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

Eckhart Tolle’s Gray Beard Fallacy

I’m listening to Eckhart Tolle’s Power of Now on audiobook. First reaction: what crap. Most of it is just dribble. That’s not to say I don’t agree with a lot of what he is saying, but I think his focus on the rejection of the ego and the self is pure hogwash. He argues that we should abandon our reasoning mind because it is making us unwell. Admittedly, I haven’t finished the book yet. But I have read some poignant criticism of this book on Amazon, and I think many of those critics were on to something.

If you’ve not seen Tolle speak, you should know that he delivers all of his enlightened ideals in a dead-pan voice that we should presume is the result of his spiritual enlightenment. Others claim that he has merely repackaged Buddhism, a point which I see some truth to.

My primary reason for suspecting that Tolle is employing the gray beard fallacy, that is, to surround a bold lie with many truths, is that the mind is an inseparable part of us. It doesn’t need to be rejected. That is not to say that people don’t use the mind in ways which are destructive. Worry and doubt are symptoms of a troubled mind, and achieve no useful end. Some people’s minds are a wasteland: either deluded by cultural and religious dogmas, or beset with psychological compulsions and unhealthy thoughts of self-judgment. He has already refuted Descartes fundamental principle of I think therefore I am as completely the opposite of actual truth. He is clearly not much of a philosopher, though I myself am only a dabbler.

Human reason clearly has merit. Buddha, Krishna, or anyone else has clearly used the mind’s power to arrive at great wisdom. To condemn our logical selves as the source of all our problems is an easy fix for Tolle.

I, however, believe that we are at our core a being of three entities: body, mind, and (perhaps a fundamental force / a spirit perhaps, or maybe something else). I’m not a traditional theist though. I don’t look to religion for truth, but rather as an obstacle to it. I would suspect any theist who didn’t go through a period of serious atheism. To never have wavering belief in this jealous Old Testament God who appears to exhibit symptoms of raging alcoholism is a sign of obedience to dogmatic religion. I completely reject any notion of this kind of God. I’m a pantheist, and I will describe why I think it has merit in another post.

I’m only making a side-point here, because I want to say to atheists reading this that I respect your materialist view that we are merely a mind and a body. That’s fine with me. You need not believe in a force or spirit that animates your consciousness. I readily admit that there is no empirical evidence to support this “force” argument. I will get to that idea in another post.

So, in summary of my reaction to Tolle, I will say again, what horse-shit. He drones on about divorcing yourself from your thinking mind. I think it entirely depends on the kinds of thoughts you have. If your mind is a toxic wasteland of negative emotions and self-judgments, then you may take heart in Tolle’s spiritual ideas. He’s cribbing from a lot of sources to craft his argument, with few ideas of his own, but if you take comfort in his insistence that your thinking mind is the problem, then go for it.

I’m not trashing the idea of meditation, mind you. I agree with Blaise Pascal who observed that, “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a room alone.” I think we do have to clear our mind of the mundane, day-to-day thoughts that keep us from seeing the bigger picture. We need to think about how precious our life is and what we want to do with it. What will give us happiness on our death-bed at a life well-lived. These things are important. If owning nice things is important to you now, you should question whether those objects will provide you comfort when you see the end coming. I think a strong argument can be made that it’s our human relationships that matter most. Also a dash of a sense of meaningful contribution to humanity. A life well lived in my mind is one that can claim it made the world a better place to be.

It’s clear that most people think merely of material success as their current measuring-stick in determining their accomplishments. But, as the cliché goes, you can’t take it with you. Having children is an easy path to making a difference in someone’s life, since you will have that very special relationship with your life partner and your children. You are a guide for them to deal with the troubles of life such they are. This is not the only path to making a difference, but it’s surely an easy one to initiate. Let’s be honest, too many people rush into starting a family despite the fact that they are awful and irresponsible people, and view their children as possessions as opposed to independent living and thinking beings.

This is sad. It is unfortunate that children, as some of the most powerless members of our society, have to endure so much emotional and physical abuse that they are powerless to stop. I wish there was some way to stop such emotionally violent people from having children, but I know that’s dictatorial. But you can’t really say that the Dutch man who fathered 2 generations of children from his down-syndrome daughter who he kept locked in his basement should’ve ever been allowed to have a single child.

Ok, in purely my fashion, I am digressing and digressing further from those digressions. Let me return to the point of Pascal.

Meditation is a useful exercise, but we all may have different methods that will work best for us. I find that meditation to certain songs and music is best for me. I use songs to set the mood for thoughts that will either inspire me or create emotional states that are peaceful and relaxing. I use internal phrases that trigger certain emotions of oneness with all that is. It’s hard not to sound egocentric in saying this, but I do find that I can attain these blissful states by using certain phrases in my mind to achieve certain neurochemical cock-tails that create a sense of inner peace in me.

You can achieve the same high as you could from any drug once you get the hang of meditation. It does not need assistance from music if that’s not your thing. Here is a good tip which I found useful:

Remembering something from your past creates a direct link to that moment in time in your brain. The emotions you felt during significant events will be recreated in your mind through intense recollection of those events. In fact, your chemical brain doesn’t know the difference between experiencing the event and merely remembering it. Each emotion is a collection of neurotransmitters in various quantities. Those include dopamine, serotonin, gabapentin , norepinephrine, and countless others.

*Offhand, I believe the Pituitary Gland produces these agents. I may be wrong, feel free to correct me in the comments section if I am.

So, here is the point. An easy way to produce joy and relaxing states is to intensely focus in some way on the most positive and joyous moments from your past. As the saying goes, we remember moments, not days. Use your best life experiences as a tool for releasing chemical cock-tails in your brain that made you feel joy in those moments.

This has similar implications for those who dwell on all the negative traumas of their past. In short, don’t do it. You must put that sort of past behind you. It does you no good to wallow in that stuff. As much as the good events, they helped shape who you are today. Accept them for what they are as a part of who you are. As long as you learned something from these experiences, they are not wholly negative. But you must forgive the people who caused these traumas. Not for their sake, but for yours.

Your resentments will hollow you out, and stop you from living fully in the present. The present moment is infinite, it is really all there is. Spend time thinking about it. Hold your body in amazement, as the Baz Luhrmann song goes, “Your body is the greatest instrument you own.” It is entirely yours and it is up to you to decide what to do with it. Will you contribute to the joy of others? Or will you add to their suffering? Will you fight for truth and more equity in society, or will you promote your own success in ways that deprive others of theirs? I think contributing in positive ways will give you more satisfaction as you near your death than selfishness, but that’s just me. Maybe J.P. Morgan got the deluxe suite in the pantheon of Hell, and it’s not so bad. Maybe he even has air-conditioning. . .

I’m joking of course, I don’t believe in Hell. And my view of what’s beyond is mixed with admitted uncertainty because such knowledge is unknowable to we mortals. I will also address my thoughts on that point in a different post. Blog posts must necessarily be short, as the Internet reader is lazier than a book reader.

I will sum up with the importance of reflecting over your life on a nearly daily basis. I can’t recall exactly this next quote, but it’s basically that “in the seat of the human soul it is perpetually 2 AM”. That means that in your inner-core, there is unavoidable uncertainty and doubt about life and its meaning. Though Christians can’t admit it, they do doubt whether Saint Peter will greet them at the Pearly Gates. They suspect in their heart of hearts that maybe nothing happens when they die, and they merely cease to exist. Accept oblivion as a distinct possibility, and live your life accordingly. As Bob Marley said, “If you know what life is worth, you will live your’s on Earth.”

© David Metcalf