3 min read

An Indian Parable & the Actor's Mindset

There's an old Indian parable our meditation teacher likes to recite often — to the point where we can essentially repeat it verbatim — but hearing it again recently made us think just how relevant the message is to actors too. While the ultimate application differs, of course, the underlying argument for the significance of consciously choosing how we perceive the world around us transcends religion or a meditation practice.

So grab a cuppa (or bevvie of choice) and settle in for a little story time, courtesy of our meditation teacher:

Sesame Street story time gif

One warm evening in a village of India, a mother sends her young son off to the grocers with an empty clay pot and just enough money to get it filled with oil for cooking.

The young boy heads off to the grocer nearby and gets it filled — right to the brim — and starts home. While making his way back along the path, the young boy is accidentally knocked over and half the oil spills from the pot. Crying, he runs the rest of the way home and says to his mother, "Oh, Mum! I was knocked down and I lost half the oil!"

His compassionate mother comforts him and sends her second son off with another empty clay pot and just enough money to get this one filled.

The second son makes his way to the grocers, pays for the pot to be filled, and begins heading home. But, like his brother before him, he is also knocked along the path and again, half the oil spills from the pot. Laughing, he runs the rest of the way home and says to his mother, "Oh, Mum! I too was knocked down but I saved half the oil!"

His compassionate mother commends him and — because a) this is a story, and b) as actors we're all no doubt more than capable of momentarily suspending our disbelief — sends her third son off with their last empty clay pot and their remaining money to have it filled.

The third son makes his way to the grocer's, has the pot filled, and like his two brothers, is accidentally knocked down on his return. Again, half the oil spills from the pot (yes, you'd seriously think someone had a vendetta against the family, but bear with us). Smiling, he runs the rest of the way home and says to his mother, "Oh, Mum! I too was knocked down and I too saved half the oil!" However, the third son then continues, "But I also lost half the oil. Tomorrow morning I will go out, find some work, and earn enough to buy the outstanding amount."

. . .

​At this point, the parable is then applied to the specifics of a meditation practice, but its wisdom can be transferred equally well to our own.

There are a great number of things outside our control as actors, but one of the things we can control is our mindset.

Like the brothers, we will occasionally face equivalents of being knocked down on our way home (not booking a gig, having our role cut from the edit, being dropped by our agent, for example). But viewing these objective events pessimistically will only result in our journey being an unpleasant one.

On the other hand, choosing to view these objective events optimistically will result in our journey being much, much, much more enjoyable. We acknowledge that there'll be positives and negatives to every outcome, and we commit to focusing on the positives. Consequently, we'll spend more of our time laughing like the second son, less of our time crying like the first.

And yet, there is a third option available to us: the mindset of the third son. This sees us decide to view these objective events both optimistically and realistically. The result? Not only will our journey be more enjoyable (thanks to our optimism), it will also be quicker (thanks to our realism) because by taking empowered action we're also taking responsibility.

Peak performers in any domain respect the importance of mindset and they work on this just as intently as they work on their craft. Circling back to the roots in ancient wisdom where this post began, even the Dhammapada (one of the earliest Buddhist texts) opens with, "Mind precedes all mental states". Maybe this is why our meditation teacher relates this parable so often.


Thoughts / feedback / challenges? We'd genuinely love to hear.