In this episode Andrea and Craig welcome Sebastian Siegel, a British-American director, producer, screenwriter and author to talk about some of the themes and experiences from his new film, Grace and Grit, based on the book by Ken Wilber. They discuss the resilience of human love when faced with tragedy and loss, deep philosophical issues regarding joy, pain and transience, and even share some of their personal experiences on how they were able to relate to the film on a deeper level.
Mercury Theatre Podcast: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt3910630/
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Hi folks. This is Craig Van Slyke. Welcome to the rational ignorance podcast, where we talk about ideas, values, and living life well.
Hi, I'm Andrea Christelle, a philosopher and outdoor enthusiast who lives in Sedona, Arizona.
And I'm a business professor, author and rancher who lives in the middle of the woods in Eros, Louisiana.
We're here to have fun, interesting conversations that help us get to the heart of what it means to live a good life.
Rational ignorance is an idea from economics that basically means there is a limit to what we need to know. So we'll skip the small stuff and focus on what really matters and help you move towards a flourishing life.
Most of you have heard of the iconic philosopher, Ken Wilber, one of the most widely read and accessible philosophers writing today. Grace and Grit is a film based on Wilber's acclaimed book that tells a true story of how Ken and Treya fell madly in love in 1980s California, and are immediately faced with life's challenges that test their relationship.
They overcome by finding connection beyond this world and love beyond life. The amazing film, Grace and Grit recently premiered at the Sedona International Film Festival and is currently available on Amazon. Today we are honored to have with us, the writer, director, and producer of Grace and Grit, who is also Ken Wilber's personal friend, Sebastian Siegel.
Craig will tell you a little bit more about Sebastian.
Sebastian Siegel is a British-American director, producer, screenwriter, and author, his modes of storytelling range from filmmaking to contemporary art and psychology. He writes and talks about consciousness, joy, happiness, intimacy, compassion, and will. In addition to Grace and Grit, Sebastian wrote, directed and produced the documentary Awakening World along with several other films. Very excited to have him here today.Welcome Sebastian.
It's a pleasure to be here. Thank you.
We'd like to start off with the big picture. So why should listeners of our podcast watch Grace and Grit?
I think about poetry and paintings and architecture and music and movies and books. And, you know, there are so many written about love and about purpose and about overcoming, written about courage, written about life beyond. And yet we keep making sculptures and buildings and gardens and books and poetry and music and all these things, because these questions, what is love or what is life or what's really going on here, always have to be re-explored, there's always a new religion and you miss and your spirituality as consciousness extrapolates and expands. And, um, in short, this film is, uh, an exploration of this book and of this author's mind and being, and of these two lovers. And it's an exploration of the moon and the stars and this dance of love and of becoming and of reaching beyond that is happening right now through all of us. And so I like to, uh, offer this movie to audiences as, uh, an exploration in love, in life beyond. And if people are specifically interested in philosophy and psychology, certainly into a window of one of the greatest in prison history.
But moreover, as a story to say, what is love, what is really going on? What is a reference point? What's possible? How can I look at my own life and experience it in a way that I can actually touch the life that has always happened before me, and that will go on beyond me? This is that type of love story.
And so I think it's an important story. The book is an important story and, um, and I wanted to express that in a film. And so I think it's at the very least an epic love story. And at the very most, perhaps the, you know, um, more over a meditation on what's really going on here, what are we really doing here? What's worth the price of the candle? So that's why I think, uh, viewers and listeners should see the movie Grace and Grit.
Wow. Thank you for that, Sebastian. That's so beautiful and it's a reminder of how this is really a philosophical project and an artistic project, because that is one of the fundamental philosophical impulses is to take things like love and like friendship and, and read famous accounts, but then also build our own accounts.
And, um, that's just a beautiful reminder of what people can see when they come to the film, Grace and Grit. Um, but before we go too much farther. for those, for those of our listeners who may not be familiar with the story, can you tell us a little bit more about the subject matter of the film?
Well, this man and woman fall in love in eighties California, and they are immediately faced with a challenge. Um, and fall madly in love. It's passionate and romantic love. And yet like many of us, they fall in love in a way like the bee and the flower fall in love and they don't know there's something drawing them. That's cosmic something, drawing them together and they heed that. And so then this huge challenge comes up where she gets illness and they don't even let it bother them. They say, look, “We're in love” and this is bigger than both of them. We know it inside. Um, and then it becomes harder and harder and harder this life. The challenge that they're faced with in this world, it starts to sort of rip them apart, to tear them apart. But in that crucifixion comes this beautiful reconciliation and ultimate resurrection of love beyond life.
It must have been a huge challenge to transform that book into a film. I mean, not only is it a, you know, a wildly popular book, but it's, uh, I'm not sure this is the right word for it, but it's dense. You know, there, there are at least three parallel, maybe four kind of parallel elements of the book. You've got his story, you've got their story. I mean, his story, her story, their story, and then Ken's philosophy woven throughout the book. And I just don't see how you got all that together into a cohesive story as well as you did. I mean, it was.. Reading the book I felt like I was kind of in a ping pong ball at first until I got the rhythm of it.
But the movie just did an excellent job of seamlessly putting all those things together. And I'm really curious as to how you approached that.
Thanks, Craig. The books speak in just as a craftsman to that, right? Uh, the book is 400 pages. And so then in the adaptation process I break it down into four 100 page sections.
