Thursday, December 10, 2009

New Post on One City - The Buddha at Work - "The Urban Dharma of High School Musical"

Just can't get enough HSM!! *

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Baby we were born... to HELP!

Jackson told me about a great piece by Nicholas Wade in Monday's New York Times, about how we're born with an urge to help each other!

Here's Wade:
"The somewhat surprising answer at which some biologists have arrived is that babies are innately sociable and helpful to others. Of course every animal must to some extent be selfish to survive. But the biologists also see in humans a natural willingness to help...Dr. Tomasello concludes that helping is a natural inclination, not something imposed by parents or culture."
Well, that's pretty cool. Sounds familiar! Here's Daniel Goleman:
"The new thinking about compassion from social neuroscience is that our default wiring is to help, that is to say, if we attend the other person we automatically empathize, we automatically feel with them. They're these newly identified neurons, mirror neurons, that act like a neural WiFi, activating in our brain exactly the areas activated in theirs. We feel with automatically. And if that person is in need, if that person is suffering, we're automatically prepared to help.... "
And where does this lead us? Jackson points out:

"Since we are not warlike, destructive, or evil by nature, we can overcome our interpersonal strife, and that means that all wars can end. We humans are good inside, and naturally inclined to care for one another. We can all live lives of peaceful creation. Now we have the tools and skills it takes to take care of our fellow humans and by extension conserve the natural world. Since we have the tools, the talent, and apparently the natural inclination, we set forth to create peace, justice, and an equitable existence for all Earth’s creatures, plant, animal, insect, and man alike.

In short: Humans are awesome, and can do and make anything they like, including turning the whole planet into a cool techno-garden where everyone gets to spend their lives dancing, making art, and visiting their wild animal friends in the forest with their silver flying jetpacks, and living for a long time. Why the heck not?"

Why the heck not indeed, Jackson? Why the heck not?


The latest Buddha at Work - Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes!

Here's the latest posting on One City - about the Sixth Paramita, praj├▒a, and how a little wisdom can make a whole lotta difference in your workplace.

Enjoy! *

Thursday, November 26, 2009

A Thanksgiving Contemplation: Helping Others Makes You Happy! Harvard Business School tells us it's so...

A recent paper from Harvard Business School tell us something that Adventures in Compassion readers already know: Helping others makes us happy!

The paper, by Lalin Anik, Lara B. Aknin, Michael I. Norton, and Elizabeth W. Dunn, shows us how:
  • Happy people give more.
  • Giving is "inherently rewarding."
  • "...students who engaged in random acts of kindness were significantly happier than controls."
  • "...spending money on others leads to higher happiness than spending money on oneself."
  • "...prosocial spending and happiness fuel each other in a circular fashion," meaning, helping others makes you happier, and when you're happier, you're more likely to help others.
This holiday season, consider making a difference for others in whatever way you can. It'll make you happy, and when you're happy, you'll be more likely to help others. Then you'll be happier. And you'll help others even more. And then you'll be happier... *

The latest Buddha at Work on One City - "Take Your Cushion to Work Day"

Here's the latest Buddha at Work:

Happy Thanksgiving! *

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Apologies for my disappearance

Hi there,

Sorry I've been away from this site. I've been writing regularly for One City, but don't think I've given up on Adventures in Compassion! Expect new posts soon.

In the meantime, please read my One City posts here:

I've been talking about the Six Paramitas over there, most recently Effort and Patience... look for a new posting on Meditative Concentration this week!

Jon *

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Charter for Compassion Launches!! Hooray Hooray!

Today, the Charter for Compassion launched, as the fulfillment of Karen Armstrong's 2008 Ted prize. Here's why it was created:
"The Charter of Compassion is a cooperative effort to restore not only compassionate thinking but, more importantly, compassionate action to the center of religious, moral and political life. Compassion is the principled determination to put ourselves in the shoes of the other, and lies at the heart of all religious and ethical systems. One of the most urgent tasks of our generation is to build a global community where men and women of all races, nations and ideologies can live together in peace. In our globalized world, everybody has become our neighbor, and the Golden Rule has become an urgent necessity."
And here it is, in its entirety:
"The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others - even our enemies - is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings, even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community."
I'm in! There's lots more info on the website: and you can sign the affirmation below:


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Latest Posts on One City

A couple of new posts you might find interesting. They're not entertainment-related, specifically, which is why they're on One City rather than here:

A Journey into Right Livelihood through Etsy:

The Buddha at Work - Ethics, Shmethics, so Long as I Get Paid:

Enjoy! *

Monday, November 9, 2009

Notes from The Big Sit!

What a great time I had on Friday night! From 11 PM on Friday until 3 AM on Saturday, I sat in one of the windows at ABC Carpet and Home as part of the Interdependence Project's 24 Hour Meditation Marathon. (I'm not in the picture on the left––still haven't found one with my face in it.) And thanks to my amazing supporters, I raised over $1,100 to support the ID Project's programs. (Finally tally isn't done just yet.)

I discovered a few things that really surprised me:

1. I didn't fall asleep. I was worried that I'd fall asleep, that people would come by at 2:30 AM and see me slumped over. But for some reason I didn't. We had breaks every 30-45 minutes, but I never even found myself tired.

2. My legs didn't hurt nearly as much as I'd suspected they would.

3. A lot of people passing by apparently thought that the sheet of glass that separated us was also an impenetrable sound barrier. From time to time I found myself giggling at the comments, or getting angry at them, or both. But I was generally able to come back to my breath without a whole lot of judgment.

4. A lot of people watching us honestly seemed to think we were mannequins and were shocked when one of us would adjust our postures, blink, or breathe.

5. I left ABC at 3 AM feeling energized and excited.

In any case, it was a great, fun experience, and I'd do it again in a second! Thanks so much to all my supporters and to the ID Project for letting me be a part of it.

Jon *

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Charter for Compassion - unveiling November 12th!

Thanks so much to Aimee Mullins who clued me in to the upcoming launch of the Charter for Compassion. The Charter was wished for by religious scholar Karen Armstrong, as her Ted Prize, in 2008. It comes out of Armstrong's observation that every religion, without exception, shares a central tenet:
"The Charter will proclaim a principle embraced by every faith, and by every moral code. It is often referred to as The Golden Rule....The Golden Rule requires that we use empathy -- moral imagination -- to put ourselves in others' shoes. We should act toward them as we would want them to act toward us. We should refuse, under any circumstance, to carry out actions which would cause them harm."
Check out Armstrong's speech wherein she made her wish:

Here are a few highlights from her speech:
'What I've found, across the board, is that religion is about behaving differently. Instead of deciding whether or not you believe in God, first you to do something. You behave in a committed way, And then you begin to understand the truths of religion. And religious doctrines are meant to be summons to action; you only understand them when you put them into practice.

Now, pride of place in this practice is given to compassion. And it is an arresting fact that right across the board, in every single one of the major world faiths, compassion -- the ability to feel with the other in the way we've been thinking about this evening -- is not only the test of any true religiosity, it is also what will bring us into the presence of what Jews, Christians and Muslims call "God" or the "Divine." It is compassion, says the Buddha, which brings you to Nirvana. Why? Because in compassion, when we feel with the other, we dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and we put another person there. And once we get rid of ego, then we're ready to see the Divine.

