A Song of Two Humans

‘Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans’ – F. W. Murnau – (With actors George O’Brien and Janet Gaynor)

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Silent films had a language of their own;
they aimed for the emotions, not the mind,
and the best of them wanted to be,
not a story, but an experience
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~ Roger Ebert on ‘Sunrise’ (film critic)

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Life is relationship. No matter what. We are always engaged in a relationship with an apparent ‘other’. Should we be left alone in the world, with no other humans, life would remain an encounter with the other — any other being — be it the sun, the wind, the rugged stones on our path, or our very own self. Our life is always a song of apparent duality. And the success of any relationship, which is the coming of intimacy and love in our life, is always the road taken from apparent separation to the realisation of our shared being. Life is one. But that needs to be fully seen.

I was put on these tracks by watching the 1927 silent movie ‘Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans’ by German director F. W. Murnau. The film is a splendour. Although an overly simple love story, the title suggests that its lessons are of an universal nature. And the finesse and poetry of its making renders it as an archetypical manual for everything that a relationship can bring or teach. The story can be summarised in a few lines: a country man has become weary of his relationship with his wife, and has started a love affair with a passing woman from the city. His new lover convinces him to kill his wife while being on a boat trip on the lake, a plan which the man, overtaken by remorse, fails to execute at the very last moment. The rest of the film is the story of his winning his wife’s forgiveness and the return to a dazzling feeling of love and happiness between the two.

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Discover the lessons contained in this masterpiece of the silent era… (READ MORE…)

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The Ways of Being

Have you ever tried to live just above yourself? Now look. There is a whole set of activities going on down below, but you don’t need to get involved. It’s all conditioned reactions anyway, so don’t get entangled with any of it. You know this ceaseless activity: The ‘thoughts’ and the ‘felts’. Perceptions mesmerising you with their belly dancing. They will precipitate you down. They will be your fall. As for the body, it can take care of itself for the biggest part. Attend to it only when it’s required. To go to the dentist or to the cinema. To give the mind a vehicle. Fair enough. These are the contingencies of life. Feed the body well though. And give it something to do to keep the joints going, or for pure enjoyment. Joy is not some kind of negligible. It’s a necessity of life.

So bodily activity doesn’t need your full involvement. Stay aloof. Enjoy the show. As for the rest, you can be with being. You know this place that’s immobile, that never changes. Trust it. It will keep you safe. Stay there, just above yourself as it were. And don’t think that you are being haughty or bourgeois in this. Being is not that sort of being. It is not really above. It mingles with the lowly too. Actually it is everywhere. It cannot be taken apart. It’s the very fabric of experience. Only give it a little attention, and it will take you with itself. It will invite you at its home. Beautiful. Spacious. Silent. Well situated. You wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. You can bring there all your messiness. She doesn’t mind. Even these noisy and shameful friends of yours. But give them a warning though. They might not be served their usual cheap wine. Being has its ways. Her friendliness is contagious. Your friends might fall in love. They might shrink eventually and disappear. And make ‘being’ their home… move there for ever… even marry her… and be happy hereafter. You know the whole story that goes with it…

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Text and photo by Alain Joly

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Other ‘Ways of Being‘ from the blog…

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A Ballet of Life

The Ballet from ‘Robert le Diable’ – Edgar Degas, 1876 – Wikimedia

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See what a scourge is laid upon your hate,
That heaven finds means to kill your joys with love!

~ William Shakespeare in ‘Romeo and Juliet’ (Prince 5.3)

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Tonight I’m out to see a ballet for the first time. Not any ballet, but one of the prestigious classical ones, namely ‘Romeo and Juliet’, which the Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev created in 1935, based on the play by William Shakespeare. As I entered the shell like old royal theatre of Copenhagen, my eyes scanned the prestigious room, with the four golden balconies circling over our heads, one above the other, and the spectacular royal lodge down on the left, close to the stage. In front of us, hidden in the orchestra pit, the musicians were already according their instruments, and enveloped our expectation in a soft and pleasant cacophony.

I found my seat, and my gaze landed on a quote placed right above the curtain. It said in Danish: ‘Ej blot til lyst’, which means ‘not only for pleasure’, stressing that Theatre as an art was also created for learning. It reminded me that in India, the theatrical experience was created as a fifth Veda, for the humble people to whom the old religious texts could not be transmitted orally as was the tradition in these times. On both sides of the saying were two faces in relief. The one on the left was a sad one, and the other on the right was laughing. The ballet that was about to start could have adopted this passage from the ancient Indian treatise ‘Natya Shasta’, where the nature and purpose of the performing arts are described as follow: “Sometimes the law, sometimes gambling, sometimes wealth, sometimes peace, sometimes laughter, sometimes war, sometimes passion, sometimes violent death… Showing the ways of law, glory, long life and grace, strengthening the mind, this theatre will be a source of instruction for all.” As the room acquired silence and the lights slowly dimmed, I was ready to both enjoy and learn, maybe laugh and shed a tear, and if grace allowed, strengthen my mind. The curtain was raised.

