I type this from a tiny home in the Boquete hills, within the rolling jungles of Panama. I type and the rain continues to fall outside.
One of the defining beliefs about the human story is that of conflict. If you’re ever in doubt, watch any mainstream film, or read any fictional book. Humans thrive on the emotion, passion, anger, fear, and courage of conflict. Its seems written into our DNA.
We look out at the world and we see conflict. Nation against nation. People against people, struggling to horde dwindling resources amid a changing climate. Even in nature, we look and find conflict: survival of the fittest. Only the strong survive.
The silver lining is that through conflict, we find wisdom. Therefore, the conflict was worth it. Necessary even. Conflict is a means to an end.
But what if the truth was different? What if wisdom actually came from release?
In the 1999 film, American Beauty, Lester Burnham is transformed from mild-mannered suburbanite to pot smoking, burger flipping, super hero, finally in control of his own destiny once again.
He finds inspiration (and escape) in the teenage beauty of Angela Heyes. She becomes his muse and desired mistress. Lester challenges himself to win her over, and the conflict is set.
Throughout the film, he lusts after her, in dreams and reality. His attachment is clear.
Yet, it’s not until the end of the film, when he finally undresses her, and the moment he desired for so long is offered. She reveals it’s her first time: she’s a virgin. And suddenly, Lester realizes she is no longer his mysterious muse… she is a scared child.
His reaction isn’t anger, or disillusionment. In fact, it’s release.
He let’s go of his attachment to what she represents: his own inner fulfillment. He let’s go of his resentment towards his cheating wife, he let’s go of his attachment to things and the trappings of consumerism.
He let’s go of it all, and finds peace.
His last words before the film fades out, as the camera pans over the rooftops of suburbia:
“I guess I could be really pissed off about what happened to me…but it’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst…and then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain.
And I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life.”