I spent last weekend in New York at a workshop led by Josh Pais the actor, teacher, and the creator of Committed Impulse (CI). If you’ve never heard of Josh Pais and his work, go read more about it right now. It’s extraordinarily powerful, exhilaratingly profound work. He developed it over the years as a way to access his spontaneity and creativity as an actor but the classes are for anyone who wants to show up in their life more courageously.
Notice I didn’t say fearlessly. I mean, it’s cool to show up and do something hard when you’re not scared but that’s not courage. Courage is showing up for the hard or scary or new thing even though you’re scared. It takes vulnerability to face uncertainty, emotional exposure, risk.
We get brave not by getting rid of the fear but by shifting how we respond when the fear shows up.
On the last day of the workshop, Josh led us through a group visualization during which, by the end, we each were ‘shown’ an image (from our subconscious) that represented a sub-personality–an aspect of ourselves–that we wanted to explore.
The exercise was to begin with this image, allow it to inhabit our body and guide us in finding a character — its physicality, voice, name, and anything else.
People got up, three at a time, and went through this exercise. It was amazing! They became these people or creatures, seemingly by magic. They interacted or not. They spoke or not. They were hilarious and surprising and odd and intriguing and moving.
As I sat there, enthralled and delighted by the work, a growing dread overtook me. They were so good! I’ll never be that good! Ach! I can’t do this! I don’t have the stuff! What am I doing here? What was I thinking?
I got more and more in my head.
It wasn’t about planning what I would do or say. I simply had no clue what I would do. I had zero things going on in my head, only a vast terrifying blankness. I became paralyzed by my thoughts of being exposed, being self-conscious, being a failure or a faker, up there in front of everyone performing an idea of an idea rather than being authentic about whatever was truly going on.
As Josh says, “Nobody wants to see your brilliant idea. They want to see YOU. They are hungry for the truth.”
It also wasn’t about wanting to be amazing. I mean, sure, that would be fun if that’s what happened. But it wasn’t at the heart of the issue for me. What I wanted was the courage to let myself COMMIT to the IMPULSE and energy of the moment. I wanted to leap. I wanted to fall and find things as I was falling.
I didn’t want to manipulate the fear. I wanted to use it.
This was what I was there for—to face the part of me that gets stuck, frozen, paralyzed and then INSTEAD of looking for a trick, a formula, or some work around, move with the energy of the terror of the unknown to wherever it took me because if you join it, it will move.
I mean, what was I going to do, LEAVE? With only a few hours left of the entire weekend that I signed up for and paid for and had been looking forward to for months?
Yes. That’s exactly what I wanted to do.
During I break, I stood in line for the bathroom and announced to all the mostly young, beautiful actors there: I’m seriously fucked up in the head right now. I have a terrible case of Not Enough-ness. I don’t think I can do it.
Them: Oh, yes you can!
Me: No, I can’t. Nothing will come out of me. I’ll just be up there with nothing and it will be painful and humiliating and excruciating!
Them: No, no! Something will come, it will!
Me: It will for you. But not for me.
And this is when it became crystal clear to me that I was making myself into a very special case, different than everyone. else. in. the. room. I am the ONLY ONE afraid to risk, to stretch, the only one for which nothing will come, the only one for whom this will not work. Such arrogance!
Luckily, I didn’t collapse into bashing myself for being arrogant because Josh appeared in the line for the bathroom and I said, I think I have to go.
Josh: Oh, to the bathroom?
Me: No. I think I have to run away. I’m totally in my head. I’m filled with fear.
Josh: Use it! Party with the fear. It’s okay that it’s there.
Me: No. I really don’t think it is. It feels dangerous.
Josh: If you leave, I will cancel the class.
It wasn’t true, of course. He wouldn’t cancel the class. I knew what he meant was, this exact struggle is why you’re here. Leaving won’t solve anything. It will just be there the next time.
See, the problem isn’t the fear or the thoughts in your head, I imagined him saying (because he had been saying these things all weekend), it’s your resistance to what you’re feeling because you say No. Not this. This is not the right thing for me to feel for what I am about to do.
That, my friends, is what fucks us up, shuts us down, and turns us away from ourselves, from who we truly are and what we are here to do.
I knew what he was saying was, Use the Four Access Tools of CI: (1) Breath. (2) Feel the actual sensations in your body. (3) Connect to your environment. (4) Say, “I’m back.”
After the break, I did that. IN EARNEST.
I breathed. I felt the sensation in my body (clamped chest, heavy stone in the pit of my stomach, numb legs). I looked around the room and really saw something specific—the contrast of light/dark in the corner of the ceiling. I said, I’m back.
Everyone continued to be amazing. I said, I’m back, as I watched. I said it out loud, softly, over and over. I used the Four Access Tools to stay present while I watched so I wouldn’t spin out into my own drama.
At one point, I forced myself up. My legs were wobbly. My heart pounded in my chest.
I stood up in front of everyone.
I said, I’m back. I breathed and looked at a specific point on the wall directly across from me. I said, I’m back, again. In fact I said it continuously because the moment I finished saying it, my mind tried to rip me away from the present moment. (Minds are like that. The present is like a pile of hot coals to my mind.)
Josh talked us through the start of the exercise. I said, I’m back, a few more times and then I noticed that my body wanted to move in a particular way. I let it. I followed it.
I kept following it. I was in it. I was in the discovery. I was in the truth of the moment. I wasn’t manipulating or in my head or preoccupied by how I looked or what anyone else thought. I did things I didn’t plan to do. I was aware of everyone is the room and I felt free.
It was a total blast.
Afterward I said to Josh, I survived.
Ah! You thrived, he answered.
It was exhilarating.
I’m back. I’m back. I’m back.
It’s like what Pema Chodron says to do during hard times (which are really, times of intense physical sensation): Stay, stay stay.
Stay with the truth in the moment, not the ‘truth’ your mind wants to tell you. The truth your body knows.
It’s this and then it’s this. It moves you, informs you, transforms you.
It’s like a river or an ocean or a fire. It dances.
Dance with it.
Dance with the swirling, ever-changing mass of atoms, of energy.
It’s your power, your vitality.
It’s you. You need it.
But more than that, we need it because we need you.
Not your great idea or your idea of what you imagine we will think is great.
We need you, the real you, the moment to moment you. Now more than ever.