• For all the Old Testament symbolism this season, Jack’s slow “enlightenment” over the course of these episodes brings to mind the idea of pratÄ«tyasamutpÄda. Yes, pratÄ«tyasamutpÄda – say it with me! PratÄ«tyasamutpÄda is a Buddhist concept that’s commonly translated as “interdependent arising.” Speaking with the tongue of an enthusiastic amateur, this arising “is brought about … not by any single cause alone, but by concomitance of a number of conditioning factors arising in discernibly repeated pattern.” It’s a rising of consciousness that is dependent on the world around us, and on the people who inhabit it. We’re all connected. We’re all interrelated. We all suffer, and we are all arguably the causes of our own suffering. Insufficient karmic learning results in rebirth (reincarnation, to bring that word back into the mix), and the continuance of a wheel-like cycle without beginning or end (recall the Frozen Donkey Wheel, the Ouroboros pin). Realizing this interconnectedness is a major step along the road of Enlightenment in that particular tradition, and such a realization can supposedly help enable a person to “stop the Wheel,” so to speak, and get off of the ride of life. The stopping of the Wheel is apparently analogous to the achievement of Nirvana.
That concept of connected rising, of interdependent awakening, fits pretty nicely with the awakening of these castaways over the course of the show, the notion of cyclical repetition (something that the show’s emphasized consistently) and of the notion that “it only ends once.” Notice that it’s the turning of a Wheel which seems to aid the MiB’s Island coup, and that Locke’s actions to cease the Island’s skipping in Season 5 amount to a “stopping of the Wheel.” What does Sawyer do when he insists that they’re ‘done going back’ a little later in this episode? He stops the ship’s wheel from turning.
• Jack’s acceptance that “the Island” isn’t done with him yet in some ways echoes Swami Vivekananda’s writings in his essay, “Immortality.” Those words appear to echo (or mirror, if you will) the sorts of philosophical and religious teachings that Lost has been circling, underlining, and/or pointing out as it proceeds along its narrative way:
“When it is all One, who is there to hate, who is there to struggle with? When it is all He, with whom can you fight? This explains the true nature of life; this explains the true nature of being.”
Jack can’t fight the Island, because as has been suggested throughout the show, the Island is “everything.” It controls destiny and it decides when it is “done with you.” Whether you look at this prospect as sinister or simply a literal manifestation of the idea of “Life,” the fact remains that, for the castaways, the Island is at the center of their lives, and that they are intimately connected with it. Jack cannot fight the pull of his “destiny,” and so instead surrenders to it. This echoes the conflict between and eventual acceptance of the Other. It rejects the symbolic dualism on the Island and says instead that Black and White, Life and Death, “Good” and “Evil” are all one. I suspect that by taking this literal “leap of faith,” Jack has opened himself up to the true nature of the Island’s being – and since the Island functions so perfectly as a metaphor for the Gnostic God/Ineffable Deity/Life itself, that surrender suggests a growing understanding of “the nature of” his own “being.” Such a realization depends on understanding the “discernably repeated pattern,” and the recognition that the world is connected in ways that resemble the spider’s web.
• To bring things back to the idea of Karma and rebirth, note that Vivekananda expresses similar thoughts to those of the Buddhist faith in his essay, and that these thoughts again seem to ring a bell of truth within the confines of Lost’s narrative:
“Nature is like the chain of the Ferris Wheel, endless and infinite, and these little carriages are the bodies or forms in which fresh batches of souls are riding, going up higher and higher until they become perfect and come out of the wheel. But the wheel goes on. And so long as the bodies are in the wheel, it can be absolutely and mathematically foretold where they will go….. Thus it is possible to read the past and the future of nature with precision. We see, then, that there is recurrence of the same material phenomena at certain periods, and that the same combinations have been taking place through eternity. But that is not the immortality of the soul. No force can die, no matter can be annihilated. What becomes of it? It goes on changing, backwards and forwards, until it returns to the source from which it came. There is no motion in a straight line. Everything moves in a circle; a straight line, infinitely produced, becomes a circle. If that is the case, there cannot be eternal degeneration for any soul. It cannot be. Everything must complete the circle, and come back to its source.”
