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

Consider the Source

1352 Relax and Succeed - Opinions are other people's realities

A local afternoon radio drive show wanted to know what their listeners thought of the star-based rating system for plays or movies. Opinions came down on both sides, but which opinion someone has is irrelevant to this post. This is about how human beings routinely and unwittingly demonstrate the flexibility of reality.

What separates choosing using reviews vs choosing based on those with the most stars, is that the star system presumes a universal reality. 5 Stars is seen as a fact for anyone to experience, and yet we all know one person can love a movie or play and another person can hate it.

A quick example easily illustrates that using the star system has an invisible and significant qualifier attached –the person assigning the stars may have little in common with many of the people using them.

Let’s say that someone sees a play in a Fringe Theatre Program. Let’s imagine it’s called “Ugly Business” and the description says, “The sale of a family company and the arrival of a long lost sister complicate a family’s feelings over their roles and what they believe they are owed.”

Some of them will read that and think to themselves: Ah! I’m more of a creative person, I’m not interested in stories about business or people fighting over an inheritance. Plus it only got two stars.

And if they think that, then they often won’t think it’s relevant for them to read the full description or any reviews. And yet a review might be half way through before it says something like, “I was largely disappointed because this wasn’t what I went in expecting, so consider that. It takes place in a business, but it’s really more of a complex emotional story about the assumptions humans make about their roles in families.”

“Maybe if you’ve been adopted and had a reuniting process go badly this play might have depth I can’t feel, but this reviewer couldn’t find her way into this material despite very able performances and direction.”

1352 Relax and Succeed - Value happens within us

Now, let us also imagine that both the playwright/performer and the person picking the play share the fact that they were both adopted at the same age. And imagine their experiences attempting to reunite with a birth parent went terribly.

Add the fact that the performer and the prospective theater-goer are around the same age and will have shared many of the same major social and cultural experiences and suddenly that feels like the perfect play.

This is the connection all performers want with the audience, even in a comedy. If a play can establish any form of genuine empathy with us, rapport can easily build between the performer and audience. That effect can easily turn something from a two star rating into a five.

People have preached efficiency and brevity and ease as though they are religions. But as things like the Slow Food Movement, pedestrian based neighbourhoods and the resurgence of things like board games and dinner parties demonstrate, many people are more interested in connection than efficiency.

In movies or plays or restaurants, star systems have a real validity. But using them –along with other abbreviations of complex life experiences– threatens to alter the notion of ‘value’ in the same way that facebook accidentally changed and shallowed the definition of ‘friend.’ Those kind of redefinitions are not things society can double back on.

We can use stars if they work for us. But no matter what ‘systems’ we use to ease our decision-making in life, there will be trade-offs. Any decision can be fine depending on the individual and context, but we should know not only why we’re making any given decision, but also why we’re not making the alternate decisions.

We can’t just look at the upsides of something, we have to ask what price or consequence goes with each system or decision and weigh each one on the basis of both realities.

Choosing to use stars to judge art by is completely legitimate. That legitimacy is made wise if we also use that system knowing full well that our approach may cause us to occasionally miss out on value that can only be found by slowing things down to a speed where we can read life’s fine print.

peace. s

Real Princesses Have Real Problems

1302 Relax and Succeed - Princess Grace

Blinding expectation leads many of us to struggle with achieving our goals. Since everyone’s primary goal is belong, we tend to expect the love and acceptance we seek to come in a particular form, which causes us to miss when we’re actually getting offered what we need.

A good example of this innocent mistake can be seen in the film Grace of Monaco, starring Nicole Kidman as an extremely impressive version of the real princess (and Tim Roth doing an equally brilliant turn as her husband, Prince Rainier). It’s a stellar cast and script, but in today’s age of action heroes these sorts of profoundly human stories too often get ignored.

The fact that the writer managed to tell a profoundly human story about a princess was no easy feat. I’m not sure how accurate the film is (I do know a friend of Prince Albert’s –their son– and will try to find out), but for the purposes of this piece all that matters is that the writer a) used a very real event in history and, b) he accurately portrayed the princess making a common human mistake.

The backstory is that Grace Kelly grew up as the daughter of a wealthy American businessman. Grace constantly felt inferior to her sister and unloved and disrespected by her parents. Many people can relate to those feelings which is what makes a film about a princess, universal.

