlessly when we are able to sit twenty minutes eyes closed, twice a day. And when we encourage the relaxation response, we suddenly have a choice when that tiny almond shaped area of the brain called the amygdala screams at us that there might be a saber-toothed tiger lurking nearby. We begin to notice the difference between fact and fiction, of when that saber-toothed tiger is really just the sensation of being outside our comfort zone. Once we begin to let go of old ways of coping, we then have a bigger awareness of when those sparks of stress can potentially lead to forest fires, destroying our own happiness in 2.5 seconds. We begin to learn new ways of creative problem solving, our focus is increased, and we have another choice, which to stay and play rather than fight or flight.
Most New Yorkers operate from left-brain awareness, which is where functioning for logic/reasoning, science, math, language and analytic thought are stored. When we meditate, we are strengthening that connection to the right brain, which is where creativity, music, art awareness, and imagination is stored. Actors are always looking for ways into this connection to impulse and creativity. And when we meditate, we begin to silence the inner critic and find more flow, which actually produces brain states similar to meditation.
I recently did a job and remembered so clearly the moment how that inner critic was running the show and shaming me into doing a better job. After a particular slip up of text onstage, I was convinced I had just ruined the show, but what I wasn’t aware of was how I used that old script voice to try and do a better job. Shame can initially be a powerful motivator that seduces you into thinking you’ll get better results, but how can massive shame spirals be good for anyone?
The next night, rather than becoming frustrated, I checked into what was actually going on with my body during that moment, switching from reaction to observer mode. I’d notice where the tension was building, until the edges of it softened. Then I’d ask if I had concrete evidence for so much suckage…nope, just evidence of old script designed to keep me safe. It was the first time I was aware of how powerful that voice was and how often I had berated myself into doing better.
With meditation, you begin to hold more things in your awareness at one time, which allows you to switch from this micro lens, to macro lens. From then, you get to choose where your attention flows rather than being reactive. There’s nothing woo-woo about it, meditation is simply a stress-relieving tool that has been shown to reduce stress, increase productivity and creativity.