Mindfulness and acting have a lot in common, apparently. What would that be? Both of them require that we cultivate and refine our ability to do things as if we're doing them for the first time. And then… the magic happens. We become enthralled by our own experience, and we're more likely to deeply move those around us.
I recently watched an interview with Hugh Jackman on Inside the Actors Studio in which he spoke of acting as being about doing everything as though you were doing it for the very first time. He was talking about moment-to-moment awareness. He was talking about presence. He was talking about intensity.
Any screen actor is a delight to watch when, take after take, they dish up their performance freshly, as if they were doing it for the first time. Ditto for the stage. Great theater performers do it night after night without losing any sense of the freshness of each moment. We, the audience, love it. We love it because they love it. We're drawn to watching the unfolding beauty, wonder and presence of first-time encounters.
Children are a great source of this phenomenon. Earlier this year, one special child moved many of us to tears as we watched him hear his father's voice for the first time. Born deaf, Grayson Clamp was able to hear at the age of three after undergoing brain surgery.
Of course, as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus informed us, we can’t really have the same experience twice. The reality is that life can start to feel as though the same stuff is happening over and over again. We can start to be less interested and appreciative of the sheer sensory theater of being alive.
Lately, I’ve been working with the mantra, "as if for first time." I’ve been retraining myself to see things freshly and experience them as if I never had before. It’s essentially an exercise in mindfulness, and it’s actually a pretty easy one when we use the five senses as gateways to explore the world, rather than just hanging out in the mental processing after the sense perception has taken place.
There are so many ways to play with this technique. You could pick a sense a day, for example:
- Monday: Taste
- Tuesday: Smell
- Wednesday: Touch
- Thursday: Sounds
- Friday: Sights
Or, you could do as I did and start with the experiences themselves. Set an intention (and perhaps a smartphone reminder) to dive into the sensory experience of both routine and random moments in your day. Eat your breakfast, but pause: but don’t just taste it … also feel it, smell it and tune in to everything else in your environment while you’re at it. Absorb, even for a moment, in the sensory experience and ask yourself what part of this you would really be intrigued about if you were experiencing this for the very first time.
Swim in the ocean, but don’t just feel the water on your skin … truly dive in and listen too. Just imagine (and act as though) you’d never been in the ocean before. You’ll soon find yourself listening to space, touching sounds, smelling experiences, tasting memories and watching emotions.
When I did this practice, just for one day, I became more alive to sounds, smells, sights, textures and the very sensation of my own breath. And all of it was fascinating. I appreciated the things I’m already consciously grateful for with a greater intensity, often in a new way. I ate a coconut, I went for a swim and I had a massage (a pretty amazing day by any standard), but by using the mantra "as if for the first time" and being conscious of all five senses, I infused every activity with greater mindfulness and appreciation.
Thoreau went off to Walden Pond because he wished to live deliberately. For now I’m staying where I am and noticing things, deliberately, “as if for the first (or last) time." It’s the art of intense living.
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