People short on love from the sources we’re told we ‘should’ get it from (like our parents), will often then seek that love in a much shallower, but broader sense from a much larger group of people simply because it’s safer. Who notices a few people not clapping in a room full of clapping people? Celebrity love is spread thinly enough to act as a form of fallibility insurance.

This is why many unloved people seek to be stars of various types. (It’s also why the disenfranchised in society join gangs and hate groups.) We all move towards people who care for us. That is where we are accepted and safe, and the highest form of love is love without conditions.

That is where we are accepted and safe, and the highest form of love is love without conditions.

Needing to feel cared for and admired, it’s no surprise that Grace the disappointing daughter had a decent likelihood of ending up in a job where she was loved regularly by people too distant to disappoint her. But despite her fame and success as an actress, she still did not feel accepted or respected by her family, and her mother refused to offer anything more than cold comfort.

As a demonstration of how important acceptance is to human beings, Grace’s response to not being respected and loved was to be swept off her feet into a fairy tale wedding with a Prince. Surely being Royalty would impress her family. Surely being a princess was romantic. But apparently not.

Grace’s problem in the film is that she wants to be loved so desperately. But her husband has a duty to the State and plays the sort of role that means he cannot be the husband she seeks. He is an able and trustworthy partner, but he was raised in too rigid a life to have developed the warm sensibilities she sought.

But remember what we said about expectation? Grace’s problem wasn’t that she couldn’t get love and respect, it’s that she kept trying to get it from people that couldn’t give it. For her parents it was pride and ego that were in the way; for her husband, duty and decorum.

1302 Relax and Succeed - The Meaning of Life

Critical to the story is that her marriage overlapped a crises for the Principality of Monaco. Having no taxes, France saw all of her businesses leaving the nation for Monaco. De Gaulle –the former French Resistance leader turned President of France– wanted Prince Rainier to force a tax on the Monaco’s citizens.

France had complete control of Monaco’s utilities, supply chains and harbours. They had little to bargain with. De Gaulle was threatening tanks in their streets.

The turning point in the story is when Grace realizes that her husband does love her, but must play his role. She also realizes that Monaco needs her, and that her own role actually means something.

Grace is media savvy, and so she knows that even Presidents are subject to public opinion. By surrendering her efforts to get love from a singular source like her parents, or her husband, Grace was free to become her own person by serving her people in the greatest role of her life –that of their Princess.

Grace didn’t need love as much as she needed to be valued.

I would like to think that the final scene captures the moment fairly honestly, because the very quiet and subtle film wraps up rather neatly and beautifully with the results of Grace’s growth.

In a metaphor of her own life, Princess Grace not only cleverly saves the nation (no spoiler for you there –it is still there after all), but in doing so she demonstrates that a person’s ability to value themselves does not depend on the fickle love of others.

Our self-worth is inherent. Once we become aware of that we have few needs, from there we need only find how to serve with the abundance that is us –not enacting what we have to offer is as painful as not knowing it’s there.

We are at our best when we feel secure about ourselves. Without the debilitating drag of our insecurities, were are automatically left with an abundance of love to share with others. So rather than expecting love to come to us in the form of affection, we need to maintain an awareness of the fact that some of love’s greatest forms are actually found in the sense of exaltation that can only be created by sincerely giving our all.

peace, s

The Stagnation of Thought

If you’re inactive you’re looping. You have two modes of movement through this universe. If you understood the difference between them you would find you would be much more successful at avoiding suffering; particularly anxiousness, worry and fear.

Non-word-based thought is quite valuable. A technician doesn’t look at an engine and think of the parts in words–they’re thinking of it as a function within a system. They’re like detectives looking for the answer within the flow of movement. They’re looking for clues that would provide evidence for the theory they’re testing in their minds–without words.

That kind of flowing thought is where your wisdom is. That’s how kids can learn to talk so fast. A kid can be five and know 3 languages really well; not because they’re so smart, but because they listen so well. The listening–the awareness–is the skill. The talking only facilitates some interactions, but not as many as we believe. Usually our conversations are crippled by our identities, which are undone by too much internal thinking.

