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#1682 - Monday, January 19, 2004 - Editor: Jerry

Here are some excellent readings from the lists, including a lengthy but very readable article by Peter Russell.

Daily Dharma  

"On a long journey,
It is essential to go with
Good companions;
Purify your eyes and ears
Again and again.
When you stay somewhere
Choose your company;
Listen to what you have
Not heard time and again.
This is the basis of the saying:
'It was my parents who bore me;
it was my companions who raised me.'"

~Kuei-shan Ling-yu

From the web site, "Daily Zen."  

Vicki Woodyard NDS  

These Days

These days I am limbering up for a spiritual marathon and feeling my shin splints.  The problem with the path is that it is endless and there are no gold medals or even tees.  I would probably get one that said, "Passable."  No, that was the old me.  The new me born in the fires of cancer hell will not allow herself to be dissed anymore.  Gone are the days and I do give a damn.  I care that I will somehow survive this daily sorrow.

 Phone rings.  "Mrs. W., I'm calling to remind you of your husband's appointment with Dr. Blank Monday." 

I croak into the phone.  "I've got a virus and he has been in the hospital. " I do not  bother to tell her that it was the experimental drug that put him there.  What's the point?  One thing I know is that six or seven months from today I will still be fiddling with hospital charges, insurance company, etc.  No wonder when someone calls "just to chat," I am not the Vick that I used to be.  I am a firebrand.  Not that I say it.  I am it.  Don't mess around with me. I am also dry as a bone.  Parched.  Sere.  Out of gas.  Spent.  Now scram!!!  Oh, did I also say that I am mad with grief.  Mad as hell.  Forcing you to leave me alone so you will not witness the depths of my pain.  Go. Now go!

Words I write these days are first shipped to me from the Funny Farm.  I open the package, taking out as many odd ones as I can.  Dang.  Consarned.  Woof.  Slam.  Ker-plunk.   Weasel.   Once I get enough for an essay, I proceed with due diligence, hit the send button and voila! A Vicki Woodyard post.  If you would like the recipe, let me know.   It's harder to make than you think; you need a springform pan.

Vicki Woodyard


Everything is Atman -- Ramdas  

"Devotee: The Self is said to be covered by five sheaths or koshas. A person
has to surpass these one after the other.

Papa: Who has got these sheaths you speak of? Atman? Jiva, they say, is
Brahman, and who has got then these sheaths? Ramdas does not see any sheaths anywhere. Only Atman is there, and Atman is everything. Tattvas, koshas, bhumikas: these have no meaning if you look at them in the light of the
Atman. They seem to have no existence except in the imagination of man.
Atman alone exists, and everything is Atman. The koshas also must be Atman,
if there are any koshas at all. Everything that is and is not is Atman.
Then, where does this question lead us to? It leads us to Him who alone
exists. Otherwise it is only a talk about the stages of spiritual progress.
But there are no stages. Why should you go astray from that centre and
wander about wool-gathering? Go to the centre, get fixed up there. Why
should you go around on the circumference? The centre is the Truth or

-- from God Experience Vol II by Swami Ramdas *


The fish trap exists because of the fish; once you've gotten
the fish, you can forget the trap. The rabbit snare exists
because of the rabbit; once you've gotten the rabbit, you can
forget the snare. Words exist because of meaning; once you've
gotten the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I
find a man who has forgotten words so I can have a word
with him?

~Chuang Tzu
(Translated by Burton Watson)

Life of Ramana Maharshi  

Ramana Maharhshi was a guru of international renown from southern India
who taught during the first half of the twentieth century. He was born
in 1879 near Madurai, Tamilnadu. His father was a farmer. He was the
second of three sons. The family was religious, giving ritual offerings
to the family deity and visiting temples. One unusual aspect of his
family history was a curse that was put on the family by a wandering
monk who was refused food by a family member. The monk decreed that in
every generation, one child in the family would renounce the world to
lead a religious life.  

Ramana was largely disinterested in school and absent-minded during
work. He had a marked inclination towards introspection and
self-analysis. He used to ask fundamental questions about identity,
such as the question "who am I?". He was always seeking to find the
answer to the mystery of his own identity and origins.  

One peculiar aspect of Ramana's personality was his ability to sleep
soundly. He could be beaten or carried from one place to another while
asleep, and would not wake up. He was sometimes jokingly called
"Kumbhakarna" after a figure in the Ramayana who slept soundly for

In the summer of 1896, Ramana went into an altered state of
consciousness which had a profound effect on him. He experienced what
he understood to be his own death, and later returned to life.  

He also had spontaneous flashes of insight where he perceived himself
as an essence independent of the body. During these events, he felt
himself to be an eternal entity, existing without reliance on the
physical body or material world.  

Along with these intuitions came a fascination with the word
"Arunachala" which carried associations of deep reverence and a sense
that his destiny was closely intertwined with this unique sound. At the
age of sixteen, Ramana heard that a place called Arunachala actually
existed (the modern town's name is Tiruvannamalai) and this brought him
great happiness.  

Ramana was nearing the end of high school when a careless criticism
describing him as a person not fit to be a student jarred him into
making a final decision to leave school. He had been reading a book on
famous Tamil saints and resolved to leave home and lead the life of a
religious seeker. Naturally, he planned to go to Arunachala, the place
which was the focal point of all his religious ideals.  

When he was seventeen years old, Ramama left for Arunachala, arriving
after four days of mostly train travel. He went directly to the central
shrine at the temple and addressed the Shiva symbol (linga) stating he
had given up everything and come to Arunachala in response to the god's

Ramana spent ten years living in temples and caves meditating, and
pursuing spiritual purification, keeping the disciplines of silence and
non-attachment. At this point, his reputation as a serious teacher (he
was called Brahma Swami) began to grow and other seekers began to visit
him. His disciples, some of whom were learned individuals, began to
bring him sacred books. He became conversant with the religious
traditions of South India written in the different regional languages.  

Early disciples had a difficult time learning about Ramana's background
and even his native language because he was silent and refused to
speak. As time passed he ceased his ascetic phase and began to live a
more normal life in an ashram setting. Many people came to visit him
with a variety of problems, from both India and abroad.  

Ramana's disciples constructed an ashram and temple, and space the
accommodate the many visitors. All ate the same food and Ramana sat
with the rest of the people during meals and did not expect special
treatment. The ashram was a sanctuary for animals and Ramana had great
fondness for the cows, monkeys, birds, and squirrels that inhabited the

Ramana continued to practice the method of inquiry into the nature of
the self best expressed by the question "who am I?". He recommended
renunciation of enjoyment of physical and mental pleasures as a means
of entering into a state where the oneness of the self and cosmos could
be perceived. He also felt that a person who is not attached to the
results of his actions can live in the world like an actor that plays
his or her part but is immune to emotional disturbance, because he
realizes he is only play-acting on the stage of life.  

