-Just For Today:
Do not anger
Do not worry
Be kind to others
~The Reiki Precepts
This first precept of “do not anger” can be the hardest for actors to reconcile with our ideas of creativity. While most of us recognize that “do not anger” is helpful in our collaborative life with others and in our careers, the questions that invariably come up are: But don’t I need my anger and pain to really create? How can I identify with the character if I don’t embody their anger and rage? How will I be a good actor if I am just playing “nice” all the time by never being angry?
The key to understanding this precept for ourselves and our work is the instruction that comes before all the precepts which is: “Just for today”, not “never anger”, but just. for. today. “Today”, in spiritual terms is actually the now, the present moment, the three breaths it takes to ground yourself here. It is very important to understand that the first precept is not a suggestion to bypass or suppress anger or to “play nice”. To never be angry would be not only be unhealthy but ultimately unsustainable. There is, after all, a great deal in this world to be angry about. Righteous anger is a real catalyst for change. Theatre and drama are one of the ways we grapple, process and witness anger. Who would want to see a fully spiritually realized Iago and Othello? Why would we even need to?
What the precept is guiding us towards is space and time; to pause and really take a look at anger. As humans engaged in the world, there is a difference between feeling anger and being the anger. In the first instance we are responding as authentic human beings and in the second we are allowing the anger to have agency over us. In acting terms feeling anger is the obstacle that arises from pursuit of an objective which we then play out of. Whereas being the anger is just that one way mood street that sends you and the audience into a performance cul de sac. I once worked with a very talented actor who was all about being the anger on and off stage. He consistently (though probably unconsciously) created all sorts of chaos with his colleagues in the rehearsal room in order to create because anger is a powerful energy and will feed you for a while. It can make you feel alive and vital. On stage his performance was very compelling and intense yet completely disconnected from the rest of the play and his fellow performers. I think we have all met artists like this. His embodiment of anger was ultimately very damaging. The cast could never become an ensemble and it took a great deal of my personal creative energy to block the psychic stuff he threw around. I suspect his process ultimately became unsustainable for him. Aside from the fact that he burned a hell of a lot of bridges, anger as a tool for creating is a vicious circle. It puts me in mind of a line from Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus” , when asked to partake of food, Volumnia declines and answers-
Anger is my meat, I sup upon myself
And so shall starve with feeding
Coriolanus ACT 4 Scene 2
However, once we begin to practice “Just for Today: Do not anger” (and believe me it takes Practice! Practice! Practice!) and ask some questions: Why am I angry? Why am I so very angry? What other feelings is anger trying to protect? Has this happened before? Where do I feel this in my body? What do I want to do with this anger?, we can begin to have a relationship with our anger that can be constructive rather than destructive and can truly feed us creatively in a sustainable way.
Lama Rod Owens writes in his excellent book “Love and Rage: The Path of Liberation Through Anger “
“ our relationship to anger is a reactive and compulsory one. We feel the anger and respond. When I am asked to illustrate this point, I talk about finding yourself in a burning room and reacting to the danger by jumping out of a window to escape. You didn’t have time to think about how far up you were or what you would land on. You just reacted to the fire and split. This is how I see our compulsory relationship to anger; jumping out of a burning room with no space to think where we might land…”
“Just for today: Do not anger” gives us that space to consider where and how we might land. It gives us time to ask whom and how we may hurt. It especially gives us some place for compassion and empathy to have a voice, a seat at the table, and it is a practice that will lend itself to our performing work.
When we have a greater insight and agency of our own anger we can safely lean into that of the characters we play and stories we tell. We can begin to understand them on a deeper and more empathetic level. We can honor their anger by being in compassion with it. We can recognize it as the obstacle and not the state of being. So take the moment, the five minutes, the day, to sit in the room and ask anger what it wants both of yourselves and the roles you play. You‘ll be a better actor and a happier artist by doing so.