The damage comes when you turn those thoughts into clubs to bash yourself with, or you turn them into loops that you tie yourself up with. Depressed people have very sad loops. They may have them for good reasons, but what they’re feeling isn’t the experience, it’s the strangle of the looping. An angry person does tight fast loops around something and then snaps. And anxious or inactive people loop around ideas so slowly (out of fear, or lack of interest), that effectively no progress is made. Those are crazy, crippling forms of over-thinking.

Think to create an idea. And yeah, develop a really good pre-production plan and set yourself up for success. But once you have your script and your plan, it’s time to shoot your film. Any thought-looping here has nothing to do with creating life, it’s only about creating fears and anxiousness.

Those of you who do it know what I’m talking about. You get excited about an idea and then you talk yourself out of it. Then you start thinking the thoughts that un-inspire and you do that until you get angry with yourself, after which you use your anger to tell your ego to shut up and then finally you get a burst of movement forward. The problem kicks in again though, just as soon as you start talking to yourself again.

People let their fears stop them because they think creation takes genius, not boldness. Here’s how easy you can leave your mark in the universe: In film we have a term for shooting without sound, so on the clapperboard they’ll write MOS. Almost everyone who starts in film will immediately ask, “Why is ‘without sound’ written as ‘MOS?'” And the answer is that a lot of the early cinematographers came from photography, and Germany was a leading nation for photography. So when a German cinematographer called out instructions to the crew, he would say, “Vee are going to jhoot ziss mit out sound.”

It exists. MOS. Millions of people know the term and use it regularly. It’s creation was a creative act. So where did it come from that it deserved to last this long? It came from one person’s bold creative act to add something to the universe.

Some senior German filmmaker said “mit out sound,” and some person with courage, risked offending the cinematographer, risked having people angry with them, maybe even risked getting fired, and they to added some humour to the universe anyway. They risked their job and people being just a little upset, and they wrote it anyway.

Obviously it was popular and spread, and now most Germans are quite proud to know their artistic culture has left this mark in the world. And that was invented by some guy just trying to create a life by making a small joke with his co-workers. And yet how many of you stop yourselves from doing likewise pretty routinely?

How many of you will be the first to put your hand up to volunteer?  Do you see how fears hold your life back? And do you see how things can echo if you live life with courage? Families end up being created by someone having the simple courage to ask someone to dance.

Your creation could be a relationship that you get the courage to start if you stop talking yourself out of your worthiness. Or you could create a child, or a friendship or a career or business. You can create an enjoyable conversation (because why create an unenjoyable one?). You could create a piece of art, you can expand by learning, or even building a spreadsheet. Life happens as a verb. Verb your life. Because the worst fate is isn’t failing or having people laugh at you. The worst fate possible is to leave your life unlived. So start living yours right this moment.

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.

The Friday Dose #116: Present Moments

At any given time there are many very wise people walking this earth. These are people who have stumbled, worked, studied, practised and in my case lucked into seeing an underlying truth that impacts us all. These people are all guides, offering direction to us all.

Dan Millman is one of those gurus and his book, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior (and the film that was made from it) are yet another telling of the same tale told in these blog pages. People often tilt towards nonfiction when they want to accomplish something and yet the stories in “fiction” are often truer than any other kind that are told. If you haven’t seen the film I would consider it.

You put art on your walls, you spend time with friends and you watch various media. How much of it is done with eye toward expanding the happiness in your life? Would you hang a painting that makes your place look hip or because it made you happy? Do you listen to music that uplifts and motivates you or music that regurgitates your most emotional thought-filled moments? And do you watch movies filled with violence and victimisation or do you use that art-form to try to grow through art?

This film comes with some excellent, relevant recommendations. You can add mine to the list.

You always have choices. Remember that you can make them from a perspective of happiness. Have a great weekend everyone.

peace. s

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

The Movie We’re Making

829 Relax and Succeed - Have much and be confused

In film a shooting ratio is how much footage we shoot relative to how much of it we end up using in our finished production. Back when we shot on film and there was no way to see what you had just shot (and the risk was subsequently much higher), we still shot a small fraction of what people currently shoot.

What does a filmmaker’s shooting ratio have to do with mental health? Because it acts as a metaphor for what too many of us do today, which is generating large amounts of busy thinking.

