A couple of weeks ago, I was looking through Jason Silva’s youtube page for videos I had not seen before. Since Jason Silva’s Shots of Awe channel came into existence I have been entranced by pretty much everything he has done. If there was a person that this blog is primarily dedicated to it would probably be Jason Silva for waking me up from my dogmatic slumber (to loosely quote Kant). This blog post in particular is going to center around an experience I had with his video Love. I’m hoping it can shine some light on the idea of the difference between experiencing stories and reading stories, between writing them and living them.
Three weeks ago, I watched Love and something that rarely happens to me occurred. I was overwhelmed with emotion, simultaneously experiencing the wonder of Love that Jason Silva believes in, but I was also brought back to a place in my life I had not imagined I would go. When I was 15, I had a friend leave school to return to her home country Germany. The weeks before she left were agonizing. This specific memory takes place in our high schools music practice rooms. We were in the room with the lights off, and she was playing a song on the piano, specifically the song playing in the video Love. All of our friends sat there in the darkness and just listened to “Comptine D’un Autre ete L’apres-midi”. I had my head resting on the top of the piano, which was slightly out of tune but still sounding so beautiful and elegant. I was at peace, in the moment, wrapped in the beautiful space and time we were in. I’ve heard this song countless times since then, and whenever I hear it I am gently caressed back into the past, to re-experience the dark room with my friend, experiencing the piano. With it comes a mixture of emotions, both the reminder of human connection through music, but also melancholy from the reminder that my friend now lives across the world, and I may never see her in person again, never give her another friendly warm embrace, or hear her play the piano in a dark room.
What was particularly remarkable about this particular iteration of the song was the content of Jason Silva’s talk. “Love is like listening to a beautiful song that induces cathartic emotive transcendence.” Jason Silva managed to encapsulate my entire feeling about this song in one sentence, breathing new life into it. He then continued to talk about all the other things love is, and towards the end, brings up one of my favourite movies of all time: Before Sunrise. For those who haven’t seen it, Before Sunrise is a movie about two people meeting on a train and getting off together in Vienna, falling in love in a world they know is eventually going to fall apart when dawn returns. Throughout the night they are free. Free to say what they want, do what they want, love what they want, but it is prefaced by accepting that at the end of the night reality will return, and they’ll need to leave.
Throughout Silva’s explanation of experiencing that movie I was brought to tears, overwhelmed by emotion and possibility. While Silva was using language to describe a particular moment, I could not help but fathom that we were having the same experience, living the same moment together. The odds of having that song playing while speaking about one of the movies that most changed my life under the banner of ‘Love’ just seem enormous. His words spell out the passion that he feels about Love, and ultimately its failings, in that even Jesse and Celine “cannot conquer time.” There lies the problem, that while love is a good response to the problem of mortality, it cannot defeat it. Does that mean we give up? Well, that’s for you to decide, or maybe just watch Jason Silva’s video on the Existential Bummer.
So we’re now back to the preface of this post, which was “Experiencing Stories”. While one might feel inclined to simply ignore the idea that what I felt was real, I think we can all imagine a story someone has shared with us that was just so true to our own experience that we were moved to tears. That’s the difference between hearing and experiencing. Hearing can be passive, without connection, experience is empathic embrace. There’s a great story in Zen Buddhism about its founder Mahakasyapa and Buddha’s Flower Sermon. Basically, the Buddha is on a mountain and he is going to give a sermon to the people. They all rush up to see what great insight the Buddha is going to give them into escaping Samsara and finding themselves via the middle path. At this particular sermon, the Buddha just sat there, looking at his disciples and lifts up a lotus flower. People are confused, “isn’t the Buddha hear to speak to us, teach us how to be enlightened?” Everyone looks bewildered at the message except for Mahakasyapa, who upon understanding the Buddha’s message smiles and, instantly becomes enlightened. The message? You can talk all you want, but the only way to enlightenment is through direct experience. I would argue, that the only way we can really understand each other is through those moments that while spoken are also ineffable. We can understand each other only by really living each other’s lives. The way we do that is through stories, or songs, or movies, or lotus flowers.