I recently received an inquiry from someone in London who wanted to know more about underlying objective. He had read some of the stuff on the blog, and wanted to know more. I didn’t have a lot more to offer him than what can already by found on the blog, because underlying objective is a concept that really becomes meaningful in the context of working on a scene, and there is only so much that can be said about it outside of such a context.
However, I did make some recommendations. Part of the purpose of underlying objective is to awaken a vitality that lives in the belly, that is visceral. And that can be approached through physical training as well as through the analytical tools we work with at Mother of Invention. One of the recommendations I made was Zen meditation practice. The reason for that is that Zen students are urged to focus their awareness on a region of the body called the hara, which is the area between the belly and the groin. I found an excellent discussion of this online that quotes the late Philip Kapleau’s book The Three Pillars of Zen. It’s a great passage, so I am going to present the whole thing here as well, with some important passages highlighted:
Hara literally denotes the stomach and abdomen and the functions of digestion, absorption, and elimination connected with them. But it has parallel psychic and spiritual significance. According to Hindu and Buddhist yogic systems, there are a number of psychic centers in the body through which vital cosmic force or energy flows. Of the two such centers embraced within the hara, one is associated with the solar plexus, whose system of nerves governs the digestive processes and organs of elimination. Hara is thus a wellspring of vital psychic energies. Harada-roshi, one of the most celebrated Zen masters of his day, in urging his disciples to concentrate their mind’s eye (i.e., the attention, the summation point of the total being) in their hara, would declare: “You must realize”—i.e., make real—”that the center of the universe is the pit of your belly!
To facilitate his experience of this fundamental truth, the Zen novice is instructed to focus his mind constantly at the bottom of his hara (specifically, between the navel and the pelvis) and to radiate all mental and bodily activities from that region. With the body-mind’s equilibrium centered in the hara, gradually a seat of consciousness, a focus of vital energy, is established there which influences the entire organism.
That consciousness is by no means confined to the brain is shown by Lama Govinda, who writes as follows: “While, according to Western conceptions, the brain is the exclusive seat of consciousness, yogic experience shows that our brain-consciousness is only one among a number of possible forms of consciousness, and that these, according to their function and nature, can be localized or centered in various organs of the body. These ‘organs,’ which collect, transform, and distribute the forces flowing through them, are called cakras, or centers of force. From them radiate secondary streams of psychic force, comparable to the spokes of a wheel, the ribs of an umbrella, or the petals of a lotus. In other words, these cakras are the points in which psychic forces and bodily functions merge into each other or penetrate each other. They are the focal points in which cosmic and psychic energies crystallize into bodily qualities, and in which bodily qualities are dissolved or transmuted again into psychic forces.
Settling the body’s center of gravity below the navel, that is, establishing a center of consciousness in the hara, automatically relaxes tensions arising from the habitual hunching of the shoulders, straining of the neck, and squeezing in of the stomach. As this rigidity disappears, an enhanced vitality and new sense of freedom are experienced throughout the body and mind, which are felt more and more to be a unity.
Zazen (meditation) has clearly demonstrated that with the mind’s eye centered in the hara the proliferation of random ideas is diminished and the attainment of one-pointedness accelerated, since a plethora of blood from the head is drawn down to the abdomen, “cooling” the brain and soothing the autonomic nervous system. This in turn leads to a greater degree of mental and emotional stability. One who functions from his hara, therefore, is not easily disturbed. He is, moreover, able to act quickly and decisively in an emergency owing to the fact that his mind, anchored in his hara, does not waver.
With the mind in the hara, narrow and egocentric thinking is superseded by a broadness of outlook and a magnanimity of spirit.This is because thinking from the vital hara center, being free of mediation by the limited discursive intellect, is spontaneous and all embracing. Perception from the hara tends toward integration and unity rather than division and fragmentation. In short, it is thinking which sees things steadily and whole.
The figure of the Buddha seated on his lotus throne—serene, stable, all-knowing and all-encompassing, radiating boundless light and compassion—is the foremost example of hara expressed through perfect enlightenment. Rodin’s “Thinker,” on the other hand, a solitary figure “lost” in thought and contorted in body, remote and isolated from his Self, typifies the opposite state.
The meditation posture itself, with the spine resting on the sitbones, planted like a stake in the ground, and the thighs stretched open, helps with this process of moving the center of consciousness to the abdomen.
In our time, people love to talk about body and mind being one, but that is often as far as they take it. However, if that’s true, training the body is also training the mind. And for the actor, Zen training is great training to have.