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.

When you love someone…


Dreaming 2

“When you love someone, you do not love them all the time, in exactly the same way, from moment to moment. It is an impossibility. It is even a lie to pretend to. And yet this is exactly what most of us demand. We have so little faith in the ebb and flow of life, of love, of relationships. We leap at the flow of the tide and resist in terror its ebb. We are afraid it will never return. We insist on permanency, on duration, on continuity; when the only continuity possible, in life as in love, is in growth, in fluidity – in freedom, in the sense that the dancers are free, barely touching as they pass, but partners in the same pattern.

The only real security is not in owning or possessing, not in demanding or expecting, not in hoping, even. Security in a relationship lies neither in looking back to what was in nostalgia, nor forward to what it might be in dread or anticipation, but living in the present relationship and accepting it as it is now. Relationships must be like islands, one must accept them for what they are here and now, within their limits – islands, surrounded and interrupted by the sea, and continually visited and abandoned by the tides.”
Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I am not sure exactly why this quote has so captured me.  Especially in the hindsight that Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s husband, Charles Lindbergh, had three other families (wives and kids) in Europe. It’s unclear if she knew this or not. I would find it a little hard to imagine such a smart woman being completely ignorant of who her husband was, and what he was capable of, even if she didn’t know the specifics. So, maybe she did know that he had affairs, and maybe she understood that love is complicated and messy sometimes. That often we are hurt, not by another’s actions, but rather by the idea that we have of who they are and how they should act, instead of loving them in spite of the fact that we feel failed by them, for not being what we want them to be.

There are boundaries that may be healthy for us, for me affairs cross a boundary in a marriage. Would I love my husband less if he had an affair? No, don’t think so, the love can remain. I’m not sure if I would stay in the relationship, certainly if I stayed it wouldn’t be in the same way. I don’t know what the relationship would look like, but it would change as I changed my thoughts about myself, my husband and the new “now” of our marriage. Love can bind us to people and places, it can give us purpose to learn and to move through the fear of vulnerability and stay true to love that is just for love.

Change through time is true in all relationships, family, friends, and lovers, even without traumas and dramas. We are constantly shifting how we feel about other people.  How we think about them, changes how we feel about them.  We do this all the time.  Think about the myriad of ways that we get angry or annoyed with people, even people we love, for much less concerning issues; the kids leave lights on everywhere they go, you ask nicely, you ask sharply, you ask and ask and ask, and still, no matter where in the house you walk, the lights are on. You scream, you rant, you threaten, and in these moments you don’t love in a loving way. Because your love has stories and expectations woven into the core of it. If you loved me, you would turn off the lights because you know and care what that means to me… Or, you would turn off the lights because it’s the responsible thing to do, or it saves money, whatever. Unspoken stories, I love you when you… do what I want?  The weft and weave as I sit in my justified nagging and yelling place, not showing love, because you didn’t meet my expectations. Is this conceivably true? Can I possibly be so self centered and demanding? Having unrealistic expectations of others and then wondering why the relationship feels distant or hurtful. This is the way of severing and ending relationships, this is not loving.

Just where is my responsibility for my needs, my feelings, and my expectations? Why don’t I turn off lights as I come to them instead of being unloving? Tell myself new stories that don’t connect my love for you, or your love for me, to my expectations? This simple shift is probably the hardest thing to do. The fine line between a healthy boundary and an unrealistic expectation. This shift takes courage, because like life, it’s fragile and filled with the longing of wanting to be loved in return, and we cannot control that. It takes the strength and flexibility of a dancer walking on a tightrope with no safety net and also dancing with a partner navigating the same dangerous ground.

Not many of us do this balance well. We may have areas where we sit in Buddha like calm over a topic while the world around us loses it’s collective mind. Yet, there are always chinks in our perceptions, places where we lose our own minds, often to issues or ideas that someone else has no problem with. It keeps us humble, we aren’t so perfect ourselves.  We are all creatures of light, but also of shadow. When we recognize our imperfection, do we then withhold love from ourselves?  Often the answer is “yes.” If this is true, how can you truly love another, with all their messy imperfections, if we can’t love our own self, with all of our messy imperfections? We hide and hate our shortcomings, we drown them and pretend they don’t exist, instead focusing on the shortcomings of others.  Isn’t the idea “to love others as we love ourself” at the core of all world religions? I think “yes.” My very purpose in this life is to recognize the places in myself that need to be challenged, tweaked and tuned, to learn to love myself through the process, and learn to love others in spite of my (mis)perceptions and (mis)expectations of them. Allowing for the ebb and flow, the here and now. Being present to the tide as it dances by my shore.

