Monday, September 11, 2017

Be Water My Friend

This statement by Bruce Lee, "be water my friend", came across my path about a month ago as a clip in some sort of inspirational montage. I had been puzzling about what the statement meant (as foolish as that might sound to some) at the moment I looked up and saw the photo of Mr. Lee with the quote in the kitchen of our rented flat in Berlin two weeks ago. Freaked me out for a second but water keeps flowing - so I let life move on, meaning I went back to thinking "whoa! That's crazy! What does this mean?" In the midst of my mental analysis I was impressed by the a different type of thought the same way you hear the bass come in on a song, and it was this - being does not involve thinking.

Back stateside work resumed thrusting me into a situation that would challenge me and the concept of being like water. I have been worked by the production / entertainment industry for over seven years and it has illuminated many things. I say "I've been worked by..." because that's what work is - transformation. When you are playing you are creating with the flow of life. Work on the other hand says "this isn't the way I want it to be so I'm making some modifications". We "work a material, the soil, etc" but we "play" a musical instrument. Film production is an amalgamation of many strange, socially awkward people who's daily interactions are like gargling with hydrochloric acid. I'm about as normal as I can get in my reality which means I'm one of those many weirdos trudging around a film set. A saving grace of the industry (for many people) is that every project has an end date giving you the pressure relief valve of "I only have to put up with #jackass for x more days". The second saving grace of the film business and life in general is that every day ends eventually as well. When you are stuck "on set" for a number of hours to be determined by whoever is running the asylum (ultimately the UPM - the individual with a tight grip on the money supply) it can feel a bit like being a well paid prisoner. 
Years ago when I told a sound mixer that I wanted to get into the film business he said I should buy a short book he wrote on the topic. It was called something like "So You Want to Work in the Film Business???" and told me all the things I could understand but not comprehend until I actually experienced it myself. Thinking back on the book during this week of work I had a good laugh at my self - I had been informed but I couldn't grasp what it meant because I had an agenda which skews everything. What was so stressful about this week of work? For starters, I worked for a new department head - one with a resume that includes some of the biggest movies of all time. He's actually a very nice, chill man but the dynamics on the production were rattling everyone and I came in on what was described by one of the core guys as "the most I've ever seen our boss upset". Thankfully there has been no screaming in my department but the air is filled with tension (and atmospheric smoke) so thick you could cut it with a 4 x 4 solid (film joke). Nothing is ever right or fast enough for someone. You are constantly being shushed all day by the PAs (little minions of the AD department) and last but certainly not least, our set was mostly on the top floor of an old house pumped to the gills with so much smoke it looked like a Cypress Hill concert along with about 25 bodies and equipment shoved in whatever nook and cranny we could find. You're tripping over each other all day, going from sweating as all the bodies and lights heat up the space while the AC is off for sound and then back to freezing when they crank it back up during the scene changes / setups. 
Three days in I was ready to quit but had promised my buddy that I would be there for two weeks and didn't want to leave him hanging. Gritting my teeth and reaching for the "only two weeks of this" lever, I was again impressed upon by a different tone of thought reminding that this was how you learn to be water. Serendipitously, on Thursday, youtube suggested a documentary of sorts about water with research into a slew of facts that were mind blowing. For the sake of brevity I'll only touch on one: the ability to concentrate flow velocity in the center of a body (river, stream, creek, etc) by working with the water instead of trying to block it completely with a damn, a sluice, what have you. By creating a path of less resistance you tap the energy of what is already there by strategic placement of your own. Several martial arts disciplines are primarily defensive, that is to say non-aggressive. They teach how you use the energy of what is coming at you to your own advantage. Perhaps this is why Bruce Lee understood water. 
We are born a block of code. A story of who and what we are supposed to be. Life comes rushing along and begins to remove bits of that granite block we consider to be "I" and "Other" mixing them together and carrying it off to be used elsewhere. Flow constantly shapes it's environment - it is the natural impermanence of eternity. An hour before watching the youtube video I had a mental picture of the abrasiveness of life's situations shaping me like the blows from a chisel on a hunk of marble liberating the figure inside. We suffer because we try to hold onto a shape slapping concrete over the chunks being taken off, adding a little barbed wire into it so no one might be foolish enough to try and liberate that part of you again. Time flows through us and our perception of time is a completely relative experience. It only appears to be synchronized because there is a greater system outside of ours which can be referenced and compared. 
You are your awareness not what you are aware of. All the data that enters your sensory organs aka your entire body, is just that data - information. The universe is purely information. Information which is then perceived and judged a certain way by each individual observer. Constant judgement requires an exhausting amount of energy so our brains compress the informational flow in a very binary sense. When something new enters our awareness we devote more focus on it (which equates to perception of time) until a determination is made of safe / unsafe. Once the status quo has been rectified as nothing to worry about the brain powers down a bit and says "same, same, same" to all the information coming in until there is something new. It's very similar to how computers compress information. The proportion to which you are trying to define and control things will determine the latitude of your experience. Think of it like trying to stream video. Decreasing bandwidth begins making the image blotchy because less information can be fit in the pipe per second. Judgement of the present moment is akin to throttling the flow. It causes life to appear to both whiz by retrospectively while you presently feel stuck in never ending misery. 
"Radical Acceptance" of the present moment where you cease to judge things as good or bad can seem counter intuitive. Probably because it is counter intuitive to a majority of the world views. Many people perceive this state of mind as callous, uncaring, insane or potentially frighteningly unexciting. "If you don't have opinions then what's the point of life?" Cats like catnip, dogs fall asleep from it - but I have a feeling that neither of them stay up nights obsessing about it (unless you have an insomniac canine). The only reason we choke the flow of awareness is because we are trying to convince ourselves that we have control. Control is an illusion. We think that because we decide to do something, go to the convenience store for example, our feet carry us there and back with "no event" some how that "I am in control". Obviously this has varying perceived levels with those with the most resources as the ones most in control. I'm laying on my bed typing this as hurricane powered winds threaten to drop limbs on the roof. Nature is a constant reminder that we have no control but we continue to try and defy her to our own perpetual chagrin. 
Instead of fighting what is flowing my motto has become "be as comfortable as possible". Instead of saying "this is a good moment" and "this is a bad moment" you appreciate them all like the notes in a song. No note lasts forever unless you continually replay it in your memory. I've found that when I say "I don't like people" I really mean "I don't like being around people because I don't think I can be myself". Our judgements add weight to either side of our existential teeter totter which we constantly strive to tip at least slightly in the "pleasure" direction. It's the attachment to these weighing stations that is part of the issue but also the placement of your fulcrum. What use is a seesaw that is out of balance? Balance is what allows play to be had. Those people who have understood how to be water are the ones who say that they don't "go to work", they feel like they are playing on a daily basis. 
Be Water My Friends.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Size 12 Intentions

