Love and Reality

From the movie Her

From the movie Her

I recently saw the movie Her with Joquin Phoenix and it really got me thinking.  Rough cut of the movie line: it’s a love story, about a man and a Operating System (OS).  But past that simple description, it asks us to take a look at how we narrowly define love and on a deeper level, what is ‘real’.  Culture seems to have the job of creating norms and rules about things that aren’t always easily definable.  Love can be simply defined, but it also has intangible qualities that are much more difficult to quantify.  It requires us to put language to feelings.  Reality is equally as hard to nail down.

love [luhv] noun

– a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.
– a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection, as for a parent, child, or friend.
– sexual passion or desire.
– a person toward whom love is felt; beloved person; sweetheart.
(used in direct address as a term of endearment, affection, or the like): Would you like to see a movie, my love?

reality [ree-al-i-tee] noun

– the state or quality of being real.
– resemblance to what is real, a real thing or fact.
– real things, facts, or events taken as a whole; state of affairs: the reality of the business world; vacationing to escape reality.
Philosophy of Reality
– something that exists independently of all other things and from which all other things derive.

These are probably good definitions, but are these definitions really the totality of these complex words?  What does love feel like?  Does love happen in reality or is it a construct of our minds?  How do you know it’s a “true love,” rather than a superficial “I’m so in love with ice cream” kind of love?  And who am I to judge if you’re not really so in love with ice cream?  In turn, what is Reality?  What does it mean that Reality exists independently of all other things and from which all other things derive?  What are the nuances of a feeling real?  Is there a better way to love?  Or a worse way?  Do we attempt to make these deep philosophical ideas into black and white issues, easily defined, to fit in the boxes we like, so we can be comfortable?  While I understand that our cultural perspective does define these concepts, under what perimeters should love or reality be defined for anyone, given that few of us are from the same exact culture?

In Her, a man falls in love with a computer operating system (OS).  The OS is a learning, thinking, questioning, and growing being.  It has a great personality, but for most of us, it’s not what we think of as a “real person,” and therefore we might wonder, is he having a real relationship?  There were several places in the movie that I felt myself cringe when he talked about his girlfriend, and then explained she was an OS.  Yet the love felt real, at least to the man, and for me, the movie stretches the idea of what constitutes real love anyway?  At what point is love “real,” or valid?  Do we limit other peoples emotional lives when we foist our cultural judgements, our contextual thinking, and perceptions of reality of right or wrong doing, onto their reality?  Who gets to decide for everyone anyway?  Given that so many people are lonely and learning to love is powerful to our lives, why would we stop love from existing in any form that doesn’t harm anyone?

The movie also explores the idea of what make any of us real.  Is the OS real?  As in a sentient personhood sort of real? Is the OS more real than say a Corporation, which in the US we have given personhood and now Corporations have the rights of a real person, even though I’m pretty sure that Corporations don’t have souls. This is a similar question that was asked in the movie Blade Runner, At what point is something ‘real’?  More human than human was the sales pitch for the Replicants.  We could create ‘people’ but they had no rights, no souls, they weren’t real independently from our need or use of them, the Replicants were commodities.  Yet they evolved over time to have feelings, physical and emotional, and memories, and relationships, and they wanted ‘more life’ and to be considered real.  And, even today it’s amazing how many people have cyber relationships going on in virtual worlds?  Real people are behind the avatars, but they often haven’t met in the reality we call meeting ‘in person’, yet they can really know each other and they talk, have friendships, and dare one say even fall in love sometimes.

What if love and reality are big things, so big that we can only ever see a tiny bit and we think we’re seeing the whole thing, but the whole thing is so vast that there is no way from our small place in the universe to see it all?  What about that?  From this perspective of vastness, it may just be that we probably know next to nothing.  And, we create cultural constructs of our knowledge and try and make the whole vast infinite universe fit in our tiny little boxes.  I am reminded of a line from the movie Lion in Winter, “I know, You know that I know, and I know that you know that I know, we are a very knowledgeable family…”  But, the line might have been more true if we just said, “I don’t know, you don’t know, I don’t know what you know and you don’t know what I know, and we are all just making stuff up all the time pretending to be knowledgeable, it’s what our family does.”  That would have been funny.  In fact that’s the only thing I know is true… really.

What can Zombies teach us?

warm_bodies

“My posture is terrible. I should stand up straighter. People would respect me more if I stood up straighter. What’s wrong with me? I just want to connect. Why can’t I connect with people? Oh, right, it’s because I’m dead. I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. I mean, we’re all dead. This girl is dead. That guy is dead. That guy in the corner is definitely dead. Jesus these guys look awful.”
Quote from Warm Bodies

This blog probably belongs in October.  But here it is, January 2014, and I am writing about Zombies.  Probably Zombie blogs are worthwhile all year long…  that’s my hope at any rate.

So, what do Zombies have to teach us?  Well, let’s start with what Zombies represent.  They represent, on a simple level, the living dead.  In Africa, the Voodoo definition of “Zombi” is a living dead person who is controlled by another person, the other person controls everything about the Zombi and the Zombi has no will of his/her own.  In Western culture, Zombies are typically depicted as mindless, reanimated corpses hungering for human flesh, and particularly for human brains.  In a recent movie, Warm Bodies, Zombies eat brains to vicariously feel human again  by eating the memories and experiences of another person and also in an attempt to feel connected to their past humanness.