I use a number of different highlighters. What stays in, uh, what stays out, what stays in, stays in metaphorically. Isn't, you know, articulated clearly on screen with dialogue, but just maybe perhaps an imagery of what stays in, but changes chronology. And then what gets infused, because I felt that making this particular book or story into a movie, it was important to tap into integral to get a sense of, of Ken's mind and in his work, um, without it being pedantic or without it being heavy or without it being, you know, telling it too much, just infusing it in the actual process and the music and the dance in the way that it's told. In other words, in the flux of time, which we're allowed to do. You know, movies, uh, are a great vehicle for that. They're immersive that in two hours we can sit through something and have this, you know, intense feeling and experience that can carry us in 90 minutes, two hours, or two and a half hours. And so I wanted to infuse, obviously his mind in that, in terms of specifically his story and her story, it's told through her voice and through his eyes, and then ultimately her voice carries on into his voice at the end, as it does in your life and in the book. And then the story of the moon and the stars, um, is told through sound and through light, uh, and through production design. The houses, they live in the colors that they wear, you know, from beginning to end. And those are things that won't stick out to an audience, but they're felt by an audience unless someone's a cinephile and they're breaking something down and they'll notice those things, you know, from beginning to middle to end. There's very clear, even with Ken Wilber where people who are aware of him, he wears very different glasses, in the beginning, in the middle and in the end. And that was important for me as a reader of his work and student of his philosophy and psychology, um, to, to capture those things. And I think it's important also to, I think, in a, in a movie and in a song and in a book to leave some things out to jump time, a little bit, not to get too concerned with plot.
You know, to trust the audience, to know that the audience is, you know, if the audience is, is, is loves the characters, is with the characters, then we can, we can drop things off. In other words, it's not important when she gets diabetes. It's not important what happens at one doctor's meeting, we can make those leaps, yeah? Because our own life, when we think back about it, with the people that we experienced live with, that's those things aren't so important. When did I move? When did I graduate? When did I do this? When did I do that? Ultimately we're feeling through those things and growing, the roots are growing more deeply. And the deeper the roots grow, the taller the branches reach, you know, that's the real story. And so when I talk about a film being experiential, it's about suffusing those roots deeply in with music and sound and with the actors to allow the reach of these branches, to allow the audience to feel that expansion.
And I thought that was what was most important in the telling of this story.
What do you want the audience to experience?
Yeah, I, you know, I think about their, their love as being passionate and, um, romantic and, um, courageous and selfless and ultimately transcendent. So, and thinking of the film as experiential, a number of films that I sat in and been affected by that were experiential where at the beginning, um, and at the end, and just a short period under two hours, I've gone through something. I felt something. I've been touched by something that oftentimes happens to us when we're, um, when we listen to music, great music. So I want the audience to go through those things. I want them to see these characters full of hope and romance, but I also want the audience to feel hope and romance. I want the audience to see these characters go through devastation. But I also want the audience to feel a little bit of devastation of the lost hope. And then I want the audience to be ultimately resurrected. Yeah? To go through that devastation and then to feel this sense of hope in the end. In philosophical and transpersonal or integral psychological terms, I want the audience to be able to feel the threat of the loss of the little I, the I in this world here and now suffused by the hope of the big I, the I that was always here before me, before us. And it will always go on. Yeah? That's ultimately the story of transcendence, that we can allow the little I to get crucified and even have a sense of humour about it, knowing, and moreover, a sense of hope and a sense of glory in it, knowing that the big I will go on. That this song has always been happening and it's always going to keep happening. And I'm just here for one second. And if I can just enjoy the second in both the beauty and the pain, then I can really enjoy the fullness and the richness of life. I want the audience to experience that.
Yeah. Yeah. Sebastian, one of the things that you just said about having a sense of humor, um, that really I thought was so lovely about the film. I mean, this is such a difficult topic and we are going through these highs and lows and very serious considerations. And yet, I mean, the film has funny moments and there is a sense of humor suffused throughout. And there's a levity, um, that really reminds us of, of life that, you know, no matter what tragedies we're going through or what difficulties, there's also always some relief. And I just thought that was, um, done so beautifully in the film.
Thank you. I.. It's interesting because every audience responds differently and some people don't laugh at all, but there are some audiences, like when we were there, when I was with you in Sedona, you and me and Marianne, and, uh, the audience laughed a lot, right? And then it was interesting because then I looked at the audience and the audience skewed older, and many of the audience members had loved someone who passed. Many of the audience members have been through a devastation where they had loved the love of their life and held that person as they died in their arms and then were there where their new husband or wife or partner, and lot of these, this audience laughed a lot because this audience says, “Hey, this is brutal, but there's something, there's some joy in funny irony and the paradox to be had along the way.” So thanks and Ken laughed quite a bit when he saw the film, also. So for those of you who haven't seen it, there are a lot of funny moments. And if you're not sure whether it was funny or not, it's always better to just allow it to be
The funniest line to me was, uh, see if I can get this right. They were having the start of a disagreement and Ken, being a guy, started to, you know, go through the rational intellectual we’ll do this. And she looked at him and said something like, “this is not the time for intellect.” And I looked over at my wife and thought, “oh, how many times have I heard that?” I don't know what that was meant to be humorous, but I thought it was pretty hilarious because you know, that that could have been me right there.
I, I appreciate what you're saying so much cause a lot of men have reached out saying that they didn't know who Ken was. And then when they watched the film that it, it, um, they felt seen because of the challenges that they had gone through with sacrifice, or, you know, this classic different male, female drives and senses of identity, um, your intellect, isn't going to save the day now. And sometimes that's and that’s an intense, heavy scene. And whether something is meant to be funny or not, the interpreter of the, of the thing is, is, is equally as, um, as warranted as the, uh, you know, writer or the thing.
