Feeling lost or numb to life is a common syndrome these days. “What should I do with my life?” “Why do I still feel so lost?” “What will fix me?”— Marriage? Money? Sex? Cocaine? Having kids? A house? Power? A car? Another vacation? A job? A new relationship? More money? Another house? Another car?
In the movie My Dinner With Andre, Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory do two things in the movie—eat dinner and talk. This simple movie captured a massive, wildly enthusiastic audience. It did this by offering a deep dive into the problem of living in modern society and an exploration of how to stay alive in it. The men pull apart the value of breaking routines, opening the heart to other humans, and paying attention to the trances we are living in. They explore what it means to not miss each other— to bear witness to each other’s experience and struggles. How do we stop checking out, going into trance, and attacking each other?
They also recognize their uncomfortableness with stillness, quiet, and lack of stimulation:
Wallace: “Personally, I don’t like those quiet moments.”
Andre: “That makes you uncomfortable?”
Wallace: “Well yes, why shouldn’t it?”
Andre: “…that’s interesting. You know when I was in Tibet people would gather for tea at night. We would sit and drink tea. If somebody had something to say they would, but mostly no one did, so we would just sit together.”
How can we be connected if we are always looking for stimulation from food, sex, the internet, infotainment, shopping, etc.? Can we stop our frantic need for distraction, get honest, and stop pretending to be ok if we are living in perpetual anxiety?
The men explore the addiction to comfort, electric blankets, chicken, and numbing out:
Andre: “My mother knew a woman named Lady Hatfield who died of starvation because all she would eat is chicken. She just liked chicken, but actually her body was starving but she didn’t know it because she was quite happy eating her chicken, and so, she finally died. See, I think we’re all sort of like Lady Hatfield. We’re having a lovely time with our chicken and our electric blankets, but we’re so cut off from reality we’re not getting any real sustenance. We don’t see the world. We don’t see ourselves. We don’t see how our actions affect other people.”
Wallace: “… are we all just bored, spoiled children who’ve just been lying in the bathtub all day playing with our plastic duck saying, well what can I do?”
Andre: “Ok, yes, we’re bored . . . but has it ever occurred to you that this boredom might be a self-perpetuating unconscious form of brain washing created by a world totalitarian government based on money, and that is is more dangerous than we think . . . that someone who is bored is asleep, and someone who is asleep will not say no?”
The movie is a wake up call and a relief. It becomes a relief to know that the problem of modern living is understood by others, and that we’re not alone in our experience. It is a step into genuine connection, empathy and compassion for each other, and for ourselves. It is a call to reach out, to find a way to serve others, to connect—even if that just means extending the effort to be entirely present in listening to another person. (a friend of mine likes to constantly glance at his smart phone no matter how intimate our conversation might be, ugh). The movie argues that much of the problem of living comes from the focus on fear, the over exaggerated need to be recognized as special, the obsession with money, the infatuation with self, on sensual comfort, and the desire for predictability. It is an invitation to look at ourselves, to touch the person’s shoulder next to you and ask, “Do you feel the same way I do?”