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The Dalai Lama, Reefer Madness, kaiju, and more!

Prop newspaper with a story headline, "New Living Buddha Reported Discovered."

New ‘Living Buddha’ Reported Discovered

What does his Holiness the Dalai Lama have to do with moral panics over “marihuana,” (sic) a backwoodsman becoming an unlikely political hero, noir skulduggery in wartime San Francisco, Ronald Reagan, a resurrected Egyptian mummy, President Taft’s bathtub, and a giant reptile terrorizing Japan? Quite a lot, as it turns out.

Several years ago, someone told me about a reference to the Dalai Lama that had appeared in fake (prop) newspapers in two old Hollywood movies: “Reefer Madness” and “Mr Smith Goes to Washington.” (Unfortunately it’s so long ago I’ve forgotten who it was that told me about this, and even a search of my emails has failed to turn up any clue.)

The newspaper story has the title, “New ‘Living Buddha’ Reported Discovered.” This seems to be a reference to the discovery of the Dalai Lama’s “tulku” — his new incarnation — in Tibet in 1936.

I have to say I was a little skeptical when this was brought to my attention. I’d assumed that the prop newspapers used in old movies were entirely fake. My understanding was that to avoid incurring licensing fees, any prop newspaper used in a film would contain stories that were entirely invented. That turns out not to have been the case in the early days of cinema, because at least some of the stories were genuine — including the one about the Dalai Lama.

You can see this headline — just, if you screw up your eyes very hard and look sideways at just the right phase of the moon —  in the image above, which is from “Reefer Madness.” The main story is “Harper Verdict Expected Tonight.” This is a reference to the plot of the movie. Underneath that is the rather improbable, “Dick Tracy, G-Man, In Sensational Raid.” And tucked under that, you can just about make out, in the blur of a low-resolution image taken from a TV scan of an already low-resolution celluloid film, “New ‘Living Buddha’ Reported Discovered.”

You can see the headline much more clearly in the image below, which is from “Mr Smith Goes to Washington,” starring an improbably young Jimmy Stewart. Here I don’t even have to circle the headline. In fact you can almost make out the subheading.

A newspaper prop from Mr Smith Goes to Washington, showing the headline, "New Living Buddha Reported Discovered."

This is from the pivotal moment in the film when Governor Hubert “Happy” Hopper tosses a coin to decide whether to replace a deceased senator with either a political stooge or a naive local hero. The tossed coin ends up beside this newspaper, helping him to make his decision.

“New ‘Living Buddha’ Reported Discovered” and “36 Mexican Rebels Killed by Soldiers” are the filler stories.

I later discovered that His Holiness shows up in a number of other films as well.

These include “This Gun For Hire,” where our “New ‘Living Buddha’ Reported Discovered” appears below the main story, “Chemist and Woman Murdered.”

Prop newspaper from This Gun For Hire, with the story, "New Living Buddha Reported Discovered."

Also (and thanks to the blog, “And you call yourself a scientist!?” for this) it’s in “Gigantis, The Fire Monster.”

Newspaper prop from Gigantis, The Fire Monster.

Thanks for eagle-eyed commenter Jeff (see comments below) I know that the article also appears on a prop newspaper on episode one of “Backstairs at the Whitehouse,” which was a TV miniseries that came out in 1979. That’s the most appearance of this story that I know of, and the only one I know of (so far) that’s in color.

Still from BackStairs at the Whitehouse, showing a prop newspaper with the story 'New Living Buddha Reported Discovered'

Earlier it appeared on “Girls On Probation” (1938), which stars Ronald Reagan, and “The Mummy’s Tomb” (1942).

The Dalai Lama gets around!

I can’t say for sure who originated these newspapers, but it’s likely to have been The Earl Hays Press, which has been supplying props to Hollywood for more than a hundred years.

But is this “Living Buddha” story really about the Dalai Lama? And is it based on a story that actually appeared in real newspapers.

The answers are “yes” and “yes.”

On Wednesday, 27 May 1936, an Associated Press story with the title “New ‘Living Buddha’ Reported Discovered” was published on page 25 of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The same story was also published in other outlets under different headlines, such as “New ‘Living Buddha’ Discovered After Two- Year Search in Tibet,” in The Atlanta Journal, on the same date.

