« March 2003 | Main | May 2003 »

April 05, 2003

Acting as if it Matters

I was going to follow up my post about Half Past Dead with a discussion of life after death experiences (one of which features in that movie), but I just woke up (having gone to bed uncharacteristically early) from a wild follow-on dream to an even wilder dream I had last night about watching all the old gods come sailing past (in the air) in a Viking-style boat, on their way to a celebration for all humanity. I don't remember what tonight's dream was, but I woke up with an idea and a phrase: "What if it all, after all, not only matters, but totally matters?" The idea being that the world dances to our tune, and whatever we are experiencing is a direct result of what we think, believe, and feel.

Allow me to elaborate.

Your Vote Counts

Just before the presidential elections in the year 2000, I sent email out to everyone I knew, urging them to vote. Not urging them to vote for any given candidate, mind you, but just to get themselves out to the polls and to vote for whomever they truly wanted to see in office. One of the things I said in that email, presciently enough, was that every vote counted. One might almost think that I was psychic and had had some prior information about the entire debacle.

I also urged people to forward my email to everyone they knew, with the hope that there might be one of those exponential each-one-teach-ten things and that perhaps it would make a difference. And perhaps it did, though I may never know.

Alas, of the total number of people eligible to register to vote, only 74% were registered at the time of that election (larger than usual—it was, after all, a presidential election), and only a pitiful 36% bothered to show up at the polls to vote. 2% voted for other candidates, leaving 17% each to vote for Bush and Gore. So no matter who should have or would have won, neither would have had the majority vote if we define majority as the majority of those who could vote, and not the majority of those who did vote. (And even then, it was so close that the whole election really should have been run again. And yes, I followed my own advice and voted for the candidate I wanted to see in office, which was neither a Democrat nor a Republican.)

But You Don't Believe That It Does

So what went wrong? And how did we get to this space? Part of the problem—and a really big part—is the fact that obviously a lot of people don't think their vote matters. One of the positive things to come out of that fiasco we call the 2000 presidential elections is that at least some people started to get an inkling that maybe, just maybe, their vote matters after all. And that's a good thing.

But what if that is not the only area where what we say or do matters? What if, and I am going to go wildly out on a limb here—what if EVERTHING we think, say, and do matters totally? What if those who say that we create our own reality, who say that we create it down to every fine detail, mean that in the most literal sense? What if everything we become aware of as going on in our reality is the direct result of our thinking?

Shakespeare's Wisdom

I am reminded of a quote from the immortal bard, Shakespeare, which goes something like this: "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." (Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2) The meaning of this is that situations in themselves don't have the qualities of good or bad; it is we humans who apply those qualities by our thoughts. There is a great deal of wisdom in this, as in many of the things Shakespeare teaches through his plays, and many others have spoken on the power of positive thinking, emotional intelligence, the value of a cheerful and positive attitude, and so on, so I will not venture down that path tonight.

But what I will explore out of this is an idea whose scope I only barely grasped as I woke, and which has slipped a bit from my grasp since, but not so totally that I don't recall it well enough to put it down. In the next few paragraphs, I will attempt to capture the clarity of understanding that I had when I woke. Just remember that, should I fail in this attempt, the essential idea is that everything you experience, everything you see, everything that comes to your awareness is the outcome of your own thoughts.

You could, in a sense, say that the world truly does revolve around you, and does its best to dance to your tune. Unhappy in your work? Complaining about the state of the world? Look to yourself. What thoughts do you think? What actions do you take—not just in your thinking, which is an action too, but also in the more traditional sense of taking action in the physical world? The world is trying its best to grant you what you are asking for.

But, you say, you aren't asking for it. Instead, you are just noticing reality and commenting upon it. But are you?

This is one of those chicken-and-egg things, as in, which came first—reality, or your thoughts about reality? (In the case of the chicken and the egg, there is no debate. The egg came first, and not the chicken. Through the miracle of genetics and mutation, whatever laid the egg was not a chicken, but what hatched out of the egg was. Case closed. Those who argue that it cannot be because there is no evolution because evolution means there is no God have a surprisingly limited idea of what God is and what God is capable of.)