Everything that rises must converge, yo. Again, there’s the Wheel-related imagery and the travels of the human spirit upon that Wheel, a journey that’s not at all dissimilar to the one the castaways have taken both literally and figuratively, describing a circle in a number of ways. We’ve watched as these characters have looped “backward” through time, then looped “forward” once again. Concepts of rebirth and reincarnation have surfaced on the show again and again, in ways large (the “resurrection and rebirth” of john Locke as Anti-Locke) and small (the name “Canton Rainier”). Thematically, Season 1 and Season 6 mirror each other, connecting the Beginning and the End. Narratively, Anti-Locke’s quest is a reversal of the initial Oceanic crash. These castaways came to the Island via a downed airplane. Now, the Man in Black wants to leave the Island via a downed airplane. That sense of circularity, of repeating themes and events and the “recurrence of the same material phenomena” is heavily present in the show.
• Notice also that Vivekananda’s thoughts about the travels of the human body on nature’s wheel potentially addresses something as-yet-unanswered in Lost’s narrative: Jacob’s mysterious ability to know future events (like the landing of the Ajira flight – something that the Others were preparing for back in Season 3) and to be present at small-but-significant moments in the lives of significant people. To repeat:
“But the wheel goes on. And so long as the bodies are in the wheel, it can be absolutely and mathematically foretold where they will go…Thus it is possible to read the past and the future of nature with precision. We see, then, that there is recurrence of the same material phenomena at certain periods, and that the same combinations have been taking place through eternity.”
Vivekananda’s words here offer a potential pseudo-explanation for Jacob’s abilities: by observance of the Wheel-like “cycle of life” over a long period of time, human behavioral patterns can be mathematically foretold (remember Anti-Locke’s words to Sawyer: “Jacob had a thing for numbers.”). That strange, unexplicated mathematical formula could be applied in order to “read” the past, present and future (something presumably even easier to do on a Time/Space straddling Island). With the same combinations happening through eternity, patterns will emerge (patterns in a weave, one might say). It’s also possible that Lost is taking this concept even more literally, and that we’ll discover this isn’t the first time the castaways have experienced all of these events – that they may be looping in ways that allow them to experience their lives over and over again.
• Sawyer’s gruff suggestion that there are pills to treat the sense of “wrongness” at leaving the Island that Jack feels is darkly funny when we remember that Jack was heavily self-medicating the last time he successfully left the island.
Jack: We were brought here because we’re supposed to do something, James. And if Locke–that…that thing–wants us to leave? Maybe, it’s afraid of what happens if we stay.
• Has Jack ever called Sawyer by his given name before? You know who insisted on using Sawyer’s real name a lot? Locke.
JACK: “James, this is a mistake. And I know there’s a part of you that feels that. The island’s not done with us yet.”
SAWYER: “Yeah, well, I’m done with this island. So, if you wanna take a leap of faith, Jack, then take it.”
“But now I know that in the brief moment of the present, all time exists, including everything that is in time — all that is eagerly anticipated, achieved, or realized. My Soul gave me good counsel, teaching me not to define a place by saying ‘here’ or ‘there’. Before my Soul taught me, I thought that when I was in any place on the earth I was remote from every other spot. But now I have learned that the place where I subsist is all places, and the space I occupy is all intervals.” – Khalil Gibran, The Vision: Reflections on the Way of the Soul
• The Gibran quote at the very top of this column, reproduced here, refers to the soul’s “good counsel,” and that’s, in at least the metaphorical sense, what Jack’s soul/mind/spirit/essence is telling him just before he takes his leap. The quote also refers to the same sense of unity and oneness that Vivekananda’s writings referred to, and which Eastern religions tend to emphasize over their Western brethren. Notice Gibran’s assertion that in the present, all time exists. That’s more-or-less the argument that the more scientifically-minded Daniel Faraday made in explaining how time travel works on the Island.
• Something “doesn’t feel right” to Jack, and he’s learned to trust that “something,” but he’s not going to turn around and force his belief on the rest of his fellow castaways. That’s evidence of a surprisingly affecting character shift within this guy. The Jack we’ve come to know would have shoved Sawyer and started shouting about how they were all making a mistake and needed to come back to the Island with him. It’s possible that he would have blown a tree up just to make his point. This evolving Jack doesn’t even try. He makes a decision for himself and lets everyone else make their own.
