I watched Tom Shadyac’s documentary, ‘I Am’ a second time last night. I’m getting lucky with films lately, because this is another great one that I wholeheartedly recommend.
Shadyac directed a lot of silly, insanely successful movies like ‘Bruce Almighty’ and the ‘Ace Ventura’ franchise. He was living on the rooftop of the world by our economic and social standards. He flew by private jet, lived in the hills of Beverly, had a glamorous, gorgeous wife. He banked money and bought whatever he wanted. His films won award after award.
But one day, he was involved in a bicycling crash and suffered a devastating concussion. His body was broken. His brain didn’t work reliably for a while. His pain got worse. He went from doctor to surgeon to psychiatrist. He became severely depressed.
This got Shadyac to thinking. The private jet, house in Beverly Hills, trophy wife – none provided the comfort he needed. He thought about death. He isolated himself. His wife left him. The trappings he surrounded himself with left him empty and lonely. They didn’t do what they were supposed to do – keep him safe.
Today, Shadyac is in good health again, still wealthy, but living by choice in a mobile home and on a modest income. His rides his bike to work, works to relive planetary, human, and animal suffering, remains single, reads a lot, and makes no goofy movies.
But he did make ‘I Am’. ‘I Am’ is an unfolding of his understandings since the crash. He speaks with academics and thinkers like John Francis, Noam Chomsky, David Suzuki, Lynne McTaggart, Coleman Barks, Thom Hartman, and my absolute favorite person, the late Howard Zinn. He asks them: “What’s wrong with the world?” “What can we do to make it right?”
The answers roll in.
Our problems include our self-made separation from the natural world; the falsehood of materialism as a path to happiness; the monster we made called the ‘economy’; the ways in which we multiply our wants day after day; our abuse of the planet and its inhabitants; our abuse of other humans.
What can we do to make it right? That’s tough, because this world that we’ve imagined into existence is rotten at the core. Humans are reaching the limits of our growth on this planet. We’re using up every piece of it. It won’t be long before change is forced in order to create a sustainable society that won’t implode.
We live in a world that involves very deep connections: we’re all made of non-local ‘stuff’. There is no separation: only the illusion of separation created by what we see with our eyes. We need to understand that everything, everywhere, is connected at all times.
We took a wrong turn when we localized everything – my country, my land, my money, my spouse, my house, my children, my deity, my success, my failures, my joy, my pain, my experiences, my birth, my suffering, my death – and turned life into a competitive sport of keeping safe what’s ‘mine’. We dig pits to trap others, and we fall in.
Each day, I know more deeply than the day before my complete non-locality, my connection - body and soul – to the natural world, to all that exists, has existed, and will exist. Every atom of myself is a product of recycling that will be recycled again. And I’ve become more suspicious of the things I want.
I have greater reverence for the garden and feel more intensely my connection to it. It’s born, it grows, it fruits, it ages, and it dies – just like me. It drinks water, breathes air, feels sun, fights for survival, thrives on kindness, and returns to the soil – just like me.
But we’re willingly blind to this. The world we’ve summoned into existence – an anarchy of the strong treading on the weak – has a built-in expiration date. When it expires, we’ll be forced to reinvent. And love-in-action will be a huge part of the redesign.
‘I Am’ articulated what I’ve known, however subconsciously, my whole life. The same things that speak to you speak to me. There’s no division between us, animals, plants, dust, light, countries, cultures, suffering, joy, cars, bikes, trees, young, old, sick, healthy, rich, poor, fat, thin, dark, light, uptown, downtown. There’s only one mass mind. We’re all having this experience of existence together and at once.
Watch this film by yourself, undisturbed, in a quiet room. Give it your complete attention. Watch it more than once.
This is not a utopian dream. It’s a prototype for change that must happen if we’re to survive and be of good use. We all hear the same voice: we all vibrate to the same string. Rumi wrote about interconnectedness. He said, “What was said to the rose to make it open, was also said to me, here in my chest.”
Live in peace.