image from The Big Lebowski (1998)
As far back as I can remember, movies have touched me very deeply.
When I examine why, there are many reasons, but here’s one that comes up a lot.
For me, watching a movie is an experience in Mindfulness. Hear me out.
You might think that passively watching a screen is the most mindless thing you can do — and surely there are many ways to watch a movie (or do anything for that matter) — but the way I experience it (on a good day), the act of watching a movie is observing a moment, a place, a human emotion, a conversation, a struggle, all with spacious awareness. I am literally watching from a safe distance, as a neutral witness. I am not trying to control the direction of the movie; I am just watching it unfold before me. I am not fully identifying with it, not confusing it with my reality, not getting so caught up that I am lost in anger or fear or any emotion, nor am I completely detached and indifferent. Just watching. Interested. Curious. Present.
The magic of film (and photography) is that anything, even the most mundane moment or sight, can be beautiful, if framed, lit, and focused just right. Such is life. For nothing is boring, when we pay wakeful attention to it. Even the dullest subject appears divine, amazing. A plastic bag blowing in the autumn wind; the fluorescent glow of the dairy aisle in the grocery store. Completely ordinary, yet completely alive when artfully showcased.
If we can all get to that place of spacious, neutral witnessing as we experience our own lives, then we can enjoy the exquisiteness of this experience, this ride, without the pain of entanglement. This is freedom.
This is the goal of Mindfulness. To view our experience like we might view a movie. To achieve that spacious awareness of all that passes before us and within us, without ownership. Not my life, my desires, my problems, but simply life — just thoughts, feelings, sights and sounds, arising and passing through the field of awareness. To come to the understanding that our true self is beyond all this noise, and ultimately unaffected by it.
We are not the movie, or even the character. We are simply experiencing it. For some time. And that makes all the difference.