Should I Quit Acting?
The Birth of Doubt in Acting
When did you first start really doubting you wanted to be an actor or artist? Not unsure about financial security or wondering if you're 'good enough'. I mean really doubting it was the thing for you?
I believe this supreme doubt will hit all of us at some point (if it hasn't already). And I believe it's when acting stops serving the pure reason you really got into it in the first place, to be happy. At some point when we're younger, we have few other priorities in life that require our attention and time outside of ourselves, so we are somewhat free to pursue our own happiness, which is when you discovered acting (play). You might have been transported by the transcendental experience of being truly 'in the moment' or loved the freedom of being silly and uninhibited, or any number of experiences which triggered the desire. But whatever it was it convinced you deep down that somehow there was a way to do this regularly and be happy doing it. We are all trying to be happy, we just have some pretty poor ways of pursuing and actualising that goal.
Acting For Fun
What's almost unique to being an artist though is that apart from the possible joy derived from doing the thing itself, there are few other compensatory factors offered to keep one engaged and attached to the art. In fact, this is most likely why artists end up identifying so heavily and unhealthily with their art, because what else is going to keep them doing it if it rarely pays, doesn't give you benefits, earn you respect, provide security, or give you the power to make worldly change. It even makes you hesitate to enter your chosen 'career' into your online dating profile. So when this joy or potential for the art to provide a kind of sustainable and repeatable happiness starts to erode or dry up, we have little reason to stay doing the thing itself, which is why and when we doubt.
But this is good. Not the fact that you aren't happy; that's obviously not desirable, but because now you have no choice but to see the reality of the situation. You are somewhat forced to:
1. Question the assumption that that anything in this worldly life, no matter how much you love it can be relied on for permanent happiness because everything is changing always (all things must come to an end).
2. Question why you are doing the thing in the first place and why it isn't bringing you happiness.
How Do I make acting enjoyable again?
Of course, the answer to both of the questions above tends to come back around to what is always the problem with everything we do and the very core reason to our unhappiness; ignorance and the illusion of ‘self’. What's happened along the way, almost more than with anyone else, is that you have become identified with your art and now anytime it doesn't go your way, you are plunged into the depths of despair. So there are at least two productive questions we can ask ourselves: ”How do I make acting enjoyable again?” and ”How do I find other things to bring me happiness and well-being outside of acting?”
Like anything in acting, there are skilful reasons to do it and unskillful reasons. Skilful reasons and strategies are those that lead towards liberation and freedom from suffering and towards true happiness and contentment or ultimately the liberation from the illusion of ‘self’ (in both the moment and towards to ultimate uprooting of delusion). Unskillful reasons and strategies are those that lead to suffering, despair, anxiety and neurotic attachment and towards the solidifying of the illusion of 'self'.
Ignorance and Doubt in acting
Before I go on, let me say this, ignorance and doubt are not the same thing. For in one sense we can view ignorance from its derivative ignore. To remain ignorant is to, in one way or another, consciously or unconsciously, ignore what is before you. Whereas doubt may throw the questions and assumptions you've held for so long up into the air, ignorance is the part of us that turns away or closes our eyes so as to pretend we didn't see it, whether it be peripherally or directly. The antidote and opposite to this ignorance is mindfulness in its purest form. Mindfulness or mindful awareness can hold within it anything including itself. It is a kind of 'clear seeing' that we can employ and direct towards experience and it is no better served than in the application with doubt. When doubt throws things up for us, mindfulness turns towards, not away from. In this way, we can see things as they truly are and based on this, begin to change our behaviours and views accordingly.
Liberation in acting
So, coming back to the problem at hand we can ask ourselves, what is it about acting that drew us in early on? I believe it was something to do with the truth of experience, of 'reality'. The truth is a potent thing and once it is experienced once, it tends to rest deep in our unconscious and be the inspiration for rare acts of selflessness and bravery that manifest throughout our lives. It's a kernel of something that is hard to put your finger on, but the very thing that prevents many of us from devolving into complete and wholly self-interested sadists. In acting, many of us will experience this 'truth' through terms like 'connection', 'being in the moment', 'loss of self-consciousness’, 'freedom' etc. In short in my mind, a taste of liberation. It is this taste of liberation that drew us in in the first place while offering almost little else in addition, apart from its very antithesis and opposite, the invitation to 'self'. How ironic that the very thing that should bring us freedom also brings with it the very chains that bind us and prevent us from experiencing that freedom again in the future. But this is how it is because we have nothing else to attach and grasp onto for security as liberation itself is subtle and ephemeral (changing from moment to moment with the nature of reality, like water slipping through our fingers). We attempt to grab on to the nearest thing, the ghostly chains of 'self' that seem to sit right next to it. In so doing we become identified with the activity itself whilst simultaneously cutting ourselves off from the very reason we began doing it in the first place. In this way it is no different to the Buddhist monk who becomes attached to the 'raft' of meditation, forgetting that the goal was always to reach the other shore of liberation and truth, not build the most comfortable and pleasing raft.
