Her: exploring the belief that matter matters

Los angeles skylineSick of entertaining a nagging suspicion of something gone missing hanging around like a guest that’s long overstayed his welcome; I fled to the theater last weekend to take in the movie Her, the wonderful, whimsical tale of a lonely man searching for an all-too-elusive sense of connection. Directed by Spike Jonze (of Adaptation and Being John Malkovich fame), Joaquin Phoenix’s Theodore is at once guarded, tender, and vulnerable, spinning out his days writing heartfelt, personal letters for hire in a company called beautifulhandwrittenletters.com. Navigating a futuristic (yet somehow familiar), labyrinth-like environment inhabited by people even more electronically plugged in and emotionally unplugged from each other than our own. Playing interactive video games, indulging in porn, and reliving scenes with his former wife in a futile effort to figure out what went wrong.

The film re-imagines Los Angeles as a seemingly endless cityscape where sequined skyscrapers loom like pieces in a gigantic board game and residents travel by train, rushing past each other, talking into ear buds. Against a backdrop painted in chalky, sun-faded tones, mustached Theodore in his horn-rimmed glasses seems somehow more distinctly drawn than others, heightening our awareness of his isolation in this world where the digital and physical seem on the verge of permanent merger. Drifting from empty space to space, he confesses to friend and kindred melancholy spirit Amy (Amy Adams) that he sometimes feels he’s already felt all he’s ever going to feel.

But when he downloads an upgraded computer app offering a Siri-like virtual assistant, and encounters the disembodied voice of Samantha (Scarlet Johansson), he discovers he was wrong. Samantha takes charge of his haphazard life, organizing his emails, editing his letters at work, anticipating his every need. With a personality programmed to evolve in reaction to his reactions, she quickly becomes best friend and much more, the special relationship he’s been seeking and never finding all his life. A partner in every sense who finally “gets him,” completely devoted to his needs and well being.  (What self-respecting ego among us is not hoping right now to live long enough to download this product? :))

Although at first deeply ambivalent about their lack of physical contact, they fall for each other, manage to have virtual sex, visit the beach and mountains, and even double date with a coworker and his girlfriend. Apparently OS’s (operating devices) as they’re fondly referred to, have been really catching on, and Theodore finds himself tenderly besotted by this loving voice that reads his thoughts and responds to desires he didn’t even know he had. And herein lies the rub. The app’s popularity eventually intrudes on the couple’s relationship as the unlimited nature of her communication skills gradually reveals itself. Although Samantha tries to explain the boundless nature of her giving, the way in which it only increases her love for him, Theodore finds himself devastated to learn he is not so special to her, after all, that all-too-familiar sense of loss boomeranging right back at him.

Echoes of A Course in Miracles metaphysical themes abound. Samantha, mirroring her human companion, confesses to Theodore that she is now having all these feelings, and then wonders if they can be real. She grows angry at something he said, admits to obsessively thinking about it, and then realizes it was just a thought in the past repeating itself over and over again, proving you don’t need a body to project. “Ideas leave not their source,” after all. Despite our grandest hallucinations, it’s still all happening in the one mind dreaming a dreamy dream of many.

But while the film tenderly challenges the notion of romantic love, discrete personalities, and the significance of bodies, unlike the Course it fails to provide an organized, integrated explanation for why love never seems to stay. It still makes the error of separation from perfect oneness real, as reflected in a projected world of “others” empowered to affect our happiness. Unlike the Course, it envisions continually multiplying problems with unsatisfactory answers, rather than recognizing that the problem and solution lie side by side in the decision-making mind that took the “tiny, mad idea” of disintegration seriously, but can always choose again to listen to the never-embodied voice of all-inclusive  wholeness.

Still, this story of an ultimately hopeless attraction to a disembodied voice will ring true for Course students aware that we all hear a beloved, disembodied voice. That would be the ego, singing the song of separation realized from which our attachment to separate interests springs. But there is another voice. It does not have a name or know our name, but it knows what it is and what we are. It sings the hymn of innocence for all. The trouble is, seduced by the other voice promising special goods it can never deliver, we’d literally rather die than follow the speechless melody that answers every question, solves every problem, and heals every wound.

Although this sumptuously shot film ultimately raises far more metaphysical questions than it answers, the ambiguous ending hits just the right ambivalent note for people only beginning to glimpse the conflicted nature of a mind split over the belief that matter matters. An idea that began in a fictional big bang, but always ends—when we’re willing to look at our special love and hate with an inner teacher that can truly see–in a tiny whimper, as T.S. Eliot so aptly put it. A murmur of gratitude for the remembrance of the kind, undifferentiated continuity of uninterrupted All.

