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Benni Latham: Living In Joy

Benni Latham: Living In Joy

If we want to experience a fuller unconditional living, it all starts with our emotions and caring about how we feel. We can tune into any emotion by taking a moment to become aware on our current emotional state or by noticing physical sensations associated with different emotions. This can be done regardless of what’s happening outside of us, and when we do it consciously, we have the reins of our life experience in our hands. Sometimes, even the outer experience does not necessarily align with how we feel. Things can be perceived as wonderful, and yet, we don’t feel the experience that way. On the other hand, things might look crumbling around us, and we can steadily tune into feeling better, and then good. What is in the essence of any desire we want to experience? We desire things for the feeling of it. When we make the feeling as priority, which translates into our state of being; then, we are keener to unconditionally have the most extraordinary and joyful life experience.

Artist Benni Latham who voices the character Dorothy “Dot” in the hit Nickelodeon / Paramount+ animated series Transformers EarthSpark, says, “My essence is centered around joy. I am an agent of joy. I am a representative and advocate for joy, which doesn’t come from how much money you have in your pocket, how nice your clothes are, or where you live. It’s the kind of joy that comes from existing and being alive, and having all of your senses engaged in this beautiful planet we were born on.”

Our outer experiences are a reflection of our inner state of being, a truth that validates all our experiences. We have the power to shift our inner world, and in doing so, we can change our external reality. By aligning, following, and acting on our highest excitement, we open ourselves to experiencing our most authentic selves. There is no right or wrong path, only choices with equal value. When we choose a path that differs from our preference, we gain clarity on what we truly desire. When we decide to move in the direction of our preference, we gain insight into what’s next for us. There is no end goal but a continuous journey of moving from one preference to another, from one desire to another, as we explore a fuller expression of who we are. Therefore, there is nothing to fail but to focus on squeezing each decision’s benefits.

About perusing her dream from being a TSA agent at Los Angeles Airport (LAX) for almost a decade to become a full-time actor, Benni passionately says, “It wasn’t until I started pursuing the things that genuinely made me happy that my career started to reflect all the inner work that I was doing. And I joke about this with my friends, but I always say that if my eight-year-old self is happy, I know I’m doing the right thing. Every time I come into a recording booth, I’m always reminded of why I do what I do. The moment I made that decision, I told myself I would do everything possible before I decided to give up. When I made that decision, I was determined to prove myself right, and to give everything I had to this dream so that, if nothing else, I could say I gave it my all and have no regrets. To me, regret is worse than fear. The things that we’re afraid of often get debunked. I had a fear of heights. I went on a roller coaster. Now, I love roller coasters. Fears can be disproven. But regret is that eternal question mark; you will never know what could have happened. We all know everything that can go wrong, and we prepare for it as much as possible. But what if things go right? And sometimes, it isn’t even about things going right as much as it is about the universe moving you closer to your purpose. Maybe you tried something out, and it didn’t work out. But it led you to all of those wonderful lessons that would be lost if you didn’t give yourself the option to try and allow yourself to fail with grace and dignity. I can mess it up. But I learned something. I might have learned that I’m not great at cooking, flying, making shoes, or even academics as not everybody is meant to do the traditional college route. Some people are better with their hands, but you won’t know unless you give yourself permission to try and be easy on yourself if you fail. Go easy on yourself the way you would to your eight-year-old self. Would you scold yourself for making an innocent mistake? Probably not.”

Sometimes, we are too uptight with specific ways of expressing ourselves through techniques and academics. Every method we learn serves us as a structure; it’s a valuable guideline for our brains to understand what we are doing. However, nothing is more satisfying than filling in this spine of knowledge with a body of authentic expression, which is unique in all of us. That’s why comparing ourselves with someone outside us feels like a hit-or-miss experience. Everybody is equal, but nobody is the same. The perfection is in embodying and expressing who we are authentically.