So the traditions also insisted -- and this is an important point, I think -- that you could not and must not confine your compassion to your own group: your own nation, your own co-religionists, your own fellow countrymen. You must have what one of the Chinese sages called "jian ai": concern for everybody. Love your enemies. Honor the stranger. We formed you, says the Qur'an, into tribes and nations so that you may know one another.'
And here's an extraordinary video teaching us about the Charter:


Please go to to learn more about the Charter, and to find out how you can get involved in spreading compassion throughout the world. *

Friday, October 30, 2009

Another post on ONE CITY!

Here's another new post on One City - "Halloween Contemplation! How Dressing Up as Paul Stanley Might Provide Access to Buddha Nature."

Enjoy! *

Thursday, October 29, 2009

New post on One City - "Generosity: What's in it for Me?"

As part of my continuing "The Buddha at Work" series for the ID Project's One City Blog, I just put up a new piece called "Generosity: What's in it for Me?"

Check it out! *

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Big Sit Update!

Hey everyone - just wanted to share the good news that we've blown past our final goal of raising $1000 for the Interdependence Project's 24 Hour Meditation Marathon. My original goal was $480, then I raised it to $720, and then $1000. And we've raised...


Not bad. Thanks to all my sponsors. And if you'd still like to sponsor me, please go to:

Come watch me on November 6th!

Jon *

Kids Watch More than a Day of TV Each Week! New news from Nielsen.

I was pretty shocked to read this article in the LA Times today, telling us that the average 2-5 year old watches thirty-two hours of television per week, and those 6-11 watching 28 hours per week.

From the original Nielsen report the article is sourced on:
"American children aged 2-11 are watching more and more television than they have in years. New findings from The Nielsen Company show kids aged 2-5 now spend more than 32 hours a week on average in front of a TV screen. The older segment of that group (ages 6-11) spend a little less time, about 28 hours per week watching TV, due in part that they are more likely to be attending school for longer hours."

I think this article really makes one thing clear.

As our kids get older, they are clearly watching less TV. So the obvious question is:

How do we put a stop to this?

"They are more likely to be attending school for longer hours." Therein lies the problem.

It seems like we have two options:

1. Cut school days shorter.
2. Somehow incorporate more TV into school.

I think the latter shows some promise; when it rains, my kids occasionally watch a movie in the auditorium instead of having recess. I imagine many schools resort to this, so we know the infrastructure is there.

In fact, schools may want to consider the costs savings available by incorporating more television into their schedules. The average teacher's salary in New York State is over $56,000. But a big, flat screen TV can be had for under $1,000!

If we could cut, say, 100,000 teachers nationwide, and replace them with televisions, think about how much money we could save? Admittedly, my figures are unscientific, but a back-of-the-envelope calculation shows over five billion in savings. Wow! That's like, two weeks of war!

Okay. I know. I'm being cynical and bitter, not to mention judgmental.

Here's something positive to consider. If kids are watching TV over thirty hours a week, do we have some responsibility to create programming that teaches them something?

From the LA Times article:
"I think parents are clueless about how much media their kids are using and what they're watching," said Dr. Vic Strasburger, a professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine and a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"The biggest misconception is that it's harmless entertainment," said Strasburger, who has written extensively about the effects of media on children. "Media are one of the most powerful teachers of children that we know of. When we in this society do a bad job of educating kids about sex and drugs, the media pick up the slack."
Just a little something for us to consider as we go about our business, creating entertainment for mass consumption. *

Thursday, October 22, 2009

New Post on One City!

Hey everyone, I just posted something new on One City, called "The Buddha at Work: The Six Perfections of Highly Effective People." Come check it out!

Jon *

Thursday, October 15, 2009

"The Buddha at Work" - new posting up on the ID Project's One City Blog

I wrote something for the One City Blog (from the Interdependence Project) called "The Buddha at Work." I'll be writing something for them every week on this topic.

Check it out! *

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lama Marut talks to Adventures in Compassion about "My Name is Earl," violence, compassion, and impermanence

The amazing and inspring Lama Marut very kindly did a video, expressly for Adventures in Compassion (in the Screen Trade), on a few topics that are near and dear to my heart. Lama Marut recently featured this blog in his newsletter, and it was really exciting for me to hear of his approval of this work, but this interview (with his associate Cindy Lee) is particularly thrilling and informative.

Here are a few highlights - though you should really watch the video to see him deliver his own responses in the way that only he can. So much of what he teaches here is about intention––what do we intend to communicate when we're creating a piece of entertainment?

Cindy asks him if he thinks entertainment can be "Right Livelihood."
"Of course it could. Totally dependent on the intention. What is the intention of the product? Is the product meant to edify or to titillate? Or to exploit?"

"Of course it's possible to use the media responsibly, and a way of helping people, as a way of teaching people compassion, teaching people how to live better lives... teaching people how to relate to others. The entertainment industry has a great possibility of being able to represent other people's lives... which could result in the viewers of those representations having more and more empathy for other people and their lives, getting themselves out of their own skin and feeling what it would be like to be another person."But he warns us of the danger of the portrayal of characters in movies as two-dimensional, like "action figures... with no real lives, no background, no feelings, no family... just stick figures. And then when their heads are blown off we don't feel anything about it because we don't understand that they're human beings."
"If it's just a fancy version of a cartoon there's no compassion, there's no possibility of compassion, no empathy. You have to have a representation of a real person with all the background that we all have as real people to have any empathy for a character."
Cindy goes on to ask him about impermanence, and if portrayal of impermanence in entertainment is useful.
"To represent change as a source of empathy or compassion, that's one thing. To represent change just as change, is no big deal. How else would there be a narrative? depends on what the purpose of the representation of change is.... what's the intention? What's the purpose of the media representation? Is the purpose to titillate, or is the purpose to bring some compassion to the viewer, to bring some sense that what they're watching is another human being just like them?"
So you might think that Marut's tastes tend toward the serious, the sorrowful, or the morose. Not so!
"We have to keep a sense of humor about things, a sense of lightness, otherwise it's just boring and dull and too serious, and that's not helpful.... it's possible to deliver a very very good message, a compassionate message, an empathetic message, in a package that's entertaining, that's interesting, that's funny..."
So what's your favorite show, Lama Marut?
"I like this television show, My Name is Earl, which all about this guy who's just trying to be a good person, he's trying to make amends for the wrongs that he's committed in his life, and it's very entertaining, it's very funny, it's very light, but every episode has a very very strong kind of moral to the story... very useful to be broadcasting a show like that which is teaching people responsibility... that their actions have consquences, that their actions effect other people... the virtue of forgiveness, the virtue of compassion, the virtue of gratitude. These virtues are all packaged up in a very very entertaining form. That's, I think a model."
Marut goes on to point out that we in entertainment have a tremendous responsibility, that the effects of our work go way beyond what we might imagine:
"The entertainment business is hugely influential and should be responsible... what Jon is suggesting, what he's encouraging people to think about is very very important. How can we entertain responsibly without exploiting, without being inured to the violence... the violence on television is awful. I suggest to the people who are watching this that we would not be able to tolerate six, seven, eight years of war, unbroken, had we not been inured to violence because of television. It's just another TV show for us. The Iraq war... the Afghanistan war.. these are just televison shows for us.... because we have been inured to violence, we have hardened our hearts about the suffering of other people who are on the other side of violence. When we're the subject of violence, then we understand it.... that it's not a pleasant thing, that it's an awful things. But when we're the perpetrator of it, or the viewer of it... we become just inured to it. We don't think about it. We don't think that there's another human being on the other side of our violent actions. So to bring some compassion and some intelligence into... the entertainment business, is very important.
Thank you so much Lama Marut, and thank you Cindy Lee! *

Thursday, October 8, 2009

More Money Please!

