These Three Simple Words Can Calm Your Racing Mind
I just wrapped a short film for The New Yorker, and I am thrilled to be sharing it with you and with the world in a few months. Last week found me on set back to work directing after a painful three-year hiatus, which started out as “The Great Pause” and turned into “The Longest Slog of My Life.” Yes, Universal and Disney went back to work last year. The pandemic smacked indie filmmakers hard, and it’s taking a lot longer for us to get back up and at it again.
In the storm of shooting plans and camera angles and costume fails and actor schedules, a director has to find a way to steady their ship so they can be clear-eyed, focused, and make the four million decisions that each moment demands. I found myself, after years of training and experience, ill-equipped to rebound. My brain had changed. My body had changed. I was three years older, five from last we shot a feature film. The pandemic had not only sunk my checkbook, but it slowed my instincts and brought my operating capacity to an embarrassing crawl.
Maybe others saw it. Maybe it was just in my head. Either way, I could feel it. So I used a new mental trick that I developed during the pandemic. If the crisis was fucking me minute-by-minute, I should at least rely on the good that came of it: Zen Buddha. “Be Zen Buddha,” I said to myself. “Be Zen Buddha.” I’m not a Buddhist, and I don’t even know if Buddhist would even say that, but as New York City devolved into madness in 2020 and inched back to life these last few years, “Be Zen Buddha” has helped me find center.
I use it when I am walking down 21st Street and a local lunatic starts shouting uncontrollably on a block that used to be much, um, more “quaint.” “Be Zen Buddha.” I use it when that complete moron starts coughing on the subway without covering their mouth. “Be Zen Buddha.” I use it when a restaurant waiter looks at me like I have three heads if I ask for a paper menu. “Be Zen Buddha.”
To me, it’s a cognitive behavioral trick that instantly signifies a connected series of suggestions from me to me: Don’t speak. Breathe. Words are not necessary now. Thoughts are. How do I respond in a meaningful and productive way? If a way doesn’t present itself immediately, keep on with what…