May 14, 2006

"There's Never Nothing Happening"

I know exactly what I was doing.... The question is, do you know what you were doing? -- Dan Millman, Way of the Peaceful Warrior

LAST WEEK I ATTENDED AN ADVANCE SCREENING of Peaceful Warrior , a new film scheduled to open on June 2 in the limited release common to films that fail to blow things up, chop off heads, or give you a close-up of a famous actor's body-double's butt.

I imagine that the critics will have their way with this film. It has the all obvious weaknesses of low budget films "with a message." It sends those messages too frequently and, at times, through the weaker vessels of the cast. Still, for all its shortcomings, Peaceful Warrior is a film worth seeing not for whole but for the parts. Peaceful Warrior delivers a very rare set of moments in today's cinema: moments of grace and, more importantly, moments of real luminosity; moments when the actual wisdom and light of being here and now in this real life are shown to you. In short, it gives you real moments of grace.

I saw this film last Tuesday and my initial reaction, because I guard myself too carefully, was to

dismiss it. Still, I found myself in a bookstore immediately after the screening buying a copy of Dan Millman's Way of the Peaceful Warrior, doing my famous bit of late-night performance art: "Denial Made Visible."

Peaceful Warrior is the sort of film that goes deep when you see it, and surfaces again in your mind at the most unlikely times. Not all of it, just the luminous moments. And in art as in life, the luminous moments are the only ones worth keeping.

To me the most memorable luminous moment in the film is when the young man in search of perfection and looking towards the strange old master (in this case Nick Nolte who is perfectly old and strange), complains to his garage guru when glancing around the grounds at UC Berkeley, "There's nothing happening."

Nolte grasps the seeker, hands clenching on his shoulders like a pair of ragged claws, and seems to transmit a spiritual jolt directly into him. In a career filled with very short but very memorable acting moments, this is one of Nolte's best.

In a quick and skillful series of jump cuts, zooms, slo-mo passages and freeze-frames, the camera explores the vast number of things that are indeed happening with great intensity all about the protagonists. Then the regular pace of the film returns and Nolte delivers the line: "There's never nothing happening."

That scene resurfaced unbidden in my mind this afternoon as I walked my standard two mile circuit around the top of Queen Anne where I live in Seattle. i try to do this every day in order to get out, see what the world is about, and to exercise my far-too-sedentary body. I've done it for several months and I have to admit that for the last few weeks it has begun to bore me. Jogging, walking, reps of all sorts for exercise's sake fill my spirit with inertia: pretty flower, overgrown lawn, cute little house, sad big McMansion, jogger with perky breasts, jogger with miles to go. "All in all, it's all the same. / Just call me if there's any change."

And change there was. About a halfway around the Queen Anne circuit, the movie's line, "There's never nothing happening," echoed in my mind and I decided to test it. I decided to wake up and take a look around.

Waking up when you're already awake is something that takes a bit of doing and a life to learn. You have to first determine that you are sleep-living; a state that most humans inhabit every waking second of their life. Then you have to decide to wake up, to be present, and to hold on to that no matter what the monkey mind may do to return you to slumber.

It doesn't take a sage to glance at the current political and social and entertainment landscape of these states to tell you that many prefer sleep-living to wakefulness. Not only that, the sleepers have a growing resentment towards those who continue to insist on wakefulness. It is as if much of our nation has fallen "half in love with easeful death." That's only one reason why it is more important than ever to know and to act in the world every moment in the belief, "There's never nothing happening."

Looking out into my little world up above Seattle on the crest of Queen Anne Hill, I got Berraized and "saw a lot just by observing."

Jump cuts, zooms, slo-mo and freeze frames:

Couple having coffee outside Tully's. He's expounding. She's listening, smiling a false smile and pretending to be fascinated. Not married. They will marry; him out of a need for love, her out of a greed for things. It will last until his need is not met and/or her greed not satisfied. Written on the wind.

"No good. No bueno. Hustling myself." Pause. And begin again. Look around and look deeper. This moment. This one. Once and once only.

Mixed race couple holding hands and walking with their two beautiful children, boy and girl, the coffee-colored compromise of America made real, heading to the Safeway. Their love as strong and lithe as their children.

Yuppie couple coming back from the Safeway. He hasn't shaved. She doesn't care. Their little girl in the stroller is kicking back trying to kick off her new pink flip-flops.

Trendy young girl with web tattoo on shoulder listens intently on her cell-phone to a friend and then complains that their numbers may be recorded by the NSA. Crosses the street unconsciously confident that no car within ten thousand miles will explode. Resenting the reasons why.

Homeless man sitting half in the street reading a thumbed paperback he's plucked from the garbage can next to him. It's a page turner and he's turning the page.

Couple lounging outside the laundromat. At ease with each other and waiting for their tumbling, mixed laundry to finish drying. Her hand brushes lightly along his thigh. He pushes his thigh against her hand. May their clothes dry quickly.

One overwhelming orange bloom of an Opium poppy growing alone out of a heap of rich black compost in a back alley.

Scrawled sign above a raft of reeking garbage cans in same alley, "Get Out! Police have been called."

Whirring slapzap of a weed-whacker shaving a small man's small patch of lawn. Scent of the fresh cut grass blowing across the road past the corner house which sports a skull and cross-bones flag on a pole and a line of worn Tibetan prayer flags strung along the porch.

A sleek jogger swoops by across the street, her bare shoulders pale in the sun, her bright red hair lifting in the lambent light behind her as she runs into a wind of her own making.