Yeah. So, you know, speaking of Ken, this, he and Treya went through this in the 1980s and the book was published in early 1990s, but this film is now coming out in 2021. So could you tell us a little bit about, um, why now and a little bit maybe about why Ken entrusted you to tell this story?
It's a great question. And, and some, you know, there's a, and we've talked a little bit about the gestation periods of different things coming into the world, and there's a time for everything. When you think about, you know, even Ken Wilber's writing, there's a time for it.
Right? It's something to be received that when Darwin is writing about evolution, other people are writing about that, but he's writing about it at just the right moment and just the right way that the world receives it. You know, when Freud is, is, is, you know, writing he’s, other people writing this kind of thing and having these discussions, but he comes to just the right moment. Yeah? And we see great thinkers and great leaders. And when I say great, I mean, just influential because their spark catches when the gasoline is there. Right? And it's ripe for knowing. So when I think about this movie, why me, why now, why it. When you're talking about the time that's passed, since the story occurred and since the book was written and since other people came before me to make this film, but it didn't happen. Why? Not because they weren't as skilled or more skilled than me. Um, but just because the timing, yeah? You know, uh, some babies stay in the womb nine months, some more, some much less. It's ripe. You know, some flowers fall off the tree soon and some later, and they just, when it's ripe, when it's right, when it's ready. So, um, abstractly it's the time is right. Why is the time right now? There's something happening perhaps in the world where the, uh, interest in yoga and meditation and consciousness. Yeah. That that's becoming, there's a broader interest in that perhaps that yields the right timing for the story to come through.
Um, I think that we're evolving, uh, consciously in a way that, um, you know, it's speeding up in some sort of way that we're seeing so many of the challenges that we're creating in the world and that's offering, um, collectively humanity to be able to look at itself for us to be able to look at ourselves and say, there's a lot of room for improvement here. Hence more interest in meditation, more interest in philosophy, more interest in psychology. Um, and so perhaps this, that's why the timing is right for this. And I think it's still ahead of the curve and it'll take time for audiences, for people to catch, perhaps, up with it. Um, but when we put it out at just the right moment, then when the audience is ripe for it, boom, it explodes.
And so I think that, uh, in my own experience and in sort of awareness, synchronistically of what was occurring as I was making this film, cause I started on it many years ago, but I never forced it. The right partners came at the right moment to make this thing come to fruition and to manifest. And when I say partners, I mean, everyone on the movie, you know, in production and pre production in post and printing, you know, every element, the actors, everything. That there's a, when we're following something intuitively we have to go and push and try, but never force, that we have to allow. Yeah? And so I like to pay attention to the signs and feel things intuitively and push and push and push. And when I'm not sure, it's always better to push a little bit more than a little bit less. If we're pushing the baby out and just, if you're not sure, take that breath, push a little harder, get the baby out, but don't force it. Don't rip it. It's gonna happen. It's gonna come. It's gonna happen. Right? So, um, the time is now and the time is now.
Yeah. Well, you know, speaking of the time right now, I think that what we are just coming on the other side of, uh, COVID-19 when so many of us have been in isolation for so long and really recognize the importance of connecting to others. But also there's been a tremendous loss of life, right? And so I feel like a film like this right now that shows how difficult it can be to be with someone going through something very difficult, how to be transformed by that yourself and still be there for that other person. I mean, many people have had that struggle just recently. So, I mean, I think this certainly is a film for people who have lost someone to cancer or gone through that. But I also think that there's something universal in this message that can be helpful to anyone who is going through something difficult like that with a loved one.
Yeah. There's, uh, through every path there's different things that we’re faced with that are devastating and there's, uh, art that comes through in those, in these different paths that, uh, oftentimes carry the voice of hope you carry us through. So many great symphonies, if you think about what was happening in the world when they were created, the wars and the battles. And you can almost hear it in the music, even if the songs aren't specifically about those battles, you can hear that to malt and hope and the story is carried on. Um, and so yes, a story of resurrection is an important story right now. And this is a story of resurrection. No doubt.
Absolutely. You know, you mentioned people that have gone through this. Um, I lost my first wife to cancer. She was only 46 and we had not been married for a particularly long time. And to me watching the movie, the most powerful scene was when Ken was taken that lonely walk down that long hospital corridor. And it was, it was a strange reaction for me because I, I'm, I'm not even sure this will make sense. It wasn't Ken walking down that corridor. It was me walking down that corridor and, you know, I felt every little bit of that loneliness and that uncertainty that goes on in that moment. And I, it was just extremely powerful and I just don't. How did you pull that off? I mean, what, what kind of direction did you give to, uh, Stuart Townsend to, to make that so? I mean, it's simple, it's a guy walking down the hallway, but I'll tell you, it got me.
Ah, Craig. Ken wrote this book for you, right? And I made this movie for you. I mean, that's the story. Um, you know, so many people have challenges, such. All of us at some juncture or another suffer loss and devastation and loneliness. And the most lonely thing is when we are not able to reveal to the people or the individual closest to us in our lives and we'd have to, we can't confide. We have to be strong. In this case, he has to be strong for her, in your case you identified with it. In my case I've identified with that so many times when I read that book, when I read those journals saying, wow, he can't reveal his wife to his loved one.