Here for the sake of completeness is the entire article, in case you were curious about what was behind the blur:

NEW ‘LIVING BUDDHA’ REPORTED DISCOVERED
Two-Year Quest Ends After Tibetan Priests Study Surface of Sacred Lake.

By the Associated Press.
SHANGHAI, May 27. Dispatches from the forbidden kingdom of Tibet reported today a new Dalai Lama, or “Living Buddha,” was discovered in the Han Jen district, northeast of Lhasa, after a search of more than two years.

The new Buddha was believed, the Tibetan advices [sic] said, to be a reincarnation of the thirteenth Dalai Lama, who died Dec. 17, 1933.

The Dalai Lama is the spiritual and temporal ruler of Tibet. Tibetans believe their “living god” is immortal and that when he dies, his attributes are handed down to a child born about the time of his death.

Tibetan monks and professional “diviners” have been searching for the reincarnated Dalai Lama ever since the death of the previous ruler. Reports received earlier from Lhasa said the omens were favorable for an early finding of the new “Living Buddha.”

The Tibetan new year began in February under auspicious circumstances, reports said. Spiritual authorities sent a deputation of high priests, sages, monks and philosophers to the sacred Chugkhorgyae Lake, east of Lhasa, near which the first Dalai Lama was born, to contemplate images reflected on the surface.

The lake gazers were reported successful in their quest for indications which might lead to discovery of a new Pontiff. Visions of a house wearing the mysterious words “a ka ma” appeared, thought to bear some relation to the name of the parents of the future Dalai Lama.

The populace was instructed then to join in the search for the house and the child.

The present spiritual leader of Tibet, the Panchen Lama, has been living in exile in China for the last 12 years.

He would be unable to go back. to assume his duties as tutor to his reported new “reincarnated brother” because no invitation has been extended to him.

Since the death of the late Dalai Lama under mysterious circumstances at Lhasa, affairs of state have been in the hands of the temporal regent, Jechen Hutukehtu.

Some of the other stories, such as “36 Mexican Rebels Killed by Soldiers” and “Fire Destroys State Arsenal,” were also taken from real newspapers.

Anyway, there we have it: The Dalai Lama made appearances in a number of films, from the classic “Mr Smith Goes to Washington” to the risible — “Gigantis” and Reefer Madness.” No doubt he was in many more as well. If you notice any others, please let me know!

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HBO’s ‘Enlightened’ take on modern meditation

NPR: Can people really change? That’s the question Laura Dern and Mike White ask in their new HBO series, Enlightened, which premieres Monday night. The show features Dern as Amy Jellicoe, an ambitious executive who has a nervous breakdown at her workplace. She goes to a rehabilitation center in Hawaii, where she experiences an awakening.

When Amy returns home, she wants to put her new philosophy into practice — meditating, communicating better with her mother (Diane Ladd), and fostering a healthier relationship with her ex-husband (Luke Wilson). But she finds her lessons of enlightenment being put to the test.

Show creator Mike White…

Click to read more »

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News of selfless acts has positive effect: study

Good news begets better people.

That was the conclusion of new research released Tuesday by the University of British Columbia, that found people with a strong sense of “moral identity” were inspired to do good when they read media stories about Good Samaritans’ selfless acts.

According to lead author Karl Aquino, who studies forgiveness and moral behaviour issues, four separate studies found a direct link between a person’s exposure to media accounts of extraordinary virtue and their yearning to change the world.

He said media reports could potentially play a crucial role in the mobilization of history makers if less attention was paid to negative coverage.

“Our study indicates that if more attention was devoted to recounting stories of uncommon acts of human virtue, the media could have a quantifiable positive effect on the moral behaviour of a significant group of people,” said Aquino, a professor at the Sauder School of Business at UBC.

“The news media have a tendency to celebrate bad behaviour, from Charlie Sheen’s recent exploits to articles that focus the spotlight on criminal and other aberrant behaviour.”

The findings, to be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by the American Psychological Association, suggested people were not likely to act on reports that were merely positive.

“These things have to be beyond just everyday goodness,” Aquino said in an interview. “We help our neighbours all the time, we volunteer for things — we’re talking here about really exceptional acts of virtue.

