Saturday, August 26, 2006

How's the movie?

Imagine you are watching a movie. It is a really good movie. You are caught up in the plot, the drama, the characters and their lives. It has that rare quality that totally draws you in, and makes you forget entirely that you are watching a movie. Have you ever seen one like that? OK, let’s keep imagining ...

So as the story is developing, as you are sitting on the edge of your chair, wondering what twist or turn will happen next, how the characters (George and Mary) will respond to this crisis or to that opportunity. The movie has been playing for a while, so you are engrossed in the plot. Then all of a sudden, George drops his movie persona, switches his facial expressions, reverts to his natural speaking voice and accent and, turning to directly face the camera (and hence the audience), says,
“Wait a minute. Wait a minute. I just have to tell you all something. I’m not actually George. I’m really Huston Smith, a movie actor, and none of what you’ve been watching is real. I’ve just been reading a script. And frankly, you’ve reached the end of the movie. The writers just stopped it there. The director told us to act right up until the last written word, and then to just stop. But I really had to explain what was going on, because that would be just too weird, don’t you think?”
As Huston Smith was giving that little out-of-character monologue, we notice the camera pan back and show the audience watching the original movie screen. They are shuffling in their cineplex stadium seats, wondering what the heck is going on. Then the camera moves in for a close-up of a older couple in the audience, looking rather perplexed, and the woman whispers to the man,
“Jim, what the heck is going on? Why did he just break out of character like that? I really wanted to see what happens next.”
Jim, with a somewhat detached, pensive look in his eyes, says,
“Wait a minute Patty. I think I get it. The whole point of that movie was to shock us in our own lives. To make us realize that those actors and that situation is a metaphor for our own lives. We are living, breathing, thinking that we are caught up in a complicated drama, but in fact, that is not reality. That is only a ‘movie’ if you will. Can’t you see that? The director was trying to shock us out of our unawareness. This is some kind of attempt to help us reach a spiritual insight.”
As Jim is finishing his little revelation, the camera pans back and reveals that this couple is also on a movie screen. This time however it is on a large drive-in movie screen, and we see a number of cars parked watching the movie (it continues with some more dialog fading into the background). So there is yet another audience (in cars) watching Jim and Patty perform that dialog. This is obviously a different audience, once more removed. And now the camera zooms in on another couple — sitting in a convertible — and the guy says to the girl,
“Chantel, what kind of a lame movie did you bring me to? Is this what they call a chick-flick? It doesn’t make any sense. Actors dropping out of character, audiences becoming the actors in another movie. What is going on?”
This time Chantel, also looking pensive, says,
“No Dan, don’t you see — the whole point of both of those surprise transitions was to reinforce to all of us in the audience that we shouldn’t trust what we see as our own ‘dramas’. None of it is real. In fact, how do you know that you and I right now aren’t just characters in yet another movie, that some audience out there [she points toward the camera] is watching right now.”
Dan says,
“Chantel, have you gone completely nuts. We’re sitting right here in this car. Touch me — I’m real. You’re real. Look back [he looks at the camera] -- there is nobody out there. Just a bunch of crickets [sound of loud crickets]. It is only us, sitting here in this car, in this drive-in.”
Chantel then sees some white light coming in from the edges of the frame.
“What is that? Dan, What’s going on? I see a bright light, don’t you?”
Dan says,
“Don’t worry Chantel, it’s some car or some guy with a really powerful flashlight, or something.”
As the white light gets brighter, the camera fades back and takes you back toward the drive-in projection booth, where you see the flickering white light coming out of the projector. The camera keeps zooming into the white light, as you hear movie dialog fading in the background, until the screen is nothing but white light. Finally, just a solid white screen (as if you’ve gone into the light).

Long, pregnant pause. Pure white. Pure silence.

