Living In The Moment

Living in the Moment!

Living in the Moment! —Watch out for that tree!

Vacation in Hawaii! Lorie and I had planned this trip for a long time and by using our frequent flyer miles and a securing a special deal on a condo we were looking forward to a time of no stress, rest, and recreation. I had worked diligently to make sure all bills were paid and other business matters were attended to, so we could enjoy this vacation without thought of anything else for two weeks. We were going to live “in the moment” on vacation—life at home and at work was on hold.

We stayed at an airport hotel the night before departure to take advantage of the free parking. As we are about to board the shuttle to the airport Lorie said, “Oh no!”. I looked at her as she turned pale and begin to shake and then start to cry.

“I don’t have my ID” she said, as she frantically looked through her purse, her pockets and her backpack. Our vacation dream of living “in the moment” in Hawaii was suddenly in jeopardy by the thought of not being able to board a plane. Panic was the moment we were living in. THINK! What to do? No time to go home and come back.

Then a thought emerges seeming from out of nowhere. “Do you have a copy of your passport?” I ask. We had traveled enough overseas and had learned to always kept a photocopy of our passport in our luggage.

“Yes!” Sure enough there it was tucked in one of the zippered pockets of her suitcase. That along with some prescriptions in her name and a much too personal body search were enough to convince TSA to let her board the plane. Sigh of relief… back to vacation!

Then the email came. A business decision needed to be made and action taken immediately. It wasn’t something that I could postpone until I got home. The decision would have an impact on several people and their livelihood. I needed to consult with my board, make phone calls, and explore the opportunity placed in front of me. For the next several days I was either on the phone or emailing. When I wasn’t doing those things my mind was consumed with the decision I needed to make and the actions I would need to take once the decision was made. I didn’t sleep well. So much for a stress-free vacation.

As an actor, you learn the value of being “in the moment” on stage. It is the key to making each performance feel fresh and new for each audience. You may have performed the play a thousand times but the audience needs to feel like you are saying those words and living that experience as if it were the very first time. Intellectually, you know what happens next, but the character you are portraying can’t know—he has to live it in the moment.

Actors get into trouble when they stop living in the moment. It happens, and often the audience can tell. If an actor lets the outside world in while they are performing they can cease to live in the moment. A forgotten line, a camera flash, or thinking about things unrelated to the scene can take you out of the moment and ruin a scene. To live in the moment is force yourself to live as if the only thing that matters is what is happening right now in the present.

We are often forced to live in a moment not of our choosing, as happened to me on my vacation. Both our past experiences and our vision for the future can impact how we handle those situations. Here are three things that can help us to live more effectively in the moment:

 Listen – We actors often forget our lines because we are thinking ahead instead of staying present in the scene. If we would simply listen to the other actor we would often know exactly what comes next. The same is true in real life. How often are we in conversation but our mind is elsewhere? Learning to truly listen to the person we are talking to or to listen even to the sounds around us with new ears can help us live in the moment. I could have chosen to become angry at my wife, clouding my thinking in frustration. Instead listening and allowing my mind to focus on the situation allowed enough calm to remember the passport copy.

 Respond – Respond to what is in front of you. Answer the question, ask the next question. Take out the garbage, set the table. The old adage “actions speak louder that words” applies. Do things that show you are connected to the moment. Take action in response to an immediate need. Experience what is in front of you. This is often where a past experience might just inform your present situation.

What comes next? – Instead of dwelling on things that will happen tomorrow, or next week, or next month, focus on what happens next! You need to write that speech or prepare that financial report then take the next step and do it. Often I find the things I am dreading are keeping me from living in the moment. While getting caught up thinking about the future can be a distraction from the moment, a little thought about what happens next can be the best way to live in the moment. My while my business decision was a “future” thing I had to think ahead in order to make my decision now, in the moment.

Worry is one of the biggest things that can keep us from living in the moment. We worry about things we have no control over. We let a past mistake or failure keep us from moving forward and enjoying the present. Moments can change, as my story about my vacation illustrates. I had to abandon one moment to deal with another. Sometimes life is like that. I think Jesus gives us the best advice on how to live in the moment:

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” – Matthew 6:34

Living in the moment will help us all  to live a better story!

