Gravity (2013): The Path to Enlightenment

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Hello Spiritual Seekers! Welcome to yet another episode of Think Spiritual Podcasts.

I am your host, Mark, and this is the fourth installment of my Examining the Spiritual Elements of Movies series of Think Spiritual Podcasts. This will also happen to be the first episode where I attempt to insert clips from the movie into the video version of this podcast. If it works as I hope it does, I plan to re-create and re-release many of my prior episodes in this same format.

I seem to have a penchant for choosing Science-Fiction movies to analyse in this series of podcasts and today that still holds true, but this particular movie is slightly different. While it is a science-fiction movie, it is somewhat more firmly based in the realm of possibility rather than in a fantasy world.

Although even that statement is highly debatable. Today’s movie is Gravity from 2013. It starred Sandra Bullock and George Clooney and I don’t think I ever heard anything positive about the movie. Mostly all I heard were people complaining about how “scientifically inaccurate” it was. Come on, people, do you want “real” or do you want proper mythology that actually means something? Sorry...that’s a tangent and rant all on its own.

Gravity is one of those movies that I really didn’t pay the slightest bit of attention to when it came out in theatres. I really wasn’t that interested in it and, as I said, the only things I heard about it were the complaints about its “scientific inaccuracies”.

So, fast-forward about three years to a lazy, winter, Sunday morning and I am contemplating what to watch on Netflix while I eat my breakfast. Well, hmmm, Gravity has just been added to the “Recently Added” list. Alright. Why not?

I watched the movie and at the end I sat there puzzled and stunned and feeling quite a whirlwind of emotions. What had I just watched? I felt like I had just seen something vastly important, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.

I backed the movie up to the scene where the main character, Ryan Stone, Sandra Bullock’s character, first enters the International Space Station (the ISS), gets the oxygen on and strips out of her space suit and I just kept asking the question, “Why?”.

Why does she curl into a fetal position? Why had they shot the scene to look like she was in a womb? Why did they make that bit of material look like an umbilical cord? Why did they…

“Oh, my god, she’s being reborn!”

And in that sudden moment of realization the entire movie unravelled before my mind’s eye and I understood the message contained within it. “Scientific inaccuracies” be damned. This movie isn’t about science or space travel or about a woman caught in horrifying circumstances. This movie is entirely about walking the path to spiritual enlightenment!

Let me show you. We could take the same approach we took with Thor: Ragnarok and I could encourage you to envision yourself as the hero, but this time I want you to empathize with the hero. Think what she is thinking. Feel what she is feeling. Come with me as we take an epic space walk with Ryan Stone:

Right within the opening text of the movie we do get one brief clue about the direction this story is going to take. The line says, “Life in Space is Impossible”. Space is empty and void, so what this line is ultimately implying is that a life that is empty and void is impossible to live.

But empty and void of what? Well, of life itself. The point of life is to live it. You have to participate in life not just be a passive receiver of it.

I think the character of Ryan Stone is just living in this “passive receiver” mode when we are first introduced to her. Here she is in what truly is an amazing circumstance...she’s in outer space! How much more amazing can you get? But look and listen to her. It kind of seems like it has no effect on her. Her voice is somewhat monotone and void of emotion. She’s somewhat cold and analytical. It seems like she’s just there to do a job and nothing more. She even stands with her back to the most amazing sight of all: the globe of the Earth.

Another member of the shuttle mission is Ryan’s complete opposite though. Matt Kowalski, played by George Clooney, is completely engaged in life. He is playful. He tells stories and jokes. He even attempts to flirt with and get close to Ryan. He enjoys the view of the world. He is simply in love with life and with every opportunity he is given.

And then disaster strikes. A destroyed satellite has impacted with dozens or hundreds of other satellites and now the orbit space around Earth is basically full of high-speed flotsam that will destroy whatever is in its path. The simple truth here: life can be really, really difficult. It will throw all kinds of things at you and it is absolutely no respecter of persons. Ryan’s current “world” is thrown into chaos and she herself is violently flung into the void.