“When I started my career, my main focus was getting everything right. I studied improv and voice acting, and I took acting classes. I wanted to do it right. I wanted to nail the technique so that when I went into these audition rooms, I could show these people that I knew what I was talking about and that I meant business. And so, my first couple months out auditioning, I stopped having fun because I was so concerned about being perfect and getting it right that I missed the whole plot of why I walked away from my old job. I took a small break. I started reading, going to plays and theater, and surrounding myself with art and inspiration, with people who are all about creation and the journey. I consciously forgot all the stats, and then once I was able to shift that perspective and make it fun, all of a sudden, the jobs started coming back-to-back. I still ensured that I was trained, professional, and proficient at what I did. Because now there’s money on the line. I can’t afford to make certain kinds of rookie mistakes. However, even if I make those small mistakes, it’s overshadowed by the joy people feel from the performances I share with them. If I messed up a line, they would say, ‘We don’t care. We’ll keep it that way. The way you did, it was better because it humanizes you, and it’s funnier.’ Once I stopped making it about being perfect, it was fun again. And fun translates into joy. People may not always know what they feel, but they know when they feel it. You know it when your favorite song comes on. You know it when you see a TV show, or you hear the theme song of your favorite TV show. And you’re like, ‘Oh, it’s coming on.’ That’s the power of moving from a place of joy. The money in the bank eventually followed. I also discovered another new thing. I am not in competition with anybody but me. I treat every audition like a performance. I’m giving these people a command performance,” Benni pauses and continues, “I’m in the room and having fun. It humanizes the people that are watching me audition. I remind myself these are just moms and dads, sons and daughters, cousins and friends, relatives and people. They’re no better than I am; they happen to be sitting across the table from me. That’s it. I get to perform. That’s the job. I translate the performances into the work. I’m thankful that I discovered that early. I’m also thankful that I got into this business at the age I did, so now I’m not swayed by having to look a certain way. Or that I have to be a certain way as a woman of color who’s on the thicker side. That can mess with your head. The work has to follow you and not the other way around,” expresses Benni about the process of embracing her uniqueness.

Success or money is not the means to happiness, but happiness is the means to prosperity. And since we are the ones feeling anything we give our attention to, every time we celebrate others, we are in a state of celebration, so there is no difference when we celebrate ourselves or others—it’s a win-win. There is no limit to everyone’s ability to succeed in what everyone wants. We all can have it all. Nobody can take anything from anyone unless we allow it by being in fear, doubt, self-judgment, or jealousy. Nothing wrong with feeling these emotions. However, it’s within our power to choose not to allow these negative emotions to hold us back from what we truly want to experience. It’s not about eliminating a negative emotion, but when it arises, to be aware so we can consciously do something about it. Any negative emotion is a reminder that we have deviated from the path of our preference, which can be an opportunity to shift into recognizing our innate worthiness for the mere fact that we are here, now, present, and alive. Because without one of us, the Universe wouldn’t be whole—that’s how important we all are. When we allow ourselves to shine our inner light, we invite others to do the same. We all have that light within ourselves that wants to be expressed, and we are the ones to allow it to shine as bright as possible.

About her perception of success, Benni says, “If look at myself five years ago, and to me now, what success looks like is quality sleep. It looks like seeing my phone ring and not stressing out. It’s waking up every morning and not feeling that weight of dread of having to go and be in front of people and expecting them to be mad at me. Or that I have to yell at someone for not following the rules. Not anymore! I get to support myself by doing what I love. I win. Oh, and I get to do it another year. I win. And then another year. Win again. I do not know how many bookings I get or what jobs I have right now. And don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the job. I welcome them from all different sides and angles. It’s just more fun to focus on the eight-year-old me and the joy of the work, as the money always follows. I’ve seen it with friends of mine in the industry. And we’ve gone up against each other, theoretically speaking, as we’ve auditioned for the same roles. When they get it, I cheer harder than they are for themselves. Because it took commitment to yourself to get here. And I know mine is coming. That type of energy is contagious. Joy is contagious. I’ve had an elder tell me two wonderful pieces of advice. The first one is that a candle loses nothing by lighting another candle. It’s a win-win. I’ve been blessed to have some wonderful elders who have been kind enough to give me ancestral wisdom. I love lighting your flame as it doesn’t take away from mine. And then the second piece of advice that follows into that first one is that I do not serve a stingy God show. I don’t. There’s too much proof. There’s proof in every flower you see, with hundreds of types on this planet, some we haven’t even laid eyes on. And they’re all beautiful. They’re all unique. They all have their own little thing. So, you mean to tell me the creator of the universe who’s created all these different flowers can’t bless me and my colleagues and coworkers without losing anything? I don’t believe in manufactured scarcity. I believe that sometimes it’s a redirection. It’s not always easy. Nobody likes to hear a ‘no,’ but sometimes it’s ‘not right now.’ That’s been a challenge that I’ve had to make.”

Photography // Rowan Daly

It’s a beautiful and liberating experience to honor our ancestors and the path they curved for us, a path that upgrades each generation arriving on this planet. This upgrade is not just physical, but a vibrational translation from the spirit, energetically condensed in what we perceive as tangible. The stories we have received from our family lineage are transformed through the way we tell them now, for linear time and space are perceptions; there is only now. This is how we transmute and shift toward ancestral healing, a process that grants us the freedom to be who we want to be and see our past personally and collectively from a new perspective. In doing so, we are not just changing the past, but setting a new path for future generations. This is why each generation feels freer, fuller in expression, and unapologetic about who they want to be. As much as we can focus on the events and things we dislike currently happening around the world, if we look back, there was never a time when humanity was more aware of its inner power. We don’t change the world, but we change ourselves so that the world can change with us.

