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The Wisdom of Tom Shadyac

atkins-bookshelf-moviesFrank Pierson, the former president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and of the Writers Guild of America, encouraged filmmakers to make films that touch the soul: “Movies are to our civilization what dreams and ideals are to individual lives: they express the mystery and help define the nature of who we are and what we are becoming… Go and tell stories that illuminate our times and our souls, that waken the sleeping angel inside the beast.” Tom Shadyac, accomplished director of blockbusters like Ace Ventura, Bruce Almighty, Patch Adams, Liar Liar, and The Nutty Professor, did exactly that when he wrote and directed the illuminating and thought-provoking documentary “I Am: You have the power to change the world.”

Shadyac was riding the wave of enormous success in the movie industry, when his life changed dramatically — a near-death biking accident left him with a long-lasting depression that forced him to re-examine his life and career. Shadyac sought the wisdom of some of the greatest spiritual leaders and thinkers of our time to find inner peace and eschew the life of materialism, power, and avarice. Shadyac walked away from a life of luxury to live a simpler life, and share what he learned about himself and humanity. “I Am” is his love letter to humanity. The film is powerful and has the power to transform lives. Speaking to fellow screenwriter Arthu Kanegis, Shadyac discusses the responsibilty of the filmmaker and the documentary’s message: “Much of what we’ve created around us is not reality, it’s just an illusory world of stuff and things and power. We often say that when we go to the movies we’re escaping reality. I happen to think that we are diving into reality. The world of movies often wakes us into the reality of connection, love, struggle, and challenge. So I know the power of movies is profound and I’m honored to be a part of the storytelling process… It’s quite moving and humbling to hear [that my movies transformed people lives], especially with my current movie “I Am,” because it asks you to rethink things. Some people have had scales fall off their eyes and they’ve seen things differently, and they’ve said their lives have changed.”

In “I Am” Shadyac sets out to answer two questions: 1. What’s wrong with the world? and 2. What can we do about it? The documentary focuses on interviews with Desmond Tutu, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Lynne McTaggart, Coleman Barks, David Suzuki, Elisabet Sahtouris, and Thom Hartmann who share their fascinating insights. The title of the documentary comes from a letter written by the British author and theologian, G. K. Chesterton. In 1908 The Times of London asked notable authors to write an essay on the topic: “What’s wrong with the world?” Chesterton’s was the shortest essay received: “Dear Sirs, I am. Sincerely yours, G. K. Chesterton.” Below are some of the insights from the documentary.

“Harder still it has proved to rule the dragon Money…  A whole generation adopted false principles, and went to their graves in the belief they were enriching the country they were impoverishing.” Ralph Waldo Emerson 

Plato once wrote: “All wars stem from the comforts of the body.” Meaning — we’re always trying to avoid unpleasantness. We always want to pad ourselves, so we need more stuff. To get more stuff and protect that stuff, we have to make war — whether it’s an actual war or an “in effect” war, like the rich against the poor. 

Centuries ago, people believed in monsters. But now we have another monster — and it’s called the “economy.” If you read the Wall Street Journal, they treat the market and the economy as a living, breathing entity/thing/creature. The market is not some natural force of nature. We created the damn thing. I think the heart of the problem of our world is the separation of humanity from the natural world and the sense that the economy is the most important thing in our lives and in the world. We have been taught the need to feel significant at the expense of someone else.

Evolution biologist and futurist Elisabet Sahtouris shares a wonderful story about the time she met the Dalai Lama. Someone in the group asked the Dalai Lama what is the most important meditation we can do now? Without any hesitation he answered: “Critical thinking followed by action. Discern what your world is;  know the plot, the scenario of this human drama, and then figure out where your talents might fit in to make a better world. And each of us must do something that will make our heart sing, because nobody will want to do it with us if we are not passionate and inspired.”

What is mankind’s basic human nature? Cooperation is considered high value in primitive culture; competitiveness is not valued. In modern culture, competitiveness is valued; cooperation is not a high value. However, based on several animal studies, we can discern that the basis of human nature is democracy and cooperation — it is in our DNA…  Darwin wrote that sympathy is one of human’s strongest instincts. However as his work was popularized, this observation was virtually ignored.

Nature is very clear: one fundamental law that nature obeys — one that mankind breaks this law everyday: nothing in nature takes more than it needs.

