This essay was part of Tony’s early notes that didn’t, for some reason, find their way into the PERFORMER’S PORTABLE WORKSHOP book. It is both philosophical and practical and explores the “I AM” formula. Tony described this formula as the fundamental miracle and birthright of every human being. He describes the development of the personality in young children, the growth of the alter ego and the difficulties that are produced by heredity, prejudice, repetition, imitation, indoctrination and a lack of feedback. The “I + AM = ANYTHING” formula was Tony’s starting point as a mime and in his classes taught many exercises that were based on this insight which originated in eastern philosophies.
I was present at the birth of our first son.
We were at home going through the experience of natural childbirth. I was frightened, anxious and thrilled all at the same time. I wanted to run away but something kept me rooted there forcing me to stay and be a witness. The midwife was gentle and expert but she could not prevent the terrible spasms of pain my wife was experiencing. Her ordeal went on for hours. Suddenly the whole room became unbearably tense and still; my son’s head was slowly, impossibly emerging from my wife’s body. Then the tension broke and there in the center of tears, pain, laughter and joy was our son, shiny wet, quivering, crying and bursting with new pure energy. I have yet to witness a greater miracle.
An aura of the miraculous surrounds the birth of every child and I have come to believe that there is a magic formula underlying this miracle of birth, a formula that is our birthright.
I + AM = ANYTHING
I: Life, Being, Energy Cause Vibration, Beginning, Intangible
AM: Becoming, Involvement Confrontation, Experimentation
ANYTHING: The tangible physical world, Nature, Feelings, Thoughts, Movements
I have encountered and experienced this formula for miracles throughout my life but have found the best understanding of it during my studies of eastern philosophies in the works of Ramana Maharshi (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ramana_Maharshi) whose major contribution was the pursuit of self-enquiry. His now famous question, “Who am I” was a driving force among yogic circles in the early forties. This question WHO AM I turned my life around and faced me in the right direction.
WHO AM I, a powerful question so subtly hidden that only with a great effort can we become aware of it. WHO AM I? It can never be answered but the question itself and the sincere expectation of an answer sets up a vibration that keeps us awake. It turns us inward. It ensouls us.
I AM is the common denominator of all expression whether it is spoken or silent.
The new born child rocks in the cradle of I AM. Have you ever wondered why we are so powerfully attracted to very young children? We are drawn to them because they reflect the essence of I AM, of Being. They are so innocent, safe in the first part of the formula. They know nothing of male, female, nationality, race or creed. They reach out about to embrace all. Then it begins, the rapid superimposition of knowledge, information, patterns, choices and multiple layers of personality.
It all happens too quickly. The growing child tries to maintain its innocence but the pressures of outside patterning are overwhelming. By the time the child reaches the age of six it wanders from the miraculous world of cause into the cold world of effect. The child is outside of itself struggling to find the most successful role to play. The facade begins.
Ideally the formula I + AM = ANYTHING helps us develop a controllable personality and body. By flowing easily back and forth within the formula we keep a perspective on our growth. We are supposed to remember the sense of “I” while becoming the human being the world sees. Let’s review the formula and alter it slightly.
I: Life, Energy, Beginnings
AM: Observation, Imitation, Repetition, Attachment
ANYTHING: Manifestation, Habit, Result
The normal child working under the influence of the formula sees the wonderful world and wants everything in it. His desires and needs force him to learn how to walk, talk, feel and reach out and the world responds accordingly. This dialogue with the world is fairly easy for the child because the process in body and personality building is from manual to automatic, from repetition to habit, and from practice to perfect.
This process goes on in most children until the age of six. Then the conflict begins. The child leaves the warmth and safety of his home and starts his first day of public school. In a well meaning way the family around the child teaches him to protect himself from what they are convinced is a hostile world.
The adults closest to us, our parents, teachers and relatives, in their zeal to protect us, encourage us to develop not only a real personality but a false one as well. We begin the construction of a facade behind which we hide our real feelings. We learn to smile when we are sad, to feign anger when we are frightened, to lower our eyes when we are yearning to stare, to be quiet when we would speak. In short, together, adult and child conspire to create a private world and a public one. Eventually our inner feelings and our opposite outer behavior fuse together into one confused personality. It becomes increasingly difficult to express our true feelings because we have dealt so long with counterfeit ones.