How he's starting to fall, how he's starting to crumble. He has to be strong for her. Everyone's ….. You can't tell the child, you can't tell. And, um, that journey specifically, you know what you're asking her, what it's bringing up there. How do we put that on, on screen? Um, that's one of my favorite shots in the movie. So it's one long take with no cuts, no coverage. There's zero coverage. In this big room, it's bright and there's all this feminine energy and it's sort of like doctors going through something that's procedural is what's going to happen and she's upbeat about it. She’s saying, “Okay. Sounds good. I'm feeling hopeful.” And then you have the parents come in and then you can feel it in the music, right?
The score there, you can feel it. Zzzzzzzzz I’m really, really using the music there, zzzzzzzzz, subtly, subconsciously get at something. And then we reveal Ken, and Stuart is doing such a great job. You can see it in his jaw, right from the moment you learn. It's the first time we've seen it. And no one knows it, but us. And he gets up and he answers the door. The parents come in and he's, “Hey, Hey, are you?” he’s giving his best that we all have to do at some point, even when we're crumbling inside we have to show up and give the world our best. It's such a lonely place and a hard place to be. But we have to do it. Whether we're the general of an army or a friend or someone or the head of a family or a garden or whatever the thing is, we have to show up and do our best. And then she's, she says, “I, uh, I'll be right back, babe.” You know, he says, and then he walks down the hall and we see it on his face right away, right? And then I planted then, you know, when I rewrote it, that he has to pass by a nurse who's giving flowers too. And she kind of like shows him the flowers. Thank you. You know? And he has to show, he has to present and project this identity to her by kind of smiling. But then as soon as he passes the sort of the smile dissipates from his face, right? And Stuart just owned that, you know. And I think that's important right now in the world, technologically, because we're always projecting an identity socially, yeah? And through media, it's very dangerous. We want to give our best foot, put our best foot forward. But if we do it too often without any kind of authenticity, it's why when people spend too much time on social media, they become very depressed because it's so much projection of identity. We have to at some point, we want to show our best, but we also want to feel what we really are and in feeling what we're really are we have to show the people that we're close with and the people that we interact with, even though we're not close with, perhaps something is challenging or something is amiss. In order for me to touch that thing that’s amiss first, I have to be aware of it and then I have to express it.
So in this particular case, he's walking down the hall and I can't show it. And that's this. Very lonely place. So he goes down the hall and I wanted the next hall to be darker. So it starts in this bright room with all these people. It gets darker, he's showing his identity and pretty soon, no one else is around so he can just get lost in himself. And then he ends up and sees this dark room, and he goes in this dark room and he's alone in this dark room. And it's only in this darkness that he can be able to touch and confront and be with his own sense of being and be face-to-face with it and really feel it and absorb it. So we started this broad, bright room, and then we end up in this Sergio Leone type of very tight shot that's just up inside of him that he has to go in this place in the dark. And she doesn't know all of it, only he knows. Only the audience is privy to what's really going on in his life. So it's the first moment that we're able to get a window into this guy who's playing his cards very close, he doesn't show much, that we're able to peek in just a little bit. And so it's a very intimate, intimate moment. Um, and I think that that moment is powerful for anyone who's experienced that as you have, uh, with your wife and all the things I can only imagine that you went through in the moments that you had to be strong for her without telling her. You’re doing better than me, I’m gonna crumble.
Uh, it was, it was just brilliant. I mean, right, right down to the wallpaper and the corridor, you know, it was just, uh, it was just amazing. I think maybe we can touch on, I'd love to get your thoughts on this. It seemed to me that one of the things that they had to do to start to make that transition, you know, into what was ultimately the resurrection was that they had to not give in isn't quite the right term. But they had to just accept, you know, I went through that. I, you know, I'm a, I'm a systematic guy, you know, I'm in computers, I've been trained in engineering. And so, you know, I want to know the cause of everything. And when my first wife Debbie was diagnosed, I started to do all this research to figure out, you know, why this had happened. And then I thought this is pointless. Knowing why change is nothing. You know, I've just got to accept that this is, this is the way things are and we're going to do whatever we can do right now today in this moment. And I'm not going to worry about the past. I'm not going to worry about the future. We're just going to know if you're having trouble walking, we're going to get you a cane. You know, if you're having pain, we're going to do something about that. And just, and I think there was a sense, there was a moment in the film where I kind of felt that transition where it's, you know, we, we'll never figure all this out. Let's just, we've just got to be in the now and that's all we can do. Was that an intentional thing or was that just me projecting my own experiences into the movie?
That's beautiful. Well, that's definitely, um... that's I, you know what you said on so many levels is powerful. Um, it's intentional for sure. Um, surrender, right? Did they get to this point where Treya calls passionate equanimity and you know, her character arc is, you know, goes from student to teacher and she goes from doing to being. And this particular element of that art, this particular line, rather of that arc from doing to being there, she starts off like doing like a type person, like get the guy, fall in love, make the relationship work, keep the guy, oh my God, this illness is coming on. Beat the illness, make it all work. And then eventually like, okay, you know what? Let's just do our best and give everything we have to everything we're doing, but without attachment to results, right? Which she calls passionate equanimity. Compassion, equanimity, you know, these two things that are opposite of one another, essentially. Like that zen, that's the paradox of life that we have to let go to hold on.
