My Significant Film

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Despite a fairly recent increase in output it’s still quite a rare cinematic occasion when Terence Malick releases a film, they’re a bit like comet sightings and usually come with some of that same celestial awe and majesty. He’s only released seven films in a career spanning over forty five years. After his academy award winning second feature ‘Days of Heaven’ in 1978 the world waited twenty years for his next film ‘The Thin Red Line’. This of course garnered no less than seven academy nominations. It’s not all about baubles and trinkets I know but his films are very, very good. Malick is a very special film maker. Much like his films, he’s a very elusive man and rarely gives interviews which of course only serves to add more mystery to these rare cinematic occasions and provides his audiences with less of an insight perhaps into how to read the works of this visionary film maker. I know that word is used a lot when it comes to describing film directors (especially men sadly) but in Malick’s case I believe it’s genuinely deserved. If you haven’t seen any of his films you must. You’re really in for a treat, from the visceral beauty and effortless cool of ‘Badlands’ (1973) to ‘The Thin Red Line’ (1998) whatever you think of Malick as a story teller (and it seems he is a bit like Marmite in that respect) you won’t be disappointed at the levels of technical artistry involved. Broadly speaking a Malick film is what might be called these days ‘experiential’, they are often fragmented and transcendental, as he said about his 2005 film ‘The New World’, “I leave you to fend for yourself, figure things out yourself” (Maher, 2012). As stories they are very much concerned with the ‘substance’, the experience of his characters rather than the ‘form’ or narrative and that can put a lot of people off. Perhaps as an editor, I instinctively like his films and the process by which he makes them. They are an exploration, a journey into a subject he does not completely understand before he starts shooting. In this way they are almost born in the edit from a very loose directorial style that ‘feels’ it’s way. He shoots a lot, keeps the camera rolling on what interests him and then edits. According to Wikipedia, Malick spent two years editing ‘Days of Heaven’:

“Malick spent two years editing, during which they experimented with unconventional editing and voice-over techniques once they realised the picture they set out to make was not working”. (Wikipedia.2016)

‘Knight of Cups’ sees Malick in something of a purple patch with three films having been released in the last decade: ‘The New World’ in 2005,‘The Tree of Life’ in 2011 and ‘To The Wonder’ in 2012 and with two more apparently in pre-production this is definitely a heightened level of output and for my money it feels as if Malick has very much found more confidence in his voice despite what some critics think. According to the Telegraph writer Tim Robey, “Knight of Cups is Terrence Malick running on empty” (Robey, 2016). I’m confused by this. A car running on empty is likely to stop, Malick on the other hand is more productive than ever in his career with his films exploring more questions and ideas than ever before it would seem. Perhaps it’s simply a testament to how challenging his films are that he can split critics and audiences in such a way?

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In truth I was a bit sceptical before seeing ‘Knight of Cups’. It was a friend who alerted me that it was even in the cinema. If there had been any marketing or press i’d missed it and I hadn’t seen a Malick film in the cinema since ‘The Tree of Life’, which despite garnering much critical acclaim including the Palme d’Or at Cannes in 2011 left me teetering on the edge. Overall my experience of the film had been good, it’s astonishingly ambitious and in moments breathtaking – in others it made me cringe. As with all of Malick’s films it’s approach to the audience is serious and it therefore demands a kind of rigour and attention that many (including me at times) are unable or unwilling to give. I remember people left the cinema. I remember I almost did the same.‘The Tree of Life’, explored deep existential questions, the internal journey and is at times both poetic and philosophical. It’s a meditation on life on love and the universe but for many its nothing more than a pretentious feature length insurance commercial. The Guardian critic Peter Bradshaw wrote:

“At the premiere of Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, which I reviewed at the Cannes film festival in May, the movie’s final moments were almost drowned out by the booing, jeering and giggling in the auditorium, a response widely developed into a note of balanced and wearily tolerant dismissal in print. People would repeatedly reproach me for my own laudatory notice; this film, they said, was pretentious, boring and – most culpably of all – Christian. Didn’t I realise, they asked, that Malick was a Christian.” (Bradshaw, 2011)

