Why Do We Cry?
“We cry only in the face of beauty.” Alan Langdon, legendary acting coach
I’m not sure where Alan got this quote but it has always stuck with me, not only in my career as an actor but also in my career as a human. There is a lot of insight packed into this short phrase. Let’s take a look under the hood, shall we?
What Langdon was saying is that humans only respond emotionally to beauty. What is beauty? Among other global values, beauty includes love, peace, belonging, victory, freedom, abundance, independence. In other words, we all long for the perfect human state of enlightenment, where there is no longer any conflict; we have and appreciate everything we need and all is one.
But along this journey called life we create, or should I say our ego creates, goals intended to represent this perfect state. We convince ourselves if only we had this thing or that thing, then we would find bliss. Our longing for these things builds inside us as we wish and hope and dream them into being, as if doing so will call the Universe (God) into bringing them into existence, as if He were some cosmic short order cook. This, BTW, is the fatal flaw of what the new age calls “the Law of Attraction”.
Humans long for these ideal outcomes, these things, as they turn themselves inside out in order to obtain them. Meanwhile, the things they desire are always morphing and transforming themselves into any number of new forms, each one more unobtainable than the last. These include things such as unrequited romance, war against those with whom we don’t agree, world peace through apathy, a new car, beautiful skin, a sled, sales, affirmations from like minded thinkers- you name it. Our desire for these things causes upset. First, because we fear we won’t get them, then because of our fear of losing them once we have them.
So we cry. And, as an actor, who needs to be able to cry on cue, this is very powerful indeed. We simply focus on the thing we desire, say the dog we loved as a child. We explore it sensorally, in great detail, bring it into full awareness and attach it poetically (non-literally) to the needs of the character we are playing. This is the essence of the Strassberg Method of acting. Interestingly, trained method actors are coached not to focus on the loss of the thing but to simply focus on the thing itself. We give empower the thing, the dog, by focusing our attention on it, just like in “The Law of Attraction.” Then, as we bring this thing into the circumstances of the play, we experience losing what the character we are playing is losing, as if we ourselves actually were losing it, which the audience experiences as great acting and great story telling. Eventually, we train ourselves to experience the loss our character is experiencing as our own, at every performance. It takes years of practice to master and it is very effective. For an actor.
But unfortunately, as a human, still wishing for the global values I mentioned at the beginning, our attaching of these global values to the metaphor of things only leads to pain and suffering. The truth is, we are natural method actors. It’s called ego and Strassberg knew this when he invented the method. So, in our everyday life, we actually come to believe we will be happy if we can get rid of the wrinkles around our eyes, or that we will have peace if we go to war to protect our way of life. That’s why it is incredibly important to tease apart these global values from the things that come to represent them. Mitigating our longing for those things which are not actually connected to the above global values, is the only key to happiness. This is made difficult when we live in a society that celebrates financial success, fame, patriatism, romance, outer beauty and the myriad of things others have waved in front of us, things they are selling us, is the real key to happiness.
On a personal note: I have learned humility through much humiliation, pursuing the dreams others have/had for me. Now I do only what I do as an offering to my family and my God. Although I believe everyone deserves happiness and I respect their right to pursue it in their own way, I realize I have little influence over those outside my circle of influence. Therefore, for me there are no others in the world where my passion matters more than with those who love, understand, respect and value me. Without that mutual contract there can be no meaningful exchange. Things and people may come and go, giving or taking that contract away, but I now know God values me and hears every utterance, even this one. I have no burning desire to convert, to please, to convince anyone else about anything, least of all my worth as a human. Others may scorn or ignore my best efforts but I am certain that I am in the process of knowing my true value and what I have to offer others. I understand my true purpose is love. I am forever grateful to have the love of those key precious ones in my life and even more, the wisdom to act upon it. That is my reason for being. The rest is just a silly game.