Sunday, February 26, 2017

Oscar Sunday

"Embrace Simplicity"

Today is the day when much of the country (and the world) turn their gaze to Hollywood celebrities and the Oscars given out at the annual Academy Awards.  The television coverage begins hours before the start of the ceremony so that the viewing public won’t miss even a minute of all the “glitz and glamor” as the stars arrive in their limos, impeccably coifed, all decked out in designer dresses and wearing expensive jewelry. These are the “beautiful people” who have seemingly made it to the “top of the heap,” they are the people who have have “arrived” in life.

Many social commentators have suggested that many “ordinary” people closely follow the lives of celebrities in order to live vicariously through them. My guess is that, although it may go unsaid, many people who will viewing today’s Academy Awards show may be thinking, “My own everyday life doesn’t really amount to much but at least I can imagine being important by watching all these famous people.”

Interestingly enough, in my experience I have learned that all the outward glitz and glamor associated with “big time” stars and Hollywood celebrities is actually quite artificial. When we lived in Los Angeles, our neighborhood was so close to Hollywood that, at the end our street, I could look up into the hills and see the massive “Hollywood sign” towering over the city. Many “famous” Hollywood actors, directors and screen writers attended the church I served and the local restaurants and coffee shops in my neighborhood were favorite haunts of many “big name” stars.  

The thing I learned from all this is that almost every single one of the “famous” people I knew or met were very ordinary, average people, just like the rest of us. For the most part they didn’t want any special attention and they just “blended in” with everyone else. I also discovered that making movies is very demanding and painstaking, every day all those so-called “famous” celebrities often worked many hours doing sometimes extremely tedious tasks just like everyone else.

I honestly believe that are no “more important” others. We all walk hand in hand through the beautiful wilderness of this life – each with our own struggles, each with our own joys, each with equal dignity.

On a day when many people become “star struck" as they view all those well-known celebrities arriving on the "red carpet," I think about something the monk and author, Thomas Merton, once wrote in his journal during the last years of his life:

Finally I am coming to the conclusion
that my highest ambition in life
is to be what I already am.

This points me to another spiritual lesson to be learned on this “Oscar Sunday.” Many people live their lives as if they are actors on a stage, hoping or pretending to be someone they are not, constantly competing for the honors, awards and recognition that life may have to offer, always seeking the applause of the crowds. This is a sure path to suffering and unhappiness.

The Jesuit priest and author, Anthony De Mello, once observed:

After I turned 20 I worried endlessly about the impression I made
and how other people were evaluating me.
Only sometime after turning 50 did I realize that
other people hardly even thought of me at all.
So often people presume themselves to be the center of everyone else’s attention
performing to an audience that isn’t even there.

“Oscar Sunday” is a good day to give up seeking the applause of others and to realize that none of us is ever on the center stage in life. We are all extraordinary people because we are all ordinary people.  When we realize this, we are on a path of wisdom.

On this day when many people suffer from “Oscar fever,” I am paying special attention to the simple advice of the ancient Taoist, Lao Tzu:

Manifest plainness
Embrace simplicity
Reduce selfishness
Have few desires

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