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Sunday, November 11, 2012

Cloud Atlas

I saw Cloud Atlas last night. My friend and I braved the throngs of humans in Times Square and traveled six steep escalators up to the theater in the sky to see it. I'm not sure what I think of the movie, which was really several parallel movies in one, from period piece to age of sail to comedy to action thriller to sci fi, a confusing riot of cinematic lifetimes that definitely kept my attention, even when I didn't quite understand what the heck was going on. But then, I love that reincarnation stuff, the idea that our actions in one life set in motion the events of our future lives, that we are always reaping and paying karma, that the ledgers of our souls matter infinitely.

I decided when I was eighteen and flirted with Buddhism that this belief system was as good as any, and was in contradiction with none. It very nicely kept me conscious of the cause and effect of my every action, and it was elastic enough to explain the unexplainable, the great inequities of life, through the idea that souls carefully designed their circumstances before birth, chose their parents and their location and their bodies, to trigger an unfolding in that life that would allow specific lessons to be learned, karma to expiated, loved ones to be in proximity again and again.

It's a very forgiving but also exacting belief system, in that lessons that remain unlearned will simply recur. Better to learn our lessons now, rather that wait for them to ramp up in urgency. Besides, we earn karmic brownie points for the good we do in each life, and the challenges we meet with courage, and we rack up the promise of cosmic payback for the ill we do as well. According to this interpretation, we choose our lessons for each life; we choose the time when we will suck it up and learn them. That doesn't mean things that aren't in the script don't befall us once we're here in this imperfect earthly laboratory. All manner of unplanned events can derail us, because despite our careful planning before each new incarnation, we are born mostly forgetting it all. We're wandering sightless on the plain, depending on instinct and intuition and tossed about by fear and reaching always from an innate desire to love and be loved, the experience of which transcends all.

But of course, in the end, this is all story. I'm really just spinning stories here, because how can we know any of this for sure. But the sorts of stories it is possible to tell myself can help me sleep at night: For example, my cousin Pearl chose this wrecked addicted experience of a life in agreement with her mother, my beloved, now bedridden aunt, who perhaps had set herself the lesson of remaining devoted to a soul she has loved through many lifetimes, even tested to the bitterest end.



8 comments:

  1. This absolutely took my breath away. That ending was incredible, Angella -- I just didn't see it coming.

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  2. We all need, especially in certain times, to believe that there is meaning. Somehow.

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  3. i love those movies that really test your beliefs. this was one of the better ones, while it was certainly hard to keep up with the intertwining stories.

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  4. I never thought of it that way. I hope both of them learn whatever it is they are here to learn this time and it's easier for them and the rest of the family next time around.

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  5. So beautiful. I have high hopes for this movie, and expect it to be deep and profound, if maybe a little confusing. Just like life. I like thinking the way you do, it's the best possible option.
    xo

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  6. This spoke to me in ways you could not have known it might and in ways I cannot articulate. Thank you, dear Angella - and all love to your beloved Aunt and her beloved, afflicted Pearl (there will be something significant - an answer, perhaps - in her name) xo

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  7. I, too, take comfort in the Buddhist vision of life and death and everything in between. I often joke that I am a "Jewbu" because, like you said, Buddhism is in contradiction with no other religion. Reading this post made my heart swell and my soul breathe a sigh of "yes". And what beautiful sense you made out of the mother/daughter relationship between Winnie and Pearl. This is one of the reasons that I really do love you, my friend.

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  8. I like the idea that our souls choose their paths in order to learn karmic lessons. I read "Cloud Atlas" when it came out years ago, and I can't imagine it in movie form -- it was a very complicated book!

    Speaking of books, thanks SO MUCH for buying mine -- I hope you continue to enjoy it for a long time to come!

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