Ramana was able to demonstrate his own non-attachment when thieves
broke into the ashram and he counseled the disciples and visitors to
let them have anything they wanted. He remained calm during the
incident even when struck by one of the thieves. He also displayed no
loss of equanimity at the death of his mother, who had come to live at
the ashram after selling the family home.  

Ramana developed cancer and when his devotees voiced concern about
losing him, he responded with the statement "I am not going anywhere,
where shall I go? I shall be there where I am always." He died in
April, 1950, sitting in lotus position. The final word that passed from
his lips was the sacred syllable OM.  

Writings from Robert Adams
Contributed by Ben Hassine

The Art of Surrender

To whom should I surrender? To your Self. The Self that is omniscient, omnipotent. The Self that is All Pervading. The Self that is Ultimate Oneness, Pure Awareness. Sat Chit Ananda. Surrender to that Self, for you are truly That.

And you are amazed by what you have heard. You begin to do just that. While you are at work. While you are washing the dishes, while you are watching TV, you always remember to surrender. And one day the inner teacher pulls your mind inward to the Source and you Awaken. You become liberated. You become your Self. Then you are Free.

There is nothing in this world or anywhere else that can affect you or cause harm to come to you unless you believe it. The growth of the world is made up of mental beliefs. Everything that you behold is a projection of your mind, and because it keeps changing constantly, you cannot say, "This is reality." For instance, your body is not the same as it was 10 years ago, or 20 years ago or when you were first conceived. How can you therefore say that your body is real?

On Impermanence

The world isn't the same as it was twenty years ago, everything has changed. Then how can you possibly say the world is real? Most of us are afraid to get into that subject...for we begin to feel that nothing is permanent, and this brings fear. If nothing is permanent, then who am I really? What am I? Where did I come from? What is the source of myself? These questions can only be answered by you.

Something Beautiful

There is something more beautiful, more grand, more wonderful, than you could ever imagine, that exists within you, which is the substratum of all existence. Yet in order to feel this joy, this bliss, in order to find total freedom from life's so-called burdens, you have to dig for yourself. You have to give up something. You can't stay the way you are, with the same disposition. the same values, the same preconceived ideas, the same concepts and be free. You cannot do this. You have to do an about face and totally give up all your ideas about what life is, totally surrender your ego, your mind, your body.

Just Being is enough.
Not being this, not being that.
Just Being

The Secret to Peace of mind is to not identify with anything other than your True Self.

To whom do you surrender this? To your Self .... the only burden you have ever had is your mind. There is no other burden. See if you can stop your mind for a few seconds and see how peaceful you are. When there are no thoughts there are no fears, no worries. There's no anxieties, no desires, no wants, no greed, no hurt, no enemies. It is the mind, the thoughts that cause these things to come to us. We actually create these conditions. We create our own reality. Think of the kind of life you are living today, your possessions, your friends. your loved ones, your employment. Do these things come to you through luck or chance? Of course not. You have created all things yourself, for you have believed in the false self, you have imagined you are a human being who has to go through experiences. You have been brainwashed since you were little to believe the things you believe today.

Go Within

So, if you really want freedom, liberation, you do not go searching for this. It is nowhere to be found. For it already exists within yourself. You are already That. So where can you go searching for it? Who can give it to you? If you want water, you turn on the tap. You do not look at the tap and scream and cry, "I want water." You turn on the tap and you have water. Yet when you were a little kid, you did not how to turn on the tap.

Therefore, if you wanted a drink, you would cry and make a fuss, and your mom or dad would open the tap and give you a drink. So, can you drink from the spring of eternal life which is your reality? You have to turn on the tap. You have to turn yourself inside out. Can you imagine how you would look turned inside out? It wouldn't be a pretty sight.

The Choice

Most of us believe that if you hear the right word, that if you awaken through the Grace of a Sage, you will be free. This is true in some cases. But these people that you have read about in the holy books who were touched by the Grace of a Sage, these people have done their homework, prior to his happening. You have to want it yourself, and when you want it badly enough, something will happen to you. When you desire liberation more than anything else in life, you have begun to give up your stuff.

Peter Russell

Mysterious Light: A Scientist's Odyssey

Contributed by Michael Read

Never did I imagine that spirituality would be so important in my life.
Throughout my childhood and student years I always thought I would end
up as a scientist. I loved science. I loved discovering how the world
works, why the sky is blue, what makes the wind blow, how sound travels
through the air, how electric currents flow, why iron rusts, why things
expand when heated, how plants know when to bloom, how we see color,
how a lens bends light, why planes can fly, how a rainbow forms, why
snowflakes are six-pointed stars.

The more I discovered, the more fascinated I became. At sixteen I was
devouring Einstein and marveling at the paradoxical world of quantum
physics. I delved into different theories of how the universe began,
and pondered the mysteries of space and time. I had a passion for
knowing, an insatiable curiosity about the laws and principles that
governed the world.

I was not, however, a materialist, believing that everything could be
explained by the physical sciences. By my mid-teens I had developed an
interest in the untapped potentials of the human mind. Stories of yogis
being buried alive for days, or lying on beds of nails, intrigued me. I
dabbled in so-called out-of-body experiences and experimented with the
altered states of consciousness produced by hyperventilating or
entraining the brain's alpha rhythms with pulsating lights. I developed
my own techniques of meditation, though I did not recognize them as
such at the time.

Nevertheless, my overriding interest was still in the physical
sciences, and, above all, mathematics. Thus, when it came to choosing
which subject I was to study at university, the choice was obvious. And
when it came to deciding which university I should apply to, the choice
was again clear: Cambridge. It was, and probably remains, the best
British university for studying mathematics.

The Turning Point

In my third year, I was exactly where I thought I would want to be.
Stephen Hawking was my supervisor. Although he had fallen prey to the
motor-neuron disorder known as Lou Gehrig's disease several years
earlier, the illness had not yet taken its full toll. He could walk
with the aid of a cane and speak well enough to be understood.

Sitting with him in his study, I found half my attention would be on
whatever he was explaining to me (such as the solution of a
particularly difficult set of differential equations), while my eye
would be caught by the hundreds of sheets of paper strewn across his
desk, on which were scrawled, in very large handwriting, equations that
I could hardly begin to fathom. Only later did I realize these papers
were probably part of his seminal work on black holes.

On more than one occasion, a spasmodic movement of his arm would
accidentally send most of the papers sliding to the floor. I wanted to
get down and scoop them up for him, but he always insisted I leave them
there. To be doing such ground-breaking work in cosmology was
achievement enough. To be doing it with such handicaps was astounding.
I felt both extremely privileged and very daunted.

So there I was, studying with the best of minds in the best of
universities, yet something else was stirring deep inside me.

My studies in mathematics and quantum physics explained how the entire
material universe could have evolved from the simplest of the
elements-hydrogen. Yet the most fascinating question for me had now
become: How had hydrogen-a single electron orbiting a single
proton-evolved into a system that could be aware of itself? How had the
universe become conscious?

