October 2002 Volume V, Number 2
The Dark Days of College
Living Deliberately in the 21st Century: An Email Discussion
Waking Up Abroad
A Life Worth Living
Spiritual Experience is Transformative: An Interview with SKS Founder August Turak
Larry's Hospital Room
Movie Review: Waking Life
Stake Out: Living In Awareness
Quiz: Are you Living Deliberately? (top)
Are you auditing life or are you taking it for credit? Take this simple quiz and FIND OUT!
While cleaning glassware for your work-study job you release a magic genie, who offers you one of the following. Which do you choose?
"To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist that is all."
"The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation..."
"These are the facts when it comes to brass tacks: Birth, copulation, and death."
My relationship toward the underlying principles which guide my life can best be described as:
I hope I passIf you're all about doing the minimal possible work to "just get by," then odds are, you're probably not living very deliberately.
I hope I do better than everyone elseAlthough your ambition and desire to do well is laudable, you might be unnecessarily losing a lot of time and energy trying to outdo your peers instead of following your destiny.
Always pick "c"If you took this quiz constantly on the lookout for the safe, popular, or most acceptable answer, you might be letting your fear and herd instinct keep you from the living as full a life as you might
"Not ANOTHER thing to worry about!"If your dominant attitude was anxiety over yet another thing to worry about in your life, then you might be missing the point. Watch out for the very human tendency to fill up your life with clutter to avoid facing and taking responsibility for the most important things because you're "too busy." Too busy to live?
CuriousIf the title and questions in this quiz intrigued you and made you think about things you've never thought before, congratulations! You might be taking your very first steps into living deliberately. Question is, what are you going to do now?
What if I fail?You are either just a nervous Nellie who needs to relax and not take yourself so seriously OR you're taking the notion of not wasting your life very seriously, which is a very good sign. Like the "curious" person above, you're interested. But unlike the curious person, you really care. You could be on the right track, so long as you don't let your hysterics about failing get in the way of looking at life head-on and taking the necessary steps toward living deliberately.
ConfidentIf you were confident you would do well on the quiz, it's either because you really are already "living the life," or it might be that you're arrogant. When you look inside, do you find that you were really taking the quiz to get yourself a pat on the back and to show off to others, or were you just looking for some tips on how to live more deliberately?
This quiz sucks. I'm making up my own!Go for it! You might be right and you might be wrong, but you seem to be meeting life head-on and taking responsibility for your convictions.
Spiritual Experience is Transformative: An Interview with August Turak (top)
In 1981, Turak began working with a small, little-known cable television programming venture known as MTV: Music Television. After helping MTV become Fortune Magazine's breakthrough product of the year in 1981, Turak became the National Director of Marketing for what was to become The Arts & Entertainment Network.
In 1985, Turak arrived in Raleigh, NC, as Vice President of a Triangle Park-based software company. He began lecturing extensively on his experiences with Richard Rose and Lou Mobley and on the lessons he had learned from a life of fast-paced business and passionate pursuit of spirituality.
In 1989, several students at North Carolina State University approached him after a lecture and asked him to teach on a regular basis. Thus the first chapter of the Self Knowledge Symposium was born. The program has since expanded to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University, as well as recently gaining federal non-profit foundation status (SKSF). For over a decade, Mr. Turak has donated countless hours of his time and energy into mentoring thousands of college students in their search for the life worth living. Currently, he has retired from his software company and is on sabbatical studying theology in graduate school at St. John's University in Minnesota. Mr. Turak will also be the keynote speaker at the Inward Bound conference.
How did you come to start the Self Knowledge Symposium (SKS)?
Well, I think there are several answers to that question. First and foremost, I did not have any choice. The teacher that I worked with, Richard Rose, when thanked or asked how he could be paid back, never accepted anything from anybody. He would simply say, "Pass it on." To me, starting the SKS was just passing it on. The SKS actually started because I was asked to give a set of lectures for the University Scholars Program here at North Carolina State University. I put together a lecture called "Five Years with a Zen Master" which was about my experiences with Rose. The SKS spontaneously grew out of that, because some students were really interested in what I had to say. The reasons I agreed to do the lecture were threefold. First, I had an obligation to pass on what I had learned. Second, spiritual work is the most wonderful, exciting, and fulfilling thing in the world. If you find yourself with a great new CD and you're the first person in your dorm to have it, you probably won't listen to it all the way through. You'll probably grab it and immediately go down the hall to your best friend and put it in his CD player because you can't resist the temptation to "turn him on." The pleasure you would get from seeing his face light up would be far greater, even, than his own pleasure in listening to the CD. Somehow your pleasure is completed through that other person. Third, as Jesus said, "When two or more are gathered in my name I am in your midst." There is something magical and something very important to one's own spiritual journey in working with and helping other people. Rose actually believed that this process is a necessity for your own spiritual progress. I have to agree. I think it is very important to my own spiritual progress that I extend myself to help people in any way I possibly can. It's my vocation; it's what I'm called to do. Rose saw this quality in me when I was 21 or 22. The first thing he asked me to do was to put together a group at the University of Pittsburgh, chair that group, and hold it together. The skills that I have developed in public speaking, perception of other people, and organization, have served me well in other areas of my life, but my primary vocation is to help other people.