“Acts that require enormous…

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sacrifice, that put people at risk for the sake of others.”

Two groups in study
In one of the studies, researchers conducted an experiment with 63 male and female subjects. One group was first assigned to complete a word search that including words with moral connotations, such as “compassionate,” “honest,” and “kind.” A second group completed a word search comprised of morally neutral words of everyday objects.

Participants were then randomly assigned to read one of two news stories, both about positive human interactions.

However, only one recounted an act of uncommon goodness, describing a 2006 shooting at an Amish schoolhouse. Days after the incident, parents offered forgiveness and financial assistance to the widow of the man who shot their children.

The second story recounted a couples’ experience of seeing a beautiful sunset.

Those exposed to the story of the Amish community’s uncommon goodness gave 32 per cent more money to charity than those who read about the sunset.

In a second study, Aquino and his team were surprised to discover even a music video could inspire people to give generously — and not to the people you’d typically expect.

Study participants were shown a music video by Canadian artist Sarah McLachlan, in which it’s described that all but $15 of the $150,000 budget for a video was donated to various international charities.

A second group was shown McLachlan’s Adia video, which pictured her singing in front of various cityscapes — a pleasing, yet not uncommonly good act.

Those who watched the charitable video were more likely to open their wallets, Aquino found, despite the fact that the charity was somewhat controversial, reintegrating former prisoners back into the community.

“It’s a group of people that generally wouldn’t evoke lots of sympathy, but yet we show that when you’re presenting people with an example of virtuous action, that it can make them think differently about these kinds of people — people who may be outside of their radar, as far as the kinds they would want to help.”

Media role
Based on his research, Aquino also said the media could play a strategic role in helping the fundraising efforts for natural disasters like the recent earthquake in Japan.

“Focusing on individual examples of extraordinary goodness within the crisis may be a more effective and subtle way to encourage people to donate than inundating them with stories and pictures of need and desperation,” he said.

Yet not everyone is inspired by stories of extraordinary greatness.

“Not everyone thinks that Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is beautiful,” said Aquino, who co-authored the study with University of Michigan researcher, Brent McFerran, and Marjorie Laven, a communications professional from Vancouver Island. “There are some people who are more attuned or open to these experiences than others.”

People who are already more connected to being a moral person are more likely to be affected.

“These are the ones that we find are more receptive to seeing virtuous acts,” he said.

Aquino said he didn’t know if a person’s culture or nationality plays any part in determining what they deem “virtuous.”

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Film review: Crazy Wisdom: The Life and Times of Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche

Unique perspective on controversial Tibetan lama’s life and teachings skews toward the reverential.

Well before American Buddhists and New Age acolytes began flocking to the feet of Tibet’s Dalai Lama, hippies and spiritual seekers were following in the footsteps of Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan lama who took up residence in the U.S. during the 1970s.

A provocative account of Trungpa’s global odyssey, Crazy Wisdom offers a perceptive, if one-sided, perspective on Trungpa’s impact on American spirituality and the arts, but is probably too rarified for the uninitiated — film fests, DVD and VOD will provide the best refuge.

Born in Tibet in 1939, Trungpa was identified as a reincarnate lama (“rinpoche”) before he was two years old and completed ecclesiastical studies within the Kagyu branch of Tibetan Buddhism before escaping his homeland in 1959 and resettling in India following China’s invasion of Tibet. A move to London to study at Oxford University eventually led him to Scotland to cofound the first Tibetan Buddhist center in the West and the decision to give up his monastic robes to become a lay teacher and marry Diana Pybus, a 16-year-old follower.

In 1970, Trungpa and Pybus moved to the U.S., where they settled…

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rather incongruously in Vermont, establishing a rural meditation center. Trungpa began teaching a growing following of lay meditation practitioners, many of them counter-culture refugees seeking spiritual inspiration, and expanding his interest in the arts. Wherever he traveled around North America, however — eventually settling for a time in Boulder, Colo., where he founded the renowned Naropa University — Trungpa provoked controversy and intense curiosity, as well as devotion.