It was becoming clear that however hard I studied the physical
sciences, they were never going to answer this deeper, more
fundamental, question. I felt a growing sense of frustration,
manifesting at times as depression. I found myself reading more about
mind and consciousness, and less able to focus on my mathematical

The Best of Both Worlds

My tutor must have sensed I was not at ease in myself and approached me
one day to ask how I was doing. I shared with him as best I could my
confusion and misgivings about my chosen path. His response surprised
me: "Either complete your degree in mathematics [I was in my final
year] or take the rest of the year off and use it to decide what you
really want to study." Then, knowing how hard it would be for me to
make such a choice without a deadline, he added, "I want your decision
by noon on Saturday."

Saturday, five minutes before noon, I was still torn between my two
options, struggling with feelings of failure, and a sense of wasted
time. In the end, I surrendered to an inner knowing that I would not be
fulfilled continuing with mathematics, and that I really wanted to take
the rest of the year off. By late afternoon I had packed, said a
temporary farewell to my friends, and was on my way, with only
uncertainty ahead.

During the next six months I produced light shows, worked in a jam
factory at night, and from time to time pondered my future career.

After exploring various options I returned to Cambridge to study
experimental psychology; it seemed the closest academic approach to
understanding consciousness. Whereas clinical psychology involves
treating those who are mentally ill at ease, experimental psychology is
concerned with the functioning of the normal human brain. It includes
the study of the physiological process of perception and how the brain
builds up a picture of the world. It encompasses learning and memory,
the brain's control of the body, and the biochemistry of neuronal
interactions. Understanding the brain seemed a start in the right

So I found myself able to continue pursuing my interests in mathematics
and physics, while at the same time embarking on my exploration of the
inner world of consciousness.

Today, after thirty years of investigation into the nature of
consciousness, I have come to appreciate just how big a problem the
subject is for contemporary science. We all know, beyond any doubt,
that we are conscious beings. It is the most intimate and obvious fact
of our existence. Indeed, all we ever directly know are the thoughts,
images, and feelings arising in consciousness. Yet as far as Western
science is concerned, there is nothing more difficult to explain.

The 'Hard Problem' of Consciousness

The really hard problem-as David Chalmers, professor of philosophy at
the University of Arizona, has said-is consciousness itself. Why should
the complex processing of information in the brain lead to an inner
experience? Why doesn't it all go on in the dark, without any
subjective aspect? Why do we have any inner life at all?

This paradox-namely, the absolutely undeniable existence of human
consciousness set against the complete absence of any satisfactory
scientific account for it-suggests to me that something is seriously
amiss with the contemporary scientific worldview. For a long time I
could not put my finger on exactly what it was. Then suddenly, about
four years ago on a flight back to San Francisco, I saw where the error

If consciousness is not some emergent property of life, as Western
science supposes, but is instead a primary quality of the cosmos-as
fundamental as space, time, and matter, perhaps even more
fundamental-then we arrive at a very different picture of reality. As
far as our understanding of the material world goes, nothing much
changes; but when it comes to our understanding of mind, we are led to
a very different worldview indeed. I realized that the hard problem of
consciousness was not a problem to be solved so much as the trigger
that would, in time, push Western science into what the American
philosopher Thomas Kuhn called a "paradigm shift."

The continued failure of science to make any appreciable headway into
this fundamental problem suggests that, to date, all approaches may be
on the wrong track. They are all based on the assumption that
consciousness emerges from, or is dependent upon, the physical world of
space, time, and matter. In one way or another they are trying to
accommodate the anomaly of consciousness within a worldview that is
intrinsically materialist. As happened with the medieval astronomers,
who kept adding more and more epicycles to explain the anomalous
motions of the planets, the underlying assumptions are seldom, if ever,

I now believe that rather than trying to explain consciousness in terms
of the material world, we should be developing a new worldview in which
consciousness is a fundamental component of reality. The key
ingredients for this new paradigm-a "superparadigm"-are already in
place. We need not wait for any new discoveries. All we need do is put
various pieces of our existing knowledge together, and consider the new
picture of reality that emerges.

Consciousness and Reality

Because the word "consciousness" can be used in so many different ways,
confusion often arises around statements about its nature. The way I
use the word is not in reference to a particular state of
consciousness, or particular way of thinking, but to the faculty of
consciousness itself-the capacity for inner experience, whatever the
nature or degree of the experience.

A useful analogy is the image from a video projector. The projector
shines light onto a screen, modifying the light so as to produce any
one of an infinity of images. These images are like the perceptions,
sensations, dreams, memories, thoughts, and feelings that we
experience-what I call the "contents of consciousness." The light
itself, without which no images would be possible, corresponds to the
faculty of consciousness.

We know all the images on the screen are composed of this light, but we
are not usually aware of the light itself; our attention is caught up
in the images that appear and the stories they tell. In much the same
way, we know we are conscious, but we are usually aware only of the
many different experiences, thoughts, and feelings that appear in the
mind. We are seldom aware of consciousness itself. Yet without this
faculty there would be no experience of any kind.

The faculty of consciousness is one thing we all share, but what goes
on in our consciousness, the content of our consciousness, varies
widely. This is our personal reality, the reality we each know and
experience. Most of the time, however, we forget that this is just our
personal reality and think we are experiencing physical reality
directly. We see the ground beneath our feet; we can pick up a rock,
and throw it through the air; we feel the heat from a fire, and smell
its burning wood. It feels as if we are in direct contact with the
world "out there." But this is not so. The colors, textures, smells,
and sounds we experience are not really "out there"; they are all
images of reality constructed in the mind.

It was this aspect of perception that most caught my attention during
my studies of experimental psychology (and amplified by my readings of
the philosophy of Immanuel Kant). At that time, scientists were
beginning to discover the ways in which the brain pieces together its
perception of the world, and I was fascinated by the implications of
these discoveries for the way we construct our picture of reality. It
was clear that what we perceive and what is actually out there are two
different things.

This, I know, runs counter to common sense. Right now you are aware of
the pages in front of you, various objects around you, sensations in
your own body, and sounds in the air. Even though you may understand
that all of this is just your reconstruction of reality, it still seems
as if you are having a direct perception of the physical world. And I
am not suggesting you should try to see it otherwise. What is important
for now is the understanding that all our experience is an image of
reality constructed in the mind.

Unknowable Reality

Because our perception of the world is so different from the actual
physical reality, some people have claimed that our experience is an
illusion. But that is misleading. It may all be a creation of my own
mind, but it is very, very real-the only reality we ever know.

The illusion comes when we confuse our experience of the world with the
physical reality, the thing-in-itself. The Vedantic philosophers of
ancient India spoke of this as "maya." Often translated as illusion (a
false perception of the world), the word is more accurately translated
as delusion (a false belief about the world). I suffer a delusion when
I believe that the manifestations in my mind are the external world. I
deceive myself when I think that the tree I see is the tree itself.

