dressing the part
wisdom is everywhere.
i am reminded of this daily.
a few months ago i accompanied my daughter on the first of her college visits and had the opportunity to reconnect with a part of my past. having begun my undergraduate studies as a psychology/musical theater double major i spent alot of time in the drama department. the souls i encountered there were insightful and psychologically sophisticated. they saw - no - experienced the world with a keen awareness of the motivations and feelings of others. they seemed to be able to “get underneath” surface behaviors or occurrences to the complexities that initiated them.
being back in the halls of a theater department got me thinking in ways i haven’t for a while. early in the day we had the amazing opportunity to observe a talented director walk a student through a monologue to better understand the deeply entrenched motivators of her character. when the words of the text suggested the character’s tendency to feel “hemmed in and held back” in her ability to express her deepest truths, the director helped the actor communicate this by having a classmate literally hold her back and hem her in while she recited her piece. using concrete, physical experience to enhance insight regarding the inner workings of the character’s unconscious motivations made her monologue compelling. later, hearing students speak of using theater to change the world, to illuminate the injustices being perpetuated around the globe, and to help people live richer lives inspired me.
midway through our day we had the distinct privilege of meeting with a distinguished faculty member. dynamic, articulate, and wickedly smart, she made a statement that has been rolling around in my mind ever since. “theater is all around us from how we ‘act’ to how we costume ourselves...” as she said this, her chin jutted down, her eyes looked up at us, and her hands pulled at the shirt she was wearing. her message stuck. we costume ourselves. every day. as actors on a stage dress the part, so do we. in large ways and small this is profound.
if you’ve known me for more than a minute you likely know that over-attendance to physical appearance is a pet peeve of mine. at one point in my journey, when braces had drastically changed the way i looked, i had a t-shirt made that said, “did i ASK you how i look?” and wore it religiously in response to the frustration and dismay i experienced at having my appearance be the first thing everyone commented upon. even still, i know that i, too, am prone to base far too much of my life on externals. we all are.
so, today, i am challenging myself to consider what parts i am dressing for? in what ways do i chose my clothing and my status updates and everything else that has to do with the “external me” to cast an image of doreen to the world? in what ways do i respond to the externals of others without doing the due diligence of weighing the insides as heavily? if i’m busy responding to the externals you wear or embody, what gets missed in our encounter? if clothing and status updates and the cars we drive and the houses we keep and the titles we maintain “make the man/woman/person,” how deep and/or based in reality is our experience of the others in our lives?
may we all be mindful, today, of the deeper substance that supports the externals of our lives and those of others. instead of greeting someone with the cursory and frustratingly easy “you look great!” may we be willing to greet someone with words that reflect who we truly see them as being. may we encounter others as who we truly are rather than dressing a part in order to distract from that which we fear or loathe or want to hide. in so doing we risk authenticity which brings about relatedness that is much more than dramatic...it is compelling.