Winner: 2013’s Blog of the Year #8
When I’m watching auditions and screen tests for a project I’m casting I’ll always watch the actor when their role isn’t talking because that’s when you can see if they’re truly in character. A bad actor will tend to either just play the emotions, or they’ll create a collection of affectations that they imagine is interesting and in alignment with the character. The really good actors don’t have a line between the character and themselves. They are Being the other person by thinking their thoughts. But how do I know which is which?
What you perceive as “your body” is actually a cooperation of individual cells working together to make you operational. Your brain does the processing, but your whole body is smart. And your body talks via chemistry. So when you think a frightened thought, your hypothalamus will stop pumping out the chemical for your previous experience, and it will shift to pumping out the chemicals for fear—chemicals like adrenaline.
Your body will react instantly to this chemical signal. Each cell has essentially been given its orders relative to the group. Muscles in the legs will tense in preparation to fight or run, your heart rate will increase to oxygenate those muscles, and… the muscles in the face will adjust by opening your eyes wider to allow your dilated pupils to see everything going on. The chemicals will flare your nostrils to allow more air to get into your lungs so your heart can get it to those muscles. And the result of all of that is what we call “a frightened look.”
So back to the actors; when the bad actor isn’t talking, he looks like he’s waiting to say his next line because that’s what his thoughts are doing. The good actor looks like he’s listening to the other actor as though he’s never heard the words before.
All of this means that when you believe you’re hiding how you feel, that’s because when you talk to someone you say to yourself, “yes, just smile and nod. That’s right, let this bitch think you really care one second about what she’s saying,” and you can almost genuinely smile. But when the person leaves, you’ll feel safe and you’ll go back to your internal narrative. And you’ve forgotten people can still see your face. And because you’re inside those thoughts at that time—you are being them, rather than observing them—you don’t notice that you’re communicating a lot to the people around you. It’s why deaf people generally spot liars much faster and more easily than people who can hear.
I used to walk my little Bichon Frise down Whyte Avenue and in the winter he would look particularly cute in the little boots that protect his feet from freezing. I would see punks or skinheads or hipsters, and when they first saw Mo their face would expose a dog-lover. They would explode into a smile—but then they would catch themselves. This is a street to be cool on. And I would watch them remember that, and that thought would shift their expression to careless indifference. (I suspect it’s models and mannequins that suggest to young people that pouty dissatisfaction is equivalent to being sophisticated and discerning.) So on the street with the dog, that kid will have forgone his own natural interests in favour of looking cool to others. It’s like we’re all peacock’s and advertising has taught everyone that mating season is 24/7 for 365 days a year.
Your face is a real-time biography. Everyone knows much more about you than you realize because your face can’t keep the secrets if your brain thinks the thoughts. You can’t have one thought and another expression. That’s what an expression is; it’s the result of the chemistry from your thinking.
So if you really want to look beautiful, forget buying better foundation or eye-liner—try actually noticing what’s nice about the universe around you. Because that thought will immediately beam out of your face, and it’s the only look that everyone agrees is beautiful.
Now go be yourself. Go be beautiful.
Much love, s
Following a serious childhood brain injury Scott McPherson unwittingly spent his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and the self. This made him as strange to others as they were to him. Seeing the self-harm people created with their own overthinking, Scott dedicated part of his life to helping others live with greater awareness. He is currently a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB, where he finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.