If all that we ever know are the images that appear in our minds, how
can we be sure there is a physical reality behind our perceptions? Is
it not just an assumption? My answer to that is: Yes, it is an
assumption; nevertheless, it seems a most plausible assumption.

For a start, there are definite constraints on my experience. I cannot,
for example, walk through walls. If I try to, there are predictable
consequences. Nor can I, when awake, float through the air, or walk
upon water. Second, my experience generally follows well-defined laws
and principles. Balls thrown through the air follow |precisely defined
paths. Cups of coffee cool at similar rates. The sun rises on time.
Furthermore, this predictability is not peculiar to my personal
reality. You, whom I assume to exist, report similar patterns in your
own experience. The simplest way, by far, of accounting for these
constraints and for their consistency is to assume that there is indeed
a physical reality. We may not know it directly, and its nature may be
nothing like our experience of it, but it is there.

To reveal the nature of this underlying reality has been the goal of
the physical sciences, and over the years they have elucidated many of
the laws and principles that govern its behavior. Yet curiously the
more deeply they have delved into its true nature, the more it appears
that physical reality is nothing like we imagined it to be. Actually,
this should not be too surprising. All we can imagine are the forms and
qualities that appear in consciousness. These are unlikely to be very
appropriate models for describing the underlying physical reality,
which is of a very different nature.

Take, for example, our ideas as to the nature of matter. For two
thousand years it was believed that atoms were tiny balls of solid
matter-a model clearly drawn from everyday experience. Then, as
physicists discovered that atoms were composed of more elementary,
subatomic, |particles (electrons, protons, neutrons, and suchlike), the
model shifted to one of a central nucleus surrounded by orbiting
electrons-again a model based on experience.

An atom may be small, a mere billionth of an inch across, but these
subatomic particles are a hundred-thousand times smaller still. Imagine
the nucleus of an atom magnified to the size of a grain of rice. The
whole atom would then be the size of a football stadium, and the
electrons would be other grains of rice flying round the stands. As the
early twentieth-century British physicist Sir Arthur Eddington put it,
"matter is mostly ghostly empty space"-99.9999999 percent empty space,
to be a little more precise.

With the advent of quantum theory, it was found that even these minute
subatomic particles were themselves far from solid. In fact, they are
not much like matter at all-at least nothing like matter as we know it.
They can't be pinned down and measured precisely. They are more like
fuzzy clouds of potential existence, with no definite location. Much of
the time they seem more like waves than particles. Whatever matter is,
it has little, if any, substance to it.

Somewhat ironically, science, having set out to know the ultimate
nature of reality, is discovering that not only is this world beyond
any direct experience, it may also be inherently unknowable.

The Paradox of Light

With hindsight, my decision to study theoretical physics along with
experimental psychology was definitely the right one. They provided two
complementary directions to my personal search for truth. Theoretical
physics was taking me closer toward the ultimate truths of the physical
world, while my pursuit of experimental psychology was a first step
toward truth in the inner world of consciousness. Moreover, the deeper
I went in these two directions, the closer the truths of the inner and
outer worlds became. And the bridge between them was light.

Both relativity and quantum physics, the two great paradigm shifts of
modern physics, started from anomalies in the behavior of light, and
both led to radical new understandings of the nature of light. For
example, in relativity theory, at the speed of light time comes to a
stop-in effect, that means for light there is no time whatsoever.
Furthermore, a photon can traverse the entire universe without using up
any energy-in effect, that means for light there is no space. In
quantum theory, we find that light has zero mass and charge, which in
effect means that it is immaterial. Light, therefore, seems to occupy a
very special place in the cosmic scheme; it is in some ways more
fundamental than time, space, or matter. The same, I later discovered,
was true of the inner light of consciousness.

Although all we ever see is light, paradoxically, we never know light
directly. The light that strikes the eye is known only through the
energy it releases. This energy is translated into a visual image in
the mind, and that image seems to be composed of light-but that light
is a quality of mind. We never know the light itself.

Physics, like Genesis, suggests that in the beginning there was light,
or, rather, in the beginning there is light, for light underlies every
process in the present moment. Any exchange of energy between any two
atoms in the universe involves the exchange of photons. Every
interaction in the material world is mediated by light. In this way,
light penetrates and interconnects the entire cosmos.

An oft-quoted phrase comes to mind: God is Light. God is said to be
absolute-and in physics, so is light. God lies beyond the manifest
world of matter, shape, and form, beyond both space and time-so does
light. God cannot be known directly-nor can light.

The Light of Consciousness

My studies in experimental psychology taught me much about the basic
functioning of the human brain. Yet, despite all I was learning about
neurophysiology, biochemistry, memory, behavior, and perception, I
found myself no closer to understanding the nature of consciousness
itself. The East, however, seemed to have a lot to say about
consciousness, and so had many mystics, from around the world. For
thousands of years they had focused on the realm of the mind, exploring
its subtleties through direct personal experience. I realized that such
approaches might offer insights unavailable to the objective approach
of Western science, and began delving into ancient texts such as the
Upanishads, The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation, The Cloud of
Unknowing, and works of contemporary writers such as Alan Watts, Aldous
Huxley, Carl Jung, and Christopher Isherwood.

I was fascinated to find that here, as in modern physics, light is a
recurring theme. Consciousness is often spoken of as the inner light.
St John refers to "the true light, which lighteth every man that cometh
into the world." The Tibetan Book of the Great Liberation speaks of
"the self-originated Clear Light, eternally unborn . . . shining forth
within one's own mind."

Those who have awakened to the truth about reality-whom we often call
illumined, or enlightened-frequently describe their experiences in
terms of light. The sufi Abu'l-Hosian al-Nuri experienced a light
"gleaming in the Unseen. . . . I gazed at it continually, until the
time came when I had wholly become that light."

The more I read about this inner light, the more I saw close parallels
with the light of physics. Physical light has no mass, and is not part
of the material world; the same is true of consciousness. Light seems
in some way fundamental to the universe, its values are absolute,
universal constants. The light of consciousness is likewise
fundamental; without it there would be no experience.

This led me to wonder whether there was some deeper significance to
these similarities. Were they pointing to a more fundamental connection
between the light of the physical world and the light of consciousness?
Do physical reality and the reality of the mind share the same common
ground-a ground whose essence is light?


Hunting through my local library one day, I happened upon a book titled
The Science of Being and Art of Living by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. This
was the Indian teacher who had recently made the headlines when The
Beatles renounced their use of drugs in favor of his technique of
Transcendental Meditation, or TM for short. Little knowing how much
this work would change my life, I added it to the pile of books I was
borrowing and took it back to my study. There it sat, unopened, on my
desk for two weeks. Finally I got around to taking a further look.
Within minutes it had my attention. Maharishi was saying the exact
opposite of just about everything I'd heard or read on meditation; yet
it made sense.