And I use that line, let go to, hold on, she's in the, she's sitting in the shower, you know, she's got her head shaved and they just split up and she says, “you have to let go to hold on, you have to let go to hold on”, she just whispers it under her breath and it will get lost in a lot of audiences. And it's not important. Maybe people need a second time, third time, or sometimes depending on what theatre they're in or where they're watching it, they'll hear it. Um, but “let go to hold on” you know that I think about that as even climbing a ladder that we have to let go to climb to the next room, but if we let go, we also may fall. We have to let go to hold on. And I think about that in terms of signing our name. We try too hard, the signature doesn't work. If we just let it go, you go but if we don't care at all, it's lousy with swallowing, with digestion, with orgasm, with blinking, with anything that we do, we have to let go to hold on. And certainly with the relationship we have to let go with the breath. We can't force the breath we have to, [deep breath] for it to be really, you know, for it to bring us great sustenance. Um, in terms of, um, the intentionality of that, I really appreciate what you're saying as somebody who is, uh, you said methodical and planning things out and really examining and understanding things, having a sense of deep, intuitive sense of the big picture, right? We're in love, you and your wife in love, these two people are in love. What really matters? Well, I want to beat this. I want to stay in this dance together, but there's something bigger that's moving through us and we have to at some points to render and get out of the way. That spirit or electrical current or god or whatever thing is moving through us.
And you know what? It may not be what I think I want, but it's what consciousness really wants. And I'm gonna let that thing through me through us. Let's do that. And there's this fearlessness that happens and this magic that happens in that surrender. That's what leads great generals on the field to do unbelievable things, right? That's the story of William Wallace in Braveheart. That's why everyone loves this story of Moses, you know? This myth, you know. Everyone loves the story of Moses because he says, “I don't know what's going to happen or going there.” You know, that's deep. And everyone admires and appreciates and is lit up by faith because faith is the doing, regardless of how dark or light everything seems.
And then when we can generate more faith from within, we do more and we feel like impenetrable, we feel indelible, because we are, because it's not the little me that you go and read the little self it's only me. That's only here for 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 or 80 or a hundred or five years. One of the things it’s this big me, a big song, a big music.
We touch that. That's the vehicle of faith. So the intentionality of saying yes and the movie to articulate this passionate, what Treya calls passionate equanimity, and to infuse, hopefully the audience for this sense of faith that I was infused with when I read the book that it was devastating. And yet it was so uplifting. Why? And I wanted to put that on screen, that sense of faith, to be able to surrender that's where the magic is at, right?
You know, that just seems so counterintuitive, but you're absolutely right. You know, there's courage and surrender.
And that I thought, I thought that came through. Um, and, and it was, you know, one person's experience while now, I guess a couple of people's experience, but that's exactly the way it went for us as well. You know, once you just said, well, there's no, there's a reason for this. I don't know what it is, but I'm not that bright. So I'm just going to forget about it and, you know, just going to go and do what we can do.
What a powerful statement, right? There's this something's happening here and I'm not that bright. In other words, no matter how bright I am, even at my most brilliant, I'm not that bright. I'm not the edge of consciousness. I'm not the voice. You know, the voice of God, if there’s a spirit or whatever the thing is, is not any individual, but it's moving through all of us simultaneously. And there, we have to allow that flux. I think about in Hawaii, the Koa wood, uh, is the strongest wood, one of the strongest woods in the world. And it's so strong that the Hawaiians used to build their canoes out of Koa wood. It's so strong because it's not so solid. It gives a little bit, right? But the strongest woods give a little bit, right? That's what allows them, to, you know, to, to, to, to, to bend into the world at just the right and just the right way and, and great, um, samurais look at that with steel, also. The best steel is not always the hardest steel. There's a certain flux that it, that it has to give. And so we have to have that, and I think indicative of the title of this film and of this book, Grace and Grit, it requires a certain grit, which is stay the course right, and drive through and be resilient and durable. And there's a certain grace that says, you know what? It has to be tempered by a certain sense of humour. And as you're talking about here, surrender.
Yeah. You know, Sebastian, this way of knowing, I want to ask you about that because, um, one of the scenes I remember from the movie is when Trey said, “When I met Ken, he had one chair and one typewriter and 4,000 books.” The guys read a lot, right? He knows a lot intellectually. He has incredible mastery. And, and perhaps he could even, you know, before this happened, write essays about how one should go through this and experience this. And one of the things that we see is that he loses touch with his writing. He loses touch with that side of himself as strong and as powerful and as much of a resource as that is, there's, there's something else that this is it's, it's an experience of life that is a direct account, that's that's not a text or that's not propositional necessarily as, as, as, even though those things are great resources. They're not the same. And I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about those two ways of understanding and experiencing life.
