Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Hooked on a Feeling

We were looking for the perfect end-of-the-summer activity and we found it: the latest Marvel blockbuster, Guardians of the Galaxy. I admit, I'd never heard of these heroes before I saw the movie trailer earlier this year—and I was only in it for the smack-talking raccoon.

There's something about hairy ...
Image compliments of Marvel Studios,
 Guardians of the Galaxy
Although this latest cinematic installment of Marvel comic series seems an unlikely place to find Buddhist teachings, as it turns out, we have a lot to learn from a genetically modified, wise-cracking, machine-gun totin' raccoon.  But first, I have to say I haven't been this swept away in the pure fun of a film since George Lucas premiered a little ditty called Star Wars in 1977.  With its overt and subtle tributes to the original space epic and its crazy, perfect soundtrack to my youth, Guardians of the Galaxy transported me back to a time not so long ago but far, far away.

On the surface, the film follows a familiar trope. Boy is tragically orphaned. Boy meets fate. Boy is transformed. In this case, young Peter Quill is abducted by an alien ship helmed by a blue-faced incarnation of Merle from The Walking Dead (both characters played by my favorite anti-hero, Michael Rooker,) and turns up 20 years later as an able-bodied space looter.

We're introduced to grown-up Quill (played by Parks and Recreation's Chris Platt) in a scene that borrows pacing and attitude from another George Lucas classic starring Harrison Ford, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Quill (Chris Platt) is chasing down a very valuable trinket called the Orb when he's set upon by some space baddies. With a heap of Han Solo bravado, Quill makes off with the treasure only to discover that his problems are just beginning. Yes, when he lands in a prison reminiscent of Jabba's basement, things seem to really go down hill, but that's what makes for the best possible epic adventure, right?

Of course, there's no better place than prison to meet up with the other component necessary for epic cinematic swashbuckling: a ragtag team of unlikely co-conspirators. Quill's Fellowship of the Orb includes Rocket, a genetically modified raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper,) Groot, a hulking sentient tree (Vin Diesel's best role ever!) , a green hottie assassin princess (Zoe Salanda)—not to be confused with anyone named Leia,—and a tattooed bad ass (WWE champ Dave Bautista.) The ensemble cast—and characters—play well together. But since we're mixing Star Wars metaphors here, actually Rocket and Groot steal the show as the new Han and Chewie. As previously mentioned, I fell in love with Rocket at first sight, and my feelings were not mis-spent.

And then there's the Guardians soundtrack. Quill's beloved Awesome Mixed Tapes pushed all my happiness buttons. I mean, come on! I had an awesome mixed tape of my own back in the late 70s. My prize possession back then wasn't a Sony Walkman (as featured in Guardians) but a Sony cassette recorder. Crazy though it seems today, that hunk of electronics was a phenomenon at the time. I loved that recorder and spent many happy hours poised beside my sisters' stereo waiting for Dream Weaver or I'm Not in Love to come on the local top 40 station and so I could quickly mash down the blue record button and capture the soundtrack to my teenage angst. But I digress ...

It's nice to have a little nostalgia to hang onto because Guardians of the Galaxy has a lot of not so nice villains who could use a pina colada and a walk in the rain. Things start to look very grim indeed when Baddie McBadderton, Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), gets hold of the Orb and its powerful contents and sets about the task of micromanaging the galaxy's next Big Bang. In the midst of the imminent galactic destruction, as our heroes—the would-be Guardians—find themselves facing certain death, Quill, digs deep and rallies his companions in a very Buddhist way.

"I look around at us ... you know what I see?  Losers!" he says, sounding like a coach shouting the classic down-by-a-gazillion-to-one  at half-time speech, but he has something else in mind (or the skillful screenwriter does at least.) "I mean, (we're) like, folks who have lost stuff. And we have. Man we have — all of us. Our homes. Our families. Normal lives. And usually life takes more than it gives, not not today. Today it's given us something. It's given us a chance ... To give a shit for once and not run away."

And this is the line in the movie that turns the tide and rallies our heroes. It takes another 45 minutes of crazy CGI action and plot twists and great one-liners, but the unlikely companions do get another chance to right the wrongs done unto them—and by them.

Quill is right. We are ALL losers. We all experience profound loss, sometimes on a daily basis. Sometimes it's big, like the death of a friend or family member or the end of a marriage or demise of a career. But most often it's the small loses, like the passing of a sweet era of childhood. The latter is particularly relevant for me today as Jack enters 7th grade and I relinquish the last of his pre-teen days. As a parent, you look forward to the time when your child will walk and talk and propel himself through the world on his own volition, but when the day comes ... it feels too soon.

And yet, through losses great and small, we experience the death of ourselves (our egos) and this is, ultimately, essential for spiritual gain. Letting go is what allows growth through transformation. Like the Guardians, I have to set aside my resentment and sorrow and self-pity and self-centered interests and let go of my idea of how my life is supposed to go so that I can have that chance to feel the loss and the joy that life provides and not run away from reality. And that requires consciousness.

We live in a society that promotes winning and winners, and to admit that I'm a loser is well, so losery. And yet, in the end, we are ALL losers and this is really, really good news because only when I accept that  loss and death are part of a natural (some might say Divine) process, can I have a chance at true and sustainable happiness. I may not be able to save the galaxy, but everyday—correction—every moment, I have that chance to awaken and right myself. (And to think it all started with a talking raccoon.)

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