What sets the SKS apart from other spiritual groups or educational groups?
There are two or three things that are fundamental principles of the SKS. One is that if you study all the great traditions of spirituality, you will be astounded, when you get very deep, at how similar they are. Especially when you get to the mystical traditions, whether it's Zen for Buddhism, or Yoga for Hinduism, or Sufism for Islam, or Kabbalah for Judaism, or the teachings of the great mystics like of St. John of the Cross for Christianity. The people of these traditions sound remarkablyamazinglysimilar. I think that it would be really cool to take a few passages from Meister Eckharta 13th century German catholicand swap them with Huang Poa 9th century Chinese Zen teacherand see if people could even tell them apart. The idea is that you can work across traditions. You can be ecumenical or interfaith and not run into as many difficulties because you are working on a mystical level.
This principle gets to the reason why we are called the Self Knowledge Symposium, because all great traditions share the need for self-knowledge. Down at Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery in South Carolina, I got close to Brother William, who has since passed on. I remember one time Brother William was sitting on a bench and telling me about a time during the '40s or '50sthe time of Thomas Mertonwhen it was pretty common to become a hermit. The Trappists are known for communal living but it became common for some monks to spend time in isolation and work on themselves. He had lived three years as a hermit. As we talked, he went through stories of his days in isolation and finally I asked him, "Well, did you get anything out of it?" He looked at me as a very beatific look swept over his face and he said, "I had to face myself." That was the end of the conversation. He knew that was a very magical moment for me. He knew that was all the answer that I needed, and we just sat there in silence after that. This devout monk who spent all his life in a Catholic monastery described the summation of his own spiritual journey as having to face himself. Every spiritual tradition has this idea of having to face yourself, of having to find out who you really are. The SKS takes that as a starting point, a way of walking across faiths.
Also, what makes SKS a very special organization is that it is experiential. A lot of the SKS has to do with getting involved, working for the group, and working on group projects. Why? Because you'll learn more about yourself and others in fifteen minutes of working together than you would in ten years of talking. It reminds me of an episode of Cheers where the bartender is talking to Carla about some kind of woman problems. Carla says, "Listen, if you want to learn about women, don't listen to us when we are all dressed up on the Phil Donahue Show. Watch what we do all day, every day." The SKS is about experiential learning in terms of actual exercises that you can do, getting involved in a lot of projects, working on things, and finding out who you really are. Can you keep a promise? Can you get out in front of a group and speak out? Can you get ten people into a room or hold a group together? All these are extremely important ways of finding out who you really are and measuring your commitment.
Another great thing about SKS is that it does not compartmentalize. What is often done academically or in other spiritual groups is compartmentalized. When you go to church on Sunday, you're at church, but that does not necessarily have anything to do with what you are doing Monday through Saturday. At an SKS meeting, anything you want to talk aboutand sometimes things you don't want to talk aboutare fair game. Your spiritual path will be defined on such things as whether you call your mother once a week or you don't. Why don't you call her once a week or twice a week? Why does she always have to call you? Why do you always choose to write? Why do you use email? Why don't you use the telephone? Would you have a better relationship if you went home? Why don't you go home? All of these things are important to your spiritual development. The SKS is constantly breaking down the compartmentalization.
