Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Spiritual Metaphors Disguised in Sci-Fi Films

This past weekend, I watched a double feature of Cocoon and Cocoon: The Return. I haven't seen either film in a long time. Its probably been about a decade since I had seen the first one and more than twenty years when I saw the sequel (which I only watched once and forgot what it was about). For those who have not seen this mid-1980s science fiction film, its about a group of senior citizens living in retirement in St. Petersburg, Florida. The male buddies sneak off to an unused private indoor swimming pool for their daily aquatic exercise. One day, they discover strange pods in the water, but don't let it deter them from their fun. What they discover is that they have renewed energy. They had discovered what Ponce de Leon had searched for all those centuries ago: the fountain of youth!

The secret is in those pods, which were fished out of the ocean and kept in the swimming pool for storage until all the pods are rescued so that the Antereans (sp?) can rendezvous with their spacecraft to return to their world, a place where no one ever grows old, gets sick, or dies. Does that sound like a place you heard about? Even more, when these people take off their human skin suit, instead of snarling lizards of another science fiction series from the same decade, they reveal beings of light with the ability to fly. Does this resonate with anyone? It should! This is why I consider Cocoon to be one of the most spiritual films ever made. Ignore the convenient science fiction disguise. Sometimes, its far easier for a story teller to get one's message across by disguising the true message in a package that the receiver will find more acceptable.

This film addresses the issue of aging and the "fear" of death / mortality that many people have, especially as they near the end of their lives. If some being of light came to you and offered you eternal life, would you take it?

After I watched both films, I posted a comment on my Facebook page about it. I did not know if it would garner a response, but I was really surprised when the older brother of my best friend used the opportunity to be obnoxious with his atheism. Its comments like the one he made that makes me very glad that his younger brother was the one I became friends with in the seventh grade. Nicholas is a perfect diplomat, as he never seems to get drawn into passionate debate, at least not from what I've ever seen. However, his older brother and I seem to have a genetic disposition for spirited debate over spiritual topics, even though we share a strong dislike of authoritarian / fundamentalist religions.

I guess the obnoxious atheist couldn't resist when I had mention that one scene from Cocoon in particular resonated deeply with me because I had an experience that was very similar to the one Steve Guttenberg's character experienced in the swimming pool. Yes, I'm talking exactly about THAT SCENE!!!

What scene is that? Kitty, the gorgeous alien lady, tells Steve that she wants to share with him a part of herself as they do with one another on Anterea. The audience thinks its an alien version of sex and it really is. But its also something more. Its a visual representation of what a true enlightenment experience feels like. When Steve is hit with the ball of light, he experiences a pleasure so intense that probably a regular human sexual orgasm does not even compare. After he is hit with the light and adjusts to its energy, he laughs and the audience can see that he is blissed out like he's high on drugs or something.

The feeling he has is what I experienced for two weeks in August 2001 when I had my "enlightenment experience." I had never had such an intense feeling of pleasure in my life before or since that date. It was so intense, that I really thought my body wasn't going to handle it. I remembered what some professors at BYU had said about how a person had to be "translated" or "transfigured" when they had direct experiences with the divine, because the human body is incapable of handling the intensity of God's love. As they had said, a direct encounter with God would kill you. I laughed it off back then when I was a student, hearing what I thought was just more Mormon propaganda. But, having had my experience in August 2001, I believe that they know what they were talking about. I won't claim that I had an "encounter" with God, but I definitely believe that I had a significant spiritual experience. This is not to convince anyone else that they need to believe me, because my experience was mine alone and meant for me. Whether you believe me or not does not matter. I only write this to explain that some of the images shown in films are truer than many people might believe.

When I had this intense spiritual experience, where I was blissed out for over two weeks (the events of 9/11 pretty much knocked me back to the real world), I understood a lot of things about my own life, about my past life, and about the universality of religious thought. In fact, when I had my experience, I understood right away that many people seek this feeling through drugs, but drugs will never bring you there. Plus, drugs have side effects, whereas my experience did not. During this experience, I did feel "at one" with the entire universe and love was the only absolute truth. That's why to this day, whenever I hear an evangelical Christian preach any kind of hatred for groups that don't share their small minded bigotry, I know that they have not had this experience that I have had. In fact, the only people who seem to talk about how to have the kind of experience I have had are the Buddhists. Nothing I experienced would shock a devout Buddhist. The other thought I had during this experience is that EVERYONE should experience this. There would be no more war if people could feel what I felt during those two weeks. You really do feel an intense love for all humanity. Yes, even for people like Dick Cheney and Adolf Hitler.

When I shared some of this on my Facebook wall, the obnoxious atheist did the usual atheist thing in trying to explain away my experience as a drug induced high or some food I ate or alcohol I drank or even some kind of rearrangement of my brain's chemistry. I wasn't surprised by that response because it was the closed-mindedness of atheists that pushed me away from my "atheist phase" as a young man. I had experienced several strange coincidences as a young man (from 1991 through 1994) that defied statistical odds. I've always been an open-minded person whose ruling philosophy is "possibility." I may or may not believe an idea, but I will usually give it a try in my mind to "see how it fits." In this manner, I have imagined what my life might look like if I were Mormon or Jehovah's Witness or Catholic or Muslim or Hindu. I love ideas and have to be exposed to new ideas on a near daily basis. Its a problem I have with relating to people who prefer to indoctrinate themselves with the same information over and over. I can't do that because I get bored. In fact, even though I enjoy my new job at the moment, if I'm still working there in three years, I will grow bored and need a new challenge. I'm glad that my mind works this way, though, because it is well suited towards a writing career and the need to create different stories / characters / situations.