He freely slept with other women besides Pybus — many of them his students — and smoked and drank openly. Trungpa’s spiritual methods were often as divisive as his lifestyle, prompting followers to identify him as an embodiment of “crazy wisdom,” a traditional teaching style involving unconventional ideas and practices that shock students into new realizations of Buddhist principles.

Whether a lifestyle or a religious choice, Trungpa’s excesses led to his death in 1987 from cirrhosis of the liver at age 48, after he had established a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, a network of Shambala meditation centers and published dozens of English-language books on Buddhism.

As a former acquaintance of Trungpa, veteran documentary director and editor Johanna Demetrakas presents a fairly straightforward, chronological account of Trungpa’s life and teachings, employing historical photos, archival footage and contemporary interviews with relatives, friends and followers. Aside from some mild criticism of Trungpa’s practices from American Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman, the doc is overwhelmingly hagiographic, extolling the lama’s legacy as teacher and spiritual guide, despite the debate that surrounds his methods even today.

Insightful and often entertaining, Crazy Wisdom is content to leave critical analysis to more objective, if perhaps less inspired, filmmakers.

Venue: Santa Barbara International Film Festival
Production company: Crazy Wisdom Productions
Director: Johanna Demetrakas
Producers: Lisa Leeman, Johanna Demetrakas
Director of photography: Pablo Bryant
Music: Sean Callery
Editors: Kate Amend, Johanna Demetrakas
No rating, 86 minutes

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Groupon Superbowl ad trivializes the suffering of the Tibetan people

Groupon, an outfit that offers discount coupons online, ran what it no doubt thought was a witty little ad during the Superbowl (apparently some kind of US sporting event in which massive numbers of people celebrate physical excellence by sitting in front of TV sets for hours, consuming large quantities of calories washed down by alcoholic beverages).

The ad begins with what appears to be a serious tone, with the actor Timothy Hutton saying: “The people of Tibet are in trouble, their very culture in jeopardy.” This is of course, true. Since the Chinese occupation began, Tibetan culture and religion has been oppressed. Many Tibetans have fled the country in order to escape persecution. Monasteries have been dynamited. Buddhist scriptures have been destroyed. Ethnic Han Chinese have flooded into Tibet, outnumbering the native population and overwhelming the culture. Most seriously of all, many Tibetans have been imprisoned and tortured for trying to practice their Buddhist religion.

But then Hutton switches to a more “jovial” tone, noting that Tibetans are still able to “whip up a great fish curry”, and that “since 200 of us bought at Groupon.com, we’re each getting $30 worth of Tibetan food for just $15.”

Never mind that “fish curry” is not a Tibetan dish, the switch in tone inevitably conveys the message, “Who cares about all that suffering! Save money with Groupon!” It’s an appallingly cynical use of the suffering of the Tibetan people. Groupon appears to be saying “Tibet doesn’t matter. Their suffering is a joke.” The company’s defense of their ad actually just reinforces that impression. Groupon’s founder, Andrew Mason, is quoted in the UK’s Telegraph as saying:

So what if we did a parody of a celebrity-narrated, PSA-style commercial that you think is about some noble cause … but then it’s revealed to actually be a passionate call to action to help yourself?”

To me there’s something nauseating about “a passionate call to action to help yourself.” As if we’re not already saturated with those. Mason seems to take his job rather too seriously, apparently thinking that saving money is the highest value — higher than compassion or any of that boring stuff. It sounds like he needs to get out more, and perhaps to get in touch with more fully human values outside the grubby marketplace.

The “so what” is that the ad trivializes suffering. In fact it invites people to actively disregard others’ suffering. The ad itself presents the suffering of the Tibetan people as a joke — something less important than “helping yourself” by saving money at a restaurant. Had the ad been focused on the problems of some fictitious ethnic group, Groupon might have got away with this emotional bait and switch game, and it might even have been genuinely funny. But trying to turn the suffering — including rape, torture, and cultural genocide — of real people into the “straight-man” lead-in to a joke about saving money is just crass and insensitive.

Update: Yes, Groupon raises money for Tibet. Although apparently not very effectively, and this ad was not even indirectly a pitch to help Tibet.

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Stressed out? Try mindfulness meditation (Toronto Globe & Mail)

Zindel Segal was in a Toronto bookstore a few weeks ago, when a title caught his eye. The book, The Mindful Investor, caused him a moment of shock and panic.

