The time: 7:00 p.m.
The day: Saturday
The location: My living room
The mission: To find a movie that my daughter and I will both enjoy
The negotiations begin. I am utterly convinced that “The Life of Pi” will set the stage for a truly magical cinematic experience that my daughter and I will recount with excitement during the Monday morning commute to school. I impel her to watch the preview, certain that a taste of the fantastical will tip the scales in my favor. What’s not to love? An adventure, a shipwreck, a tiger. The colorful, epic tale of a boy coming of age and colliding the divine. Mysterious, exotic, moving. “It won an academy award,” I tell her, peering into her disinterested face. She, intractable, begs me to watch “Pitch Perfect.” The, as I imagine it, insipid tale of a college a cappella singing group. She makes her sales pitch detailing the plot and characters (she’s seen it before), and even belting out a few musical numbers from the soundtrack. I’m unmoved. Finally, with burgeoning maturity, she relents, saying, “Mom I want to rent a movie we can both enjoy.” I, with, surety bordering on smug victory, push play.
The movie begins and it’s everything I hoped it would be. I am entranced from the opening credits. She, wrapped in her faux fur blanket, looks positively despondent. I urge her to give it a few more minutes and she doggedly snuggles in, droopy eyed and joyless. Her helpless resignation diminishing my revelry with each passing moment. “Fine,” I say, “We’ll watch Pitch Perfect and I’ll finish this tomorrow,” my guilt getting the better of me. I’m rewarded with a leap of glee and renewed energy. I settle in, defeated, for what I imagine to be a two hour entertainment assault. I am wrong.
While the movie received not a hint of a nod from The Academy and was certainly a far cry from the “dark, cerebral dramas” or “compelling documentaries” that Netflix so kindly recommends to me, it was lively, charming and even poignant at times. What’s more, I shared a truly magical cinematic evening with my daughter. It just didn’t come in the form I imagined.
As I reflect on this experience, I am reminded of the eastern concept of Upadana, often translated as “attachment,” but more accurately equivalent to the English words “grasping” and “clinging.” To sum up the concept very briefly, when we dig in our heals, when we fail in flexibly, when we’re so focused on what we want rather than what is, we suffer. Only by relinquishing this grasp can we embrace the joy and mystery inherent in human life. Only by letting go of the experience I yearned to share with my daughter did I avail myself to the truly moving experience we shared. In therapy with clients, I often illustrate the concept using the metaphor of monkey bars. As long as we’re hanging onto the monkey bars, we cannot reach out and grab anything else.
As is often the case, wisdom, in its purest forms, comes through our elders and our children. I thank my daughter for reminding me to let go so that I might seize the truly sublime.