Love and Story: Through the Lens of Charlie Kaufman’s Adaptation

I love the analyzing what makes a good story. This probably stems from an early anxiety that I did not see myself as a “storyteller.” Of course, everyone tells stories; some are just more compelling to listen to than others.  It is enough to love “Story,” and practice it. In fact, I would argue that storytelling is built into our “DNA,” and without it we would not be live, or for that matter, our ancestors would not have survived without letting each other know what dangers to avoid or what opportunities looked promising – especially when came to food. By the way, I see Yelp as a great source of people telling their stories, and revealing who they are.

Now, I can talk about how the “emotional roller coaster” that stories takes us through reveals what we all must go through in life, but that is for another post. What I’d like to begin to explore here is Love and Story. I’d say 99% of the movies we see about love is about romantic love; someone is lonely, and someone struggles to show how much they love someone. Of course, the story arch must include a point where they have to get over themselves in someway.  There is a realization, often that all this time, they have been in love with a certain person all the long. The hero runs through the airport realizing the girl of his dreams is about to fly away forever. Just in the nick of time, he catches her, stops the world, or the plane, and proposes to her. Yea! Hurray. But let’s see another kind of love. No, not the romantic love, but a simpler distress-less kind of love (a meditative buddhist love?) – through an unlikely movie.

Exhausted from a full day of teaching, I visit my mom in her room, and the brilliant movie Adaptation is on TV This is probably one of Nicolas Cage’s better movies, by far, in my humble opinion. In some ways, it makes perfect sense to cast him in the hero’s role: a neurotic screenwriter tasked to write a movie adaptation for Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief. This is perfect only because it makes no sense at all, which perfect for that post-modern aesthetic. And yet, Cage, known for his over the top acting style, subdues that personna enough where the script still shines. Okay, enough judgement.You can read more about it in this Adaptation interview by

Since this is a Charlie Kaufman script, of Being John Malkovich, and New York Synecdoche famewe can expect that post-modern outlandishness with poignant commentaries about the nature of being will ensue. Which gets me to my point. Every script has the critical theme verbalized in dialogue. Here, I will spoil the end if you haven’t seen this 90-ish movie already. I figure you’ve had enough time. And, perhaps by telling you, you will appreciate the message all the more.

In the case of Adaptation, two arching themes occur. One takes us through the life of a fictionalized account of Susan Orlean searching for a life of a passion in her dull life as a writer, and ends up being consumed by the passion itself. She wonders “I wish I was passionate about something,” and begins pursuing the story of John Laroche who steals orchids for profit, but has deep appreciation for their beauty. He fascinates Orlean, in the Adaptation movie at least, by waxing and waning about who you are when you understand what an orchid must go through (an analogy to Story). She admires and wants to know that level of deep insight and be the passionate life that Laroche represents. She convinces him to go on a hunt for the rare Ghost Orchid. Searching a vast swamp for hours, they finally find the elusive orchid, to which she says deflated and exhausted, “It’s just a flower.”

Even though throughout the movie, she is told how deep and insightful her book is, she realizes that she may never know or live a life of passion like Laroche. Her relationship with Laroche starts to wane, and Laroche, fearing losing her respect, reveals that the local Seminoles use the orchids to get high. I seriously doubt this happens in real life. Orleans takes the high, and reaches a state of “passion” and “wonder” she has never felt befre. She becomes addicted, and goes wild, until…she is found out by her screenwriter, our hero, Charlie Kaufman, who is so distraught about trying to adapt her non-fiction book into a movie that he follows her to find out more about her and her relationship with Laroche. Of course, what he sees cannot be put into the script, and his respect for her is completely destroyed. Charlie is not only completely disillusioned with Orleans, but Orleans, herself, knows her reputation will be completely ruined. Orleans, decides she must kill her screenwriter! Charlie runs to his car where his twin brother (which I’m sure Kaufman does not have) is waiting and they tear down the street attempting to escape. Orleans and Laroche chase the Kaufman brothers to a swamp. The brothers run out the car and hide deep in the swaps overnight.

