What's going on here? What is the meaning of this? You hear these lines all the time in the movies. Sometimes you hear the larger questions: What is the meaning of my life? What are we here for? Films often depict people trying to discern the significance of their lives, usually after some kind of crisis. What the images on the screen are mirroring is the everyday process by which we both seek meaning and make meaning out of what happens to us. Movies offer us a veritable smorgasbord of spiritual learnings. Even if the characters don't "get it," we often do.
Many of us take a break from the pressures of our daily lives by going to the movies. People find films to be very nurturing and assume that is because they can use them as an escape and don't take them too seriously. We propose just the opposite. Movies are nurturing because they are engaging, and the more seriously we take them the better. Specifically, they give us something we are lacking in our lives; they balance our excesses. If we are too outer-oriented, the most nourishing films give us an inner experience. If we are too inwardly focused, they take us out of ourselves. In movies, we can also find examples of what people do to care for their own or another's soul joining in healthy activities, providing support through a difficult period, or just being there over time.
Films widen our world. They introduce us to people and places that we might never get to know any other way. To practice openness, notice when you are being exposed to new ways of life and new ways of thinking. Imagine yourself in that environment, empathize with the characters, and go with the flow. The movies that are best for this approach are usually foreign language films or those set in a different environment from what you are used to. Watch for characters who can comfortably cross boundaries and feel at home in any situation.
The Buddhists talk about the mind as a field in which many different kinds of seeds are sown seeds of love, compassion, and joy, and also seeds of fear, anger, and violence. Through what we read, watch, hear, and do, we help or hinder the growth of these seeds. Films, unfortunately, all too often water our seeds of violence. Some violent films have a moral intent to show us the savagery within us all, but far too many just exploit this dangerous dimension of the human character. To practice peace at the movies, then, requires some discrimination. It is also important to herald and to hurrah films that water the seeds of gentleness within us.
Playing around is a good and holy thing. For one thing, it's a pathway to laughter, and we know that can be both invigorating and life-saving. All the spiritual traditions have holy fools, clowns, or tricksters who try to tease people into a fuller appreciation of the paradox, mystery, and just plain silliness of life. At the movies, comedies that draw out your sense of humor are your best bets for revealing the lightness of being. Films about sports, animals, and oddballs can also put you in touch with the playful side of life.