How To Be Alone — Succumbing to Loneliness or Embracing Solitude

Go out from the solitary place like unto a shining star blazing on its horizon. ~‘Abdu’l-Bahá

I discovered this video on a post from SoulPancake and it spoke to me so I decided to share it with you.  I have always be more comfortable being alone then most people I know but perhaps its because I’ve had more practice.  I go to restaurants alone with a book, and am willing to go to a concert or a movie I want to see, even if nobody will go with me.  That’s not to say that I necessarily want to be alone, and there are times when I’m lonely, but I am used to being alone and comfortable being alone and embrace it.  And there are there are definitely times when solitude is refreshing and can lead to growth, through study, prayer, or contemplation.  But it can be scary.

I think we are conditioned to think it’s weird to be alone, to be single.  Or rather, it’s ok to be alone in private but weird to be in public.  But when you move across the country and don’t know anyone you have to start somewhere, and perhaps it’s the fear of being alone that keeps people from taking big steps like that.  Humans are social creatures.  We are not solitary creatures and we strive for companionship.  That being said, when faced with being alone one can be sad, or one can embrace it.  There are ways to connect with humanity even if you happen to be alone, and there are ways to connect with strangers that can only happen if you are alone to begin with, and I think this film speaks to that.

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WALL-E — Honoring our environment and ourselves

Film:WALL-E Movie Poster

WALL-E, 2008

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

In a futuristic world, human beings have destroyed Earth and evacuated the planet, leaving the cleanup to an army of robots they’ve programmed to do their dirty work. Due to a mishap, the dutiful WALL-E is the only one left. But with the arrival of a female probe named EVE, the monotony of WALL-E’s existence is broken — and he experiences love for the first time. Andrew Stanton directs this Golden Globe-winning Pixar tale with a sci-fi twist.

My Thoughts:

This film transcends its medium.  It speaks to us on multiple levels, from plot, to social commentary, from personal transformation, to collective responsibility.  There are several themes which are quite profound and that people struggle with (or struggle to ignore) daily.

One theme is of hope, and specifically how it can overcome even the greatest obstacles.  We see this exhibited through WALL-E himself.  He is the last of his kind, alone attempting to accomplish an impossible task.  Yet instead of giving up hope he works diligently, gleaning what good he can from the mess that is left of earth.  When EVE comes, he is so happy, and patient with her initially cold (robotic? 🙂 ) reaction to him.

Just as the earth bears those who dig into her, it is best to bear with those who despise us.”  ~TiruVuluvar (the Jain saint)

The theme of hope is also exhibited in the greater society as they send forth the EVE droids in search of a habitable planet.  While it has been 700 years or more, they still go out searching for plant life.  Hope has been a large component of 2008, the year this film came out, and even more so I would say in 2009 as the world embraces the new US President Barack Obama and his message.  Over the last year the world has seen the largest economic collapse since the great depression, with countries like Iceland going bankrupt.  We have seen wars and conflict, from the most recent installment of Israel/Palestine, to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the horrible act of terrorism in Mumbai.  This film is part of the greater conversation of hope, a way to help both children and families engage in this conversation in a more uplifting way than the nightly news might.  If we can keep this conversation going, then maybe we can transform the words into deeds and come up with the small, daily solutions that together can build toward peace.

Release yourselves, O nightingales of God, from the thorns and brambles of wretchedness and misery, and wing your flight to the rose-garden of unfading splendor.” ~Bahá’u’lláh

WALL-E did not worry about the insurmountable task at hand, cleaning up the entire world, a mess that he did not create but that was his mission to fix.  He just went out each day and did what he could, bit by bit, and while it may have seemed like emptying the ocean one teaspoon at a time, it had an effect.  I think that is a lesson for all of us.

One must work on what is not yet there.

One must put in order what is not yet confused.

A tree trunk the size of a fathom grows from a blade as thin as a hair.

A tower nine stories high is built from a small heap of earth.