What students really appreciate about that is the ability to talk about things that are typically seen as personal. Dave Gold, a good friend and fellow student of Richard Rose, walked into my office a few years ago when I was going through some "spiritual earthquakes." I started talking to him, and I was obviously very upset. He said, "You know, Augie, I never thought it would get this personal." Real spiritual work gets extremely personal. It gets right down to the very core of what you believe and what you think. We don't separate the personal from the academic. It all works together. It all works toward another key idea in SKS that you don't learn spirituality. You don't study spirituality. It is not really a left-brained activitythough it has its left-brained aspects. Yes, you have to read and study and do all those things but that is not what it is all about. You cannot take a class on it. Spirituality is a transformative experience. It's the process of going from an acorn to an oak. The acorn has the potential of "oakness" but it does not understand "oakness." The only way the acorn can understand "oakness" is to become the oak. Explaining oakness to an acorn does no good. In this sense, the SKS is a very serious organization. It is open to anyone who just wants to discuss these things and sit on the periphery observing; however, what we are really about is helping those people who want to go through a transformative experience. Fleet Maull, who is going to be one of our speakers at the Inward Bound conference in October, teaches at the Naropa Institute out in Colorado. It was started by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, a very famous Tibetan master. Naropa graduates about 200 students per year. I asked him once, "Fleet, do you have any way of restricting graduation until they have shown some sort of depth? How can you be sure that they haven't just mastered the book-learning stuff? Are they more like oaks than acorns because they have gone through this process?" He answered it very well, saying, "No, we're not a 'guru school,' but we do insist that people work on themselves." I think that what happens all too often in conventional spiritual groups and on campuses is the same thing that happens in psychology. People know a lot about psychology and have read a lot of books on psychology. People know a lot about spirituality and have read a lot of books on spirituality, but they have never worked on themselves. It's the difference between reading about Mt. Everest and going there. So, first and foremost, the SKS is trying to provide a comfortable, safe environment for people who want to work on themselves. We're also trying to suggest that you should be working on yourself. It's a wonderful thing, tremendously rewarding, and really the only way you are going to help the world. What the world needs is more consciousness, more awareness, more depth, and less fear. What happens whenever people get deeper or more profound is that they become less fearful. When they become less fearful they become less dangerous to themselves and to all other living things.
Oftentimes I say that the greatest selling feature of the SKS is that it is intense and the worst selling feature of SKS is that it is intense. We all watch others who are going through intense experiences and are oftentimes jealous. We can obviously tell that they are getting some good out of it, but when it happens to us, the first thing we do is try to get out of the line of fire. I have asked many people what the most meaningful experiences in their lives were. Were they joyous things or very painful things? Invariably, most answer that they were always things that they experienced, at the time, to be unpleasant. Intensity is a double-edged sword. On one hand, it's very uncomfortable. On the other hand, when you're intense, you're alive. That's why so many men dream of combat and read military history. We wonder what it would be like to live life on the edgewe just don't want to actually go out there ourselves. The SKS once sponsored Andrew Cohen, a Western teacher coming from an Eastern tradition, to come speak here. He was speaking about intensity and working with his students. He explained that it is a very dangerous thing to provide intensity for your students because, as he put it, "It tends to engender rage." My teacher Richard Rose used to say, "I'm not here to put you to sleep. I'm not here to reassure you and tell you God loves you or you're okay and everything is fine."
The world is asleep, unconscious, or, as Christians might put it, living in darkness. Buddhists might say were living in Maya or illusion. So, Rose used to say, "I'm here to shake you, and stir you, and get in your face, and continually prod you so that one day we might make a human being out of you." As I mentioned before, when you work with someone in that way it "tends to engender rage." I'm sure that everyone who has played sports of some kind has wanted to take that baseball bat and split the coach's skull open at times. At 50 years of age, I just called my 88-year-old football coach to thank him for making three years of my life miserable because it helped make a man out of me. So, those are the key features of SKS. SKS is interfaith, experiential, seeks to de-compartmentalize, encourages its members to work on themselves, and is intense.
How is it that SKS takes all of these deep mystical parts of many religious and spiritual traditions of the world and combines them to create that intensity that you are talking about?
Well, Forbes magazine did a millennium issue and they were talking about what was going to happen to religion in 2001 because of a resurgence of religion and spirituality. One woman said, in the article, that all the great traditions are being boiled down to two great truths: (1) Everyone has the urge to transcend and (2) Everyone should love his neighbor as himself. The great Rabbi Hillel was, supposedly, told by someone, "If you can explain Judaism to me in the time it takes while standing on one leg, I will convert to Judaism." Hillel said, "Don't do anything to your neighbor that you would not want done to you." I would actually add a third: (3) Know thyself.