Now, the brothers are together crouched under a log. Their relationship has always been at odds with each other because of their polar opposite personalities.  Charlie is the neurotic, anxious, sweat-beading-on-the-head worrier, who wants to break out of convention in his script by telling the truth of The Orchid Thief book, but cannot figure it out, but wants to live up to its fantastic prose. Donald, who is the life of the party,  is an unseasoned scriptwriter, but sees the freedom given in the conventions of Robert McKee’s Story class, and thereby being able to mentor Charlie by extracting “the truth by telling a lie”  or “You must inject life into a story to make it work,” or something to that extent. In the end this twisty movie does extract an important nugget of wisdom. As the brothers are in despair about their imminent death, Charlie laments again how fat and stupid he is, and that no one wants him, and how much of a failure he is. He knows this all comes from thinking too much. He appreciates Donald even more by admiring that Donald lives without the constant neurosis of being wanted. Donald consoles him with this beautiful insight. “I’ve learned long ago, that ‘You are who you love. Not who loves you.'” Charlie is transformed, his anxiety washing away, perhaps enlightened by this simple truth – a truth that Charlie has been searching for all the long. “Thank you,” Charlie says – words that he thought he would ever say to brother.

I’ll skip to the very end, this way I don’t completely spoil it for you. Charlie does find a solution for his screenplay for The Orchid Thief, and has coffee with the girl he truly loves back in Los Angeles. Throughout the movie, trying to pursue her, especially as she amounts to his best friend. We see him talking to himself, psyching himself to kiss her. But, here in the final scene,  he is smiling for the first time. And, even though he knows she has abandoned him for another, he looks at her lovingly, we see in his eyes that he is not concerned with what he looks like, but who he loves. He has no anxiety for what he must be. Who he is now, a person who loves another, is enough. That is who he is,and he embraces that moment and dare we say – himself.

Brilliantly, the last shot is the rush of LA with all its neurosis; cars driving, lights beating. In the foreground, we see daisies. As the camera speeds towards the future we see the flowers growing and subsiding and growing again. As if amidst all this chaos of life, this story of evolution, life continues with perhaps the most evolved and most enlightened people, things, beings, and moments growing and dying appreciating life in the timelessness within time.





Writing Meditation Poem – This is me

Left handed Portrait 4This is me
big, fat, funny
soft, in the middle
the record of my habits,
of my daily life.

I discover wonder in it all
I want to know wonder
and its magic
the spark of unreason
the life blood of curiousity
the life in my blood

I want to know the flow of what creates
the life inside
me, of others, the universe.

Here’s what I know
The universe is slightly obsessed
with stars, with water, with life
in all its forms

My body seems to be obsessed with hair
growing like two Kruschevs crawling on
the edge of a non-threatening cliff
above my eyelids

Two hairy banana slugs
racing as fast they might towards
an embrace
for decades
No, eons
Yes, they see each other
But they never meet.
Bitter sweet.
Perhaps that’s a good thing

My arms seem to sprout
a jungle of wheat rushing towards my hands,
where a small battalion of hair have secured the sectors above my first knuckles.
They hold positions
with the utmost patience
threatening to advance on my fingernails,
and reach its final ground
on my finger tips.
Perhaps they are showing compassion.
I don’t need hair on my fingertips

Nature is obsessed, and
there must be a reason
I am here to find out
to answer the riddle from the
clues that are not just inside me
but on me.

If only I could feel the hairs below my skin.

Chair Exercise Idea and Meditation

Wow, I can’t believe its been almost a year of not posting anything. Lots of stuff happened in 2010, and lately I’ve thought of it as a year of purging. Purging my job mostly, which I am very thankful for. Thankful I’ve purged it, that is. And purging some investments, which took up a heck of a lot of time. I’ve given up on the idea of owning property, and have decided that apartment living is just fine.

Keeping it low, and cheap, and increasing quality over quantity is what my mantra is this year. Since I last posted a while back now, I’ve continued to focus on my health, whereby I am exercising at least 45mins a day.
If I can, I’ll do it in the morning, so that my body keeps itself cozy through the rest of these chilly winter nights.

I’ve come back to this blog, because today it occurred to me that the Laughing Meditation works nicely with
a short exercise program for my mom, who’s knee’s are not in the best of shape. Chair exercises I hope will be a good solution here. And incorporated into the program is a bit of laugh yoga/meditation in our heads. My spirits are up throughout the exercise. This is important since my mother can’t stand even the thought of movement. Hopefully, I can encourage her to move each day for just 15 mins, and then later 25 mins.

