“So, it’s not the children she comes to save. It’s their father. It’s your father.”
Ram Dass, the spiritual teacher
There is a great truth in this aphorism, one that few of us dare to test.
Spending a day with our parents need not be the only measure of spiritual progress. We can always inquire: Have I gotten to the heart of the matter regarding my beliefs (my problems) about my father or mother? And have I rooted out cancerous emotional tumors (my pain) that still eat away at my love for them?
The Problem: Our Unquestioned Belief; The Pain, Our Un-faced Emotions
In the film, Saving Mr. Banks, Walt Disney and and the author of Mary Poppins, (P.L. Travers) do get to the heart of the matter about their respective fathers; they do uncover and challenge their old beliefs about their fathers, and they do uncover and heal the old emotional pain. The transformational power of this film is in how they accomplish it.
How do they accomplish it? By co-creating the on-screen redemption and salvation of a faltering, suffering, hopelessly confused father: George Banks.
Walt Disney [to P.L. Travers]: Trust me with your precious Mary Poppins. I won’t disappoint you. I swear every time people walk into a movie house, they will see George Banks being saved. They will love him and his kids. They will weep for his cares. They will wring their hands when he loses his job. And when he flies that kite… they will rejoice. They will sing. And in movies houses all over the world for generations to come, mothers and fathers for generations… George Banks will be honored redeemed, and all he stands for will be saved. Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.
Creating the on-screen redemption of fathers, via the movie Mary Poppins, was not an easy process, though. The author stubbornly resisted the Hollywood-ization of Mary Poppins. Walt Disney persisted in trying to convince her for 20 years. Finally, just when they were on the brink of an agreement, Mrs. Travers adamantly withdrew and fled back to her native England.
Disney then had an “aha!” moment, though, when he realized what Mrs. Travers was truly resisting. She wasn’t afraid of her made-up Mary Poppins being tarnished by Hollywood; she was terrified about having Mr. Banks (and thus her own dead, unredeemed father) made into a foolish caricature. Disney sensed how fused Mrs. Travers was to the tragic story or her father’s short life, a descent into joyless responsibility (and alcoholism) without anyone or anything stepping in to save him; she was so fused to the tragedy that she had abandoned her true name—Helen Goff—and taken her father’s name—Travers.
Disney knew then, that making the movie was about saving Mrs. Travers—Helen—from her life-long, self-inflicted agony over not being able to rescue her father from his pain and his fate. But her father could be saved–on screen—by way of his stand in, George Banks. And when both fathers were redeemed, it would be the ultimate “Father’s Day” celebration for everyone… and Disney knew it.
Making the movie became then, a truly joint effort. It was first about the restoration of order in their own hearts and minds, regarding their unredeemed fathers, and then it was about offering the possibility of that same redemption to children and their fathers everywhere. It was a creation that would instill hope again and again and again, for generations.
And the first task in the restoration of order was to expose a universal lie by stating a fundamental truth—on the big screen, and in vibrant color:
Mary Poppins [to the children, Jane and Michael]: Sometimes a person we love, through no fault of their own, can’t see beyond the end of their nose.
We, too, can expose the “father” lies in our minds and make the first step to restore order. That’s the “spoonful of sugar” part of restoration. And we can learn how to set old emotional pain free. That’s the “fly the kite” part of the restoration.
Below is a three-part Inquiry process for bringing about the restoration of order in our hearts and minds. Parts One and Two address the problem—our beliefs; Part Three addresses the pain—old, frozen-in-place, unmet emotional contractions and tensions
Part One, The Problem: Could He See Beyond the End of His Nose?
- Identify something about your father that he did, said or demonstrated that he felt anguish, disappointment or experienced mental agony. What is something he repeatedly was angry about? Frustrated about? Sad about? Grieved about? Felt controlled by? Tried to control? Then contemplate these questions:
- Is it possible he was suffering from mental confusion? For example, let’s say he suffered over not having enough money or earning enough or having a better job or position. Isn’t it possible he believed something like, “I should be more successful than I am”?
