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The Gift of The Present

Jonathan Blalock? “PRESENT!” As a student with perfect attendance, I became quite familiar with this ritual. In kindergarten I remember being pretty confused during the roll call. I had no idea why I had to exclaim this particular word whenever the teacher called my name every morning, because I thought that “present” only meant a gift. Gradually my vocabulary expanded, and I learned that I was wrong. Or was I?

The most common definitions of present on are, “Being, existing, or occurring at this time or now,” “Being here” and “a gift.” This word has dominated my thinking this week, and a recent online video clip about this subject has gone viral. About a week ago Jim Carrey offered a commencement address for The Maharishi University of Management. He declared, “You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about the pathway to the future, but all there will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions we make in this moment, which are based in either love or fear.” Who ever knew the star of “Dumb and Dumber” would proffer such wisdom? I was in need of that message, and Carrey’s words struck me right between the eyes.

As usual, this week has been a roller coaster. One day I received two excellent offers to perform next year, but then the very next day a different major project fell through the cracks. A recent Facebook discussion arose about this erratic swing in emotions and circumstances, and a clever singer friend dubbed the situation “endorphadump.” Of course it’s natural for me to be disappointed when things seemingly don’t go my way, but then it’s always helpful to find my center and return to the present. Things almost always end up working out, and often they come together even better than I originally envisioned. For instance, I had a starring role disappear this May/June, but that eventually paved the way for me to come here and debut at The Kennedy Center with The Washington National Opera. So instead of fretting about what might or might not happen in a year, I’m trying to stay present and soak in each moment here as it occurs.

Jim Carrey was absolutely correct. Each moment presents a choice. I could sit here and induce a stomach ulcer because I’m not exactly sure how I’ll pay all the expenses between now and the next gig, but that’s foolish. The fact is that RIGHT NOW and right here I’m actually ok. Most of my stressful thoughts occur when I’m pulled out of the present. It’s easy to wander into the past and dig up old injuries. It’s tempting to look into the unknown of the future and start panicking. But If I'm expending too much energy pining away for things I want in the future, I can't take the steps now to actually procure those desired results. Yes it’s kind of a paradox, but life is full of them!

My best performances and auditions have happened when I’ve somehow managed to stay present. Staying in the moment is my number one goal tonight when I step onto that stage. It’s so enticing to let my thoughts float into an area where I’m wondering what the audience, the boss or the critic is thinking. It’s quite easy to worry about what results the performance might bring. Will the other impresarios in the audience enjoy the show? Could it lead to another opportunity? If I stink, could it ruin my career? Will I be hired again at this company? All of these distractions take me outside of myself and away from doing my job. This kind of pondering is a departure from the here and now, and it detracts from anything I’m trying to do as a singer and an actor. In an ideal world I’m focusing on the words, the notes, the rhythm, the character’s thoughts and actions, BREATHING (unfortunately that’s so easy to forget), listening to what’s happening onstage and in the pit, watching the maestro and the other performers, finding my light and a myriad of other essential elements in each performance. Trying to keep all of those aspects in place is like dumping a bag of marbles on a table and then trying to keep all of them from falling to the floor. It’s tricky enough to remember everything, so just imagine how much more challenging that task is when those negative diversions pop up in my line of thought.

Staying present is certainly helpful onstage and in the audition studio, but it applies to everything in life. At home in NYC I’m always rushing from one appointment to the next, and typically I have my cell phone and ear bud headphones in use as a constant distraction and a buffer between me and the outside world. On the sidewalk or in the subway I’m often listening to music, checking email, texting or playing on Facebook or twitter. Once in awhile I’ve been lucky enough to run into a friend on the train. In a couple instances I’ve been buried in my mobile device, and my friend startled me when he or she nudged me to say hello. Thank goodness they were alert and aware enough to notice me. Otherwise I would’ve missed out on a beautiful and serendipitous occasion to reconnect with a wonderful individual. Smartphones have given me wonderful tools to stay on top of certain things, but this technology sometimes becomes the means by which I exile myself. In an effort to keep up with life, I actually miss the most meaningful people and experiences right in front of me.

Ultimately the idea of the present IS a gift. It’s a gift from the universe to each of us. Rather than staying trapped in the mire of the past, I’ll try to bring myself back to now. Instead of stressing about the future, I’ll attempt to make the best choices for what’s happening in this moment. When my cellphone beckons, I’ll first take a step back and try to enjoy the person who’s sitting right in front of me. It costs nothing, and it’s a gift anyone would be happy to receive.

Here is a clip from Jim Carrey's speech:

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