I’d forgotten until I started writing this blog that Malick is Christian. Does it matter? Well perhaps some of the derision his films receive make sense in this light, we generally don’t like a spiritual dimension to our hollywood cinema (or our art in general) and this without a shadow of a doubt is what interests Malick (and me) and what his films explore although his films are in no way ABOUT Christianity or religion and that is key to my understanding and enjoyment of his films. I suppose my experience had sat uncomfortably between awe and ridicule BUT and it’s a big but, understanding the artistry, technical skill and courage to even try to make a film of such depth (with A-list Hollywood cast members within the studio system) surely makes it deserving of the critical acclaim. So waiting for the BBFC title card for ‘Knight of Cups’ I was apprehensive. I knew nothing about the film. I’m not particularly a ‘fan’ of Christian Bale and had no more information about the cast or even the story. Would people walk out, would I walk out?

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Despite being intrigued by a quote that I recognised but couldn’t place that turned out to be from The Pilgrims Progress (a book I had read as a child at school) the first few minutes didn’t bode well, visually speaking it was Malick very much doing Malick. Christian Bale was in a desert (lost) and there was voice over. We could have been in an Armani advert for all I cared. His films have always been fresh stylistically and have been copied by the advertising industry for years so perhaps one can’t blame him for that but Malick has always understood the psychological need we have of cinema, our need to be seduced. Slowly and surely i’m drawn in by the space in the film by the mysterious fragments of image and sound and soon (after some initial resistance) he has my complete and undivided attention. After all, philosophical discourse and poetry have no meaning if they are not engaging. So captivated as I was by the Bunyan quote (Medieval Christian allegory in a Hollywood film anyone?) and the almost whispering voice over which recalls a story told by a father of a quest…I know Rick (our main character played by Christian Bale) is on a journey, a journey by implication that is perhaps to lead to his redemption or salvation, “All those years living the life of someone I didn’t even know,” Rick confesses to us.

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The film goes on to explore the existential story of a Hollywood writer searching for meaning in life (Rick) as he hits what we could probably call ‘rock bottom’. The setting is Hollywood (and Las vegas) so on one hand we have the perfect backdrop for a story which seems to be about illusion and fantasy versus inner truth whilst at the same time providing a tantalising (and seductive) behind the scenes look at a Hollywood which is rarely or ever seen. All of it’s light, it’s flora and it’s architecture are superbly rendered by Emmanuel “Birdman” Lubeezki who somehow manages to avoid the clichés despite how many times we have seen Hollywood on film. Although we never see the protagonist write a single word this doesn’t seem to matter. Malick is most interested in the space around words…at one point in the film this even becomes a stylistic device as we are unable to hear what is being said by the characters on screen and at another moment we cut into a heated conversation half way through, here again what Malick delivers with breathtaking beauty and assuredness is the experience or essence of living (and remembering) rather than the form and what would simply be technical mistakes for the uninitiated take us to a much more interesting place in the hands of a master film maker like Malick.

“No less important than the images is the freedom with which Malick edits them. Recognizing that the memorable things that people say aren’t necessarily memorable moments of life, Malick separates the image and the sound, including snippets of synchronized dialogue along with snippets of voice-overs, turning the words themselves into images. He separates scenes into nodules of dramas that unleash their implications in flashes packed with imaginative potential.” (Brody, 2016)