Yeah. The, um, the intellect is amazing, right? It's so powerful. And I mean, the number of times I've been up late at night, early in the morning, or, you know, when I was falling in love with psychology or philosophy, whether it was reading, you know, a Schopenhauer or Shelling or Jung or you know, temporarily James Hollis, or, you know, I mean, there are just so many brilliant authors, yeah? And certainly in reading Ken Wilbur, that I would just turn the page and say, “my God, it's amazing!” Right? And just that feeling of neurologically feeling those synapses connect in the mind, right? That high that we get from saying “Wow!” All of a sudden I have this new paradigm, this new view of the world, I'm standing out on this vista and I have this new understanding for life itself and relationships, that getting lost in these books is this, this, this is so spectacular, right? Hence the complex enormous fields of philosophy and psychology, and yet the power of all of that and the dexterity and precision of all of that is really useless without the drive of a heart, without the feeling and the embodiment of all of the dots of all of those things, you have to be able to drop in and feel those things. Um, and, um, I think in, in, in, uh, music, uh, oftentimes we listened to a song when we were kids, uh, whatever our parents or older friends are listening to, and we love the song because the rhythm is good and the voice is good. Let's say it's Roberta Flack, right? Or Marvin Gaye, whatever the thing is. And we love it. It's beautiful. We see the people older than us love, you know, whatever the songs, wherever the musician is at any time. And then one day we're heartbroken. One day we lose someone. And then all of a sudden, all these Roberta Flack or Marvin Gaye or whatever, it's like all of a sudden Cat Stevens, then all of a sudden they have a new meaning to us because we're feeling that we're really feeling. We're not just hearing it. We're not just enjoying the beat and the rhythm and all the things that make it a wonderful lullaby in a song, but we're feeling it because it's personal to us. As Craig was saying, that was me walking down the hall, all of a sudden that's me in that Roberta Flack song, right? All of a sudden that's me in that Cat Stevens song, whether it's a sense of devastation or hope. And I think that the power of filmmaking being immersive that in two hours about that, uh, we can go from one thing to another and we can really feel when we allow ourselves to identify, you know, when we allow ourselves to let go in a movie is for me, why I love movies. And so I think that the power in doing that is to take a story about a man, about a couple, like Ken and Treya, that are so intelligent and intellectual and really, really interesting characters, evolved beings and see, and feel them go through this sense of loss and confusion that it, I'm able to, we, as audience are able to identify with our own sense of loss and confusion and bumbling and stumbling and mistakes and regrets that it gives us a reference point for what's possible. How do we fumble and stumble and then get back up and be glorious again? But there's always another way to get back up and be glorious again. And that way, this movie and this story is very helpful. Um, and in that way, it is, as you're saying, experiential, that that can be talked about, but it has to be felt. And so I wanted it to be felt in the watching of this movie. Did you get all that in under two hours?
What a bargain and it's available on Amazon Prime, low, low price. Yeah. So I think I might be a bad person. When, when you were talking about all those amazing artists, I was thinking about bread. You know, that, that was the big heartbreak. I just got dumped band of choice back in my younger days, but Roberta Flack and Marvin Gaye are better.
No, you're so right. And there's always a, there's a, there's a voice. And you think about, you know, I love to listen to music and think about films and scenes when I'm driving. And, you know, I'll hear a great song, you know, from eighties rock or nineties rock. And it's just like, it'll hit me and I'll have this whole idea coming out of my head about, I gotta movie about this movie around this eighties, nineties rock song, right? Because there's uh, if something sparks in us at any moment, you know, depending on what we're experiencing, and it means something to us. And sometimes it's just a, a stone that we pick up off the ground. And there might be a resonance in that stone that, uh, you know, an American Indian or an Aborigine, or depending on where we are in the world was touching that stone, and we're picking up, were feeling something there. And then even that, and no matter what the song is, the poem or a Dr. Seuss book or an eighties or nineties rock song or whatever the thing is, that we're picking up something that's infused with somebody's heartbreak. And when they felt it, when they sang it and they wrote it, and then we're feeling it then. That's, what's, what matters is the current, the thread when we surrender is felt and how cool that we can get lit up by something complex and something simple. That's a sign of our, of your, of our own availability to the, our own sanctions. You know?
It's, uh, it seems like that's a mark of great art, whether it's music or, you know, a painting or a photograph or a film, is, you just get transported back. I mean, you know, I'm an old man and you know, if I hear a certain song from 19, you know, 74 or something, you know, for a moment I'm back there, you know? I'm feeling when the girl said, no, I don't want to go out with you or, you know, whatever it might be, but it's, it's that, it's that momentary transcendence back to what you were before. And I, you know, it makes my head hurt to try to deconstruct it too much, but, uh, I think that's something we all experienced. And I think, you know, that came through in Grace and Grit particularly well. My, my wife, Tracy is a retired oncology nurse and a cancer survivor. And when we were talking about the film, we watched it together. She, she kind of pulled me into understanding that it wasn't a story about Ken. It wasn't a story about Trey. It was a story about, about them, that not, not the big T, but you know, the, it, it was them together. And I think one of the messages that I hope people get from the film and I wonder if this aligns with what you want is that we are all in this together, no matter what it is. I mean, even the Stoics, you know, we've got responsibilities to each other. We've got, we've got the, we, we are this one. And, you know, even for pretty independent people, that's just spot on. And so, um, I'm not asking a question here, I guess, but does that track with what you were trying to express.
Yeah, very much so. Um, this, you know, and this sense of, uh, the big self shining through only when the little self gets out of the way, uh, that, that surrender, that this music is going on, it's always been going on before us and after us and beneath us and beyond us. And that we're just carrying this quarter or carrying these instruments here now, just for one instant, we get to be on the field, playing the song all together, right? All together, yeah? That, uh, for me, compassion is important, even beyond any sense of morality, but it's just as important, right? The history of humanity, you know, you know, the, the history of, of sanctions and, and, and, and, and compassion ultimately really yields before human. Yeah? Even before any kind of animal sanctions, even before plant life. You know, that if we go back, you know, billions and billions of years after this big bang, we look at, you know, protons and neutrons and electrons and quarks, and that these base subatomic elements have this intuition, have this impulse to reach out and connect with one another. That the history of existence is the history of communication, you know? Is the history of exchange, of electricity and ideas and feelings and thoughts, things that become ideas and feelings and thoughts. But it's this exchange that that's really what's going on. That's the ultimate story. And it's just playing through us and all these glorious spectacular ways, but it's really still the same story. And that we're only good when we are allowing the communication of all of us to come through. Yeah? In the moment we start to shut down that communication, we start to shut off some of the salt, or shut off some of the honey, and then we have an incomplete system and it doesn't feel right. Right? It may be more enjoyable for a moment, but not in the long run, you know, we've got a lot of that through. So, um, that's pretty meta, but you know, on a base level, you know what you're saying, yes. We're all in this together, that it, that, you know, uh, compassion is powerful. You know, having this eye about relationship, seeing the face and the eyes, the, the feeling of spirit and God in every other being that we come into contact with, whether it's someone we love and know, or someone we don't know that we've got to take for, for, we've got to assume already that knowing, because you know, we come from the same stars and the same dust, so might as well.