Thanks so much to all my amazing sponsors for the upcoming 24 Hour Meditation Marathon on November 6-7, to benefit the Interdependence Project. My original goal was to raise $480, and then I quickly raised it to $720. Well, we're way past that so the new goal is $1,000.

Click here to find out more about the marathon, the Interdependence Project, and why I'm sitting! *

Making Peace Promises - For Compassion's Sake!

I was shocked to realize this morning that I haven't told y'all about Peace Promises. Peace Promises is the brainchild of the “unmessable-with” Josselyne Herman-Saccio, who I know both through my work at Landmark Education and as a talent manager, and the amazing Dr. Monica Sharma, who, “through her work at UNICEF, UNDP and the United Nations has impacted over 130 million people in 60 countries.”

Peace Promises' tagline is "Causing Peace on the Planet, One Promise at a Time." From the website:
"We say that if one person is fighting, or at war, with someone in their life, with themselves, with a belief, with an opinion of another’s, then there is war on the planet RIGHT NOW where they are."
As Thich Nhat Hanh said in the opening of Creating True Peace (boldface is mine):
“True peace is always possible. Yet it requires strength and practice, particularly in times of great difficulty. To some, peace and nonviolence are synonymous with passivity and weakness. In truth, practicing peace and nonviolence is far from passive. To practice peace, to make peace alive in us, is to actively cultivate understanding, love, and compassion, even in the fact of misperception and conflict. Practicing peace, especially in times of war, requires courage.... when the seeds of anger, violence, and fear are watered in us several times a day, they will grow stronger. Then we are unable to be happy, unable to accept ourselves; we suffer and make those around us suffer. Yet when we know how to cultivate the seeds of love, compassion, and understanding in us every day, those seeds will become stronger, and the seeds of violence and hatred will become weaker and weaker. We know that if we water the seeds of anger, violence, and fear in us, we will lose our peace and our stability. We will suffer and we will make those around us suffer. But if we cultivate the seeds of compassion, we nourish peace within us and around us. With this understanding, are are already on the path of creating peace.”
Peace Promises allows us to practice peace, to take on a Peace Promise and mindfully follow it throughout the day, notice when we stray from it, and gently return to our promise. Peace Promises cause us to be mindful. Spending the day focused on our Peace Promise is not that different from sitting on a cushion noticing our breath, or walking mindfully and noticing the ground beneath our feet.

Check out this inspiring video, showing real New Yorkers sharing their Peace Promises:

The Peace Promises site offers an opportunity for each of us to share our promises. I was on jury duty today, and so I shared my promise, to “happily serve jury duty today, knowing that I have benefitted tremendously from our jury system, and I’m able to help provide the same service to others.” When I had brief moments that frustrated me during jury duty, I remembered my promise, and returned to enjoying the day, without beating myself up for my momentary derailment. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us that every moment is an opportunity to create peace, and this program really brings that idea to life.

Some of the recent promises I found particularly inspiring on the site:
"I promise to find more constructive ways to communicate (and less destructive complaining)."
"I promise to stop being so hard on myself and to let go of things I have no control over."
"I promise to try opening my heart to everything and everyone and put my wall down to be loved."
"I promise to be honest and truthful everyday."
"I promise to stop being so hard on myself and to let go of things I have no control over."
"I promise to keep peace in my heart and spread it to whom ever I come in contact with."
"I will be consciously kind to those random people I meet in life."
What's really exciting about this to me is that it's all about mindfulness; it's about noticing what we're doing and not judging it. When we notice where we're inclined to be unkind, and then act kindly, we've subtly shifted our brain's programming. But even if we just notice our reactions, that's often enough to cause a shift! From a Peace Promises email:
"Becoming aware of something often times sets you free from the grip of it. As you identify and acknowledge something it is no longer invisible to you. When something is invisible to you, it has power over you. When you can see it you can also give it up. The act of giving something up creates space. In that space something new can be created."
So this alone is inspiring, but Josselyne and Monica were kind enough to design a program to cause a shift in peace for each of us, in our communities and relationships, and in our own lives. Here's what the site says about the 30 Day Peace Promise Program, which is "designed to create more peace in your life in the areas of inner peace, relationships, your workplace and community."
"This program will give you an opportunity to exercise the muscles that actually create PEACE. Giving you the tools to create an alternative to stress, an alternative to arguing, an alternative to intolerance, an alternative to war."
Each morning, you get a new promise emailed to you, to focus on that day. I'm on day 29 of the program, though I have to admit I haven't taken on the promises every single day. The email explains the promise and how it provides access to peace in your life. Some of my recent favorites:
"I promise to do something unexpectedly nice for at least one of my neighbors today."
"I promise to smile 20 times today when I meet or see people I do not know."
"I promise to notice my prejudice (race, religion, age, sex etc) today and be compassionate and accepting."
"I promise to forgive someone who I have been holding a grudge against today."
"I promise to educate myself on someone else's point of view on an issue I have been being very rigid about. I promise to learn about it with a commitment to see something valid and new."
That last one was a real challenge for me; I chose to take on educating myself on the Republican point-of-view on healthcare. Prior to this Peace Promise, I shut down and wouldn't listen when I heard anything from the right; I made a commitment to learn something, and I actually did learn something!

I am still sure, however, that we need a public option. But at least I've given another point of view some real consideration. And that allows me to actually be in a conversation with another person who has a point of view that doesn't match mine. That's peace.

By cultivating peace––peace in our inner selves, peace in our relationships, and peace in our communities and the world, we allow our natural compassion to emerge. Imagine a really slow commute to work––has that ever happened to you? Many of us react with anger and frustration––to the traffic, to the other drivers, to ourselves for not taking a different route. If we'd made a Peace Promise that day, any Peace Promise, we might find ourselves noticing our frustration and anger, and letting it go mindfully. We might even find ourselves able to react with compassion. We'd still be stuck in traffic, but we'd be able to carry that peace with us throughout our day. So when we get home from the traffic jam, our frustration and anger isn't carried to our interactions with our spouses and children. We might, in fact, get to simply be with them, and enjoy them; we wouldn't still be stuck in traffic, even in our heads.