As the film moves forward our protagonist’s life is invoked piece by piece like fragments of a dream. At one point he even says he is not whole but ‘pieces of a man’ possibly referencing Gil Scott Heron’s sublime album of the same title. Whatever, the effect is of witnessing a remembering as if what Rick is trying to get right most in his life is his relationships and that what is lacking is perhaps what we all find hardest of all; connection. Connection to the people in his life, to the environment he inhabits and above all to himself. Layered into the episodes of Rick’s downward spiral are memories or feelings from his past and family life and although I’m not at all connected to the main character emotionally or his family and acquaintances I’m somehow stirred and moved by the poetry which inhabits the film and it’s sublime beauty. It’s a spiritual journey as the opening quote from Bunyan informs us and is therefore at once honest and sincere. We can feel both the vacuity and seductive ease of that Hollywood world dreamworld as well as the nostalgic warmth of deeper moments in Rick’s life and it’s precisely because of its fragmented form and structure that the film works on so many levels:

“It’s an instant classic in several genres—the confessional, the inside-Hollywood story, the Dantesque midlife-crisis drama, the religious quest, the romantic struggle, the sexual reverie, the family melodrama—because the protagonist’s life, like most people’s lives, involves intertwined strains of activity that don’t just overlap but are inseparable from each other.” (Brody, 2016)

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Here I want to comment briefly on the use of voice over and flash back. These are two devices all novice film makers are advised very strongly to avoid because they are deemed lazy and lacking creativity (or something) but in Malick’s hands they become our cinematic reality, that essence of cinema which is perhaps closest to dreaming or to memory or consciousness and as an editor I think that’s why I admire and enjoy his films so much. He endows each shot, each word each piece of music with metaphysical meaning creating a mystery and splendour which keeps an audience engaged and processing (for the most part). For many though this lack of a linear narrative drive is too much and his films are simply pretentious and shallow. I suppose this is why I like his films though, precisely because they are free and playful. He is not restricted by the norms of film grammar and the performances of his cast are somehow liberated as a result. I can’t think of one establishing wide or two shot conventional set up in the whole film and as I mentioned before he really plays with the edits to render something more like the essential truth of a moment or memory. As Richard Brody goes on to say:

“Yet, in another sublime paradox, this very dramatic compression and abstraction renders the remarkable cast’s performances all the more powerful. Malick moves them into a middle ground between the theatrical and the existential. The actors are neither leached of expression in undefined situations nor composing continuously psychological characterizations. Rather, Malick creates an acting style that’s in between, filled with dramatic power but rooted in how they move, how they talk, how their glances flash. Malick’s incisively fragmented and recomposed editing emphasizes the actors’ strongest and most emblematic moments. He turns the fluid frames into mnemonic spaces of movement, gesture, and inflection that burn them into consciousness exactly as they’re burned into Rick’s, and into Malick’s own.” (Brody, 2016)

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Malick’s approach to post production overall is quite unique and the crew of editors that worked on ‘The Thin Red Line’ recall the process and how the director never wanted to see the whole film, how they worked together and cut each others work (which they found humbling and challenging) and how it was mainly a process of taking away like sculpting, rather than of adding. They describe getting the film to a place where voice over could be added to provide another dimension (the director’s own philosophical commentary perhaps) and above all the silence that’s in the film…great expanses of it pulling you in to the human drama(s) unfolding. Although I don’t know anything about the post production process on ‘Knight of Cups’ the same fluidity and silence can be felt running through it. Editing, after all, is as much about what is left out than what is left in and in Malick’s films you definitely feel that to be true.

If I had one criticism at all, it would be that at times his style is so fluid it seems to do more than seduce but to become distracting. When every image is imbued with such power and mystery it’s also surely rendered artificial and meaningless at the same time? At times I was distracted by the half naked girls that wondered into the scene nameless and model thin and Rick’s selfish self obsessed existence, I didn’t care about his life one way or the other, but this I have to concur was entirely the point. This is the illusory material world in which Rick is trapped. After all the prologue tells us he has forgotten his quest after drinking something that makes him forget. In Hinduism this is Maya or the magic power with which a god can make human beings believe in what turns out to be an illusion; this is precisely the shallow existence that he has lost himself in (that Malick creates before our eyes) and perhaps the implication is that it’s humanity itself (via it’s obsession with Hollywood) that has forgotten it’s quest? This ‘distraction’ is certainly not a consistent trend in any of Malick’s other films where I would argue he avoids anything that might be considered gratuitous for example. For once perhaps the stylish and objectified images of women we are served up are given depth precisely because of our male protagonist’s journey? As Tim Robey puts it, “Bit by bit, his view of women has become problematic, if not actively alarming.” This is not a view that could include Malick himself however, although the same critic goes on to say:

