Thursday, December 25, 2008

It's a Wonderful Life (and movie)

I'm one of the few people in this country that never saw Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life until recently.

In this 1946 classic movie, Jimmy Stewart plays the part of George Bailey, a young man who lives in the unremarkable town of Bedford Falls and works for his father's fledgling but well-intentioned and socially conscious Building and Loan.

George is a young man with dreams of leaving Bedford Falls and traveling to distant lands--and this is brilliantly illustrated in a scene where he is in a small local store choosing a suitcase that will be large enough to accommodate all of the stickers (Paris, London, Baghdad) he'll be sure to collect as he travels around the globe in search of adventure, excitement, and true fulfillment--all of the things he assumes he can never find in his home town.

Circumstances repeatedly railroad him into staying right where he is—in Bedford Falls—despite his intense desire to escape and be something other than what he already is. He dreams of doing something big and important and special, and he’s convinced that his small town existence is holding him back from being truly happy. He forgoes going to college so his brother can and eventually gets stuck running the Building and Loan after his father dies.

On Christmas Eve he hits rock bottom. The Building and Loan is busted because his uncle misplaces $8,000 and George sees no way to escape being put into prison as a result.

When he's about to jump off a bridge, an angel named Clarence comes to his rescue. Clarence shows George what the world would have been like had he not been born at all—and this becomes a critical revelation for Mr. Bailey. George gradually realizes what an incredible life he really had, right there in Bedford Falls, and all of the things he experienced as burdens before now seem precious and irreplaceable.

Just when he thinks he’s lost everything, he realizes that in fact he already has it all—everything he needs—and this becomes overwhelmingly clear when the entire town comes together and raises enough money for him that Christmas Eve to help him avoid his impending arrest.

We’re all George Bailey when we try to escape life just as it is in search of something better. We delude ourselves into thinking that if only we had a better job or lived in a better place or had more money, we’d be happy or happier or somehow better off. And when we do this we miss out on the sacredness of each moment and the uniqueness of our lives, just as they are with all of their problems and imperfections.

There is nothing better than life just as it is. There is nothing “over there” that can bring about any more happiness than what we have “over here.” The enlightenment we all seek is right under our noses.

May we all really understand this one day and realize what wonderful lives we already have.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The REAL Secret

I just posted this on some bulletin board which is a forum for people who follow "The Secret." A few weeks ago a woman from our sangha mentioned that she had dabbled with the concepts espoused by The Secret movie and book. Fortunately a Buddhist teacher reminded her that "avoiding negative people" is fruitless and that we all need to learn to deal with negative people, events, and situations.

About two years ago I watched the Secret movie and read the book.

What I have discovered since then is that when we spend so much time and energy trying to "manifest" what we want, all we are really doing is constantly pushing happiness into the future, and always just out of reach, because we are basing it on receiving what it is we think we want or need rather than learning to accept things and embrace them just as they are in the here and now.

Happiness is right here and right now, and no amount of material things will ultimately bring us the kind of contentment we are all looking for--things change constantly and nothing lasts forever.

Developing a daily meditation practice and learning about Buddhism has helped me realize this. The Buddha is quoted (somewhat irresponsibly) in the Secret movie about "what you think you become" and this is misleading. His main message was that we all have the tools right now at this moment to be happy (just as we are), and enlightenment is simply being fully present for your life right here and now just as it is. He did not suggest that we need to visualize a better or richer or thinner or married version of ourselves.

The Secret does put some emphasis on having an "attitude of gratitude" but the overwhelming message is that we all need and want things that we don't have, and true happiness is just around the corner, provided we visualize and believe and manifest these "things" that will supposedly make us somehow more complete.

We are complete already.

I truly hope that you can learn to appreciate yourself and your life exactly as it is right now. I don't say this out of malice or judgment or any ill will, I am just distressed at how many people feel that they need anything other than what they now have to be happy. We are all just fine exactly as we are right now, and until we learn that, we'll never truly be happy and fulfilled.