By Celia Coates
March 26th is Alan Arkin’s birthday and this year he will turn 87. It’s a wonderful chance to celebrate the book he published in 2018: OUT OF MY MIND (Not Quite a Memoir). He has lived a life filled with creativity as an actor and director. It is easy to remember the many good movies he’s been part of. But this small book is an even better treasure – it’s filled with big, wonderful, enjoyable wisdom.
The happy reading begins with the title and the layered meaning of
out of my mind. These are thoughts that do come from his mind, and some people learning about what he thinks, might say he was at least a little crazy. He makes it clear from the start that he is not interested in arguing anyone into sharing his viewpoint. He tried that at three different stages of his life when he was certain that he knew what was right for everyone,
“By the time I was about sixteen, I had a complete and impenetrable set of beliefs. I knew all about the world and how to deal with it and fix everybody’s problems. These beliefs were mostly based on those of my parents, but at the time I was quite sure they were my own.”
He shared his parents’ values,
“…social justice, peace in the world, the equality of the races, the need for more women’s rights, the nobility of the working class, the importance of the arts….”
He also felt scorn for people who had religious feelings, seeing them as, “pasty people” and “…weaklings incapable of facing the hard, cold facts about reality….”
I hope you will find and read all of this book. Arkin says it
“…is not a manifesto, not a prescription for the world – instead it’s just a few descriptions of some of what I’ve experienced, seen, and heard that have moved me to continue in a path of what will hopefully be less and less dogma and greater and greater flexibility and surprise.”
Here is one of his descriptions, one of those experiences that led to surprise, He described his mother, Bea Arkin, as a,
“…tough, old Depression-style lefty who liked to tell me she didn’t believe anything was real unless you could bang on it.”
He went on to write,
“This of course excluded from her reality things like electricity or clouds, or feelings for that matter, but if I had labored the point she would have become sullen, so I left it alone. This declaration was really a way of announcing her hard-core materialism and was meant as a metaphor to stop me in my tracks before she heard any more of my Eastern bullshit philosophy. She also believed that silence was a bad thing. It meant you were hiding something. To keep a semblance of a relationship going, we spent most of our time together in shopping malls looking for bargains.”
About six months after his father died, Arkin took his mother out to dinner and then, afterwards, they went back to her home.
“We sat down on the living room couch and for about thirty seconds there was a completely uncustomary dead silence. … Surely there was something on her mind. Then she said, ‘Dad came to me last night.’”
Arkin did not understand what she was talking about.
His mother repeated what she had said, “’Dad came to me last night. He was here in the living room.’”
Arkin wrote, “She became more forceful. More adamant.”
And he continued,
“’ He was right here in the living room,’ she said, ‘half way between here and the television set.’ She pointed at a spot halfway between where we were sitting and the T.V., where she’d supposedly seen him. It was a distance of about six feet.
‘He came back to make sure I was alright.’
Arkin asked his mother how she knew this, “’Did he talk to you? Did he say anything?’
“’No,’ she said, ‘but I could see on his face that he was very concerned for my well-being.’”
“It was a very delicate moment. Was I about to have a new ally in my excursions into the intangible? Would we finally have something to talk about besides bargains? I knew I had to approach this very carefully so I asked her as innocently as I could, ‘Did you believe this?’
‘No!’ she said. She said it firmly and with finality.
And that was the end of that. The door was closed and the subject never came up again.”
And that’s the way it is for many people. There is no exploring what they simply cannot believe. Elmer Green told a story about this kind of fixed perspective when he described what happened years ago with a colleague at the Voluntary Controls research program at the Menninger Foundation. Elmer’s team were studying the special abilities of Swami Rama who claimed that he could do some extraordinary things such as stopping his own heart.
“An esteemed friend, a ‘hardheaded’ scientist was asked if he would participate in testing one of the Swami’s more ‘far-out’ proposals, and he bluntly said no. When I asked why, he said that he did not want to be connected with such a foolish experiment. I pointed out that the Swami could only succeed or fail. If the Swami said he could demonstrate something we had nothing to lose by watching him succeed or fail, and if he succeeded, we could inquire further. My colleague still refused and said there was no use in conducting the test. It was bound to fail, he said, ‘because it breaks all the laws of the universe.’
When I asked if he knew all the laws of the universe, he replied heatedly that he still would not participate. It did not help when I complained that he was a strange scientist, ready to write a final report before we even conducted the experiment, and that he sounded like the medieval Cardinal who would not look through Galileo’s telescope because he already knew that the moons of Jupiter could not be there. I maintained that I was a neutral (though hopeful) investigator, where he was a ‘true disbeliever’ as unscientific in his way as a ’true believer’ could be in another way.”
We each have to decide what we will explore. We each can pay attention to our own experiences, to our own stories, as well as to those of other people who seem to have something to teach us. We can approach them with an open spirit of inquiry without being burdened by being either a fixed true believer or a rigid true disbeliever.
* * * * *
OUT OF MY MIND (Not Quite a Memoir), Alan Arkin, Viva Editions, and imprint of Start Midnight, LLC, 2018.
Elmer Green’s story was recounted in BRIDGES MAGAZINE, 2011 ISSUE 2, published by The International Society for the Study of Subtle Energies and Energy Medicine.
The image that accompanies this post is from dreamstime.com