“Knight of Cups” settles into a lukewarm bath of male self-pity, a condition perhaps more deserving of satire than sanctification. Rick mopes and mutters through an elegantly appointed malaise, wandering the desert in an Armani jacket and driving aimlessly in his midnight-blue vintage convertible. In the room, the women come and go. It’s all very poetic and rarely boring, except maybe to Rick himself. But it’s hard to trust his anguish and hard not to suspect that what is being solicited is not your empathy but your envy.”

BUT and it’s a big ‘but’ the film offers so much more. This is not just a story about Rick but about Hollywood itself and our (Western societies) relationship to it. As the New York  Times Critic Chris Lee puts it:

“Which is why Mr. Malick’s experimental drama “Knight of Cups” (in theaters March 4) arrives as something of a shock. The movie provides a privileged glimpse inside Hollywood’s corridors of power, featuring cameos by real-life super agents, TV showrunners and industry players in addition to a small constellation of A-list stars. And in the process, “Knight of Cups” obliterates the notion of Mr Malick, 72 as an outsider. Given its roll-call of boldfaced names and sly winks at showbiz dealmaking. “Cups” could only have been made by a consummate insider.”

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So for me, in ‘Knight of Cups’ Malick provides what Hollywood cannot, a contemporary commentary on itself:

“But be honest about your experiences, about your failings—and about your enduring intimations of beauty even in places and situations that you’d hesitate to call beautiful, because the production of beauty in a world of suffering, and from your own suffering, is the closest thing to a higher calling that an artist has, the closest thing to the religious experience that art has to offer.” (Brody, 2016)

The film ends as it begins with our protagonist isolated in nature with the words ‘begin’, begin’ being spoken, not only bringing us neatly to the end of our character’s journey and to the beginning of his newly awakened ‘life’ but perhaps also encouraging us (and Hollywood itself) to see beyond it’s own ongoing seduction and love affair with the material and go deeper into the human experience? As E.M. Forster puts it in Howards End:

“She would only point out the salvation that was latent in his own soul, and in the soul of every man. Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.” 

As Peter Bradshaw concludes nicely in his review of ‘The Tree of Life’ and which is just as apt for ‘Knight of Cups’:

“This film may not be for everyone, but it makes other movies and other movie-makers look timid and feeble.” (Bradshaw, 2011)

HD TrailerKnight of Cups | Official Trailer HD | FilmNation Entertainmen

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  • Bradshaw, Peter. (2011). ‘The Tree of Life Review’. The Guardian. July. Online version accessed June 2016: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2011/jul/07/the-tree-of-life-review
  • Brody, Richard. (2016). ‘Terrence Malick’s ‘Knight of Cups’ challenges Hollywood to do better’. The New Yorker. March. Online version accessed June 2016: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/terrence-malicks-knight-of-cups-challenges-hollywood-to-do-better
  • Forster, Edward Morgan. (1910). Howards End. UK. Edward Arnold
  • Lee, Chris. (2016). ‘Terrence Malick’s ‘Knight of Cups’ Is an Insider’s Tale’. The New York Times. March. Online version accessed June 2016: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/06/movies/terrence-malicks-knight-of-cups-is-an-insiders-tale.html?_r=0
  • Maher Jr, Paul. (2012). One Big Soul: An Oral History of Terrence Malick. 3rd Edition. USA, Lulu
  • Robey, Tim. (2016).’Knight of Cups is Terrence Malick running on empty’. The Telegraph. May. Online version accessed June 2016: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/2016/05/05/knight-of-cups-is-terrence-malick-running-on-empty—review/
  • Editing The Thin Red Line, Shaping a Terence Malick Film. Vimeo from Isabel Sadurni
  • Wikipedia. (2016). ‘Terrence Malick’. Online recourse accessed June 2016: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terrence_Malick