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Some reflections on seeing Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet ‘Romeo and Juliet’… (READ MORE…)

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A Thing of Beauty

‘Saint Peter’s Basilica’ – Rome (Vatican)

Isn’t the world the most extraordinary place? I’ll explain. Take a tree. A single tree, with its roots spreading and fiddling deep into the soil. And its erected trunk that divides itself into branches, and a thousand twigs, and a whole foliage of leaves. The shadow it gives. The home that it is for birds and little animals. And the shelter. And a thing of beauty. To be admired, listened to, touched, felt. The roughness of its bark under your fingers. And the presence. There are millions — most certainly trillions — of such trees that spread over the world to form groves and vast forests. Extending their sheltering embrace to countless beings. And to you too, today. A tree! The strangest thing there is. To look at one is to be taken into a well of wonder. Feel that amazement. See where it takes you. You will be surprised.

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A reflection and meditation on the beautiful world that we are… (READ MORE…)

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A Room with a View

‘A Room with a View’ – James Ivory, 1985

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A crystalline voice broke amidst the many murmurs of tourists, between the walls of Roskilde cathedral. A young woman had come to practice her singing here, accompanied by a pianist. I recognised the song immediately. It was Puccini‘s aria ‘O mio babbino caro’, and it sent a wave of delight through me. I recognised it because it is the opening piece and musical signature of the film ‘A Room with a View’, which I have just seen recently. A most curious movie really. A light British romance made in 1985 by the American director James Ivory, based on the 1908 novel of the same name by E. M. Forster. But the film is more than it seems. I encourage you to watch it, for I have a theory about it. The film — and therefore the novel — has been secretly made as an allegory for the seeking of truth.

The film opens up with Lucy arriving at the Pensione Pertolini in Florence, with her cousin and stiff chaperone Charlotte. This is a place where many British citizens come to spend their holidays. We are at the beginning of 1900s, with upper-middle-class characters steeped in the repressive culture and morals of Edwardian England. They come here to have a taste of the more wild and unconventional atmosphere of Italy, along with the beauty of its culture and landscapes. Of course, this film is not specifically about a spiritual search. It is a love story. But not frankly so. It lingers on the edge, giving us some food for thought. Behind the conventional clothing of a delightful romantic romp, it leaves a whole collection of little pebbles in its trail that points to a reflection on life that is both profound and open to interpretations.

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A playful journey into James Ivory’s movie ‘A Room with a View’… (READ MORE…)

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The Flowers of St. Francis

Brother Nazario Gerardi – ‘The Flowers of St. Francis’

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Praise be to you, O Lord, and to all your creatures. 
Especially Brother Sun, through whom you light our days. 
He is beautiful and radiant and resplendent, 
and derives all meaning from you
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~ Canticle to the Sun

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The deepest realisations and expressions of truth in Christianity have sometimes come from words and understanding, as was the case with Meister Eckhart, but it is, by far, not the most common path. Many a man or a woman have come to embrace God’s being through the expression of profound love and surrender. Such a path was trodden by Francis of Assisi, and has been splendidly shown in Roberto Rossellini’s 1950 film ‘The Flowers of St. Francis’. And if all one knew of Francis of Assisi was through watching this supremely elegant film, one would know what needs to be known, one would meet the essential — the essence — of this man’s life, of anybody’s life when it is lived from love and humility. One would know of the pure joy of being, of trust in life’s bounty, of care and attention for every beings on earth.

Showing only a moment of Francis’ life, the film is more a parable on the qualities that were emphasised throughout his life and teachings, than the real description of his life’s journey. Through a succession of simple vignettes, we are exposed to a panoply of Francis’ various expressions of love. We are shown a man who lived with his heart, and a life that has been made into a prayer to god. We are shown that prayer is but an act of love. We are shown people coming together around a common faith in God, their daily life and turmoils, their behaviours. Francis of Assisi encouraged his disciples to access or express god’s being by being oneself an example of the presence of god. And by making this presence shine in all their daily activities, so that the brightness of god can be harvested by everybody around. These expressions are in the film like the little flowers of St. Francis. A whole bouquet of them.

Praise be to you, O Lord, 
for Sister Moon and all the stars, 
which you cause to shine clear and bright
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~ Canticle to the Sun

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A homage to Francis of Assisi through Roberto Rossellini’s movie… (READ MORE…)

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The Surreptitious Thief

‘A Great Tree’ – J.M.W. Turner, 1796 – WikiArt

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Follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought
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~ Alfred, Lord Tennyson (from ‘Ulysses’)

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What better way is there to realise the illusory nature of something than to study its existence? So a study of the ego is really the most interesting and valuable thing to engage in. For two reasons. One, because you are attempting to describe, evaluate, and understand something that simply doesn’t exist in the form you had imagined. Therefore such a study will naturally push you to discover what lies in the place left vacant. Two, because the presence of the ego has been responsible for the near totality of man’s suffering and the mischief he has done in his desperate attempt to alleviate this suffering or cover it up. Only imagine the beneficial consequences when it is found illusory and therefore impotent. 

But what truly is the ego? This word has been used in a variety of ways, and with various understanding. In psychology, it is understood to mean a sense of being a self, a ‘person’ that is real as such and is the foundation for a healthy personality, and its subsequent functioning. In the spiritual realm, and more specifically in non-duality circles, it is often named by the general term of ‘separate self’. The ego or the separate self is the ‘person’ or ‘entity’ that we feel is present inside ourself, but whose presence is not real, but only assumed. It is a belief that we have ceased to question. Simply a derivative, a bundle of thoughts, feelings, and memories that we have shaped into a form, and from which we derive the existence of a particular being, or person, in command inside the skull. 

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An exploration into the nature of the ego or separate self… (READ MORE…)

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