Ups & Downs of Joy & Art
This July I took 10 days off to participate in a residency with my theater company, Kickwheel Ensemble Theater. It was a fun, rewarding, and overall fantastic experience, but I always underestimate how difficult it is to make the transition back to the “real world” after working on a theater piece.
As I seem to do a lot these days, I’ve noticed how my own process is reflected in Chinese Medicine, specifically the fire element, which not so coincidentally, is the element associated with summertime.
Fire is all about connection: communication, joining our hearts with those of others, and ultimately JOY! Being a theater-maker draws on those same things. It’s an investment of the heart, and if we are successful, we reach the hearts of our collaborators and audience members.
Many actors and artists of all kinds are prone to imbalances in the fire element. When we work on a project, we become completely immersed. We throw ourselves into connecting with our collaborators and audience, investing in the creation of a character, cultivating our bodies and voices, expressing ourselves fully through performance— and the list goes on.
When it’s over, it’s common to become depressed for a few days: we miss the high of being in front of an audience, laughing with our collaborators, having an intensely stimulating artistic discussion. In addition to the emotional effects, it's common to be physically exhausted after completing a project. For a long time when I was younger, I would always get sick after completing the run of a show.
Fire can be pure bliss: the highest, most extraordinary highs. But it’s also the least consistent of all the elements. In Chinese Medicine, each element is associated with a type of movement. The fire element moves up and down like a flickering flame. This ephemeral dance mirrors the way we get completely caught up in something we’re passionate about, whether it’s a relationship (a common occurence with the fire element), an artistic endeavor, or anything else that stokes our fire. When that thing inevitably changes or ends, we can be left feeling burnt out and sad.
Too much joy can be just as detrimental as any other emotion. Usually, we think of joy as a great thing, but there is another side to it: the imbalance that results from extreme highs. The most obvious example of this is manic depressive disorder. However, most people who have ever thrown themselves into an intense relationship, a passionate artistic project or even just a really good party, can probably understand that such intensity comes at a cost: energetically and emotionally.
Emotions are a huge part of the picture in Chinese Medicine. They each have their appropriate place, but can quickly become out of balance and cause disease. Even though joy can be pleasurable, too much joy, overexcitement and stimulation can damage the heart. It is also attachment to pleasure that can leave us feeling alone, isolated and sad when it changes or ends.
I have learned that being aware of the highs and lows is an important piece of the puzzle. I wouldn’t change anything about my work this summer. But reminding myself of the transient nature of fire may make the transition a little bit smoother next time. And, as always (wink), getting regular acupuncture treatments helps me keep things in balance, re-energize, and calm an excited heart.