In 1979 Peter Sellers starred in his second-to-last movie as a dimwit gardener who is mistaken for a modern sage. His horticultural platitudes – “As long as the roots are not severed, all is well…in the garden” – are mistaken for Zen-like pronouncements of unfathomable depth. The fact that he is actually talking about real roots in a real-life garden, while everyone around him – including the US president – dupe themselves into hearing the sayings of a swami, reveals our hunger for spiritual guidance. The truth, though, is that Chance the gardener is not an idiot savant; he’s just an idiot.
Endlessly amiable, incapable of irony, oblivious to artifice or fantasy, he is totally of the Now. His very lack of intellect “traps” him in a state of untainted Being. This serenely smiling servant, confined to the walled garden of his mind and the fullness of the moment has, literally, everything he needs. No wonder then, that, in the very last scene of the movie, he unwittingly walks on water. His absolute rootedness in the immediacy of experience is the key to transcending experience itself.
He reminds me of “troubled” children who are brought to my practice: they are certain that they converse with their deceased Grandma because no one has yet convinced them that this is an impossibility. Like Chance, they are so fully embedded in reality as it is, that they have yet to experience it as we are told it is. A child’s and a dullard’s spirituality turn out to be not that dissimilar. They both manifest the moment as they see fit, their extraordinary aptitude for the “impossible” rooted firmly in Being Here (the title of Sellers’ movie was “Being There”).
Many of my clients are not Here at all. The pain of a childhood in which their emotional needs were largely disregarded drove them firmly into the mind. The trauma of not being seen, the strain of trying to fix one’s own unfixable family, the endless exertion of heeding needy parents – all this pain eventually gave way to feeling no pain at all. Deprivation turns us into numb, warped, obsessive thinkers. The case histories all have a disheartening similarity, seasoned only by unique strains of abuse: most people who come to me have been told, directly or by neglect, that they are worthless; their parents’ betrayal eventually giving way to betrayal of themselves. Once they were young children desperate to find some kind of order in a world without stability or support, they eventually turned into adults with obsessive-compulsive disorders, bulimia, self-immolation, neuroses and addictions.
And the greatest addiction of all is the mind.
The intellect is a magnificent part of us. I love to think; I could do it all day! But it is only one part of us and, depending on the task at hand, not necessarily the most effective or most fitting.