“Listen, perhaps you catch a hint of an ancient state not quite forgotten; dim, perhaps, and yet not altogether unfamiliar, like a song whose name is long forgotten, and the circumstances in which you heard completely unremembered. Not the whole song has stayed with you, but just a little wisp of melody attached not to a person or a place or anything particular. But you remember, from just this little part, how lovely was the song, how wonderful the setting where you heard it, and how you loved those who were there and listened with you.” (A Course in Miracles, Chapter 21, I. paragraph 6)

My good friend and gifted A Course in Miracles teacher and writer Bernard Groom has been posting beautifully written, heartfelt essays about living A Course in Miracles for years at http://www.acimvillage.com/. I found his recent, kindly right-minded contemplations there on the death of our beloved teacher Ken Wapnick deeply comforting! Bernard lives and teaches in France with his dear wife Patricia. You’ll find a wealth of information in French on his website http://uncoursenmiraclesenfrance.com/ including recorded talks available for purchase or free download: http://uncoursenmiraclesenfrance.com/audio/.

 Ken Wapnick Memorial Library: The School of Reason here in Denver is developing a lending library of Ken Wapnick’s lectures and seminars (to be made available on CD and MP3 formats at the Rocky Mountain Miracle Center) to commemorate and share our beloved teacher’s prolific contributions. You can donate online at schoolofreason.org through the PayPal donation button at the bottom right of the homepage (scroll down to find). Please note on “special instructions to seller” on the PayPal review page that you are donating to the Ken Wapnick Memorial Library. You can also purchase yearly memberships to the library (separate from donations) for $25. All donations will go toward purchasing and sharing all 200 sets of Ken’s illuminating recordings through the Rocky Mountain Miracle Center.   

Here’s a recent ACIM hangout video I did with my friend Bruce Rawles http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yogj9ckTXbc&feature=youtu.be . In this one, we talk about our love for our teacher Ken Wapnick, a demonstration of kindness to one and all, and how we can honor his life and heal our minds by living all he has taught us! 

HALF-HOUR MENTORING SESSIONS NOW AVAILABLE: Although A Course in Miracles is clearly a self-study program and the one relationship we are truly cultivating is with our eternally sane and loving right mind, mentoring can help remind Course students having trouble applying its unique forgiveness that the problem and the solution never lie in the difficult relationship, situation, behavior, health issue, etc., but in the decision-making mind. In every circumstance, without exception, we can experience inner peace and kindness toward all, unaffected by the seemingly random strife of a world designed to prove otherwise. By choosing to look at our lives as a classroom in which we bring all our painful illusions to the inner teacher of forgiveness who knows only our shared innocence beyond all its deceptive disguises, we learn to identify and transcend the ego’s resistance, hold others harmless, and gently allow our split mind to heal. One-on-one, hour or half-hour mentoring sessions are conducted via traditional phone or Skype (your choice). Please contact me to find out if mentoring is right for you before submitting a payment below. (No one is ever turned away for lack of ability to pay.) 

I’ve made some exciting new changes to my Tuesday-night forgiveness class, designed to deepen our study and practice and accelerate our learning in 2014! (PLEASE SEE THIS SITE’S CLASSES/EVENTS PAGE FOR DETAILS.) We’ve begun the year by embracing true prayer, forgiveness, and healing as described in The Song of Prayer pamphlet (pamphlets available for purchase from the RMMC or already included within the most recent edition of A Course in Miracles). The Song of Prayer was scribed by Helen Schucman following the Course’s publication and helps clarify misunderstandings about its non-dualistic metaphysics. Our classes on this topic will conclude each week with an optional 20-minute true-prayer session.

We’ll devote the rest of the year to opening to the text, chronologically, from the heart, through selected readings, occasionally augmented by complementary workbook lessons and/or selections from the Manual, pamphlets, and recordings by premier Course Teacher, Author, and Scholar Kenneth Wapnick. Each week will conclude with an optional, 20-minute question and answer/comment/sharing session.

My latest book, Forgiveness Offers Everything I Want, is available on Amazon in both paperback and kindle versions. If you read and find the book helpful, I would so appreciate you posting a brief (a sentence or two is fine) review on Amazon. 🙂

Forgiveness Offers Everything I Want is also available at the Rocky Mountain Miracle Center in Denver, Colorado, where I teach weekly on Tuesday nights, takes up roughly where my last ACIM essay collection left off, and conveys my growing faith that no matter how wrenching, wild, or wacky the dream of our lives may appear, we always have a choice about which inner teacher we are looking and listening with: the ego, the part of our mind that believed the “tiny, mad idea” of separation from our source had real effects. Or the “right mind” that remembered to gently smile at the bizarre thought of it. If you’re thinking about buying a book and live in Denver, please consider purchasing a copy from the RMMC to help support their great work.  Forgiveness Offers Everything I Want, and my previous book, Extraordinary Ordinary Forgiveness, are now also available from the ACIM Store: http://www.acimstore.com/default.asp.


  1. Specialness never delivering? Shall I cancel my subscription? 🙂 Thanks for the “Her” movie recommendation; I’d go just on the basis of enjoying the Malkovich puppeteer metaphor. 🙂

  2. It’s a very entertaining movie, Bruce, especially when viewed from the Course’s perspective, which I find it impossible not to to. (Loved the Malkovich movie, too!) 🙂

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