Thursday, August 16, 2012


Every semester, there is a new crop of aspiring filmmakers wheeling equipment around campus and shooting scenes in the quad, and I feel a compelling urge to blurt out, "Don't make the same mistakes I did... Get out while you're young... It's not too late to major in a science!"

Of course, I never say that. Filmmaking and science are not the real issues. Some people really should be filmmakers, and some people really should be scientists, and some people really should be something else entirely. That's how it is.

But there is something that bugs me about the majority of aspiring filmmakers; it's just been hard to put my finger on it. A lot of baggage from the past obscures my perception of the situation. I can't be sure whether I'm merely projecting my self-criticism outward, or whether there is a concrete problem that genuinely rubs me the wrong way.

Recently, though, I forgave myself for the hundredth time for choosing to be a filmmaker when I was 19, and in a moment of clarity I recognized that there was an actual problem, and I articulated what the problem was.

Here it is: We forget (or never learn as children) that the most important priority in life is to cultivate inner peace; if you want to be happy you have to understand yourself, accept yourself, understand others, accept others, relate to others compassionately, seek and pay attention in the right balance, relax the grip of greed, anger and delusion, and come to terms with your unsteady place in reality. If you can cultivate inner peace, then you can cultivate peace in the world around you, and you can actually enjoy life.

Inner peace, or true happiness that you can share with others, has to be the top priority. The problem that people create is when they put something else as the top priority and expect it to make them happy. Nothing can replace inner peace!

Are these filmmakers fostering compassion through art, 
or are they just trying to look cool behind a giant toy?

A lot of aspiring filmmakers (and scientists, too) spend so much time working on their projects that they don't make time to practice compassion and discover their potential to simply and directly enjoy being themselves. That's a big problem. A competitive field like filmmaking compounds the situation because you can convince yourself that you're going to be happy far in the future, when you've made it big, so you ignore the signs that tell you it's time to cultivate inner peace. The result is that, even if you do make it big, you won't be happy because you neglected to develop the requisite aspects of your psychology for being happy. If you fail to make it big, which is the most likely outcome, you will be doubly miserable. That's a huge problem.

Some people have the ability to do both; they can make movies and attain inner peace. Those people can become filmmakers with no problem. But many people can't swing both because the struggle to become a filmmaker sucks up every last moment of their time, and they have to choose one or the other. In their case, choosing to make movies is clearly wrong--not because movies are good or bad*, but because forgoing the pursuit of inner peace will create problems for them, and these problems will spread into the world through misguided actions, and an emotional mess will be created around these individuals.

What I'm trying to suggest here is that, no matter how appealing a career may seem in the abstract, it won't be rewarding if you have to sacrifice your opportunity to be a compassionate human being. Don't waste that opportunity! Instead, make inner peace your top priority, and then find a career that supports it. I suspect that, in addition to being happier, you'll be more successful in everyday affairs.

 *Most movies are definitely a waste of precious time and effort, but that's not the point here.


  1. Thank you for writing and sharing your thoughts and experiences. I don't think you have to sacrifice your goals and aspiration
    s in order to achieve inner peace. What about non-attachment? To be happy and have inner peace no matter what the external circumstances. I think it is a true challenge to have goals and dreams while still enjoying your self and your life. I have to remember this myself every day when I am at the library or coffee shop after work to write.

    1. That's a good point. Thank you. I sometimes get caught up in plans and have to remind myself to appreciate what I'm doing today.

      About aspirations, I'm speaking most directly of my own experience in filmmaking, which was an unhappy period of my life in part because I was struggling to become someone else instead of learning to make the most of what I actually am. Some of my goals then were unrealistic, and I became a lot happier by choosing new goals that are more compatible with my abilities and values.

      It's true that you don't always have to sacrifice aspirations to achieve inner peace, especially if the pursuit of those aspirations is personally satisfying and gives you a way to connect to people, but there really are some dysfunctional aspirations out there that can be happily sacrificed when they stand in the way of more meaningful personal growth.

      However, sacrifice is a strong word. I rarely feel like I'm making sacrifices even when I'm giving up something I once wanted. The process is more like identifying unhelpful habits for what they are, then letting them sink under their own weight as I replace them with more satisfying alternatives.

      Regarding non-attachment, that will have to be the subject of an entire post :)