Notes on the Journey

Monday, September 17, 2012

Art and Work as Sacred Service

I started in the film industry in San Francisco and worked there for a couple of years before moving to Los Angeles.  When I first came to Los Angeles, I stayed with a friend I'd made while working on a Director's Workshop for Women project at the American Film Institute.  She was gracious enough to allow me to stay in her guestroom for quite a while until I found my way and a place to live of my own.

My first place in Los Angeles came from a woman I met while working on a bottom-of-the-barrel low-budget production for which I was paid pennies.  She worked in the wardrobe department as a costumer and we enjoyed each others company.  I mentioned that I was looking for a place to live, and she mentioned that she was going away on location and told me I could sublet her place while she was gone.  The rent was perfect for my price range, just $240 a month.  It was one in a row of four-plexes a block from Paramount Studios in Hollywood.  I couldn't have been happier.

It was a little one-bedroom apartment that had everything I needed.  I sublet it for a while and, when the woman whose apartment it was returned from location, she told me that I could have it permanently because she was moving.  Perfect.  So, she moved her things out and I bought some inexpensive things to replace what she'd taken and settled in.  One of the things she either decided not to take or forgot to take was a quote from Jose Quintero that I've kept ever since.  It was taped up on the wall next to the bedroom door.  I found it inspiring then and I still find it inspiring.  Here it is:

"Then a man came out on stage and spoke about magic.  I was fascinated.  I connected with that character and through him for the first time I was introduced to a world of pain wrought so finely it became poetry which is the essence of being.  For the first time I understood why I had to go away from home, where there was so much pain.  And there was the call of something unknown.  I felt I was no longer alone.  When it was over I walked and walked and walked and I knew for the first time the theater was a noble thing to dedicate one's life to.  And if this play could do that for me, it would do it for hundreds of others."  -- Jose Quintero

Stage or film or music, or any of the performing arts, has the ability to reach one's soul.  To help us understand parts of ourselves, to release parts of ourselves, to inspire us, to change us, to teach us, and to open our horizons.  We can all remember films or performances we've seen, or songs we've heard, that have touched us and moved us deeply.  And, even those films or performances that are purely for light entertainment can lift us up and give us joy while we experience them.  The arts are a transportive medium.  They can take us into a different reality and show us things we've never seen before.  They can touch us deep within our being and change us in ways that nothing else can.

Teachers have been telling stories to their students for all of human history.  Stories were passed down verbally before we ever were able to write them.  There have always been traveling bards and companies of actors bringing the excitement of performance to the public.  And, performance art has been used as political protest and satire and a means of cultural change as well.  It's often easier to introduce new ideas and concepts through performance then any other way.  It's not as confrontational a medium as journalism or news reporting.  An audience is in a more receptive place when watching a performance than they might be when watching news or reading journalism.  Performance captures us on many levels...sight, sound, feeling.  It creates an atmosphere and takes us out of our everyday world and everyday stimulus.  We're more open to new things when we travel because we're out of our everyday comfort zone, and performance art opens us to new things in the same way, by transporting us out of our normal environment.

I always saw working in the film industry as sacred service.  The set was my sacred space.  I remember a story I heard Marianne Williamson tell years ago about a time when she was working as a cocktail waitress in a bar.  To her the bar was her church, her ministry, but she had the epiphany one night that everyone else there thought of it as just a bar.  I know not everyone working on a movie set thinks of it as a sacred place, but I did.  Although, I tend to think of anywhere I am as sacred space, and anything I'm doing as sacred service.  It's just the way I look at the world.

Success in the world of performance and performance art also comes with great responsibility, because what one chooses to put out into the world has consequences and impact.  What is the focus of your work?  It can empower or it can diminish.  It can open the heart and bring love and compassion, or it can ignite feelings of hatred and separation.  It can encourage people to grow and move forward, or it can convince them to stay stuck in the past.  It can incite or it can calm.

For any of us who have the privilege of putting our work out into the world to be received by others, there is power and there is responsibility.  It is an expression of our soul and there is consequence to what we do.  We can lift up or we can tear down.  We can build or we can destroy.  We can shine a light or we can perpetuate the darkness.  There's always a choice in what we put out as well as a motivation behind it.  And, as with anything else we do, if it's not coming from a sacred place within us, we have the ability to do great harm.

I would encourage everyone, even if you don't currently consider your work a sacred act, to consider how it would change if you did.  If your workplace were a sacred space, how would it change the way you treat those around you?  How might you do your work differently?  What is your work in service to?  How does it impact the world as a whole?  How do you feel spending your time doing it?  Is there something else you'd rather be doing or contributing?  We spend most of our lives working at something, and it's a shame to think of all that time as being separate from what we think of as sacred.  Our lives are not a lot of disconnected sections, they are all of a whole.  Our work is sacred, no matter what we do.  It is our spiritual practice.  It's not just a paycheck, it's so much more.

Everything we do matters.  I hope what you do is sacred to you.  I hope what you do is an expression of your soul.  I hope what you do makes you happy and leaves you feeling fulfilled.  I hope you use your talents and influence to uplift and empower everyone.  I hope you understand the responsibility you carry and the impact of your actions.  And, that what you do, as Jose Quintero says, "...is a noble thing to dedicate one's life to."   

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