Lady in the Water brings the best of New Age

Lady in the Water is one of my favorite M. Night Shyamalan movies. Adapted from a bedtime story he created for his children, the movie flopped in American theaters, and Michael Bamberger subsequently argued in his book, The Man Who Heard Voices, that Shyamalan gambled his career on a fairy tale and lost.

Despite this, Lady in the Water is a very rewarding film and was unfairly panned by the film community. The story has a great deal of spirituality and philosophy to it. I’ll avoid repeating the story at length here, as you can read it on the IMDb website (or watch it for the first time perhaps), but it begins with a tale of how, in the distant past, the human race was inspired by beings that served as moral guardians and muses to humankind.

Shyamalan’s movies are often billed incorrectly and suffer upon release as a result. The Village was marketed as a scary movie, but was not strictly a horror flick. The Village is also worth watching, but audiences did not get what was promised by the previews, and it was underwhelming for the film community in general. The same could be said with The Happening, but I quite enjoyed the movie: it was a fairly original concept for a horror film. And despite the criticism of some that The Happening offered a ridiculous concept of plant vs human warfare, the concept of plant pheromone defenses and the evolution of toxins are well-established ones in biology. It is, in fact, not such a ridiculous concept for a horror film, which also contained a message about humankind’s relationship to the planet. However, the end of The Happening does come off as a little preachy, and audiences felt bludgeoned over the head with the moral of the tale.

Lady in the Water also takes on notions of human civilization, and harkens back to Daniel Quinn’s Ishmael that humans have somehow lost a vital part of themselves through civilization and its ideology of progress. Krishnamurti once observed, “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” M. Night Shyamalan evokes this same sentiment with Lady in the Water. The themes contained in the film seem unappreciated by both audiences and critics alike. This is typical for films that question the core of what we consider to be the merits of our civilization and of modern technology. The re-make of The Day the Earth Stood Still with Keanu Reeves is another solid film that was largely unsuccessful because of its strong overtones of criticism for the so-called vaulted successes of technological progress and modern Capitalist globalism.

Aside from these points, there is also a clear line of spirituality in the film, which is the real purpose of this article. In the film, no one destined to help the Narfs actually knows who they are or what they are meant to do, yet they must discover these things for themselves. This falls into line with concepts of new-age spirituality that the meaning of life is realized through creating our identity and by having meaningful relationships with others. A self-chosen goal is no less meaningful than an assigned one. Life may not actually have any inherent meaning, but that does not detract from the fact that even if we assign some meaning to our lives, our choice is meaningful in itself.

As the current Dalai Lama suggested, the greatest purpose of life is to “try to do something good, something useful, with our lives. If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true goal, the true meaning of life.” It has also been said that “the Earth says much to those who listen.” Isn’t that what Shyamalan is suggesting with this story? That the universe has wisdom if one simply pays attention? Couldn’t it be said that our great philosophers and thinkers promoted a meaningful system of truth through pondering the meanings of the observable cosmos?

Lady in the Water carries a message that doesn’t often resonate in American society: that for all of our success, we are still remarkably unadvanced as a civilization. The fact that the world population increases even as 40,000 humans starve to death every day is a symptom of a people who have not fully realized the value of life yet. That we ignore the value of life among non-human species is another sign of our miserable values. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Dr. Albert Schweitzer once said, “Until he extends the circle of his compassion to all living things, man will not himself find peace.” That humans spend so much capital to constantly prepare for war due to geo-political differences is also a symptom of a dysfunctional civilization. Hadn’t Socrates been correct when he claimed that he was a citizen of the world, and not just of Athens?

Carl Sagan also saw the truth in this statement. He implored humankind with his famous declaration about the rarity of life in the cosmos and that the insignificance of the “little blue dot” of Earth calls on humans to step back from the precipice of destruction and realize that all life ought to be valued, if only by virtue of its rarity in the universe.