- In your own experience, is it a Universal Truth or Law, that anyone should be more successful than they are? Or it is a belief only—and not a universal truth? [Remember, for a thought or belief to be universally true, it must hold up in direct experience for all people in all places and in all times.]
- Only a little inquiry reveals that such a belief cannot be a universal truth. Thus, it’s a theory only.
- Now ponder: If someone believes something that cannot be a truth, is it clarity, or confusion, to live one’s entire life based on something that’s not the truth–that’s a theory only?
It’s confusion. Therefore,
- If your father believed something that wasn’t true;
- If your father didn’t even know he could question what he believed;
- If he didn’t know he could question and choose whether to live something that just a theory, and therefore a lie;
- If your father didn’t know these things —then he was suffering from mental confusion.
Final question: If my father suffered mental confusion, was he suddenly struck with this “disease” when I was born? Or is it more likely he was already ill before I was born? Be as open as you can to the strong possibility that he was mentally ill with confusion before you were born.
Part Two, The Problem: Was It His Fault?
1. Was (or is) it his fault that he had (or has) mental confusion?
2. As far as you can tell, did he have anyone in his life, in his formative years, to show him how to question things that everyone around told him? For example, everyone around him probably gave him their own recipe for happiness. Here’s a common recipe that many people believe and try to follow: “Become smart, get a good education with lots of degrees, make loads of money, marry a gorgeous or handsome partner who will provide you life-long thrills, get and maintain perfect health, and control everything that happens to you. And oh yeah, make sure God is on your side, and against everyone else.”
That’s a fine recipe for happiness—for the one who is capable of achieving it and sustaining it. Is that “one” everyone? Or even, ANY one? Was it your father?
3. Did your father even have anyone to suggest that he COULD question this recipe—and decide for himself if it was a good recipe for him or not?
Nope. He didn’t. Unless he was Byron Katie’s child or Buddha’s. And he wasn’t.
So this is how you inquire into your cherished beliefs about your father, such as, “He should have known better,” or “He should have done it differently.”
Now let’s look at–and resolve–any lingering emotional pain that you may be carrying, even after you do see that such beliefs as the above beliefs are simply ridiculous lies. You may still be carrying a felt-resonance of emotional pain from those long ago situations which triggered the beliefs in the first place. You may still feel a vague (or strong) sense of disappointment, or hurtfulness, or self-blame or even anguish.
But first, below is the “aha!” moment when the two “fatherless” adult children, Walt and Helen, saw what was needed—the on-screen salvation of George Banks:
Walt Disney [to P.L. Travers]: I think life disappoints you, and Mary Poppins is the only person in your life who doesn’t disappoint you.
P.L. Travers: Mary Poppins isn’t real.
Walt Disney: She’s as real as can be. [pause] And I have my own Mr. Banks. [He tells the story of his own disappointing childhood.] I am so tired of remembering it that way. Aren’t you tired, too? We all have our sad tales, but don’t you want to finish the story, let it all go and have a life that’s not dictated by the past? So, it’s not the children she comes to save. It’s their father; it’s your father. You must have admired and loved him so much. Forgiveness, that’s what I learned from your books.
P.L. Travers: I don’t have to forgive my father! He was a wonderful man.
Walt Disney: No… you need to forgive Helen Goff. Life is a harsh sentence to lay down for yourself. Give her to me, trust me with your precious Mary Poppins. I won’t disappoint you. I swear every time people walk into a movie house, they will see George Banks being saved. They will love him and his kids. They will weep for his cares. They will wring their hands when he loses his job. And when he flies that kite… they will rejoice. They will sing. And in movies houses all over the world for generations to come, mothers and fathers for generations… George Banks will be honored redeemed, and all he stands for will be saved. Maybe not in life, but in imagination. Because that’s what we storytellers do. We restore order with imagination. We instill hope again and again and again.
Now let’s do an inquiry on any lingering emotional pain–the “life sentence” you may have unknowingly imposed on your precious Being.
Part Three, The Pain: Did Anyone Teach You?
“Disappointment is to the Soul as thunderstorms are to the sky.” –P.L. Travers
- Find a time when you stood helplessly by as your father experienced emotional pain, and/or inflicted his pain on you. Examples: despair, angst, anger, fear, grief, upset, disappointment, etc.
