Friday, November 30, 2007

Stillness amidst the "tribe"

I watched the great actor Ben Kingsley respond to a young aspiring actor’s question as to how to hold in his impatience. Ben evoked the metaphor of a tribe and that actors are like hunters. Eager to use their bow and arrows in pursuit of the hunt. Eager to get going.

But Ben counselled that a good mentor, knowing that the actor is not quite ready for the stage, would only give him an arrow with no bow or a bow with no arrow. Then, one day when he no longer asked, when he did not have the compulsion to ask, the mentor would finally give them to him.

In Ben’s view, an actor must honour the “tribe’s” code of conduct and its traditions for developing hunter-leaders. Some things take time. There are many lessons to be learned. Be patient. Be still.

Stillness, he contends, is a pre-requisite to graduation as it illuminates the lessons to be learned. It enables an actor in training to “empty his cup”. In Joseph Parent’s book Zen Golf: Mastering the Mental Game, he explains:

The empty cup approach doesn’t mean giving up your intelligence and following blindly. The point is to receive everything that is taught in an open way, withholding judgment about it until you’ve tried for awhile. Try your best to understand what is being communicated, then give it a fair chance to see if it works for you.

Parent continues with a great Zen Master’s saying:

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”

Thus, the beginner’s mind is like an empty cup---open, empty of preconceptions, inquisitive, receptive and ready to engage.

In essence, “being still”, can make your mind bigger, no matter who you are…actor, leader, parent, front line worker… Your field of vision widens. You literally see more and connect more directly to the experience at hand.

The newspapers are full of unsettling stories of the failings of some experts. Those whom we have put our faith in to make good decisions about complex matters. When the full stories emerge, it is quite clear that their cups had dirt in them, muddying and distorting what they heard to fit their preconceived ideas and opinions. Thus, “being still” and having an “empty cup” applies as much to experts as novices.

It is a privilege to be a leader and no small task to live up to the ideal of great leadership. No one wants to create disasters. An empty and still mind can help offset any potential bad turns in the road.

In Parent’s words:

Bigger space. Bigger mind. Bigger mind. Better results.

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