I was assisting at a Landmark Advanced Course last weekend, and one of the highlights of the course is when the participants start to enquire about their “act”.
The course proposes that each of us makes a decision about who we are for the world in a moment of perceived failure, a moment that occurred before the age of five. We then live out this decision for the rest of our lives, and it is in the background of every interaction we have. It’s like the wallpaper of your life, always there, never seen. At least not by you. Others, on the other hand, can usually see it, especially those close to you, like a husband or wife. The one holiday from this baleful straitjacket available to us as human beings is to live from possibility, or, to say it another way, under grace.
It’s called “the act” because it is in the nature of a melodrama or play that we find ourselves playing out again and again, it’s full of drama and histrionics, and it’s not real.
There are a limited number of themes to the act. My act is “I’ve done something wrong” and I associate it with an incident when I was 4 when I wet my pants in kindergarten. What I remember is after the event. The red brick wall of the school playground, the sandpit, the stinking hot day, waiting for Mum to come and pick me up. Other common varieties are “I’m not good enough” (lots of high achievers have this one), “I’m bad”, “I’m dumb/not smart”, “I’m not lovable/No-one loves me”, “Don’t tell me what to do”, and so on. Each of them is the kind of declaration a small, upset child might make to herself.
Each time I hear this material, new things emerge. This time, what struck me was something the course leader said:
When you’re inside your act, people become objects to you.