The Movie That Shaped My Life
“It is important to expect nothing, to take every experience, including the negative ones, as merely steps on the path, and to proceed.” Ram Dass
While attending Rollins College, I had no idea a movie I watched in my Interpersonal Communication class would become a parallel to what I learn, practice, and share through my teachings. I remember being excited about watching movies and writing essays about them. “An easy A,” I thought. Little did I know this class was going to shape my entire life.
We watched some remarkable films but the movie that most caught my attention was Being There, a 1979 American satire directed by Hal Ashby. I remember watching it in class and being deeply curious about its plot.
The main character played by Peter Sellers, was the simple-minded Chance, a gardener who has resided in the Washington, D.C., townhouse of his wealthy employer for his entire life and been educated only by television, is forced to vacate his home when his boss dies. While wandering the streets, he encounters business mogul Ben Rand (Melvyn Douglas), who assumes Chance to be a fellow upper-class gentleman. Soon Chance is ushered into high society, and his unaffected gardening wisdom makes him the talk of the town.
If you haven’t already watched Being There, I highly recommend it. The pace is slow but if you are going for it, then I suggest turning off the phone and immersing yourself in this magical ride. It's incredible what the main character, Chance (Peter Sellers), accomplishes on his journey.
He is just living moment by moment, taking everything as is. He’s literal and doesn’t intellectualize anything. He doesn’t get lost in the stories of the past or future. As the title says, he is just there. His groundness makes people feel comfortable and safe around him. It seems as if he has no clue what’s happening next, but he’s not anxious about it either.
In Chance’s case, being fully there is his state of mind, most likely due to an undisclosed mental handicap. At the end of the movie, the most remarkable thing happens, Chance walks on water. No, there isn’t anything below the water. No platform or anything to defy gravity. He is literally walking on water just like Jesus did — and that was my AHA moment.
Chance’s state of mind is almost no state at all. His mind operates in a very different way from regular people, and as a state of mind, his life therefore follows a different set of rules and procedures. To him, walking on water is a possibility because his mind is not influenced by its impossibility. His mental handicap keeps him safe from the existential worries that the smart people in the movie suffer from.
I keep on coming back to this movie year after year. Everytime I want to connect with the essence of simple minded presence, I reach out to Chance (so to speak). He always reminds me to live with no impossibilities, worries, or anxieties and to just be present and find joy in every bit of what’s happening, no matter what’s happening. I release expectations of getting somewhere out there, and instead connect with the magic of what’s happening through me at every moment. In Alexander Technique terms, I’m engaging with the ‘Means Whereby’.
FM Alexander referred to the ‘Means Whereby’ as the process of how we use ourselves when responding or performing actions to gain a desired goal. FM Alexander believed the means whereby an act is performed is more important than the gaining of the actual goal or end itself. He stated, “The act performed is of less consequence than the manner of its performance.” Alexander very much believed that if we focused on the means whereby, the ends would take care of themselves.
Let me give you an example what the ‘Means Whereby’ means to me: I’m here typing the words for this blog but I’m not focused on finishing it. Instead, I’m keeping myself open to the flow of words moving through me. My mind is focused on staying balanced in my body, and on how the tip of my thumbs are touching the screen.
If I am typing with too much force, I notice it and consciously soften up my thumbs. I allow the little joints in my fingers to be relaxed while holding my phone. I sense my breath moving through my body, and the light coming from the window near me and from the screen in front of me. I notice the space between myself and my phone as I’m typing. I allow my forehead and eyebrows to be easy, and my gaze soft. I notice the space between my head and the ceiling above. I’m aware of myself —mind, body, and soul— and my surroundings as I allow the content of what I wish to share to unfold.
In the Alexander Technique, instead of focusing solely on our goal and forcing ourselves towards it at any cost (end-gaining), we learn to stop (or inhibit) our habitual misuse and end-gaining, and to consciously direct ourselves and our activity in a new, improved way while performing our selected task.
When I started learning the Alexander Technique (years after watching Being There for the first time), I realized how much bliss and beauty exists in being fully present each step of life. I became fascinated with the ‘Means Whereby’. Slowly, I started letting go of overthinking or becoming anxious about an imaginary future. I realized that it had control over me, and I was ready to start mastering the present moment.
In psychology, there is a term that is intertwined with, though the opposite of ‘Means Whereby’ known as ‘Destination Addiction.’ Destination addiction is used to describe the belief that happiness is in the destination, or can be found somewhere else rather than in the present.
In fact, our destination addiction often begins earlier in life than we realize.“As children, we are conditioned to think about our future,” says LaToya Gaines, Psy.D., “How often are we asked, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ or told, ‘Get good grades so you can get into a good college or find a good job’?”
As a result, Gaines says, “Our minds begin to shift toward this future orientation in which everything we do is in the service of a ‘future goal.’ Imagine if as children, we were encouraged to just enjoy learning, or we were taught to reflect on what made us happy during the day.”
Because of our goal oriented culture, we learn to place our contentment not only on external factors but also in the future, leaving no room for true satisfaction. Once we reach that destination, we’re too preoccupied looking toward the next one to really appreciate it. It’s an endless cycle of striving for happiness, but never letting yourself attain it.
As I’m writing these words, I remember Ram Dass' book, Be Here Now. A huge bestseller on Ram Dass' spiritual journey. If you are unfamiliar with Ram Dass, he was an American spiritual teacher, psychologist, and author. The story goes somewhat like this: Ram Dass is not fully content with the intellectual community he’s a part of, so he abandons everything to live a spiritual life, full of amazing experiences. He inspired millions to connect with the present moment—to be here now.
Peter Seller’s character, Chance, is very different from Ram Dass. Chance was naturally simple minded. Ram Dass, on the other hand, was an intellectual who had an academic career at Harvard. While Chance lived in the here and now, Ram Dass had to unlearn much of what he had learned, and go back to the basics. He connected with spiritual practices so as to bring himself back to the vivid present moment. “This Is It! This Is All There Is Right Now,” is one of Ram Dass’ popular quotes.
Modern humans are more like Ram Dass and less like Chance. We’ve developed so much of our intellects, oftentimes even forgetting our bodies, which is another issue altogether. Once you allow the intellect to dominate your life, it splits everything it encounters; it does not allow you to be with anything else fully. The human brain is a wonderful instrument for survival. At the same time, it can be a barrier to experience oneness.
Like Ram Dass, I had to find ways to heal from my own constructed duality. For me, Yoga helped me wake up, which then led me to study the Alexander Technique, diverse wellness courses, and becoming a health coach. To say I live completely in oneness with all there is would be inadequate. Everyday, I make a conscious effort to let go of my old habits, and find contentment in the mundane we so much take for granted — such as how my body moves as I walk, or how good the water feels when it touches my skin. How I peel an apple becomes as important as how I eat it and why.
- a) apple is good for you
- b) peeling it can be an experience on its own
- c) chewing it can also be a special experience, if I’m only there to perceive it.
I see Alexander Technique as the true practice of mindfulness, not just an intellectual conversation about it. One can buy books and listen to audio on how to live a mindful life, but unless there's an embodiment of the knowledge by practicing it in each moment, it becomes just another intellectual affair.
As I’ve mentioned, Being There has been a road map to my own life as a yogi, meditator, and seeker of truth. In my teachings, whether on my postpartum course, my meditations, coaching sessions, or even in my writings, my purpose is to be more like Chance — to be there, mind-body-soul through my life and to guide others to do the same.