The Muffin Man

muffin-man-bigOh, do you know the muffin man,
The muffin man, the muffin man,
Oh, do you know the muffin man,
That lives on Drury Lane?

Yesterday I met The Muffin Man.

His name is George.

George is 75 years old. He describes himself as “a bald man with big ears.”

George is a greeter at his church. I know because I am greeted by George when I arrive early for my performance.

I have been “greeted” by many church greeters in a lot of different churches over the years, but rarely one as memorable is George.

George really loves people. Being a greeter is not just a duty that he does every Sunday. It is almost as if he lives for it. And the people he greets seem to need George.

Between hugs of the people entering the church, George engages me in conversation. He is intrigued with the pictures of kids I am placing on the table for sponsorship with World Vision.

“Oh, I am so glad you are doing that!” he says. “I sponsor kids too! Everybody needs to do that!”

George is not a wealthy man. However, he is one of the few people actually wearing a suit.

“This suit is 10 years old. I only wear it on Sunday. My momma would thump me on the nose and instill in me that you wear your best clothes when you go to church… so I always have.”

George then turns away for a moment to give a big bear hug to a person I am certain is homeless…or at least dresses the part. I know in an instant that while he is wearing a suit, he couldn’t care less what the others attending the church are wearing.

George turns back to me and says, “So tell me about yourself.” He isn’t just making conversation, he really wants to know. So I tell him a little about me. He listens.

He tells me a bit more about himself. He is a widower for 15 years now. He loves Jesus. He says, “I don’t have a lot of money, but I am rich.”

George doesn’t go to Sunday School like the rest of the people arriving early. He says he needs to be here to greet people when they arrive. “On the rare occasions that I do go, I go to the children’s Sunday School. I hand out gold coins.” He jingles the coins in his pocket and pulls out a $1 gold coin and gives it to me. This is not a wealthy church, and George delights in small acts of charity.

“They used to call me ‘The Muffin Man.’ I used to make dozens of muffins every week and give them away.  I had to stop; I couldn’t afford to do it anymore. I added it up and realized I had spent over $6,000 making muffins to give away to people.”

So now he gives away $1 gold coins. It’s more economical for him.

“Every day I get up and tell God, ‘I’m here for you. Use me. Put people in my path you want me to help.’ And He does.”

George then tells me a story from the other day when he went for a walk and engaged a stranger in conversation on a park bench. They shared stories and he ended up giving the person money that turned out to be the exact amount they needed to meet an immediate need. (He is quick to point out that he is not sharing this to boast, he just wants to show me how he believes God guides his path.) Oh did I mention—George is not a wealthy man?

People often ask me about how I get “fed” spiritually. I am out performing most weekends. I don’t get to attend church in the way that most church-going people do. But sometimes I get to experience a sermon in a unique way. Meeting George I am reminded of this quote from St. Francis of Assisi:

“Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.”

George is my sermon this Sunday. As I leave the church I find myself humming a tune, not a worship tune but a nursery rhyme:

Oh, yes, I know the muffin man,
The muffin man, the muffin man,
Oh, yes, I know the muffin man,
That lives on Drury Lane.

For some reason it feels right. It almost feels like I met Jesus this morning…The Muffin Man.

Do you know a “Muffin Man?” Do tell…

Spice Up Your Story

storyspiceHave you ever heard two people tell very different versions of the exact same story? Happens in our house all the time. I can recount an event and tell it to someone in less than 30 seconds—a “just the facts, ma’am” approach. My wife’s version of the same story might take a good 5 minutes and she will add details that I never noticed; sometimes I am convinced she is making things up.  We remember things differently and when we retell them, our versions are greatly influenced by how the event affected us personally. It might have been no big deal to me but a very significant event for my wife. My version is boring; hers is animated and full of life.