Since my mom can be quite irreverant. And for fun likes to flip her arthritic fingers at me, and stick her tongue out at me, I’m incorporating that into the exercise. This I feel is important since its familiar, and the fact that she can’t pass up the chance to get my goat.

Perhaps a youtbe video may be in store for the future, since she’ll be going to NY to see my sister’s 2 baby kids and babysit them. Which makes me think, I’ll need to create a rated G version, just in case the kids want to join in.

We’ll see…..

Happiness and Learned Optimism

Happiness has somewhat of a formula. According to Martin Seligman author of Learned Optimism (as opposed to Learned Hopelessness) happiness is more enduring when there is Positive Emotion + Pursuit of Meaning or Pursuit of Engagement. The pusuit of pleasure is short-lived and has very little effect on happiness at all. So there are huge differences in doing something Fun (short term) vs. doing something Philanthropic (lasts forever).

Gratitude is interesting in that it is philanthropic and altuistic. Seligman one exercise is to think of a person who has positively affected your life. Call them up, and don’t say why, but find a time to meet them at their door. Recite a prepared written testimonial at their door step. Its a tear-jerking experience, but you and everyone will never forget that heart felt moment. Happiness levels went up there after for the person reading their gratitude speach. This is similar to Landmark Education, which puts a strong emphasis on reconnecting with people.

One interesting note Seligman says is his in ability to come up with ways to make people happy, Instead the best another person can do for another is to return them to a state of zero. The person themselves then are responsible for their happiness.

Dr. Seligman is Known as the founder of Learned Hopelessness and Learned Optimism.
One example goes like this. There are 2 young junior high school students practicing basketball. When both are succeeding in their layups the are identical in their outlook. A coach comes by and asks them to do layups from the opposite angle, left handed layups. Their shooting scores drop. One student asks himself “How can I learn from this?” and keeps trying without feeling discouraged. The other student says to himself “How do Iook? Will I fail? Do I look like a fool?” Failure for this students starts to become a block, and soon the student starts to do wild shots,and joking around, soon he is assisting only with rebounds, and finally starts to have conversations about extracurricular activities with other students.

The former student who asked “How can I learn from this” has an attitude of Learned optimism. The latter student of “Will I fail. Do I look like a fool?” has a predispostion of Learned Hopelessness. In many ways, we are taught throughout our lives to be learning in Hopelessness. Tests cannot be retaken an each test counts towards a students grade. Its no wonder then that I see myself in both situations, but more strongly with the “How do I look” point of view. I become self conscious and am more comfortable behind the scenes. On the other hand, when I am thinking beyond myself and for the group or community, I can be more optimistic as I am less selfish (which has no end to its own misery). I will explore more about Learned Helplessness and Learned Optimism as I believe that alone is the beginning of where we face our reality. I also want to explore this and how affect “Beginner’s Mind” is in this mix.

Fear of being a Fool – The Ultimate Fear: Part 1 – The Chod Meditation Method

I just attended a weeknight workshop on creating seminars for large groups and basically getting out in the world doing speaking engagements. This sounds awesome, and most likely is, especially if our friends Jeff Slayter and Kane Mincus along with Brian Franklin are teaching.

The next day I sat and meditated. This time, I decided to observe and track these thoughts, which is sometimes dangerous, as it can create a whole world of illusion. Its interesting isn’t it how if the mind builds up a stack of cards made from false pretenses, conspiracies, and such and how the mind will keep going with it and defend its existence, all because we afraid of being wrong and want to be right. We are terrified of being fools – especially to ourselves.