Today someone can literally have a 30 to 1 or even 150 to 1 shooting ratios, which means going through 150 minutes of film to find just the one minute you need. Meanwhile, people in their 50’s will often have ratios closer to 1.4 to 1 or 2.8 to 1 etc. simply because that’s what they’re used to. They work with less fear and more confidence.

An actor’s director like Clint Eastwood doesn’t like to wear out his cast, so now with video where he can see what he just shot, he’ll often only shoot a single take and he’ll do that for 30 to 40 percent of the film. It’s cheaper, faster and calmer.

That practice reduces his workload considerably once it comes to editing the film together. By making more careful, present and considered choices in the moment of filming, he leaves himself with manageable options in the editing room. His mind isn’t overly busy with the unnecessary. There is no FOMO about what might have been done.

Transfer this to the regular world and today we are bombarded with much more information, broken into shorter and faster chunks. Add in many more distractions,  responsibilities and uncertainties to that and it makes sense why everyone feels rushed and tired.

There are so many things outside of us and out of our control that demand our attention that it’s as though the editor that works in our mind is overloaded with footage and it’s getting hard to tell the useful stuff from the stuff we were better to have never even recorded.

Part of our challenge is that when we are faced with ‘too much,’ we tend to first think about getting rid of feelings we tell ourselves are negative, but that isn’t a useful sorting tool because it can leave out some beautiful and profound experiences that involve pain or struggle.

829 Relax and Succeed - Reasons my wife is crying

Clint Eastwood isn’t better because he cuts together all nice scenes, his talent is that the lead character’s story is so thoroughly absorbing that we actually enjoy the challenging scenes too. It is possible to feel that way about ourselves and the story of our own lives.

Rather than trying to ‘shoot our way around’ all of the painful emotions by gathering more and more of what we like, we are better to gather less and simply accept some negativity along the way.

Quality negativity is much better than the useless negativity generated by too much choice. We don’t want to give our Memory Editor a deluge of everything because it wears our editor out. Even funny scenes get tiring if we have too many of them.

In short, we need to be more careful about what we invest our attention on in the first place. In the real world of mental health we’re not so much looking for fun moments as much as we are looking for fully absorbing ones.

If we pay closer attention we will notice that as long as we’re thoroughly involved in a moment or ‘scene,’ we won’t really even notice the time passing regardless of the scene content. We don’t need to be happy as much as we just need to be present and fully alive within that experience. In this way even emergencies can be exhilarating.

Rather than burying our Editor in meaningless footage, we need to get a more judicious Director of Photography regarding what you’re going to commit to the film of our life. The lens is like the metaphor for our attention. Where we focus it will tell us what kind of shot we’re going to get. If you shoot sad scenes we should expect a sad experience. Likewise for happy ones etc. etc. etc.

If we focus on conflict-laden scenes then that’s what our day will be made up of and that’s what we’ll have to review in the editing room (in bed) at night. It’s why so many people have trouble falling asleep. Less really can be more.

Remember, Clint Eastwood can have a seemingly risky (though Zen-like) shooting ratio and yet the proof is in his record: as of this writing he’s Directed five different actors to Academy Award wins and he himself has been nominated for a dozen and won five. And he’s known for liking his sets quiet and slow but efficient and cooperative. That’s a good model for a lot of things.

829 Relax and Succeed - The bird in a forest

Clint will still film both joy and sadness, pleasure and pain, gain and loss. Again, the profound living is less so in the tone of the content and more so in the depth of our appreciation of that content.

Even in sad scenes we can authentically feel that Clint loves his work, he loves the people he works with and he loves his stories –and it all shows in his incredible track record. His films feature tragedy and pain just as much as joy and redemption, and yet we love the entire film. We can feel that way about our own lives, in much the same way.

With whatever we’re doing we should be wary not to ‘shoot too much.’ We can see being busy-minded as being equivalent to a high shooting percentage. And, if we’ve gone out and shot a bunch of depressing footage then we shouldn’t be surprised if our editor (our ego, who puts words and emotions to all of our experience), ends up depressed.

Too much busy thinking or too much sadness is not good because it makes shooting the next day harder, and if we aren’t careful we’ll develop a habit of shooting only life’s crap instead of also including its beauty.

Start today. Focus your attention on the film you want to make, not on the one you’re afraid you might make. And the healthiest choice after shooting is to do like a lot of big cinematographers and never see the finished film.