After about a minute (and this is very awkward to sit through), there is some movement, as the camera pans back off the white screen and you see it set in an ornate old-time movie theater. You see people getting up and leaving the movie theater. They appear very confused, agitated, some of them a little disgusted. Others are trying to wait to see what comes next. You watch people leaving the theater for some time. Finally, only one couple near the front remains in the theater. The guy looks over to the woman, and says,

“So Carol, what did you think? Did you get it?”
And Carol says,
“Sure Steve ... at least I think so. First we were shown that our lives are no different from an actor playing a movie role. We identify with the character in our drama, but we’re not that. We are aware of that. So we don’t need to get caught up in the drama — we can be detached. Then comes another surprise, and we learn that it isn’t that simple. Even if we think we are detached from the drama, that’s not real either, for we could just as easily still be an actor playing out yet another meta-drama. We must continue to look for a deeper understanding, deeper insight. Is that right?”
Steve says ,
“Wow, that’s amazing, Carol. I didn’t figure any of that out the first time I saw it. Now tell me, did you understand the final ending?”
To which Carol says,
“Well, it could mean that none of those perspectives can be correct, because in each case we keep attributing our awareness to ‘me’ the individual. If those characters aren’t real, then I have to accept the fact that none of the people are real, and that’s probably because they artificially and incorrectly perceived themselves as individuals, each with separate egos. The white light — continuing the movie metaphor — indicates that we are not just actors playing dramatic roles. But that we are the light itself that projects these characters — that projects the entire movie. We are, in fact, just pure awareness. And in fact, you and I are not separate individuals, but we are really the same pure awareness.”
Steve says,
“Carol that’s fantastic. You must really have an open, receptive mind.”
At that point, the screen once again begins to lighten, this time because the film celluloid is starting to burn from the center outward, and we see that on the screen. As it burns it is leaving a pure bright white in its place, and Carol’s voice continues (fading),
“No Steve, not an open mind. Rather, no mind at all. Just This.”
And you are left once again with pure whiteness. And that is the end of the movie.

Hey, I hoped you liked the movie. I think it would be really neat to see this actually made into a movie short. If someone wants to do that (I don’t have the wherewithal) then by all means, please do so. Just point them back to my blog when you get to the credits ;-) The egoless, undifferentiated, non-separate being known as ‘me’ ;-)

Just Dance

I went to a wedding the other day. It was a lovely “at home” affair, and was a wonderful ocassion. There was much obvious love between the couple, and very deep emotions as they shared their feelings about their new commitment together, and their new families. I have no doubt they will have many years of fearless love and happiness.

At the wedding, there were two flower girls, one of them quite young. I really do love to watch children. As the wedding ceremony began, she noticed she still had flower petals in her basket, so she started flinging them with abandon. And when she had used up her collection, she asked the older flower girl for some more, which she happily gave. More launching of flower fireworks. Wonderful.

As evening came, and the dancing started, I saw this little girl take note that the bride and groom had just made their appearance on the dance floor. Certainly a special occasion to be watched from afar, right? Heck no, it’s time to dance, and she started to do just that. Spinning around with the biggest smile upon her face. She was in the moment, unworried what someone else might “think” and just freely expressing herself. Also wonderful.

I think of how she would likely react as she grew older. She’d learn about decorum, about proper behavior, about being reserved. Why do we teach these lessons? Where does this inhibition creep in? And then, many years later, we are (re)learning anew to live in the present, to relish this moment, to dance when we feel like dancing. I suppose it is just human nature. It was interesting that I never noticed the parents of this little girl during the entire wedding and reception. She was free to express herself, and she did so with wonderful innocence and joy.

I think there is a lesson for all of us there.
When you love a person all fear disappears. And when you are afraid all love disappears.

-- Osho Rajneesh

Dance like no one is watching,
Love like you'll never be hurt,
Sing like no one is listening,
Live like it's heaven on earth.

-- William Purkey

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Whatcha Reading?

