Movie Time: On Yoga – The Architecture of Peace

We weren’t planning to watch a movie about yoga, but I’m glad we did.  The movie is about Michael O’Neil’s journey as a photographer after injuring his shoulder. He utilized yoga to move through his pain and re-establish function – but the movie is so much more than this. Michael shares his movement from photographing celebrities, world leaders, and royalty to photographing the worlds esteemed yogis.  We learn something from each of the yogis as well as a common thread in their dialogue about the essence of life and letting go at life’s end.

Three themes I found personally meaningful were:

  1. Desire is the root of all suffering. The more wants we have, the more disappointments we face. Letting go of desire leads to reduced suffering. This applies spiritually as well as materialistically.  Several things fell into place for me in contemplating this Truth.  If I am satisfied with the fact that a) I woke up, b) I had food to eat, c) I have work I love (even if I don’t love the politics), d) I have a warm home to come home to with a husband and three cats, e) great friends, and f) my father is still living and we will soon be celebrating his 81st birthday.  Right now, this is enough.  At it’s most basic, breathing is enough.
  2. Happiness is fleeting, but is internally infinite.  There have been many books published in the past 10 years on the concept of happiness.  I have many of them and find each author’s exploration interesting.  However, in my work as a psychologist I’ve come to understand that the perpetual seeking of “happiness” and avoidance of painful emotion is itself problematic.  We exist in times where fleeting moments of sadness, stress, and grief must be whisked away.  We have an epidemic of anti-depressant, anxiolytic, and hypnotic prescription – not to mention an opioid abuse epidemic.  I believe this relates to what is fed to us via tv, magazines, and social media.  We live in a world where it is not okay to have anything less than positive emotion and positive experiences.  Don’t get me wrong – I certainly believe there is a place for medications in mental health, but many are prescribed to wipe away painful emotions without any real diagnosis, regular monitoring of benefit, re-assessment, no questioning of harms by patients, and certainly no future plan for existing without medications (realizing this may not be possible in a small percentage of cases).  It is a pharmaceutical dream and the profits of Big Pharma prove this. They’ve sold us on the notion that painful emotions are not tolerable and our happiness literature buttresses the equal and opposite – that we should strive to always be happy. For these reasons, I think I’ve become more and more enamored with acceptance and commitment therapy which utilizes strategies to help people live their values despite pain or suffering – and most of the time, when people engage with their values – they are able to shift their consciousness from suffering. It might also be the reason I am less enamored with cognitive-behavioral strategies more recently which intend to alleviate or get rid of symptoms, thoughts, and annoying behaviors.  Cognitive-behavioral therapy does have an upside – overcoming avoidance – which I think is essential for reducing suffering. But just like medications, CBT, has its limitations.  Most emotions are time-limited.  When we learn what barriers we create to joy, peace, and meaning, we are on the path to recovery.
  3. Fear of death is the ultimate fear on which all other fears are based.  This may be an essential Truth.  For instance, fear of snakes, spiders, and major illness ultimately resides in the lurking fear that these specters will snatch our life from us.    Fear of not finding a mate, having a child, finishing a project can all be tied to the finality of life.  What I’ve seen to be equally true in practice is that the fear of living can also create suffering.  So many of us have things we’d like to explore, do…be, that we postpone for another day. We procrastinate – waiting until motivation strikes, until it’s Monday, or when the New Year begins.  Buddhism teaches that every moment is a new beginning.  Fear of death can serve as an important entry point if it motivates you toward greater spiritual self-discovery, a value, or encourages you to overcome your fear of living the life you envision.

I’d be curious to hear your own reactions to this movie.  What did you find most interesting, useful or motivating?


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