Then we can know for sure that we didn’t make our film for anyone else but ourselves, and that’s good because that was entirely the point. We were meant to live our lives, not judge them. Replaying our own films is just memory-based ego. But the making of our films is our life. For that reason, it is worthwhile to be very mindful of the movie we are always making with where we choose to focus our attention.

peace. s

The Movie of Your Life

My background is in film and television and in that world there’s a large group of people whose only job is to influence your brain in ways you can perceive but that you’re not consciously aware of. And I’m going to amaze you by showing you proof of what you haven’t noticed.

773 Relax and Succeed - So I guess we areYour mind is such a subtle thing. It’s difficult for you to accept but your version of reality is little more than a collage of your thoughts and beliefs. The influences on you are many and they are both intentional and unintentional. But in this blog I’ll prove that all day long your mind is doing far more interpreting than you realize.

A good example of how things outside of your awareness influence you; note that a talented motion picture Sound Editor can suddenly have all of the birds go quiet in an outdoor scene at the exact same moment that the lead actor says the screenwriter’s key Oh oh…” line in the film. You get a sense of dread. You think the actress is brilliant.

The actress is brilliant. But she is helpless without the line being written well, the score subconsciously defining the right mood via music, the lighting setting a tone, and the sudden absence of the birds–which triggers an ancient response in us that something is wrong, because that’s when the birds historically all suddenly went quiet. And that affects you far more than you realize.

773 Relax and Succeed - We stopped checking for monstersBut you won’t notice that any more than anyone noticed that the Wardrobe person took a character who was harsh and wore sharp, hard-edged clothes and how as the character softened so did their clothes. Smith in The Matrix looks like The Man because represents The Man. The Production Designer and Colourist will literally set tones for a project–it goes on an on. That’s a big part of what makes a TV series look like a series.

It’s also unlikely that you never noticed that the Director of Photography made the hero look good by lighting her from above, referring to daytime–when we feel safe. And that the same DOP made us not like the villain by lighting him from below, as though it is nighttime and we’re huddled around a fire listening carefully to the darkness that leaves too much room for our imagination.

Another great example is aspect ratios. You don’t even know you know about aspect ratios. But you know all kinds of things about them based purely on on the patterns you’ve seen. If one aspect ratio is always associated with certain things, then when you see it your brain begins to presume those other things must also be present. The video near the end will explain it very well.

773 Relax and Succeed - You see highlight reelsEvery talented and skilled film professional is working to move the story forward through their own artform. If they’re good and they know what they’re doing then they are intentionally manipulating wiring that you already have in your brain for interpreting the world. That matrix of beliefs is why the world appears to you as it does. And that extends beyond movies and TV shows and into your everyday life. It’s only a matter of–what did you get taught to edit into your own life movie?

To use a couple different metaphors to help make the point; it’s like your life feels like you’re cruising through an ocean with a fishing line and bait in the water, but you keep catching a fish you don’t like because it likes that bait. So you think the world tastes bad when really it’s the bait you’re using.

The same if you’re locked in a dark house with a flashlight. The house is like the universe and the flashlight is like your attention. The rest of the world/house doesn’t matter because you only process what you’re attention is on. So if you constantly shine it on things that scare you, don’t blame the house. The house is not scary. You just have a habit of focusing your attention on scary things. The house was filled with other stuff. Someone taught you to pick scary things. Or sad things. Or upsetting things. Or… enjoyable things.

Watch this video and realize how much you’re influenced by people who know more about your brain than you do. And then think about their agenda. These people just want to take you on an emotionally satisfying journey. There’s other people with less generous agendas, and there are many ways in which the world mesmerizes you with beliefs that you are convinced to turn into “actual things” in your imagination.

Your only defense is to know it happens, and to know that it means you never can be super sure you ever really know what’s going on. For all we know we could’ve been in a coma for the last 15 years and we’ve imagined this entire life from a hospital bed. So if the entire thing is that flexible you can see there’s no real way to know exactly what to do, so you can just relax. Treat the place less like a testing ground and more like a playground. Have some fun.