To give just one example, most of the books I had read on meditation
talked about how much concentration and effort it took to still the
restless mind and discover the deep peace and fulfillment that lies
within. Maharishi looked at the whole matter in a different way. Any
concentration, the least bit of trying, even a wanting the mind to
settle down, would, he observed, be counterproductive. It would be
promoting mental activity rather than lessening it. He suggested that
the reason the mind was restless was because it was looking for
something-namely, greater satisfaction and fulfillment. But it was
looking for it in the wrong direction, in the world of thinking and
sensory experience. All that was needed, he said, was to turn the
attention 180 degrees inward and give the mind a technique that helped
it settle down. Then, in that quieter state it would begin to taste a
little of the fulfillment it had been seeking, and would be
spontaneously drawn on to deeper levels of its own accord.

Maharishi's ideas appealed to my scientific mind. They were simple and
elegant-almost like a mathematical derivation. But the skeptic in me
was not going to take anything on faith. Just because something is
written in a book, or because some famous person says it, or because
many others believe it, does not mean it is true. The only way to know
how well his technique worked was to try it.

Journey to India

As soon as I completed my undergraduate degree, I earned some money
driving a truck, then set off in an old VW van for India (it was the
sixties, after all). My destination was Rishikesh, an Indian holy town,
about 150 miles north of Delhi, at the foot of the Himalayas. The
plains of northern India do not gradually rise up into mountains, as in
the Alps; the landscape looks more like the Rocky Mountains in
Colorado. One moment it is flat, the next there is mountain. Rishikesh
nestles right where plain turns into mountain, and at the very point
where the Ganges comes tumbling out of its deep Himalayan gorge.

On one side of the river was Rishikesh the bustling market town, its
crowded streets a jumble of stalls, honking cars, bicycle rickshaws,
and bony cows. On the other side was Rishikesh the holy town. The
atmosphere here was very different. There were no cars for a start. The
one bridge across the river-a suspension bridge strung high across the
mouth of the gorge-was deliberately built too narrow for cars. Along
this side of the river, and sprinkled up the jungle hillsides above,
were all manner of ashrams, each with its own architectural style and
spiritual inclination. Some were austere walled quadrangles lined with
simple meditation cells; others gloried in lush gardens, fountains, and
brightly colored statues of Indian deities. Some were centers for hatha
yoga, others taught meditation or followed the teachings of a
particular guru.

About two miles down river from the bridge was Maharishi's ashram, the
last habitation before the winding track disappeared into the jungle.
Here, perched on a cliff top, a hundred feet above the swirling Ganges,
were half-a-dozen bungalows, a meeting hall, dining room, showers, and
other facilities providing some basic Western comforts.

Here, just over a hundred of us, of all ages, from many countries, had
gathered for a teacher training course. Many were like myself, recent
graduates and looking for intellectual understanding of Maharishi's
teachings as much as experience of deep meditation. There were PhDs in
philosophy, medical doctors, and long-term students of theology.

Over the coming weeks we listened to Maharishi talk at length, and
asked question after question, virtually interrogating him at times. We
teased out everything, from the finer distinctions of higher states of
consciousness and subtle influences of meditation to the exact meaning
of various esoteric concepts.

Pure Consciousness

Even more important than our growing understanding of meditation was
the opportunity to deepen our experience. Initially we meditated for
three or four hours a day. As the course progressed, Maharishi
gradually increased our practice times until we were spending most of
the day in meditation-and much of the night as well. He wanted us to
have clear experiences of the states of consciousness he was

During these long meditations, the habitual chatter of my mind began to
fade away. Thoughts about what was going on in meditation, what time it
was, what I wanted to say or do later, occupied less and less of my
attention. Sounds outside no longer triggered images of monkeys playing
games on the roof. Random memories of the past no longer flitted
through my mind. My feelings settled down, and my breath grew so gentle
as to virtually disappear. What thoughts there were became fainter and
fainter, until finally my thinking mind fell completely silent. In
Maharishi's terminology I had transcended (literally gone beyond)
thinking-hence the name "Transcendental Meditation."

Indian teachings call this state samadhi, literally "still mind." They
identify it as a fundamentally different state of consciousness from
the three major states we normally experience-waking, dreaming, and
deep sleep. In waking consciousness we are aware and experience the
world perceived by the senses. In dreaming we are aware and experience
worlds conjured by the imagination. In deep sleep there is no
awareness, either of outer world or inner world. Samadhi they define as
a fourth major state. There is awareness, one is wide awake, but there
is no object of the awareness. It is pure consciousness-pure in the
sense of being unmodified by thoughts and images-consciousness without

In terms of the video projector analogy, this fourth state of
consciousness corresponds to the projector being on, but without any
data being fed to it; only white light falls on the screen. Likewise,
in samadhi you know consciousness itself, in its unmanifest state,
before it takes on the many forms and qualities of thinking, feeling,
and sensory experience.

One further quality of this state of consciousness marks it out from
all our normal states. When you are in this state you discover a sense
of self that is more real and more fundamental than any you have known
before. You are no longer an individual person, with individual
characteristics. Here, in the complete absence of all normal
experience, you find your true identity, an identity with the essence
of all beings and all creation.

Looking for the self is rather like being in a room at night with only
a flashlight, looking for the source of the light. All you would find
would be the various objects in the room that the light fell upon. It
is the same when we try to look for the self which is the subject of
all experience. All we find are the various ideas, images, and feelings
that the attention falls upon. But these are all objects of experience;
they cannot therefore be the subject of the experience. For this
reason, the self cannot be known in the way that anything else is

Universal Light

We can now begin to see just how close are the parallels between the
light of physics and the light of consciousness. Both are beyond the
material world. And both seem to lie beyond space and time. Both seem
intrinsically unknowable-at least in the way that everything else is
known. And both are absolutes. Every photon of light is an identical
quantum of action, and the foundation of every interaction in the
universe. The light of consciousness is likewise absolute and
invariant. It is the source of every quality that we ever experience.
And its essential nature is the same for everyone. Since it is beyond
all attributes and identifying characteristics, there is no way to
distinguish the light of consciousness in me from the light that shines
in you. In other words, how it feels to me to be conscious-that sense
of being we label "I"-is the same as how it feels to you. In this sense
we are one. We all know the same inner self.

I am the light. And so are you. And so is every sentient being in the

Mystics have spoken of this inner light as the Divine Light, the Cosmic
Light, the Light of Light, the Eternal Light that shines in every
heart, the Uncreated Light from which all creation takes form.

Once again the phrase "God is Light" comes to mind. But now God begins
to take on a much richer and more personal meaning. If God is the name
we give to the light of consciousness shining at the core of every
sentient being, and if that pure consciousness is the very essence of
self, then it is only a short step to the assertion that "I am God."

