are people actors who don’t know they are playing part?

Vic Shayne
5 min readJan 13, 2023

Vic Shayne
The Self is a Belief: The idea that causes suffering

Photo: Alev Doğan

Have you ever watched a movie and really despised the villain or loved the hero? Why do we buy into what’s being said when we know full well that the movie isn’t real and that a writer wrote the dialog and created the characters out of an amalgam of personality traits, characteristics, mannerisms, emotions? Why do we laugh, cry, or get all worked up when none of it is real? Why do we talk about the show with friends as if it matters at all what happens to the characters? Movies are not real, yet we choose to lose ourselves in the production as if they are.

When I was sitting in a movie theater watching the movie Rocky in 1976, the entire audience sprang to its feet cheering the hero Rocky Balboa as he struggled to stay on his feet, refusing defeat at the hands of the champion. Everyone in the audience behaved as if the actors and scene were real, completely forgetting themselves as nothing more than unalloyed observers. As their hearts pounded in their chests and they screamed and cried, they never turned their attention around to ask who this observer was and why it was so wrapped up on the action on an inert, two-dimensional movie screen.

The movie director and producer try to make everything as real as possible — scenery, special effects, sounds, actors, and scenarios. The more convincing their effort, the more convinced the audience is; and the more the audience invests its emotions. If it’s a really good movie that is well-written with the right mix of elements and dialog, perhaps we can learn something about ourselves in the experience.

How can we appreciate that this on-screen metaphor has to do with our own lives out here in the real world where we have to deal with real miscreants, where we find people who are helpful, compassionate, and giving of their time and effort, and where there is a valuable lesson that may be learned? Have you ever considered that everyone, including you, might just be performing scripted lines and going through the motions of life without realizing that it’s all an illusion, a play of sorts?

all the world is a stage…
In Act II of his play As You Like It, Shakespeare’s character says:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely Players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His Acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part…

Shakespeare hit upon something amazing: There is a sobering similarity between the on-stage actor and the actor who is you. Both are given their lines and both are placed into challenging situations with other characters. We are all playing roles, but our attention is so focused on the world “out there” that we rarely, if ever, place the attention “right here” where the real writer-creator exists.

you are the writer-creator
The real writer-creator is you — not you as the individual self, but you as consciousness. All of our ideas, memories, secondhand information, beliefs, learned behavior and reactions, and fears and prejudices are written by consciousness and fashioned out of our environment and influential people in our lives. But very few people realize this, so they buy into the reality of their own personas as well as all the other characters. The ensuing pleasure and pain are directly related to the mind’s acceptance of our “play” and “characters” as being real.

Certainly there are funny, wonderful, and exhilarating times in our lives, but there are also sad, depressing, anxious, and stressful times as well. Back and forth we go, in and out of a never-ending cycle of pain and pleasure. And we follow this script in ignorance of who we really are, not recognizing that we are in a play of our own making.

choosing to invest ourselves in the illusion
When it comes to a movie, we can either get wrapped up in the character and hate or love him, or we can see that the actor is just using words and behaviors provided to him for his part. If we do the latter, however, we fail to lose ourselves in the movie and miss the experience. Or we can decide that the movie isn’t real but nevertheless choose to immerse ourselves in it until it ends. Or we can say that life is an illusion, move to the Himalayas or an ashram or monastery and drop out of society altogether.

we are scripted actors
The actor knows full well he is only playing a part. He also knows that his adversaries, friends, relatives, and cohorts are actors playing separate parts. It’s all an illusion. But most people here in the “real world” have no idea that they are also actors, programmed to speak their words and act in certain ways. As with the characters on the movie screen, we believe that we are real people going through real situations in relation to other real people. Is everything real, or is everything an illusion?

Just like the mean-spirited trouble-maker, or movie villain, some people we encounter are so damaged that they cannot do anything but harm and cause disruption. They cause divisiveness and suffering. This is because they cannot help but be the way they have been programmed (or written) to be. They have enacted a script since early childhood and continued to embody their character. How many times, too, have you gotten into trouble or said or did something stupid or foolish only to question your own behavior? This is the way we all go through life — acting, thinking, and communicating according to our influences, upbringing, beliefs, memories, traumas, desires, and fears. The idea of who we are is implanted by authority figures, parents, circumstances, and other external influences that we may call the writer-creators of our own lives.

waking up to what’s going on…
We cannot differentiate between the truth and the illusion until we wake up and see who we really are. And we can be more at ease or accepting when we realize that those around us are equally as unaware of who they are beyond the shell of their scripted roles. This doesn’t mean that bad behavior or evil is excusable or tolerable, but rather that it is apparently linked to a person’s psychological conditioning. And it doesn’t mean that we need to become indifferent and uncaring. We can choose to say “Yes!” to life while at the same time realizing it is a play of sorts that is being experienced by the audience that is the real, unalloyed you.



Vic Shayne

NY Times bestselling author writing about reality beyond thought, consciousness, and the self to uncover what is fundamental.