Shyamalan has created a beautiful allegory in this film: a writer of great wisdom who would knowingly sacrifice his own life for the betterment of mankind. A world in which each person has a special role that they have to discover for themselves, and through it, they can fulfill an important role for society. Isn’t this the same as believing that every person has a talent to offer the world and that they will find their greatest joy in employing it to the betterment of mankind? Isn’t it a greater thing to leave the Earth better than how you found it and not to quantify your worth as merely the numerical quantity of how much money you earned? Is it not better to give yourself freely in your relationships and be a valuable friend, parent, sibling, or lover, and to make a difference in the lives you touch?

The greatest thing one can do with his life is to create something that will outlast it. Whether this is raising children or creating something that will live on after death does not devalue the significance of the contribution. You are here because of the collected toil of your ancestors in an unbroken line back to the origin of life on this planet. You may see signs of obvious effort from your parents and grandparents to provide you with opportunities for success and happiness greater than what they had. If you cannot see such effort in your upbringing, perhaps you can break the cycle and offer such love to your own children.

Bruce Lee once said, “In great attempts, it is glorious even to fail.” It is a truly unfortunate soul who finds himself without any talent to enrich his life and the world. I’d like to believe that we all have something we’re good at; it would be a great thing if we created a society where people could develop talents that enrich the world rather than merely accept it and its machinations of dull work without any meaningful sense of contribution. All great writers, poets, and thinkers have toiled in deprivation as they explored great ideas and created works of art while trying to “make a living.”

Art has much to offer humankind; humans are innate storytellers. We have always had our stories; self-expression provides a meaningful outlet for human values which can enrich our awareness for the gift of being alive. Life may not be perfect for anyone, but it is not to be wasted. Each of our births was an unlikely event. Had only one of your ancestors died from warfare, disease, or drudgery before they had a chance at having children, your existence would never have been, and the world would not have missed you.

Be grateful for your chance at life. We may not all receive the same comforts and privileges. Most of us do not have a trust fund and cannot go to Ivy League schools like Harvard or Yale, yet we can still attempt to live a life of meaning, and contribute positively to the happiness of others. To make the world better for others ought to be a common value for everyone. That we have a society that equates success to gross salary of fiat money is one of the greatest sicknesses of our society. Though it is understandable that our parents want us to be financially secure, the greatest accomplishments are made by those who risked their own comfort by daring to pursue their dreams and aspirations over the comforts of material success.

© David Metcalf

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For Writers

It’s a noble thing to decide to try and make it as a writer. I’m automatically keener to anyone who admits to being a writer. Recently I met someone who expressed frustration about his earlier efforts trying to make a living as a writer, but found that doing so was impossible. He finally accepted a job totally unrelated to writing because it paid the bills. He concluded from his experience that “print media is dying.”

I would have to disagree with this often expressed view: all one has to do is consider the Internet. Once the Internet became the Internet “2.0”, it opened itself up for every-day users to contribute their work to third party websites. You need look no further than IMDB.com or Gamespot or Yelp to see people contributing content to the web. Content is being created for the Internet community, by the Internet community. Granted, it’s not making anybody but the hosting websites money, but it’s being created by writers for consumption. Bloggers are still on their own in attempting to produce enough diverse content to make a solid revenue stream.

But books are still being published every year in the tens of thousands. It is simply the case now that writers must adapt to changing times. Non-fiction books must now entertain as they edify. Fictional books must be engaging while delivering meaningful content. Everything a writer writes should be articulated well enough to be read without strain. Having advanced syntax is not a mortal sin, but an essay or story should be easily read, entertaining even, complicated syntax or no.

By the way, this is my biggest complaint with the erudite world of philosophy. I have met many a philosophy major who relish in incomprehensible works like Heidegger. I have to fault philosophers for making their works confounding by writing in cloistered language. The medium shouldn’t block the message with so much jargon and pedantry. A writer should communicate a point clearly and convincingly. Philosophers should be held to the same standards of writing as everyone else, if they would claim that their writing is actually good.