It's more fun, right? And I, and if I think about, you know, as an analogy, when we're listening to, or watching a symphony, you know, all these musicians, some of them are really close with one another. Others, they don't know each other so well. And maybe in one particular symphony they're playing together for a day or a week or whatever, they don't, they never meet. And yet they're connected. Violin, the cello, drum, they're connected, right? And they're trusting and they’re giving up. And even on a base level that even before let's say someone starts playing the cello, just the resonance of the other instruments in the room, yet the diaphragm of the cello to start humming, even subtly, right? That we can feel that in other words, in ourselves from allowing in the music of others, that we are connected. That is not intellectual. That is reality. And the moment that we start to think that we're not, we can differentiate and we can be separate from others is a really dangerous dark moment.
Not just for ourselves, not just in a relationship, but for humanity. So yes, I love what you're saying. The surrender, we're in this, like it is that's for real. And we can only fake that or deny that for so long. We see it in ourselves, in our history, or we see it in others. That's when the real dangerous things happen, yeah? That's when we start to take the god or the spirit or the electrical current out of life, that we start to think that we're so smart or we're so great, that we can do it the way we ought to do it. We know how to do it right. But no, there's something bigger. It's so much bigger than us. And so yes, part of this story is to say that, that we are all in this, in this together, so thank you for that.
Let's take a brief break in our conversation with Sebastian Siegel to tell you about another independent podcast, the Mercury Theatre Podcast, we'll be back in just a minute, literally.
Mercury Theatre Podcast Promo 48:25
At Mercury Theatre Podcast, we have visitors from all over. We've had pirates, conspiracy theorists, a detective, role-players and so many more. We had to go through airport security every day. On our record, I stepped in elephant manure, elephant manure. That elephant was lucky. I wasn't allowed to use the lavatory, even though I was just on my way before the film rolled. Oh, hell very unfortunate for you! Ever had a whip to the face? Because it sucks! You guys had it easy for the holiday episode, craft services only provided honeybaked ham, and fruitcake! Yeah, this group gets pretty rowdy, so I try to keep them all in different episodes. Join us at Mercury Theatre Podcast and get lost in a 30 minute audio movie, one episode at a time. Mercury Theatre Podcast.
So Sebastian, one of the other things I wanted to ask you about with this film, and I wanted to ask this question in the context of a good or flourishing life, you know, we often think of a good life as being one where things are going well, um, where everything is moving along with success and conventional happiness.
But I wonder, um, what this film has to tell us about living a good or a flourishing life in the midst of challenging circumstances.
I love this word that you're using there, um, on the flourishing, right? Because I think in the most zen way and so much zen writing is about the lotus coming out of manure, right?
You know, that it's this soil and earth that is rich and fertile with all these minerals and abundance, and it's the grimiest, dirtiest place we can possibly be, right? In the mud and grime, and yet that yields this beautiful flower, right? And I love that paradox in life, so I love this word you're using, flourish, because that's indicative of life.
And, um, we can only be fulfilled when we are ultimately allowing that thing to come through, acknowledging that, you know, the, this, uh, the darkness or the pain or the angst that's in all of us, if we don't feel that, then we're not in touch. In other words, you know, we all want to be happy. We all want it to feel good, it feels great to feel good. But right now someone is being, within a mile from wherever you are, wherever we are, someone who's going through the worst moment in their life. Right now, within one mile of all of us, right? Right now, the number of people, the number of animals that are being brutally tortured for the pleasure of ourselves and others.
And we can do something about it, but we're not. It's never enough, right? And so we have to carry some of that pain so that it keeps us engaged to be able to take action, to allow life to be a little more gentle, a little more beautiful. So I think fulfilment, full, right? Filling up a glass or a vessel with something means filling it fully, right? With both, you know, the yin and the yang with both of these extreme energies of light and dark. And the best cake,
yeah, is just the right amount of honey and just the right amount of salt, right? These two things, temper and juxtapose one another to give a beautiful, beautiful expression. We think about, you know, even in music, this specifically to the question or the statement that you're saying about, um, fulfilment and about joy and about flourishing, when we're in pain, to allow that pain in, because it gives us a sentience, you know? We are able to acknowledge our own sentience and in that pain, it ties us to the pain of the rest of the world. And so it ties us all together. I think about that even, you know, as a kid reading Kahil Gibran, that he expresses that so clearly and all his writings that it's this thing, this, this thing's happening through us. And that we're in pain. You know, joy is always coming, but when we're in joy, pain is always coming, you know? In other words, everything is seasonal.
