The Pleasantville Problem

 

1375 Relax and Succeed - It is not possible

When it comes to storytelling, there are only so many ways in which characters and plot directions can mix. This means we often see the same essential story types in many unique and different forms.

Despite the existence of those forms, every now and again someone creates something classic. Something with themes so universal that the art can travel smoothly and easily through time. In this case I’m referring to a film that quite literally travels smoothly through time.

Pleasantville was made in pre-9/11 1998. Back then it was a more innocent story about women and their roles in society, the acceptance of people of colour, and it cast a bad light on oppression of all forms. It is an anti-conformity, pro-novelty and independence story.

Today everyone would think the story was about immigration or trans-gendered issues or race relations, which demonstrates how a Classic works in action. Even though it’s external context has changed, it remains just as relevant as when it was discussing the different issues that were being analyzed when the film was released. That ability to stay relevant by focusing on universal principles is what will allow this film to move through time as a Classic.

Even from just the film trailer, it’s easy to comprehend the fundamental plot about a brother and sister who end up trapped in a 1950’s TV show. Within that reality, no one knows any thought or feeling that doesn’t already exist within the scripts that they live out as literal and figurative black and white truths.

When the brother and sister introduce novelty and choice –and especially the variation in feelings those things cause– it’s shocking to everyone. But as other characters also engage in novelty –and the variable feelings that go with it– people begin to feel increasingly more alive. On screen, colour starts seeping into their previous black and white lives.

That premise is a great metaphor for how we will live out our identities. Most of us go to jobs we dislike, dress or behave in ways we don’t like, to please people we don’t like. We play a role in our families, and with our friends, and for our jobs. When things get difficult the range or motion for our identity can slowly be narrowed to the point of feeling more like a psychological straight-jacket.

This turns us into ego-based robots within our own lives, where we do everything unconsciously and we live by rote. We don’t want to function like slot cars or train sets. We are not fixed on some track, where we must only enact the same choices and over, all while we have internalized thought-wars in our heads about how we want change.

Like the people of Pleasantville, we must shake ourselves awake and recognize our flexibility. In watching the film again I felt like Toby Maguire. My course and this blog is nothing more than me shaking people awake. It is us that strangles the colour out of our lives. We are the ones that choose to repeat the same tones until our mind takes their existence for granted.

(Don’t watch this if you want to watch the movie, it contains a fairly small spoiler.)

For anyone who has never done it before, it is worth it to make efforts to break free of our habits –to make decisions that reflect our essence. Rather than cling to the security of what we know, we are better to leave our wombs of consistency.

We are better to escape by using our presence. Our resulting awareness will expose to us that it has always been us that was building our repetitive realities. We do that by continuing to think of the world and ourselves in the same consistent ways. But with that very same power, we can become conscious and choose instead to build ourselves entirely new realities.

Whether it is someone suddenly realizing they need to leave their job, or that they can live without someone and are getting divorced, or that they can move past their grief, or overcome a negative self-image –when we change our thoughts about who we are and what can happen, the world around us changes.

Consistency has a kind of inertia that compels us not to disrupt its predictability. But without free will, there is no actual life being lived. Yes, living in the moment without knowing what is next is a larger and more mysterious feeling than the narrow path of predictability can incite within us. But that is the point.

Yes, a more colourful life also means we experience greater intensities of fear and sadness and anger. But it also means we feel more awe, more joy and more love. This is why I most often hear from people, when they are literally so sick of their patterns that they will even consider novelty as a way out.

As scary as some new and larger reality may seem, I have yet to have anyone ask to go back to a life with less freedom or colour. That’s worth thinking about the next time any of us feels compelled to hide from life.

peace. s

The World of Feeling

Where do you live? And I don’t mean your body. That’s not you. Otherwise everyone whose body died would be dead and we know that’s not true. In cases similar to mine lots of people have had their body die and then they’ve resurrected. So you isn’t your body, it’s whatever’s in your consciousness. The contents of your consciousness—your beliefs, self-identity and 673 Relax and Succeed - How good you feelhabitual narratives all define what you act like and therefore who you believe you are. So if you are the sum all of your thinking then where you live is your consciousness.

That is where you spend your time. You’ve almost completely abandoned the world by 25 years old and you would only make a real connection with it when you played sports or maybe camped. Outdoor adventurers tend to stay a bit more in touch, but for the most part people spend most of their lives swimming to and fro in their own thinking. So you have this choice, which is to take the world in, or you can output an opinion about the little bit of it you pay a little bit of attention to. Just think about some of the opinions you have of other people and how insanely second and third hand and unreliable they are. We’re crazy.