Telling a good story is more than just recounting details and facts. A good story engages the listener in ways they can identify with you and compels them to listen.  Here are 5 tips to help you spice up your story:

  1. Sensory Recall: What did you see, hear, smell, taste? Don’t go overboard, and don’t try to hit them all. This is a story for telling, not a novel. But adding a little “color” to the retelling will give people a feeling of being present in the story with you. “I walked into my parents’ home and smelled the apple pie baking in the oven.” Immediately you have struck a chord with those listeners who have had a similar experience.
  2. Commentary: “Fresh apple pie was one of the ways I knew my mother loved me.” Adding a little commentary on some of the things you mention can be a great way to enhance your story. It lets people see more of who you are, unlike simply recounting facts.
  3. Humor: When an audience laughs they identify with what you are saying. Laughter sets both you and the audience at ease. However, don’t tell jokes! Many comedians use observational humor in their routines–they might be telling a story but they add a few funny lines about whatever they are talking about. You could take the subject of “apple pie” and then talk about all the products you use every day that you wish smelled like apple pie: candles, deodorant, toilet paper, etc… Or maybe you have a funny story about biting into an apple and finding half a worm. Mining your story for humor will always be a winner with your audience.
  4. Dialog: Your story will be most effective if you can bring a sense of “now” to it. One very effective way to do this is to include dialog in the story. Instead of just telling us what happened, give voice to your characters. When you walk into the house, imitate your mother and say, “Honey, I made your favorite apple pie.” You can replay entire dialogs with a little change in voice and body posture. Your listeners will love it!
  5. Embellish: If you’ve seen a movie that starts out with a disclaimer “based on a true story,” you automatically know that some of what you are about to see is not exactly the way it happened. Dramatic license has been used. It’s okay to embellish and borrow from your life history to make a better story in the retelling.  I’m not saying to lie or to make stuff up, but you might have two different stories about your Mom’s apple pie. There was the time she mistakenly added chili powder instead of cinnamon and the time you ate a pie that was being saved for a special occasion. They are two separate but true events and there are elements from both stories you want to tell but time doesn’t allow you to tell both. You could turn both stories into one story. You ate a pie that was saved for a special occasion only to discover that your mother had used chili powder instead of cinnamon. You can embellish on your thoughts as well. The events happened when you were a child and I doubt you remember exactly what you were thinking or exactly what you said when you ate that pie. It is perfectly fine to add details that are true to who you are but may not be exactly what happened. You might say, “I felt so guilty for eating that pie” because it serves the point of your story. However, the truth might be you didn’t feel guilty, you felt disappointed because it tasted bad. It might have been hours, days, or weeks later that you felt guilty.

Adding some spice to your story will turn a good story into a great one. It will make your story more entertaining, and while entertainment may not be your goal, your story won’t make an impact unless you are entertaining in the process!

Shaping Your Story

StoryShapeIn my last blog I shared some triggers to help you get started in crafting your own library of personal stories. Our stories are a powerful way to connect and communicate with others, both from a platform as well as in every-day conversation.

We all have stories worth telling, but we have also listened to stories that we wished would end long before they did. While I believe everybody has good stories, not everyone tells their story well. Your story could be a life impacting story for the listener, but in order for that to happen it will likely need some editing and shaping.

Here are a 5 things to help you in shaping your story:

Write It: That may seem obvious to most, but many are tempted to think that because they know the story first-hand, they don’t need to write it out.  However, those who try to tell their story extemporaneously are often the ones who will put their listener to sleep. Writing it will help you distinguish between what needs to be said to move the story along and what is unnecessary or “fluff.”  In addition, writing will help you make discoveries. You will discover more applications for your story in the writing process. Of course after you have crafted it in the writing, commit it to memory. Tell your story, don’t read it!

Follow Simple Structure: A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In improvisation, actors work on simple story structure that applies to all storytelling.

1) Establish when and where.
2) Something goes wrong (aka a crisis occurs).
3) Quest to solve the crisis (what did you do in response to the crisis?).
4) Resolution. Once you get to this place the story is over.

Paying attention to this structure will keep your story focused and prevent it from meandering off course.

Edit: “A friend told me” may be all we need to say vs. “My friend, Robert, who I knew since high school, who was the best man in my wedding, and is the Godfather to my children.” That may be important to you—but not to the listener. Ask yourself: “Does this serve the point or is it a rabbit trail?”

