Zen Mind, Film Critic’s Mind

People say being a movie critic is difficult, but there is a misunderstanding as to why. It is not difficult because it is hard to sit in a dark movie theater and watch a movie, or to go home and write your opinions about that movie. It is difficult because it is hard to keep our mind pure and our criticism pure in its fundamental sense. Film criticism developed in many ways after the advent of the internet, but at the same time, it became more and more impure. But I do not want to talk about Rotten Tomatoes or the blurbing of random Twitter handles. I am interested in helping you keep your criticism from becoming impure.

Okay, I could keep going, rephrasing the first chapter of Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, the Buddhist masterpiece by Shunryu Suzuki, to fit into a discussion of film criticism, but I don’t think anybody would get it. I will however keep lifting concepts and ideas from this seminal work, which is mostly about zazen – Zen meditation – but that is also about how to live and create with a beautiful clarity and fluidity by getting back to a beginner’s mind.

Which brings me to the films of John Carpenter.

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“Pain Don’t Hurt.”

When Patrick Swayze’s Dalton shows up at the hospital with a gaping knife wound in his side (in a spot similar to where Christ was speared by the Roman soldier. HMMMM…), Kelly Lynch’s Doctor Clay prepares to stitch him up. She asks if he would like a local anesthetic and he turns it down.

“You like pain?” she asks him.

“Pain don’t hurt,” he replies.

At first blush this sounds like lunkheaded macho bullshit, like a lot of what you find in the movie Road House in general, but it’s actually profound. And it’s deeply wise. It’s just some of the wisdom that Dalton displays (“Nobody ever wins a fight,” said in the same scene, is pretty great as well, if undercut by the whole entire motion picture).

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The Danger Of Makeover TV, or, “These Pants Don’t Fit Anymore”

I watched an episode of Tidying Up With Marie Kondo last night and it was… fine. I like these kinds of shows, and I get emotionally entwined with the people who are having themselves/their homes made over. I wept through both seasons of the new Queer Eye (which, by the way, really impacted my understanding of post-Industrial Revolution broken masculinity, and is a subject I’ve been taking notes on for the past year). I like watching all home makeover shows. I like the little dramas, and I like feeling inspired to take action in my own life.

But watching this show I suddenly realized something I had missed before, and it was the subtle way that shows like this reinforce really bad messaging about change, and how it works. It’s the exact kind of messaging that leads to people getting discouraged and dropping their New Year’s Resolutions, by the way.

At the end of the episode, after a few days of decluttering and tidying, this gay couple in WeHo sat down to discuss how this experience changed them. They both said they were dramatically altered, that their approach to life and emotions had been forever rejiggered, and that they cherished their now-tidy home. And I was suddenly struck with the thought “This is bullshit.”

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Heal Yourself To Help Others

One of the things I’ve always liked about Buddhism is that it’s based in a ‘check it out for yourself’ attitude. Because the Buddha didn’t talk about a lot of cosmic stuff there’s very little to take on faith; you’re invited to check out the principals and practices and see if they work for you.

John Horgan is a science writer who has been super critical of Buddhism and the modern mindfulness movement, but always at a remove. He doesn’t meditate. I get where he’s coming from – this shit seems ridiculous from an outside vantage point. But friends convinced him to do a 10 day retreat and, even though he half-assed it, he came to the conclusion that there’s something to this meditation business after all. 

But he makes a really common mistake – he thinks that meditation is selfish. He writes:

[S]eeking enlightenment is pretty self-indulgent. The world isn’t all fireflies and goldfinches. It has problems that need fixing, as I was reminded whenever I looked across the Hudson at the West Point Military Academy.

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Caught In A Mind Mosh

Lately Anthrax’s Among the Living has been in heavy rotation on my headphones when I walk. The album is just fun, and I love the gleeful way the band mixes heavy nerd stuff (especially for the 80s) with thrash.

There’s one song I keep coming back to on that album. Caught In A Mosh is a song that speaks loudly to me now, even though it’s written from the point of view of a sullen teen. Maybe I’m always a sullen teen at heart. Anyway, the film’s main metaphor – being caught in a mosh – really explains what it feels like when my mind is working overtime and I am trapped inside destructive, negative stories about me and my life.
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Why Buddhism?

Okay, so… why Buddhism?

If you’ve been following me/friends with me for a while you’ll know that I’ve been outspokenly atheist in the past. Making a commitment to Buddhism may seem, on the surface, to indicate a huge change in my cosmological thinking. That actually isn’t the case, and I’d like to quickly explain why I chose to take refuge in Buddhism (that’s what they call it when you become a Buddhist) and maybe why it isn’t that big of a deal, when it comes to ‘religious conversions.’

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