I do believe that many roads lead to Rome, and so I do not want to quibble about which method is best, but whereas most religions emphasize technique and start with the conceptual or intellectuallike there are three persons in one God, or there's Rama, Vishnu, and Shiva, or whateverthe SKS, I think, starts on a process level. SKS says something like, "Let me demonstrate, through analogies or metaphors, that there really is this thing called a longing for transcendence and it is in you." Were you touched by these metaphors or stories? If so, you might have a vocation along these lines, so dedicate yourself to listening to this longing or voice. Three of my six brothers were involved in a terrible accident recently while on snowmobiles in Colorado. One of my brothers was killed and the other two were seriously injured. There was a complete white-out. They lost their way and plunged 400 feet off a cliff into the snow. My brother Dan, who has never been a religious person, has had every single one of his friends come to him one at a time, asking, "What was it like? Did you see God? Did you see through it? Did you come to any higher level of understanding?" That is a longing for transcendence! Everyone is longing for something more. The SKS is really just nurturing that feeling or process in any way that we possibly can. It's also suggesting that self-knowledge is important. Our contention is that self-knowledge has a spiritual dimension, but also that you can start on self-knowledge just because it makes your life work better. You'll know why you're doing the things you're doing instead of just going through the motions. I think it is self-evident why you should treat your neighbor as yourself.
If you start with these three basic principles then you will immediately go from what I call "why questions""Why should I be interested in spirituality? Why should I be interested in religion? Maybe there is no God. Why should I spend any time on this?"to "how questions""How do I approach this? How do I organize my time and my day? What kind of discipline or diet should I get into? What kind of prayers or meditation should I do?" As soon as you consciously admit that you do have this desire for transcendence and you would like to know who you are, once you have tuned into those three things, then you will start asking not why but how can I do this. It is very easy then to direct or suggest to students to study the traditions because traditions are essentially the methodology to get there. I think what has turned a lot of kids off over time, at least in the Judeo-Christian traditions, is force-feeding the methodology before you know why you are doing it. It's kind of like giving an answer before you have asked the question.
I know you attribute a lot of what you have done with SKS and in your life to your work with Richard Rose, and he is a very influential character in your life. Could you give a little background on Rose and tell a few stories that would epitomize Richard Rose?
Richard Rose is a man I met when I was 19 years old. I was interested in Zen Buddhism and he was giving talks on the subject. He was the antithesis of what you would expect of a Zen master, even though he was about 5'6" and looked like a little Buddha. Even though he was a hillbilly born and raised in Wheeling, West Virginia, his life epitomized what the SKS is all about. He was born and raised Catholic in a very, very poor family and was in and out of orphanages because his family couldn't afford to support him. When he was only six years old, he looked down and found himself unconsciously doodling over and over, "Many are called, few are chosen. Many are called, few are chosen." At a very young age Rose was bitten by the bug and wanted answers. He wanted to know, as Zen would say, the answer to the riddle of life and death. Who are we? Where did we come from? What is our destiny? He wanted to, as I would say, look upon the face of God and live. He epitomized SKS because he started out with a raw hunger and turned it into a focused search. He went away to a Catholic monastery, he studied spiritualism, chemistry, physics, yoga, doing anything and everything he could to bring him closer to answering these questions that occupied nearly every waking moment of his life.
At the age of thirty quite by accident he had a cataclysmic spiritual experience, which he described as enlightenment. That was in 1949, and despairing of telling anyone about his experience, he got married and raised a family. It's hard for us, today, to imagine being a hard-core seeker in the 1930s and '40s in America. There was no one to talk to, no books. There were no spiritual bookstores like we have out the wazoo now. No one was lecturing on it and anything that was not mainstream Protestant religion was threatening to the neighbors. The strength of character the guy had was tremendous. He used to talk about hitchhiking 200 to 400 miles because he had heard that there was a book on yoga in a library someplace, only to get there and discover that the librarian thought it was corrupting the minds of the young and stuck it back in the stacks or destroyed it. That's the kind of determination that describes Rose...a human hammer. He was will, drive, energy, passion, and focus, all for spirituality. So then what happened in the late '60s and early '70s is that he got wind of people like Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and that the Beatles were studying yoga, things were changing. Rose said that he then tentatively made some contacts, then someone asked him to give a talk. I showed up at the talk and I wanted to learn more. I became his first student and started to arrange other talks and put up a few posters. Rose had his old family farm and he always had in the back of his head that he would like to use it as a spiritual retreat center and so it became that. I had an extremely profound experience happen to me at his farm in 1973, which led me to drop out of college, abandon the Columbia Graduate School course I was in, leave my girlfriend, leave my hometown, and go against my parents who had groomed me to be a millionaire by the time I was 25. I love my parents and they wanted what they thought was best for me and that was to get an education, become a lawyer, settle down, work hard, and make a lot of money. That was the track that I was on. I turned my back on all of that based on this experience that happened to me.
