Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Soul's Story of Redemption: Mary Poppins & The Saving of Mr. Banks!

We watched the Tom Hanks movie, "Saving Mr. Banks." I had no idea what to expect and I generally don't watch a movie that I have no inkling of its pedigree. But this was well worth it, and I rarely make movie recommendations.

I think the only aspect of it that might prevent the movie from becoming one of the all time classics is that it is close-to-essential to know the story (and movie), Mary Poppins, starring Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke (and produced by Walt Disney and first screened in 1964).

If you don't know the Mary Poppins story and movie, well, you can skip this blog article, as I don't want to take the time and space to explain it. 

The lead character, the author of the original Mary Poppins story, "P.L. Travers," is played by Emma Thompson, of Shakespeare play renown. I do not know to what degree the movie, "Saving Mr. Banks," follows the real story of the author but, no matter. 

Why, "no matter?" Because truth is greater than fact. "Saving Mr. Banks" is a story of redemption. In this archetypal genre, such stories have for their truth the reality that we are need of redemption from the past, from ignorance, from delusion. Every great classic story of redemption involves the wisdom and love of another person who aids in the process of releasing the past and finding one's true Self. In the world of spirituality, God takes the form of the guru to lead us home to soul freedom.

This story of redemption is what makes this movie great. Well, ok, not just the story, but the acting, scripting, and, to whatever degree the facts behind it are true, all give it power beyond philosophy or mere intellectual analysis (like I'm doing!).

In this story Travers is a young girl whose father is an alcoholic and his disease destroys him and his career in banking--a career that stifles his creativity and his joy in life. As a young girl she watches her mother's attempted suicide, her father's public humiliation, and finally his death. As a young woman she achieves some financial security from her writings, beginning with the Mary Poppins childrens story that she writes. 

The movie unfolds via flashbacks and fairly slowly, but it crescendos in the realization that her beloved children’s book is her own attempt at redeeming her father, Mr. Banks. It is Walt Disney himself who unlocks the door to her secret. So, too, does her chauffeur (played by Paul Giamatti--leading role in and as "John Adams").

The acting is superb; the lines and music priceless; but the cathartic lesson is timeless. 

As souls we are prodigal; we are lost in the wilderness of our own separateness. The pain of separation, the existential angst, drives us to desperate measures of resolution: including destructive behaviors such as alcoholism, just to name one (of the more popular) of an infinity of ways to "lose our mind." 

Sticking, though loosely, to the story line, Mr. Banks is a free spirit. He loves his wife and his children and the last thing he's good at is buckling down to support them. His free spirit rules him however and soon produces the clash between his spirit and his actions; between his free spirit and the consequences of his own actions in a material world split by duality, a fatal dichotomy is created. 

He resorts, then, to alcohol to ease the stress and anxiety of his nonconforming behavior. But his habit leads him step-by-step down the rabbit hole, and his family suffers with each his humiliation. But he adores his children and especially our protagonist, his daughter.

She, in turn, innocent as a child and not understanding, but experiencing the tragedy of her parents' respective death wishes, despite their love for her (and her siblings), grows up deeply cleaved and soon shuts out the inner child who is playful, imaginative and free. She develops a compulsive personality that is so rigidly and merely factual, that few can abide her presence. Being a lone writer then suits her just fine. She controls the world around her rigidly and makes no accommodation to her own strict rules and perceptions, sparing no expense of the comfort of others.

In time and in her later years, however, the world catches up with her. She has spurned Walt Disney's annual appeals for movie rights but finally succumbs because she is about to lose her home due to financial woes caused by her own need to be perfect (and thus unable to be creatively inspired as a writer).

Well, the rest of this story is simply the story. You'll have to watch it yourself. As Mary Poppins helps free Mr. Banks (in the children’s story) so he can fly his kite, so P.L. Travers eventually is freed from the straitjacket of her rigidly correct and reasoning mind. In short, she finds redemption.

We have then a classic story whereby the spirit which is within us is held ransom by our fears or rejection of the world around us, its expectations of us, and our proper role in it. It is painful to love, to be vulnerable, to be spontaneous. But our free spirit must also remain in touch with Spirit so that it doesn't descend progressively towards a hell of our making: the subconscious, disconnected from the reality of the world around us. We can retain our innocence--which is our soul's eternal joy, untouched by suffering and death--if we seek that innocence at the heart of all that we do; at the heart of all that is dutiful and right for us to fulfill. It is we who create the tension between the "ought" and the "is." Once we view the world as a battle of wills between what we want and what it wants, it’s a fight to the death: the death of our soul.

"Joy is within you" even as you "do as you ought." This is the secret of redemption. The inner joy of which we speak is of God. It is transmitted to us by those souls who have achieved it as a permanent beatitude. Great saints can show us the way to the freedom of the soul. Freedom is not doing what you want, but doing, with joy, what is right.

What a difficult and daily lesson for each and every person who makes the effort to live intentionally, to live consciously, and, better yet, to live super-consciously, in harmony with the Divine Will, with the divine "lila" (movie or play), and in concert with the great script of our life’s dharma.

So, now, you can watch "Saving Mr. Banks."

"Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."

Nayaswami Hriman