There’s a scene in The Truman Show where Jim Carrey’s character (Truman Burbank) is sitting in a tourist agent’s office, attempting to book a plane ticket.
This would mark his first time ever leaving his hometown. Seems easy enough- except the ticket agent is bent on discouraging him at every opportunity. On the walls of the office are posters of travel disasters, including a bolt of lightning striking a plane. By the end of the scene, Truman leaves, without his ticket, and returns home.
The audience, of course, knows what Truman doesn’t: that he’s the subject of a reality-tv show based on his life. The producers don’t want him to leave the confines of the set, and so have manufactured various experiences through Truman’s life to keep him afraid to leave.
The film itself is a rumination on our own fear-controlled society. This is even more apparent in the US than Canada. I can scarcely cross the border down south without being confronted with newspapers declaring the threats of climate change, terrorism, violent crime, car accidents, ladders, appliances – the list goes on.
It’s no wonder that most people’s decisions are based on fear, and the minimization of risk. The safe choice is easier than uncertainty. Or is it?
Often the safe choice leads to a life of mediocrity – of passionless work, mundane days, and blurry weeks. Most people tend to envy those who make the bold choices, though rarely translate that inspiration into concrete action.
The fear is too great. Fear of what? Dig a little deeper, and the biggest fear of all is the fear of death.
“The ultimate fear is the fear of death, the loss of our ego and everything we have. In that sense, fear is nothing but a form of attachment, in this case to our life, our concept of ‘self’, and all our possessions etc.”
This fear of death permeates most of our decisions. It is the root belief that causes us to inflict pain and suffering on others, because we fear the black unknown at the end of our days. As much as some religions attempt to explain what happens afterwards, they can never be certain.
Says Tibetan teacher Sogyal Rinpoche:
“People see death as terrible, as tragic. Because they want to live, they see death as the enemy of life and therefore deny death, which then becomes even more fearful and monstrous.”
That got me thinking. If we could alter our perspective on death, what sort of life would we create? And what would it take to catalyze that paradigm shift?
No scene captures this imperative more effectively than American Beauty:
Ricky Fitts (Wes Bentley) confesses “That’s the day I knew there was this entire life behind things, and… this incredibly benevolent force, that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. ”
He says “I need to remember.”
This continual remembrance is crucial to maintaining this perspective, believes Sogyal Rinpoche
“Remembering…brings life into focus…It sorts out your priorities, so you do not live a trivial life…It helps you take care of the most important things in life first. Don’t worry about dying; that will happen successfully whether you worry about it or not.”
Easier said than done. But a question to continually ponder, nonetheless.