The film “Mindwalk” goes back to 1990, yet sheds light on light – and Light – and how systems theory and notions of holism promised to create a new world.
I viewed “Mindwalk” at the Ojai Valley Retreat, among my favorite new sanctuaries.
Liv Ullman plays the prophet of systems theory – a retired physicist, estranged from her daughter, who holes herself up at Mont Saint Michel, where she contemplates the nature of subatomic particles and their vast spaciousness and rues that her discovery of the properties of small, intensely focused laser beams has been used by the defense department and not for medical purposes.
Liv’s character proclaims that we are all living systems – you, me, that tree – and we all interact on a subatomic level; in fact, we are swimming in a sea of cosmic energy, or more likely dancing, like Shiva Nataraj, the Hindu god of creation, who becomes a metaphor for the new physics that has replaced the Cartesian-Newtonian notion of God the Clockmaker.
There is a lot of fun wordplay this movie, like plays on the notion of time, as well as light; and there’s an underlying conversation as to whether we the human species have the wisdom to use our technology for healing instead of for destruction. Essentially, the film draws together the physicist, a poet – speechwriter, and a Senator who failed his run for President because he was too far ahead of the people, or because he ran dry on inspiration. All three are somewhat estranged from their essence, and their friendship and conversation draws each to face their idiosyncratic wounds and somehow return to life.
After the film I had opportunity to reflect how my own drawing on holism and systems theory in Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Legal Boundaries and Regulatory Perspectives (1998). There, I began with Jan Smuts, who in his 1926 book Holism and Evolution – much earlier than Capra the filmmaker and Capra the physicist – described holism as the notion that every organism has self-direction, and that nature (including us) expresses itself in wholes. Smuts contrasted holism with mechanism, and I picked up on the popular antithesis of biomedicine as reductionistic and mechanistic (following Cartesian dualism and Newtonian mechanism) and holistic health care as expanding the biopsychosocial model of care to include body, mind, emotions, and spirit.
“Curing involves the eradication of disease at the physiological level. Healing involves a movement toward wholeness, growth, or greater balance on physical, mental, emotional, and social [and spiritual] level.” (p. 9).
In the film, Ullman’s character asks, what good is curing without healing? A discussion ensues about a doctor who removes the patient’s gallbladder – but maybe that operation would have been spared had the patient had proper diet and lifestyle counseling (and possibly, resolved any underlying emotional and energetic issues).
Of course, we go from thesis and antithesis to synthesis (see my later Healing at the Borderland of Medicine and Religion); and, the movie ends where the conversation really begins, which is with the question each character has about how to implement their Platonic dialogue into their lives.
In medicine, we have integrative medicine – an ongoing dialectic. In life, as Jung reminds us, we have individuation.
Like the conversation between the physicist and the politician in the film around whether you describe a tree by its roots and branches, or by its relationships with the animals its fruits feed, and its way of connecting sky and earth and breathing in and out for the planet, we have this same conversation in politics, environmental debates, in our nutritional and lifestyle habits, and in our moment by moment choices.
In Borderland I cited Suzuki’s comparison of a haiku by Basho, and a poem by Tennyson. I wrote:
“Basho grasps the plant in its totality, achieving a rare and precious moment of enlightenment during which his consciousness merges in a state of united awareness with the beauty of the flower. Tennyson, equally appreciative of the beauty of nature, approaches its immense and ungraspable marvel by uprooting the flower and examining it in wonder; he detaches the rose from its environment and separates himself from the object of his analysis.” (Borderland, p. 9).
I noted that Suzuki describes these approaches as “East” and “West,” and uses them as descriptions for two different ways of approaching the world.
However, the time has come for both to merge.
Kipling mysteriously wrote:
- Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
- Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgment Seat;
- But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
- When two strong men stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!
A portion of the film takes places in the torture chamber. Ullman’s character criticizes the ‘patriarchal culture, always trying to subdue the environment and impose the masculine and bend others to its will–the torture chamber being the ultimate result of wrought iron, of will wrought upon freedom. It is the soft, nurturing, feminine principle, she argues, that can bring balance to this misshapen and distorted philosophical posture.
In Borderland, I argued for a synthesis of West and East, of the masculine and feminine principle, as we can be-
“simultaneously synthetic and analytical, nondiscriminative and discriminative, and intuitive and intellectual…. In other words, the millenial human who combines East and West would have both polarities active at once.”
The politician goes back to Washington infused with the promise of systems theory and its potentiality to transform policy; the poet resolves to resolve his inner shadows and reintegrate with community; and the physicist, to transform her understanding of light into renewed intimacy with her family circle.
The final scene shows the politician and the poet walking back across the channel, absorbing their received wisdom in silence–the poet remembering fragments of meaningful verse–while the waters close and seal off the monastery into its storied castled remoteness.
“…The delusional matrix of medicolegal reality arguably shapes future future medicine in the wrong direction, errs when it perpetuates a delusional sense that a human being is only material, and … needs to expand to wisely assimilate portions of foreign (and sometimes competing) worldviews. It is, perhaps, not only medicine that is being integrated, but also these two facets of human nature–two different ways of knowing….
Acknowledging such an approach can bring the covert into the overt, and can validate subjectivity, intuition and mystery in equipoise to science and law, so that the field of knowing may be broadened and enriched.” (Borderland, Epilogue).
Or, to give Rumi the last word:
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I will meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about
language, ideas, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.”