My core message for aspiring writers is this: don’t quit your efforts, the world needs your ideas. Writing is an art, and if you find yourself disposed to write for others, don’t let discouragement drown your desire to contribute meaningfully to the world of ideas. Bruce Lee said that failure in great efforts is not to be feared, only low aim. Failure at a glorious goal is still valuable to the world, and for you, yourself, to strive for.

It is noble to try to change the world with your ideas. It is important to not give into cynicism. Hope is as important for humanity as free will. If you have the inclination to write for others, embrace it. Creating a work that will outlive your life is a great endeavor. And in the words of William James, act as though what you do can make a difference, because it can. Take note that writers like Rachel Carlson changed the world through their writing. If you can eloquently sell your ideas or tell a story, don’t abandon your writing skills because pragmatism and doubt dampen your dreams. You were given your skill set for a reason, make something of it.

© David Metcalf

Generating a Core Values List

I recently bought some books on journaling looking for ideas on things to write about in my electronic journal. Journaling is something I do when I have a spare moment between full time grad school and a weekend job. It was also once a useful trick when I worked as a substitute teacher because when a day was slow with nothing to do, I could write a journal entry in class and the students would assume that I was writing a report for the teacher (mostly this worked for days when all the classes were watching videos for the day, or had individual assignments to work on quietly).

A recommendation from Writing Down Your Soul by Janet Conner is to generate a “core values list” and narrow it down as much as possible. This is good advice, and I decided to share it with my blog. If you already journal, or you’re looking to start, I think a good topic to begin with would be to create a list of core values that you hope to practice to the best of your abilities. It doesn’t mean that you will always succeed, but it does create a sense of what’s important to you and helps you identify who it is that you want to be in life.

I will provide a list of some of my core values because I had fun doing this.

Tao of the Sage

  1. Accept every person as they are: travelers on their own journey.
  2. Treat everyone with respect and kindness, no exceptions.
  3. Have gratitude for all that you have, and for all the people who have supported you and been your friend.
  4. Accept your mortality as a fact of life, and live each day with no presumed promise of the next.
  5. Forgive those who wrong you or speak ill of you, for your sake if not for theirs.
  6. Accept uncertainty and doubt as a basic component of all beliefs, but to seek to understand the world, other people, and your own beliefs as best as you can.
  7. Accept that there may be a pantheistic, Einsteinian God, while having awareness that there might not be any higher intelligence to the universe, and live life with this realization in mind.
  8. Know that everyone, even yourself, is capable of great heroism and horrific cruelty in every moment of his or her existence, and all other actions in the continuum between the two.

Most Importantly:

Nemo mortalum omnibus horis sabit.  “No mortal is wise at all times.”

Put simply: always do your best; expect to fail, but never surrender.

When you complete your list, narrow it down to your best items (my original list had 16 items), and print them out in order to post them somewhere in your home.  I recently purchased an 8″ by 11″ frame so that I could post mine in my apartment.
This is the final printout.  It's already framed but already I need to re-print because I'm tweaking the phrasing.  You'll spot some slight differences between the list in the blog versus this pic.  That's because I believe very much in precision of language (except not in the sense of the term used in "The Giver).

This is the final printout. It’s already framed but already I need to re-print because I’m tweaking the phrasing. You’ll spot some slight differences between the list in the blog versus this pic. That’s because I believe very much in precision of language (except not in the sense of the term used in “The Giver).

This is where my Core Values list is currently displayed.  Pictured here is my guitar and a picture of my father, circa 1973.

This is where my Core Values list is currently displayed. Pictured here is my guitar and a picture of my father, circa 1973.

© David Metcalf

On Making a Difference

This entry is a little “rough around the edges”. It was a short Facebook post I made. Wasn’t really sure I wanted to edit it. It gets the point across well enough, faults and all. . .