So now there’s two primary places you can situate yourself in human consciousness. You can live in the world of ideas. These are things like your culture or your laws or your rules or manners or ways of doing things. So in WWII a guy could say that he was a junior officer and had been ordered to kill people and in the world of ideas that can make a kind of sense. But in the human world, the world of feelings, everyone knows that killing feels wrong. A technical thought-based version of reality does not excuse the fact that a human being murdered other human beings. So it’s possible to be technically correct 673 Relax and Succeed - Without the Taoaccording to the rules and yet your behaviour could still be entirely immoral. It is important to remember that we live within that bizarre duality every single day.

Because I have long-lived with an awareness that people actually live in their consciousness, I was often at odds with those around me. Without realizing they had done it, they would all work toward a judgment of and then alignment with one of a few dominant perspectives. Like for instance, the idea of good and bad. So if you live there, music must be ranked very seriously and where I live you just listen. There’s no right or wrong things to enjoy. You can like this kind of music instead of that, wear this instead of that, vote for them instead of them, you can like these people or companies or objects. But most people live where there are fashions and trends and things are new or desired. I’ve generally surrounded myself with extremely impressive people, so I rarely had conflicts with their humanitarian views but I still was living in a different place when it came to the reality I was living in.

How this difference would translate is that their priority would be to reconcile the discussion in the room to those dominant perspectives, whereas I would see the room as an emotional soup, where maybe one area was too hot and tipped toward temper, or another might be too heavy and sinking to the bottom. This is so hyper-subtle that no one is even aware they are doing it. My reaction is to ignore the cultural frameworks and live in the part of the world where we feel our lives happen.

673 Relax and Succeed - And those who were seen dancingSo say a discussion about music came up. In the discussion are four people. Amy, Bill, Clark and me. I’ve heard Amy mention that she’s having a really rough week and she’s been feeling really down on herself and so my perspective on the room is that there is a low spot among my friends and it is my nature to want to raise it. Let’s say that I also know that Bill is a super nice guy who loves Amy but he also has very strong opinions, so he is like a sharp spot on this landscape. She’s tender, he’s sharp. No one’s wrong, but that’s the landscape I see. Meanwhile the others will be talking about music.

So for instance, let’s say they’re talking about who the most influential band would be. And let’s say Amy picks someone I really don’t like or respect much. And let’s say Bill picks my favourite band and he defends them brilliantly and then attacks Amy’s choice just as brilliantly. Clark, who has the same favourite band agrees that Bill is “right” simply because Bill agrees with his view. Rather than get on board and actually tell a truth in that world, a tell a truth in my world and I lie and say I like Amy’s band because I know she needs to feel supported right now, and I know Bill’s going to go at her hard so I give him a lot of reasons why I think she’s right so he can focus his bluster on me instead of on her because I feel great and she doesn’t. It’s no different than making soup for someone sick.

People will later say I lied about what bands I like to try impress Amy for my ego. Or they’ll criticize me for liking a band I don’t like. But none of that matters to 673 Relax and Succeed - Compassion is a Verbsomeone like me. Because I live in that other world. Reputation lives in that world of rules and ideas and conformity. I live where Amy feels. And in that world, I made a difference and it was good. So I live with that feeling every day.

I encourage you to join me in living in the world of feeling. It’s a much easier world to negotiate, it’s infinitely more peaceful without all of the judgment and you can do a lot of good there. You will irritate more people from that other world but I’m sorry, you can’t have it both ways. Either you’re judging people or you’re not. If you don’t judge their moods and decisions and just help them when they’re struggling and support their successes when they are succeeding, then you will find you will have lived an extremely good life.

Have yourself an awesome day.

peace. s

Life Lessons

If you read me regularly you know I often point out that an enjoyable life comes from the simple act of appreciation, and yet so few people ever bother to really turn that into a daily verb. They’ll say they want a better life and that they want to be more spiritual, but then they’ll promptly use all their free time to compare themselves with people they perceive as even more fortunate, but they won’t do it with the many billions more who are less fortunate. Why pursue wanting thoughts instead of appreciative thoughts when the former hurt and the 628 Relax and Succeed - The more I understand the mindlatter feel wonderful? That’s a question you really should be asking yourself.

I live in Alberta. This is a place that, for the time being, a nineteen year old kid can make $120,000 a year as a welder and he’ll still complain about it. And because everyone knows so many people like that, people where I live don’t realize that they are among the richest people on Earth. When I recently asked several locals how much they thought you needed to earn to be in the top 1% of global earners, I got guesses like 20 million and low guesses were about 2 million. The real answer (on that day) was $56,400. Most of the people I talked to were double that number and you could see their minds try to adjust their place in the world to this sliver of people at the top. Suddenly they realized that what they thought the world was—that was just the top 1%. They thought they were struggling and so they imagined themselves at somewhere in the bottom half of worldwide earners. They thought they were in the bottom half when they were actually in the top 1%. Do you see how your thinking can steal your joy?

