Director and producer Larry Kasanoff is best known for films such as "True Lies" and "Mortal Kombat," but one of his most recent works tackles the topic of mindfulness.
"It's a crazy story," Kasanoff said on a recent phone interview about what led him to create the documentary "Mindfulness: Be Happy Now."
Kasanoff was actually looking for inspiration for a Mortal Kombat character—someone with an Obi-Wan Kenobi vibe. So he sought out Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.
After talking with the spiritual leader for two hours, Kasanoff said he felt like he had been on vacation for a week and wanted to know the monk's secret.
Thich Nhat Hanh told Kasanoff that it takes practice to achieve the level of peace and calm that Kasanoff was noticing in him. Soon Kasanoff said he became friends with Thich Nhat Hanh and other female monks who are featured in his documentary.
And eventually Thich Nhat Hanh approached Kasanoff about the potential of a documentary on mindfulness.
"What I do out here in L.A.—everyone is nuts and crazy and always talking about doing this stuff, but I realized very few people do it," he said.
But Kasanoff had access to "wonderful people" who practiced and lived mindfulness and who have a simple philosophy that if you make yourself more peaceful, you make the world more peaceful.
He spent about three years shooting the self-funded documentary, which features the aforementioned monks, as well as people like author and public speaker Deepak Chopra, actress Sharon Stone, director Oliver Stone, Harvard Medical School's Blaise Aguirre and Cesar Millan, known for his television series "Dog Whisperer."
"There was a two-fold goal," Kasanoff said. "I wanted to make [the documentary] enjoyable, and I wanted to make it for people who are sort of curious but not experts [in mindfulness]."
The opening scene is Thich Nhat Hanh speaking about the simple act of drinking tea.
"When you drink your tea, you may like to bring your mind back to your body so that you can be completely there in the present moment," he said. "And when you drink like that, you drink not only with your body but with your mind. You drink the tea, and you are aware that you are drinking the tea. That is mindfulness of drinking. You see?"
His voice is so calm, genuine and charming in an unassuming way. He gives the slightest smile, and his eyes sparkle when he says, "You see?"
The opening scene captured me, as Thich Nhat Hanh seemed to embody everything that I hope practicing mindfulness will bring into my own world.
I wanted to know what Kasanoff had gotten out of working with so many different mindfulness experts.
Throughout the process he learned to practice mindfulness and said it has helped him in at least two specific ways. It has helped quell his bad temper, and it's helped him learn how to slow down.
"I realized if you slow down a bit, you get more done," he said. (That's similar to No. 5 on my recent list of easy ways to practice mindfulness.)
I did the interview with Kasanoff before the holidays, and, perhaps serendipitously, coming back to write this peice now has helped reinforce a couple of things that I neglected during the hectic holiday happenings.
No one is perfect, keep practicing
After I shared a brief anecdote with Kasanoff about how I once got frustrated when practicing mindfulness didn't prevent me from having uncharacteristic irrational fear that the plane I was on would soon plummet from the sky, he reminded me that nothing is perfect.
Monks can get angry too. Mindful people worry, he said. But it's how they respond to those feelings that makes the difference.
Kasanoff also said that he learned throughout the making of the documentary about the importance of continued practice. It's not something you learn and then stop doing, he said.
The holidays threw off my meditation schedule. It became less of a priority with so much family in town and with so many obligations. This is a rookie mistake, because during times like that, practice would have been most beneficial.
Every moment is a chance to start again.
"Everyone slips [up]," Kasanoff said. "Everybody goes back and forth. I'm not the guru. I'm the fortunate filmmaker. [Some of the people in the documentary] they live it and breath it. I still call them all the time [for advice]."
In the documentary Thich Nhat Hanh discusses putting the practice in action, which is what I've worked to do since acknowledging I neglected it. In the paragraph below, I personally might substitute the word "anger" with "anxiety." And you can fill in whatever feeling or emotion you see fit.
"When anger comes up, you suffer," he said. "If you allow anger to possess you, to overwhelm you, you create suffering. If you don't practice, you suffer and you make people around you suffer. If you are a practitioner, you know what to do when anger is coming up. You go back to your breathing. You generate the energy of mindfulness."
I recently had an emotional reaction to someone, who then commented that my response wasn't very mindful. Well, of course, that riled me up even more and prompted an even more melodramatic retort.
But all this goes back to these ideas that no one is perfect and there is a need for continued practice.
Mindfulness has helped me reduce the number of emotional overreactions that serve no purpose. I've always been happy to be a person who is in touch with my emotions and who is able to express them. But there's in touch and then there's spewing fleeting, egoic emotions everywhere, and the latter rarely serves a positive purpose.
Like Kasanoff, I'm not a guru. I'm a student. And I'm sharing what I learn on my journey into the practice of mindfulness.
The interview with Kasanoff and watching the documentary were highlights on that journey that reinforced everything I've learned so far, inspired me to keep going, and reminded me of the massive benefits of mindfulness and meditation.
The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.