Films About Reality

 

1361 Relax and Succeed - Before enlightenment I chopped wood

This post includes a video analysis of The Truman Show that is used for teaching film themes. There’s also a clip from The Matrix and I reference Arrival too. Fortunately, they are not only good films, but collectively they are also very useful for a discussion about the nature of reality as well.

(Beware, there are some spoilers relating to each of the three films discussed, so if you haven’t seen them, you might want to do so before reading this.)

Movies that question reality are not new. And films that deal with the value of real life are also common. But they aren’t often recognized as a group of films that all make essentially the same statement despite having wildly different mechanisms for telling their stories.

The film The Matrix sees the protagonist offered a choice between two pills. One is easy and smooth and it represents a largely pleasant illusion tailored to our tastes. It’s thin and fleeting, it’s pleasures can always be easily taken away, and it always depends on others. That pill represents our ego.

Meanwhile, the other choice involves pain and suffering and battles and bad odds. But it also hints at some undefinable reward that will come to the protagonist once he surrenders his previous beliefs completely –once he becomes a more unlimited self.

By letting his limiting beliefs go, the character of Neo becomes in some way, superhuman. He is like an advanced being, yet still himself. His shift is like a visible form of enlightenment, where he handles bullets the way enlightened people handle limited thinking.

And when we see him in action, we note that he does not escape his previous reality. He faces it on a new level –one where others can’t reach him with their attacks and one where he can respond with peaceful effectiveness. But he spends most of the film just realizing how to be that way. It’s the final act and climax that proves that he has mastered his new awareness.

In that film, Morpheus presents the simple act of living in reality as having preeminent value because in that reality we are all presented as all-powerful. This is the headspace in which we gain control over our lives. This is the positive spin on the enlightenment idea. It’s how it feels on the inside a lot of the time.

But of course, if there is an inside then there must be an outside. How enlightenment feels on the inside is one thing, but the reason people have trouble finding it in their lives is that the other two films present the enlightenment story much more ‘realistically’ from the outside. (Which is saying something because they too have very fantastic storylines.)

In some ways The Matrix could be seen to be glorifying this state of being. In our reality most of us wouldn’t be fighting Samurai style with some universe-controlling villain. Our lives are more like the Zen saying about chopping wood and carrying water, or Shunryu Suzuki’s note about, “Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on your usual everyday routine.”

By contrast, Truman represents how we often stumble less consciously towards enlightenment. While most people are earnest and want answers, they don’t really see themselves as being on an advancing path that may one day lead them to a form of freedom. They don’t perceive their progress.

Nevertheless, if they continue to ask questions of themselves and their world, they can eventually punch their way through the illusions that confine their spirit. In The Truman Show the film ends with the beginning of Truman’s future, free of his ego. It is shrouded in mystery, but he enters this new world boldly, for on the inside he now maintains a greater, brighter vision for his life.

By contrast, Arrival demonstrates the value of suffering within reality by having a character reach a climax wherein aliens offer her the chance at a strange form of reincarnation where she can re-live her existing life.

Like Neo in The Matrix and Truman in The Truman Show, the entire point of the film is that the scientist chooses the harder path through life, with the implication being that reality with pain is better than non-reality without it.

This matches Buddhist beliefs nicely. In Arrival the simple fact that she happily chooses to relive a life filled with the painful loss of loved ones hints at the value that those loved ones bring to life with even their temporary presence. This is quite profound.

The film states a common truth –on their deathbeds, many people would choose to relive even an unhappy life all over again. We would be good to wonder why while we’re alive.

When I first speak with many students I can sense that their concerns revolve around a calculation they do. Considering the idea that they are already suffering from low levels of spiritual energy, the idea of them taking on more responsibility can seem understandably daunting.

Fortunately, what I’m describing might initially seem like another form of onerous responsibility, but in reality it is a form of responsibility to ourselves. This is a healthy kind of selfishness that means we care for ourselves first. This form of responsibility gives us a large degree of control over our minds.

Each film tries to realize the value of living in that responsible reality in different ways, but each one underlines that there is a very profound reason for choosing what appears to be a harder path.

In the film’s The Matrix, Arrival, or The Truman Show, reality is not given value by its shiny surfaces, its ease of passage, or its slick results. In each of those what the character’s seeks isn’t comfort, it is the authenticity of being alive –even if that also means accepting great suffering. The gains of an enlightened life explain why.

In the training I do I can teach people to ‘see the matrix.’ I can help them see the value in their existing life. And I can help them build and launch their spiritual boat. But if people want to punch through and break out of the limitations of their ego, before they even contact me to begin, they’ll will have been the ones who started the process internally, by setting their own horizons as their destination.

peace, s

The Laughing Buddha

1318 Relax and Succeed - Laughing Buddha

It gets mentioned often in my work because it really is important. It should be seen as a deeply spiritual act.