A journey of a thousand miles starts in front of your feet.” ~ The Dao De Jing, II:64

It is so easy to look at the world and see how enormous these problems are and to be overwhelmed by them.  In doing that we can willfully isolate ourselves, and seek escape.  I do think though, that if we each try to do our small part, collectively it will have an effect.  Through the actions of WALL-E, EVE, and the Captain to fight the system that was trying to keep the status-quo in place they were able to inspire others to action.  I think this is what the great religions, in their pure form, try to do.  If you take out the politics of people who try to manipulate religion to suit their own purpose, the spiritual content of religion is meant to inspire people to transform, to make themselves, and therefore the world, a better place.  It brings people hope, gives them purpose and direction.

The other major theme of WALL-E was responsibility.  WALL-E and EVE each had directives, responsibilities they had to fulfill.  When WALL-E was the last of his class of robot still functioning, alone with nobody to keep him accountable, he still worked hard and was responsible.  This is part of what made him our hero, he had a strong character.  Yes, he had his haven full of the trinkets he collected, and his musicals to keep him company, but I think that is evidence of the other virtue of moderation.  Even robots need down time and can’t survive being workaholics.  WALL-E needed solar power, much like we humans need sleep.  I think in American society we suffer from extremes of working hard, often too hard, and then relaxing too “hard” also.  People veg out on the weekends to recover from the week, sometimes practically comatose.

In the film people had all their needs met and no longer had any real responsibility.  They became fat and sedentary.  Instead of taking responsibility for the waste produced on earth, they ran away.  This did not actually make them happy though.  Clearly this is a cautionary tale for what we are struggling with today when it comes to the environment.  Our society has been designed around consumerism and materialism and this has both social and environmental costs.  Without spirituality and ethics to temper these insatiable desires we can see where the world could end up.  Responsibility is a virtue that we all need to work on.  It is something I struggle with daily, and when achieved is a sign of maturity.

“Maturity: It’s when you stop doing the stuff you have to make excuses for and when you stop making excuses for the stuff you have to do.” ~ Marilyn Vos Savant

Our planet is going through its adolescence, so to speak.  Let us hope we mature to handle the tests of global warming, global waste management, and the myriad of other tests our society is going through.  In the film, many characters learned to overcome selfishness and to think of the others, and the collective.  EVE had a directive and was single-minded in her goals.  It was how she was programmed.  But over time, through WALL-E’s influence she was able to overcome her programming and do right (though her programming was pretty good too, seeing as the Captain turned out to be the only other ally initially).  I think this is also allegorical.  We have all been “programmed” so to speak.  Society is full of conflicting messages, and through our independent investigation of reality, hopefully in time we can each learn to make good decisions and to filter out the good from the bad in media.  Some of the programming is good, and some is not.  Let us hope that like EVE in time we can figure out which is which and work to change.

There is so much more I could write about, but I think I would like to end with an excerpt from the Song of Solomon.  This film is all about love, and hope, and the spring (growth) following the winter (barrenness) and made me think of this beautiful passage:

My lover spoke and said to me,

‘Arise my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.

See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.

Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.

The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.

Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.’

~ Excerpt from The Song of Songs (The Song of Solomon)

Your thoughts?

The Motorcycle Diaries — Erasing Borders, a Journey of Discovery

Film:

The Motorcycle Diaries, 2004The Motorcycle Diaries Poster

Starring Gael García Bernal and Rodrigo De la Serna

Synopsis (From Netflix):

This film tells the incredible true story of a 23-year-old medical student from Argentina, Che Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal), who motorcycled across South America with his friend Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna) in 1951-52. The trek became a personal odyssey that ultimately crystallized the young man’s budding revolutionary beliefs. Walter Salles’s film is based on Che’s own diaries of the trip.

My Thoughts:

This is a film that is bursting with content and themes, and I could probably write a whole book on it (considering it was based on the diaries of both Ernesto and Alberto) however there are a few themes that run throughout this movie which I’d like to focus on- integrity, injustice, and erasing borders.