Read related posts: Religion vs Spirituality
The Wisdom of Pi Patel

For further reading: iamthedoc.com
scene4.com/archivesqv6/apr-2012/0412/arthurkanegis0412.html
Elisabeth Sahtouris on Crisis As Opportunity: Living Better on a Hotter Planet (DVD, 2007)


Religion vs Spirituality

Thanks to Dan Brown’s controversial novels, there is a renewed fascination with the centuries-old traditions of the Catholic church, particularly the election of a new pope — the apostolic successor of St. Peter, the Bishop of Rome, and spiritual leader of a flock of more than 1.2 billion people throughout the world. Having served 8 years as the 256th Pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI (Joseph Ratzinger) announced his resignation on February 28, 2013 becoming the first pope in 6 centuries to resign. The sudden resignation sets the stage for spectacular theater: the gathering of the College of Cardinals at the secretive papal conclave  held in the Sistine Chapel. Each day, cut off from contact with the outside world, the 115 eligible cardinals will vote in the morning and in the evening until a pope is elected, while out in St. Peter’s Square, thousands of the faithful anxiously pray and await the puff of white smoke, signaling that the Church has a new Pontiff.

It was this set of circumstances back in 2005 (the media frenzy regarding the election of Pope Benedict XVI) that prompted Fr. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest who is the founding director of the Center for Action and Contemplation and a prolific author and speaker on spiritual issues, to write a thoughtful essay regarding religion. The essay, titled “Thoughts on the Papacy: Container Versus Contents” makes a distinction between the container (organized religion; the rituals and traditions of a religion) and the contents (true spirituality; the inner experience of the search to truly know and love God/a deity). Rohr writes: “The world’s response to the Papal events of the last month… made something very clear to me. There will always be a need for religion… Religion gets most of us started on the [initial] spiritual path, and keeps prodding us with relevant questions along the way. It creates the container, keeps the edges hot… creates satisfying rituals, and boundary-setting commandments. It is very good and even necessary—as far as it goes. But after 35 years as a priest, I am convinced that most people stop right there. They confuse the maintenance of this container with the contents themselves. They confuse the rituals with the reality that they point to. I no longer believe that religion is always the same as a sincere and personal search for God.”

Rohr recounts an insightful story about spirituality from the life of the Dalai Lama. When a person asked the Dalai Lama about how he could begin on a spiritual path, the Dalai Lama quickly responded: “If you can possibly avoid a spiritual path, by all means do so! It will take your whole life away!” Although it sounds counterintuitive or perhaps even facetious, the Dalai Lama is echoing another great spiritual leader — Jesus who said, “Whoever would save his life, must lose it.” To Roher, the need to lose oneself is critical to spirituality: “I believe that most religion is an attempt to feel spiritual and superior in a very measured and culturally correct way, largely by emphasizing one or two mandates or one or two rituals. This cleverly allows us to avoid discovering and surrendering our ‘whole life.’ No wonder religion is so popular. No wonder piety sells. It is a great bargain. Join, attend, perform, obey here and there — and you can basically live your life unchanged… [Western culture offers] a vicarious spiritual path.” In other words, according to Rohr, the cultural pattern for many religions is to promote outer assurance rather than inner experience. “In fact,” adds Rohr, “I find a rather clear correlation between one’s preoccupation with outer forms and one’s lack of any inner substance.”

Rohr’s perspectives on religion and spirituality are not particularly revolutionary. There are many spiritual leaders and writers who have expressed similar concerns. Another modern writer, the witty and inspirational Jesuit priest, Anthony De Mello, wrote extensively about spirituality, and the need to explore outside the confines of religious dogma. De Mello was essentially ex-communicated by the Catholic Church for his writings that were considered “incompatible with the Catholic faith” by none other than Cardinal-Prefect Joseph Ratzinger (before he was Pope). De Mello would probably agree with Rohr that religion, specifically the ritual and traditions, is not the sine qua non of the spiritual life, but a welcoming entryway to true spirituality: “If you want and need religion, I think the [tradition of the] Papacy is rather excellent at providing just that. No one does it better, and it will continue to appeal to a large percentage of humanity, many young people, and then again at the end of life. Individuals need the container to get started; nations and cultures need religion to hold together. Institutional Christianity, and the Papacy in particular, will give you intellectual arguments, enchanting rituals, grand historical sweep, a fine belonging system, and a clear morality to give you pleasing ego boundaries. This will hold you together quite well. It works at deep and good levels. It can create the real beginnings of spiritual desire, as it did for me. But just remember, it can also give you just enough of God to quite effectively inoculate you from any need or search for the real thing.” Real food for thought — in an age of skepticism and unbelief.

For further reading:  The Vatican by Micahel Collins, DK (2008)
Why Be Catholic?: Understanding Our Experience and Tradition by Richard Rohr and Joseph Martos, St. Anthony Press (1990)
Awakening: Conversations with the Masters by Anthony De Mello, Image (2003)
http://www.renewedpriesthood.org/ca/page.cfm?Web_ID=617

https://cac.org


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