When I used to teach acting at the Wanda Bass School Of Music at Oklahoma City University, I used to have my students do an exercise that was so insightful. I’d do it either in the first class session or the second at the latest. The students who really got it would have their acting craft altered in such a big-time way. (Try it right now yourself, if you like). My instructions went like this:
“Okay. Close your eyes and allow yourself to just breathe. Concentrate on your breath for a while. Now, see a lemon right out in front of you. Keeping your eyes closed, reach out and take that lemon in your hand. Feel it. Feel the rind. Smell the lemon. Smell all of the smells.
Now, lay it out on the table in front of you. Take a small, serrated knife in one hand and hold the lemon still with the other. Cut the lemon in half. Pick up one half and smell it now. Squeeze one half of the lemon in one hand. Feel the juice flow down your hand. Now, put it to your mouth and bite it. Suck on it. Really taste it.”
You should have seen the faces on these students, scrunched up noses and all sorts of things. I wish I could have gotten some of them on video. If we would have had YouTube then, I could have bribed quite a few students. Maybe a little pocket money? Hah! Anyway, some would barely begin to bite down before the sensation was too bitter for them to take any longer. Some eyes would water. It was quite something to see all of the different reactions. Why did they react this way?
Well, I’m certainly no scientist, but the way I understood it when it was explained to me after I first tried the exercise was that our brain just reacts. It doesn’t know that we’re sucking on thin air. Our brain believes what we tell it to believe! Why was this important for acting class?
Well, what an actor has to do, if nothing else, is be believable in the role she is playing. The reactions to the lemon juice, and everything that came out of the lemon exercise, were completely believable because they were true. The experience was real. Even if the piece you’re performing isn’t “realistic”, you still have to be committed to the role and you must believe what you’re doing in that moment. No one will believe what you do unless you believe it first. No one will believe who you are unless you believe it first.
And so it is with our lives. If you are committed to being a certain way– content, satisfied, happy, you name it– you must be committed to it. You must believe you are that way. See the satisfaction. See the joy there out in front of you. Close your eyes and bite into the happiness that is right before your eyes. How you decide to be is the only thing, and I repeat, the only thing that you will ever have any control over in this life. No matter what life deals out, you choose how to react. You choose how to be.
Close your eyes and tell your brain what you see. Tell your brain how you feel and your brain will buy it .
And so will you.
Now, go suck a lemon!
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