Consciousness and God

To many, the statement "I am God" sounds ridiculous. God is not a human
being, but the supreme deity, the almighty, eternal creator. How can
any lowly human being claim that he or she is God? To those of a more
religious disposition, the statement may sound heretical, if not
blasphemous. When the fourteenth-century Christian priest and mystic
Meister Eckhart preached that "God and I are One," he was brought
before Pope John XXII and forced to "recant everything that he had
falsely taught." Not all were so lucky. The tenth-century Islamic
mystic al-Hall„j was crucified for using language that claimed an
identity with God.

To those who do not believe in God at all, such statements are
meaningless, the symptoms of some delusion or pathology. They might
have been tolerable a couple of hundred years ago, but not in the
modern scientific era, where God seems a totally unnecessary concept.
Science has looked out into deep space, across the breadth of creation
to the edges of the universe. It has looked back in "deep time" to the
beginning of creation. And it has looked down into the "deep structure"
of the cosmos, to the fundamental constituents of matter. In each case
science finds no evidence for God; nor any need for God-the Universe
seems to work perfectly well without any divine assistance. Thus anyone
talking of a personal identity with God is clearly talking nonsense.

That is where I stood thirty years ago. Now I recognize that I was
rejecting a rather naÔve and old-fashioned interpretation of God. When
we look to mystical writings, we do not find many claims for God being
in the realm of space, time, and matter. When mystics refer to God,
they are, more often than not, pointing toward the realm of personal
experience, not something in the physical realm. If we want to find
God, we have to look within, into the realm of deep mind-a realm that
science has yet to explore.


Stephen Simon

Moving Messages Media:

My top 5 films of 2003

It's that time of the year again--Academy Awards. For a while, I
was concerned that I would even be able to find 5 movies to nominate,
but, due to some wonderful surprises at year's end, we have our list.

I do not consider these the "best" 5 films of the year because I don't
think you can quantify "best" when it comes to film. There are films we
either like or don't like. This is the primary reason why our Movie
Alerts are ONLY focused on POSITIVE discussions (I don't particularly
like the word "review" because it connotes to me that the "reviewer" is
in some sort of superior position and that is not the way of our path).

I know that some of you may be surprised and/or disappointed that some
films are missing from this list (like SEABISCUIT, IN AMERICA, and BIG
FISH). I just need to reiterate that the films on the list below are
the films that I liked the best in 2003 and are, I believe, films that
fit the criteria of asking who we are and why we're here--and ALSO have
us leaving the theater feeling at least a little bit better about being
a human being. If you have other films, please join us on our Message
Boards and list your favorites!!

So, here they are--with descriptions taken from earlier Movie Alerts
and Movie Mystic columns about all 5 of them...if you're not yet on our
email list for these Alerts, please join
us!! -- you can also review
all the 2003 Alerts by going to

These are also the 5 films that I listed on my Academy ballot.


This was simply my favorite film of 2003.

When an old paradigm dies, a void in time is created and that twilight
space becomes a magical opportunity for all those who have been born
into it. The new paradigm is still but a ray of sun on a distant
horizon and it is that light that sustains us in the unknown of that
suspended moment in time. Just as the power of paradox lies in the
space in between solution and resolution, powerful transcendence awaits
all those who feel their hearts pulled to the call of that "swing
between worlds."

Pai, the thirteen-year old heroine of WHALE RIDER, guides us through
her own experience of that moment of transformation. She hears the call
of ancient whales that draw her and us into a film that is haunting,
prophetic, and groundbreaking

Set in New Zealand, the film revolves around the conflict that arises
in a Maori tribe when the wife of the male heir to the Leader of the
tribe dies while birthing both a boy and a girl. The boy dies, too, and
in grief, the male heir disappears, breaking the traditional line of
succession--and leaving his daughter to be raised by her grandparents.
Pako, the grandfather and Tribal leader, loves little Pai but harbors a
deep sadness and sense of loss because of the absence of both his son
and deceased grandson. Even though little Pai has been given the name
of one of the ancient founders of the tribe, he can't for a moment even
consider that perhaps she is the one destined to lead the tribe. She
is, after all, "just a girl," and the culture of the tribe very clearly
requires a first-born, male heir.

Undaunted, Pai lives in that magnificent loneliness of vision that
enfolds those who have chosen to be mapmakers and have only their inner
guidance to comfort them as they move inexorably toward their destiny.
Pai loves and deeply respects her grandfather but she also knows that
she is called by the whales who brought her ancestors to her tribal
village to challenge the very core of the belief systems of her tribe.
With no sense of anger or true "rebellion," she nonetheless follows her
heart as it leads her to learn both the physical and metaphysical
traditions of her tribe, bringing her into a confrontation with her
grandfather that she does not seek but cannot escape. Ultimately, Pai's
moment of grace and opportunity arrives in a moment of crisis and she
is challenged by her own heart and destiny to transcend and transform
her world. We have discussed in recent months films such as FRIDA, THE
HOURS, and FAR FROM HEAVEN that illuminate the ascension of feminine
energy in our society and Pai now takes her rightful place with the
heroines and heroes of those films as a harbinger of nothing less than
the evolution of our notions of character and destiny.

As Spiritual Cinema, and as powerfully as any film in recent memory in
this genre, WHALE RIDER is a metaphor for the majesty of this epoch
into which we have all chosen to be born. As the early days of this new
millennium unfold, old traditions are changing and outdated belief
systems are being challenged and dismantled. Entrenched ways of
thinking and responding to each other and the world around us are being
confronted by courageous souls such as Pai and, as a result, our world
is evolving and reaching up its arms to the approaching dawn of that
new paradigm whose light bathes our faces in the reflection of the
wisdom of such films as WHALE RIDER.


"The" Holidays. Family. Close friends. The end of one year and the
beginning of a new one. A time when one's heart may be at its most
vulnerable-either fully open to the warmth of all the love that the
season can imply, or, perhaps, fully susceptible to the loneliness that
can seem almost unbearable in the longing for family, a significant
other, health, or peace of mind.

Traditionally, Hollywood has embraced this Season with films that touch
the beauty within the soul of humanity, the best known and most
enduring example being perhaps IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE which always plays
innumerable times during this season (and in which I get lost each and
every time I happen to flip to it when it's on-I'm always hooked!!).

Now, with little fanfare, a new film has arisen which may, in years to
come, take its place as a classic Holiday film---LOVE, ACTUALLY is,
"actually," that wonderful, and it couldn't arrive at a more propitious
moment. Unfortunately, cynicism and the darker side of life have so
permeated the corridors of Hollywood that the so-called "critic's"
darlings of this Season so far have mostly been films like MYSTIC
RIVER, THE MISSING, and 21 GRAMS, all of which "celebrate" the darker
side of humanity. LOVE, ACTUALLY is the antidote to all that darkness
and it is a pleasure to be able to luxuriate in its dizzying and
intoxicating recipe for joy, laughter, pathos, and life (and I also
have high hopes for other films coming up like BIG FISH, SOMETHING'S
GOTTA GIVE, and MONA LISA SMILES-but…we'll see..).

