When I first began as an actor, I was often told that I was too “in my head.” What this meant was that I was too aware of what I would be saying or doing to be living instinctually in the moment. This can be a good thing in some situations, but on stage it is deadly. This is part of why an animal can be more interesting to watch than the performer. Rehearsal, practice, is how one makes mistakes and finds the way to move, speak, and behave as works best for the role – and repetition is how it becomes second nature, not something thought through every moment. Overtime, by butting my head against this wall I eventually became a far more natural and realistic performer.
This same sort of “in one’s head” behavior occurs in sports as well. If a forward in soccer stopped just before taking a shot to remember to pull the leg back, point the toe to hit with the top of the foot, look for the target to aim for, and shoot, the ball would be stolen, and the goalie would be well prepared to block. Instead, one practices every aspect of the game – passing, shooting, dribbling, and other techniques. The same need to practice the difficult things in life – that which one is failing at – is present in all parts of life. It is only through this that one improves and reaches toward success.
Over my time as a business owner, I have also become acquainted with failure, both inside and outside of my control. In Buddhist philosophy one learns to recognize that attachment to an outcome leads to suffering. “From attachment springs grief, from attachment springs fear. From him who is wholly free from attachment there is no grief, whence then fear?” (Dhammapada, Chapter 16) This is very similar to the serenity prayer of Christian origin from Reinhold Neibuhr. “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Occasionally, there are things that occur that are outside our control, and we must simply live in the world as it presents itself. Even in moments like this one can find the good and find the ways to improve one’s own life to reach closer to success. For me this ranged from changing careers multiple times as a result of financial need to recognizing the need to rest after injury or illness or to changing living situations as a result of external demands.
Meditation can help with accepting and moving forward with one’s life, by stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. Regular meditation can increase gray matter in many parts of the brain, strengthen the immune system, and decrease cortisol. Occasionally it is helpful to visualize protective moments while taking the time to center oneself. A beloved caretaker or protector or a compassionate hug for an image of oneself as a child. Creating an image of refuge or sanctuary in one’s mind, and taking the time to clarify what it looks, sounds, smells, and feels like can assist as well. Emotions may come and go in times like these and are not to be dismissed of fled from. Try to ride the wave and separate oneself from the emotion. After all, we are all more complicated than our body, thoughts, or emotions. If a fear comes to mind, be realistic about it. What is the likelihood that it will occur? Examine the world clearly and truly for what it is.
In ages past life was difficult. Disease killed a third of the European population, men were told to march to murder their brethren for the property gain of rulers, and people were crucified because of words said. In times like that some more wise human beings realized that life was more than the material, and that it is from perception that endless joy can be attained. “When the moon of your mind becomes clouded over by confusion you are searching for the light outside.” (Hozoin In’ei)
There are three universal characteristics of items of worldly nature as Buddhists note. “1) Impermanence: All conditioned states are impermanent regardless of whether they are occupied by spirit or not. Everything is in a flux; there is degradation and deterioration built into everything around us. 2) Suffering: Things decay as is their nature. All living beings must die. Nothing prolongs eternally. 3) Not-Self: Not being able to find the true self of anything. Nothing in the world has implicit identity, everything is uncontrollable and discontented.” (Pages to Happiness, Phrabhavanaviriyakhun, pg 143) Even the sun will die at some point, taking the world with it. It is important to recognize the great gift that it is to be alive at this moment, if only to see the sunset wash the sky pink, purple, and orange. That too will be gone, and it is in its temporary nature that we can appreciate the gift. If our joys were eternally present, we would not appreciate them as much. Interestingly, the same means that comparison leads to happiness or suffering appears to extend into society itself. (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, News Bureau. "Social comparisons drive income's effect on happiness in states with higher inequality." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 April 2021. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2021/04/210413092507.htm)
One thing that I have considered with Buddhism is that it may be able to become so detached from the world that one does not strive to improve oneself. If one does not, then it is a shame from my perspective. I suppose I agree with Socrates as quoted, "Besides, it is a disgrace to grow old through sheer carelessness before seeing what manner of man you may become by developing your bodily strength and beauty to their highest limit. But you cannot see that, if you are careless; for it will not come of its own accord." (Memorabilia, Xenophon, 3.12) This sort of mindset can be moved to writing (which I am having difficulty with as a standard narrative instead of a script) or musical performance or to one’s employment. One who has pushed to see the manner of human one could be, has been successful in life, regardless of the ranking with the rest of society. After all, everyone has different potentials from the environment born into and genetic traits that were inherited. No one should compare success as a swimmer with Michael Phelps or Katie Ladecky, unless one is an Olympian.
Success is yours in the manner that you improve. It is not for others to admire because one cannot control the mind and behavior of another human without violent oppression. Even then, the mind is the final refuge from the world. “Work yourself hard, but not as if you were being made a victim, and not with any desire for sympathy or admiration. Desire one thing alone: that your actions or inactions alike should be worthy of a reasoning citizen.” (Meditations, Marcus Aurelius, 9.12) One fails only by not attempting to be the best that one could be. If one seeks out self-improvement, one has succeeded.