Go to the site and sign up for the 30 Day Challenge. You'll be glad you did. *

Friday, October 2, 2009

Lama Marut teaches us that we can learn from anyone. Even Glenn Beck.

I was very happy to hear that Lama Marut chose this site as his "website of the month." I've long been a fan of his work and I am pretty sure his podcasts were my first real taste of Buddhism. He's amazing at explaining complex concepts in a very simple and often funny way. There was a good year where I listened to his Dharma Essentials courses for hours each week. He has tons of free audio teachings, ranging from karma, to the Diamond Cutter Sutra, to emptiness, to the Six Perfections, to the Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life, to the Lam Rim. It's great stuff, and he makes it super accessible.

I found out about Marut's selection of this site via email from his associate Cindy, who was kind enough to point me to one of his teachings. I had been trying to remember where I'd heard him talk about how anything or anybody can be your teacher. I fumbled through the concept in explaining how you could be taught something, even by High School Musical. Cindy pointed me to this amazing audio teaching, "The Appearance of the Sacred in Another Being." Give it a listen.

Lama Marut tells us:
“The guru can appear in all kinds of forms... the guru can also appear as your boyfriend, or girlfriend, or husband, or wife, or child, or mother or father. The guru is not limited in their appearance possibilities...

...the guru can also appear as a lake view. Anything that's changing your consciousness.... is the guru at work. anything that's changing your consciousness, anything that's going oh my god maybe life isn't just ordinary, that's the job description... of a guru... 'Make them believe that it isn't just ordinary.' That there's a sacred world right in front of their eyes if they could only see it. Bring them to nirvana... the end of suffering... bring them to heaven by showing them it's been here all along. It's been here right in front of you all along....

...they're like the entry point, the mediating entry point from a profane world into a sacred world. they're like a door that brings you into a different reality. And it is up to you to invest them with that capability. If you don't invest them with that capability they have no capability ever. Zero....

...when you meet another person you have two unconfirmable possibilities.... you can imagine them as just being ordinary, or you can imagine them as being a sacred angel on your case.... put on your case, come down from HQ on your case. And you can't confirm that they're not.... you've got that choice. Which one would be more interesting? Which one would be a better way to live? Which one would allow that person to start helping you? The secret of guru yoga is that you constitute somebody as sacred, as special, as divine in your life. And then everything they say and do from then on becomes a teaching for you.... what kind of lesson was that for me?

The power isn't coming form the guru. The power is coming from you. It's just a feedback device.... you invest the power in them and it comes back to you. and the more you invest in them the more it comes back to you."
So the key for me, then, is to invest everything with the power of the sacred. What can I learn from High School Musical? What can I learn from that guy who cut me off in traffic? What can I learn from Glenn Beck? Hard to imagine, but as Lama Marut points out, your teacher doesn't always appear the way you expect them to. It's up to us to decide to invest something with the power of the sacred, and that enables us to learn from anything.

So the guy in traffic can be a lesson on compassion. Glenn Beck too, believe it or not. Whether you imagine him as a child, or a father, or a husband. (I have no idea if he was ever any of these, not even a kid.) When he's making you really angry, you can imagine what's making him suffer, what's causing him to react so fearfully, and to instigate fear in others.

Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us this, in "Living Buddha Living Christ," how we can forgive even someone who makes us really, really angry:
"'You my brother or sister have wronged me in the past, I now understand that it was because you were suffering and did not see clearly. I no longer feel anger towards you.' Only when you understand what has happened can you have compassion for the other person and forgive him or her... when you are mindful you can see the many causes that led the other person to make you suffer, and when you see this, forgiveness and release arise naturally."
So learning about compassion and forgiveness can come from the most unexpected places! Really, almost anything can be a lesson in compassion; just look at today's headlines, or walk down the street and consider the lives of others, or drink a cup of coffee and imagine all of the interdependent factors that went into you getting that perfect cup. And you can have compassion for the farmers, for the truck drivers, for the baristas, for the workers in the cup factory, and for anyone else who led to you getting your drink. Compassion is everywhere, if you look for it!

Thanks so much, Lama Marut!! *

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Dharma of High School Musical Part 2 - "Get'cha Head in the Game"

I want to be really, super clear here, because I've had hesitations about writing more postings like the one I wrote last week.

Here's the thing. I am not joking. I really, honestly think there's a Dharma lesson in the song "Fabulous" from High School Musical 2. I can't say whether this was intended by the song's authors, but I genuinely heard a lesson in the song after probably the thousandth time I'd listened to it. The lesson had been there all along, but it took the right causes and conditions for me to "get it."

I say this with the deepest respect and reverence for the Buddha's teachings, and also knowing that I am a complete novice when it comes to my understanding and analysis. This is why I go to pains to quote impeccable sources, teachers who have a much greater understanding than I have or perhaps ever will. Most of them are tagged over on the right hand side of this page. I welcome any clarification or rebuttal of any of anything I put forth; like I said, I'm no scholar.

My intention in my work on this site is to inspire others to take on compassion as a focal point in their lives and careers. Often, this veers into other, related areas of Buddhist study, but they're all closely connected. As someone who's in the entertainment business, I think it might be helpful to point out that there's room for a powerful teaching in any medium, whether it be a small, heartfelt movie, a Broadway musical, or a Disney Channel teenfest.

And perhaps part of the reason millions of fans connect to the High School Musical films is the thread of compassion that runs through all of them. We are no different from Sharpay, each of us always wanting the newest toys, and justifying it to ourselves like she does.

And that leads me to my next observation:

Last night, after my amazing nine year old daughter Lily made us dinner (for real!) I asked her to list all the songs from High School Musical, so that I could search for more Dharma lessons. Her equally amazing brother Eli shouted out "Get'cha Head in the Game," and I knew immediately he was on to something.

Watch the video:

The lyrics are a stunning back and forth between the running monologue in Troy's head, and what he knows to be important, that he simply must "get his head in the game." It's like two voices, battling for Troy.

Here's worried Troy remembering all the things he's been told to do:
Coach said to fake right
And break left
Watch out for the pick
And keep an eye on defense
Gotta run the give and go
And take the ball to the hole
But don't be afraid
To shoot the outside "J"
And then mindful Troy simply remembers that none of this is possible unless he's here, in the present moment:
Just keep ya head in the game
Just keep ya head in the game
Here's worried Troy talking about the past and the future, both in the same verse:
Let's make sure
That we get the rebound
'Cause when we get it
Then the crowd will go wild
A second chance
Gotta grab it and go
Maybe this time
We'll hit the right notes
"Let's make sure that we get the rebound," is worried Troy worrying about the future. "Maybe this time we'll hit the right notes," is worried Troy comparing to the past.

