Thoughts on my hobbies: parkour and theater

This is less of a lesson and more of a brain vomit for myself. I need to get these ideas out on paper. Hopefully you’ll be able to find some gems in here.

The first hobby I’ll discuss is parkour. I did parkour for three years, but sadly I have to stop this year because I’m too busy with school.

The main challenge with parkour isn’t the physical or technical aspect of it (at least for me). It was the mental part of it. One classic example is a two-foot jump: if you have a two-foot jump on flat ground, it’s no problem, but then take that exact same distance and put it as story or two up, and suddenly it’s not the same jump anymore!

There are really two main ways to combat this fear, which comes up a lot:

One way is to get physically charged up and then attack it with everything you’ve got.

Another, more subtle, but not unrelated way is to wait for a tiny window of opportunity where your fear melts away, and you feel capable of doing it. It’s a tiny interval, maybe half a second, but that’s when the jump MUST be taken.

The thing that DOES NOT work for combatting fear is rationalizing it away. You can tell yourself “I can do this, I’ve done harder stuff before…” but the fear will still be there. Talk is cheap. The best way in that situation is to just relax, and wait for the opening.

Another lesson related to fear is that once you’ve started a move, COMMIT to it. My worst falls were always when I bailed halfway through.

The second main lesson I’ve learned is that concentration is critical. Some situations like balancing on a bar are so precarious that one second of inattention can be enough to make you lose your balance. And this is definitely a developable skill through concentration on the breath for example.

My other hobby is theater. Musical theater and also straight theater. Most of this stuff applies more to straight theater and less to musical theater.

I’ve never heard of personal development people talk about theater, nor of the two being put in relation with one another. So I’ll share my thoughts on the subject.

I think that theater and personal development are intimately linked.

Because what do you do in PD? You develop then transcend your ego, who you think you are, your character.

What theater allows you to do is break out of these roles you play and lose yourself in another story. It’s quite cathartic to play someone else, to forget who you are for a while. It feels like play!

Theater is living truthfully in imaginary circumstances. And isn’t that what we do in “real life?”

At a deep level, acting allows you to see that who you think you are is ultimately bullshit. You can be whoever you want to be! I think that playing a bunch of characters allows you to feel more comfortable in your own skin.

One superficial benefit of theater is that you develop a lot of confidence in yourself and the ability to present yourself to others, because performing on stage takes a lot of guts if you’re not used to it. Also, if you play a confident character, it will force you to act confident, and you seeing that possibility for yourself will translate to more confidence offstage. And finally, it’s a safe place to try new stuff.

But it doesn’t stop there! Another amazing thing that theater has done for multiple people in my current group of close friends is it has allowed them to break out of their shells. I had one friend who was introverted to the point of just saying hello and that was it for the rest of the day. Now, after some time doing theater, he is way past that! I’ve had so many fascinating conversations with him. I’m not quite sure how that works at a psychological level, I just know it does, if you’re willing to give it a try.

Another point is about being vulnerable. If you can be true and vulnerable on stage, I think that sets you up really well for interacting with others in real life. And your communication skills, presentation skills, and comedic timing will all go through the roof!

And talk about being quick on your feet! You never know what’s gonna happen on stage, every night is different. I’ve had the experience of having a prop (in this case, a plastic flower) break in my hand during a performance as I was giving it to the girl. Luckily, I was playing Gaston, and the girl was Belle, so I just gave her the headless flower stem. It worked even better than having the flower whole! Rolling with the seeming punches is part of the game. And if you do improv, you get REALLY good at this.

Not only that, but every time you say the lines is going to be different depending on the night, your mood, or the moods of everyone else around you. It’s not so much an analytical process that you’re aware of, but after a while you get a sense of “this is how I say this line most truthfully right now.”

And at some point, when you’re really on fire, you just disappear into the scene. It doesn’t feel like an actor playing a character, you forget yourself totally and it feels like you’re truly in that situation, and the lines and actions just flow. I’ve had this happen a few times for a few seconds in the scene, and it was a superb feeling! I guess you could call it a flow state, but it felt more magical than that. Again, really subtle and not something you get right away.

