"Lord, free me of myself
so I can please you."
The above quote from Michaelangelo was shared by Al Pacino when James Lipton questioned him on Bravo's Inside the Actor's Studio about his Academy Award winning performance as the blind, tango-dancing colonel in Scent of a Woman.
Lipton remarked that playing a blind person is a very difficult undertaking for any actor. He asked Pacino how he prepared. Pacino returned that he had asked his young daughter to "do" a blind person and that she did it so convincingly that it gave him pause. Watching her he soon realized that it required total focus on everything and everyone else outside of yourself to "do blind," and that as a child she had that kind of ability to live outside of her self...her ego. This, he said, was what he brought to the development of his character...this total focus on others…and it won him what some in the industry consider the highest honor in his field.
Ahh...to live outside of oneself…to focus totally on others…these were concepts I longed to truly understand. To be able to walk through one’s world without colliding with your surroundings...that's an achievement.
This all resonated with me because of what I had learned during childhood.
When I was a little girl I had this premonition that someday I would be blind. I never said I wasn’t a “strange” child. In anticipation of this expected development, I would practice "being blind" for long periods of time…once I had finished my Saturday afternoon chores. I would tie a scarf or bandana around my eyes and memorize my room, our house, how to get to the bathroom without bumping into walls and how to pour a glass of water without spilling. What I remember most about these exercises was my awareness of everything and everyone else around me.
I listened for the echoes and soft sounds that might betray an impending ambush by younger siblings. In doing so I was keenly aware that our dog was having a bad dream by the way her breathing changed, or that my youngest sister was thirsty by the way her voice became dry and raspy as she read out loud to one of her dolls.
This kind of awareness was empowering. But it required total focus on everything beyond the boundaries of my own skin. I had to listen on a deeper level to "survive" my forays from the safety of my bedroom…out to the kitchen or the back porch. Failure to listen, to be aware on a very deep and focused level, left me bruised and frustrated.
Pacino went on to share that this exercise in getting outside of himself has helped him in all of his subsequent roles. When Lipton asked him why he thought his colleagues considered him the consummate actor, Pacino replied that he felt the most important skill he brought to his preparation for a role was his ability to listen. He said every role is really about a relationship. That he best prepared for his character by listening to what the other characters were saying and doing. His “character” was just a response to what he heard from the other characters around him. His character was best articulated by him, as an actor, when he was attentive to what others were saying, doing or needed.
When asked about Al Pacino as an actor, award winning director Martin Scorcese replied that when Pacino plays a part, "Al's not there"....meaning that Al Pacino has so disappeared that the character can shine through transparently.
I think these ideas are helpful to me in bringing my best to every "role" God is asking me to take on....wife, mother, friend, sister, colleague, healer. I am able to “do” mother best when I am truly listening to those I am in relation with…my son and daughters. This is a skill that I am working on every day. Am I really listening to those around me...consciously aware of what I need to bring to the table? Am I putting off my personality, my history, my "non-negotiables" (the things I think I can or cannot live with our without), the conditions whereby I think a situation is love-able…in order to be a transparency for what God needs in that moment?
Am I living my life out from me…or am I living in relationship to a larger body of spiritual life and being? Do I see myself as an autonomous body of existent matter, or as the arm, hand, eye of the "body of Christ?"
These are all questions that I am pondering a lot these days.
I wonder whether Jesus gave us his "Lord's Prayer"...all in the language of relationships...us, we, our...rather than…me, my, I…as in, "My Father which art in heaven" or "give me this day my daily bread"....in order to help us see that it is in the context of one another that we learn the most about ourselves as the reflection of the divine, the heir of an all-loving Parent.
Regardless of Jesus’ intent, I am realizing, like Pacino, that life is all about relationships...that we do not exist in a void of self-determinism. It helps me understand that, as Mary Baker Eddy suggests in Science and Health, I can only be me in the context of you...because we are always and only "finding our own (goodness) in another's good." I need YOU in order to be the best me I can be…just as Pacino could not be a great actor, developing a memorable character, without the other characters to listen to and perform with.
So, to each of you who have so generously shared "space" with me on this stage of life...thank you...I hope to listen better in the future…our relationship, as Breanda Graham says in his lyrics from the song "You Raise Me Up", made popular by Josh Groban, "fills me with wonder":
"When I am down and, oh my soul, so weary;
When troubles come and my heart burdened be;
Then, I am still and wait here in the silence,
Until you come and sit awhile with me.
There is no life - no life without its hunger;
Each restless heart beats so imperfectly;
But when you come and I am filled with wonder,
Sometimes, I think I glimpse eternity.
You raise me up, so I can stand on mountains;
You raise me up, to walk on stormy seas;
I am strong, when I am on your shoulders;
You raise me up... To more than I can be..."
I hope you know that each time you let me "be with you" you give me an opportunity to be "more than I can be" without you.