 

Happy Pt 1

I’ve been doing some research for a book I am writing which is about happiness. I have absolutely no idea why I am writing a book about happiness. I suppose I am as qualified as anyone to speak about the subject and when asked at age 14 by my mother what I wanted to do when I was a bit older I said I didn’t care as long as I was happy. Now this could have been the answer of a pretentious child or a fairly manipulative child, who knows. Anyway here I am today and i’m surrounded by books and articles about the philosophical and psychological aspects of this thing we call happiness. So far so good. Life and death are one and the same so it seemed rational to look at happiness and the ‘pursuit of happiness’ as Jefferson put it as this seems to be one of the main purposes or reasons for living.

Now I don’t mind telling you this is a big subject. No sh*t sherlock. There are some heavyweights who have already spent more time than I ever could in exploring the subject and it get’s very complicated very very quickly.

What is happiness? How do we define it? Can we measure it, is there any point? So i’m not sure what I can add to the conversation but I want to lay it all out what i’ve learned and what i know from experience into something digestible and useful for anyone who cares to read it. That’s if it ever gets published of course.

I wanted to start at the beginning and started to look at Aristotle, now what’s interesting is that Aristotle was around at about the same time as Shakyamuni (Buddha). Scholars can’t agree on when Buddha was born but roughly around 560BC seems to be safe and Aristotle was around a few years later in 384 BCE. I have found that there were a lot of similarities in the thinking of these men, especially when it comes to Happiness. For Aristotle the main work is the Nicomachean Ethics. It should be pointed out that in the time of Aristotle Ethics meant something quite different to the meaning it has today.

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For Aristotle Ethics was the nature of human well being and was defined by the closest thing to happiness the ancients appear to have (it may surprise you as it did me, that ‘Happy’ is a fairly modern word) and that is good action and virtue. This word is Eudaimonia which means human flourishing or welfare – Etymologically, it consists of the words “eu” (“good”) and “daimōn” (“spirit”). It is a central concept in Aristotelian ethics and political philosophy, along with the terms “aretē“, most often translated as “virtue” or “excellence”, and “phronesis“, often translated as “practical or ethical wisdom”. In Aristotle’s works, eudaimonia was (based on older Greek tradition) used as the term for the highest human good, and so it is the aim of practical philosophy, including ethics and political philosophy, to consider (and also experience) what it really is, and how it can be achieved…

5 Inspirational Quotes about Death

Apologies for the recent radio silence, normal service has now been resumed. I hope the following words of wisdom will bring a little joy to your day.

1) “Death doesn’t exist. It never did, it never will. But we’ve drawn so many pictures of it, so many years, trying to pin it down, comprehend it, we’ve got to thinking of it as an entity, strangely alive and greedy. All it is, however, is a stopped watch, a loss, an end, a darkness. Nothing”.

– RAY BRADBURY from SOMETHING WICKED THIS WAY COMES 1962

2) “Death inevitably comes to each of us. Whether it is a time of inner dignity and honor or a pitiful demise is completely reliant on how we live our lives right now, today. In that sense, the “moment of death” truly exists in the present”.

– DAISAKU IKEDA

3) “Death–the last sleep? No, it is the final awakening”.

– WALTER SCOTT

4) “To fear love is to fear life, and those who fear life are already three parts dead”.

– BERTRAND RUSSELL

5) “All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill”.

BUDDHA – From DHAMMAPADA

5 Inspirational Quotes about Death

I haven’t posted in a while as I’ve been busy with some other work however as the sun is still shining in this part of the world and it’s Monday morning I thought I’d share another five inspirational bits of wisdom with you all and hope that you have a glorious day.

