Sunday, June 7, 2009

Eckhart Tolle, Jim Carrey, and Melissa Etheridge at the Global Alliance for Transformational Entertainment Event - June 4 2009

On Thursday night I went to the Global Alliance for Transformational Entertainment [GATE] event at Fox. I was really excited to be there, mainly because Eckhart Tolle was scheduled to speak. I'm a big fan of his books A New Earth, and particularly, The Power of Now. I actually listened to the entire Oprah ten hour podcast about A New Earth, though I suppose in the spirit of the book I might have benefitted from just listening instead of running around Prospect Park while listening. And Eckhart did not disappoint. I'll get to that in a moment.

The theme of the evening was “Transforming the World by Transforming Media and Entertainment,” and though it was a bit long, it was really inspiring and I took away a few things that I thought were in alignment with this site.

The intention of the evening was to show how media and entertainment can cause transformation in the world, causing “humanity's awakening... to the truth of who and what we are, and what we are here for.”

Sounds pretty good to me.

From The Hollywood Reporter:
"Clearly, these are times of unprecedented transformation, both individually and globally,” says [GATE] founder John Raatz. “Everywhere you look, people are questioning values, identity, and meaning. We’re intending for GATE to support entertainment and media professionals who realize media’s power to effect positive change, and want to contribute to this transformation through their work.”
Rather than reviewing the entire evening, I'd like to address a few key points that are particularly relevant to this site:

First off, and most importantly:

Eckhart Tolle is a big Seinfeld fan.

I mean, who'd-a-thunk-it?

I had him pegged for That's So Raven.

Okay, seriously.

Melissa Etheridge talked and performed, and I was totally blown away. Some of you who are fans of Ms. Etheridge might not be surprised by this, but being momentarily on automatic pilot, the judging, assessing machine that I am completely dismissed her when I saw her on the program. Ya see, I'm into really cool music, not that pop crap that's on the radio. And so, because Melissa Etheridge was unfortunate enough to sell millions of records and have huge airplay, I decided she wasn't worth paying attention to. Yay me!

If you're not getting the tone here, it's ironic. Sometimes hard to pull that off in print. Anyway check Dawn Andrews' recent post for clarification; the same thing happened to me that happened to the slam poet in her story. Melissa Etheridge opened her damn mouth and I was completely blown away by how funny she was, how honest and personal she was, and how what she had to say about her life and career was something I completely understood. I'm not going to do her speech the injustice of trying to paraphrase it here, but suffice it to say she talked about the immense success she had and how empty it ultimately felt, and her subsequent fight with cancer, and her spiritual awakening. And then how Al Gore called her and wanted her to write a song for his little movie. And then she sang I Need to Wake Up which apparently won her an Oscar. Wow, she can sing. Who knew?

So that's lesson one I took away from this evening. When I'm judging and assessing, I'm not actually paying attention, but I was fortunate enough that she was so amazing, she shook me out of my fog and I actually started listening.

Lucky for me.

Jim Carrey was awesome too. I have not been a fan in the past, and in fact I have often sneered as I said his name. Like this:

Oh, I just can't wait until they remake Being There. Except instead of someone who'd play it totally real like Peter Sellars, they'd hire, like, Jim Carrey, and he'd do a funny voice the whole time.

That little piece of compassionless judgement was eradicated after watching this video.

That dude is freakin' funny! I might just rent The Yes Man at some point. Or if it's on a plane. Seems like a plane movie.

On to Eckhart.

John Raatz has talked about the media's power to effect positive change. Eckhart Tolle talked on Thursday night about different ways that's already happening. And in my view, all of the ways he discussed ultimately point to compassion.

Eckhart talked at length about impermanence, which is a fundamental concept in Buddhist studies. In fact, it's called the First Dharma Seal. But it's common sense: everything is changing, all the time. Nothing is exactly the same as it was a moment ago, or a year ago. From Thich Nhat Hanh's The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching:
“The Buddha taught that everything is impermanent––flowers, tables, mountains, political regimes, bodies, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. We can not find anything that is permanent.”
Eckhart pointed out that media that portrays impermanence effects transformation. He pointed out the film Titanic, and how it showed the young Rose and the elderly Rose, as well as the gleaming new ship rising from the image of the wrecked ship underwater. These remind us of the impermanence of life, which, in turn, reminds us to embrace the present moment.

From Thich Nhat Hanh:
“Understanding impermanence can give us confidence, peace, and joy. Impermanence does not necessarily lead to suffering. Without impermanence, life could not be. Without impermanence, your daughter could not grow up into a beautiful young lady. Without impermanence, oppressive political regimes would never change. We think impermanence makes us suffer. The Buddha gave the example of a dog that was hit by a stone and got angry at the stone. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.

We need to learn to appreciate the value of impermanence. If we are in good health and are aware of impermanence, we will take good care of ourselves. When we know that the person we love is impermanent, we will cherish our beloved all the more. Impermanence teaches us to respect and value every moment and all the precious things around us and inside of us.”
Tolle, and Thich Nhat Hanh, understand the importance of recognizing the pervasiveness of impermanence in our lives, and Tolle points out that being reminded of this by film creates an opportunity for transformation.

So the $64,000 question is, how does this relate to compassion? We don't really know whether Jim Cameron told the story in the way he did because he wanted to teach his audience a lesson in compassion. But the work itself is fundamentally compassionate, because it tells a story that connected to millions of people. Think about it. People watched Titanic, and felt connected to it, not simply because of the enormous spectacle, but because of the human story. We've seen plenty of examples of hugely expensive films that came and went, and plenty of them made a fair amount of money. But Titanic was a phenomenon, and a great deal of credit for that has to go to the inherently human story at its core. Part of that human story was this implicit reminder that we all age, we all decay, and like the lovers at the center of this story, we can only seize this very moment not knowing what's around the next corner.

Tolle also talked about the amazing film Groundhog Day, and how Bill Murray's character is stuck in an endless loop, repeating the same day over and over until he finally starts to grow out of his self-centeredness. Tolle talked about how Murray's character finally learns to accept the present moment, and accept and befriend those around him, finally finding real love rather than empty seduction.

At its core, a lesson in compassion. A story about a man who's stuck in an empty life, angry, unhappy, and doomed to repeat every day the same way until he grows. An exaggeration, perhaps, but not an extreme one––how many of us live the same day over and over, angry, unhappy, stuck in our story and unwilling to change except in ways that benefit us, directly, in the short-term. And the message here is that when Murray's character finally starts to realize how stuck he really is, he starts to take a different path.

What's clear to me is that each film had a massive impact on its audience. By genuinely and deeply exploring the nature of human beings and their relationships, the filmmakers of each film were able to connect to an audience in a profound way and effect transformation––whether by highlighting the impermanence of life, and the value of cherishing every moment, or by showing how we're doomed to repeat the same thing over and over until we finally start to genuinely connect to others.

So if you want to really connect to an audience, consider compassion. If you want to make an impact, consider compassion. If you want to be happy, consider compassion.

Thanks so much to John Raatz, Eckhart Tolle, Jim Carrey, Melissa Etheridge, and the evening's other speakers, who made it crystal clear how media and entertainment can have a transformational effect on the world. And from my (admittedly biased) point-of-view, for that transformation to take place, a focus on compassion is fundamental. *

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