“I turned to someone and said, ‘This is the beginning of the end,’ ” recalls Dr. Segal, who heads the cognitive behaviour therapy clinic at Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

The book, which purports to explain how a calm mind can help a person achieve financial security, is a sign that the concept of mindfulness is making a leap into mass popularity. But that doesn’t mean people actually understand it, he says.

Mindfulness is a technique for slowing down and examining one’s thought processes, and learning to be in the moment. Based on Buddhist principles, it became popular in the United States in the 1970s, and was taken up by celebs such as Meg Ryan and Goldie Hawn. Today, researchers are studying its benefits for everything from depression to stress.

In a multi-year study, whose results were published last month in the Archives of General Psychiatry, Dr. Segal and a group of colleagues found that mindfulness meditation – the term they use is “mindfulness-based cognitive therapy” – was just as effective as antidepressants when it came to preventing depression relapse.

Dr. Segal, who was one of the developers of the therapy, teaches it at CAMH in group treatment sessions with patients who have…

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recovered from depression and are “trying to stay well.”

“We’re seeing a demand as people feel that it’s more and more legitimate,” Dr. Segal says. He defines mindfulness meditation as “a way of training yourself to pay attention in the present moment without judgment [as] to what your experience is.”

Thanks to a similar U.K. study, which found the technique reduces the risk of depression relapse by 50 per cent, Britain’s National Institute for Clinical Excellence recommends mindfulness meditation in cases of chronic depression. The Mental Health Foundation, a U.K.-based charity, has recentlylaunched a campaign called Be Mindful, and offers an online program intended to make mindfulness more widely available.

“It’s growing exponentially almost, in terms of there now being an evidence base,” says Ed Halliwell, a British mindfulness teacher and co-author of The Mindfulness Manifesto: How Doing Less and Noticing More Can help Us Thrive in a Stressed-out World. While the field is still relatively new, some 300 to 400 studies are published each year, Mr. Halliwell estimates.

The studies show benefits for many conditions, including anxiety and stress. A study published last year in the journal Neurology found that mindfulness could be used to help people with multiple sclerosis.

And just as it is becoming more popular among researchers, it is also increasingly being sought out by busy professionals.

“Life these days is these days so full of stress … so I think this offers some way of simplifying our life,” says Marian Smith, founder of Mindful Living, a Vancouver-based clinic. Many clients, says Ms. Smith, are dealing with “the challenge of juggling full-time work, having a family, trying to make life meaningful to themselves and to be grounded.”

Doug MacLean, a mindfulness meditation instructor and owner of Practical Wellbeing in Calgary, says there has been an “explosion” in interest, in large part because of the research being published on the topic.

But some experts worry that some people may think all they need to do to solve their problems is close their eyes and pay attention to what’s going on in their heads.

“That can be a real danger, because people can go, ‘All I need to do is be mindful.’ And then perhaps they try meditation and discover it’s not easy – it’s simple, but it’s not easy – and then that can create another level of beating yourself up,” Mr. Halliwell says.

Dr. Segal says that people need to understand that mindfulness is much different than the popular idea of meditation.

“You think of the Beatles, you think of TM [transcendental meditation], you think of people achieving some kind of bliss state. And it’s really different from what people who are going through mindfulness-based cognitive therapy get,” he says. “If anything, what the meditation does is provide them with a way of staying grounded in the midst of very difficult emotions.”

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‘Vedanta and yoga perfect match for certain American values’

There has always been a pervasive but undocumented feeling that Indian philosophy, as manifest in Vedanta on the intellectual plain and yoga on the physical plain, has very significantly influenced the West in general and America in particular. That feeling now finds a meticulously constructed scholastic endorsement in the form of an important new book.

Author Philip Goldberg’s ‘American Veda – From Emerson to the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation, How Indian Spirituality Changed the West’ (Harmony Books, 398 pages, $26) [available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk] offers a comprehensive account of the inroads made by Indian philosophy since the early 19th century.

‘The combination of Vedanta and Yoga was a perfect match for certain American values: freedom of choice and religion, individuality, scientific rationality, and pragmatism. They appealed especially to well-educated Americans who were discontent with ordinary religion and unsatisfied by secularism, giving them a way to be authentically spiritual without compromising their sense of reason, their consciences or their personal inclinations,’ Goldberg told IANS in an interview.