1) “For certain is death for the born/And certain is birth for the dead; /Therefore over the inevitable/Thou shouldst not grieve”.

BHAGAVAD GITA (250 BC – 250 AD)

2) “He not busy being born is busy dying” – BOB DYLAN

3) “As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death”.

LEONARDO DA VINCI (1452 – 1519)

4) “As men, we are all equal in the presence of death”.

PUBILIUS SYRUS

5) “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life”.

STEVE JOBS (1955 – 2011)

5 Inspirational Quotes about Death

Okay so many of us will have woken today feeling like ‘death’, so here’s some inspirational words on the topic to help us live more happy, free and fun filled lives beyond the fear of it’s grip…

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1)  I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.

MARK TWAIN

2)  A useless life is an early death.

JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE

3)  The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.

MARCUS TULLIUS CICERO

4)  They tell us that suicide is the greatest piece of cowardice… that suicide is wrong; when it is quite obvious that there is nothing in the world to which every man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person.

ARTHUR SCHOPENHAUER

5) I had seen birth and death but had thought they were different.

T. S. ELIOT

The Wall

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“By the way which one’s pink?”

As someone who practises Buddhism (which to me means studying and having faith in Buddhist philosophy and teachings) I am transforming my life and therefore my death, everyday. I don’t like to call myself Buddhist too much as that automatically separates me from everyone who is not a Buddhist (whatever being ‘Buddhist’ means). As J Krishnamurthi was always at pains to point out this can be an ‘aggressive’ act as it has the potential to separates one from another. Isn’t that where all the trouble started from; A wall? Think about it, at some point in human history land was cultivated and animals were fed and reared on that land and somehow that land was shared. Then someone (probably with a stick) built a wall. He/she said this is mine and that’s yours. The wall created difference. I am not you and you are not me. I have this label and identity and stuff and you have yours.

Obviously it may not have been quite this simple and I am not an anthropologist but if you think about it something very similar must have occurred and now here we are all divided with a million labels to prevent us from seeing the universal truth or our existences together.

“Unless you have a new mind, eyes that see what is true there is this question as to how the mind, deeply conditioned as it is, can change radically. I hope you are putting this question to yourself because, unless there is morality which is not social morality, unless there is austerity which is not the austerity of the priest with his harshness and violence, unless there is order deeply within, this search for truth, for reality, for God -or for whatever name you like to give- it has no meaning at all. Because, unless you have a new mind, a fresh mind, eyes that see what is true, you cannot possibly understand the immeasurable, the nameless, that which is”. 

J KRISHNAMURTHI

No one can prove what happens after death, but how we view death will have a huge impact on how we live. The perspective of Buddhism is that the life state or condition that we develop in life is what is carried forward in death and this of course emphasises the importance of the way we live each moment.

Often the analogy or symbol of waves in an ocean is used to describe this ebb and flow of life and death, waves like our lives occur momentarily and return to the mass of the ocean only to occur again somewhere else. The Ocean can represent ‘Myoho’ or Mystic Law ( this expresses the relationship between the life inherent in the universe and the many different ways this life expresses itself) and  the wave an individual life or phenomenon. The pattern of waves corresponds to the cycle of birth and death.

If we consider that there are various currents flowing through the ocean that are not visible from the surface, the difference between life and death could be said to be like the waves appearing on the surface and the undulating currents within the ocean’s depths. The life essence of an individual is certainly not extinguished on death. Life and death are simply the undulations of the Mystic Law itself. Undulations within the ocean’s depths appear on the surface as waves and then submerge again, once more become invisible undulations. – Then, when the conditions are right, that life essence will appear again as a new wave“.

DAISAKU IKEDA – “The Heritage of the Ultimate Law of Life and Death”

It’s interesting to note perhaps, that an ocean has no walls.