See my friend here? He's looking over your shoulder, asking you what you've been reading. Why? Because he knows of a book that you might find worthwhile. A little book, small like my friend, that you can read in less than two hours -- and he guarantees it.

My wife gave this book to me for my anniversay (along with many others -- she is very thoughtful -- much more so than me I'm afraid to say ;-). Anyways, the book is Being Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh. He covers many different subjects, all geared at what would help each of us become more peaceful, as the necessary step to creating a more peaceful world.

For those that have never read Thich Nhat Hanh, I commend you to pick up any of his books; this one is now 20 years old. If you have read this book, I encourage you to dust it off and read it again. Thay (meaning teacher, as he is often called) writes with a very simple style, and also avoids all of the complicated Buddhist philosophy that might lead more to confusion than insight.

He is very direct in applying his insights to daily life -- no worries about what is 'real', and what is not. Practical, common sense, but clearly wisdom-filled advice, meant to be applied right here, right now, in every day life.

Here is a poem to whet your appetite. The nature of compassion is complicated, and in this poem, Thich Nhat Hanh identifies with what we would tend to call the victim, as well as the perpetrator, making the point that they both deserve our compassion, for we are all interconnected, and hence the title of the poem illustrates that we all share the responsibility for the health and welfare of each other:

Please Call Me By My True Names

A Poem By Thich Nhat Hanh

Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow --
even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving
to be a bud on a Spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
to fear and to hope,
the rhythm of my heart is the birth and death
of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird which, when Spring comes,
arrives in time to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am also the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay his
"debt of blood" to my people
dying slowing in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm
it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.
My pain is like a river of tears,
so vast if fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up
and the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

This poem illustrates a concept Thay teaches about "interbeing". It reflects the notion not that "I think, therefore, I am", but rather, "I am, therefore you are; You are, therefore I am". Indeed, Thich Naht Hahn has created an Order of Interbeing with a set of Mindfulness Trainings that well embody this profound concept.

Again, I hope you take the time to read this book. It's simple, easy, and may just have a profound affect on your life, and by extension, on the world.

Namaste. And my tiny frog friend says "ribbit", which means the same thing ;-)

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Meet the Joneses

You’ve heard the phrase, “Keeping up with the Joneses”. That spiraling process of acquisition and materialism to keep step with your neighbor's new car, new riding lawnmower, new swimming pool, etc. Perhaps you’ve considered the phrase and the sentiment, and concluded, thankfully, that it is not something you wish to do.

Well, here's a news flash, and something for you to consider. For 90+ percent of people living on this earth — your last name is Jones. That’s right. Even your modest, measured, restrained, middle-class, balanced, comfortable-but-not-affluent lifestyle is precisely what the Joneses have that so many of the rest of the world need to “keep up with”.

And here’s another news flash. It doesn’t scale. The world today does not have the natural resources for everyone to have the same standard of living as you enjoy. And even if it did, it is not the way you want to live.

Hey, so what? I work hard for my money, see? I deserve this lifestyle. Why should I care? Well, if you are a native born American, then one reason is your good fortune. By accident of birth, you live in a place that immediately elevates your lifestyle above the masses of the world. In short, you were lucky. And you should consider that when you believe you have “earned” it. Of course you work hard to earn your money, but probably no harder than billions of others that do not have the opportunity to earn 1/100 of what you make — due not to your efforts or inherent talents — but to your zip code.

So what is your point? Should I feel guilty for all that I have? Guilt would not be the emotion I was going for. You should feel grateful. Grateful beyond belief. And if you really feel that way when you consider all that you now have, it will have two effects: first, it will stop your ego’s tendency to need to keep up with the Joneses around the block; and second, it may cause you to pause and consider that larger inequity. Why does it exist? What are the implications? What things that you don’t like about this world today are in some way connected to that disparity? And I think, if you consider these questions with a reflective, contemplative, introspective attitude, and one that starts on a foundation of gratitude for all that you have been given, it will be an eye-opening experience.