He said Indian teachers who came to the US were conscious of the openness of American society and they adapted the teachings accordingly.

Explaining the mainstreaming of Indian philosophy in the US, Goldberg said, ‘I think the remarkable growth of the ‘spiritual but not religious’ cohort of Americans would have been unthinkable without access to the practices derived from Hinduism and Buddhism. In addition, the philosophy was presented so rationally that its premises could be regarded as…

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hypotheses, and the practices were so uniform and so widely applicable that they lent themselves to scientific experimentation.’

The book begins with a claim that is deliberately designed to be an attention grabber. ‘In February 1968 the Beatles went to India for an extended stay with their new guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It may have been the most momentous spiritual retreat since Jesus spent those 40 days in the wilderness. The media frenzy over the Fab Four made known to the sleek, sophisticated West that meek, mysterious India had something of value. Our understanding and practice of spirituality would never be the same,’ Goldberg writes.

He points out that translated Hindu texts were very much a part of the libraries of John Adams, the second president of the United States and one of its most respected statesmen and political theorists, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, an eminent poet and essayist who led the transcendentalist movement in the mid-19th century. From there those ideas permeated to author and philosopher Henry David Thoreau and poet Walt Whitman among others.

In recounting Thoreau’s perspective about the Bhagavad Gita, Goldberg refers to a much quoted passage from the book Walden. Thoreau writes, ‘In the morning I bathe my intellect in the stupendous and cosmogonal philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita, since whose composition years of the gods have elapsed, and in comparison with which our modern world and its literature seems puny and trivial.’

The book has two distinct trends in support of the author’s primary contention about how Indian spirituality changed the West. One trend is at the operational level where words such as mantra, guru, karma and pundits have so seamlessly become part of the mainstream lexicon. The other trend is much deeper in terms of internalising the core values of Indian philosophy. Asked if the people in the US are conscious of this, Goldberg said, ‘Some are conscious of it, and therefore grateful to the Indian legacy. Others are not: it’s seeped into the American consciousness in subtle but profound ways.’

Goldberg also talks about the ‘Vedization of America’. On whether it can be attributed to the general secularisation/pluralisation significantly caused by the rise of agnostic information technologies, he said, ‘If you mean, could the trends I describe be attributed to the growth of pluralism and other social forces, independent of the Indian influence, it is very hard to say. Certainly, the combination of factors made for a perfect storm. I tend to think that the experiential practices of meditation and yoga, and the intellectual framework of Vedanta, accelerated, deepened and broadened what might have been an inevitable but amorphous evolution.’

On whether he apprehends any organized backlash or pushback against Indian philosophy, he said ‘Not a big one, but some of it is inevitable. There has always been a backlash from both mainstream religion – conservative Christians in particular – and the anti-religious left. Vivekananda faced up to it in 1893, and all the important gurus were confronted by it. Right now, there’s an anti-yoga campaign by some Christian preachers. I’d be very pleased if my book becomes a lightning rod for such a controversy. Bring ’em on!’

On a movement in support of a ‘Christian yoga’ that may be gaining some ground Goldberg said, ‘That’s a more complicated issue than is often realised. The question, ‘Is yoga a form of Hinduism’ depends entirely on how one defines both yoga and Hinduism. That there are people teaching Christian Yoga and Jewish Yoga strikes me as a backhanded compliment to one of the great glories of the Vedic tradition: its universality and adaptability. That having been said, the idea that yoga is ‘a Hindu tool,’ i.e., a form of stealth conversion, strikes me as a projection by Christians of their own messianic drive to convert the ‘heathen’. That conversion is not in the Hindu repertoire – and that the gurus and swamis and yoga masters are content to have their students become better Christians – is hard for many to comprehend.’

(Mayank Chhaya is a US-based writer and commentator. He can be contacted at m@mayankchhaya.net)

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“Thought is gazing onto the face of life, and reading what can be read.”

