Philip Seymour Hoffman, God, and Discipline

Empty Swings

I cried when I heard that Philip Seymour Hoffman was dead. I was two parts incredulous at a universe that could allow such a thing to happen, and one part just plain sad. I wanted with all my heart for it to be not true.

I remember seeing several of the plays he directed at the Labyrinth Theater Company, one in which I sat in the row behind him and his mom, and couldn’t wait to call my mom (from the bathroom at intermission) to let her know that I was sitting behind them.  My mom and I were equally enamored with him as an actor, following his career and referring to him as only the sound “psh”, which made us giggle like school girls. He represented to me the time in New York, when I was acting in the theater, going to grad school and seeing amazing theater like his production of “The Little Flower of East Orange”.

I love the word God. When I speak this word it cracks open my heart and puts me right in touch with all that is big and mysterious in this funky world. It holds all the mystery of what I don’t know, can’t explain or find words for.  When I saw Philip Seymour Hoffman act I would think “He is touched by God” and by this I meant that the clouds were not obscuring his pure communication of truth.

When I set out to become Marilyn Monroe, this is partly what I was seeking.  To convey some unfettered moment of truth. I wanted to be touched by God, and share that with you. What I learned from the experience is that those moments of allowing God/truth/basic goodness to flow through come with practice.  And the practice is letting go. And letting go requires discipline.

In my research about Georgia O’Keeffe, I am finding a woman with immense discipline. From one anecdote I learned that she had to stop partying with friends all the time because she found that she could not paint when hungover. I found that she always ate three meals a day and plus two snacks and was very concerned with nutrition. When she was newly married, she tried to adapt to her husband’s way of eating which was hot chocolate and cookies in the morning and then nothing until dinner time. She found that she could not be at her best with this schedule of eating and soon established her own regimen. It seems she was looking for the people places and things that would allow her to do her best work. Allow her to let go and create. It’s such a paradox that small things like being well-fed, or having a morning routine that involves meditation, or taking a run allow us to let go and be our best.

This year, with Georgia O’Keeffe as my guide, I want to develop the disciplines that help me to do my best work. So I can more frequently let the unfettered truth flow. I’m so grateful that Philip Seymour Hoffman had so many years of sharing himself with us in this way, and I mourn his absence from this world.

In an interview with Simon Critchley at the Rubin Museum in December 2012, Philip Seymour Hoffman said  “Meditation is actually coming right up to the lip of death, and saying, ‘I’m here and I’m scared and I’m here and I’m scared’…That’s life, that if you can actually live in that place, that that’s happiness.”

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