Just to quickly revisit the central theme of Everything Everywhere All at Once, ie, how kindness makes the world go round … the man sitting on the other side of the neuroscientist told us he was volunteering to help kids in a primary school who had epilepsy and other serious problems. The neuroscientist thanked him for his service, wishing there were more people like him; to which he replied: “Nah you don’t need to thank me because it’s very rewarding. Kids are the future; we have to help them.” And they went on to agree that helping others in this way also solved our own problems by getting them into perspective.
Carrying on from this article, You do you.
At the still point of the turning world
While our mind is scattered, as well as feeling moreorless unpeaceful we will also never be able to get rid of the mental grasping that is the main culprit for all our pain and suffering. And one thing we grasp at is all these kaleidoscopic appearances taking place outside of our mind, which is exhausting, to say the least. So it’s a good idea to give our mind time to settle and then, with that natural deeper wisdom, examine what’s really going on more carefully. Such as …
Everything is like a dream
Sometimes I start my meditations by dissolving my Spiritual Guide, Buddha, into my heart, which helps me drop from my head to my heart and feel good. Then I identify with my Buddha nature or even as an enlightened being, and remember the previous night’s dream as a way in to experiencing the dreamlike nature of things. Endless waves of appearances are arising from the ocean of our root mind, moment by moment, but all of these are like a dream, the nature of consciousness.
It’s pretty overwhelming when we’re randomly jumping around all over the place – from lifetime to lifetime and between all the differing realities even of this lifetime – while everything feels external. Things become chaotic pretty quickly. What control do we have over a supposedly external world, and especially one that is always, always changing? Even on those occasions when we do get our ducks lined up in a row — things are working out with our friendships, our work, our money, our health — how long can we make that last? Buddha’s advice is to take control of our lives by gradually mastering our thoughts and also realizing that all phenomena are like a dream.
Who am I really?
One thing this movie I’ve been talking about in the last couple of articles tries to show is the illusion of an independent self. We are interdependent, which (in 3 crucial little letters) is the opposite of independent. We’ve already seen how we are interconnected. Through our karma, our lifetimes affect each other; and our actions also affect those around us and bounce back on us like a hall of mirrors.
We need to stop believing that only our current narrative is true, seeing instead how vast is the universe of possibilities and interconnection. Initially in Everything Everywhere All at Once the narrative tropes hold up: this is the “real” Evelyn, the “real” Waymond (her husband), the “real” Joy (their daughter). As the universes start to pile up, however, and flicker in and out of connection, the standard narrative breaks down. Which version of Evelyn’s character is “real”? Which character should we, or she, really care about?
Insofar as Evelyn looked sort of similar in each parallel universe (except perhaps when she was a rock), but was also a very different person, this helpfully shows that we are not inherently anything – who is the real Me or I?! “Verse-jumping” into an alternate life, for example, in which Evelyn and her IRS nemesis, Deirdre Beaubeirdra are in love — and have wieners for fingers — the uptight and anxious Evelyn is forced to rethink her worldview. According to one of the directors:
“And the multiverse is actually a really beautiful, important metaphor for right now because we need to be looking at all the possibilities, not just the one that we think we’re in,” he said. “And we definitely shouldn’t be looking backwards.” ~ Daniel Kwan
There is no fixed self. Despite multiple Evelyn having multiple personalities – from Kung Fu master to tired homemaker — there is no way to point to one concrete self. If we realize that the solid, limited, overwhelmed self we normally see does not exist and cannot be found, we are free to identify with the qualities that free us from suffering and enable us effortlessly to help others, starting by identifying with our limitless Buddha nature.
Grasping at a limited, real self also means we inevitably grasp at limited and real others, including problematical people who exist from their own sides and are making our lives miserable. If we use wisdom to see through this grasping, we can start to take responsibility for how we think and feel. It’s a relief to stop casting around each day for others to blame for our problems and negative states of mind – this irritation and aversion is in any case just making these problems feel more real and unmanageable.
The creative power of mind
There are a lot of wild ideas in the movie – and this is just coming from the minds of a few people!
“Due to emptiness, anything can appear” ~ Venerable Geshe-la
The mind can project or create anything at all – that’s its actual function. And it does. Which is why we need to control our mind rather than our mind controlling us, as Buddha famously pointed out.
As in a dream, anything can appear in our world, and Buddhas are also constantly trying to break through to us. Yesterday when I was hiking down from the Flatirons near Boulder, 7 young women dressed all in green passed me by and smiled, and one of them called out to her friends below me: “Coach says we 7 can keep going up to the top and you remaining 13 can join us or go back down.” The remaining 13 and their coach decided to keep going up; and all 21 Taras said hello to me as they passed.
People’s minds are infinitely more interesting than their bodies. Moreover, a person is not their body or their mind — we simply use these as our possessions. When we see this, we are free to put down the thoughts that are not helpful, like putting down the carrot peeler we just used to peel the carrots. Eventually we can identify entirely with a pure and suffering-free body and mind, as in the practice of Tantra.
What really matters?
Insofar as things are not real, as in inherently existent, nothing really matters! As Venerable Geshe Kelsang explains in How to Understand the Mind, for our gross and subtle levels of mind, everything that appears is mistaken appearance, hallucinatory — as I talk about a bit in this article: Happiness is the truth.
We don’t really need to sweat the small stuff because everything is mere appearance to mind — there is nothing going on behind these facades. However, some things do still matter – and that includes kindness. It is beneficial believing, as I attempt to explain here. But is that enough? We need to develop a universal love and bodhichitta based on the imperative that we are all interconnected. However, we also need to understand the true nature of reality, realizing where all these appearances come from, or else we will continue to be overwhelmed and reactive instead of courageous and proactively helping all the time.
What ultimately matters is that all this is empty — it is mere name and mere appearance and so there is nothing there to grasp hold of. We can be utterly free. We can free ourselves through realizing emptiness – everything’s mere name – and once we’re free, we can free everybody else. Even as we’re on the way to becoming free, we can start to help the people around us overcome their delusions.
Still point …
Finally, if you are wondering about the title of this article, it comes from T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets – a favorite poem in my youth:
At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement.
And do not call it fixity, Where past and future are gathered.
Neither movement from nor towards, Neither ascent nor decline.
Except for the point, the still point, There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.
I can only say, there we have been: but I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.
Here endeth Part 3 of my meandering movie review – the 4th and final part is in the works and on its way, in which I talk about how karma and emptiness are not contradictory, why happiness is important, dependent relationship, and enlightenment. (Yes, a bit ambitious. But why not.) And of course you don’t need to watch the movie to read these articles.
Please offer your comments below so we can have a conversation!