Authors: Shirley Maclaine
The night before I left for Peru I sat and meditated. I was beginning to see I could take control of my destiny in every way. My work would not only be person to person now, but person to humanity. It was now important for me to take complete responsibility and to be aware of what was going on around me, but not afraid. I recognized and acknowledged that I had prepared for my trip to Peru for a very long time; that the first time I went I decided to use that trip as a vision quest, and knew then that I would write the book that would become a film that would take me back again.”
It’s All in the Playing
Bantam Books by Shirley MacLaine
Ask your bookseller for the books you have missed
DANCING IN THE LIGHT
“DON’T FALL OFF THE MOUNTAIN”
IT’S ALL IN THE PLAYING
OUT ON A LIMB
YOU CAN GET THERE FROM HERE
DANCE WHILE YOU CAN
MY LUCKY STARS
Table of Contents
I would like to thank
John of Zebedee
each of whom helped me to
realize an aspect of myself
When the eagle of the North
flies with the condor of the South—
the spirit of the land she will awaken
Peruvian Inca prophecy
stretched upright, lifted my arms to the sky, and breathed deeply. I needed the oxygen. The altitude of the surrounding Cordillera Blanca mountain range, high in the Andes of Peru, was 22,205 feet. I was standing at only 12,000 feet and could still feel my heart pounding and thumping. It occurred to me that it would be worth the discipline of coming here just to get in shape for a new show. Returning to two shows a night at sea level would be a breeze.
From where I stood I could see straight across the valley of Rio Santa, known among the Andeans as the Callejón de Huaylas. The Rio Santa valley is one of those places so stunningly beautiful as to be literally breathtaking—in fact, its impact on me might have been the real reason I was short of breath. To attempt a description can give only a hint of the meadows of waving corn, silent turquoise lakes, and luminescent waterfalls tumbling into the rich and fertile valley below, backed by unending vistas of ice-covered peaks marching in glacial splendor to their high horizon. I have always loved mountains, always felt a sense of peace and elation being there,
a glowing feeling that something wonderful is going to happen just around the corner—and even if it doesn’t it won’t matter because every present moment is so magical. I wondered what Gerry would think of this ancient Inca land, of its secretive, mystical quality. I reached out and peeled the soft skin from a quenuales tree. It was more like fabric than bark. Gerry said that all of his happiest moments had been connected to nature, yet he never had too much time for it. The smell of Scotch broom and eucalyptus mingled in the glacial mountain air. God, it was so strange how I missed him, particularly since there hadn’t been any personal involvement for so long.
It had been ten years since our troubled love affair had sparked the self-search that pushed me into writing
Out on a Limb,
which, in turn, first brought me to these mountains. Long enough, I thought, for me to be objective about Gerry in the film I was now making of the book. And I had good cause to be grateful to Gerry, whose rigidly skeptical attitude about spiritual values had provoked me into further explorations both on my own and with my friend David—David … who had been a composite of so many people acting as spiritual guides for me, condensed into a character who would become real on the screen. I wondered about all the people whose various realities I had combined to crystalize in David. Would they see the film in far-flung areas of the world? Would they even know, from distant mountain-tops, that it existed? David—my creation, a marvelous, quirky, gentle, strong friend who led me into the labyrinth of my self and left me to find my own way. I had created David. I had created myself. Was life like the movies, only a dream?
I felt a crisp, cold, yet mellow warmth flow together like a textured elixir over my bare arms. I could see sugar-cane fields far down in the valley. The air was so clear I could make out where sheep and cattle dotted the
craggy mountains, and where molle (red pepper) trees provided shade for the mountain people in their brilliantly colored ponchos. Brilliantly colored so as to permit people to distinguish one another in the mountain distances, each village subscribing to its own color.
The peasants took great care of their sheep, the most highly prized of animals, for their perennial gift of wool. Often the Andeans used pigs as watch animals to tend children—animals and peasants all participating fully in family life. When I asked why I never saw llamas or alpacas or vicuñas in this part of the Andes, no one seemed to know except that “they had just never come over here.”
I sat down under the quenuales tree and bit into an apple I had brought with me. I focused on the irony of the stunning countryside, remembering how deeply affecting the natural disasters of the area had been in scarring the memories of the people who lived here just recently. It would be impossible to understand the culture of the people here without recognizing the accepting, fatalistic undercurrent that made it possible for them to live under the threat of storm, earthquake, and volcano.