But then mindful Troy reminds us what's important:
Wait a minute
It's not the time or place
Wait a minute
Get my head in the game
Wait a minute
Get my head in the game
Wait a minute
Wait a minute
There is such a simple and profound lesson here. Thich Nhat Hanh says, in "The Miracle of Mindfulness,"
"Joy and peace are the joy and peace possible in this very hour of sitting. If you cannot find it here, you won't find it anywhere. Don't chase after your thoughts as a shadow follows its object. Don't run after your thoughts. Find joy and peace in this very moment."
Thay later quotes Tolstoy in the book:
"Remember that there is only one important time and that is now. The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion."
Even more recently, Eckhart Tolle shared similar sentiments in The Power of Now:
"When you are present in this moment, you break the continuity of your story, of past and future."

"Nothing ever happened in the past; it happened in the Now. Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now."
These great teachers seem to be saying the same thing: "Get'cha head in the game."

This doesn't mean that Troy should give up! As Tolle says in The Power of Now:
"For example, if you were stuck in the mud somewhere, you wouldn't say, 'Okay, I resign myself to being stuck in the mud.' Resignation is not surrender. You don't need to accept an undesirable or unpleasant life situation. Nor do you need to deceive yourself and say there's nothing wrong with being stuck in the mud. No. You recognize fully that you want to get out of it. You then narrow your attention down to the present moment without mentally labeling it in any way. This means there is no judgment of the Now. Therefore there is no resistance, no emotional negativity. You accept the 'isness' of this moment. Then you take action and do all you can to get out of the mud."
Troy can "get his head in the game," accept the "isness" of the current moment, and then take action and do all he can to win the game! How profound this is, when we all spend so much time worrying about what actions we need to take, how we've done them the "wrong" way in the past, and how concerned we are that we'll repeat our mistakes in the future. But while we're worrying, we've created a world where "something's wrong," and we're unable to take any action other than to fix what we perceive to be wrong. If Troy's worrying about getting what the coach said "right," he's not going to be able to react and play to his fullest ability. Likewise, when we're worrying about what might happen, or what happened in the past, we're unable to really act from any place of strength; we're simply reacting, on full automatic.

And when we're reacting to the past, or worrying about the future, we're likely to be defensive, angry, and self-centered––and much less likely to be compassionate. *

Monday, September 28, 2009

Help Bat Nha Monastery!!!

Hi everyone. I've been getting a lot of emails and Facebook notes about the situation at Bat Nha monastery in Vietnam. Bat Nha was established by followers of Thich Nhat Hanh, and the Vietnamese government recently demanded the monks and nuns living there leave the monastery. According to published reports, when the monks and nuns peacefully refused to leave, they were repeatedly harassed and attacked. Here's a quote from a recent press release: "Excessive violence was used against unarmed, non-resisting, peaceable monks and nuns, in flagrant breach of all internationally-recognized principles of human rights."

Yesterday, a mob descended on the monastery and forcibly evicted over 130 monks, later threatening over 230 nuns and aspirants who were forced to abandon the monastery. Here's the press release

"Yesterday morning, a 150-strong mob descended on Prajna Monastery, Lam Dong Province, Vietnam. The crowd violently evicted over 130 monks, followers of Venerable Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. Plain-clothes police were known to be amongst the mob; uniformed police blocked all roads of access. Government officials refused to intervene, claiming that nothing was happening at the monastery site.

The crowd, armed with sticks and hammers, smashed doors and windows. The monks, some less than 18 years old, began sitting meditation and chanting in peaceful resistance. They were assaulted, removed by force and dragged out of their residence into the torrential rain. They were violently bundled into trucks and taxis, driven off and later dumped by the roadside. Some were marched up to 15 kilometers away from the monastery, being subjected to kicks and blows if they fell. The two most senior monks were beaten and arrested without charge. At this time, it is unknown where one, Brother Phap Hoi, is being held.

After they had successfully attacked the monks, the mob set upon the two nuns’ quarters. Doors were smashed down and all 230 nuns and aspirants driven into one building. There they were held overnight, awaiting threatened violence the next day. Left with no alternative, the nuns and aspirants, the majority of whom are young girls and women under 25 years old, abandoned their home for an uncertain future."
While the monastery has been destroyed, there are a number of ways you can help call attention to this horrifying violation of international human rights laws. Some senior monks are still unaccounted for, and it's important that the Vietnamese government feels pressure from the international community to release them, and to treat them humanely while they're under custody.

• Consider contacting news organizations asking them to cover the events at Bat Nha. Coverage in the West is limited, especially TV coverage. Any attention to this matter helps.
• Contact your representatives in Congress and ask them to pay attention to the events, and to hold the Vietnamese government accountable. You can contact your representatives by clicking here and your senators by clicking here.
• Write to the President of Vietnam asking him to allow the monks to continue their practice peacefully, and asking him to release the monks in custody.
• Contact Secretary of State Hillary Clinton registering your concern on the matter. You can contact her by clicking here.
• Contact the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
• Inform human rights groups about the situation and ask them to take action. Here are a few:
Human Rights Watch
Amnesty International
Reporters Without Borders
You can find the latest news at

To get a sense of what Bat Nha is like, please take a look at this video, which shows the daily practice at the monastery, and includes clips of the monks and nuns' nonviolent response after the initial attacks.

I am full of admiration for these monastics who responded to the attacks with nonviolence. Brother Trung Hai, who is a Dharma teacher at the monastery but was in France at the time of the attack, said this:
"The Vietnamese government and the Religious Committee and the National Buddhist Church have won. Their victory is that Bat Nha is completely destroyed. Everything is smashed. All the monks and nuns have been evicted from the monastery and the buildings have been stripped bare.

Our monastics brothers and sisters have done their part, that is they have responded faithfully to every challenge with non-violence, compassion and forgiveness. And yes, they have won.

Now we rest on the conscience of the government and of the people, inside and outside of Vietnam.

We do not blame anyone. We have no anger toward anyone. We know that our enemies are not people; they are greed, hatred and ignorance."


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The great Dharma teachings of High School Musical 2 - Sharpay teaches us about dukkha

Tonight's Interdependence Project class was on the Four Noble Truths, so there was a lot of talk about dukkha, which is often translated as "suffering," "unease," or "stress." It was a great class and I felt like I gained some new understanding of several concepts.

On the scooter ride home, I couldn't get a particularly irritating song out of my head. Take a look at this video:

I confess that it's not the first time I've watched it. But for some reason it kept going through my head tonight, and so rather than forcing it out of my skull, I took a look at what it was about for me. And here's what I came up with:

This song is a great Dharma lesson.

Seriously. I've heard Lama Marut say that we can look at anything as an opportunity to receive a teaching. I can't find the quote, but I'm positive he's said something like "how do you know the irritating person in your life isn't a Buddha here to teach you something?" I hope I didn't get that wrong but I am pretty sure it's right in spirit.

So if a person, why not a Disney song?

Here's Thich Nhat Hanh on suffering:
"...If we use our intelligence, we can see that craving can be a cause of pain, but other afflictions such as anger, ignorance, suspicion, arrogance, and wrong views can also cause pain and suffering. Ignorance, which gives rise to wrong perception, is responsible for much of our pain."
So here's the lovely Ashley Tisdale, singing to us about all the things she wants. In the video, she has servants tending to her every need, but boy does she seem unsatisfied:
"It's out with the old and in with the new,
Goodbye clouds of grey, hello skies of blue
A dip in the pool, a trip to the spa
Endless days in my chaise
The whole world according to moi

Iced tea imported from England,
Lifeguards imported from Spain,
Towels imported from Turkey,
Turkey imported from Maine...