So where does this road lead? Only here: to a recognition that you have enough — more than enough. Just that realization can change your life. What are you working for now? What are you worrying about now? If there is a monetary component, then you just solved your problem. You already have enough.

Now wait just a minute. Yes, I can believe that maybe after I get my dishwasher fixed, and we get an air conditioner (did you see how hot it was last week?), and we replace our old jalopy, and my second kid gets through college, and we take that vacation we’ve been planning — maybe then well have “enough” and consider your point. Perhaps, like many others, you believe if you just earned 20% more money, you could eliminate your financial worries.

Another news flash: everyone believes that, and it doesn’t matter what their income level is. And even if you increase your income BY 20%, your “wants and needs” will go up by the same amount, and you are right back where you started. Just roll the calendar back 10 years and ask yourself how you felt about the money you earned then. Now consider the extra money you earn now. Where does it all go? Has it eliminated your wants and needs? Or has it just changed them into a different set — the same ones that the Joneses next door needed too.

You know where this comes from. It is the only reason Madison Avenue exists. To create in your mind a want and a need for that new “stuff”. Hey, now hold on just a minute. Maybe I do want that stuff. So what? It’s my money. You’re not taking it away from me. So if I want to buy more stuff, what’s it to you, anyway?

Don’t worry, I’m not advocating for a massive redistribution of wealth to help out the poor. But I am advocating for you as an individual to consider the consequences. How do you like the terrorism today? Don’t think that is tied into our Western lifestyle? Tied into the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’? OK, perhaps you’ll find more agreement in what our lifestyle does to the environment. Are you satisfied with our stewardship of the planet? Will you be when China or India works to raise its standard of living to a commensurate level? Where do you think wars come from? Competition over resources. Not ideology. In the end, it is about who controls the resources — and in some cases, those resources are human.

So what do you expect me to do? One person in a sea of more than six billion. Just leave me alone, let me be comfortable. Yes, let me want the next cool gadget, and I’ll be happy. Ah, but what about the children. And their children. Everyone of your ancestors can say they helped to make the world a better place for you — gave you a better lifestyle. It is, in fact, why we live. To have children, so that they can have children. It is called evolution, and it is the ultimate journey we are on. And so, we owe it to our children to make sure that the planet is here for them to decide how to make it better.

Yeah, so what? You still didn’t say what I can do about it. Well, here is where your faith is needed. No, not your belief in your God. Your faith in yourself. You need to decide just what you should do. Consume less, reduce the excess you already have. Simplify, simplify, simplify. Spend your new-found, reduced-stress time on things that matter. Spend more time with your family. Show them what choices they can make, and how those can make a difference. Spend time with yourself, and continue to reflect, contemplate, and perhaps meditate on just what is important, on overcoming the ego, on respecting all life, on beauty, on peace, on gratitude.

I believe there is tremendous power within each of us. And we use it however our mind thinks is best. But our mind has been tricked by our ego into what it thinks is best; in short, what is best for me. But that is not what is really best, because it does not scale. Indeed, it is the source of all conflict. If you seriously consider the world around you, you will realize that you are not a separate being — cut off from everything else. You cannot use everything else to better your own situation, or in the end you will damage yourself just as you damage the world around you. You are a part of the world. You are intimately connected to everything around you. So what ultimately is best for you, is what is best for those around you. Once you realize this — once you gain control over your ego (and your mind), you can use that wisdom to make new choices.

There is so much more to say about these new choices. How they will make you feel. But that should be left for another time. In short, they can give you inner peace — a foundation so solid that you will not be shaken by the inevitable storm. They can give you inner bliss — letting you see the beauty in everything and everyone around you. And then you will know unconditional love — what it feels like to offer it, and to receive it. Once you have tasted just a sampling of these things, you will no longer wish to follow the Joneses. But instead to help them see what you have seen. And from there, it will spread.

You can see another post that asks the question: Do you have enough?