Monday, October 16, 2006

Film: A History of Violence

[WARNING: If you haven't seen the film and don't want to know the plot or theme, please skip this post.]

I watched A History of Violence again yesterday. I've always enjoyed David Cronenberg films because he deals with big issues. In this film, violence is less the issue than is identity.

Most of us will never have to totally reinvent ourselves the way the protagonist in this film does, but is it even possible? Can we become someone new, nearly the opposite of who we were?

I'm doubtful. I've been working on being a different person for much of the last six years. As hard as I try, there are parts of me that remain unhealed and unchanged. Is that inevitable?

Certainly I have changed a lot in that time, but how much of it is a mask I have create for myself and how much is deep lasting change? I don't know. I do know that when I am in the midst of turmoil, the old me surfaces in unpleasant ways -- much as happens for the protagonist in the movie (although I don't know how to kill mobsters). I've also seen people I care about revert in unpleasant ways when confronted with stress.

I'm curious to hear what any of you think: Can we change? Can we become new and better people simply through willing it and wanting it? Does spiritual practice or therapy make that change more possible?

I have always believed we could, but recent events in my life have left me more skeptical (at least this morning).


Anonymous said...

How you talk about the question is most interesting. For example, you use the word "mask" as though there's some authentic identity behind the "mask." Nope. And use the words "new" and "better" as though there are ontologically real and present "old" or "worse" selves attached to who you are now in this moment. Also not so. My greatest realization (i.e., understanding/accomplishment) of change came once I accepted that all there is--absolutely all there is--is the present moment, the choice I make right now, and the awareness with which I perceive this moment and make my choice.

Alas, most of us (myself included) only really internalize the power of this realization through shattering tragedy; but I don't think it has to be that way. For myself, I did wrong for a long time, telling myself I wanted to change and would change (any day now), then one day paid a very hgih price, and effortlessly changed my behaviors overnight.

Awareness is a crucial piece of this puzzle: perhaps you have an impulse or habit or knee jerk reaction that infuriates you and has done for a long time. You wish you could change it. The most empowering practice for me has been to hold those aspects or impulses fully in awareness, fully "allow" their being while nevertheless resisting their expression (e.g., the impulse to say what I know will be hurtful when I am hurt).

I bet you already do this, Bill, and do so more and more masterfully. Probably the ugly impulse arises, you watch closely while denying it expression, but give yourself no credit for growth because an ugly impulse has arisen in the first place. Again and again ugliness arises and isn't let out; you yourself percieve these problems more clearly and quickly; they pass away ever faster and more completely. Much has changed. Give yourself some credit, man!

Kai in NYC

william harryman said...

Hey Kai,

As I was typing that post I had all kinds of "buts" running through my head. Like, "I know this is irrelevant in absolute reality, but . . ." Or, "I know the self is a transient construct, but . . ." Or, whatever. So I just went with what I was feeling. And lately -- for the last month or so -- I've been feeling that my "self" is concretized in ways that feel limiting. And what's more, parts of me that had not been present for years have come to the surface over the last couple of months, as though all the work I had done was wasted.

You nailed the actual problem -- ugly impulses that I had previously held in awareness without allowing their expression leaked out over the course of a couple of weeks. It was like I had gone completely unconscious again. It kills me that I allowed that to happen, and I feel like a drug addict who gives in to the needle. Which is to say, not very good.

I know that doesn't mean all the work was wasted, but it feels that way some days. I'm sure this is part of the mourning process, but I really have been questioning whether or not I am more "stuck" in my sh!t than I thought I was -- thus the mask reference, as though I had adopted the "mask" of a more evolved person while all the while some variation of sasquatch was lurking behind the mask.

Thanks for your perspective. It reminds me of what I tell my clients when they give in to a bag of chips or whatever -- "Okay, you slipped. Starting right now, get back on track and do the best you can." I just need to get back to trying to be mindful and release the attachment to having screwed up. It happened, I can't undo it, but I can try not to do it again.

Anyway, THANKS.

Anonymous said...

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