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

For Writers

It’s a noble thing to decide to try and make it as a writer. I’m automatically keener to anyone who admits to being a writer. Recently I met someone who expressed frustration about his earlier efforts trying to make a living as a writer, but found that doing so was impossible. He finally accepted a job totally unrelated to writing because it paid the bills. He concluded from his experience that “print media is dying.”

I would have to disagree with this often expressed view: all one has to do is consider the Internet. Once the Internet became the Internet “2.0”, it opened itself up for every-day users to contribute their work to third party websites. You need look no further than IMDB.com or Gamespot or Yelp to see people contributing content to the web. Content is being created for the Internet community, by the Internet community. Granted, it’s not making anybody but the hosting websites money, but it’s being created by writers for consumption. Bloggers are still on their own in attempting to produce enough diverse content to make a solid revenue stream.

But books are still being published every year in the tens of thousands. It is simply the case now that writers must adapt to changing times. Non-fiction books must now entertain as they edify. Fictional books must be engaging while delivering meaningful content. Everything a writer writes should be articulated well enough to be read without strain. Having advanced syntax is not a mortal sin, but an essay or story should be easily read, entertaining even, complicated syntax or no.

By the way, this is my biggest complaint with the erudite world of philosophy. I have met many a philosophy major who relish in incomprehensible works like Heidegger. I have to fault philosophers for making their works confounding by writing in cloistered language. The medium shouldn’t block the message with so much jargon and pedantry. A writer should communicate a point clearly and convincingly. Philosophers should be held to the same standards of writing as everyone else, if they would claim that their writing is actually good.

My core message for aspiring writers is this: don’t quit your efforts, the world needs your ideas. Writing is an art, and if you find yourself disposed to write for others, don’t let discouragement drown your desire to contribute meaningfully to the world of ideas. Bruce Lee said that failure in great efforts is not to be feared, only low aim. Failure at a glorious goal is still valuable to the world, and for you, yourself, to strive for.

It is noble to try to change the world with your ideas. It is important to not give into cynicism. Hope is as important for humanity as free will. If you have the inclination to write for others, embrace it. Creating a work that will outlive your life is a great endeavor. And in the words of William James, act as though what you do can make a difference, because it can. Take note that writers like Rachel Carlson changed the world through their writing. If you can eloquently sell your ideas or tell a story, don’t abandon your writing skills because pragmatism and doubt dampen your dreams. You were given your skill set for a reason, make something of it.

© David Metcalf

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.

  1. To accept every person as they are as travelers on their own life journey.
  2. To treat everyone with respect and kindness, no exceptions.
  3. To have gratitude for all that I have, and for all the people who have supported me and been my friend.
  4. To accept my mortality as a fact of life, and live each day with no presumed promise of the next.
  5. To forgive those who wrong me or speak ill of me, for my sake if not for their’s.
  6. To accept uncertainty and doubt as a basic component of all beliefs, but to seek to understand the world, other people, and my own beliefs as best as I can.
  7. To 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. To accept that every human being, myself included, is capable of both truly selfless and fantastically destructive acts in each moment of his or her existence, and everything in-between.
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.

© David Metcalf

On Making a Difference

This entry is a little “rough around the edges”. It was a short Facebook post I made. Wasn’t really sure I wanted to edit it. It gets the point across well enough, faults and all. . .

Looking through my NoteTab Light program (I keep quotes and random facts and clips from articles in there). Found this about living a fulfilled life:

“But researchers now believe that eudaimonic well-being may be more important. Cobbled from the Greek eu (“good”) and daimon (“spirit” or “deity”), eudaimonia means striving toward excellence based on one’s unique talents and potential.”

Do what you’re best at; there may be a reason you have your particular talents. Make something of them.

Julian Linn choreographed some of the most famous plays in Broadway. Her accomplishments include choreographing the original Jesus Christ Superstar musical, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s recent Phantom of the Opera movie, and the broadway hit, Cats.

When she was a child, she had difficulty at school. Her parents were called into the school to meet with the school psychologist. The counselor met with Julian and her parents and talked to her about why she is fidgits and can’t focus on lessons. The counselor asked the parents to step out with him and left Julian in the office with the music on.

