Looking good, looking good

One of the fun things about coming to the theater late in life is that you tend to get some really juicy character parts.  The stage manager for our local theater posted this picture just yesterday: it's from The Secret Garden, in which I appeared a couple of years back as an evil headmistress.

Roles like this are fun -- a chance to channel unexpressed parts of the personality onto the stage -- but (as I noted on Facebook) it was particularly hard for my husband to watch me in this one because I was SO unattractive -- all the way through to the bone.

So it was amusing, having come face-to-face with this side of myself yesterday, to read the following passage this morning in Jack Kornfield's classic, The Wise Heart:

"To be wise we need to be able to enter each role fully, with awareness and compassion, and to let it go when our part is done... We can be free only if underneath all these temporary roles we do not forget that they are not who we really are.

In the same way that we identify with a role, we can identify with a self-image.  Do I look intelligent, attractive, strong?  Usually we worry in this way because we also feel the opposite qualities in ourselves.  So to compensate, we create a self-image.  A colleague of mine found these compensatory thoughts so frequent in his meditation, he began to humorously name them each time they arose: 'Looking good, looking good.'  In simply seeing the constant struggle to look good, he felt more compassion and ease."

It helps, I think, to see that others struggle with issues around appearance.  Because -- now that I'm in rehearsal for yet another minor character role -- I feel those old demons beginning again to rear their ugly heads: how can I keep this character from slipping into ugliness?  How can I keep her appealing and amusing?  And of course, beneath that, "How can I keep the audience from seeing me at my most unattractive?"  And perhaps, below even that, "Who is it that lives beneath all these roles?"

As Kornfield's old friend Ram Dass used to say -- it's all Grist for the Mill.  Or, in the words of Garrison Keillor, "To an English major, everything is material."  Yet another opportunity to explore the workings of the spirit...


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