Common sense tells us that our emotions and artistic sensibilities can sometimes be at odds with our intellectual and moral beliefs. Who hasn’t been pulled towards something attractive, desirable, or compelling in some way, while at the same time realizing it isn’t compatible with one’s core values? Recently, I had this experience after watching a film on Netflix, Supernova, which I thought was both an incredibly moving and beautiful work or art as well as an endorsement for a mindset that runs counter to one of my core beliefs, namely, the sanctity of interdependent life. By sanctity, I mean to imply a way of living that is spiritual in the sense of being fundamental and universal. And by interdependent, I mean to imply an intrinsic unity, an innate entwinement of one’s life as an individual with the lives of others, and ultimately, with the life of all others.
I think “Supernova” is a superbly crafted film in every way (artistically and technically). It tells the story of a writer’s plan to take his own life before his dementia develops into something that takes away his ability to control his life as he wishes. It is told within a series of events that emphasize his longstanding and intensely felt intimate relationship with his partner, a musician. Although his intention is to carry out his plan privately, his partner discovers it (by chance), becomes deeply distraught, and tries desperately to convey his willingness to live with whatever consequences may emanate from the threatening disease. At the conclusion of the film, the writer’s conviction to end his life on his own terms remains unchanged, and his partner accepts this situation by asking to be present “when it happens.”
Watching the final moments of Supernova--which involved seeing a breathtaking depiction of a star-filled night sky—was a decidedly paradoxical moment for me. It was a moment filled with a sense of the unfathomable beauty and mystery of life, but something about it did not “ring true” for me. Almost immediately I felt that the film did not reflect what I believe is the ultimate source of beauty and mystery: the unconditional love that flows from experiencing the absolute unity of life. This unity is a flowering of genuine mutuality, which implies an awareness of the power of vulnerability, of submitting oneself to the creative interdependence of life. Because the film ended by showcasing someone’s supposed right to autonomously control his life, I could not relate to it as a representation of either the fundamental interdependence of life or genuine, unconditional love.
A person who is genuinely loving and interdependent is someone who lives as a full-fledged participant in our world: someone who is always willing and ready to adjust one’s perspective in the light of unfolding events. To live in this way is the antithesis of “being in control” of one’s life, because it recognizes that the natural flow-of-life is a co-creative energy, a coming-together of myriad influences as one responds to the events of one’s life, moment by moment. To resist this flow by clinging to entrenched ways of thinking and feeling is to deny the fundamental efficacy of living as fully as possible in the present moment. It is also a type of control that I believe is a denial of the creative potency of unconditional love. Of course, there are many aspects of life that require the use of some measure of control. But are our close, personal relationships among them?
Is it not fair to say that genuine participation, mutuality, and love express very different approaches to life than “being in control”? Being in control implies an effort to regulate what one receives from others, or even close oneself off entirely from participating in something. But surely, genuine participation and love are always reciprocal, always about living on a two-way street, about receiving from others as well as giving to others, about being persons who are more than what occurs within each of us individually.
Today, it is not surprising that a major film depicts love in a self-serving (independent) way rather than as a self-sacrificing expression of interdependent life. Why? Because most of us live in commercially and ideologically driven technocultures that daily bombard us with messages urging us to take control of our lives in ways geared towards becoming self-made individuals.
But if “becoming someone” is held to be the prime motivator of one’s life, what does that say about the importance of “being someone”? Surely, “being” is our fundamental experience, without which there can be no “becoming.” And surely, authentic, life-enhancing “being” always involves being in a relationship of some kind, which in turn implies always being ready and willing to act, not as an ultimate controller of what occurs, but as a co-creator—a genuinely loving co-creator.
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Living in the middle of things involves a willingness