Outside, this counselor told her parents that there was absolutely nothing wrong with their daughter, but that she doesn’t belong in school, because she is a dancer. He recommended they take her out of school and put her in dance school immediately.

She’s now a multi-millionaire and choreographs some of the most famous plays of the last several decades.

A counselor today would probably recommend that a girl or boy like Julian take Ritalin to cure the obvious “ADHD” condition of the child.

The lesson?  Use your talents wisely. We all have a unique skill set. It is rare for someone to be bad at everything. Find a line of work that someone will pay you for and that you enjoy doing (and that you are good at). Enjoying your career (and being good at it) is far more important for your happiness than making a lot of money but hating your job.

Do not accept the warnings of your teachers that you must hate your job. Accept a career that gives you the feeling that you can make a positive difference in the world by doing it. If you aren’t working in a field of your choosing now, try to work towards being there at some point in the next decade. You may have to “pay your dues”, but you need to situate yourself into some line of work that matters to you.

“Success is not the key to happiness.
Happiness is the key to success.
If you love what you are doing,
you will be successful.”

- Albert Schweitzer

© David Metcalf

The Rite: Propaganda at its Finest

The Rite is another movie in a long series of the everything ever conceived by the Catholic Church is absolutely true genre that would have us clutching religion for salvation. I have to admit, it is a very effective piece of propaganda. The words Based on True Events usher in the movie where we find that after nearly completing seminary school, the young Michael Kovak has apparently lost his faith. Excelling in psychology, he views religion as a false answer to people’s qualms about death.

Clever to use a skeptic to be the protagonist, as Kovak will learn through the tutelage of Father Lucas Trevant (played by Anthony Hopkins) that Satan is, in fact, very real and counts on our ignorance or lack of belief in Him as being his strongest power for deceiving wayward souls. Kovak is seemingly rational as he disputes the evidence of demonic possession in Rome as a first-hand witness to Father Trevant’s “client roster”.

If you actually believed that this movie was a literal transcription of true events, then you would probably be scared shitless that you might be possessed in your sleep tonight. If you somehow suspect that Hollywood has resorted to a little artistic flourish in dramatizing these events (replete with movie make-up effects and all), then you’ll doubt the accuracy of the movie entirely—as I do.

But I’m not going to approach this problem from a purely atheistic perspective, mostly because I’m a pantheist. But let’s grant monotheism for a moment. So there’s God: loving, all-powerful, all knowing. . . If Christian’s grant this, then the idea of Satan falls flat. Why would an all powerful God allow Satan to exist throughout time to tempt weak souls? Why would a loving God allow souls to be tormented for all time in Hell? Why should we suppose that an omnipotent God would allow his anti-thetical opponent to battle him for all ages for the claim of human (or alien) souls?

The answer is, he wouldn’t. A loving God could not refuse entrance to any dead person wanting to be in Heaven, if it meant that person would go straight to Hell. It’s simply not possible to be the perfect manifestation of love and then condemn people through their unworthiness to unimaginable, unendurable, and unending suffering in some plane of existence. Maybe a sadistic God of the Hebrew Bible would allow this to happen. But the God of Christ would not allow such thing, should he be loving as so many followers of Christ insist he is.

Then there is the all powerful problem. If God is all powerful, then why should he even allow Lucifer to persist in tempting souls? Why not just destroy him? God’s all powerful, but he won’t smote the most crucial enemy of his whole plan? He’ll just let this Fallen Angel doom many of God’s flock to unending torment and suffering?

These are just inconsistencies of the Christian notion of God which allow for Satan. It simply doesn’t make sense. Let’s employ the great Ockham’s Razor here. Let’s do it as a theist or agnostic even. . .

Is it more likely that a loving, all-powerful God wants humans to go to Heaven but has decided not to use his power or immense love to save humanity from the grips of Satan? Or is it more likely that Satan is one of the most effective recruiting tools in the employ of the Christian churches in scaring people into believing in God and whatever the church tells you to believe?

*Side note, God is all-powerful and omniscient, but he’s no good with money. Can do anything he wants but doesn’t know what to do with a dollar bill. That’s why you have to give so much to your churches (tax free income for them, of course).

And, yes, I stole that joke from the great George Carlin.

