Coyote Essay Contribution to:
IMAGINE: WHAT AMERICA COULD BE IN THE 21ST CENTURY
Edited by Marianne Williamson
|In the "emptiness" of imagination, is its fullness. That which
cannot be contained is everywhere; consequently, one can regard the myriad realms of form
- everything which can be named, whether waterfalls or wedding rings - and see as common
the ubiquitous dreamer and dream; what Buddhists refer to as - "Big Mind". Welsh
poet Dylan Thomas referred to
this relentless coiling and uncoiling as The
force that through the green fuse drives the flower. Placid statues of the
Buddha remind us to be at peace with this relentless, transformative pressure; its
unquenchable appetite for creating and consuming form exploding novas, heaving
mountain ranges, ancient seas, grand empires, buds, petals, scales, furred, winged
and flying creatures, microbes, entire species, all born of and being recalled,
willy-nilly, into the roiling, pregnant energy of this indivisible, undifferentiated Big
It is useful to recall this ground-level reality as an antidote to both despair and cynicism when circumstances in their negative manifestations begin to appear too fixed and solid. For many years I treasued a post-card sent to me from Peru. Its face was a photo of a small, indigenous peanut vendor standing in the flat-white light of the day, dressed in native clothing, before the ruins of a Mayan stone structure. The structure itself, the Mayan empire, its priests, castes, slaves, and concerns were less substantial than memory, but the indian man was there grounded, staring non-committally at the camera, extremely present, and enduring. The card reminded me, often, of the transitory nature of things we consider permanent, and the continuity of things we consider to be transitory. The ancestors of the peanut vendor have been eaten by time, but he remains, carries their genes, and their imagining of the world in this present moment. Consequently, they are more permanent than the carved stone wall, which has lost all coordinates but evocation, behind him.
I live and work as an actor, part of an industry which generates countless imaginings of the ways in which life is or might be. Furthermore, the work of an actor involves intimate and constant submersion in the imagination. An actor is the defense attorney for his character. He must understand them intimately, imagine the circumstances of their life in ufficient detail as to create an inner-life complete with all the references, allusions, and the frames-of-reference the character would possess. Once in urging me to memorize lines as automatically as one remembers the Lords prayer, Roman Polanski, a brilliant film director, said, If you have to think about stepping on the brakes, its already too late. What he meant was that an actor must internalize the realities of a characters life to such a degree that they are liberated from all concerns but those of impulse and intuition. If an impulse arises and is frustrated by groping for a line, it is lost. The mechanism for this homework involves personalizing, imagining, every detail and aspect of a script the characters clothing, his relationship to every other character, his ideas about politics, social relationships, colors, possessions. Each role, involves the creation of an alternate reality, so meticulously imagined that it can act upon you like the real one.
We have all witnessed this process in the miracle of theater and film and even cursory speculation about the process leads to questioning whether or not the real world might not be constructed in our minds in the same way. There are many cultures who believe, that it is; that what we call reality is a cumulative description passed down generation upon generation, recreated and solidified by descriptions of the world that parents transfer to their children. My point in pursuing this is to remind the reader of how mutable and fundamentally insusbstantial everything, including reality actually is, and to place in relief the fact that we are, each of us, a vital conduit of Big Mind through which the Universe speaks to itself. We are, each of us, plugged into our larger culture as well, and as a conduit is multi-directional, we need not exist simply as passive recipients of our cultures imagery and concerns. In martial arts, to change the energy of an adversary, you must contact them. At the point of contact, the fall goes not to the bigger and stronger, but to the most conscious. I am nourished by that image writing this essay urging the reader and simultaneously speaking to myself, to consider the power of the universe flowing through us, and consider to what purposes it might be dedicated.
Regarding the entertainment industry in which I work, I am often disappointed with the ends to which vast amounts of human creativity, energy and capital are dedicated. In its present imaging our culture values material wealth above all other things, and so it should be no surprise that its celluloid and digital dreams, are not only commodities themselves, but advertise and sell other products and modes of existence which mesh positively with a system dedicated to production of material wealth. Opulent life-styles, fashions, nifty cars, weaponry, and gear, interior décor are displayed like commodities, as are ranges of acceptable attitudes by the characters in its stories. Most generally the heroes of such tales will be marked by their insousiance and cynicism; their unquestioning acceptance of this imaginings substantiality and its imperviousness to change.
On a deeper level, like all dreams, the stories on television and film report something of our inner life. It swarms with fearful, violent, traumatic, highly sexualized visions, and even when ostensibly pursuing love, the most self-less of expressions, remain obdurately self-involved. These images both express and colonize the imaginations of the audience, solidify and substantiate vaporous fears and desires into concrete objects which can be bought or acquired, dominated, controlled or protected against. They substantiate, reinforce, and communicate ideas of the the world which are our oppressive and frightening feelings we sought to escape by pursuing entertainment in the first place. What are these ideas and images promulgated by the Gods of the Heaven Realm of the entertainment industry? Do they affect us positively or negatively? How might they be changed?
The most attractive people are the best people. Beauty stands for character, integrity and nobleness of purpose. The converse is often true as well.
The most attractive people inevitably wind up with one another.
The most attractive people do everything important by themselves.
If they have help, those people are less attractive, low-status people who never question the right of the star to lead/rule/decide.
The best thing to be is a loner who never joins anything (except an attractive mate who feels the same way) because all groups are corrupt.
All politicians and corporate executives are corrupt.
Sex and personal attractiveness are everyones primary concern, except mothers and old people.
You can always tell good people from bad people.
Whatever good people do is good, because they are good.
Physical force and its application is a normal occurrence.
Violence must always be met by violence.
Even the most highly trained, cold-blooded killers can always be overcome, somehow by good people.
Everything worthwhile in life is achieved by individuals working along.
Boy meets girl. They dislike one another at first. They fall in love. One makes a moral transgression of some sort. They break-up because of it. The transgressor learns the error of their ways, corrects the situation, and wins back their partner.
(The Russian director Andre Konchalovsky once confided to me after working awhile in Hollywhud, that this structure was more rigidly enforced by the studios than was ideological correctness by the censors of the Soviet Unions studios.)
If there were no radios or televisions or newspapers, the daily experience of most Americans would be quite pacific. Even in the ghettos, the sun rises quietly, and for most people life is played out in a vast field of stillness through which we walk, talk, run errands, do our work, or watch and wait for something to happen.
(Published in November 2000)