I want you to take a moment to actually appreciate where you really are. It’s my hero’s birthday today (the day I’m writing this). My Dad already had grey hair when I was born, so we have a fascinating spread between us. He was born before the Great Depression on a rural farm in Scotland. He was the youngest of eight children and he was born before the 628 Relax and Succeed - No we don't always get what we wantavailability of antibiotics so he was lucky to have survived Scarlet Fever as a kid. He’s a clever guy but he only had the chance to go to grade eight, and by seventeen years old he was lying about his age so that he could follow his brothers and sisters into service in World War II.

Before the war Dad was pushing a plow behind a horse, and then he helped to cut the wheat with a scythe and they stacked it by pitch fork. Eight kids starts to make sense doesn’t it? Had I been a farmer in my era, I would do all of that “work” with one machine, in my sleep, while a movie was on in the cab of my self-driving GPS-controlled combine. To say life is easier doesn’t even get close to capturing the level of difference. And that’s my Dad and I’m right on the Gen X border. That’s one generation to me. Just a bit ahead of him and there’s no cars, electricity or even running water.

Take a moment to think about that. What my Dad would take a day of super hard work to do I could probably do quite casually in under 10 seconds. I worked alongside my Dad for a long time. My dad could work hard. And he might have only had grade eight but give him two thimbles, some twine and a fish hook and he’ll build you a part that will get your car to the next town for the real repairs. My friends and I couldn’t build a house, fix a car, repair an electrical motor, hunt an animal, clean a fish, do enough math and bookkeeping—by hand—to run a small business, and we certainly couldn’t deliver a baby cow. Our dads were either in the war or they lost their dad in the war—whether that father came home or not. No vaccines, 628 Relax and Succeed - Some people feel the rainpenicillin was barely invented, they all lost siblings to bombs and bullets and various diseases that we no longer fear. That was normal.

Parents expected to lose a kid along the way. Just think about that. Today that would be headline news and possibly cause the parent to stop living their life. Back then it would have been seen as unfortunate but it couldn’t stop you. You still had another seven or more kids to look after back when a washing machine looked like a single piece of corrugated metal. Can you imagine having today’s attitudes about housework when washing clothes meant grinding eight kids clothes against a rough surface for several hours in water that was heated in a kettle hung over a wood stove that you cut the wood for? Think about that next time you spin the dial for an extra rinse. I do and I still appreciate my washing machine every single time I use it.

It was just through proximity not wisdom that I knew how tough our parents were. The first white person to climb Mount Everest only died in 2008 and he did that climb in leather and wool. Life got much easier during my lifetime and it’s no younger person’s fault that they 628 Relax and Succeed - Life is a series of thousandsdon’t immediately consider how challenging something might have been even shortly before they were born. People had higher levels of acceptance and appreciation because it was easy to see how much tougher it had recently been.

There were no homes for older people so a lot of families had grandparents living with them so you heard stories. And people still visited farms where you went back in time a bit. You’d see outhouses and kerosene lamps still being used every day. But now I know tons of young people whose grandparents are in a special home they visit for an hour every few months. They have never been to a farm and their parents both have desk jobs on computers and so to them their parents life doesn’t look a lot different than theirs. Not very many kids today get to see what I did when I looked at my Dad. By 17 my Dad was in WWII, and both my parents families lost members in the war and to the war. What an insult it would have been to say to my dad that my safe, easy car-riding life was too hard.

People squander their own happiness. They use their ability to think to want—to compare themselves to others even more fortunate. So the 1%er ends up spending half their day using their thoughts to envy someone in the .0001%??? Does that sound wise to you? Or could all the suffering you’re complaining about be coming from that?

628 Relax and Succeed - Gratitude changes everythingMeditation is consideration. Siddhartha sat under a tree asking himself where suffering comes from and 49 days later he’s the first Buddha. You can do likewise, but instead of using your thinking to negatively compare yourself, instead use it to appreciate how fortune you are. Because if I’m having trouble completely quieting my thinking for whatever reason, I’ll just shift to leading my thoughts toward considering what my day would have looked like for my parents, or even more extremely, for my grandmother. Hitching a horse, riding to town, blah blah. But one minute in I realize my “bad, slow day” is actually accomplishing more in a half hour than my grandmother could have even hoped to do all day, and I would have been safer, warmer, and far more comfortable. And that awareness makes me grateful, and if you’re feeling grateful then you’re okay. It’s as easy as that.

You have a lot to be grateful for. So go create yourself a great day by investing your consciousness in things that are easy to appreciate. Trust me. They’re always there.

peace. s