Yes, Satan is a powerful recruiting tool when you are a child being compulsed into going to church to hear sermons of a fire-and-brimstone Hell ruled by Satan and the suffering souls of people who made the wrong choice with their Free Will.

Never mind that Free Will is a farce if there is only one decision you can make that God will accept. What choice is there in living 80 years as you like if you suffer eternity in Hell because God gave only a couple right answers and a billion wrong ones to the multiple-choice question of what to do with your life?

No, I don’t believe in Satan, and have far different notions about God(far removed from the one that Christians are so adamant that they believe in). Pantheism is both a difficult and simple concept all at once. Does it allow for some singularity-type consciousness in the Universe? Maybe. Does it transcend the Universe or is it imbued into it? Hard to say. I’m not going to use this entry to outline Pantheism here. I just want to outline that I don’t take the “evidence” that The Rite displays as evidence for Satan. More likely, it just shows how a lot of people (both possessed and ordained) are seeing and believing things that they want to believe.

I’ll end with a short, nonsensical story that I heard a Christian tell me once as justification of the most cliché version of Heaven you could ever conceive. He had read a book about a boy who was dead for 3 minutes and was resuscitated. Since his close family were apparently die-hard Christians, they interrogated the boy about what he saw while he was dead. Let’s say that this boy is about 5.

This Christian man felt that the boy’s answers proved beyond all doubt that when you die, you float up to the clouds and see the Pearly-White gates version of Heaven. He was asked, who sits to the right of God? “Jesus” the boy answers. Who sits to the left of God? “Gabriel”, says the boy. Now, queries the Christian man to me, “How does a boy of 5 know about Gabriel?”

Hmm, if I had to guess, I’d say it was his parents or church? No, that’s too simple. The boy had to get this knowledge from an actual, after-life experience. More “evidence” for you to consider from the nearly empty collection of Christian evidences.

© David Metcalf

Essential Movie List (that will convince you that we’re totally screwed)

I apologize to my regular visitors for not adding new entries. I am a full-time graduate student and work weekends. My schedule has kept me pretty busy, and I have other writings that I am working on that limit my ability to add new content for this blog. Below is a short list of some documentaries that I would recommend seeing. I will add a book list later.

I’m making this list because I often feel like I’m speaking a foreign language when I talk to people about the pressing problems we face today.

For example, I was discussing economic issues in a class and mentioned some concerns about the ascendency of China.  A student rebuffed these points by saying, “Heck, I think we can kick China’s ass.”  Also, family members and others have suggested to me that we can just absolve our debts to China and refuse to pay them. As if there wouldn’t be catastrophic financial repercussions of telling the world that a country holding $2 trillion of our debt can take our IOUs and stick them up their ass (simply because we don’t like them).

People like to compare our current situation to other periods of history and other challenges, not realizing that—in many ways—the problems we face at the moment are entirely unique to the entire period of human civilization, and basically unsolvable. I hope to write an entry about these problems in more detail at some point.

If you are of the opinion that all problems have some solution, I would like to inform you that the major lesson of studying history for historians is that many historical problems had no solution. Americans like to think we can overcome any challenge. By being well-versed in history, one realizes that this is utter fantasy.

For example, after the Americans acquire the atomic bomb, ask yourself: how could Japan have turned the scales towards the end of WWII?  Is there a solution for the Japanese Generals to beat America in 1945?  No.  From their perspective, they could not have won.  Just as, for the world today, when the oil runs out, we are going to starve.

Movies you should see:

  • End of Suburbia
  • Crude
  • Orwell Rolls in his Grave
  • Outfoxed
  • Tapped
  • The Real Dirt on Farmer John
  • The Corporation
  • ABC documentary Earth 2100
  • Watching The Real News with Paul Jay
I have avoided mentioning films that are excessively conspiracy theorist oriented. This is a list of films that are more factual and less theoretical. The films that wildly speculate about our future and rely on many outlandish claims can sometimes be entertaining, but should not be relied upon for serious information.I would recommend the Zeitgeist 2 documentary to see a description of a human society that would be sustainable. That film will answer the question that is often asked, “Well, what do you propose we should do as humans if you are saying that our way of life doesn’t work?”
© David Metcalf