I just returned from a walk with my four legged fur friend. A walk for both exercise and training. She's two years old and smart as a five year old human (at minimum). I taught her how to catch by saying "catch" and throwing a toy to her which she watched approach and bounce off her nose. I picked it up and said "watch me....this is catching....catch" throwing the toy up in the air while saying "catch" and then grabbing it in my mouth. "I sure hope you got that because this toy is dirty! Catch!" I tossed it over and she snatched it out of the air like a pro. Point being is that she's highly capable of learning and seems to enjoy it. What she also enjoys is thinking she's top dog or can at least run with them. This returns us to the walk.

Every topic has a potentially overwhelming number of points of view (especially when you get online) so I in no means claim to know how to best work with canines. One of the first methods I heard for training animals was by some famous Hollywood animal wrangler whose name I cannot remember. His method however, made sense so I have worked in that system. The short version (that I recall) was this: Get the animal to learn to pay attention to you. This requires no strict protocols or complicated routines. Procure a long lead (several meters in length) attach it to a collar that constricts in some way (his belief was that the pinch collar was actually more humane than the choker collar but I digress). Wander around a space large enough that the dog can run well beyond the limits of the lead if detached. Set the pup loose and do your thing. As you both move in varying directions the student begins to learn that it has a limit and then that it is defined by the position of the teacher. Of course this isn't likely completely apparent at first but over a length of time you shorten the lead till it's no longer necessary and they trot along at your heel. This is what my little friend is in the process of learning.