Mirror Mirror…

“The difference between how you look and how you see yourself is enough to kill most people. And maybe the reason vampires don’t die is because they can never see themselves in photographs or mirrors.”
― Chuck PalahniukHaunted

Why is it so easy to see issues, especially negative or problematic issues, in someone else, but so difficult to see same issues in ourselves? We spend so much time looking out windows at others, instead of looking into mirrors at ourselves. The lack of control or effective ability to create change in others often leaves us lost and frustrated. We tell ourselves stories about how if others really loved us, or saw our value, they would do these ‘small’ things to change, so we could feel better.  All the while missing the opportunities for change, that might be meaningful in our lives, by ignoring the change we can create in our own selves.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this idea, I’m calling it the Projected Self Concept.  The projected self plays nicely with the idea of internal locus of control versus the external locus of control.  Do I have power over my emotions and myself?  Or do you?  The Projected Self idea asks us, if the issues that I find frustrating or annoying are actually ones that trigger some deeper concern I have in my own self?  Is it that I see in others what I dislike in myself?  Often I think that yest this is true.  Sometimes the behavior or qualities I dislike in others aren’t a one to one mirror of my own self, but those behaviors may trigger another feelings about myself that I don’t like, so I project them in an effort to ignore my issues. So I don’t see have to see them: I rationalize my behaviors.  Say for instance, my mom who is aging, moves very slowly.  It’s frustrating, especially on cold days.  I am not frustrated by my projection of my own slowness, because I am quite capable of hoofing it, at least for a few more years.  But, maybe, just maybe, I am triggered by the idea that I am aging, and I am not getting enough done, or I am wasting time in my life, wasting time I could be using to do something I think is meaningful.  I feel her slowness and then feel my own frustration that I am not meeting my own goals for myself, the feelings feel the same.  And, I feel it most when I am standing there waiting for her to get out of the car or walk into the post office.  The projected self then can focus on the other, blame the other, and viola! presto magico!  I am no longer the problem, I don’t have to look closely at myself, it’s not my own aging, or lack of follow through, it’s “her” she’s the issue, she’s so slow!

The fascinating thing is that the more we look at ourselves, the more we find that our lives and our frustrations are ALL about us.  What power lies in that knowledge!  One of the super secrets of life is that we can learn through being aware of our selves and our feelings provide a road map.  The more we can recognize this idea, that we notice when we are projecting ourselves, the more peace we can have because we are no longer trying to change others.  It all gets really clear when we recognize that we really do create reality around us.  We are magical thinkers, confabulating our histories and our stories so that these projections make sense.  We get to be victims of our avoidance.  And, just as magically, we can stop it, we can choose a different reality.  We can instead find ways to know ourselves, understand our fears, recognize the triggers, and give up the idea that we need to be right, or that our feelings are about someone else.  As long as we are confabulating and projecting, we miss the opportunity to actually see ourselves (in that mirror) and do the work of personal or spiritual growth.  Thankfully, we can choose to develop insights into our triggers that can lead to real changes.  The sort of changes that we have some control over, like taking responsibility for the changes that lead to deeper relationships with others, and developing more authenticity in our relationship with ourselves.  So, choose wisely.

Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
― Albert Einstein

Several books that I have read lately have me thinking.  The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz and The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt.

Writing Our Lives

This is a repost from another blog I wrote a few years ago.  It seems to fit again for me, so I am posting it again.

Some of the joys of traveling  and/or moving are, getting to go to new places, see new things, meet new people, and for me, to have time to read something I might not have had time to.  I was browsing through the Airline magazine in the back of the seat in front of me, I was stuck in the seat for the next few hours, so I leafed through the glossy pages, looking at fantastic restaurants in cities that I wasn’t going to, and sparkly jewelry that I could see myself wearing, when I came across a little snippet on the actor Forest Whitaker.  Now, first I have to say that I have always like this actor, which is probably why I stopped upon seeing him on the page.  But, as I read the article, I was impressed by the sort of person he sounded like he was.  The quote from the article that most captured me was: “My work is a way to explore and connect and grow as a human being.  Each new character is a new life; it’s a reincarnate moment over and over again, a chance to live a different lifetime and, hopefully, become more centered.”

I love that idea, creating the character of my life.  And, wasn’t I sort of doing that superficially as I thought of myself in other places, wearing sparkly things as I looked through the magazine?  Obviously, most of us don’t have the opportunity to be actors, taking on new roles and trying them on for size, and getting paid to do it.  It does beg the question however, how can we take on the role of ourselves more fully?  If you were playing the character of your life, what sort of responses and reactions would be important for you to grow as a human being?  What goals would you want for this character?  How might you look objectively at your characters past, and then how would you use this information to make your character stronger?  These are rich ideas.  And, maybe a little shift in perspective might help us to be better people, writing a story of our lives, one that we actually want to live.