5 Inspirational Quotes about Death

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1) “Live your own life, for you die your own death.” Latin Proverb

2) “As long as you are not aware of the continual law of Die and Be Again, you are merely a vague guest on a dark Earth” – JOHANN GOETHE

3) “When we finally know we are dying, and all other sentient beings are dying with us, we start to have a burning, almost heartbreaking sense of the fragility and preciousness of each moment and each being, and from this can grow a deep, clear, limitless compassion for all beings” – SOGYAL RINPOCHE 

4)” As death, when we come to consider it closely, is the true goal of our existence. I have formed during the last few years such close relations with this best and truest friend of mankind, that his image is not only no longer terrifying to me, but is very soothing and consoling! I thank my God for graciously granting me the opportunity of learning that death is the key which unlocks the door to our true happiness” – WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART 

5) “Life is a great surprise. I do not see why death should not be an even grater one” – VLADIMIR NABOKOV 

The Bucket List

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There’s a hole in this bucket?

Last night I watched a programme on Channel 4 called 24 hours in A&E. It’s compulsive viewing and filmed in Kings College Hospital in South London where I was treated on more than one occasion during a previous ‘career’. In last night’s episode one of the senior nurses was talking about his reaction by being confronted by people who are close to death every day…he said something like “you can’t help but think about your own mortality and try to wring as much out of life as possible while we’re here”. Not all of us work in environments where we are confronted by death in a way where “the message is repeated” as this nurse put it “over and over again”.

And it’s not just about being busy, not just about the bucket list, sure fulfilling ones dreams and ambitions in life is a great and positive way to approach the world, but being fulfilled doesn’t end at ticking things of a list…what about supporting your family, being there for a friend in need or just putting a hand out to a complete stranger in distress? Anyone who has ever done any one of these things (and of course it’s not an exclusive list in any way) will know how fulfilling helping, thinking and acting for others can be. Who does our life belong to anyway apart from the community in which we live, grow, flourish and die?

I suppose that’s where the motivation for this blog came from, because it doesn’t really matter what you believe happens after death, the important thing is to fully understand that you will die, that it is an inevitable part of life…the loss of a loved one is hard and sad but thinking about death (ours or anothers) is not morbid unless your perspective is one that  only understands life as good and death as the end of that goodness…well no-one knows what lies ahead so it’s not constructive to think that way, indeed for most of us life itself is a battle…and why? Largely because we see death as the end…and that’s the paradox. If death were the end doesn’t it seem bizarre that for the infinitely small period of time (compared to the eternity of death) that we’re alive that we spend most of our time on this beautiful and bountiful planet fighting one another and struggling to compete for something we are not even sure is real…on the other hand if life is ongoing in some form, where’s the rush…? Why bother when you have the next million lifetimes to enjoy?

As the Buddha came to realise neither of these views is useful, they serve neither to inspire or enlighten, they simple deepen delusion or create stronger attachment.

“Based on the concept or dependent origination – one of the truths to which Shakyamuni became enlightened – the sufferings of age and detah are seen as arising from the innate ignorance within the individual. The Buddha teaches that these sufferings can be overcome by extinguishing this inner benightedness.

The wisdom or insight that enabled Shakyamuni to attain enlightenment represents the wisdom for conquering delusion and suffering concerning death. Based on this wisdom the Buddha rejecetd the two most commonly prevailing views of death – two extremes – both of which he considered errouneous because they could not fully enbale people to transcend the fear and uncertainty of death as the annihilation or complete cessation of self (the view of annihaltion), while the other was the view that death as the self continuing in the form of an unchanging immortal soul or spirit (the view of permanance)”.

DAISAKU IKEDA

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Have we been here before?

Buddhism teaches that life and death comprise the great and eternal rhythm of the universe itself, neither ending with death nor beginning with birth. Both life and death are impermanent.

That might be worth contemplating if you’re writing your bucket list.

5 Inspirational Quotes about Death

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Culpeper Minute Men – ready at a minutes notice to fight the British Imperialists..