This often happens to us. Tragedy comes upon us and we are seemingly thrown into an empty existence with no help and with no lifeline.

But if we manage to keep our heads even just a little bit and can report our positions to people who care for us, rescue from without can happen.

By managing to pinpoint her location relative to the Earth, Ryan gives Kowalski enough information so he can find her and come to her rescue with his propulsion spacesuit.

The point here is absolutely not that Ryan is a woman and needs to be rescued by a man. The point is that she is a person spinning out of control and what she needs right now is stability.

Kowalski ultimately represents a multitude of possibilities here. Perhaps he is a romantic relationship. Maybe he is a mentor. Perhaps he is a guru. Regardless of “what” he is, his ultimate purpose to bring Ryan some semblance of, not control, stability. Essentially the one thing she absolutely cannot live without.

Kowalski tethers Ryan to him and the two of them head for the International Space Station - the ISS. Along with way they talk and a few important conversations take place. For one, Kowalski tells Ryan to set a 90 minute timer because he knows that the satellite debris will be coming around Earth’s orbit in that time.

The point here is that life is cyclical. Life will continue to cycle until someone...YOU...breaks that cycle.

As their conversation continues, Kowalski finally manages to get Ryan to open up and she reveals that she had a young daughter who died. Ryan got the news by phone while she was driving, so now that is all she does. She wakes up each day. She goes to work. And she just drives.

That is her life. That is her existence. No grieving. No moving on. No real living.

And now what? Has Ryan’s “just driving” gotten her anywhere? Life still happens and it cannot be avoided forever. Even the amazing event of going into space didn’t seem to shake Ryan up. Could the space shuttle disaster be life’s way or God’s way or the Universe’s way of telling Ryan to “Wake up! There’s life to be lived!”?

When Kowalski and Ryan reach the ISS they are slightly off course and Kowalski must use the last of his jetpack propellent to land on the station. However they hit hard and are unable to control their landing in any fashion.

Ryan keeps yelling, “What do I do? What do I do?” implying that she still has no faith in herself or in her own abilities.

The tether breaks between Kowalski and Ryan and she yells that she is detached.

The fact is, life can and will throw hardships at you that may very well detach you from things or relationships. Life can destabilize even the most stable things.

And when those things happen we often try to hang on for dear life, but it’s not always up to us. Just because we don’t want something to end, it doesn’t mean it’s not supposed to. Sometimes relationships are just for a certain time. Mentors die. Gurus often have no more to teach us. There comes a time where we absolutely must learn to deal with life on our own.

We really do have to learn to let go.

Ryan enters the ISS. She is desperate for oxygen and she is exhausted from her trials and ordeals. As the oxygen comes on she strips away her spacesuit...her life support...her armour. For the first time in who knows how long, Ryan is vulnerable. She has no one and nothing to protect her. Like a child. Like an infant. Like a fetus.

Cradled in the womb of life Ryan is reborn with a brand new inkling of understanding that she is alone and that she will survive in spite of that fact.

And she has this new belief in herself just in time because life is not through with sending disasters her way. A fire aboard the ISS sends her to the Osoyoos escape pod before she has any chance to get comfortable or relax for too long.

She launches the Osoyoos away from the ISS, but as she tries to fly away from it another problem arises. The Osoyoos’s parachute accidentally deployed and it keeps her “tied” to the station. Again, in life certain things or relationships or jobs or any number of responsibilities often keep us “tied” to a certain way of living or to certain people. These are things that we know we have to let go of, but sometimes they won’t let go of us.

So, it takes work and effort to release ourselves from those things just as Ryan has to work to disentangle her lifeboat from the parachute’s ropes.

But, of course, her 90-minutes-to-disaster window is closing and it strikes. This time Ryan keeps a level head and sticks to the task until she has worked herself free.

Everything is chaos yet again and she is spinning out of control, but this time Ryan stabilizes herself. No one has to rescue her.

And even though she has done all that, even though she has done everything right, even though she has done her best and has worked through every problem, her lifeboat is out of fuel. Ryan is not going anywhere.