Regarding embodying the character Dorothy “Dot” on the animated series Transformers EarthSpark, Benni says, “Dot is based on a couple of people in my life. The character is a composition of my grandfathers in the military. Both my maternal and paternal grandparents, they all served. I have cousins who served and are still on active duty. And God bless them on that journey. So that military sound came from them. And then her heart and her humor came from my grandmothers. Dot is a product of my love for my ancestors, who no longer walk this earth. And she’s kind of a love letter to them because if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here being able to do this. I will say that Dot gave me permission to look within myself to create this character. Normally, when you’re reading for something, you have to be an alien, you have to be a tree, or you have to be a talking piece of candy. Now, Dot is a mom; she’s a human being. And I am starting from there, reading the script and discovering all the other character traits that are very important in shaping the character. But at the core of it, the first thing I did when I started working through this character was pull from people I knew. That’s when I realized I have some amazing family members. I come from an incredible lineage of people with their own unique stories. And I get to bring that to life every time I step into a recording booth. How blessed am I! Dot may go deeper within myself and in my own family history. Now I get to transform that pun intended into something that will be of service, hopefully to other young people.”

What can be more satisfying than receiving reflections from others that they are inspired by who we are currently being, meaning vibrating, embodying, living? The experience of embracing the change we want to see collectively, from the perspective of inner self-empowerment, allows us to see others in their own power. If we can, they also can. Like Jesus was seeing a sick person in their full well-being, he was inviting them to tune into that frequency. Therefore, they were able to heal themselves. Because when we fight for something, it brings more fight. The paradox is that when we send love equally to the victim and the aggressor, then there are more chances for them to recognize their own state of love. And in a state of love, we can only emanate and direct with love. Helping someone from the perspective of wanting to save them diminishes their power. Leading by our own example is a powerful tool in inspiring others. When we support someone by seeing them in their full power, we invite them to become that power, which always starts from within.

“I’ve had some beautiful conversations with some fans of the show that I met doing conventions. And I think one of the best compliments I’ve received from some folks is there was an individual who was nonbinary. And they came up to me during an autograph signing. After I signed their picture and handed it to them, they grabbed my hand and said, ‘When you told Nightshade [a non-binary character], that’s my baby, go get them, child, I felt like you were talking to me. And I want to thank you for being my mom for those couple of minutes when you said that because I felt like that was directly for me. And it shows my parents that a healthy relationship with a non-binary child is possible.’ Now, this is a children’s show. This is a cartoon. And it gave this young person, enough confidence to stand in their identity. I didn’t know that would be a byproduct of this. I was just happy to work. And then this young black girl at the same convention, who couldn’t have been more than maybe 10 or 11 years old, sees me sitting at my booth with a big banner over my head with my name on it and a picture of the character, and she looks at the banner. And then she looks at me. And then she looks at the banner again. She goes, ‘Are you doing that lady’s voice?’ And I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ And she squints. Then she turns around and says, ‘Daddy, this lady looks like me and talks on cartoons.’ I was moved to tears. Here we are at this convention for this toy that’s associated with boys, and you know it was marketed heavily as a boys-only toy, but girls play with them too. I thought it was amazing that she was not wrong for liking toys and trucks. That’s not what I originally signed up for when I got this role, but I take it with a lot of pride and dignity that this show is reaching people on this level. I’m thrilled. I’m honored. I’m grateful. Because once upon a time, I was that little girl,” candidly says Benni.

We all have asked ourselves what’s our purpose in life? And we often think of a purpose being something big we supposed to do for humanity. But there is nothing more purposeful, then being on purpose, moment by moment, the version of you, you are most excited to experience. In being authentically you with an intention of following your highest excitement, you contribute vibrationally more to this planet, then when you diminish your innate ability to live the life you consider is best for you. We all are creator, creating, the creation—ourselves.

Benni says, “Living on purpose means doing everything with intention, from making a cup of coffee to making your bed to making a decision and checking in with yourself. And these are conversations only you can have with yourself. Only you know what you need, which requires a fair amount of honesty, which isn’t always comfortable. But when I wake up in the morning, I intend to be that agent of joy. How can I experience joy for myself, and how can I share it? That has been my purpose. I enjoy the joy. I enjoy watching other people enjoy themselves and doing something that feeds their little kids. I love that. And how could you not? We see it with little kids playing around, and they’re really into it. Then, we laugh and enjoy it with them. It doesn’t have to change because we’re adults. It doesn’t have to go away. You can still have fun, be silly, and enjoy joy. Enough is happening in this world, and there will always be something. But if you see a little kid in the park playing with a puppy and enjoy seeing it, we can release some of that pressure. That’s when we’re solving the problems. When we’re enjoying, we’re in play. I’m inclined to believe that joy breeds empathy when it comes from the right place.”