Facade (n) 1. Architecture. A face of a building; especially, such a face that is given distinguishing treatment. 2. The face of anything; especially, an artificial or false front: “Of most famous people we know only the imposing facade” (Edith Hamilton). [French, from Italian facciata, face, from Vulgar Latin facia (unattested), Face.]
The word facade has taken on a negative aspect in our present use of it. In my mind it can be both positive and negative depending on what goes into it. The facade of a building for example is simply what it looks like on the outside. In some buildings the outside and inside are perfectly related; there are no surprises. Other buildings have beautiful facades that hide the ugliness within. And then we have the buildings on Hollywood sets, all facade and nothing inside. The facade of a human being unlike that of a building covers all fronts. It speaks the truth, it lies, it’s clever, it’s clumsy, it’s positive, it’s negative all at the same time. The complicated human facade is both friend and enemy to the little six year old trapped within.
Think back on the many ways we have developed our bodies, our personalities and our facades, or as the Italians so well put it, our bella figura. We copied the walk and gestures of our favorite movie stars. We imitated the way our favorite adults behaved. We developed nervous mannerisms, charming crooked grins, unique postures, original laughing styles and expressive hand gestures. We fell off bicycles a bruise at a time and screamed with delight when we pedaled wobbly but upright glorying in the thrill of balance. We even changed our speech patterns to impress our peers. Conscious and unconscious imitation became a way of life. All of this, the role playing, the imitating, the lying, the pretending and the duality would have been harmless, even constructive and creative, had we constantly been on guard to keep our perspective. We should have reminded ourselves that it was all a game played among friends and we should have given equal time to the development of our inner being, the I AM. The little little six year old stopped maturing and his personality or should I say personalities continued growing without him.
This runaway personality becomes a huge buffer between us and the world and ultimately makes all communication very confusing and often impossible. I am sure you are familiar with the following expressions:
“I must have been crazy to do that.”
“I don’t know what came over me.”
“I had this urge.”
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
“I can’t figure people out.”
“The best laid plans of mice and men.”
You could fill an entire book with such phrases. We paraphrase them every day and in concert with equally confused behavior they are a strong testimony of our helplessness. We sound, act and are usually helpless but we’ll never admit it until our “backs are up against the wall.”
I wrote above how the personality begins to develop by itself, leaving the little six year old far behind. How can the personality develop without our supervision? Why does the formula I + AM = ANYTHING seemingly break down? Obviously something is going on behind our backs. Safe and dangerous influences are slipping past our guards. We end up saying and doing things that surprise and shock everyone including ourselves. We’re like robots out of control and puppets with too many strings. And sad to relate, all this confusion passes for normal in a society already accustomed to abnormality.
I know there are many more but the following six hidden influences on the personality are the ones I am most familiar with.
1. Heredity: Through our genes and DNA or whatever else carries racial and natural memories we inherit physical shapes, levels of intelligence, tendencies of good and bad health, and mental and emotional patterns
2. Prejudice: We unconsciously pick up from our parents, and other loved ones, their likes and dislikes, their allegiances and hatreds. We love the Flag long before we salute it.
3. Repetition: Repeated mannerisms, movement and speech patterns, whether pleasant or unpleasant, become blind habits and chronic gestures if they go unchecked or uncriticized. We suck on our teeth, pick and scratch our noses, favor certain idioms, hack, cough and clear our throats and laugh too much and on and on. All this activity goes on without our being aware of it.
4. Unconscious Imitation: This influence on the personality is to me the most fascinating one. Let me relate here a personal experience that illustrates how subtly our facades are built. Many actors like myself have a death mask made. Some of us do it for vanity or simple curiosity. The mask is simply a plaster copy of the face. I believe they call it a “death” mask because originally these masks were made on the faces of dead people. Also, because of the weight of the plaster on the face and the serenity one feels with closed eyes, the resulting positive cast looks death-like.
While I was a guest director for the drama department at Towsen College in Maryland, one of the faculty members wanted to experiment with a new casting material. He asked me if I wanted a perfect replica of my face. I gladly volunteered. The process involved pouring the fairly hot liquid over my face and waiting five minutes for it to set. We took off the “negative” mold. He told me to stop by the next day and pick it up. I was very excited because this was to be my first experience at seeing myself three dimensionally in front of myself.
