In doing some of my daily reading, I came across an article entitled "Everything is Practice" on Leo Babauta's blog Zenhabits. He discussed a client's approach to self-compassion. The idea is that no matter what challenges life throws at you, it's all some form of practice that helps you learn and grow as a person. This landed well with me, being very much in line with how I've been approaching my life, even more so over the past couple of years.
"Everything Is Practice" in Practice When the Pandemic Hit
The pandemic has affected everyone on our planet in some way, providing a wide range of uncertainties and unexpected life challenges. There was just so much going on that was unprecedented, with no way of knowing what would happen next and how long the pandemic would continue.
In my case, everything I did for work got shut down. The film industry essentially stopped for 5 months, which represented the majority of both me and my partner's income. Our martial arts school also couldn't operate under the lockdown. I am thankful that we were able to get some financial relief from CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit), but it was only a fraction of what we made when we were working.
At first, it was challenging to do anything more than look to the news each day, mourning the loss of our financial stability, desperately looking for clues as to when this whole thing might "blow over." But after days turned into weeks, we had to cut our losses and start focusing on what we could control so we could pivot, learn and grow from the challenges we were facing as best as we could.
Some of the most useful things I learned related to mental health. I realized that all my workouts, my meditation practice, my healthy eating, my walks in nature, my connections to loved ones, my investment in my own personal growth, were all vital to my mental health during the pandemic. These were all things that I already had worked into my daily life, and only when I became distracted by the drama of the pandemic as it unfolded and I became less consistent in some of them, did I realize how important the had become to my wellbeing. Once I got passed my initial grieving period, realizing that things weren't going back to normal any time soon, I refocused my energy on these habits, doubling down on a few that I didn't have as much time to work on before. I did a lot more cooking (and therefore healthy eating). I tried different forms of exercise that I could do in my home gym. I went outside more often for walks every day, and made a point of going on hikes/walks with friends whenever practical. I also reconnected with friends and family who didn't live in my local area, finding more time for phone calls and FaceTime.
While some things in life were made impossible during the pandemic, other opportunities were opened up that wouldn't have been possible otherwise. While I was down and a little depressed from the lock-down, connecting with martial arts friends I have made in my travels showed me other opportunities I hadn't; considered. My friend Sensei Damien Wright, owner of Wright Fight Concepts in New Jersey and Sifu Kore Grate owner of Five Element Martial Arts in Minneapolis, both started teaching various classes over Zoom out of necessity. They pinpointed what they could and couldn't do with the tool and just gave it a shot, learning as they went along. Both of them invited me to attend their Zoom classes, which I did, enjoying them thoroughly, but more importantly being inspired by their examples.
I realized that classes that once required you to attend in person now no longer had such borders. Chris and I had closed our dojo soon after the lockdown because it was the most sensible thing to do from a financial point of view, but we eventually decided to start a Zoom class so we could keep teaching the kids program. I also eventually signed up for a 6-month life and wellness coaching program taught over Zoom.
In addition to looking for opportunities to pivot, learn and grow when I wasn't able to make a living working, I learned to slow down and embrace the present moment. When you are suddenly and firmly yanked out of the rat race, you are forced to slow down live more presently, especially when there was so much uncertainty around the future, making it impossible to plan anything beyond the next week. This can be really scary when you're used to always looking forward, but once I got my stride with it, I actually started to enjoy myself. I enjoyed spending time with Chris and the cats. I enjoyed my walks in the sun. I enjoyed not feeling like I had to necessarily do anything at all if I felt so inclined.
As much as I wanted to be working, I found myself appreciating what I was able to do when I didn't have to work or work on looking for work. It was liberating, and made me realize what was truly important in life. Practicing being more present and engaged with life as it unfolded helped me gain a perspective that my previous life had dimmed. This is something for which I am truly grateful. Without this, the lock-down would have been far worse.
Embracing Auditioning as Practice
After restrictions were cut back and the film industry started up again, Chris and I started working again. Racial injustice came to the forefront of everyone's minds soon after. As such, the film industry started investing more heavily in BIPOC performers, putting more of them into the spotlight. It was around this time that I signed on with an acting agent, hoping to gain more access to stunt actor roles, as well as regular acting roles.
When I had an agent years ago, and started going out for auditions I would get so excited for any opportunity, and would get my hopes up every time, then have them dashed when nothing came from it. It was different this time. My recent shift in perspective has caused me to be more in the moment when I've been doing auditions. I have less attachment to the outcome and no longer worry about any perceived shortcomings. I've been finding this helpful for improving my performances, making them less self-aware and thereby less stiff. By releasing myself of any hopes of getting a particular role, I am able to focus more on using each audition to improve and grow as a performer. Then if something came from it, it’s an unexpected bonus. This was the case recently when I booked a small actor role for a TV series.
The idea of using auditions as a form of practice, regardless of how I felt I performed and their subsequent outcome, has taken so much of the pressure off me in the whole process, helping me to focus more on the things I can control. This includes my efforts to develop my character for auditions, to film the best self-tapes possible for submission requests, and taking the time to train my acting skills whenever possible.
All the World's a Stage for Practice
The way I look at it, life isn't a series of peak moments strung together with misfires, mishaps, and misery. If it were, life would kinda suck. By embracing any setback or struggle as an opportunity to learn, practice and improve, you can look back over your life and see how each one has taught you some lesson, pushing you forward or causing you to pivot, hopefully toward a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life. You may not end up where you hope, but viewing life as practice, you'll at the very least become a better version of you, and may even enjoy the journey that brought you there a little more.
Now over to you. Have you ever reframed perceived struggles or failures as a form of practice? If so, how has this helped you approach your life? Please feel free to share in the comments so that everyone can benefit from your experiences.