When did we each last laugh? Even when things are heavy, eventually we will need to lighten our emotions or we’ll be crushed. And laughter shouldn’t be something we leave to chance. We should have it as a part of our daily agenda in life.

We should all look at our weekly calendars and in them we should do our best to include some time with a funny friend, or to see a funny movie, or watch a funny show, or play, or to play some game that makes us laugh. We can even just watch comedians on YouTube.

Maybe we should even colour code times in our calendars where there is a high likelihood of laughing. Too little colour? That’s a week lacking in soul.

How and why we laugh doesn’t matter. It’s the laughing itself that we should see as being very real spiritual development. If that feels like a cheat it isn’t. Getting healthy not only can be enjoyable, to me it’s always been very weird that anyone ever thought that getting healthy needed to be painful. Why would that be? Catharsis maybe yes, but liberation feels great.

1318 Relax and Succeed - Laughter is a form

Let’s all make sure to keep our portals to joy open. Let’s laugh deeply and often and intentionally. We cannot lose touch with that part of ourselves. That version of us should be familiar.

Many times when working with someone new, I will see them react to hearing their own laugh for the first time in –sometimes years. So that ability might feel innate –and it is– but the more we do of it the better we get at finding reasons to do it. And it’s those moment by moment wins that add up to a great life.

We should considering making a category in our calendars for laughing. We need to ensure we get at least one good shot at some belly laughs every week at minimum and, if we can pull it off, we should go for one a day minimum. Everything over that is like icing on the cake. It just keeps getting better.

What a brutal spiritual guide I make, huh? Laugh more, I say. It’s because it’s a form of joyful prayer. When it is done so fully that we become the laugh –and cease for a time to be our ego-selves– that is where a state of enlightenment is discovered; a place where there is no time, and where we perceive no self to be judged or be wrong.

In that place we are always complete.

Laughing melts our egos into the energy of joy, expressed in a present moment. It’s like being in a church with walls made of light. Let’s all make sure we spend some time there on a regular basis.

peace, s

Completely You

Your ego spends its time trying to think it’s way through its existence. It wants to find what you perceive as a healthy route through life, and you want your route, not just any route. You imagine there is a tightrope to walk and that you need to work to maintain your balance. The answer always feels outside of you. You do not imagine this tightrope is in fact the entire universe and that you were born balanced.

You’re a terrible procrastinator because you have this fear of not doing it right, or maybe you think it isn’t the right thing for the real you to do. Whatever your ego’s story is, it will always talk to you about its fears or limits. But then the deadline looms too closely and then what happens? Boom. You can work. There is so little time left that you rationally don’t have the time to think about unproductive things, and you zoom through the work. So why can’t you do that the rest of the time?

You keep looking for a route with none of the things that you tend to call mistakes, or problems, or difficulties, or struggle. And in doing so you create for yourself a ton of opportunities for mistakes, problems, difficulties and struggle. Your answer isn’t to do something differently, it’s to feel differently about what you do. All of those so-called challenges are in fact life, and the overcoming of them is living it. Only your layer of egocentric stories makes all of those things personal.

The radical part for you is to imagine your crazy, screwed up life as actually being lived perfectly, where even your questions are a part of your answer. Like the stumbling, bumbling, goofy source of comedy that many smart stories contain, you are in fact perfect in your imperfection.

Indeed the world rolls forward on the basis of you continually trying to make sense of it, but the point isn’t for it to make sense, the point is to enjoy the act of converting its potential into a form of personal sense. That’s how you reconcile everyone’s disparate opinions–you allow them to stay separate. It’s like every drama you’ve ever watched. If it had no conflict to overcome you would never have watched it. Each channel is showing a different drama and yet the only reason anyone watches any of them is for the drama itself.

Can you imagine looking at your life but not feeling personal about it? Can you imagine living it more like your ego is a game piece, than a person? That your ego is merely the character you play in this game? And that it’s an improv piece, so there’s no way for you to get any lines right or wrong, they just lead to something funnier or less funny….?

That’s your life right there. If you can see this whole thing is just one big silly drama that just ends with you leaving the cast, then it all seems less serious. And ironically, by making the “results” of your “life” less serious, you’ll make the living of that life much more profound.

You don’t need to be found, you have never been lost. You don’t need more, you need less. You don’t need to change, you need to realise. Just for today, try to imagine that your life is going perfectly–imagine that even your embarrassing moments or terrible performances are all a part of what you’re supposed to do as an enlightened person. Because that’s true.

There is no way to be outside of this game. All you can do is play or not play. So don’t avoid playing so that you can figure out how to play. Do the crazy-radical thing and accept yourself instead, and all the love you’ll ever need will flow to you when you do.

peace. s

Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organizations locally and around the world.