Whilst studying actor training at university, we went a lot deeper than you might imagine. We used presence practices to bring awareness to the internal process of being human. We spent a lot of time working on impulse – what drives human behaviour? Desire for status? Approval? Love? Money? Or something deeper and intangible? How could we believably portray this on stage?
This exploration coincided with the first time in my life when I was actually able to make choices for myself. I began to wonder a lot about how I would decide what to do next after leaving university. I was also preoccupied with a 'knowing' I had had.
Before attending my course, I felt an incredibly strong pull towards it. It was beneath rational thought. I just knew.
The course had lit me up in a way I could not have conceived of before. It was like a road map to creativity, depth and meaning, helping me to find myself.
Before I attended, I was deeply lost. So much movement and change and other factors saw me limping out of adolescence, broken and afraid, not knowing where to turn, except for this knowing, pulling me to Exeter.
How did I know?! I could not have dreamed up a better place to heal myself. What part of me was pulled in that direction? It seemed to me to be the same depth of impulse that we were seeking to achieve in our actor training. An instinctual, intuitive body-centred impulse that arrives through the life force of a person, rather than just from their heads.
We spent the first term at university trying to unlearn the conditioning of school – (sit still, reason, analyse, control your emotions, ignore your body), and learn how to play, be creative. Our society values rational thought and control, but it leaves out huge amounts of the human spirit. It strangles it.
I noticed again and again how powerful it was to work with genuine, natural impulses from the body, rather than from the head. It created theatre that was moving and profound with a deeper connection between the audience and actor. Creating from the head was removed from the moment. It was stilted and awkward, disingenuous.
I started to play around with impulses in my daily life. In simple choices we all make like ‘should I go out tonight?’ I began to sit quietly and listen in to what my intuitive body response was. My head usually had strong opinions, but my body spoke in a softer quieter voice.
As part of the actor training modules, I was training in a martial art and learning how tan tien, a spot about two inches beneath the naval, is the seat of our internal life force, or chi. It is the gut, the second brain, that we refer to when we say – ‘I just had a gut feeling about it’. I was learning how to make my body movements originate from this central point.
And outside of training sessions, I was curious about listening to this place as a guide for shaping my life.
It was always right.
My mind would be begging for me to take action on something, but a voice deep in my gut would say no. I would take action anyway and it would all end appallingly. Or vice versa.
I came to feel it as my homing beacon, my compass.
For three years I deepened my connection to my body through the different practices I was taught and it changed me.
Bringing presence to your body again and again unlocks all the ways in which you have buried your emotions within the body mind. It cleans your system, creating more space for your life force to flow. The more it flows, the more you cannot look at a sky without feeling awe and wonder.
As well as that, it makes you more sensitive. And the more sensitive I became, the more I felt like I could sense a guiding hand behind me. I didn’t know what it was, or what to call it, but I felt its presence and somehow, I felt it was connected to the intuitive body centred nudges that I was starting to learn to move from.
I began to be hungry for a sense of spirituality, of connectedness to something bigger than myself that explained the knowings I was experiencing, or a deepening sense of belonging to the natural world I could feel.
Too soon it was time to leave the cocoon of university and step out into the ‘real’ world.
I looked around at the adult world I was about to enter and honestly, it didn’t look good. I saw stressed, frustrated, miserable people chasing their tales for money, the light deadened behind their eyes. I saw people disconnected from each other and their families. I did not see any role model or any career choice in which I felt I could profitably use this sense of deeper connection to myself and the nature of being human that I had found at university.
I had no map of how to create my future, but I did have a process. I had the process of moving from one internal nudge and gut feeling to the next. I could see how this had created incredibly profound and connected theatre. Could it create a life worth living?
I had no responsibilities and so I decided to conduct an experiment into intuitive living and craft my life from this level of impulse within me, with what felt like a guiding hand at my back.
It’s been thirteen years and my conviction in the process has only strengthened. Ignoring the body and its intuitions creates disease, addictions and apathy.
Following the call of your soul leads you to face your fears, your inner demons, your past conditionings and it also leads you to find passions, callings and a profound sense of universal love. It is the path for the courageous and the people who want to genuinely live. I believe it is the path home to ourselves.