Tuesday

Diamonds in the Rough and Quantum Butterflies.

Was chatting this morning with a friend who works in the health care industry. She's had an unusual path - born in Africa, eventually found her way to the US and helps heal people.   We were joking about success, how relative it is, and the elusive money that always seems outside of our reach.  It's a familiar refrain, she jokingly wants to "make millions" or "make enough money to get whatever she wants."


Hanging with my Homies in Leh, Ladakh
She recounted how in college, she had a philosophy class where the teacher asked "How many people in this class are happy?"  A few raised their hands. "How many people think they'll be happy in the future?"  Everyone raised their hands.  "How many want to become millionaires?"  Everyone's hand went up.  The teacher said "Well, let me get real with you..." and then rattled off the statistics that showed how many people were likely to get the success that they aimed for, and how difficult it would become - to be rich or happy - in the future.

It's those pesky statistics that stop us in our tracks. 

How many times have we heard or thought "Well, if I had only taken this path, or opened that door, I would have had more success?"  Or "I was this close to winning that deal, that contract, that project, and it was snatched away from me." We never stop to think that it was better for us that the deal did not happen. We only think of the lost opportunities. Or lost income.

So I asked her "Has anyone ever complemented you on your work?"  She said someone had recently said to her "I feel so privileged to know you.  You make me feel great whenever I'm with you."  I asked her to put a price on how much that compliment was worth.  A dollar? A million dollars?  

She thought about it - "More than a dollar.  Okay, I'll say it was a million dollar compliment."  I said "Okay, now you're a millionaire.  Look at that.  One compliment and you've discovered that you are actually what you've always been wanting and looking to become!"  

She said "What are you saying? That I'm looking the wrong way for fulfillment?"  

I reached out my hand.  I said "Everyone is reaching for something. Success, money, fame. Reaching for that victory, that money, that reward.  Perhaps all they have to do is turn their hand over and look inside their hand. It's already there.  You've already "won." You get to be here on the planet. Living life, breathing air, experiencing love and all that comes with it.  And you've altered the path of, changed or helped people in your life.  What more could you possible want than that kind of million dollar compliment "You've changed my life. Thank you"?

I said "Think of each compliment as a diamond.  And then go through your life and think about everyone who ever complimented you in such a way.  Each one of those compliments is a jewel in your necklace, a flower in your garland. Then look at how many jewels you have.  You'll see that the thing you were reaching for is actually in your hand when you turn it over.  Just turn your hand over..."

This discussion reminded me of a dream I once had. (as recounted at the end of "Flipside: A Tourist's Guide on How to Navigate the Afterlife."

While working on the film "Salt" I was working 18-20 hour days, 6 and 7 days a week, trying to help this film into the world. (I'm also in it - I drive Angelina out of Korea)  I was working for my friend Phillip Noyce, an amazingly hard working director, who requires a bit of energy just to keep up with him. I was thinking "My family is back in LA, I'm stuck in the winter of NY with this crazy film. This isn't furthering my career in any way. What the heck am I doing here?"

That night I had a dream.  I was in a large room.  The children looked Asian. They were eating soup out of wooden bowls, using wooden spoons. I looked around.  "Where am I?" I realized I was in an orphanage in Cambodia. Looking at these children being fed.  Then I remembered, Angeline Jolie, the star of the film, owned an orphanage in Cambodia - or rather donates 7 million of her salary each year to support these orphans.  And I realized I was being shown the connection between my long hours of work and her donation.

To which I thought "Oh come on. Really? She's making 20 million or something on this movie, and you're telling me that my overtime in some way contributes to these kids in Cambodia?" I scoffed at my own dream, as if it come from some mistaken place.

The next night I had another dream; another "vision" that was more than a dream. This time I saw myself standing on a street in Mumbai.  It was a street that seemed familiar to me, as I've been to Bombay a few times, and in this vision I was hovering at the end of a street near an alley. 

I could see two people having a transaction. One was an older man, and the other was a man in his 20's. The older man handed the younger one about 400 rupees ($10) for a copy of a bootleg copy of the film "Salt."

I knew it was a bootleg, because 1. it had a composite picture of Angelina on the cover, and 2. the film had not even been finished yet, so it could not exist anywhere other than my head.  

But this older gent was buying this bootleg copy from the younger fellow.  The younger man took his 400 rupees, turned and handed it to his wife - who was living in a large cardboard box with their four children.  This is a common site in various parts of Bombay - people living in boxes, literally on street corners.

But it was in that moment I saw what this vision meant. The energy of the wheel of life.  How our work influences people millions of miles away, people we'll never meet nor realize we've helped. 

It was a bootleg copy, to demonstrate that no one on the film, no one producing it, or starring in it were profiting from the transaction.  It was part of this gigantic "Energy wheel of life" - where turning the bottom of the wheel from where I was, changed something at the top of the wheel on another side - something I would never consciously be aware of.

All the labor of everyone, my contribution minuscule - in a tiny, insignificant way - was turning that giant wheel so that the energy of creativity could help this poor family in a slum in Mumbai.

We can't see the good that we do. Or our effect on others.

But we can appreciate that if we put our heart and soul into something, someone somewhere will benefit from it.  That's how the energy works. 

You do a small simple good deed for one person - and like the quantum butterfly effect - it affects someone on the other side of the planet. 

From a definition of "the quantum butterfly effect" 

From Nature.com
"In the paper, Lorenz claimed the large effects of tiny atmospheric events pose both a practical problem, by limiting long-term weather forecasts, and a philosophical one, by preventing us from isolating specific causes of later conditions. The "innumerable" interconnections of nature, Lorenz noted, mean a butterfly's flap could cause a tornado - or, for all we know, could prevent one. Similarly, should we make even a tiny alteration to nature, "we shall never know what would have happened if we had not disturbed it," since subsequent changes are too complex and entangled to restore a previous state.

So a principal lesson of the butterfly effect is the opposite of Redford's line: It is extremely hard to calculate such things with certainty. There are many butterflies out there. A tornado in Texas could be caused by a butterfly in Brazil, Bali, or Budapest. Realistically, we can't know. "It's impossible for humans to measure everything infinitely accurately," says Robert Devaney, a mathematics professor at Boston University. "And if you're off at all, the behavior of the solution could be completely off." When small imprecisions matter greatly, the world is radically unpredictable."

Or, radically complex. My two cents.

PS. "The sum of human misery keeps creeping up and haunting me."  I found this sentence in a notebook from high school.  I remember writing it, but have no idea where it came from.  I guess it came from somewhere on the flipside.

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