Looking through my NoteTab Light program (I keep quotes and random facts and clips from articles in there). Found this about living a fulfilled life:

“But researchers now believe that eudaimonic well-being may be more important. Cobbled from the Greek eu (“good”) and daimon (“spirit” or “deity”), eudaimonia means striving toward excellence based on one’s unique talents and potential.”

Do what you’re best at; there may be a reason you have your particular talents. Make something of them.

Julian Linn choreographed some of the most famous plays in Broadway. Her accomplishments include choreographing the original Jesus Christ Superstar musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s recent Phantom of the Opera movie, and the broadway hit, Cats.

When she was a child, she had difficulty at school. Her parents were called into the school to meet with the school psychologist. The counselor met with Julian and her parents and talked to her about why she is fidgits and can’t focus on lessons. The counselor asked the parents to step out with him and left Julian in the office with the music on.

Outside, this counselor told her parents that there was absolutely nothing wrong with their daughter, but that she doesn’t belong in school, because she is a dancer. He recommended they take her out of school and put her in dance school immediately.

She’s now a multi-millionaire and choreographs some of the most famous plays of the last several decades.

A counselor today would probably recommend that a girl or boy like Julian take Ritalin to cure the obvious “ADHD” condition of the child.

The lesson?  Use your talents wisely. We all have a unique skill set. It is rare for someone to be bad at everything. Find a line of work that someone will pay you for and that you enjoy doing (and that you are good at). Enjoying your career (and being good at it) is far more important for your happiness than making a lot of money but hating your job.

Do not accept the warnings of your teachers that you must hate your job. Accept a career that gives you the feeling that you can make a positive difference in the world by doing it. If you aren’t working in a field of your choosing now, try to work towards being there at some point in the next decade. You may have to “pay your dues”, but you need to situate yourself into some line of work that matters to you.

“Success is not the key to happiness.
Happiness is the key to success.
If you love what you are doing,
you will be successful.”

– Albert Schweitzer

© David Metcalf

Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Why Collect Quotes?

It’s simple enough: create an iGoogle page that displays new quotes of whatever interests you. Visit it every day and look for a keeper. Keep track of your quotes with a program called NoteTab Light (allowing you to keep tabs for different categories).

So why do it? Quotes are similar to poetry in that they are highly condensed bits of knowledge. In a few words, quotes can inspire us or challenge us to look at things differently. Quotes can pick us up on disappointing days or push us to work harder, consider the finer points of life, or to treat others better. Quotes can poke fun at the things we take too seriously.  They can open up new perceptions about culture and the cosmos.

I collect quotes for an additional reason: because I’m a teacher and I use quotes to reach my students. All teachers should consider starting a quote collection, because if nothing else, a weekly quote can fill a moment at the end or beginning of class as a topic for classroom discussion. They also serve a purpose outside of a classroom, I often recall quotes for friends when the conversation calls for them. These range from the humorous to the more serious (in my political conversations). A good quote can be used as a joke in the right context.

So begin your quote collection; there are plenty contained on the Internet. You can seek them out, or let them come to you on your iGoogle page. Once you have a good sized collection, you can tack them to your computer desktop or on your home’s walls for daily pick-me-ups. Consider tacking them up at your work desk or office space. Others will appreciate the words of wisdom.

While poetry is a layered form of condensed views, quotes are necessarily straight-forward. There are even quote-books that people somehow manage to get published. While this is an unlikely feat for you, there are still all the prior reasons for collecting them.

Since this is a post about quotes, I thought I’d include some of my favorites (though I have too many to share here):

“Always make a total effort, even when the odds are against you.” -Arnold Palmer

“Act as though what you do makes a difference. It does.” -James William

“About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgment.”
– Josh Billings

“Words ought to be a little wild for they are the assaults of thought on the unthinking.”
-John Maynard Keynes

© David Metcalf