I'm no shrinking violet, I was always one who knew what I wanted and I always grabbed life for all it's worth. I was putting every nickel from my paper route away for college when I was seven. I won a scholarship to go to prep school in Connecticut then I burned it up at the University of Pittsburgh in Russian History, taking graduate seminars when I was a junior. I was their star pupil in Russian History at Pitt. I had lots of friends and a girlfriend. Everything was going just according to plan when suddenly I turned my back on it all, and for the next five years, earned my living as a carpet installer while living on Rose's farm. I did this much to my parents ever-loving dismay. The point is that if you want to know who Richard Rose is, take a look at me and then ask yourself what kind of a person could have that much of an effect on me. He was an incredibly difficult person to work with; he was relentless and expected you to be relentless. He was a master psychologist always 'exposing you to your games.' After the first meeting, I asked if I could meet him some time and he invited me out to his farm. I was just blown away by the absolute magnetism of the man and his drive and intensity. However, the more I felt attracted to him the more I began to think that, hey, I've got a whole life ahead of me here. I already have a mission and this guy is not talking about an extracurricular activity. That's all he ever talked about. You have to be a "one-hundred-percenter" and go after it with everything you've got. I realized that there was not going to be room enough for my parents' dreams of my life and this guy's dreams in the same lifetime. So here I am now. For more on Rose I would recommend people get a hold of Dave Gold's book After The Absolute. Dave Gold, who is actually a founding member of the SKS, was one of Rose's students and has been a friend of mine since 1973. He has written what I consider to be the definitive book on his experiences with Richard Rose and in that book he brings Rose to life better than anybody ever could do. Just like I said, Rose was intense...in-tense. A living breathing hammer.
How has your experience with Rose influenced your own teaching style?
It's funny, because in many ways my understanding of spirituality is tremendously different from the way it was back when I was studying with Rose. I'm not even particularly interested in Zen per se anymore. For some reasonmaybe it was all the time I spent with the Trappist monksI have become particularly fascinated with the Christian tradition. I'm even taking a sabbatical this fall to study theology. So Rose's influence is not so much with the content, the subject matter of the teaching, although a lot of that is still there in some form. His influence on me has so much more to do with way you teachby inspiring people with your own experience, your own stories and your passion for the Truth. I sincerely doubt that much good comes from the logical content of what I have to talk about...nobody gets argued into this sort of quest. I'm much more of a story-teller, a raconteur, than a "man of learning." I've had a heck of a life, and I've got a lot of stories to tell. And sometimes, through grace or who knows what, sometimes the power is given to me to move people, to bring out that longing for transcendence that is hidden inside them. Or, as Edgar Lee Masters puts it: "You're catching a whiff of the ether reserved for God Himself." And if you can move people, if you can give them that whiff, and touch that eternal part of them, and inspire them to give over their lives to the struggle to be the best human beings they can possibly be...what better teaching is there than that?
Mike Tomlinson is a student at North Carolina State University (NCSU) working on his PhD in Chemical Engineering. Chris Rogus is a fourth year at NCSU majoring in cognitive science and computer science.
Larry's Hospital Room (top)
When I walked into the hospital room yesterday, I had to stop myself from gasping at the way Larry looked. All the hair had been shaved off the front of his head, leaving a mop of curly hair that looked like a bad toupee badly glued onto the back. A long, obvious scar ran across his forehead. He needed a shave. And yet his facial expressionalways somewhere between a smile and a laughstill looked exactly like I remembered it.
Seven months ago, Larry was (as far as he knew) a perfectly healthy man in his early 40s. He has bachelor's degrees in both music and math education, a Master's degree in Theological Studies, and a Ph.D. in Physics, which he taught in a university in Chicago. He is happily married. On February 8, he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He had surgery on February 12, but the tumor could not be removed. It took four days to go from "perfectly healthy man" to "maybe a year to live."
So, in characteristic fashion, Larry put together a Web page about it. He explained that he was dying. The brain tumor had the effect of suppressing his emotional reactions, so the tone was somewhat flat. But his personality still came through: The Web page was technical ("Glioblastoma multiforme: This grade IV astrocytoma is a poorly differentiated, rapidly growing tumor that occurs most often in adults"), it had a sense of humor ("This may be the brain tumor talking"), and it was religious ("I've always known I was mortal, like 100% of every preceding generation. But I'm also immortal and wish to live out my life in light of that fact as well. May our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, bless you in all His ways.")