We Create Our Reality

But it isn't so simple when it comes to reality. We so often think that we are bystanders and victims of reality because we think that reality came first and our reactions to it and thoughts about it came after, and indeed it can certainly seem that way.

But what others have tried to teach, and what I have believed to a certain extent but not gotten nearly as close as I did tonight to truly understanding, is that, in fact, we are not only not the innocent bystanders and observers of reality, we are, in fact, the very architects and builders of that reality. The energy upon which our world is built is some powerful essence of Love, and the nature of that Love is to want to say Yes to us—Yes to our complaints and limited beliefs if need be, but it would much rather say yes to our positive beliefs and thoughts.

It dances, as I say, to our tune, whatever that tune may be. It strives to meet each individual person's needs and desires, loving each person to the utmost, but, because of that love, unable to impose upon anyone anything other than what those people are asking for. It would not be loving to force anyone to experience anything other than what they ask for.

There is more to it than that, of course, but that is the very core and essence of how things are created. We think something, or ask for something, and, even if we forget that we asked for it, or deny that we asked for it, or just don't recognize that we asked for it, we get it. The needs and desires of others are part of this, but the bottom line is that, as far as our personal reality goes, it is totally geared toward us and our wants and needs.

But How Do We Ask?

What do I mean when I say that we don't recognize that we have asked for something? There are many levels of subtlety to how we ask for things, but one of the most obvious is in, as mentioned, how we think about things. Including ourselves. If we only believe we are capable of so much, or that we are only going to get so much from life, then so it is. We have argued for our own limitations, and won. If we say it isn't possible, for instance, for us to meet someone that we would truly love to meet, then so it is. If we take in an experience and judge it as bad, then that is what it is to us, even though it could be that there is much good buried in the situation.

But it is always possible to change how we think about things. It may mean discarding a few habits of negative thinking, of thinking of ourselves as powerless and helpless in the face of whatever, but think about the alternative. Would you rather stay a victim all your life? Or would you like to start thinking that perhaps you are in control after all? Because if that is so, then you can change things. For surely, if you are a victim, then you cannot change anything (except perhaps how you resign yourself to your fate), but if you are not a victim, but are instead after all the captain of your ship, then you can pilot it where you will, including into sunnier waters and calmer seas if you so desire.

And you don't even need to figure out how things are possible. The workings of the universe are not your concern, any more than the workings of your car are. You get in, you turn the key, and you drive (skilfully, one hopes). It may be useful to know what happens when you turn the key, but you don't need to know. Just so are the workings of that Love that runs our world—it has its own physics that we need not concern ourselves with, but instead we only need to know that it works, and we only need to turn the key and drive. Which is to say, we need to realize that we are driving, and then take charge from there. Turning the key is perhaps analogous to asking for what we want, and the driving part is acting as though we are going to get it, and responding favorably and positively to what is brought to us in response to those requests we don't remember, and being open to the response being in a different form than we expected.

To quote Shakespeare again, this time from Troilus and Cressida, Act 3, Scene 3:

The providence that's in a watchful state
Knows almost every grain of Plutus' gold,
Finds bottom in the uncomprehensive deeps,
Keeps place with thought, and almost like the gods
Does thoughts unveil in their dumb cradles.

And with that thought, I am going to go back to bed to ponder on this a bit more before I sleep again, perchance to dream....

April 02, 2003

Half Past Dead

I rented Half Past Dead today and watched it this evening. With some trepidation. I had wanted to see it when it came out in the theaters, but couldn't find anyone who would go with me (I much, much prefer seeing a movie with someone), and then it was gone, vanished in the dust of critical disapproval. So I was worried that I wouldn't like it--that I would find a Steven Seagal film that I didn't like. No need to worry. The critics, as usual, were wrong.

I can see where the film might have lost the critics. There is a warmth in the midst of the action, a bond between men, understandings that passed with a look between characters without being spelled out in words, that might have confused the critics. It isn't, in short, an easy movie, and one must have some modicum of sensitivity and understanding to get it. Although this may sound like an odd thing to say about an action film, one isn't spoon fed in this movie, nor is it totally just an action movie. In short, it is hard to classify, and most critics hate things that don't fit easily into one bucket or another.