Still from Vanilla Sky

At the climax of the 2001 movie Vanilla Sky, Tom Cruise’s character, playboy David Aames, comes to realize that he’s been in suspended animation for 150 years and is trapped in a dream. He makes this discovery on top of an improbably tall building, apparently miles high, with the guidance of Edmund Ventura, a “Support Technician” who is trying to guide him back to waking reality.

Before he entered suspended animation, David had made the decision to awaken from this dream by facing his fear of heights. In order to wake up, he must now leap from the top of the building. Also on the rooftop is someone who has been a father figure to David, a warm, avuncular psychologist called McCabe, who has previously been helping him to figure out why he apparently murdered a lover. McCabe not only believes that what David is experiencing is real, he believes that he himself is real. And he tries to dissuade David from taking his all-too-literal leap of faith:

MCCABE. David, don’t listen to him. You were right … It’s a setup! You can’t trust him.

VENTURA. Don’t feel bad for him, David. This winning man is your creation. It’s in his nature to fight for his existence, but he’s not real.

If David Aames wakes up, then McCabe ceases to exist. He’s a fictional character, but even fictional characters want to continue existing. So McCabe tries to talk David out of jumping.

Similarly, our fictional delusions don’t believe that they are delusions. And they don’t want us to know that they are delusions. If we wake up they die. They have a life of their own and they don’t want to lose that life. It’s in their nature to fight for their existence. To take a less poetic view, once certain patterns of thought have been established in the brain, it can be hard to change them. Just as a river, having carved itself a deep gorge, is trapped flowing in a particular direction, so our thoughts, the more entrenched they are, tend to course in familiar patterns.

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Many spiritual teachers in the past have suggested that our delusions act in a way that protect themselves, so that a self-sustaining pattern of delusion is perpetuated in our minds. This is what we call the ego. The ego — our sense of a permanent, independent selfhood, doesn’t want us to wake up. It resists change. We think we’re permanent and separate. Some chance event reminds us we’re not and we feel alive again. Then we start to forget, and retreat into our sense of separateness once again, believing that that’s where happiness lies and that an awareness of impermanence is what leads to unhappiness.

But these delusions, these distorted perceptions, although deep-rooted and resistant to change are not un-doable. Like David Aames we need to wake up from our delusions. And one important means for waking up is reflection. To reflect is to examine our experience closely, to scrutinize our lives, ourselves, and our world, and to let reality collide, sometimes violently, with our assumptions. We tend to think of thoughts as being “the problem” because our thinking not only causes us pain much of the time, but also because much of our thinking is imbued with delusion: McCabe telling us not to wake up. But thought can also be a powerful tool for undoing delusion.

Where our assumptions are not in accord with how things actually are — for example where we to some extent believe we are separate and permanent when we are actually interconnected and ever-changing — there will be conflict. In reflecting, we consciously bring about conflict. And we keep doing this over and over, bringing our delusions up against reality, until something gives.

Reflection is not a mere intellectual activity. It’s not just a parade of words running through the mind. We rarely reflect when we read, for example, because all that’s happening is that words are crawling, ticker-tape fashion, over the mind’s surface. Reflection is not even the act of “thinking things through,” making connections between ideas. Reflection is an activity that involves imagination and emotion as well.

DH Lawrence expressed in a poem called “Thought” what reflection consists of:

Thought, I love thought.
But not the juggling and twisting of already existent ideas.
I despise that self-important game.
Thought is the welling up of unknown life into consciousness,
Thought is the testing of statements on the touchstone of consciousness,
Thought is gazing onto the face of life, and reading what can be read,
Thought is pondering over experience, and coming to conclusion.
Thought is not a trick, or an exercise, or a set of dodges,
Thought is a man in his wholeness, wholly attending.

When we reflect we turn ideas into felt experiences and images. When we reflect we see how our words and images affect how we feel. We bring new ideas up against existing ones and honestly observe the honest collision of contradictions. Reflection involves an almost ruthless degree of self-examination, a scrutiny of the mind and heart. It involves, like Aames, taking a running jump from what is known and a willingness to leave behind the familiar and safe (that which shores up the ego), even if this leaves us with the terrifying feeling that we’re plummeting through space. But it can also be exhilarating and deeply rewarding as we make new discoveries, and as we rearrange our inner world, letting got of stale and tired viewpoints and embracing new ways of seeing.