As I said, Ryan has done everything right from her rebirth to now. She hasn’t made a misstep. She didn’t do or not do anything to earn this new hardship. However, Life still has a few lessons to teach her.

What follows is ultimately a “mountain-top moment” for Ryan. She accepts the inevitability of death. She has a vision of her guru coming to teach her one final lesson. She really can choose to stay on the mountain top forever or she can choose to come down from the mountain and really and truly live. The fact is, the choice is completely up to her.

So, Ryan chooses to live, and I need to make a note here about the interesting symbolic nature of operations manuals in this movie: they are books of wisdom or of “sacred knowledge”.

As she keys in the sequences to get her lifeboat moving, Ryan finally goes through the final and proper stages of grieving. Not only does she acknowledge that Kowalski is dead, but she asks him to tell her daughter that her mom isn’t joining her yet...that she isn’t “done”.

And with that, Ryan finally gets the boost she needs.

As the lifeboat approaches the Chinese space station, Ryan notes that the station is on the move. It is on the verge of crashing into Earth’s atmosphere and it is here that Ryan does something truly uncharacteristic and something completely heroic: she realizes her full potential.

“No more just driving,” she says. And Ryan flies.

She leaps out of her lifeboat and uses a fire extinguisher to propel herself towards the falling space station.

Same desperate and dangerous situation as landing on the ISS was, but look at how controlled and daring she is this time. Yes, she almost misses, but the point is that she doesn’t. Remember that. It doesn’t matter if you almost don’t make it. The point is that you make it. The point is that you dare to leap from hand-hold to hand-hold. You’re not getting banged around by life anymore. You’re meeting it head-on.

Ryan gets inside the Chinese space station and makes her way to the new lifeboat. As she is doing so, the original disaster scenario...all the satellite flotsam is coming around again.

Look at the importance of this message here, please: the situation is all exactly the same. What is different? Ryan is different. Same life situations. Same problem. Same danger. Same issues. Brand new Ryan.

Ryan changed her Self and by doing so she has changed her world.

By the way, think that shot of the Buddha statue was on purpose or a sub-conscious addition on a director’s or editor’s part?

Ryan is coming down to Earth like a flaming comet. Alarms are blaring around her, equipment is catching fire, the air is hot, things are smashing into her lifeboat.

There are really interesting messages coming through the radio: people demanding to know “What is that?” “Who are you?” “Identify yourself!” When you go through a personal transformation, people do make these types of demands of you.

And through all this chaos, Ryan is composed. She relies on her wits and her training. She has accepted that she may very well die, but that she also may very well live...and who can say which is scarier at times?

The lifeboat lands in water and really, this is kind of “one final test” for Ryan because what does she end up having to do? She has to shed her spacesuit once again. What once protected her. What once kept her warm. What she once relied upon to keep her alive is now weighing her down and preventing her from reaching her ultimate goal.

She escapes from the confinement of her suit and swims to the life-giving air above. She takes her first breath of “real” air. Her first breath as a “real” person even. She relaxes on her back. She floats. She lets the refreshing water carry her. She sees the sky. It is still full of danger and flaming pieces of satellite wreckage, but it is far, far above her now. She is untouchable.

Ryan touches shore. She is grounded for the first time. She says “thank you” to the Earth, to Kowalski, to her daughter, to life itself for awakening her.

Ryan gets to her feet, shaky at first, but then she takes her first steps into a new and greater realm of existence. Strong and powerful. Daring and free.

And once again I have reached the end of another Examining the Spiritual Elements episode of Think Spiritual Podcasts. How do you feel about my analysis of Gravity? Do you agree, do you disagree? Did I miss any super-significant points?

Please comment and let me know or just subscribe to Think Spiritual and that will let me know that someone out there is listening.

Regardless, I’m going to keep doing these podcasts and videos. I’m really enjoying the process.

I have been your host, Mark, thank you very much for listening and/or watching and please always remember that if you have faith in yourself like Ryan Stone eventually did that you will change your Self and you will change your world.

I’ll see you on the next episode of Think Spiritual Podcasts.

Change your Self; change your World.

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