Still being a bright and perky little fur ball, Tesla (that's her name), it's natural for her to be wanting to inspect everything along the way or run off when she see's a cat. That's why we take walks with the lead; so she see what life is all about before taking the restrictions off. It's what childhood is for us - a perspective we then operate on subconsciously. I still haven't talked about the walk really have I? Due to walking with the limits of visibility and unpredictability of drivers on the streets around my home, I opted for a shorter lead. This inclines Tesla to pull ahead right to where it's uncomfortable which is obviously counter productive. I began walking a bit more slowly while making random movements on occasion which seemed to make sense for her since she began hanging back just a bit so she could see what I was doing. There is no need for this to be a vicious process, though it may induce a bit of pain, but pain and pleasure are the programming matrices of life.

[side bar]
Camera dollies are used on a daily basis in the film business to adjust camera height on the fly, create movement - a lot of reasons. Many dolly grips have a monitor which allows them to see exactly what the camera sees but it's amateur hour to rely on one. As my buddy Paul told me when I first pushed a  dolly (not to be confused with A dolly) "if you are making a move with the actor, look at their feet not the monitor. The monitor will fuck you every time". This of course all while smoking a Camel unfiltered cigarette next to the no smoking sign. *hyperbole level 50%.*
Turns out that you don't spend 17 years doing something and not know a thing or two about it: the monitor will, to be blunt, fuck you every time. Even if you look at another part of the actor's body, say the shoulders, you will still be late because their feet have already begun a motion that the rest of the body is catching up with. It would take a frame jarring dose of acceleration at this point to achieve what was intended in the camera rehearsal.
[end ]

What's all this mumbo jumo about dogs, camera dollies and feet? It's simple: whichever way your feet go, you go. In general we would say that is the direction in which we are looking however, this is not always the case. How about when you are startled and your body seems to want to jump in opposing directions and you get tangled up. You can walk or run whilst not looking in front of you but a collision is highly probable. Your feet go where you intend but not necessarily where you are attentive. Vision or "looking" are under the heading called "our attention". I can look at something with my eyes while intently focusing on listening but the image is relatively ignored by my attention because it is on the auditory reception. Until today I haven't thought about my feet a considerable amount because well, I haven't thought about much of my body. Recently, It's started piping up and asking that I treat it with more kindness. The chiropractor told me that I'm a bit of an oxymoron - super flexible but with muscles that seem to be overcompensating for that flexibility by stringing themselves taut like a guitar. A fitting analogy for how I've felt psychically (this is meant as every form of "non-physical" experience).

I've read of a practice that some indigenous tribes perform where a group of people all walk single file attempting to synchronize not only their footsteps but also their breathing. Following someone's footsteps requires a good bit of attention not to mention adding the breathing synchronization. The attention however is set by the intention: to move as one. Purely due to our form, our feet are the first thing to move, short of physical anomaly, so the matter of feet is purely academic. Where is your intention? That's the important question. If your attention and intention are misaligned, you're bound for a run in either with an object or the end of the lead. As I made the random changes in direction on the walk today, weaving around imaginary obstacles, I thought "is this why life takes us on so many whacky journeys? So that we learn to hang back a bit and trot along trusting that the direction the feet are going is cool?" At that point whether a lead was attached or not becomes irrelevant. Trust and control are opposing concepts yet you could say that "constantly being controlled by the universe leads to trusting it".

"Welcome to life! Where are you headed and for how long will you be here? Somewhere and Forever? Fantastic choices. Please step over here to be controlled by immigration. Have wonderful day - and night of course."