I discovered for myself a very deep core fear that stops me from being “bigger” in the world of form.
When I say bigger I mean “sharing” myself, being free to give to others publicly, openly, and not afraid to speak. Again, I am afraid of being called a fool. What does my mind say happens to fools? That question lives in the past and future, btw. My Mind says Fools become impoverished, they die, they are ridiculed, they are ousted from their friends and families, and they get no support. They are abandoned. And is that how I  treat others that I call “fools?” I abandon them, because I myself am terrified of them.  The people on the street, beggars, we don’t even smile at them and find their humanity. We ignore them. They become invisible. They are in essence dead. I must admit even I am guilty of that. Other fools are speakers, who are scrutinized by everyone and are at the risk of being shot! My mind says they are guilty of being egomaniacs, or conceited. On the other hand, I know that great speakers are not there for themselves but there to deliver a message larger than they are, and are at the service of their audience, and are there to provide value and or a great time.  And yet, my critter brain says it is actually safe to live in fear, beause without fear you would not have survived this long. Well, that is the feeling anyway. If live is endless suffering like this then… I have some major blocks about how I think I should be, and live.  I am amazed at people like Eckhart Tolle who had lived essentially homeless for 2 years, meditating and from that space he probably understood that it was not all that bad. Then I think of the Buddha who was “homeless” as well out in the forest.

I am not sure why we do not confront this fear directly. I suppose it is because we want to avoid being called a fool, and all that I mentioned above that comes with it for fear of it rubbing on our psyches. But its true, “what we resist persists.”  And what persists is an endless growing loop that becomes so unmanageable in itself, that pondering it becomes overwhelming.

Everything that we may do, or may not do, is based on not being or being seen as a fool.

So I’d like to examine this more closely. There are 2 techniques that I am investigating. One is called the Chod meditation, taken from Tibetan Buddhist Monk Lama Surya Das book “Letting Go of the Person You Used to Be.“. Lately I have been practicing this method to get me through that Panicky Pain-Body Fear Loop quickly.

Chod Method:

1) Basically, allow your body and mind to feel the fear corsing through you, and everything that freaks you out, but don’t make up things unnecessarily.

2) Imagine, chopping your body up into pieces and serving it in a bowl of your skull. Imagining the cutting up of my body actually feels good as it feels like it is destructing the nervous fearful energy.

3) Serve the bowl of your pain-body, fear to the “demons” and watch them eat it all up until they are satisfied.

I know this is a bit macabre but for the most part it works nicely. The Fear Loop is reduced or gone and I can breathe again.

Some Famous People Who Meditate List…

Check out the links to their names, and it has a blurb or video about their experience with meditation. I know there are tons of people out there, but it sjust fun to search and make fun list. Enjoy.

David Lynch – TM – Wow, David Lynch goes around the world teaching people to meditate. I want to be like David Lynch! And make wierd movies too!

Russell Simmons – TM – Hip Hop meditates.

Apolo Ohno –  Calm and blindingly fast. I love how he says “I leave it on the ice.” Speed Skating a perfect metaphor for life. Unpredictable and skillful.

Jim Carrey – Yes Man!!

Jet Li – Of Course. Fearless is a great Budhhist movie IMHO;)

Jenny McCarthy – Fitness Guru

Positive Mind Shifts: Subtle Smiling and Laughing in my head

Lately, I’ve been practicing how I could subtlety shift my state of mind throughout the day.

Since we are working and living the realm of form almost 90% of the time, and most of that time seems to be strife with “stuff,” the negative build-up starts to mount and soon I start to feel a bit overwhelmed. So here are somethings I do to shift my state of mind:

1) Laugh in your head.

Sometimes I am cracking up, or quitely giggling in my head, when I am walking around, checking mail, looking around, etc.  The mind supposedly can only hold one thought at a time, so instead of worry, and constant anxiety,  I just laugh in my head for no reason, especially in the morning when everyone is asleep. It can be as soft or as loud as you want in your head.  I notice that once I start laughing in my head, my face and my jaw starts to relax a little, and I can feel a subtle smile.

Dr. Mark Stibich from says that Smiling actually produces endorphins, natural pain killers, and seratonin.Smiling is like a drug!

2) Subtle Smiling

Whether I am naturally smiling from the above exercise, or “fake” a subtle smile the body starts to follow. Now, a broad extreme smile is great for stretching the face. Do whatever extreme funny positive  facial expressions. When I do it the mind seems to pickup any slight negativity, and lets me know it by bringing up negative thoughts. Keeping it lighthearted, fun, for about 1 minute or longer, when start relax the body, and any anxiety will lessen with it.