Now, knowing what a Zombie is, what can you learn from them?  The first question possibly needs to be: Am I a Zombie?  The second question is also what most spiritual journey’s are about: How do you stay alive once you decide you’re not a Zombie?

My personal bias, probably because I am old, is that being alive when you’re a kid or a teenager, well that’s far easier. I am not attempting to minimize the teenage angst, or the terrible things that can happen to children and teenagers.  But, having survived my own childhood and teen experience, I feel somewhat clear on this subject. It’s really hard for young people to be the living dead.  They are typically too alive in their minds, even if they are overwhelmed and depressed, they often haven’t had the long term experience of being beat down by choices, life, or responsibilities.  There are always exceptions to this rule of thumb.  But, if you’re 30+, yep you’re in danger, seriously deep danger. By your 30’s you typically have all sorts of past history, you have whatever is going on in your life now, to include responsibilities, kids, cars, homes, credit cards, and jobs.  These things make us tired and these things, these responsibilities in conjunction with general exhaustion, can make it easy to become the living dead… slaves to our stuff and slaves to our choices… no longer feeling in control, but rather forced to do the will of others.

Anytime you feel trapped in a marriage, or a job, you wake up, go to life (work), come home, watch tv, eat, sleep, wake up… do it over and over again, you are in danger.  It’s the monotony of life, the losing of interests, the giving up of dreams, these things are part of the slow migration towards becoming a Zombie.  Whenever you give up on important ideas, this giving into the status quo of societal expectations of you, then you’re in danger.  When you stop questioning yourself and others, and quit being curious and exploring what people think and why they think what they think, and if you agree or disagree, and why you agree and disagree… you’re in danger.  When you stop noticing the beauty around you, or participating in making the world a better place, you’re in danger.

I’m not absolutely certain, but maybe all it takes to stay alive, is finding your passion and keeping your brain alive.  Being on the quest to discover the things that gets you up each day with interest, excitement and passion, not just getting up because you have to get up, but because you genuinely want to get up.  It could be anything, so I am not interested in limiting this to being artistic, though for me it has to do with being creative and thinking and learning.  Again, creativity, thoughtfulness and education can take a lot of forms.  Maybe you love your job, you wake up ready to go out and “Live it!”, or maybe your job is the thing you do to support your real life, the one where you are continuing to explore the world around you, refusing to succumb to the potential banality that surrounds us all.  When in motion it is easier to stay in motion, but it takes a greater effort to get things that are at a stand still, moving again.  In the movie, the Zombies are able to become alive again, it took an openness to love, to start caring, and willingness to participate differently in life.

You can be rich, poor or anywhere in the middle, and still find yourself waking up dead.  And anyone, rich or poor can have a rich life, filled with passion, curiosity, and connection.  A simple truth: it’s easy to lose yourself, we are all just 2 steps from being a Zombie.  Mundane existence is a slippery slope and we all can slide down that hill, if we aren’t paying attention.  For me, being alive is about having passion and balance, it’s about really truly caring,  not being afraid, and not living a life of fear and hopelessness.  There are many issues that seem hopeless, and yet, if we are alive, aware, and thinking, looking for ways to make things better for ourselves and others, then very little is truly hopeless.  We often have opportunities that show up in our lives to love and learn and grow.  Question your thinking, why you believe what you believe?  Question my thinking.  But, always keep looking at ways to really be alive.

Be kind to everyone you meet, they are all walking a hard road, often filled with Zombies.  The lesson: be kind to Zombies, we’re all in danger of becoming one.

em⋅pa⋅thy [em-puh-thee]

Empathy is a interesting word, the dictionary definition is:

1. the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.
2. the imaginative ascribing to an object, as a natural object or work of art, feelings or attitudes present in oneself: By means of empathy, a great painting becomes a mirror of the self.

We use it in our lives, often in respect to other people and our expectations of them, “they don’t have empathy” or “they need empathy,” but often, we don’t have a deep understanding of what empathy even means to ourselves, let alone what it means to others. For me empathy means, being able to put myself into someone elses shoes, to ask myself to suspend judgement and work to understand the other persons perspective, most especially if I don’t understand or like it.  In my mind, empathy isn’t about feeling sorry for the other, but rather to feel compassion for what their experience is.

In relationships, we often start off with love and affection. Due to the daily hazards of living with someone else, that love and affection can erode. We develop habits of interactions, conversations, expectations, and arguments. As we build walls against the hurts and disappointments, we tend to lose the empathy that allows us access to the other persons perspective. So, what’s a person to do to increase empathy? Increasing empathy requires awareness, if I understand that I’m pissed or hurt, I can take steps to remove myself until I feel better able to shift my focus to what might be going on for the other.  Then I can begin to work on depersonalizing myself from their reactions, focusing on the idea that people have different perspectives.  And, that they are at all moments living in the model of the world they have created, just like I am.  If I care about the person, parent, friend, child, lover, etc, it benefits me and the relationship to find the empathy to their perspective and work on finding ways to share mine without blame.  Blame just seems to sink their battleship and piss them off more, reducing empathy and increasing angst.

In “Mindsight,” the new book by Daniel Siegel, he discusses people practicing mindfulness and awareness to calm their bodies.  This practice helps them to manage their own emotional reaction and allows them access back to empathy and gives them the ability to work on repairing hurts.  I am only just starting this book, but I like it so far.