Parenthood is an immense opportunity to know more about who we are through our children. Our children are our most stubborn mirrors that reflect all the aspects of ourselves from within out, and vice versa. In a relationship with our children, all our fears, insecurities, and traumas come out, which is fantastic because there is no more time for distraction as they need our full attention. The attention starts with looking within, acknowledging our emotions, and shifting our perspective in real-time so we can be at our best and, therefore, offer them our best.

“I want the audience to see a family, whether they’re disguised as Transformers Robots, it’s a family coming together and solving problems. They return to the fact that they love each other and are all different. All five of Dot’s children, including her human children, have their own unique gifts. She treats them as the individuals they are. She meets them right where they are. And she takes no crap. She takes a firm line, but she’s also kind enough to explain, like, ‘Look, this isn’t me being a jerk. I’m concerned about you. Some people will judge and treat you poorly solely based on how you look and carry yourself. So, you have to be mindful when you’re out there. Yes, live your life. And, yes, your family loves you.’ Everyone else may not understand you; that’s fine if they don’t, but once they cross the line, enact harm, and are unduly and unjustly disrespectful, that’s when the mama bear comes down. I think it’s important to show others that people in this world see you and love you just as you are. Even if you’re still figuring it out and don’t know who that person is yet. They’re going to let you have your journey and love you along the way. I think it’s important for people to know that there are good guys out there,” says Benni.

How can we genuinely appreciate what feels good if, from time to time, we don’t feel the opposite? And there is value in being a mischievous “professional troublemaker,” especially from a perspective of curiosity and wonder. We can recognize it in our children and elderly as they don’t care what others think of them; they want to explore more or do what they want. Variety is in the essence of choosing what we like and dislike, so in contrast, we can consciously choose our preferences. Contrast will always exist. But when we are the ones opening the door to see what contrasting experience is behind it, by playing the game of troublemakers, it will most likely be softer instead of heating us on the face.

Regarding Benni’s desire to play another character, she says, “I want to play a despicable, dirty rotten, awful villain who takes themselves way too seriously and is just the complete opposite I have done so far, just for fun. To see what would happen. I love the characters I’ve played. I love Dot, who she is as a person, and how she fits into the family. But I think villains are fun and a great way for us to explore parts of ourselves that we may not be too fond of in a safe way. And in a way that allows us to evaluate without being super judgmental. I may not be like this crazy, ranting, raving lunatic of a villain, but I have some things I could stand to work on. Art is a mirror. And our art is a mirror in a window. It shows us who we are. It shows us where we are. It shows us parts. But it can also be a window into things to come, what could be, what could happen if you don’t change, and what can happen if you do. A lot of people dismiss animation as something that’s solely for children. I truly wish that we would change that perspective because animation is a beautiful medium to tell these kinds of stories.”

The ability to laugh at ourselves, especially in a state of some tensity, dissipates the trigger. All fear comes from the place of some fear of insecurity or shame. When we recognize that we are alive and breathing and have food, a roof, and a safe place to rest, we release the survival from infusing it into everything we focus on and desire. When all our basic necessities are taken care of, we can recognize that the rest is a play and conscious creation. It becomes the game of observing our world from a lighthearted place, observing what we like or dislike, but not wrong or right. Because when we want to be right, someone must be wrong. Since we all have the freedom to perceive from our unique lenses, is anyone really wrong? Or that’s just their right of choice? And since we also live in a universe where the principles of quantum physics apply, we invite what we are putting out.

“I love my ability to laugh. Now, I laugh at myself all the time. Laughter is healing. It is such a positive vibration, and it can change the energy in a room in a second. It can let out all the tension and all the drama. It’s a fun way to release uncomfortable feelings that don’t hurt anybody. When you’re laughing, it sort of reprograms your brain like, ‘Oh, wait, I’m not in danger.’ It’s a great way to decompress and de-escalate certain situations, but it’s tricky. Because sometimes people may not pick up on the joke, and they’ll get mad at you for not taking them seriously. But when you catch it, and you can connect it, it’s a wonderful moment you experience with the stranger. Laughter is universal, and everybody needs to laugh. And I love to see other people in a state of joy and fulfillment. I love when people have had an amazing breakthrough or an accomplishment and the end and you see them sitting in it and acknowledging it. I think that’s so powerful because it’s inspiring for me, and it also lifts the cultural consciousness. We’re all a part of the same energy field. If you were not to get woo-woo but to get a little woo-woo, it would never hurt anybody—just a little sprinkle of woo-woo, a dash. But energy is contagious, especially with social media and how fast we get information now. And so, when I see people laughing at themselves or laughing at something that’s just truly funny or silly, it lets me know that I’m not the only one. There are other agents of joy out there spreading and lightening up the mood,” concludes Benni.

Like Benni, are you living your life in love and joy, or by default?

Photography // Rowan Daly
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