The world is an extremely flexible place. Your perspective is much more fluid and arbitrary and open to change than you ever thought possible. This does not make the world more frivolous. It gives it more potential. Because once we become aware of how much our thoughts change our perspective on what we see the less those thoughts affect us. And the peace that remains is what absolutely everyone is ultimately seeking. And that’s a movie we’d all like starring in.

Now go edit yourself an awesome day.

peace. s

P.S. The screenwriters who wrote the Joker’s line were Jonathan and Christopher Nolan, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower was written by Stephen Chbosky.

Scott McPherson is a writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and nonprofit organizations around the world.

The Authentic Life

I spent most of my adult life working in film and television, so using acting as a metaphor for life is very natural. In this case I’ll be using different types of actors as examples of how to live in a state of ego versus a state of being. I realize both “ego” and “being” might seem like nebulous terms, but hopefully this metaphor will resolve that in a way that is helpful to you.

The ego actor is a performer. He needs the audience’s approval. For him rehearsal is waiting, the ego actor is alive only in front of others. Acceptance, support and 597 Relax and Succeed - Truly healthy peopleapplause are very important to the process. This actor may be very, very talented through careful and dedicated study, but there will still be an important difference between them and the true artist.

I’ve known a lot of actors and like in most jobs, a small percentage were truly stellar. And not surprisingly, those actors were all very similar. They weren’t just super-talented, extremely authentic performers, but they also treat crews extremely well, and they’re generous with other cast members (whereas the ego actor wants to steal scenes). They’re in my experience generally loving, smart, supportive parents and I would rank them among some of the most compassionate and aware people I’ve met.

When I teach film I’ll often point my students to my friend Shaun as an excellent example of a true artist. I’ve used him before when talking about authenticity because his life demonstrates to students the most artful, skilled and sensitive approach to acting they could hope to have. Every time I’ve worked with him he is all about the work. He has so much personal character he would recommend his character come across worse if he felt it helped the production. He’s a team-player that comes up with excellent ideas and he makes everyone around him better.

597 Relax and Succeed - Be yourselfSo how does he actually do that? It’s because he’s completely about the performance itself. There is no Shaun in there. Shaun’s needs and agendas are gone and the production and the character’s needs prevail completely. This singular and powerful focus strips away all of his busy personal thinking in favour of him using every useful input to contribute to his being of the character. He’s not striving to be impressive, or seen as talented, or even just to be accepted, but all of that and more happens anyway because his performances are so wonderfully authentic.

So while the ego actor is trying to win over an audience the true actor is trying to most authentically realize a character and story and then whatever happens happens. Except one to his brother, Van Gogh didn’t sell a painting in his life. So why didn’t he change styles? Because he wasn’t painting for us. He wasn’t painting to sell. He was painting to explore. To delve. To know. And as Shaun’s strong career demonstrates, audiences can sense that focus on the work itself. They find the generosity of the performance to be magnetic. Meanwhile the clown has changed clothes and faces so many times no one can figure out who he is to see if they might possible like that person without all of his makeup and costuming on.

No matter what your job is, don’t perform through your life. It’s what egos do and we’ll all do it sometimes, but if you’re vigilant you can easily ensure you don’t do it often or for long. Then eventually it’ll just be your nature to be more natural.

597 Relax and Succeed -  There are people in your lifeSo don’t put on clown makeup and try to make people laugh. Don’t trip and fall for applause and don’t repaint yourself to be who the audience wants you to be. Don’t try to fit into what people want. Be more like the creative archaeologist. Uncover a brilliant example of what you’re doing and take your pleasure from the experience itself rather than from people’s approval. We’ll all love that.

Real artists don’t just make art. Some are lawyers and doctors and concrete workers and teachers. You can do anything authentically. And that’s always better. When the agenda is to achieve good ends for others we’re all okay. We get into trouble when we’re not focused on good ends but rather on struggling to ensure we’re acceptable to others. One is exhausting and the other is enriching.

Be an authentic actor in your life. Be true to yourself, trust that you’re always ending up in the perfect place and then don’t ruminate on the alternatives. You don’t need sequels or re-takes. You just need to leave your ego behind so that you can be fully and completely present for your all-too-brief time here on the stage of life.