On stage, one also needs a lot of awareness, and especially self-awareness. You need to know what you’re body’s doing, what you’re feeling, what you’re partner’s saying, how your line are coming out of your mouth, and what effect they’re having on the audience. You need to process a lot of stuff at once, again not consciously formed in your mind, but you must be able to pick up the subtleties of scene. You also develop mindfulness over your emotions. You might think that the lines and the actions are the only things that matter on stage, but the emotions, or where the lines and actions are coming from, are paramount.

All these things I believe can be translated into personal development: the self-awareness, the flowing with the situation, the transformation it can have on your character, or just having fun. 😉  Some of the best times of my life have been during theater, both onstage, and off.

Hopefully you found this post useful. I urge you to try both or one of these hobbies out, you won’t regret it. And if you found this helpful, please share! We need this theater-personal development idea to spread.


The Book: On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, Alan Watts

This is my first book by Alan Watts. And it didn’t disappoint.

The subtitle of this book is “On the taboo against knowing who you are.” Which is an appropriate name for it.

What’s the taboo he’s talking about? Non-duality!

This book is a great introduction to non-duality from a rather academic standpoint. More on that later.

Basically, what this book shows you is that we live in a black-and-white world: the world of duality. Good/bad, left/right, male/female, me/you… The list goes on.

Thus, because we feel separate from the world, thinking we are little egos inside our heads, we are able to inflict massive harm on the world. Look at global warming. If there is an “outside world”, then that outside world has to be “conquered.” That’s a very Western attitude, of man vs. nature.

Another result of thinking I’m an ego is the creation of in-groups and out-groups. This is the case of every religion, sect, political party, even science. If everyone thinks they’re right, they’re willing to harm others to prove their point. Which leads to war, genocide, hostility, racial tensions, etc…

So, Watts presents the universal notion of God, aka the Universe, Reality, Truth, the Self. You know how the story goes. And guess what, you’re IT!

Of course, he emphasizes that you can’t understand this intellectually nor see or feel God. It’s above all the experience.

The main part of the book talks about duality, and particularly how opposites are dependent on each other. There can be no “left” without “right”.

But we most often play the game of Black-versus-White. We think that white has to triumph over black, forgetting to acknowledge that neither can exist without the other. If this is the case, neither can win. It’s impossible. In this way, it is all just a cosmic game. A game we’ve taken way too seriously. As Watts, says, it’s “as crazy as trying to keep the mountains and get rid of the valleys.”

Another point he makes is the complete paradox that society gives its citizens: “Be yourself, but play a consistent and acceptable role.” Or put another way “Control yourself and be natural,” or “Try to be sincere.” This is the double-bind societal game. No wonder most teenagers these days are confused, and most people in general frustrated. So now we go about fulfilling self-contradictory goals.

One thing that I kind of disagree with Watts about is what to do after having come into contact with this information. He says that trying to become egoless is just another egoic act. It reaffirms itself all the time. Which is true ONLY AFTER you’ve had an awakening. Once you see your true nature, THEN you know that getting rid of an ego is egoic. But the initial seeking and seeing is paramount.

Yes, seeking your true nature through spirituality is ultimately egoic. But you must do that in order to know who you truly are. Then you will see that trying to get rid of your ego is a) egoic and b) impossible because your ego simply doesn’t exist in the first place.

This part comes in the last part of the book. I highly recommend it, and if you’ve had an awakening, you know exactly what he’s talking about, that spiritual exercises for Enlightenment are egoic in nature. That’s ultimately true, but don’t forget that they’re necessary in order to know the Self in the first place.

I said earlier that this book is pretty academic, and it is. There aren’t any exercises or anything like that in here. But it’s very relatable and will give you a great conceptual understanding of this big illusion we live in.

Watts also has a few interesting parts about philosophy, namely his famous “prickly” and “gooey” philosophers.

By the way, you can get a free PDF of this book here:

The Verdict:

Great far-reaching book for a secular introduction to non-duality and philosophy.

Favorite quote:

For enjoyment is an art and a skill for which we have little talent or energy.