Make it Now!: Strive to tell your story in the present tense, not in the past tense.  Obviously it is a story of something that happened in the past, but try to tell the story so we feel you are experiencing it now.  In my presentation Truth Be Told…from A Guy Who Makes Stuff Up, I share a story about an embarrassing incident that happened on stage in front of a live audience. I “relive” the incident so the audience feels like they are experiencing it with me. I share my thoughts and emotions as if it were happening now. This helps to put the audience in the situation with you and helps guarantee they will identify with your story!

Don’t Sermonize: Even if your story is part of a sermon, resist sermonizing the conclusion. Don’t let your desire to give a message overpower the story. Trust the story to speak for itself. It is likely the lesson you learned from your story wasn’t evident at the time… it may have taken years for the story to have new meaning. For many of my stories that happened years ago, I have only recently discovered applications to my life today. Leave room for the audience to make their own discoveries by reflecting on their own stories.

In storytelling, “the medium is the message.” It may be hard for many pastors and teachers to learn to trust that.  But think of Jesus, the master storyteller.  In telling the parables he didn’t explain them, at least not right away.  He would often say, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” He trusted the story to the listener. He only offered explanations later, if necessary. Learn to trust your stories and you will find eager listeners.

You Have A Story—Tell It!

MystorypicIf you are a speaker, teacher or pastor, you probably have books on your shelf that are full of illustrations and anecdotes to help you in communicating your message. Using some of those stories can come in handy, no question, but you have a more valuable resource available to you, a resource that could be a much more effective tool than the oft-repeated stories in those books. That resource is YOU. Your life is made up of hundreds of short stories. These stories are better than any other stories you can tell because they are your stories: you lived them, they are part of you. Authenticity is placed at a very high level in our culture today. People are paying attention to leaders who are willing to be real, transparent, and vulnerable. The best way to do that is to share your own stories.  (I am seeing this for myself with my presentations in which I share some of my own “life stories” —Truth Be Told and Go Ask Your Mother.)

So where do you begin? The first step is to pick a story and write it out. As a teacher or pastor, you often have a message in mind and you pick a story to illustrate that message. However, good stories have the priority of story first! Rather than picking a message and trying to force a story around it, pick a story and see what message emerges—you might be surprised!

As an actor, I have learned much about story from improvisation. In improvisation actors are often given suggestions of random things, and create a story using those suggestions. It might be a place, a thing, or a relationship.  Then off they go making up a story out of a few simple suggestions. No thought is given to message—their only criterion is “what happens next?” Yet many times, without even trying, a message or moral to the story will emerge.

You have an advantage over the improv actor in that you already know these stories; you already know “what comes next.” So to get started, here are 5 ideas to help you jump-start your storytelling.

  • Emotional Stories: Make a list of emotional triggers. An embarrassing story, a sad story, a happiest moment, a time when you were angry, a love story. There will likely be several of these that come to mind.
  • Event Stories: A birth, a death in the family, your wedding day, a birthday, a vacation, a crime.
  • A Place: At home, church, school, an amusement park, a zoo, a concert, a cemetery, a shopping mall, a foreign city.
  • A Thing: You have stories already in your life about all of these: a food, a car, a pet, a book, clothing, a computer, a suitcase, a favorite childhood toy.
  • A Person: A spouse, a brother or sister, a parent, a child, a teacher, a celebrity, a pastor, a doctor, a lawyer,  a taxi cab driver, a best friend, a rival, a bully.

All of these are triggers to get you started. Don’t be surprised if there is a lot of overlap. You will find that many stories will contain something from each list.  Your most embarrassing story might involve your wedding day, at a church, and a disaster involving your spouse and the wedding cake.

Write your story using a simple story structure of a beginning, a middle and an end. I’ve talked about that more in my article “A Really Short Story.

After you have written the story you will be able to go back and find messages and morals that may complement a number of themes. The wedding story might contain a message of proving your love, or staying calm when things go wrong, or saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Over time, you can create your own book of illustrations from your own life and that will be far more effective and meaningful than those stories from that book of illustrations.

© Copyright Chuck Neighbors – actor and storyteller - Theme by Pexeto