Hello supporters, friends, family and curious minds...
Remember this project? The one with a vague premise, having something to do with concentration, which you supported way back in May of 2012? It has been so long since the director has provided you with an update on its development that perhaps you’ve given up on it, or thought about it on occasion but only with a sense of bewilderment as to the lack of anything tangible resulting from your donation. As you read this very sentence now, you may be wondering why so much time has passed since the campaign was originally funded in May of 2012 and where the money has gone to and what you are ever going to be able to see. Has the director been jailed? Is he in a coma due to an unfortunate accident that has left this project in the hands of some family member or caretaker who does not have the will or desire to complete it, much less carry out the process of creating personalized, specialty gifts to send off to it’s funders?
No! If such a thing were true, I would not be able to inform you that the film originally called "The Serpent Fire" is almost finished and will screen at the Tower Theater in Salt Lake City later this year. This will be the first release of a strong draft, with a running time around 100 minutes. I will send a formal invite as soon as the date and time have been decided.
I am overjoyed by the shape this film has taken, slowly but surely over the course of the last three years, into a rich narrative about the mind's potential. There will be roughly 30 interviews of people engaged in various applications of focus, as well as street interviews with strangers. Everyone has contributed insight to this complex topic, whether or not they decided to speak on camera.
I am sorry it has taken so long for me to update you. Please understand that this film has required me to develop a strong mind, one capable of rewiring the brain, and I assure you this takes time. I had some questions that needed answering, questions about the nature of mind, and the information presented itself when I was ready for it. As much as other people provided clues, ultimately those answers needed to be sought out within myself.
As much as I have shaped this film, it has shaped me. Through the film I came to Vipassana meditation, which has become the cornerstone of my life, guiding me towards insight and away from things unworthy of my time and attention. Interestingly, the character strengths I have developed through making this film have been necessary for me to be at all successful in meditation, and such developments are gradual. The film, by nature, required of me a constellation of patience, persistence, intuition and action, all of which helped me through periods of great inspiration and great doubt. There were moments when I felt maddened by the cacophony of ideas in my head – like blurry jigsaw puzzle pieces to fit together somehow. But despite the initial lack of clarity I was sure of one thing – that there would eventually be a beautiful picture. Nothing could dissuade me from entering the process with all the force my mind and spirit could provide. Confidence in a vision is sometimes all you need to persist.
Some of the best advice I have received is only two words: “Keep going.” I am still learning how to stay on target while developing several tasks, always looking for the next step (instead of thinking about how many steps there may be). I’ve learned how to get over fears that prevent me from connecting with people, from being a strong person and director. Sometimes this means filming a stranger from three feet away, or talking with someone without needing to interview them. Whenever I feel impatient or frustrated, I remembered something Stanley Kubrick said in an interview: “You can’t allow yourself to be frustrated because it just proves to be too much of a distraction.”
And there were countless times in the past three years, each day, when I noticed my own vulnerability to distraction (you can imagine the kind of neurosis that caused…). Invariably it came down to a preference for low-effort, high-excitement experiences. In these moments I earnestly made an effort to build impulse control because it would have been insane for me to do otherwise – to make a film about focusing the mind, interviewing people who are saying all kinds of inspiring things about how to avoid distraction, thinking about focus practically all day, everyday for three years, and yet remain in the same predictable habit of being unfocused and unwell. Herein lies the value of art as an intentional approach to the acceleration of self-awareness, self-regulation and self-transcendence. It provides a great opportunity to directly observe the subject of investigation within oneself.
The documentary has a new title: "Focused Life”. The title makes a statement about how focus is influenced by everything in our lives – the people we surround ourselves with, the conversations we have, what we choose to do, think about, and consume. It’s also a reference to the seriousness with which any person striving to liberate the mind from negativities must treat concentration – as a very high priority. One gradually starts to leave behind everything that impedes its development. Additionally, true focus is a long-term process cultivated across the lifespan, although the experience of it is always now.
As a unique application of focus, meditation makes clear just how much negativity is unknowingly lying beneath the surface. When the mind is still enough to observe itself, when the capacity to focus is expanded and turned inward, transmutation of negativities happens by its own accord. We go into the suffering, observing it with understanding, and find more and more layers of reactivity from past experiences compressed deep into the psyche. I believe this is the real reason people are afraid of meditation. We are a culture that generally runs from pain, trying as best we can to distract ourselves from our own mind, which is conducive to more misery in the end.
Even though our capitalistic culture is designed to distract us in every possible way from observing the reality inside, one should never doubt the possibility of becoming a highly moral, pure-minded and concentrated person, capable of great humility and wisdom. All it takes is the right application of our focus. The mind can be transformed, and so can the brains very structure. It may be hard to do, it may require repeated effort and regular devotion of time, but my own experience has been that the benefits far outweigh the cost. We have to remember that humans do all kinds of incredible things by way of rigorous mental application, and this is nothing but a reflection of our natural propensity to expand our understanding of this ephemeral reality. Is meditation really so hard to do? In about 10,000 years of evolution we’ve managed to expand our knowledge from rudimentary agriculture to the splitting of sub-atomic particles, creating spaceships capable of flying to the moon and back. Imagine what the human race would be capable of if meditation were seen for what it is and given priority. In my opinion, for whatever it’s worth, all of societies ills would start to fade away, because the roots of our problems originate in the mind, and that is where we can begin to transmute impurities.
So you can see how this film has become a subject of great importance. It’s not just about focus and distraction, or rather, the subject does not end there. It’s about the greatness of our inherent potential, the road to self-mastery, and our ability to dissolve our own ego. It’s also about maturation of the nervous system and the brain, self-regulation, misery reduction, and creating a genuinely peaceful situation here on earth. But most of our energy is wasted on pleasure-seeking distractions from the reality within. This is the age-old lesson which humans find so hard to learn.
Moving forward, I would like to thank you all again for trusting in this vision, one that will soon be coming to fruition. Filming is almost done and I’ve edited roughly half of the material. Expect to get an update in the next few months regarding a screening in Salt Lake City. Below are links to three sequences from the film. They should give an impression of how the style and content will look and feel. Please enjoy!
https://vimeo.com/131602081 - password: joanofarc
https://vimeo.com/131594681 - password: inkwell
https://vimeo.com/123351135 - password: focusedlearning
If you have any comments, questions or concerns, please feel free to contact me! I'd love to hear from you.