Joseph Cramer, M.D.: We need to live our lives one movie frame at a time
Pablo Picasso said, "We all know that art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.”
Movies are fake. We all know that. The pyro-techs are staged. The actors wear make up. The dialogue is scripted. The scenery is painted or recycled from some back lot movie that went bust.
The moving picture itself is a deception. Our eyes create the motion as individual images flash in front of us projected at 24 frames per second. Even though our brains do the computational, we still have to pay admission.
Animation has been around since the days of cave painting. A forever-unknown artist added extra legs to his animal drawings to depict them running. More recently, in 1867 the zoopraxiscope spun around while customers looked through a slit. The brain stapled together the pictures to show motion.
Kids today can make movies with stop action characters, which are moved, filmed, moved, filmed. You can draw a stick figure in a series of poses and then by flipping through them rapidly, the character appears to move.
This process of making movies out of many individual pictures, shots or action positions is a lot like our hectic lives.
Too often we run around at 24 frames per second and call it movement. We don’t stop, and look at that one original image. If we did, we could see that those millions of individual pictures break up our lives into quanta of time. Seconds are the stuff of our lives. They are snapshots. We get so busy with daily activity that our heads spin. This is not true progression in personal development.
Motion is not always forward movement. Molecules bounce about bumping into each other in what is called Brownian motion. There is no progress. There is no direction to this atomic jiggling. The elements go nowhere.
It is not always the Browns. There can be Smithian, Jonesian or Cramerian stagnant motion. Whether we have forward motion is dependent on the things we do minute-to-minute, frame-by-frame.
Mindfulness allows us to slow down our movie to focus on a single frame. When we step out of the blur of the silver screen we see colors we have never seen before. We touch the sky and clouds, savor tastes, rest our tired feet and rejoice. The carpool, work, commute, music practice become meaningful when viewed in stopped motion. It is as if we absorb it all through our breath as we inhale and gently exhale.
If we notice a negative scene that is 1/24 of a second, we could decide mindfully if the show should go on or we could choose to write a whole new play. We could craft a different ending to our autobiographical documentary.
Moment-to-moment living, however, is not ignoring the future or disregarding the past. To the extent that we allow non-existing time take command of our lives speeds up the film and our chances to create our story vanishes.
Socrates, way before IMAX, said, “A life unexamined is not worth living”
For us to examine our lives more closely, we need to take precious seconds and inspect the individual frames that make up our lives. Is our audio track filled with yelling and snapping? Are there too many fight scenes?
We must slow things down to be able to affect the shot. Otherwise, we merrily zip along missing all the good parts and are left with just the popcorn.
We are the stars and directors of our own cinema. We need to learn that when we change a frame, we begin a cascade of real movement toward growth. We can be the good guys with the white hat. Women aren’t the damsels in distress anymore. They look good in hats, too.
We are not bit players in a B movie. We are not just in the crowd scenes. Our movies are neither fakes nor lies. To move forward, we need to change, and we change one frame at a time.
Joseph Cramer, M.D., is a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, practicing pediatrician for 30 years, and an adjunct professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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