We're in winter, it's cold, but summer is coming so just enjoy the winter. The pain, allow that thing in, allow it to be crucified completely because then, you know, the balance is like, we can have, you know, we can cry all of our tears and we can laugh all of our laughter. But if we deny those tears, we don't get to cry them all, we just cry a little bit. We also don't get to laugh all of our laughter. And so I think that the allowing that in, uh, is very important. Uh, and then the acknowledgement also, just the, the grit and the grind that is a part of life, um, that, that allows us to be more sentient and more compassionate and more and more, more tender. Um, you know, to just, you know, to exemplify maybe someone from history, like Abraham Lincoln, you know, before the common photograph was popular, you know, he was a melancholic guy. And he would cry a lot, he would cry in public from time to time. It couldn't be photographed and it was hard to take a photograph back then.
What a powerful guy. It made him so sensitive as a great leader. And then I think about even music, like we hear that great song, dun dun, dun, dun, dun dun, uh, right? And that song without that beat is nothing. Dun dun dun dun, you know, that's really, that's our life. We have to allow that in. And that's what allows us to rise higher.
It's all part of the dance, you know, you just have to have to give into it sometimes.
And, and you know, in the most zen type of way, you know, that something horrible happens and I'll look at it and I, you know, we're human and I'll say, wow, this is awful! What am I going to do with this? You know? And then sometimes, you know, we tell mortality and you said, well, all right, look, you know, the doctor says, or you've experienced something in your gut and you say, well, geez, maybe I'm going to die here. And then I said, well, my God, I want to hold on, yeah. I want to keep the song going. And then I said, you know what, maybe I'm going to. I'm going to die at some point, we're all going to die at some point. Maybe it's not going to be 10 years from now or 30 years from now, 40 years from now, or two years from now. Maybe it's going to be tomorrow. But when that day is going to show up or we're not going to necessarily know it. So let's come to terms with that right now. In other words, I like to come to terms with that right now. I like to have fun thinking, “Hey, tomorrow I may die.” That's sort of a relief, right, in some way. That's kind of like, okay, good.
You know, you know, all I can do with a little rest is, you know, let the others carry the song on like, there's a certain grace in that kind of surrender.
I'll say about that question of dying. I think that's a good one to distinguish between the theoretical and the lived experience, because I was going through a phase where I was reading the Stoics and really thinking that I wanted to come to terms with death and that I would be prepared for that and had convinced myself that I had reflected on that a sufficient amount. Then it was a winter storm and I was driving up through Oak Creek Canyon. And I know you've both been in there, that torturous big hill and my Subaru slipped and I started slipping backwards through Oak Creek Canyon and, and the immediate sense of terror and the physical response in my life flashing before me all completely involuntary. And I just realized that I am not the Stoic I thought I was.
Okay. That's glorious. You know what I love about that picture, cause I can see it all right there? Is that there are these different drives occurring in you simultaneously. That the one intellectual drive has this awareness of time. And the other emotional drive has, has come to terms with your own mortality and in the reading and in the understanding and the crossing, and you say, “Hey, look, I surrender. I'm not going to be here forever and I'm okay with it.” And then as the Subaru starts slipping off the thing and you're faced with death, those things aren't, um, those things are still powerful and still operating inside of you at that moment. But what's occurring is the more fundamental evolutionary drive, which is overriding everything else, right? But the evolutionary drive has been going on for billions of years, that you slice the skin open and then the fingerprints start to grow back in the same way, it's miraculous. The evolutionary mechanism to go on for the song to go on will at that impulse at that moment, override everything else, right? Which is why is common as suicide is even some animals can commit suicide, like dolphins, et cetera. It's not hugely popular because the impulse to survive is so strong that it keeps us going. And that's where we have, you know, uh, so many people will go through and then suicides and interesting discussion maybe for another time that so many people will attempt because the deep, even if we want to exit this life individually, that there's this deep impulse evolutionarily for the song to go on, right? And so that the Subaru slipping off the thing and the storm is going to take you down and you say, “Oh my God, I want to live!” right? It's a beautiful mechanism, but that's ultimately not, maybe not even there you, that wants to live, but it's something coming through you that wants this character to stay on stage for another beat longer than there's something else to be expressed through you, right? And I think that's where that evolutionary drive comes from.
We're we're glad you didn't slide off.
Although I'm a little disappointed that a Subaru did that, but you know, all-wheel drive doesn't matter on ice…
As a producer, there's an opportunity here for a sponsorship.
There you go. There you go.
Okay. So Sebastian, it's been such a pleasure to have you with us today. You're such a beautiful and dynamic and sensitive thinker. Um, and before we let you go, we like to leave our listeners with a call to action. And so I just wonder if there's any final thing that you could share with them that you've learned, you know, through your own journey as a writer and thinker, or as a filmmaker about, um, how to live a more flourishing life?
That's a great one. I think what I like to do is ground a sense of presence. That if I'm going to go out in the world, then this moment in the next minutes or hour or whatever the thing is, and the people that I know or don't know, to when I look them in the eyes to really feel in their eyes and breathe inward, whatever they're saying and just listen to it and just feel it, and then allow a little bit of joy to come through me. Even if they're full of angst, or if they're full of joy, just allow a little bit of joy and try to just allow the reception of them to be joy inside of me. Because I think that we all want to be received by God or spirit in a way that even when we're panicked or when we're happy, we want to be received and welcomed to the room with joy. And I think that we can receive others with just a beat of joy, that it allows people to settle a little bit. That it's a nice thing.
It definitely is. Um, thank you so much. It's been such an honor to spend this time with you.
Thank you Andrea and Craig, thank you both so much.
Thank you. We really appreciate it. Everybody watch the movie.
Yes. And we'll have links in the show notes.
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Thanks, Craig. If you enjoyed this podcast, hit the subscribe button, please rate, review and tell your friends. Until next time.