Why did I experience this amazing personal spiritual enlightenment? I had just endured a year in hell, sharing a cubicle with a fundamentalist Christian woman who was one of the most willfully ignorant people I had ever met. It was a culture shock to hear her ignorant comments on a daily basis. If not for her, I probably would have stayed with the Georgia Bureau of Investigations because my supervisor liked me and wanted to give me a job with greater responsibilities that eventually came with a pay raise. The job I was hired to do, though, did not require the two of us, so I did an intense job search to not much success. I was also living at home, which was not healthy either. All of this was in the aftermath of my awesomely great Washington Seminar experience. It was difficult to go from a peak life experience to a deep valley within the space of a single year.

These stressful events forced me to reexamine my life and question everything. In my search for answers, I stumbled upon numerology as well as finally give in to the voice in my head that kept telling me since the early 1990s to "Read Jack Kerouac, read Jack Kerouac!" I guess all those factors came to a head in a perfect storm of amazing spiritual experience. I can assure you that I did no drugs, drank no alcohol, nor ate nothing out of the ordinary. I simply followed the voice of my conscience and allowed my mind to be open for any guidance. During those two weeks of ecstatic bliss, I even managed to get a new job (ironic in retrospect that it was for the organization that would end up robbing me of the past nine years of my life, bringing me to the worst misery of my life). Though I regretted leaving D.C. in July 2000, had I not had the cumulative experiences that led to the event of August 2001, I might not have gotten to experience one of the most amazing, blissful moments of my life. Would I trade that experience for choosing to stay in D.C. in July 2000? No way. Considering that I have never had nor have I since experienced such intensive spiritual euphoric bliss before this amazing two weeks in August 2001, I would not trade it for anything. Here I am, almost a decade later, still wanting to experience that again. I can achieve momentary levels of bliss through meditation, but it pales in intensity and duration. I have no doubt that being in that moment is a powerful magnet to draw good things into my life (the job offer I had received during that period did result in a few good friendships and experiences).

A friend of mine (the one I had visited in San Francisco last Halloween to Election Day) had posed a question on her Facebook wall: Would you rather have a life where everything is mundane and blah, but you never feel pain, hurt, disappointment, depression or to have a passionate life that includes moments of deep pain, hurt, disappointment, and depression. There's no question...a passionate life with all of its joys and pains is the only way to live. What my intense spiritual experience has taught me is that it is possible to attain such euphoric bliss where you feel at one with the entire universe for a sustainable period, and to feel it with such an intensity that even a sexual orgasm pales in comparison. So, no trade for me. I'll take the momentary good with all of the bad.

In the picture above, Steve Guttenberg is staring at the ball of light, seeming a tad bit worried about being hit with it. Had he known the intensity he would feel upon being hit with it, though, I don't think he would be dodging it when it flies wildly around the pool room. It is awesome that there is a scene in a Hollywood movie that gives a perfect visual example of what a spiritual enlightenment experience looks and feels like.

What the obnoxious atheist wrote on my Facebook wall is worth posting here. We had "argued" about spirituality. I was stunned to hear his standard. I understand that he does not believe in an afterlife. However, he won't even consider the possibility that there are things that happen in our world that science cannot explain. Yet, after I had written "We'll see who's laughing in the afterlife" (an admitted obnoxious statement, as well, but he egged it on), he responded with: "If you're right, though, then I get a bonus after death (unless god or whatever is wrathful, vengeful and petty). If I'm right, then you have spent your life studying a fairytale and anticipating a glorious afterlife with a conclusion that one might characterize as sad."

I was stunned that he compared my spiritual study to a "fairy tale" and that it was somehow "sad" to waste one's life in the pursuit of knowledge regarding possible life after death. Yes, for the atheist, the discovery that the soul has survived the death of the human body would be a joyous occasion. Nothing can be worse than a complete non-existence for the rest of eternity (though we would not know we did not exist anymore). Its this argument that atheists use to claim that people have created a mythology about an afterlife to conquer the fear of death and non-existence. Fine, we'll take that for argument's sake. However, if non-existence awaits our death, is it truly a waste of time to have spent years studying spiritual topics? Have my years of reading many, many spiritual books been a waste of time? Is it "sad" that I have spent my money and time on these pursuits? I don't think so. Atheists have no idea the joy that inspiration gives me. Little by little, I am becoming the person I envision for myself. These spiritual books that I read fill me with love and inspiration, offering techniques to try out in life. I can testify that somehow, it all works out. So no, what is "sad" to me is someone who would discount the coincidences, synchronicities, and serendipities of their lives. Spirituality adds a depth to life that strict materialism cannot touch.

If anything, this interesting debate between an atheist materialist and a universal spiritualist makes me appreciate that at least my best friend is not obnoxious, though we never really had an intense spiritual discussion. It might be interesting to see these two brothers have a discussion about spirituality. Yeah, I might pay money to see something like that. Then again, they might actually agree, so end of discussion.

No one should accept another person's experience as fact. The whole point of spirituality is to experience it for yourself. Reading other people's experiences is only meant to inspire people that such experiences are possible and worth having. Its a pity for those who are too closed-minded to seek out these experiences for themselves. But, I'd never trade my life experiences for that of a hardcore atheist. I like my Forrest Gump life very much, painful experiences and all.

1 comment:

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