The cell phone sounds the opening bars of the 9th Symphony. An old friend reveals a moment of God's grace and the ending of a pain that has been with him daily for decades.

Listening to his relief and happiness, I turn a corner towards my own home and come face to face with a small gray house festooned, roof to lawn, in a thick drenching of lilac blossoms that tumble my mind into blankness with the tsunami of their perfume.

I walk onto my own lawn and stand for a moment under the 40 foot willow shimmering above me and glance into the play ground across the way where a basketball game flows back and forth across the blacktop. Pass, catch, run, jump, shoot, rebound, nothing but net.

The light of life and the hand of God lie gently across all of Queen Anne on this May afternoon. "There's never nothing happening."

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Posted by Vanderleun at May 14, 2006 6:48 PM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

I have experienced more than my share of grace in this life. The largest chunk was perhaps the first week after my last beer.

The world returned and everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, was the same while simultaneously fresh and new. I have had glimmerings of that feeling this spring.

Your essay touched a tender spot. Odd how often that happens... or just more grace, I guess. Thanks, Mr. Van der Luen.

Posted by: TmjUtah at May 14, 2006 7:00 PM

I've been taking similar daily walks for a while now, but for some reason(!) am looking forward to today's a bit more.


Posted by: mark nelson at May 15, 2006 9:07 AM

Thanks much for writing in such a way that I want to come back. Today: electrifying. Other days, sometimes that, maybe funny, other things I enjoy. From your writing, I like you. I'll be back, again.

Posted by: Al Smith at May 15, 2006 9:34 AM

Petulent Child: They're listening to us!

Mythusmage: Actually, you're not important enough to listen to.

Gerard, I hope you stay awake on your jaunts. You see so much more when you're aware. And if you happen to have a paperback or two you think the homeless guy would like, pass 'em on. With the admonition to pass them on himself when he's finished with them.

For that matter, look into book swap clubs and the like. People who get together every now and then to exchange books. Be a chance for you to give somebody else the chance to read something you liked, and for you to try a book you wouldn't have read other wise.

And as long as we're on literary try outs, head on over to Baen Books and try out the Baen Free Library. Ebooks from Baen and non-Baen authors, some of whom are actually in print simultaneously with their ebook incarnations. Eric Flint's Mother of Demons was put back into print thanks to demand created by its inclusion in the free library.

One last thing, whenever possible post on what you see and experience on your journeys. I appreciate them.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg at May 15, 2006 11:22 AM

A bit of a follow-up. Just heard on the local noon news that another Florida woman was killed and eaten by an alligator. You can bet people are asking, "Why did she die?"

The answer's very simple, she wouldn't wake up.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg at May 15, 2006 12:29 PM

Gerard, leave the White and Step into the Yellow.

White - Relaxed, unaware, and unprepared. If attacked in this state the only thing that may save you is the inadequacy and ineptitude of your attacker. When confronted by something nasty your reaction will probably be, "Oh my God! This can't be happening to me."

Yellow - Relaxed alertness. No specific threat situation. Your mindset is that "today could be the day I may have to defend myself." There is no specific threat but you are aware that the world is an unfriendly place and that you are prepared to do something if necessary. You use your eyes and ears, and your carriage says "I am alert." You don't have to be armed in this state but if you are armed you must be in yellow. When confronted by something nasty your reaction will probably be, "I thought this might happen some day." You can live in this state indefinitely.

Orange - Specific alert. Something not quite right has gotten your attention and you shift your primary focus to that thing. Something is "wrong" with a person or object. Something may happen. Your mindset is that "I may have to shoot that person." Your pistol is usually holstered in this state. You can maintain this state for several hours.

Red - Fight trigger. This is your mental trigger. "If that person does "x" I will shoot them." Your pistol may, but not necessarily, be in your hand.

The big thing is to stop focusing on yourself and to start focusing on the world around you.

Your brain only has so many cycles and if its garbaged up then nothing can get in.

The "flow" part that Millman and Jeff Cooper focus on is where the body reacts to the minds' commands automatically while the mind is totally focused on the outside world.

Posted by: red river at May 15, 2006 1:32 PM

For an interesting tangental look at this topic, see Rabbi David Aaron on "Marrying the Moment: The Joy of Living Now."

Posted by: AskMom at May 15, 2006 7:33 PM

Gerard, I hope you don't mind my threadjacking this once.

You see, I got a pair of emails from one of your visitors/commentators regarding my reference to the Baen Free Library. Fellow has a severe disability that pretty much precludes his reading print books, and he wrote to say thanks for the heads-up.

He also mentioned he expects to be going into hospital/rehab soon, and is looking for a good laptop he could use while there. I thought I'd let folks here now about his need.

Now, thanks to my disability I have a hard time remembering names. Hopefully he'll respond to this, or to the last email I sent him. In any case, I'd like to see about getting him a good laptop, new or used, with the adaptive tech he'll need to use it with his disability. If you think you can help, or you happen to have an old laptop of your own that's still in good working order, drop me a line via my email and we'll see what we can work out.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled thread.

Posted by: Alan Kellogg at May 15, 2006 9:37 PM

Oh my...

Guru Singh kept admonishing me to live in the here and now. You have done a marvelous job of explaining what wonders await those who can live in the here and now.

Oddly enough when I have found myself following his advice time sort of slipped away and I found myself immersed in the actions of the moment. Losing my concentration almost seems like awakening from a dream. I would never be able to describe events as clearly as you have thank you.

Posted by: Pierre Legrand at May 15, 2006 10:56 PM
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