It’s a very Jacob-esque thing to do, and it’s a very John Locke-ian approach to things. Remember back to last week’s episode, and how it name-checked Dostoevsky’s Notes from the Underground (also known as Letters from the Underworld). One of that narrator’s points revolved around the notion of free will encouraging stubborn, even destructive, behavior in people who are told what they should be doing. As the Underground Man puts it in the novel:
“You see, gentlemen, reason is an excellent thing, there’s no disputing that, but reason is nothing but reason and satisfies only the rational side of man’s nature, while will is a manifestation of the whole life, that is, of the whole human life including reason and all the impulses… human nature acts as a whole, with everything that is in it, consciously or unconsciously…..I repeat for the hundredth time, there is one case, one only, when man may consciously, purposely, desire what is injurious to himself, what is stupid, very stupid–simply in order to have the right to desire for himself even what is very stupid and not to be bound by an obligation to desire only what is sensible. Of course, this very stupid thing, this caprice of ours, may be in reality, gentlemen, more advantageous for us than anything else on earth, especially in certain cases. And in particular it may be more advantageous than any advantage even when it does us obvious harm, and contradicts the soundest conclusions of our reason concerning our advantage — for in any circumstances it preserves for us what is most precious and most important — that is, our personality, our individuality.”
“In short, one may say anything about the history of the world — anything that might enter the most disordered imagination. The only thing one can’t say is that it’s rational…..even if man really were nothing but a piano-key, even if this were proved to him by natural science and mathematics, even then he would not become reasonable, but would purposely do something perverse out of simple ingratitude, simply to gain his point. And if he does not find means he will contrive destruction and chaos, will contrive sufferings of all sorts, only to gain his point!”
That point of view – that a person will choose to defy reason simply to assert his own will and individuality, potentially explains so much about why it is that Jacob has taken such a hands-off approach to the people he brings to the Island. If we accept the Underground Man’s argument, then we should acknowledge that by telling other people what to do on the Island, Jacob could be pushing them in the opposite direction, as people like Jack decide to do the opposite of what they’re asked, simply because they can.
• Notice that Jack takes his leap of faith into the Ocean – an act that literally references the figurative dips into Oceanic consciousness that Desmond, Charlie, Libby and Hurley have now taken.
Sawyer: “We’re done going back.”
“Say not, ‘I have found the path of the soul.’ Say rather, ‘I have found the soul walking upon my path.’ For the soul walks upon all paths. The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed. The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.” – Khalil Gibran, The Prophet
• Sawyer makes the decision to carry on to Hydra Island, leaving Jack to his sense of “destiny.” And I think this is how it should be. The castaways are following their own paths now, and those paths aren’t shared paths. We need to see them make their own decisions if we’re to appreciate what it means to be human, and to have some form of “free will.” Regardless of whether the Island is done with Sawyer and Co. or not, or whether their decision is a “good” decision, they need to follow their own road to get where they’re headed to. Otherwise, their personal compasses are just going to spin in circles.
Lost has always suggested that it’s better to let people follow their own path to “enlightenment”/reason/understanding/home/whathaveyou. One of the things that I find most rewarding and most interesting about Lost’s overall narrative involves that aspect, and its essential inclusiveness. The show’s religious references span an impressive number of sects, faiths, beliefs. The show’s scientific and cultural references are similarly diverse. Farid ud-Din Attar, author of The Conference of the Birds, wrote in that beautiful book that “the paths of God are intricate and strange,” and that sense of diverse, divergent pathways toward an uncertain destination is compelling to me.
On the whole, Lost’s narrative makes a compelling case that there is no “one true road” to Salvation and/or Enlightenment. This makes a lot of sense from a mercenary, capitalistic point of view (the show’s creators want it to appeal to the largest possible audience, and including a broad swath of beliefs is one way to try and ensure this. Lost is, after all, a global entertainment. It’s incredibly popular overseas, and reducing the “riddle” of the Island to one particular form of belief would be necessity exclude a large portion of the audience.), and it makes sense in the less cynical, humanistic sense as well. Matters of culture, geography, historical era, and personal philosophy are just some of the important factors involved in how one chooses, or is born into, a particular system of belief. Had you been born in China, or of Jewish ancestry, or at another time in history, or, realistically, in any environment different than the one you were born into, it’s arguable that your beliefs would be significantly changed, whether those beliefs are religious, political, philosophical, or scientific. External factors make for a surprisingly strong influence on what we think we’ve chosen to believe, and for those reasons alone it strikes me as a form of intolerant zealotry to label someone’s honest, non-injurious beliefs as “wrong” simply because they differ from your own. Only men who have committed an act of self-blinding can claim to see the world so clearly.
