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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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

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