Monthly Archives: October 2010
This review also appears at Earthpages.org
Title: Strange Is Normal: The Amazing Life of Colin Wilson
Genre: Documentary, Biography
Production Company: Reality Films
Most of us have heard of the British author Colin Wilson. While not quite a household name, those who haunt bookstores and love fringe topics will know that he writes about the occult and other esoterica.
So when Strange is Normal: The Amazing Life of Colin Wilson came in the mail, I almost knew in advance that I’d enjoy learning more about this fascinating, well-rounded character.
And that I did.
This DVD interview is informative, entertaining, and provides a fantastic account of Wilson’s life and ideas as told by the author himself.
Wilson is a prolific writer. And his accumulated work explores an eclectic mix of topics–from murder, magic and science, along with literature and science fiction, to name a few.
I first encountered Wilson or, rather, wrote about him while studying Carl Jung’s concept of synchronicity. In his book, C.G. Jung: Lord of the Underworld, Wilson says that a healthy mind, not a sick one, should regularly encounter synchronicity.
Wilson’s emphasis on the connection between the paranormal and psychological health is a refreshing and much needed antidote to a society that, for the most part, shuns intelligent discourse about anything that can’t be bought, seen or sold.
For example, once while talking with a mental health worker, I was told that those deemed mentally ill often go into religion, as if to imply that the religious impulse is rightly associated with illness. This approach seemed to regard spirituality as a symptom instead of a solution to psychological disorder and social deviance.
Now, Wilson is no great supporter of organized religion. In fact, he trashes both the Church of England and Catholicism. But in my view, religion and spirituality need not be separate, and Wilson is to be commended for emphasizing the positive aspects of spirituality.
In addition, he provides a delightful analogy for right and left brain integration by likening this to a good tennis match. Here, he stands in direct opposition to the arguably more pessimistic Arthur Koestler, who believed that the human brain is by nature contradictory.
If I were to find a weakness in Wilson’s approach, it might have something to do with his bias against organized religion. On this score, his firm convictions possibly limit his inner experience. This seems evident in his discussion of Abraham Maslow’s concept of the “peak experience.”
Wilson talks about the peak experience without really delving into the philosophical and theological complexities of the idea. On the social level, he does say that those who’ve had peak experiences tend to have them again when talking about the phenomenon among themselves in a group.
Be that as it may, no mention is given to the fact that numerous mystics – within organized religion – write about varying levels, qualities, and degrees of numinous experience (numinous is a more nuanced term that accounts for the peak experience, and is used by Rudolf Otto and C. G. Jung, among others, to describe spiritual phenomena).
Possibly Wilson is dumbing things down for a general audience. And if so, that’s fine. But I think some passing mention could have been given to the potential intricacies of the inner life.
On second thought, maybe I’m being a bit too tough. After all, Wilson does make reference to the possibility of mind control. And this darker side of interpersonal affairs could involve numinosity or, at least, some weird kind of charisma.
These subtle and difficult to verify dynamics aside, Strange is Normal definitely is a great interview. As Wilson tells his life story from his own home we discover a candid, articulate, and immensely colorful personality–certainly not the dry British intellectual that some might expect.
Anyone even vaguely interested in parapsychology and the supernatural should make a point of seeing this film. Wilson’s unconventional life experience and witty ways help to make the unusual usual, which surely is a good thing.
The DVD also features an interview with Wilson’s wife, Joy, who epitomizes the charming and insightful lady standing alongside her better known husband.
- The Books Interview: Lynne Reid Banks (newstatesman.com)
- The Power of Peak Experiences (psychologytoday.com)
- Neurotheology (rightbraintherapy.net)
- “Collective Unconscious” (rightbraintherapy.net)
- “The labyrinth of Inception” (gointothestory.com)
- Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship ” Next News (nextnext.us)
- Do animals have ESP, because I have questions… (psychologytoday.com)
I watched all six parts of this last night. An interesting account…
This review also appears at Earthpages.org
Title: Buddha Wild: The Monk In A Hut
Genre: Documentary, Buddhism, Spirituality
Distribution: Reality Films
Buddha Wild: The Monk In A Hut is one of the best documentaries about Buddhism to appear in a long time. Written, directed and filmed by Anna Wilding, this film is fresh, sincere and fun without sacrificing its critical edge.
One would scarcely know this was Wilding’s first documentary. The polished narration, interviews, camera work and editing seem more like the work of a seasoned director, while the soundtrack enhances but never overshadows the story.
The film kicks off with a brief synopsis about the historical spread of Buddhism. Then it shifts to a Theravada temple nestled deep in Thailand, where much of the footage takes place.
We learn about the legend of the Buddha–his early life, insights and subsequent enlightenment. In addition, the film takes a penetrating look into some of the rules, opinions and objectives of several monks and an abbot, and is sprinkled with comments from visiting lay Buddhists.
