No matter what religion or spiritual practice you enjoy, you can appreciate the story of the Bhagavad Gita. It is such a relevant and timeless tale, its theme comes up over and over again in literature and at the movies.
The Bhagavad Gita is a war story. It takes place on the battlefield (of life). Its protagonist, Arjuna, comes down with a bad case of self-doubt just as he is called into battle. Arjuna is a warrior. He has always been a warrior. It is his calling (Sva Dharma); it is his duty; it is something he has trained for all his life. But at the moment of action, Arjuna wimps out – or wants to.
We all know this feeling. Imagine you are a great violinist. You’ve practiced all your life, you dream in musical notes, your fingers run through arpeggios as you sit on the couch watching baseball. And yet performance anxiety grips you when the lights are on. We all have our moments of wanting to back out of the things we know in our hearts we are born to do.
Luckily for Arjuna, his chariot driver in battle just happens to be Krishna (God) who gives him some terrific advice. Among the fabulous things Krishna has to say is my all time favorite quote: “With the sword of wisdom, sever the doubt in your heart.” Though it is a serious struggle, good advice and a large dose of divinity help Arjuna uncover his true nature.
In the film adaptation of the James Thurber’s The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Walter (the Arjuna character in this film played by Ben Stiller) is a nerdy desk jockey. He is the photo editor in charge of negatives at Life Magazine. As the magazine publishes its final paper edition before going digital, Walter is rendered irrelevant. His self-doubt intensifies when on his final assignment at Life, he can’t find the negative for the photograph that is to be Life‘s final cover. The photo was shot by the world renown adventure photojournalist Sean O’Connell (the Kirshna character in the movie played by Sean Penn), Walter’s hero who believes this mysterious negative captures the “quintessence” of Life.
Walter goes on a quest to find Sean O’Connell in the field and recover the lost negative. Adventures and misadventures eventually lead Walter to his guru O’Connell in the Himalayas – where of course he is photographing the elusive, spiritually symbolic snow leopard. The arduous and unlikely trek forces Walter into situations where he must overcome fear and self-doubt. Each experience brings Walter closer and closer to becoming the adventurer he’d always dreamed of being.
But O’Connell no longer has the negative and Walter is crestfallen at having lost the “quintessence” of Life. Until O’Connell tells him that the negative is hidden in a secret pocket in the wallet he’d given Walter as a gift — Walter had it with him all along! It is not until the end of the film that we see that the mysterious photo is of Walter Mitty himself.
The takeaway from the great sacred text and the popular film is something we learn and relearn on the yoga mat: be yourself (your true self; the real you) and everything will be fine. Finding this true self on the mat can be challenging, certainly. Finding it off the mat can seem impossible. But a sharp sword and a little bit of faith can go a long way towards severing any doubts.
The Walter Mitty movie also had a terrific soundtrack, which always helps with sword sharpening.