A friend of mine today asked me what I thought of Thrive, a propaganda documentary currently making the rounds on the New Age circuit. I thought I’d already sent out a review weeks ago, just after I saw it in January. Lo! I poked through my Arclist archive and could find no trace. It turns out I posted the piece on my Blog but either hadn’t sent it out as a mailing or for some reason deleted it from the archive. Perhaps I didn’t want to offend any true believers in my audience. Whatever the reason, here I want to correct the oversight,
You can read my review here, under the title, Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
In the past several weeks I’ve been much too distracted by circumstances to find the energy to write much of anything although I watched the Oscars last week and, amazingly, found that I’d actually seen the majority of nominees. My own personal picks for best movies of the year, in descending order: My Week With Marilyn (more on this in a future piece), Contagion and Melancholia, with The Tree of Life (certainly the most ambitious) as a close runner-up. My own reviews of these are here and here. I measure them according to the enduring effect of their message and imagery.
So, here is a little review of the past few weeks.
“Whenever two or more are gathered in my name it turns into a mob of power junkies.”
Who is it that said this? Was it Jesus or the Buddha? I don’t know, maybe Jesus. He always seemed a little more self absorbed, probably because of the “God” thing. Maybe he could see from first hand experience, being personally tempted in the wilderness and all, what all of this would likely come to. Buddha, frankly, couldn’t give a crap. He was more of a take it or leave it kind of guy, not trying to overturn some major religion or empire or anything, maybe a little more adaptable. His line was a throwaway: Suffer or not, it’s up to you.
Still, we have numberless generations passing the torch and along the way adding a little of this and a little of that, just to make the thing more palatable at a given place and time. Of course, there’s the irresistible urge always to skim a little authority off the top by adding robes and ceremonies and grades of enlightenment and lots of lists of things to do. Nothing wrong with it, as without somebody being the ‘designated driver’ so to speak, whatever might trickle down from mouth to mouth gets quickly and hopelessly distorted and the core of anyone’s teaching is lost in all the haze.
I’ve been caught up myself in sorting out some haze these past few weeks. I won’t go into details here, but let me tell you, the lessons learned when one is involved with other people are both priceless and nerve wracking. I’ve been in corporations and communes, political organizations and spiritual communities, and I swear to the almighty (whom I don’t believe in) that the same games get played in every one. Somebody’s gotta be right and somebody’s gotta be wrong, and whoever fancies themselves closer to the ‘source’; that being whatever brings the group together, ideology, vision, a teacher or leader, money, ends up being the one who calls the shots. The more effective the organization, the more power it draws to itself, and the more baroque and underhanded the social games and power plays.
We forget that we got involved for relatively simple, even primal reasons. We wanted to feel that we weren’t alone in the world. We wanted to meet somebody else who saw things in some way we could relate to, or maybe we just wanted to get laid. We thought that being involved would give us a sense of purpose that would connect us with the rest of humanity in this big empty universe. So we knocked on the door and hoped somebody would show us the way in.
Trouble is, once we get inside the door we get confused all around the issue of what it means to be ‘inside’ as opposed to being ‘outside.’ Suddenly the universe looks like Dante’s Inferno, with circles inside of circles, and everyone wishes they could get to the one in the middle where there aren’t anymore barriers to cross.
Chogyam Trungpa called this ‘Spiritual Materialism.’ Instead of simply wanting to be happy, we become goal oriented and our happiness is dependent on some arbitrary definition of ‘success.’ When we finally achieve the goal we find that another beckons. The road is endless where happiness is defined by circumstance and the actual experience of happiness recedes like the edge of an ever-expanding universe.
Speaking of Trungpa, in the middle of my own dramas I saw Crazy Wisdom, the documentary of his life. Certainly one of the great teachers and transmitters of the Buddha’s message to the West, Trungpa and his followers provide an excellent study in all I’ve mulled over in the previous paragraphs. Was he also a drunk and a sexual libertine, taking advantage of his devotees in a manner that personally made me cringe? Am I just being obtuse and refusing to see the lessons in all of these actions of a master?
As my own Zen teacher, who learned it from Roshi Bernie Glassman, who got it from The Dude, likes to say, “That’s just, like, your opinion, man.”
So I will here let it all go. I simply don’t presume to know the answers in all of this complexity. Still, I will look for fellowship with others amid all of our common craziness. I pray only that in the midst of it I can attain compassion. Maybe then I will find myself brushing against happiness.