LOVE, ACTUALLY begins with a sequence at Heathrow Airport in London
where the joyful greetings of families and loved ones is observed with
a wonderful voice-over that puts the film itself in early perspective.
Even with all the anger and hate that is blared at us in our every day
world, Writer/Director Richard Curtis (FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL,
NOTTING HILL, BRIDGET JONES DIARY) poignantly observes that, "even
after the planes hit the twin towers", the messages from people who
were on those planes were not those of hate or revenge but rather that
"love is, actually, all round us."

The film itself is a compendium of nine mostly interlocking stories
that illuminate the myriad faces of love:

- A newlywed couple and a best man who seems to be in love with one of
the newlyweds himself-but which one?

- A man who finds his girlfriend in a tryst with his brother travels to
France and finds a new love---even though he speaks only English and
she only Portuguese.

- An aging rock star (a hilarious Academy Award-worthy performance by
Bill Nighy) attempts a comeback with a lame Christmas song and a
beleaguered manager.

- An oversexed and wildly exuberant young man decides that he must go
to America to find sex-because the woman there will be seduced by his

- The new Prime Minister of England (Hugh Grant-who else?) meets
someone on his staff on his first day on the job and becomes enchanted
with her.

- A widower struggles to help himself and his stepson cope with their
new situation in life---and also help the boy through his first
encounter with love for a schoolmate.

- A woman is hopelessly in love with a coworker but torn because of her
devotion to her mentally ill brother.

- A couple meets while they are working as stand-ins on a
sexually-themed film and must simulate certain very intimate acts for
the camera and lighting crew of a film while actually trying to meet
each other as human beings.

- A middle-aged couple faces the careless flirtation of the husband
with a zealous employee while the wife (luminously and poignantly
portrayed by the inestimable Emma Thompson, returning to movies from
way too long an absence) struggles to maintain her dignity (she

On the surface, these many storylines may seem unwieldy but they most
assuredly are not. In fact, they blend together almost seamlessly into
an engrossing, hilarious, often poignant and very human dramatic
comedy. As you might have guessed from the storylines, the film very
definitely is R-rated, for tasteful and often hilarious sexuality. I
saw it with 3 of my 4 daughters, all of whom-including my youngest
(17)- absolutely loved it.

There have been so few films this year that you walk out of feeling
happy and proud to simply be a human being (WHALE RIDER being at the
top of my own list) that LOVE, ACTUALLY comes along in this particular
season as a welcome and refreshing reminder of the beauty of our
humanity…. that, above all the strife and challenges that confront us,
we have this unique and endless capacity to consciously immerse
ourselves in the experience of love-for one another, and for ourselves.
I believe that you will walk out of the theater smiling. And I wish you
and your friends the happiest of Holidays.

MATRIX: REVOLUTIONS "Everything that has a beginning must have an end."

Or does it?

The groundbreaking MATRIX series (but not its impact) comes to a
conclusion with MATRIX: REVOLUTIONS and I believe that it will be
remembered for decades to come as a seminal step forward in the
potential of Spiritual Cinema to remind us of the complex beauty and
paradox of our humanity. So, please, see it yourself. Regardless of
what you may hear or have heard to the contrary-regardless of what you
may have felt about MATRIX: RELOADED. There is magic and mystery in
this film that rivals and, in some ways such as its brilliant and
paradoxical ending, surpasses the original MATRIX.

The symbolism and fascination of the film start with the title itself:
REVOLUTIONS. Plural. Not just the standoff between humanity and
technology, but multiple meanings such as evolving and becoming a
society where the ascension of racial equality and feminine energy has
reached such an apogee that the heroes of the film are, save for Neo,
women and people of color. With a nod to John Lennon, imagine that.
"It's easy if you try."

The visuals in MATRIX are dazzling and majestic but it is has always
been the philosophical and metaphysical musings of the MATRIX trilogy
that have made the series so extraordinary. REVOLUTIONS illuminates
both the challenges and breathtaking opportunities of humanity on the
brink of knowing the unknowable. On the brink of, but not yet ever
quite complete. As is said in the film-"I didn't know…but I did
believe." The human experiment, the "illusion" of life, the ephemeral
nature of our notions of reality. Emotions and glimpses of the
potential answers to our existence, tantalizing yet never so obvious as
to rob us of our individual right to create and interpret our own

For these reasons and more, I feel that this column must take on a more
unconventional form than any of my other columns. Challenges to us as
an audience abound in REVOLUTIONS, not in plot "turnings," which we
will leave for the viewer to discover, but rather in the fascinating
ambiguities of the tantalizing clues that lead Neo and Trinity to their
destinies. We could discuss this for hours and hours--and will as the
years unfold--but space here allows us only to examine one of the
film's most exhilarating complexities.

The crux of Neo's journey in REVOLUTIONS is explained early on to him
by the Oracle who tells him that "no one can see beyond a choice that
they don't understand." Choice. The word and concept behind it lie at
the center of the MATRIX and have also become perhaps one of the key
concepts of our evolving humanity. We have chosen a path of destruction
before. Atlantis. Maya. Egypt. One of the crucial tenets of the new
spirituality of the last half-century has been our recognition that
fate is not indeed thrust upon us. We have choices. Opportunity can
present itself, yes, but our fate is never forced upon us as an
inevitability. We can CHOOSE to hear the clarion call of our soul's
call to adventure or choose to ignore it. We have the final say as to
whether or not we actually move into that eternal flow of our own
destiny. When we do make that leap, we almost immediately sense at the
core of our beings that the choice is made from a deep well within our
own hearts and consciousness and yet it remains just beyond our ability
to totally comprehend; nevertheless, we are forevermore drawn forward
by the choice we have made to engage the world of mystery and paradox.
Neo and Trinity have a passionate love for each other and yet both have
a knowing on a deep soul level that they must each moment choose to
push inexorably forward, regardless of the consequences. As the
Merovingian notes early on about them: "Remarkable how close the
pattern of love is to the pattern of insanity." Neo even comments much
later in the film that he persists in his quest simply because he so
CHOOSES. If for no other reason than the spotlight that the film
focuses on our freedom-and responsibility- to choose, REVOLUTIONS
deserves our attention and respect as it mirrors an agonizing and
seemingly insoluble problem of our own modernity. The right to choose.
Conception. Birth. Freedom. Reality itself.

The Wachowski brothers who conceived, wrote, and directed the MATRIX
trilogy have been faulted recently for making concessions to
commerciality. Being given $300 million to make RELOADED and
REVOLUTIONS created a daunting balancing act and I personally believe
that they deserve our awe and respect as true visionaries who have
introduced concepts into mainstream culture that could never have been
even imagined before they began our journey into the world of MATRIX.
And they saved the best for last because not since 2001: A SPACE
ODYSSEY has there been a more intricate and fascinating closing ten
minutes than REVOLUTIONS. I believe that film classes will be
discussing the ending for years to come and the interpretations will be
as varied as they were for 2001. The Wachowskis will not discuss their
interpretation of the ending of the series. They respect our right to
CHOOSE…..Somewhere, Stanley Kubrick must be smiling.