So how can one classify it?

  • Action? Undoubtedly. But that isn't all there is to it and the fights are, surprisingly, fewer, or at least seem fewer, than the usual fare, and rely more on suggestion than out-and-out blood and gore.
  • Hiphop? Yes, to an extent. The soundtrack is heavy on the hiphop, perhaps hoping to draw in those who love Ja Rule and Kurupt, but is perhaps the weakest part of the film. Nothing wrong with the soundtrack or hiphop; it just got in the way sometimes. Though the film editor did his or her creative best to match the cutting to the music.
  • Thriller? Some. You think one of the characters is going to be a Hannibal Lectorish-type character (from Silence of the Lambs), and he isn't. Smart and principled in his own way, observant of things that are said and unsaid, and acting on those observations without having to say why he is acting as he is.
  • A buddy film? Sort of, but not the simplistic sort of things that try to make us think that two men can be friends without there having to be some work and some give-and-take on both sides. It was refreshing to see the relationship between Steven Seagal's character and Ja Rule's character be tested, be stressed, and yet make it.
  • Mystical? Yes, it is that too. The title refers to the fact that one of the characters is clinically dead for a while, and then comes back to life with a greater understanding of What It's All About. This plays a key role in later events in the film in an almost coincidental way, though as Jung said, there isn't any such thing as coincidence, and instead what seems to be coincidental is all part of a beautifully choreographed dance that we all participate in, half-unknowing.

Aside from Steven Seagal, who is much underrated as an actor (and who shows some particularly fine acting in this film), one of the things I really like about this movie is that its makers actually respect their audience enough to trust that the audience will figure some things out on their own, without having cue cards and crayoned signs. In fact, though most might miss the resemblance, I see a strong thread of the understated Japanese ethos running through this film, where much is said in looks and actions, and not as much in words.

That is probably what bugged the critics the most--they couldn't figure it out, and so they dismissed it, making the usual sneering, unoriginal comments about Steven Seagal's acting abilities. Yes, it is an action film and yes, it is pretty experimental in many ways, but I admire the fact that the filmmakers were willing to take a few chances.

Of course, I could be totally wrong and the filmmakers could be laughing up their sleeves at my take on this movie, but that's the beauty of any artistic work: One can take what one likes out of it, regardless of what was meant. Which reminds me of something that happened when I went to see The Game (starring Michael Douglas), where my date turned to me and said, at the end of the movie...well, I'll save that anecdote for another post.

April 01, 2003

The Aliveness of All Things

I was once married to a man, wonderful in many ways, who scoffed at my ideas about how everything, whether conventionally thought of as alive or not, is in truth alive and has some form of consciousness. Which means, therefore, that one could communicate with anything.

I haven't forgotten that; I even wrote a very short poem about it, which I will quote in a bit. And I do truly know that what we are talking about is a matter of belief to a great extent--even when I communicate with things, my stern scientific upbringing reminds me that one must always be open to ALL possibilities, including the possibility that one is deluding oneself. But then, the fact is that I sense/feel/know the truth of what I am feeling, and I know that one of the things I have to teach others is how I learned (and am still learning) how to trust myself.

In this case, in my feeling of connectedness and awareness with all living things...a feeling that is more sometimes, and less others, but always there. Out of that I have come to believe that all things are living, even the rocks and hills and water and other things traditionally thought of as inanimate. Certainly they may not seem to move of their own volition, but there is life there.

If you prefer, you can think of the rocks and hills as spirits dreaming of themselves as rocks and hills, if that makes you more comfortable. Just be aware that some spirits are more awake than others, even among those who are supposedly the living. :-)

Here is the poem, short and to the point. My commentary on this poem is, "Some people live in a dead world and pity those of us who speak with rocks. In the end, who is the richer? Who the poorer?"

Dry Times

He lives in a dead world
The sticks and stones speak
But he hears only silence
And a vast dry wind that blows all help away.

Copyright 1990 by Marina Michaels