 

I like quotes. I used to have a big book of Quotations that lived in the toilet..where better to be inspired? I need to find that book again or get a new one. Anyway I hope these little gems may add some perspective to your day or inspire your life in some way. 

1) “The last thing one discovers in composing a work is what to put first.”
BLAISE PASCAL from PENSEES

2) “Death smiles at us all, all a man can do is smile back.”
MARCUS AURELIUS from Meditations

3) “Between the dark, heavily laden treetops of the spreading chestnut trees could be seen the dark blue of the sky, full of stars, all solemn and golden, which extended their radiance unconcernedly into the distance. That was the nature of the stars. and the trees bore their buds and blossoms and scars for everyone to see, and whether it signified pleasure or pain, they accepted the strong will to live. flies that lived only for a day swarmed toward their death. every life had its radiance and beauty. i had insight into it all for a moment, understood it and found it good, and also found my life and sorrows good.”

HERMANN HESSE 

4)  “Some people live a lifetime every second, others only a second in a life time with little happiness to find. Learn to seize each and every second and make your life divine”! 

STANLEY VICTOR PASKAVICH 

5) “The only dream worth having, I told her, is to dream that you will live while you’re alive and die only when you’re dead.” 

ARUNDHATI ROY from The Cost of Living

‘La Petit Mort’

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Shall I put on some Barry White?

“It is wrong to think that love comes from long companionship and persevering courtship. Love is the offspring of spiritual affinity and unless that affinity is created in a moment, it will not be created for years or even generations.” KAHLIL GIBRAN

I like sex. That doesn’t mean I think i’m good at it by the way. I mean I’ve had my moments, but in general I like it. I want to add ‘who doesn’t’ but I think that would be a general statement with which more than a few might not concur. It doesn’t feel very British to talk about it either, anyway the point is my attitude towards sex has changed a lot over the years. I found a great quote in a book I own which sums it up nicely:

“It has been said before the age of forty men give free reign to their passions., but after suddenly become aware that their strength is declining. As soon as decline sets in, countless illnesses come swarming. If this persists for a long time unchecked it will become incurable. Therefore, P’eng Tsu said ‘To use one human being to cure another, this is the true way” Therefore when a man reaches forty he must become familiar with the art of the bedchamber.”” “For this reason, it is useless to discuss the affairs of the bedchamber with a man who is not yet forty, for his lust is not yet stilled” from Sun Ssu-mio’s Priceless Prescriptions (Chinese Sexual Yoga Classics

I bought this riveting coffee table dweller (joke) from a really great second hand bookshop that I love in Chelsea and have to admit I haven’t actually read it as such, much of the bits I have glanced at are indecipherable but there are bits like the one quoted above which are priceless…especially for a forty plus year old man. Hmmmm.

The link with sex and death is obvious and deeply profound and this is why I like the term ‘La Petit Mort’ (little death) which is the gallic (and my favourite) way of describing a sexual orgasm. The term has been broadly expanded to include specific instances of blacking out after orgasm and other supposed spiritual releases that come with orgasm. I’m a spiritual kind of guy and this release and close spiritual connection has largely been my experience of the act. That’s possibly why I like it…the title…and not just in it’s red blooded lusty sense.

Apparently there are a number of possible sources; The Greek belief that over ‘secretion’ for both men and women would eventually lead to death…(never though of that one)…and an Islamic reference to sleep…oh dear! Okay so I realise that refers to what happens afterwards for both parties rather than to one or more during…(I hope).

Either way it describes neatly a full body orgasm and the semi (or un) -conscious post coital experience as opposed to a lazy/quick one which can of course be very pleasant but not really transcendental…no tears for either party but maybe a good nights sleep…so it really describes the spiritual connection and drive that is going on when we procreate (well). Life and ‘death’ perhaps combined in a single moment…

“Life is nothing but a continuing dance of life and death, a dance of change.” SOGYAL RINPOCHE

Can’t wait to read the next chapter…