Before watching this DVD I prepared myself for the usual ho-hum cliches about how materialistic city folk just don’t get it because we’re locked into our so-called “monkey minds,” obsessed with gadgets, and so on. But this film contains none of that talk, which usually comes off as thinly veiled discrimination and hypocrisy. Instead, these monks seem sincerely gentle, playful and compassionate.
Also commendable is Wilding’s probing with regard to the status of women in Buddhism. Some of the monks she interviews attribute questionable gender-related practices to “Tai culture” and not to Buddhism, itself, where women and men are said to be equal.
This raises the hot button issue as to whether any person, religious or otherwise, may justify unfair or discriminatory practices by pointing to “culture” or “tradition.”
Buddha Wild pursues the question of gender inequality without upsetting the apple cart. Wilding is provocative but also diplomatic. After all, if she’d pressed the monks too hard, the film might not have been finished and gone on to receive the Dalai Lama’s official blessing in 2010.
Like most religions (and many things in life), Buddhism abides by an organizational hierarchy. And these particular monks know that politics matters. They even say so. At first glance they might seem naïve and simple, but it soon becomes clear that they’re well aware of the complex world around them and, for the most part, university educated.
Central to any worldview, political or not, is the meaning of freedom. Wilding observes that the monks are free from worry when it comes to paying the monthly bills. But they’re not free, she adds, to pursue the worldly pleasures that many of us take for granted. For instance, the monks observe a rigid mealtime schedule and, like their Catholic counterparts, take a vow of celibacy.
Perhaps the most engaging part of the film occurs when Wilding enters a monk’s hut. But don’t conjure up images of a quaint straw dwelling without any modern conveniences. In this hut spirituality and technology converge. The joyful and contented monk in the hut sits at a computer, reads in two languages, meditates, and has, as he puts it, “sweet dreams” in his simple but adequate bed.
Wilding talks candidly about her initial apprehension to enter the hut alone. But she leaves somewhat relieved, finding the experience to have been wholesome and refreshing.
Altogether, Buddha Wild is a great introduction to the philosophical underpinnings, ideals and observances of Buddhism. It’s one of those films where theory and practice easily coalesce to produce something really quite memorable.
Bonus features include a segment with a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk residing in Los Angeles plus a shorter scene with the Dalai Lama, amid countless camera flashes, talking about the intimate connection between personal and global caring.
- Mike Ragogna: The Buddha Image…Out Of Uddiyana: A Conversation with Collector Nik Douglas, plus a Forward by Tibet House’s President Robert Thurman (huffingtonpost.com)
- Jillian Burt: Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Sutra (huffingtonpost.com)
- Ed and Deb Shapiro: What the Buddha Might Say to Christine O’Donnell (huffingtonpost.com)
- Confession Of A Buddhist Atheist (anatheist.net)
- Great Buddha’s ritual cleaning (bbc.co.uk)
- Sokushinbutsu – Japan’s Self-Mummified Monks (odditycentral.com)
- Buddhism in America (time.com)
- Buddhism 101 (brighthub.com)
- New Buddhist monastery opens in Richmond (theprovince.com)
- New Buddhist monastery opens in Richmond (globaltvbc.com)
- Path to the Dalai Lama in India (thestar.com)
- Thousands attend Dalai Lama’s last public event in Toronto (theglobeandmail.com)
- Dalai Lama wraps up Toronto trip (thestar.com)
- The Dalai Lama is a meat-eater (thestar.com)
- Dalai Lama smiles through final day in Toronto (ctv.ca)
- Did the Buddha teach Traditional Reincarnation? (triangulations.wordpress.com)
- The Dalai Lama is a carnivore (thestar.com)
Here’s a video that summons up childhood memories of listening to CBC FM radio, when it was still predominantly classical.
Glenn Gould used to live in a 70s-style Toronto condo called “Inn on the Park” that’s now torn down, replaced by a Toyota dealer. He’s buried in a nearby cemetery, where I worked one summer cutting grass so I’d have enough cash for school.
I’ll have to go visit some day and pay my respects…
- LIVE: Toronto mayoral debate hosted by CBC (cbc.ca)
- For Glenn Gould, Form Followed Fingers (nytimes.com)
- Toronto’s middle class shrinking: report (cbc.ca)
- Odd bits for a Saturday (netnewmusic.net)
- Zombies stalk the earth! (psychologytoday.com)
- Enshrining an Extraordinary Poet of the Keyboard, Quirks and All (movies.nytimes.com)
- Littler: ‘Stratford’s other festival,’ is going strong after 10 years (thestar.com)
- Interview: Steven Honigberg, Author of Leonard Rose: America’s Golden Age and Its First Cellist (seattlepi.com)
- Providing a platform to the changemakers and idea generators. (techvibes.com)
- Film: Seeking the Ordinary in the Eccentric (nytimes.com)