Have yourself a wonderful, artful day.

peace s

Directing Your Life

Imagine your life as a high-tech movie that is shown as it is made. This movie will play only once, in only one direction, and only one frame will be in front of the bulb of consciousness at any given moment. That frame is known as the present moment. Once you have seen a frame you will never see it again. Since the film is being made as it’s shown, you do have the option to re-create a previous frame in a later scene, but it still won’t be the original frame—it’ll be a new one that you have purposefully built to look like the old frame. Life is always new, even if that newness is invested in reconstructing previous times.

525 Relax and Succeed - Life is like a movieKeep in mind that the film is being made as it is being shown. When we say we have become conscious, what we mean is that we have become aware of our role in the creation of our film/reality. If we change our thoughts we will change how things are. Can you see then how this saves you from suffering about the past? Can you see how, just by understanding this one point, you can be free of a big chunk of optional suffering?

Once you’re conscious you know that you decide which movie you’re making. So you know that you can’t blame flashbacks on the characters in the scenes. Those thoughts are yours. So if you’ve chosen to edit in some flashback from a painful time in your life then that is your choice. But then don’t expect to feel happy during a sad scene. If you want to re-construct an unpleasant past event then of course you get the emotions that go with it. It’s a very simple system. But likewise, being happy’s that easy too.

You’re the Director. You decide how you want your story told. If you choose to make horrors or maudlin dramas then don’t be surprised when you get the appropriate reactions. The real question is, are you going to choose to meaninglessly re-construct troublesome past experiences, or are you going to use that same psychological energy to create some new and worthwhile experience instead?

525 Relax and Succeed - She could never go backThe film that’s been shown has been shown. You can’t go back and fix the past. The more you return to it the more you keep it alive in the present moment. You can argue for how compelling it is. You can suggest it’s natural to re-live it. But none of that explains why you aren’t that way about dozens of other things in your life. No, sorry: you choose your thoughts. If you’re thinking painful ones then that is not because those thoughts weigh more or something strange like that. “Important thoughts” are ones you think often, whereas “unimportant thoughts” you barely think at all. That is the only difference between the two—the weight of your consciousness.

You can’t make a film by thinking about the scenes you’ve already shot. Those are done and you’ve moved on. You have to get focused on the scene you’re in. Using current scenes to meaninglessly repeat previous scenes is insane. Recognize your freedom and ability. Create scenes that are easy to enjoy. Forget the idea that you will make the present better by revisiting the past. Save yourself from your own flashbacks and be alive today instead.

Now go and have/create/direct yourself a wonderful day!

peace. s

Producing Disappointment

I ways back I used to eat my porridge every morning in a greasy spoon near where I lived. An old farmer owned it and it was one of those totally unpretentious places where everyone knew everyone, the service was fast and friendly and it wasn’t unusual to have strangers at your table. I went in the morning of my 28th birthday and ended up sitting next to a huge Aboriginal guy who was quiet, but very friendly. He heard the staff wishing me a happy birthday and he asked me how old I was turning. When I told him he said, “Ah, 28. The year you learn to say ‘no.’”

453 Relax and Succeed - There is only one wayNot long after that I got a call from a billionaire that used to meet with me fairly regularly. He used to use my ability to notice strange patterns in things to help him make business decisions, although secretly I think he was actually more interested in the fact that my Dad is my hero and I think he wanted to know how to be a hero to his kids. This time the call was all business. He was greatly expanding his television network and he wanted me to come on board to help choose and develop future programming on the both the film and TV side. I had just come off a couple of movies and a few series, so I was due for a change and I agreed. What exactly I was agreeing to though, I did not fully comprehend.

Canada was/(still is?) the second largest exporter of TV worldwide after the US, but it was still a small enough industry that all of the steady working people knew most of the people in their region and a lot of us knew most of the people from one end of the country to the other. That closeness proved to be an interesting factor when it came time to do the job.

I had a budget that was the envy of the industry. I had the freedom to work in both free and pay TV, on series as well as features. It was the only job like it in the country and it brought virtually every type of producer into my office. On average we would receive about 1600+ submissions a year, we would develop maybe 25-50 and produce about a dozen, including series. Of course those numbers meant that I was saying “no” the vast majority of the time.

The trick was, I was saying no to my friends. People who I had grown up with in the industry. People I liked and respected. People close to me. And to each of those people their projects were generally the only thing they were working on. They had all of their eggs in that basket—their heart and soul was into it, and I would be the guy who would crush their dreams of ever getting or sustaining a mortgage.