- Watch the memory as if you’re watching a movie. When you get to the moment of impact, press the pause button so that the scene is stopped in mid-stride, so to speak.
- Take time until you’re crystal clear that the movie is not going forward, that no one is going to enter the scene or leave the scene. That everyone in the scene is a freeze-framed image that can neither see you nor relate to you. Nor can they speak, respond, think, feel or hear.
- Take time to realize the implication of time being stopped–utterly stopped. Since time is stopped, there’s no reason to think, is there? And no possibility. If there is no time, there is no future. There’s only now. There’s no next moment to handle… no next moment to think about. No next moment needs to be handled by your thinking because there is no next moment, so long as the pause button is pressed.
- Now, all that’s left to do is to “be.” To give your attention to first, to the raw feeling of the impact, and second, your breath. Go ahead and feel the impact from that scene with your father: whatever it is—sinking, crushing, shocking, pressing or squeezing. Be with the raw energy as energy, without any thinking. Just for now, as best as you can.
- Check your breath. Even though this raw energy is present, see if you can find the innate steadiness of your breath. Your breath isn’t stopping in mid-stride. It always retains its inflow, alternating with its outflow, no matter what energy is present. Take time to notice that.
- Then notice there’s an open, allowing space in which the raw energy of the impact, and the movement of your breath, are occurring. Notice that this open, space-like presence is steady…. quietly steady…. serene…. and untouched. Fell how this openness is un-disturbed and open in all directions.
- Now, simply and totally, let go of gripping onto the energy. Let go any ideas of thoughts that may be trying to press for your attention–just let go any gripping. Let it flow into, and become mixed with the serene openness.
- Keep your attention on the open, relaxed space, just resting for as long as you like.
- Simply notice how simple it is–your freedom to choose where to focus: to grip onto the past, the old images, energies and ideas, or to focus into the New, Ever-Open serene space. Simple: But not always easy.
Mary Poppins: In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun, and—“SNAP”—the job’s a game!
We may say, in every job of freeing ourselves from the past emotion, its not exactly “fun” but it is simple. The difficult way is what you have been doing—focusing on it, in the say way you would keep focused on a dark cloud by trying to contain it in your garage. That’s the hard way, and you did that only because no one taught you the simple way. Mary Poppins wasn’t around when you felt the first sting, shock, blow, collapse or slap of childhood disappointment or heartbreak or helplessness; she wasn’t around to show you that agitated, intense emotional energies like that are never intended to be squeezed down into your little body by holding your breath and freezing anymore than a dark cloud is supposed to be contained in your garage.
Mary Poppins: For Heaven’s sake! The things those silly people taught you!
Rather, you’re supposed to first free your breath, then unfreeze your awareness. And, finally, find the open space and offer the emotional energy there. It’s exactly like loosening your grip on the kite, and setting it free “up in the atmosphere… where the air is clear.”
When you do let go of that grip. when you do find the already-present, space-like openness and offer the old, contracted tensions to it… SNAP! The job (of freeing old, un-faced emotional pain) is a game!
This way of “being” with emotional pain, past or present, is the most important aspect of freeing yourself from unforgiveness about your failure to “save” your father from his suffering—his mental confusion and his emotional pain. Free yourself of your father-beliefs (Parts One and Two above) and free yourself of the old, stuck emotional energy with Part Three.
When you free yourself, you’ve freed your father….. because “What’s about to happen has all happened before.” When you free old emotional pain, you have no idea just how old it is. It’s your father’s un-freed pain. And his father’s before him.
That’s how important you are; that’s how important your capacity to “Be With” is.
“When a man actually sees the dreadful price he pays for his unconscious negativities, he stops them. No man consciously harms himself. If he does not stop, he does not see. We always feel bad whenever we do something against our true interests. This can be a great clue for self-correction. Problems and pains always accompany a self-harming thought or action. There is something within, trying to awaken us. We can cooperate by trying to open our eyes.” –Vernon Howard, The Power of your Supermind