Tony and Michael Cooper creating a mold for a student.
The next day I rushed to his studio. My friend handed me a box and said my head was inside. It felt so strange to be holding my own face in a box. I felt some anxiety as I lifted off the lid. I almost screamed at what I saw. There in the box was the face of my mother, a perfect replica. She looked as she would in death. It was horrible to look at. My face was there too but it was mostly my mother’s face staring back at me. It was her furrowed brow, her smile and her personality and not mine. I couldn’t bear to look at it very long and I destroyed it immediately.
I realized then how thoroughly I had gazed up at my mother’s face and copied lovingly what was there. It was my first powerful proof of how little there was of me and how much there was of them. By “them” I mean all the role models I copied.
5. Indoctrination: As children we are ordered to do many things that are “for your own good.” We don’t question these commands; we obey them out of respect and fear. We assume that our response to them is only temporary, but somehow they become imprinted in us.
“Don’t cross your legs!”
“Don’t spit in public!”
“Speak only when you are spoken to.”
“If someone hits you, hit them back.”
“Always say, thank you.”
“Don’t trust strangers.”
“ Don’t let them see you cry.”
“Show your feelings.”
“Do it but don’t get caught.”
“Tuck your shirt in.”
I heard these expressions and many more just like them when I was young but am embarrassed to confess that I deluged my own children with them when my turn came around. When will it all end? And it isn’t just the negative indoctrination that is bad; all indoctrination is evil if the child is forced to accept it blindly.
6. Lack of Feedback: If after we do or say something there is an immediate feedback or reaction by way of approval or disapproval we can make an adjustment and improve the quality of our personality. This is the positive process of feedback. We reach out, try, experiment, get a reaction, adjust, try again and slowly but effectively inch our way to perfection.
In the beginning, as infants we try to imitate the way our parents walk and when we fall they are right there encouraging, correcting and sustaining us. With their support and loving feedback we learn not only how to walk but hundreds of other important functions and patterns important to our well-being.
This process of feedback is carried on somewhat by our teachers in school. But little by little as we grow older and join the anonymous crowd and the world has less and less time for us the quality of the feedback diminishes and in some tragic cases there is no feedback at all. During this lonely period we still reach out and act and experiment and test but without the necessary feedback and criticism and caring, we have no way of evaluating our behavior. We don’t know if our actions are good, bad, effective or weak.
With all the above influences coloring our every move is it any wonder that we are often confused? How can we begin to think about controlling our destiny when we don’t even know how to control our own personalities? The little that we teach ourselves consciously is overshadowed by what we learn without thinking, what we do without awareness.
I have given only some of the reasons why the formula [I AM = ANYTHING] becomes distorted and I am sure there are many more. There is a bizarre phenomenon that takes place eventually because of this distortion. We develop a counterfeit [I am]. We develop a counterfeit ego. It is small comfort.
This counterfeit ego can only pretend to be in control of personality. In reality it can do nothing to help us grow and can cause us great damage instead. This pretend [I am] gives us a false sense of security, a false sense of harmony. And because the [I am] is in the real of effect and not in the causal world it is influenced by every situation it encounters. It behaves like a “yes” man. Unlike the real, unchanging I AM which stands guard over us as the standard of truth and reality, the little [I am] adjusts and adapts like a chameleon to every crisis.
Being part of the personality, our little [I am] agrees with and justifies every thing the personality does so that we feel wrongfully that WE are always right and world is always wrong. Unless we destroy this little [I am] which stands guard over all our faults and flaws we will always be out of synch with the world and eventually drift into an orbit of loneliness.
I AM is behind the facade of life. It is the true face behind the mask, behind the complex personality. Without I AM there is nothing. On one side we have David (I AM) standing alone and fearless and on the other side we have Goliath (a multitude of feelings, thoughts and experiences.) I AM is the real, the unchangeable and what comes after it is unreal and therefore changeable.
If only we could reside in the blessed state of I AM we would have tremendous leverage over what we have become. Little David slew Goliath and destroyed material bondage. We too must believe that we can overcome overwhelming odds, that we can attack and change what we have become. We must break the hypnotic spell that makes us believe that what we are is permanent and destined.
This article was restored and posted by Michael Menes