By the time I saw Larry in the hospital yesterday, he had deteriorated far beyond the man who wrote that Web page (which his wife is now maintaining with regular updates). For the most part, he lay still while his wife and I chatted about the tumor, about flaws in the hospital system, and about religious hypocrisy. Larry raised himself up and gasped out a sentence, one slow word at a time. "I...am...listening." His brain was not capable of forming words and sentences easily, but he wanted us to know that he was paying attention and enjoyed hearing us talk. And he obviously was, as he demonstrated when we got to a subject nearer and dearer to his heart: Math teaching. I said something about an advanced high school math student using a calculator to subtract 24 from 26. Larry spit his words out again: "Or...multiply...by...ten." He was smiling as he said it, obviously finding such students annoying and amusing at the same time.
Susan told me about the last time Larry had seemed really coherent. Some orderlies had been moving him, and had gotten confused about the proper way to treat his legs. Larry sat up and said "Look, let me explain it. The left leg has a clot. The right leg…" and so on. Larry's mind can still work lucidlybut the only thing that seems to bring out his verbal abilities is pain.
Larry leaned over to me and asked "Do you…remember…when I taught…your…electronics…lab?" Of course I did, I told him. In one lab report I wrote that I was "Kirkoffing." He wrote in the margin: "Verbing even proper nouns, I see!"
He smiled again. "Your...lab reports...were always...a joy...to...read." He looked almost confidential as he told me he had given me an "A" for being clever and funny. He probably also remembers that I was completely incompetent in the lab, but he politely neglected to mention it.
As I left, I told Susan "Please let us know if there is anything we can do to help." "We'll put you on the list," she replied. Susan seems to have a bit of Larry's sense of humor. But the biggest thing they have in common is complete faith that when Larry dies, as he almost surely will in a few months, his soul will rise to heaven and eventually be joined by Susan. They know, despite all the suffering they are going through, that things are working out exactly the way they are supposed to. They know it will be okay in the end. And they almost certainly do not know, as they sit there in the hospital roomLarry in his propped-up position on the bed, Susan in her permanent station by the windowhow much I envy them both.
Kenny Felder is a long-time SKS member, a math teacher at Raleigh Charter High School, and a commentator on WUNC. He lives in Chapel Hill with his wife and four children.
Movie Review: Waking Life (top)
In another clip, a group of twenty-somethings walk down the street, speaking quickly and eloquently about theories of social change, activism, and reform. They pass by an old hippie who's clinging to the top of a telephone pole. They ask him if he needs any help or wants to get down. The old guy thinks for a second and says, "Nope." Walking away from him, one of the younger guys makes the comment, "Stupid old man," while another guy astutely states, "Yeah, he's all action and no theory; we're all theory and no action."
From Sartre's existentialism to post-structuralism, to Eastern religion, lucid dreaming, and the evolution of consciousness, this film exposes the viewer to a fascinating variety of philosophical ideas, arguments, and world views. The storyline is centered on the main character who seems to be stuck in a dream. He keeps having false awakenings, thinking he is waking up when in fact he finds himself in new dream situations each time. Exploring the fascinating territory of lucid dreaming (becoming aware that you are dreaming and beginning to control what happens), Waking Life challenges the notion that the waking side of our consciousness is our life and our dreaming side is somehow less important. "Most people are stuck in life's waiting room," one character states. "You ever gone through a full eight-hour day of work, only to wake up and discover that it was all a dream?" he asks. "Not only do they get your waking life for minimum wage, they get your dreams for free," he says. Challenging the audience to begin taking advantage of the limitless possibilities for experience and learning during the other half of consciousness, Waking Life ventures to make us question what we are doing with those eight hours a night we spend asleep. Along the way, the movie exposes the viewer to numerous other alternative philosophies and views on life.
The best part of Waking Life for me was the way in which the philosophical discussions are converted into cartoon-like form and conveniently split up into five to ten minute segments. As I taught a summer school course at a Duke camp this summer to talented 13-16 year olds, I used Waking Life to show the teenagers how philosophical conversations can be extremely relevant to everyday life. It worked out perfectly to show a five-minute clip and then have a discussion around it with the students. They absolutely ate it up, even requesting after we'd gotten halfway through that we finish the rest of the movie the next day. It just goes to show that philosophy can be fascinating even to high school kids.
I can't recommend Waking Life highly enough, if for nothing else than to tell Hollywood we want more than sex and superficial jokes.
Chuck Eesley is a recent graduate of Duke University and is advisor to the chapter of SKS at Duke.