I just began teaching a World Religions course at Salve Regina University, called “The Quest for the Ultimate.” I always begin with an introductory film. The day before classes began, I went over to check out my newly renovated classroom. My film got stuck in the brand new, high tech DVD player! The Tech Expert who was installing all of the equipment could not eject my DVD either. Ditto the people at Tech Support. Thankfully, my experience as a single mom all those long years taught me to ALWAYS have a back up plan.
My back up plan turned out to be a big hit with the students. I showed them a different film, a film called “I AM.” It is an independent documentary made and directed by Tom Shadyac, who directed such well-known blockbuster hits as Liar, Liar, Bruce Almighty, the Nutty Professor, and Ace Ventura, Pet Detective, and others. He “discovered” Jim Carrey, who stars in most of his films. He was a tremendous Hollywood “Success.” A single guy, he lived in a 17,000 square foot mansion in Beverly Hills. Then one day, he had a bicycle accident. He suffered a traumatic brain injury. He was in excruciating pain. He couldn’t bear the sight of light. He was told that he might never recover.
He felt suicidal. His confrontation with death, ironically, changed his life. His pain began to dissipate. He began to look at life from a whole new perspective. He realized that, for all of his wealth and success, he was not truly happy. He set out on his own Quest. With a film crew of four, as opposed to 400, the number that usually worked on one of his films, he embarked on his Quest. He interviewed many of the great teachers and thinkers who had inspired him throughout his life: Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn (whose People’s History of the United States rocked my world), Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu (I have have heard him speak at several different events), Lynn McTaggert, Thom Hartman, (I never heard of either of them) and Coleman Barks (the leading expert on the Sufi mystic and poet, Rumi, also one of my favorite poets. I met Barks a year ago at a poetry reading). He asked each of these great thinkers two questions, “What is wrong with the world? “ and “What can I do about it?”
All of these great thinkers said pretty much the same thing: that for the last few hundred years we have lived in a Newtonian world, where we apply Newton’s mechanistic laws of cause and effect on humanity. But humans are not machines. Secondly, in the United States, and many other “developed” nations, we follow a system of competition, based on Darwin’s theory of “survival of the fittest.” These two approaches combined have left a few “winners” at the top of the pyramid, and crushed those at the bottom. Plus, those at “the top,” like Shadyac himself before his “epiphany,” despite all of their “stuff,” lack a sense of meaning.
All of the great thinkers Shadyac consulted say that there is emerging in our world today a new way of thinking: cooperation rather than competition; compassion as opposed to mechanistic cause and effect. The great thinkers Shadyac consulted all claim that as human beings we are actually hard-wired more for compassion than we are for competition. Darwin’s On the Origin of Species mentions “survival of the fittest” only twice, and Love about ninety times!!! Shadyac’s film shows scientific experiments from the animal kingdom of cooperation rather than competition. It also shows indigenous cultures which are communal rather than individualistic. In the animal kingdom, animals kill to eat, to survive. But animals never take or kill more than they need to survive. Among ancient Native Americans, there was no such thing as poverty, for in a communal culture, everyone’s survival was bound together. Hunters would share the hunt with every member of the tribe, including the young and the elders, those who were not able to hunt for themselves, knowing that the young ones and the elders contributed to the good of the tribe in other ways. The children brought joy to the tribe, and the elders wisdom. These gifts were as valued as the food brought back by the hunters. To take more than you need was considered a sickness, mental illness.
Shadyac looked at his 17,000 share foot mansion, filled with “stuff,” and saw it in a new light: as a form of mental illness. “Why do I need so much “stuff”? He asked himself?
But in our contemporary American culture, not all gifts are valued equally. Those at the “top” could care less about everyone else. “What’s wrong with the world?” Shadyac asked. He realized, “I AM.”
He changed his life. He sold his mansion, and most of his “stuff.” He created an I AM Foundation, which donates his wealth to many worthy causes. He moved into a modest mobile home community. He began teaching his new ideas to the next generation at a local college. He set out on his Quest and discovered what’s RIGHT about the world: I AM.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition, I AM is the name for the God who was, and who is, and who ever shall be. Moses encountered this I AM God in the burning bush. The Gospel of John equates Jesus with the great I AM in the many I AM statements Jesus makes: I AM the bread of life; I AM the Good Shepherd; I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life; I AM the light of the world.
I urge you to watch this film. You will be inspired.
Perhaps you will realize, like Shadyac, that the answer to the question “What’s wrong with the world?” is “I am.” You and I, stuck in the model of mechanistic action and competition, and the mental illness of too much “stuff” are what’s wrong with the world.
Perhaps you will also discover, with Shadyac, that the answer to the question, “What’s right with the world?” can be answered the same way: I am. When you and I awaken to the great I AM who is not just within some of us but who is within ALL OF US, then we can stop being part of the problem, and become part of the solution. This day, are you bending toward the Light?
This day, may you see the great I AM in all you encounter,
and may you reflect the great I AM to all you encounter.
Linda Forsberg, Copyright, September 14, 2016
Photos: Linda on the path to Multnomah Falls; OR; Salve Regina University; Tunnel, Cliff Walk, Newport, RI; Quote by Catherine McAuley, founders of the Sisters of Mercy, Salve Regina University; Broken Heart sculpture, Garden for Compassionate Friends, for parents ho have lost children, Providence, RI; Man sitting at Balboa Park, San Diego, CA; the reservoir, Newport, RI; Victoria at The Cloisters, NYC