by Lynn Kim Do

Street Talk | The Enlightenment Story

As the dust settles on the decades old ground walked upon by thousands of aspiring actors and actresses, our butts fidget left and right on cobalt blue plastic seats, and about 15 voices diminish to a whisper, the acting teacher places the attendance papers carefully on his desk, coughs, and then asks the same question he ask before every session during our 11 week program"Does anyone have any questions before we begin?"

We sit there diligently like sitting is, perhaps, our only job. My eyes attempt to seek others’ curiosity and fails. I can't think of anything. I wish I had a question. I could come of smart, proactive, curious, passionate, maybe. I have nothing. A voice echoes from the back. All the way against the wall, a student breaks the silence with a question —"I meditate often. And I feel like my friends around me have reached some sort of enlightenment. But I haven't. I should just kill myself." Okay, so this is more like a statement.

I feel the side of my lips curl up, thinking, hoping, praying that this is some sick and very-not-funny joke. I hear a couple chuckles. I am not the only one that thinks that, too. But then this, too, leaves the space as fast as it came. I do not know what to do. We do not know what to do. We look at our teacher, our leader, the wisest (in acting, by skill, and in life, perhaps by age) for the next appropriate action. To console him, maybe. To condemn him. To break him. To dismiss him, even. To make this awkward and painful pause go away. My face is getting hot in the cheeks. My stomach queasy. This is hitting too close to home. I never thought anyone could stir up these softly patted down feelings but myself. But I didn’t think I would ever hear this kind of statement so publically, so raw.

Our teacher begins: "I don't think this is the right place for this sort of question." True. Half of me understands his response and the other, wants resolution for this kid, some drop-the-mic moment with explosions of epiphanies and clarity. Again, I am not the only one. Another voice from the opposite end of the wall responds with —"This is the right place because life is acting and acting is life." How could anyone argue with that? 

So here is what my acting teacher said:
Well since your classmate is so adamant. And she is right, life is acting and acting is life, I'm going to share a story with you. 
There was a student and a teacher. The student was very desperate. He went to his teacher to confess a deep frustration. He confesses that he does not feel like he has reached enlightenment and wants to give up. The teacher tells the student to meditate really hard for one week. The teacher has a feeling that he'll reach enlightenment in a week. A week goes by and the student does not reach enlightenment. He goes back to his teacher and expresses his now festering frustration. The teacher tells him that he will reach enlightenment in 3 days. He knows that the student is very close. He just needs to put in a little bit more time and more work. So the student meditates very hard, day and night, for 3 days. After the 3 days, nothing, no enlightenment. So the student seeks the teacher and with so much sadness and utter disappointment, confesses that he has yet to find enlightenment. The teacher tells him that all he needs is just one more day. The teacher can feel it in his heart. The student goes back to meditating, day and night, and every moment in between. Nothing, again. With little hope, he seeks the teacher again and tells him that he has not found enlightenment. The teacher says that he should go ahead and kill himself then. Shortly after their conversation, the student walks up nine flights of stairs to a roof of a building. He takes his time inching closer and closer to the edge. He looks down. And just as he is about to step over the ledge into his death….POOF…he finds enlightenment.

What did you take away from this story? I'll share my thoughts, if you share yours. xx