Huarás, the central commercial and cultural mountain city of the region, with a population now of 50,000, suffered a massive earthquake on the afternoon of May 31, 1970. Measuring 7.8 on the Richter scale, it killed about 67,000 people, leveling almost every town in the Callejón de Huaylas. In terms of lives lost it was the worst disaster in the history of the Americas. The quake lasted about fifty seconds and was followed by aftershocks all through the night. It was so severe that two days later helicopters were still unable to land in some places, because the dust was so thick. The death toll would have been greater had it not struck on a Sunday when children were out of school.
Not long after, in 1972, the shocking avalanche landslide occurred which buried the beautiful mountain
city of Yungay, killing 18,000 of its inhabitants. The people still speak of the massive slabs of granite that broke loose from the west face of the north peak of Nevado Huascarán. Three million cubic meters of ice and mud rode a cushion of air down to Yungay and the Santa River in only three minutes, at a speed of 300 kilometers an hour. The only survivors were 240 people watching a circus outside the avalanche path who managed to scramble to a high knoll.
Way back when, Gerry had been shocked that I was going to Peru. He and I had talked of the destiny of those 240 people. Why were they different? He said it was coincidence. I said it was karmic.
As I sat munching my apple I wondered what I’d do if I found myself caught in an event of that magnitude. And worse, how would I feel if I survived? Would I know why? As soon as the thought struck me I was reminded that I
been through such disasters many times—not in this life, but in others. Even today I have a haunting terror of tidal waves. I “knew” I had watched, transfixed in horror, as a mountainous wall of water bore down on me, curling me into it. The terror of my memory was not associated with being inundated by the weight of the water, but more by the pull of the giant undertow as it sucked me out to sea again. I remembered dying then, almost relieved that earthly panic and pain had ceased.
I was convinced that I had lived before, “died” before, and would live and “die” again.
As I sat thinking I reflected on what I had just been through. I was exhausted from shooting a five-hour miniseries based on my book
Out on a Limb
in which I played myself. It was that original experience in Peru that led me to search out the possibility that life was more multi-dimensional in its reality than what I could see or prove. Having lived and “died” before was only part of it. Life was ongoing and eternal. I was sure of that.
But now I was beginning to explore the concept that everything that happened in my life was occurring because
was creating it in order to learn about myself. The uniqueness of filming
Out on a Limb
was that it was a metaphor and a constant daily reminder of that truth.
I looked out across the mountains and asked myself what I had learned from the experience. If I acknowledged that I created my own reality on every level, then I had been totally responsible for everything that had gone on. That would be something to write about, I thought. But dare I go back to the well of my Peruvian adventure in order to peer into the illusion within the illusion of my life? Would that be the ultimate self-centeredness? Yes. The more I understood self, the more centered I became. And the more I understood others. That was the point. It all starts with self.
Truly, life is a stage and each of us players upon it. We choose our parts, but how we play them is the real issue. Sometimes we complain about the parts we have written for ourselves; sometimes we wish we had someone else’s part. But more important than anything, we so harshly judge the manner in which we play ourselves, as well as how someone else is playing his or her part. We all know there is a need for protagonists and antagonists in a “play” in order to have color and dramatic, or even comedic, tension. Without the polarity of tension and points of view in a play, there is no interest. So why is it that we are so unwilling to be tolerant of those very values that give us the color and tension and differences in the grander play called
That is what this book is about. Life was becoming like a play to me. A play that I was not only writing for myself every day of my life, but acting in as well. So, necessarily, all the characters were characters of my own creation, on the screen and off; apparently necessary because I found them either amusing, intriguing, infuriating, upsetting, repulsive, entertaining, loving, or uplifting. Characters who failed to hook me emotionally were
not in my play. They didn’t need to be. I noticed that only characters who enabled me to learn and touch more of myself were in my play. I barely knew the others existed. In fact the characters in my life’s play seemed to exist in direct ratio to what I needed or wanted to learn about the world and myself. And when I learned whatever it was, the characters that had acted as mirrors for me subtly disappeared, somehow replaced by new players who offered entirely new themes and perspectives. Not all my characters were in for the run-of-the-play contract. I didn’t want them to be. Did that seem cruel and unfeeling? No, not really. It was just simply true. I did that to players in my drama and
they did that to me in theirs.
We existed on several separate levels of reality simultaneously. Or to put it another way, the creatures, persons, events of my reality, as in the activity of all creation, took on a life of their own.
I remembered a dream I used to have as a child—a rather prophetically sophisticated dream as I look back on it now.
I dreamed I was being chased by a gorilla. I ran until I came to the edge of an abyss. Then I had a choice. I could confront the gorilla or jump, out of fear, into the abyss. I turned to the gorilla and said, “What do I do now?” The gorilla threw up his hands and answered, “I don’t know, kid. It’s your dream.”