...I want fabulous,
That is my simple request,
All things fabulous,
Bigger and better and best,
I need something inspiring to help me get along,
I need a little fabulous is that so wrong?

Fetch me my Jimmy Choo flip flops,
Where is my pink Prada tote?
I need my Tiffany hair band,
And then I can go for a float."
If you haven't watched the video, go back and take a look. Sharpay really doesn't seem satisfied. I detect... dukkha. What makes it a lesson, to me anyway, is that Sharpay represents all of us. Whoa! That's a stretch, Jon. Seriously, though. We are all under the impression that we can be satisfied by material things, and we are deeply unsatisfied when our expectations are not met.

Sharpay is suffering because she wants things to be other than the way they actually are. This is a form of ignorance, I suspect––to want something to be that is not. She even complains when the wrong key gets hit on the piano!

Another example might be to expect something to be permanent that is inherently impermanent, to think that one's good health and youth will last forever, or to think that one's belongings will remain intact forever. On top of this, we're only concerned with our own well-being, and can easily ignore the suffering of others. Think about how upset we feel when our new car gets a scratch, but to see another person's car with a scratch on it doesn't bother us in the least.

The Dalai Lama said, "I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction." As she says, "the whole world according to moi." Sharpay mistakenly believes that she will be happy when she gets what she wants, but she doesn't realize that she can never be satisfied, that even if she gets the items on her list, she'll just... as the song says, "want more." She doesn't know that when she gets those Jimmy Choo flip flops, impermanence teaches us that they'll soon be old, and she'll want new ones.

Though I can't be sure, I have to believe this lesson is intentional; Sharpay is portrayed as a caricature in the film. And, she's named after a dog. So thank you to the creators of High School Musical 2, for this awesome Dharma lesson! *

Finding Right Livelihood in Showbiz

Isn't that what this is all about? Right Livelihood? I picked up an old favorite, Thich Nhat Hanh's The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching. It's required reading for that Interdependence Project class I'm taking. So here's TNH on Right Livelihood:
"To practice Right Livelihood, you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. The way you support yourself can be an expression of your deepest self, or it can be a source of suffering for you and others."
Oh. That's all we have to do. Just earn a living without transgressing our ideals. No problemo!

Fortunately, Thay goes into more detail, particularly when it comes to artists:
"A composer, writer, painter, or performer has an effect on the collective consciousness. Any work of art is, to a large, extent, a product of the collective consciousness. Therefore, the individual artist needs to practice mindfulness so that his or her work of art helps those who touch it practice right attention."
So first, we have to acknowledge what's so. Our work has an effect on the collective consciousness. It's not inconsequential; it has a tangible impact on others. We can ignore this if we choose, but it still has an effect. Working mindfully allows us to have Right Livelihood, and to benefit those who are touched by our work.
"...everything we do contributes to our effort to practice Right Livelihood. It is more than just the way we earn our paycheck. We cannot succeed at Right Livelihood one hundred percent, but we can resolve to go in the direction of compassion and reducing suffering. And we can resolve to help create a society in which there is more Right Livelihood and less wrong livelihood."
I added those italics. Nice, right? I love that bit. Just because we can't succeed 100% doesn't mean we can't go in the direction of compassion. It's easy to throw up our hands and say, "it's impossible to ever really have Right Livelihood, so why bother?" An actor might star in a film and approach a role with compassion, with the intention of benefiting others. The actor might be working with a director or other actors who are focused on their own self-interest. If the film is successful, it might feed the profits of a large multinational corporation that might or might not share the actor's compassion. We know, however, that every cause has an effect, that our compassionate words and actions aren't lost in the void. Thay points out that we can still make a difference, to move towards our ideal of compassion, by practicing mindfulness in our work:
"If you are able to work in a profession that helps realize your ideal of compassion, be grateful. And please try to help create proper jobs for others by living mindfully, simply, and sanely. Use all of your energy to try to improve the situation.... practice Right Livelihood means to practice Right Mindfulness. Every time the telephone rings, hear it as a bell of mindfulness. Stop what you are doing, breathe in and out consciously, and then proceed to the telephone. The way you answer the phone will embody Right Livelihood. We need to discuss among ourselves how to practice mindfulness in the workplace, how to practice Right Livelihood. Do we breathe when we hear the telephone ringing and before we pick up the phone to make a call? Do we smile while we take care of others? Do we walk mindfully from meeting to meeting? Do we practice Right Speech? Do we practice deep and total relaxation after hours of hard work? Do we live in ways that encourage everyone to be peaceful and happy and to have a job that is in the direction of peace and happiness? These are very practical and important questions. To work in a way that encourages this kind of thinking and acting, in a way that encourages our ideal of compassion, is to practice Right Livelihood."
So that's what I've been going on about nonstop for the past several months. We can choose to support ourselves in a way that benefits others, and leads to happiness for ourselves and others, or we can remain ignorant, or we can create more suffering for ourselves and others. It seems pretty simple, doesn't it!

For more on Right Speech and Right Mindfulness and the rest of the Noble Eightfold Path, this book is a great place to start!

And don't forget - sponsor me in the Interdependence Project's 24 Hour Meditation Marathon! *

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sponsor me in the Interdependence Project's 24 Hour Meditation Marathon!

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts this weekend, Buddhist Geeks (I love their tagline, Seriously Buddhist, Seriously Geeky) and heard a great interview with Ethan Nichtern, founder of the Interdependence Project, which inspired me to sign up for one of their classes on what they call Heartcore Dharma. It started this past Wednesday, and I really enjoyed it. This, in turn, inspired me to sign up for their big fundraiser, the "Sit Down Rise Up" 24 Hour Meditation Marathon. A bunch of participants will be sitting in the windows at ABC Carpet and Home, meditating for a total of 24 hours. I, personally, have only signed up for a four hour shift. In all honesty, I've never sat for much more than an hour, and my regular practice is less than that. So it's a challenge I'm excited to take on. But Ethan and some others will be sitting for the full 24 hours.

The event is designed to raise money for the Interdependence Project; they are a "meditation community dedicated to doing something with the mindfulness that comes from meditation. [They] offer meditation classes, arts programs and [they] have some very active social action programs, as well as a popular blog and podcast." Their FAQ specifically says this:
"The money is primarily for the IDP to get a new center, but also for several ongoing activism programs that need support like the initiative to end plastic bags in NY State and our prisoner tutoring program. IDP also plans to start a program this year for teaching mindfulness meditation in schools, as well as a radio show based on our popular podcast."
I particularly like what the Interdependence Project is all about:
'The core idea of our meditation group is engaging in the world with any benefits that come from meditation. So we “Sit Down” to work with our mind during meditation and then “Rise Up” to engage in the world."
Please consider sponsoring me for this event and making a fully tax-deductible donation. I've committed to raising $1000 (previously $480, then $720), but I'd like to raise a lot more, and I'll be updating you how it's going via this site. I'll be sitting from 11 PM on Friday, November 6th to 3 AM on Saturday, November 7th. Feel free to come by and watch me try not to nod off.

