October 26, 2010

“Koyaanisqatsi,” it is a Hopi Indian word.

“Life out of balance,” that’s what “Koyaanisqatsi” means.  It is a Hopi Indian word.It is also a fascinating art film by Godrey Reggio, released in 1983.  The movie has been described as “an apocalyptic vision of two different worlds in collision-urban life and technology, versus the environment.”  Hmmm, sounds like the movie may have a bit of an agenda.  But when I watched it, all those decades ago on the big screen, Koyaanisqatsi transported my mind, not to a place of conflict between humanity and the planet which is its habitation, but rather into the eyes and hearts of the ordinary, nameless people portrayed in its whirring, celluloid frames.  Reggio used time-lapse cinematography to speed up the movements of people in urban settings.  The effect was that of watching ants in an anthill.  But the reverse camera trick was used also to slow the pictures to a languid torpor.  Close-ups of human faces, engulfed in throngs, moving through the streets of Las Vegas, shambled across the screen.  I am of the opinion that the intention of the filmmaker was to create an atmosphere of dullness, an intellectual oblivion in which humans are vacuous, and unaware of their environment and of their monotonous and destructive activities within its milieu.  But my impressions of the people who were caught in moments which comprised but an eye’s blink in their lives, was not one of mindless bustling.  I saw in the countenances, in the eyes of those anonymous actors, a grave dignity and depth of graciousness that is hard to put into words.

Spasmodic Dysphonia

I have an unpleasant diagnosis.  I don’t like the name of it and I really don’t like to talk about it, so I’ve provided a link to you so that you may have a look-see.  This diagnosis has robbed me of the ability to sing.  It sometimes snatches away my ability to speak clearly and concisely.  That is a hardship for a teacher.  So I’ve been looking for ways to overcome this malady, other than Botox injections into my larynx.  I decided recently to take a Dale Carnegie course to do just that; to become a better speaker by addressing some of the stressors which I associate with an activity that most people take for granted; producing spoken language with the oral mechanism.  But the Dale Carnegie course has become much more than a venue for me to practice public speaking.  And it all ties into my “Koyaanisqatsi” experience of 27 years ago.

The “Dale Carnegie Courses in Effective Communications and Human Relations” are often associated with polish and poise, and better sales.  People take “Dale Carnegie” to improve their memories and forge a magnetic charm, both qualities which facilitate career advancement, or so I thought.   The truth is that the Dale Carnegie method is the “meat and potatoes” of connecting with other people in a respectful and validating manner.  My experiences have yielded fruits that I did not expect to pluck from the Dale Carnegie tree.  I have been blessed to become acquainted with a roomful of relative strangers in ways that have slowed time down, and brought their faces into focus.  More than enhanced pronunciation or aplomb, I have walked away with an enriched heart.  I have come to respect, even love,  those people that have strode with dignity and grace through my life in the past months.  There is no such thing as an anonymous actor, engulfed in a sea of faces, pacing relentlessly to some pointless end.  There are only Children of God.  Each on his or her own path, mucking through travail, opposition and all manner of pain, seeking for the holy prize.  And I believe each one deserves my attention, admiration and appreciation.  And I thought I would just work on my public speaking technique.

The power of the Dale Carnegie regimen comes from its required “stretching” exercises.  These exercises stretch, not muscles or tendons, but the human spirit; that aspect of personality that is often labeled “confidence” or “assertiveness.”  This puts the most vulnerable of our characteristics at the forefront of interaction.  We are all exposed as what we are, inside and out, top to toe.  If we are to have confidence then we must embrace and learn to love the package, ourselves, that we present with an eye-gaze and a handshake.   Simple and straight-forward as these exercises appear to be, they can elicit change in the willing individual that may forever alter and actuate the course of his life.  It seems to be, and is, a spiritual experience.  I can think of no greater word than “pride” to describe the esteem I have for my friends that have gone through the Dale Carnegie course with me.  And my positive regard generalizes to all others.  I have assimilated at least an iota of true charity.

Like the Grinch, Who Stole Christmas, my heart has lately grown at least three sizes.  I met a dear gentleman recently who, in a sweet little phrase, summed up all that is important in mortality; “People are really all that matters.”  I replied, “You’re right.  Our relationships are the only things we take with us.”  That conclusion is not something that you come by intellectually, however.  It occurs as an aggrandizement of the soul, along with the realization that love is a renewable resource.  It is self-reinforcing, and is replenished in a greater measure than it can possibly be given away.

As a teacher I have been privileged to witness the courage of the young mother who, in an effort to protect her little daughters from physical and psychological abuse, left her husband and all the support that the marriage afforded her.  With no more than a high school education, and a job at a fast food restaurant, this young mother placed the well-being of her little girls above creature comforts and security.  The courage of families, struggling to surmount the challenges of caring for children with special needs daily elevates me.  In other surroundings  I have come to admire the woman who, as a very young child, was taken from her home, permanently.  But who overcame the devastation of a broken home, and an uncertain future, to find her strengths, to celebrate her triumphs over adversity, and to look back, not with regret, but with thankfulness.  My heart has drooped in sadness with the young man whose life was changed when he set aside his own safety and fears to assist at the site of a devastating traffic accident on a mountain road.  This man’s life was changed forever, but with mettle and conviction, he carries on, a day at a time.  I am charmed to be acquainted with the reserved young lady who has taken upon herself a serious quest to step out of her comfort zone and take the risks required to become a leader in her field.  I am grateful that with a less grinchy heart, I am learning to look at people in every setting and situation and discern their true selves; their dignity, their unique gifts, their burdens, and their humanity.  Each one has a story of great depth and detail, incomparable, and so worth the telling.

This is a tribute to my friends that have joined me on a path of self-realization.  We have been broken down and rebuilt with the help of a proven model which is the Dale Carnegie system.  But to be built up and broken down is not a one-time event.  It is a cycle, as sure as the seasons and nearly as predictible.  To “become” what we were born to be requires honing, sculpting and polishing.  These are all skills of the craftsman which remove, sometimes painfully, the supercilious layers of experiences, habits and facades which burden and hinder.  But when the process is for good, and the end is greater love for one’s human brothers and sisters, then surely it is the Master who has plied His craft in the perfection of His creation.

Reggio, the creator of “Koyaanisqatsi” says of his art film, “I realize fully that any meaning or value KOYAANISQATSI might have comes exclusively from the beholder. The film’s role is to provoke, to raise questions that only the audience can answer.”  I have an answer for Mr. Reggio.  The images you shot of people, their faces, their eyes, their motions, have stayed with me for many years.  I have long been haunted by the profound kinship I felt for those people, young, old, racing, or plodding along.  The individual is the greatest creation of all.  And our kinship to each one we meet, befriend, nurture and love, is the best and only prize that we can take home.

Koyaanisqatsi summary, credits

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