What a wonderful and enchanting surprise this film is!

AMERICAN SPLENDOR traces the true-life story of Harvey Pekar who became
an underground comic book hero in the 1980s. The comic books are very
appropriately called AMERICAN SPLENDOR and they detail Harvey's every
day life--working as a file clerk in a Cleveland Hospital and generally
feeling like the world was created to personally torment him. You think
Larry David is a curmudgeon in CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM? Wait till you see

Harvey is played by the brilliant character actor Paul Giamatti and he
is touching, relatable, gloriously grumpy, and utterly hilarious. His
wife Joyce is played with great humor and idiosyncratic glamour by the
brilliant Hope Davis and both actors should receive (and are receiving)
serious Academy Award considerations for their performances.

The film chronicles the life of a guy who begins life as an
out-of-sorts kid and somewhat clings to his emotional version of the
colic for the rest of his life. Harvey expects disaster at every turn
and never truly grasps the meaning of good things even when they
happen. Late in the film, Harvey has a close encounter with cancer
(which is cured) and Joyce tells him that he has to be positive about
his treatments. The anguish of being positive is so intense for Harvey
that he literally cries out that he just can't be that!! He also can't
imagine having a child---but, in one of the most touching aspects of
the film, he learns fate has a surprise for him there as well. There's
a wonderful message in all this, too---even though Harvey ACTS like the
world's reigning pessimist, he IS in actuality a truly romantic and
hopeful man who just feels like he can't show that side to the world.
Bring to mind any people you might know?

Now, I know you might be asking--"what's fun about that?" The answer is
that Harvey and all the people around him are so eminently lovable,
relatable, and down-to-earth that you just bask in their presence for
100 minutes; moreover, the film has a brilliantly conceived and
executed device that uses the REAL Harvey and Joyce Pekar as observers
of and commentators on the film itself! We see several dramatic scenes
and then Harvey/Joyce appear and we hear their take on what is
transpiring. For instance, Harvey became a semi-regular on David
Letterman's show for a brief time and the real footage of those
interviews is used in the film, intercut with Giamatti's performance
before and after the interviews. In another scene, the real Harvey
describes himself as just a "doom and gloom guy" whereupon Joyce tells
us that she actually believed she was marrying a guy with a sense of
humor! The device is brilliant and innovative and makes for an
altogether unique and engrossing experience.

The film has innumerable other touching and wonderful aspects, such as
the glorification of the film REVENGE OF THE NERDS as an inspirational

The title of the film and comic books themselves is a wonderful
commentary on the journey into the every day Cleveland life of its
protagonists. These characters are people we meet all the time in our
lives and, for me, are truly representative of the heart of America.
Hardworking people who long for their place in the sun and for someone
who they can love and who will love them. Survivors of countless
encounters with the ordinary ups and downs of every day life. Optimists
who strive every day to keep that optimism alive in the face of
disappointment, even heartbreak. I heartily and wholeheartedly
recommend AMERICAN SPLENDOR as a fascinating and original film in a
time where this kind of innovation is rare and, when it does appear, is
usually translated from a dark perspective. I really believe that many
of you will love the film and I can't wait to see it again.I struggled
mightily to decide between BIG FISH and UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN for the
fifth film. While a part of me would really like to wimp out and call
it a tie, I've chosen UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN but it's hard to omit BIG


Spiritual Cinema asks who we are and why we are here and illuminates
our human condition in images, thoughts, and feelings that inspire us
to strive for who we can be as a species when we operate at our very
best. When movies touch upon all those issues, they resonate deeply
within us. Such was my response to UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN which revolves
around a subject matter rarely even approached today in mainstream
films: women over forty who divorce, are divorced (or widowed), or who
simply have chosen to be alone until that time of their lives. (While I
acknowledge that I might be wading into dangerous "PC" waters here as a
man writing about this subject, I have raised four daughters, so,
unafraid of anything!, I will plunge forward).

In TUSCAN, Diane Lane plays a woman who discovers in the first scene of
the film that her husband has been cheating on her and, very quickly,
she is sitting in a divorce lawyer's office where she learns that she
will have to pay alimony unless she sells her half of her house to her
husband and his new girlfriend. Heartbroken and humiliated, she leaves
her home with only 3 boxes of books and moves into a "newly
separated-singles-persons-from-hell" apartment. Two of her friends
surprise her with a plane ticket to take a tour of Tuscany and persuade
her to depart by warning her that she is on the brink of being one of
those "shell cases" who never recover from a divorce and wander
aimlessly through life forevermore. Still in shock, she nevertheless
takes off for Tuscany.

Feel familiar? It just might. Divorce has become an unfortunate fact of
life in America over the last thirty years and countless numbers of
women have been faced with the dilemma of having defined their lives
for themselves in one way (often through their spouses) and then being
forced to confront a whole new set of challenges as their marriages
dissolve. The movies have touched upon the subject matter, certainly,
and there was even that APOCRYPHAL!! story referred to in SLEEPLESS IN
SEATTLE comparing the chances of a woman over forty getting remarried
to the chances of being attacked by a terrorist. Also sounds a bit like
the lyrics to a country and western song, doesn't it? Except Diane
doesn't lose her truck. Don't worry. As it is with the most painful and
wrenching passages of our lives, TUSCAN SUN ultimately becomes a
poignant, inspiring, and empowering reminder of the resiliency and
determination of the human soul.

In the wonderful film CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, the pivotal
metaphor comes from a "myth" about jumping from a mountain with faith
and a "pure heart" and that is exactly what Lane does when she arrives
in Tuscany and falls in love with an old house. When she describes the
thought of buying it as "probably a bad idea," she is reminded "Don't
you just love those?" and, throwing caution (and every dime she has) to
the winds (of change), she dives in. In a new country where she doesn't
even speak the language, with no friends, no compass, and no "master
plan," she nonetheless plunges fearlessly forward with an absolute
determination to reclaim her dignity and her right to be happy.

As adults, most of us have faced the prospect-or reality-of losing
everything we hold dear. (I personally plan to buy a few DVDs of this
film when it becomes available in 2004 so that I can give them to
friends who are experiencing this kind of life challenge.) These life
passages initially appear to be so traumatic as to be even
life-threatening but, as Lane ultimately says in TUSCAN SUN, "You don't
die from a broken heart." While I realize that some people may argue
that point, the inspirational message of the film is that life doesn't
HAVE to end simply because of such challenges. As spiritual beings
living a human existence, we are ultimately defined by our choices and
our lives provide us with certain opportunities to redefine and even
reinvent ourselves by looking beyond the fear and pain of a particular
moment to the possibilities of transformation and transcendence. TUSCAN
SUN paints such a portrait and I heartily recommend it as an
empowering, uplifting, and inspiring film.

With affection and gratitude.

Stephen Simon

Copyright 2004 Stephen Simon.

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