You can sponsor me by clicking on There are instructions there to pay by credit card, cash or check. Make sure to enter my name - Jon Rubinstein - in the blank, and make it easier for me to keep track by sending me an email at jon [at] Thanks! *

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

If a bomb designer can be compassionate, why can't we?

I was thinking about what I said the other day:
What if everyone knew that the entertainment industry was primarily interested in making the world a better place? What would that make possible?
And as I often do, I went to see what Thich Nhat Hanh had to say on the subject. In his book, Creating True Peace, Thay discusses how our occupations can be an opportunity to "help others, and to generate compassion and understanding in the world." He mentions how a man who works at a firm that designs nuclear weapons came to him, expressing his concerns, and Thay knew that if he advised the man to quit, another person would just replace him.
"I urged him to remain the director of his firm, to bring mindfulness to his daily work, and to use his position to communicate his concerns and doubts about the production of atomic bombs... if the bomb designer practices and does his work with mindfulness, his job can still nourish his compassion and in some ways allow him to help others. He can still influence his government and fellow citizens by bringing greater awareness to the situation. He can give the whole nation an opportunity to question the necessity of bomb production....

...once you begin to realize your interconnectedness with others, your interbeing, you begin to see how your actions affect you and all other life. You begin to question your way of living, to look with new eyes at the quality of your relationships and the way you work. You begin to see, 'I have to earn a living, yes, but I want to earn a living mindfully."
If this is possible for someone who designs nuclear weapons, it should be easy for those of us in the entertainment business––to look at our work and consider its impact on others, to see through the eyes of compassion, and to work to cultivate compassion in others. Entertainment gives us enormous power to communicate, to generate compassion, to generate understanding, and to bring us great joy by making a difference for others.

Take a minute, and consider it for yourself. What if entertainment was known as an industry where people were mainly interested in the well-being of others? What if you, personally, were willing to take on that commitment: to take on that conversation in everything you do. How can my work benefit others? How am I making a difference?

What would the world look like if my primary focus was making a difference for others in my work and in my life?

Monday, September 14, 2009

What to do when Josh Olsen won't read your fucking script

Hiya! I'm guessing you're pretty upset because Josh Olsen won't read your fucking script. I'm sure that leaves you wondering, hey, what should I do next? I had all my hopes hanging on Josh Olsen reading my fucking script. I mean, he's like the fucking Pablo Picasso of screenwriting!

I'd like to offer some thoughts which might be helpful:

1. Take a deep breath. I know you're angry at Josh. Make friends with your anger and look for its source. Does it really have anything to do with Josh? I suspect you're frustrated at the lack of progress you're having with your screenwriting career. So breathe for a moment, and recognize that. Now stop, and think about why you chose screenwriting in the first place. If what's coming up for you is anger, you might want to consider what screenwriting represents to you. Is it about status and recognition? About money? Maybe you feel that selling a screenplay will validate you, will somehow make you "whole." Here's the thing that you've gotta get. Getting positive feedback on a screenplay will not make you happy. Selling a screenplay will not make you happy. Sure, you'll have a brief rush of endorphins, and you'll be super psyched when you drive off the lot in that Porsche. But believe me, it'll pass. And then you'll be grasping for that next fix. And maybe it'll be easier to have someone read your next fucking script, but you'll still be grasping and craving for that same status and recognition you were when Josh wouldn't read your fucking script.

2. Take another deep breath. Now, start thinking about how your work might impact others. Take the focus off yourself for a sec. While you're busy being upset that Josh Olsen won't read your fucking script, you're not making a difference for anyone on the planet. See what I said above, about why you started screenwriting in the first place? Think about how you were first inspired to become a writer, how you felt when you first saw the films that kicked your butt. What left you in tears? What made you jump out of your seat? What made you want to go home and hug your mom? What totally lit you up?

Think about the characters you were inspired by, and the possibilities that opened up in your mind when you saw these characters in action.

Now, imagine providing that for others. Imagine what could be possible if the work you do made a real and powerful impact on others' lives. Just try to imagine it: how you could inspire someone to look at their life differently, to feel understood, to feel not alone, to feel like a human being. What if you could inspire someone to make a difference for others in the world? To be a stand against human tragedy, or to simply go home and love their family. What would that be like? If your work is consistently coming from that place, a place of compassion, when people read it, they'll be moved and inspired, and they'll want to help you get your work out into the world.

3. Take another deep breath, and let go of the idea that something's wrong. So Josh Olsen won't read your fucking script and he thinks you're a dick for asking him to. I know you're making that mean all kinds of things. Maybe you're beating yourself up, thinking that Josh's rejection means you're never going to have the career you want, the recognition you want, the Oscar nomination you want. Maybe you're making it mean that the business sucks, that everyone in the business is a jerk, that the only way to get a toehold in the business is to be a suckup, or to sell out. Get this: if you believe that, then it's true. You made it so, just by believing it. So consider for a second that there is nothing wrong. Josh's unwillingness to read your fucking script doesn't mean anything about you, your life, your talent, or your future impact on the planet as a screenwriter or as a human being.

Now, you may, in fact, suck. But that's neither here nor there at this very moment. As long as you believe that something's wrong, that you suck, that you have no hope for a future, and you'll soon be living in a truck, infested with sores, and you'll have to eat your screenplay to survive, you have no power.

That's right. When you're convinced that something's wrong, and that Josh Olsen reading your screenplay has some importance in your life, you have no power to actually do anything. If you take a class, or send your fucking script to someone else for feedback, you'll just be looking for validation that you don't, in fact, suck.

And while you're worrying about that, no one's getting the privilege of being impacted by your work.

4. Do something. I'm not here to tell you all the ways you can get your screenwriting career off the ground. But if Josh Olsen won't read your fucking script, maybe someone else will, and maybe that someone will be generous enough to remember when they were first getting started, and how no one wanted to give them the time of day. And if someone gives you feedback, take it in. If it's bad, it doesn't mean you're bad. I haven't read Josh's work from when he was, say, a teenager, but I bet it wasn't as good as A History of Violence. We all have room to improve our work.

Get more feedback. Look for where that feedback is consistent. Like Josh says, take a class. Take another class. Watch movies. Look at why they work. Get out of the house once in a while. Do some yoga, meditate, go for a run. Breathe, and be aware that you're breathing. Talk to other people whose taste is similar to yours. And people whose taste isn't. When you feel your work is good, show it to people. And be open to what they have to say. I'm sure Josh did this once or twice, before he wrote that Oscar-nominated screenplay. There are plenty of smart, talented, successful people who care enough about others that they're willing to offer some advice here and there. Or maybe they won't read your fucking script, but they'll give you some other advice. Take it, and appreciate whatever it is they're giving you.

