By Cathy Eck
We’re All Actors
One of my greatest ah-ha moments came while listening to an interview of Forest Whitaker after his incredible performance in the “Last King of Scotland.” Forest played the brutal Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin; and he really owned the character. My insight came when he said that it took him three months to shed that role and get back to being himself.
Wait a minute, three months? It took him only three months to shed Idi Amin and get back to himself? Idi Amin had enough baggage to keep a million people busy letting go for years.
Why do people believe that letting go takes forever? Shit, people in the east think it takes lifetimes. They sit in the forest or a cave for decades, and they still don’t come out themselves. If Whitaker can let go of Idi Amin in only three months, why can’t I let my roles go in three days? After all, I’m clearly no Idi Amin.
The answer was very clear. Forest Whitaker knows that he isn’t Idi Amin. You and I, however, often believe that we’re the roles we play. We often can’t tell if a belief that we carry in mind is true or false until we let it go.
Often we don’t know that a belief lives in our unconscious until a person or event exposes it. Most people can’t tell the difference between their pleasant mask and their True Self so they don’t let go. But we can’t let go of our True Self — letting go never causes a problem. Freedom requires letting go of our entire false self — to return to a blank slate so we can write and direct the life script that we desire.
Roles that Bind Us
We’ve all believed and accepted many roles throughout life. Roles can be fun if they’re temporary; ask any actor. But when a role becomes permanent, it can be hell. Roles can define us and keep us stuck. We live as if we have a prominently displayed sign on our chest exposing our label. People sense that label and treat us accordingly.
In addition, we’ve been trained to believe that we can’t let go of a role that another assigned to us, especially if that person was an authority. It feels like they need to free us.
Relationships make stepping out of roles difficult because people think we’re insane when we let go of a belief that they still believe to be true. Their reality proves them right, and people in the illusion confuse reality with truth. They don’t realize that we’re not excluding them; and they can still believe whatever they want about their life. No one has the right to tell another what to believe. But relationships often form around common beliefs. People think that we’re letting them go when we’re just letting go of a belief.
Some people expect us to show up in our mask; and if their expectation is very strong or if we are a people pleaser, it reinforces our role.
Letting go of a physical or mental diagnosis can be nearly impossible if the people in our life believe our label and treat us as having that label. Healing is often much easier when you simply remove yourself from those who label you.
Living Without Roles
Imagine if you knew you were acting? After all, you are. If you’re being yourself, you wouldn’t play a permanent role, especially one you didn’t like. You’d play a role and drop it when you had enough. You’d drop it easily because you’d know you weren’t the role.
Dropping roles means dropping lots of beliefs at one time. When we accept a label or role, we accept all the beliefs that are part of that acting engagement. A great actor will study the character and adopt his or her state of mind. Once the state of mind is accepted, the part flows naturally. They appear to become the character by wearing the character’s mask. But they drop the mask when it isn’t useful any longer. If we’re resisting dropping our mask, it’s wise to see if it has a payoff. If we let go of the payoff, the mask should come off more easily.
When we drop any label or role, we create a massive amount of space for our True Self to fill. Ideally, we’d just be our Self and everything would be perfect. But our world is in transition. If we’re uncomfortable dropping the entire role, then we can just drop some of the beliefs that make up that role. We can show up at mom’s, play the daughter or son role she assigns while witnessing our act and maintaining our sense of Self; then we can drop the beliefs that bothered us most. Each time we visit, we can let go of the beliefs that arise and incorporate a little more of our True Self. We can also let go of any belief in our mind that she can’t handle the shift and then let the cards fall where they may.
I used to feel guilty dropping roles, as if they were some sort of contract that I agreed to for life. But they aren’t contracts; we do everyone a favor when we just be ourselves (although it might take them some time to realize that).
Too many people keep playing old outdated roles because they don’t have another way to be with people they love. They don’t want to lose the person so they accept the role and resent every minute of it. Conscious role playing is a temporary bridge to a new way of relating.
Letting go of labels and roles is the fast track to freedom. It takes courage to drop roles completely. And, as you can see by the example of Forest Whitaker, it takes knowing clearly who you are not and being willing to let that character go.