453 Relax and Succeed - If nobody hates youBeing the guy I am I was able to appreciate that someone had to make the determination. They couldn’t give the money out on a first come first served basis. Nor could we do it alphabetically, or by script weight. Someone had to give an opinion about what they thought would work and the billionaire anointed me. I won’t say that I liked turning down my friends—or even the non-friends who I knew had worked super hard on their submissions. But this wasn’t a popularity contest. I had a job and my job was to pick things that would recoup their investments and it turned out I was extremely good at that. But that meant that I had to turn down development proposals that ended up destroying companies and careers. And it’s not like I didn’t turn away some heartfelt personal stories. And undoubtedly I was wrong many times. I crushed a lot of dreams being a success at that job.

When you’re responsible for money like that it’s strange. Everyone has theories about what they would do if they had the job, but it’s much different imagining spending one million dollars on Richard Chamberlain. It’s another thing altogether to actually be responsible for one million dollars for Richard Chamberlain. Because there is no way to actually calculate beforehand if he would be worth it (it turned out he was), and there was no shortage of people I’d turned down who disagreed. I also had to chastise lazy writers, and inform neophytes about what they didn’t know. I had to not cast people’s spouses and even for those that got money, they didn’t always get what they wanted.

People used to ask me if it bothered me that there were people that hated me for those decisions (and undoubtedly for differences in our personalities too). But the answer was no, it didn’t bother me. Why would it? No matter who I chose, someone wasn’t getting money. A lot of someones weren’t. The majority of someones weren’t. And so I made a lot more people angry than I made happy. But hey, that’s why it’s tough at the top. That’s why they pay you the big bucks. But bottom line, you can’t be who you are and also cater to the desires of everyone you meet. You have to be your own person. You have to have faith in yourself. Not to be 453 Relax and Succeed - Stop being afraid of what could go wronginfallible. But to realize that you’ve been given a job because it needs doing. And your job is to do it the best you can, which I did.

We won a lot of awards and set a few records while I was there, but that’s not why I felt successful. I felt—and continue to feel—successful because I chose those projects with great care and with tremendous respect for the money I was investing and for the work that had gone into the projects. I knew I couldn’t be right every time, but I was going to be right as often as I could.

You sense of self can’t come from the approval of others. If everyone likes your decisions then you’re not making any—or at least any of consequence. To make an omelet you have to crack a few eggs. You can’t focus on the cracked shells, you have to focus on your objective, and the objective wasn’t to reject things. I’m sure there were many money makers in the “no” pile. But again, I only had so much money. So rather than focus on who I disappointed, I focused on who I could help. And I’m pleased to say that I gave a start some very talented people who’ve gone on to great careers. But I couldn’t have done that if I wasn’t prepared to put myself out there to be criticized for my decisions. I get that. If I worked two years on something and it got rejected I would be upset too. And I might even call the person who did it some names for a few minutes after I found out about the rejection. But eventually that would wear off and I would know that someone had to choose, and they couldn’t say yes to everything and so it only makes sense that we all have a better chance of being in “no” pile.

453 Relax and Succeed - You are not designedDon’t let fears of being liked prevent you from doing what you think is right. You absolutely will be wrong quite often, just like all of us. But as long as you’re right more than you’re wrong, they let you keep playing the big sandbox.

I’m glad to be out of that now. I had a ton of fun at the height of the industry—just before the internet took the legs out from underneath the golden age. It was nice hotels, limos, cool festivals and real life movie stars. But you got none of that unless you were willing to have some writer scream obscenities at you in a hotel bar. You had to be willing to know that a good friend considered you the reason that her business failed. Again, everyone has their separate realities and it’s obvious I would be the villain in many people’s rejection narratives. But that’s like having someone mad at you because you don’t want to date them. You’re not saying they’re not worth anything. You’re just saying they don’t match you.

Don’t be a pleaser. Be yourself and those who love you will make ample room for your choices. You’re not here to make us happy, you’re here to make you happy. So respect people. Be empathetic to their pain. But as much as possible, don’t let the downsides dictate a decision. Just make the best decisions you can with the information you have and go from there. And just always remember that they could be right; you could be wrong. 😉

peace. s