‘The Kominsky Method’ is a bittersweet drama series on the challenges of two old friends growing older together, as they look out for each other while musing on life. Sandy Kominsky is an acting coach, who just lost a dear friend to sickness. He shares with his class on paying attention to what is going on in their lives, ‘to experience the feelings that come up, no matter how painful. Because that grief, that unrelenting sorrow, that’s the raw material, that’s the gold that an actor mines to create great performance… Acting is really an extension of living. It’s how we explore what it is to be human.’ Indeed, there is need, not just for acting, but for living fully too, to be mindful of living itself. Not so much for grieving on grief itself, but to see it as it is, to make sense of it.
His old friend Norman, whose wife was the one who passed away overhears and exclaims, ‘You know what it’s like to be human?… It hurts to be human. It hurts like hell. And all the exploring in the world doesn’t make that hurt go away. Because being human and being hurt are the same same thing!‘ With that lament, he gets a standing ovation from the class.
Norman had explosively summed up the human condition in his rant, by equating living (and dying), with the need to deal with both, as suffering. The Buddha did teach in the First Noble Truth, that the problem with life is much physical and mental suffering entailed. However, he did not merely ‘explore’ suffering to get stuck in it. He saw it as effects to be recognised, with causes to be uprooted, so as to attain True Happiness. The hurt CAN go away!
Illustrating the Kominsky Method, Sandy conducts an exercise with his class, that ‘might feel a little flaky, uncomfortable, but it may be the most important thing to know. Find a partner, mirror.’ To demonstrate, he finds one and tells her to move, for him to follow, like two mimes mimicking each other, while looking each other in the eye. ‘Be totally present. Paying attention without judgement to the actor in front of you… [This] gets you out of your head and forces you to be in the moment, fully engaged with the other person by simply paying attention to them. Makes you a better actor and human.’ This mirroring might feel strange, yet it is valuable, as it allows connection and empathy to arise, to see others as they are, and feel as they do, without biased preconceptions.
Despite Norman claiming he is all alone, Sandy assures him that he is there for him, as a good friend. Sandy says, ‘Can you see me? I’m right here in front of you. Hi, hello there, (waving), I see you. You see me? (Pats him on a shoulder to affirm his presence.) Norman nods in acknowledgement. So far, the Kominsky Method of being present is rather Buddhist!
Norman laments to Sandy, ‘If I’m gonna continue with this whole living business, I have to get some answers… [to] the big questions. Who am I? Why am I here? There has to be a deeper meaning. Money doesn’t matter anymore [as he has enough]. Sex doesn’t matter [as he has no more drive for it]… I’ve considered it [i.e. religion]. I like traditions, ancient languages, ritual… The whole God thing puts me off.’ Sandy replies, ‘What about helping other people? Isn’t that a good reason to keep going?’ Norman says, ‘Maybe. It’s just so hard to like other people.’
It is never too late to reflect on the crucial existential questions of life and death, though it is better to do so as young as possible. Who are we but changing mind and matter, yet with the greatest potential of Buddha-nature? Why are we here, other than to help one another realise this true nature of ours, thus attaining True Happiness, that transcends wealth and fleeting pleasures? We find it difficult to like one another only when we focus on one another’s defiled natures. (Incidentally, the Buddha’s teachings offer answers that transcend the concept of God too.)
Seeing Norman go to bed, Sandy replies, ‘Well, we don’t have to figure it out tonight. You’ve got some time.’ Norman asks, ‘Do I?’ Sandy says, ‘I’m just trying to be nice.’ Norman asks on, ‘Nice? Maybe life has no meaning, and the best we can hope for is just being nice.’ Like Norman, the truth is, we are indeed running out of time as we speak, while possibly assuming we have enough time to figure it all out (if not yet), which might not be true. Being nice is important, but being true is just as important. The meaning of life is to realise what is the most meaningful, and to live for it best we can. This would include being as nice and true to one another as we can!
Does ‘Acting’ Bad Create Bad Karma?