So where does this leave us with doubt? What's so great and useful about doubt? It's this - doubt came from the same place deep inside that pointed you in the direction of acting in the first place - from the truth, the taste of freedom and liberation and that place that leads all people towards acts of bravery and selflessness. Doubt in a sense is a manifestation of truth or at least a reminder of what isn't true. Doubt ultimately is telling you 'this isn't true', 'this is a delusion, there is a better way' and the wise amongst us heed these words. They listen to them and embrace them and let themselves be guided by them. They let themselves question the foundations of everything they've built so as not to continue building an unsteady tower that will eventually collapse like a house of cards, eventually tearing down everything and inevitably those other buildings around them. The wise examine the foundations themselves and start again, for ultimately the building will come tumbling down many times in your life until we figure out the right foundation and configuration that can stand and move with the wind and elements without collapsing.
Why Do you Act?
In the end, we are once more brought back to this persistent question - Why do you act? It's as simple as that. It's the question you've been avoiding this whole post for fear of the answer and it's the question I'm posing directly in front of you. The question is perhaps more useful than the answers you will come up with because it is the question itself that comes from the deep truth inside. But, we can at least rest in the knowledge that if any answer doesn't at least point towards freedom and liberation and happiness as its main goals, we can (as painful and scary as it may be) discard it until a better one presents itself.
How to be with Doubt in Acting
Let me say one more thing on the subject of doubt. Doubt does not (necessarily) mean you should stop the thing you're doing completely. Doubt is, and should be, a natural part of everything we do. It is true pure healthy scepticism at it's best. The litmus test against which we examine whether or not things are true or working as elegantly and efficiently as possible. We will have doubt in everything we undertake. From our relationships to our careers to the very way we breathe. This is good. It is the tool we use to course-correct our journey. Every relationship, especially those of the romantic variety, will undergo times of extreme doubt and this is to be expected and welcomed. If we were to fly away at any moment of doubt (serious or minor) without first examining what is behind the doubt and what the available alternative approaches to our situation are, we would have at least half of marriages ending in divorce and countless other opportunities of healthy romance squandered...oh wait.
Here's my point. This is the problem with misinterpreting the purpose and presence of doubt. We feel many times that we have to make huge sweeping changes any time doubt rears its head in a way too obvious to easily ignore. We are thrown about by our reactivity and impulsivity, usually, to run, fight or freeze, all three options which are rooted in an extreme application of tension (bodily, emotionally and mentally). There is a fourth option however - sit with it. Do nothing but observe it, be with it and let the tension go. See for yourself that this spectre of uncertainty might not have the ill intentions you ascribe to it. Like the spectre of death itself, it can be a powerful reminder and guide or how to truly live.
Don't Quit your acting
So to sum it up in a manner to allay the fearful question on many of your minds, no you don't have to quit what you're doing, be it acting or otherwise, just because you are experiencing doubt. It's true that you will inevitably have to renounce something, some aspect of your habitual process, but that needn't necessarily be the activity itself. It might just be your limited perspective and concepts that you are holding onto that may need to be reconsidered or discarded.
On the other hand, there are times when it is of great use and self-empowerment to indulge (perhaps with wise guidance from another) the question of happiness without acting. I did, in fact, I lived it. I intentionally renounced it for a year to cure my attachment to it, so that I could truly experience a way to be happy without acting and it worked. I was able to be happy without it, but I also rediscovered a way to be even happier with it.
Overcoming Fear in Acting
If you want to conquer your fear of the dark. Turn off the light, turn around and stare into it, experience for yourself that there's nothing inherently evil or malicious about the dark. It's simply the uncertainty and doubt we're not used to. What is there to be afraid of here, but not knowing? And you never really knew in the first place anyway. In fact, the only thing that you convinced yourself you knew was that there was something bad and harmful there that never really was. The very thing you were most afraid of, you conjured and you can stop conjuring at any time.