What criteria can we use in order to help us know whether our inner voices are those of a McCabe, seductively trying to keep us within the dream; or of a Ventura, who leads us to awakening? The Buddha’s advice was to use reflection. We need to ask ourselves which of our thoughts lead us toward to love rather than hatred; to being unfettered, not to being fettered; to simplicity, rather than to accumulating needless possessions; to modesty, not to self-inflation; to contentment, rather than discontent; to energy and engagement rather than to laziness. Gazing into the face of our lives, we can intuit a sense of which thoughts, words, and actions predispose to waking up rather than to remaining in a dream.

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Do you know where you’re going to? The Teaching of Guru Garth

There is a profound teaching in the movie Wayne’s World. When asked by the evil Benjamin “How do you feel about making a change?”, Wayne’s friend and side-kick Garth responds in a deadpan voice “We fear change.” It’s a popular part of the movie, with thousands of references to it online, and like many jokes it has a significant truth at its heart.

We really do fear change. We don’t know what change may bring us, and for many people that fear of the unknown is so strong that it not only stifles their growth and development, it keeps them in abusive relationships or jobs that they hate. For many people the security of the familiar, however unpleasant, appears preferable to the uncertainty of change.

I recently took part in some training on the Solution Focus coaching methodology OSKAR, and I was very struck by the way that this approach is particularly effective in working to overcome our innate fear of the unknown.

As you’ve probably guessed, OSKAR is an acronym, and the O stands for Outcome. (I don’t intend to explore the whole methodology here, you can follow the links if you’d like to know what the other letters stand for.) In OSKAR, Outcome has two aspects:

• clarification of what the client wants to achieve, both overall and within the context of the particular coaching session (known as Building the Platform)

• imagining a Future Perfect, in which a miracle has taken place and the desired outcome has been fully achieved (in Solution Focus this is known as the Miracle Question)

In demonstrations of the OSKAR approach I was struck by the way a whole session could focus almost exclusively on clarifying what the client wanted to achieve. Sometimes we’re so hung up on what we don’t want in our current situation, that it’s hard to see through to what we do want instead. Just gaining this clarity about the desired goal can be all that we need – a strategy and the imperative to act seems to naturally emerge from it.

Of course different people have different responses to the idea of change, and different responses to life itself. In Buddhist psychology a simple distinction is made between what are traditionally known as ‘greed types’ and ‘hate types’. I usually explain this by asking people to imagine a buffet table at a party or event. A greed type will approach the table and have an internal discourse along the lines of “Ooh look, mushroom vol-au-vents, I like those … and there’s some nice looking samosas … oh, and look at the puddings!” because he (or she) pays attention to the aspects of their situation that they find attractive.

In contrast, a hate type’s inner discourse will be much more along the lines of “I hate eating standing up … and I can’t eat chicken wings … and look they’ve put celery in the salad, I can’t stand celery … and those puddings are really fattening”, because they pay attention to the aspects of the situation that they dislike.

When they look at the future, greed types and hates types imagine very different things: greed types get excited and enthusiastic about all the things they’re looking forward to, and hate types worry about how everything might go wrong! Greed types are natural optimists and hate types are inveterate pessimists, and as the pioneer of positive psychology Martin Seligman points out in Learned Optimism, optimists live longer, healthier, happier lives – albeit with an occasional tendency to naivety and seeing life through overly ‘rose-coloured spectacles’.

Of course I’m exaggerating the differences here to emphasise a point. We are all greed types and hate types to different degrees at different times, depending on circumstances and how well-resourced we are. Nevertheless this simple model can be one of many useful lenses to look at our habits and help to address our resistances to change.

Useful though the OSKAR methodology can be, the importance of clarifying your goal is fundamental to change of any kind. It’s not a new observation, but we seem to need reminding of it again and again. Back in the 1940s the Hindu teacher Swami Ramdas was unequivocal: “although many embark on a path of spiritual development few make progress because most lack a clear idea of the goal they wish to reach, and they also lack a clear idea of how to get there.”

If you don’t like where you are now, then be careful to clarify where you’re trying to go at the very start of the journey, otherwise fear of the unknown may undermine your ability to get anywhere at all.

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