Because if you're honestly and truly interested in making a difference for others, if you want to inspire others, and open up possibilities to them, then clearly, you want to be the best writer you can be. And that takes hard work, and it takes other people being willing to help you. So keep writing, and learning, and breathing.

Just don't ask Josh Olsen to read your fucking script. *

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Entertainment = Compassion 4Evah!

I'm doing a little light reading while here in Toronto; John Perkins' Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. A little break, I thought, from my usual reading list. This is about globalization and power, not about compassion, I thought. If what he says is true, it's horrifying; if it's even partially true, the world is being pillaged and people are being impoverished and murdered so that a tiny few (including me!) can live a life of extraordinary privilege. Perkins wrote the book, he says, as a confession, to come clean about the career and life he lived for decades:
"...this book is not a prescription; it is a confession, pure and simple. it is the confession of a man who allowed himself to become a pawn, an economic hit man; a man who bought into a corrupt system because it offered so many perks, and because buying in was easy to justify; a man who knew better but wh could always find excuses for his own greed, for exploiting desperate people and pillaging the planet; a man who took full advantage of the fact that he was born into one of the wealthiest societies the world has ever known, and who could also pity himself because his parent were not at the top of the pyramid; a man who listened to his teachers, read the textbooks on economic development, and then followed the example of other men and women who legitimatize every action that promotes global empire, even if that action results in murder, genocide, and environmental destruction; a man who trained others to follow in his footsteps. It is my confession."
Perkins does, however, offer a dream that got me a-thinkin':
"...those highly effective communications and distribution networks could be used to bring about positive and compassionate changes. Imagine if the Nike swoosh, McDonald's arches, and Coca-Cola logo became symbols of companies whose primary goals were to clothe and feed the world's poor in environmentally beneficial ways. This is no more unrealistic than putting a man on the moon, breaking up the Soviet Union, or creating the infrastructure that allows those companies to reach every corner of our planet. We need a revolution in our approach to education, to empower ourselves and our children to think, to question, and to dare to act. You can set an example. Be a teacher and a student; inspire everyone around you through your example."
You can set an example.

So I dare you to stop for a moment and use your imagination. Close your eyes if it helps.

Imagine that entertainment is a symbol of compassion. Imagine that when people think of actors, writers, directors, when they think of movie studios and movie stars, when they think of summer blockbusters and the Oscars, they think of compassion. They think of an entire industry that's devoted to compassion; whether feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, or simply honoring the human condition. Imagine that the primary goal of everyone in the entertainment industry is to care for the wellbeing of others. When a movie studio determines whether to make a film, the biggest question is, how does this serve others? When an actor chooses to take on a role, he or she is primarily thinking, what does this contribute to the world? Imagine that a young actor, writer, or director begins a career by thinking, how am I working to make the world a better place for others?

Okay, open your eyes.

It doesn't mean we give up profitability, or fun, or spectacle. There are a million places it's already happening, in compassionate performances, in compassionate filmmaking, in compassionate writing, in everyone who contributes to films that make a difference. It goes from low-budget documentaries like the amazing How to Fold a Flag that I saw yesterday, to the Oscar-buzzed Up in the Air and An Education, to Fox's new show Glee, to animation, to music, from poetry to design, from art to architecture. So what if that kind of work became the very definition of success; what if every young aspiring entertainer viewed themselves as a vehicle for contribution?

Think about this:

What if everyone knew that the entertainment industry was primarily interested in making the world a better place? What would that make possible? *

Friday, September 11, 2009

"How do I act so well?" - Sir Ian McKellen on Acting!

Someone recently reminded me of this wonderful lesson by Sir Ian McKellen on Acting:

"I imagined what it would be like to be a wizard, and then, I pretended and acted in that way, on the day. And how did I know what to say? The words were written down for me in a script."
I'd forgotten that was how it worked. Thanks, Sir Ian! *

How's it goin', eh? Giving up "something's wrong" at the Toronto Film Festival

How's it goin', eh? I'm here in Canada, home of Rush, Loverboy, and Bob and Doug McKenzie, looking out at beautiful Lake Ontario, visiting the Toronto International Film Festival. I've come to this festival many times but it's the first time I've stayed at this hotel, which advertises itself as being "Zen." Apparently that means you can get a $340 massage somewhere in the vicinity of a Buddha statue.

While I'm here, I'm seeing some pretty awesome films; I'm not gonna say much about them, since I have clients in them. But I did see An Education last night. The movie absolutely lives up to its hype, it's really a wonderful piece, and full of compassion for all its characters––every last one. The film is set in the early 60's in London, and is the story of a girl who falls for a much older man. Like I said, I'm not gonna say much, but you walk away from the film with your heart full of understanding of every last person in it; there's no "bad guy." I love that kind of filmmaking.

Tonight is How to Fold a Flag, which I have nothing to do with, and Passenger Side, which I literally got tickets to because it's the name of a Wilco song. Tomorrow are The Vintner's Luck, and Up in the Air. I've already seen the latter and it also lives up to the hype, and it's full of compassion for every character and its audience.

So, briefly, I want to share something that's happened over the past few days. Every few days, I check Google Analytics to see who's looking at the site. It's a great, free application, that gives me a sense of whether the audience for Adventures in Compassion is growing, but also where the traffic is coming from. Some days, there are just a few new readers, others, there are dozens. But then one day, there were zero! Initially, I shrugged it off––maybe that day, people just weren't interested in compassion. But then the next day, zero again! I thought, wow, am I really just shouting out into the void? Is anyone listening?

You might guess where this is going. There were no hits the next day, or the next, and it occurred to me to ask my great friend and supporter Jackson Nash, of Superforest fame, what he thought. Jackson was kind enough to point out that I'd probably done something to screw up my Google Analytics settings, and even though it looked like it was working, it probably wasn't. It took Jackson pointing this out for me to realize that Google Analytics wasn't even counting my own hits, when I view the site to check formatting, and during the period of zero hits, there were comments. Obviously, you can't make a comment unless you look at the page. So there I was, feeling sorry for myself, that I was putting my heart into doing this work and, poor me, no one was paying attention. When, of course, it wasn't so. I'd made it mean that the work wasn't important, or good, or necessary. When none of those things are true. I had made up a fiction, which I was living into. "Something's wrong," I was saying to myself.

And Jackson, angel that he is, pointed out that the universe was telling me something. "What will you do," he said, "if the Universe makes it seem like no one is paying attention? Will you give up?"

And then Jackson reminded me:
"To us bloggers, our analytics can become like Dumbo's magic feather.
They are helpful, but we don't need them to fly."
Thanks, Jackson, for reminding me to get truly present to why I'm doing this, and the impact it can create. And while I'm living in the world of "something's wrong," I have very little power to create anything extraordinary, and make a difference.

Anyway I think I fixed the Analytics settings, but it doesn't really matter, does it?

I am committed to making a difference, and here's how I'm going to do it right now. Watch this video, and try not to smile. Just try.

Who doesn't love counting to four? Let's count some more! Signing out from Toronto, koo roo koo koo koo roo koo koo. Take off, you hosers.

Jon *