From the beginning of the film we could see that Ernesto “Che” Guevera had integrity.  This was exhibited by how hard it was for him to lie.  When he and Alberto lost their tent and they needed a place to stay they came across and old man who asked if they really were doctors, and if so could they examine him.  Ernesto did and it became clear that the man had a tumor.  Alberto wanted to play it off as something they could treat in exchange for room and board, but Ernesto knew this was a man’s life and health and had to tell the truth.

Ernesto was also given US$15 from his girlfriend in order to purchase a bathing suit.  Alberto would constantly harass him for the money which he held on to because of the promise he had made to her.  He knew that the money was not his, but merely in his possession.

“They who dwell within the tabernacle of God, and are established upon the seats of everlasting glory, will refuse, though they be dying of hunger, to stretch their hands and seize unlawfully the property of their neighbor, however vile and worthless he may be.”  ~Bahá’u’lláh

However as the film progressed, the two men were tested over and over as their motorcycle failed, as people turned on them for being Argentinian instead of from Chile, when Ernesto’s girlfriend married someone else, and as they witnessed injustice when meeting the impoverished.  A poignant moment transpired when the two men met an impoverished couple whose land had been taken away and were looking for work:

The Wife: Are you looking for work too?

Ernesto: No

The Wife: Then why are you traveling?

Ernesto: We are traveling to travel

The Wife: Well bless your travels

It was a strong moment because despite how hard this journey had been, with the crashes, and the snow, and the failing cycle, it was still voluntary.  Ernesto realized these were hard working people that were not traveling by choice, whereas he was a a med student taking off from med school to travel around.  We find out later that he ended up giving this couple the precious money, most likely because he realized he would never see his former girlfriend again.

When the men reach Peru they begin to see how unjustly the indigenous have been treated.  They stand at Machu Picchu and cannot believe that these people who could create such beauty and had such a powerful grasp of science and mathematics were overtaken by the Spanish by guns.  Alberto is so moved that he decides he should marry an indigenous and start an Indigenous Party to fight for their rights via a peaceful revolution.  Ernesto replies that a revolution without guns would never work, a sad moment for both the film and for the world as we can see how much revolutions with guns were also ineffective and painful throughout Latin American history (and history in general).

Their journey takes them to a leper colony and this is where the themes come together and Ernesto experiences the most growth.  This colony is literally divided by a river.  All the sick live on one side of the river, cast out by their families, and all the healthy people (the doctors, the nurses, the nuns, and other workers) on the other.  The rule is to wear gloves even though lepers in treatment are not contagious.  Ernesto and Alberto refuse to wear them and treat the lepers with dignity, as if they are people and not contagions.  It is this dignity that both men have learned to see in every human being on their journey.  It transcends national, ethnic, class, or social boundaries.  It is also why Ernesto chooses to swim across the river the night of his birthday, when the boats have stopped running.  He wants to celebrate with the lepers as well as the healthy.

“Take pride not in love for yourselves but in love for your fellow-creatures. Glory not in love for your country, but in love for all mankind. Let your eye be chaste, your hand faithful, your tongue truthful and your heart enlightened.” ~Bahá’u’lláh

And Ernesto was onto something.  These borders we have put up (of country, of class, of whatever) are fake.  How do we erase the artificial borders?  How do we unite humanity?  Not through guns and violence which “Che” unfortunately tries to do later on, but through the actions he took during this film.  Through treating people with dignity, by respecting that we are all human and therefore of the same stock and should be listened to and honored.  By practicing the virtues of truthfulness and honesty in order to build trust.  By traveling and actually meeting other people and learning all the gifts they can share.  People in the film dismissed him as an idealist, and that is something Baha’is are also often labeled as, but these actions can have positive results and did in the lives of Alberto and Ernesto.

Your thoughts?