Think of a statue of a Buddha. Check out its subtle smile. In a “just sitting” class, I started producing this slight smile and I was suddenly able to breathe better, and as a result I could feel my brain relax, shifting and “expanding.” When I combine that with an awareness of  heart and my heart region and chest start to expand, and my lungs start to relax and I am able to breathe deeply.  Subtle smiling and bringing awareness to different part of the body seems to expand those areas as well. Imagine what it can do if the awareness is placed on the entire body with smiling!

BTW: Check this article from Scientific American on a study/experiement that suggests that when a person’s Seratonin levels are low,  their perception of what is fair is altered.  No Fair! My Seratonin Levels are Low!
To me this suggests kind of the Mind-Body loop. Imagine how much help smiling, even just a little, could do!

Tiger Woods – Pointing the finger at himself. A great leap towards his own enlightenment

I just saw a news clip of a Buddhist monk talking about how Tiger Woods should have gone to church (and since he is Buddhist, a Buddhist Church of course), and if he had gone, he would not be doing this sin and that. Yikes,  that monk was on fire. I’m not so sure where this monk is getting his sense of sin.Maybe I missed that lecture myself since I don’t attend the Jodo Shinshu Buddhist Temple.

I mean yeah, Tiger Woods cheated, and hurt a lot of friends, family, and fans, but in the end the one who is really suffering? He is. And judging from the transcript of his speech (I don’t need to see the video) its pretty clear that he knows that he made a huge mistake. We can label his actions as stupid, or what not, but the bottom line is this  – he knows he created his own suffering, and he knows that his actions made others suffer as well. Endless suffering like a virus.

Now, is there really sin in Buddhism? Not Really. Yeah, you can be the cause of bad happenings, and it can spiral downward, or you can do good things and it will spiral upward. There are no laws, per say, but pointers to keeping the mind in right livelihood. But sins suggest that a lightening bolt, or someone judging you when your life is over. There is no judgement day, or someone banning you to hell. You live with the suffering everyday Now,  not some future event. This kind of sin seems ripe for pointing a finger at other people, and in essence trying to control them to be a certain way. In the end, perhaps Tiger Woods was unconsciously playing with fire and wanted to be caught.Perhaps he knew he was not in alignment with his own “stillness.”

I don’t know the answer, but it seems that his mistakes have forced himself to point the finger at himself. Instead of being responsible for just himself, I think he has a deeper understanding that he is deeply interconnected to the world, and that he must take responsibility for…well, everything.

In the end, he is human. And enlightenment cannot be achieve without mistakes. And sometimes, the bigger mistake the better the teacher the mistake is.

I’m cheering Tiger and his family on to keep exploring his/their spiritual side. His Apology is a great example of soemone willing to work on himself. Yeah, there are lawsuits coming I’m sure, but life is suffering, and life is a great teacher that pushes us to find stillness in the midst of all the suffering.

If anything I am learning from Tiger’s apology. He’s a great example of someone with all the fame, money, opportunities, and access, but none of those things (form) ever amount to being aligned with his love of everyone and his being.

I think things are spiraling up for Tiger. Now, if I can only get into watching golf…

Feeling a Wave of Funk..But that’s OK.

At the time, of this writing, I am not sure why, but I’ve just been in a funk.
Actually my mind can come up with lots of reasons, but when it comes down to it here’s what I am observing:

1) I’ve been asking WHY way to much…even though I know there is no end to the Whys, and faster than google can do a search my mind can come up with all sorts of negative thoughts. Such as, “Why am I not doing the work that I want to?”…or “What is my passion? Ahh!! I need to do something! Maybe its because”….Well it goes on and on…Endless suffering…Stuck in the past.

2) Succumbing to old & not so useful perceptions, or even worse adopting other people’s new perceptions of who or where I should be.

3) Perceptions of what might happen…or Stuck in the dreaded future! For example, I work Short sales Often they will nix out certain items and I have to argue against them when we negotiate. Its a pretty painful process, possibly because I make it painful, I really don’t like arguing, and even though I couch the arguement to make it work their way they sometimes don’t agree even if they benefit. It makes no sense, but I realize that is a “should” – or an attachment to what I want to be right – more suffering.

