ON MEDITATION, documentary, not rated, Center for Contemporary Arts, 3 chiles
On Meditation gets off to a promising start with a Peter Matthiessen interview: He admits to being angry as a boy and difficult as a man. Around 1970, he began to learn about Zen Buddhism, which led to a lifelong practice. The crosscutting between Matthiessen’s words and the abstract images outside his house — a dog, the sun filtering through leaves, a path — effectively illustrates what Matthiessen discovered — that Zen only leads you back to yourself. It is the path back home. Matthiessen, who died in 2014, distills in this sensitive interview what the practice of Zen meant to him. Rebecca Dreyfus’ documentary focuses on how modernday practitioners experience the ancient practice of meditation, and how meditating regularly can allow people to see themselves more clearly.
Some of the interviews that follow — for instance, one with author and Buddhist meditation teacher Sharon Salzberg — are not as visually dynamic as the Mathiessen interview, and are also somewhat repetitive in that they cover similar territory. Filmmaker Dreyfus plays out each interview at length before moving on to the next subject. While this may be a meditative approach, it also prevents the discussion from going deeper.
In one of the more illustrative interviews, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) tries to integrate the benefits he has accrued from meditation into his life and work. Congressman Ryan, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, believes future military personnel should learn mindfulness meditation before they are cleared to serve abroad. He tells us that colleagues in Congress have pulled him aside to find out more about meditation, because, as they confess: “I’m fried.”
It’s not clear why some of the other interviewees have been chosen to be in this film. Those in the “motivational speaker” category give the most diluted interviews. The closest the documentary gets to the source is a monk who is not particularly articulate and, in fact, becomes perplexingly vague as he describes his spiritual journey. More interestingly, a CEO finds that he is able to make thoughtful responses to his team because he meditates. He takes out two-and-a-half hours from his busy day, every day, to practice meditation and asanas (yoga poses). Judging by the kindness his face exudes, his practice is a win-win situation.
One well-known devotee of meditation, filmmaker David Lynch, tells us that meditation helps to get rid of the garbage in our minds. The documentary ends with a couple and with a reference to family life — conversation about which can be oddly lacking in the context of Zen Buddhism and meditation practice in this country. A New Mexico psychologist aptly characterizes family life with children as a meditation retreat of some 20 years. While On
Meditation is neither as deep nor as rigorous as you might hope a documentary on the subject would be, it is an intriguing start. It could get you to consider cleaning out the cobwebs in your mind. — Priyanka Kumar
Getting into the zone