4) Survival. I think the core for any of these things that make us suffer is our Mind/Body’s feeling that our basic survival is under threat. But to put things into perspective, I am always floored to hear that Eckhart Tolle basically left London, and went to California and Canada. Finally, settling in Canada of which he was homeless for about 2 years (In the COLD!). He had friends, I’m sure but at the core, he was by himself. I doubt he felt alone though. I’d say as much we feel like we are losing things, property, homes, possessions we must sell, and when you are down to nothing, but what you can carry, we still have access to the now, we still have our one purpose below the material purpose of form – and that is to find and know our internal joy – no one can take that away.

I suppose the trick is too be joyful, or have access to joy (which is always), even when the world is seemingly crashing down. Its a relief even to hear that even the Buddha suffered, other wise would he not even teach, since the “goal” would be to end suffering for others. The Buddha is all about the middle way, neither happy or sad, or knowing that both is suffering itself, and letting suffering and all contradictions pass through – knowing that amongst all the emotional rollercoasters, and the crashing world, there is still, the stillness of our “you-niverse.”

peace and stillness;)

Presence & What the Dog Saw

Malcolm Gladwell’s new book “What the Dog Saw” is an amazing collection of researched essays that are chock-full of thought provoking ideas that its difficult to stop once you start reading the first sentence.

What is particularly fascinating, is the essay for which the book is entitled as it it speaks to presence, and how it informs the behavior of dogs.

In this essay, Gladwell follows Caesar Millan, the Dog Whisper from the cable t.v series of the same name. Gladwell, interviews, observes and has a Laban Movement specialist analyze Millan’s actions. What we discover is that Millan has a certain presence that the dogs pick up, and after sometime with Milllan the dogs who were once notorious for biting their owners, tearing up furniture, and have killed other dogs, soon become subdued and calmed.

Its curious to note that Millan rarely uses words to subdue the dogs, unlike the owners who try to reason with it, and or smother it to death. Instead, there is the universal language of movement, and the intention behind the movement. What Millan discovered in training dogs since he was a boy, was that its not so much about words, but presence.

Patricia McConnell is a movement specialist, using Laban Movement Analysis. Laban is known for describing or notating movement for dance. For example, body movements such as a thrusting hand shake connotes a sense of purpose and force. She describes the difference in movement in speakers between Bill Clinton who has a solid reassuring presence compared to George W. Bush who’s wavering back and forth connotes a “boyish” presence, and I would add a waffling, insecure presence.

What dogs pick up is the very subtle cues of presence from their owners. Apparently, often when dogs cross another dog going on a walk, the dog turns to look at their owners for a split second and react to the tense body movement, and widening of eyes. Meaning the Dog owner’s body language is not aligned with what they want – a calm interaction with the dogs. The dog senses that there is something to be alarmed about, and that triggers the dogs to attack.

What Millan has is a sense of “beautiful phrasing” or combination of movements, sitting with back straight, smooth graceful movements, and calm demeanor even when a dog bites his hands. The dog sees the calm, respectful, and reassuring pattern and begins to calm down. Millan’s intention is aligned with body, and having all elements in informs how the dog sees, Millan – in control, assured, and compassionate.

This is fascinating in the sense that it seems similar to dealing with the Pain-body & Mind loop that creates so much suffering. The pain-body & Mind loop, is the mental equivalent of our own internal crazed dog. Millan like the meditator allows the dog to go crazy, as he remains calm. Often the owners are taken out of the room, as the dog is looking for cues from their reactions. With only Millan in the room, the dog may test him but eventually they understand that there is a certain discipline behind Millan, and they begin to calm down. The dog in otherwords wants direction, and if there is no “alpha” male in the picture the dog becomes the Alpha and takes control.

Which brought me to this realization, in some ways the Pain-Body and Mind can be observed and be given presence just as Millan gives his presence to the crazed tantruming dog. By observing and giving time to let the Pain-body have its own cathartic session, we can step back from the emotions (worry, fear, anger, etc.) and step back from our Ego (this crazed dog) and by doing so we “show” that there is assuredness, a solidness, and a discipline. In essence we assume the higher ground, and bring an alternative and direction to the tantruming dog in us all.

Millan notes, “[The Dog]..has no rules…no boundaries.” “[People] practice exercise and affection..but [they] are not practicing exercise, discipline, and affection.When we love someone, we fulfill everything about them. That’s loving…”

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