No one is immune from the act of making someone else an “Other,” demonizing and/or denigrating their lives/beliefs, and insisting that only their path is the right path. Obviously, self-described religious people do this all the time – but it’s certainly not limited to the religious. Christopher Hitchens, as example, is an undeniably entertaining and very intelligent writer, but his views on religion are a mirror image of the fundamentalist beliefs he despises. By willfully ignoring the very real, very important contributions to the “good” of humanity that religion has often made and continues to make, he takes a vast, complicated, and diverse topic and reduces it to a level of childish simplicity – not because this makes sense to do on an intellectual level, but because it’s the only way to support an insupportable argument. This means, to use one exaple from many, that Martin Luther King cannot be considered a Christian to Hitchens (“In no real as opposed to nominal sense, then, was he a Christian” – from “God is not Great”), despite copious evidence to the contrary. That is indefensibly stupid, but it’s clear why he has made that claim – it’s because his entire argument falls apart without it. I write all of this, not to attack a single author, but to illustrate that the desire to dehumanize people, to insist on your path being the only “right path” is not a religious impulse – it is a human impulse, and we’ve all done it at one time or another.
That inability to respect the Other and the path that they choose to walk, whether that lack of respect originates from a place of professed faith or from a place of professed Atheism, can arguably be called the central defining character of the conflict between secular and religious fundamentalists, between Liberals and Conservatives, between Capitalists and Communists, between Realists and Idealists….heck, between any ideological group of human beings. It’s also arguably a central, defining conflict in this show’s narrative. The notion of confronting and battling the Other, of looking into the “mirror” that the Other presents, and of coming to terms with and reconciling the self with the Other, is scattered all over Lost’s Island landscape. Intolerance of an Other’s beliefs and way of life results in derision, in emotional pain, in physical violence. The refusal to acknowledge one’s own “sin” (or, to put it in the secular sense, one’s own “Id,” or “selfishness”) in this conflict is a path to ignorance, to isolation, to arrogance, to ideological and literal war.
Jack’s former attitude reflected this kind of self-blinding arrogance. His way has always been “the right way” as far as he’s concerned, and in his increasingly-desperate efforts to get everyone to agree with his view of things, his actions have led to much suffering. He seems to understand that now – to truly connect with this notion on a profound level – and so he sets out on his own path, leaving his friends to follow theirs. There is no one road, and we all require the freedom of will to choose the road that’s right for us to follow, regardless of what Others think.
…Does any of that make sense? It does to me, because I’m crazy.
• Jack gets another “moment of reflection” in the operating room, just before cutting into some John Locke back-flesh.
• It’s pretty convenient that Jack washes up on shore right where Anti-Locke and his loyal Others are standing.
• Sun and Jin get their reunion at last – a reunion that’s been teased for almost three seasons (!). I found it moving, and Sun’s restored ability to speak in English suggests some interesting things about her “aphasia” (a plot point that needs to be connected to the “bleeding” of realities in order to not be completely and utterly lame) and the concept of Constants. Reuniting with Jin “centers” her, and restores her to full being.
• I’m sure I wasn’t the only one holding their breath (figuratively-speaking) as the two long-separated love birds approached the sonic death fence.
• What exactly is Widmore going to do with the castaways? Why does he back out of his deal with Sawyer? I’m excited to find out.
• With a majority of Jacob’s Candidates now in Widmore’s clutches, his team doesn’t hesitate to start raining the fire down on Anti-Locke’s head. I’m guessing that this bombardment is meant to deplete Anti-Locke’s recruitment ranks, since I’m pretty sure that you can’t kill a Smoke Monster with a missile. Jack’s standing at ground zero when the first rocket falls, and he’s thrown through the air like a rag doll – one of the most impressive feats of stunt work that I’ve seen on the show.
(Matthew Fox prepares for his first post-Lost gig – Michael Bay’s West Side Story)
• “Sideways Locke” makes a literal appearance in the aftermath of the explosion, as seen in the above screencap. It’s a nifty directorial choice, and it suggests that Anti-Locke and off-Island Locke may have a meeting of their own sooner rather than later. The blast itself suggests a few things for Jack’s immediate future (1) It’s strikingly similar to what he and the other castaways experienced after The Incident, implying that there was an explosion when Juliet struck Jughead; (2) It’s a seriously traumatic event, the sort of thing that’s been shown to push a person’s consciousness into awareness of another world; (3) It also reminds me of the attack on Dharmaville, Claire’s house being hit by a rocket, the weird looks that Miles gives her afterward, and her subsequent hang-time with “Christian,” aka the Man in Black. I’d previously speculated that Claire might have come close to dying in that blast, or perhaps even died, but was brought back like Sayid was. That’s arguably crazy talk, but I still heard a potentially sinister implication in Anti-Locke’s final words: “You’re with me now.”
Three Brief Notes:
1) As Lost heads toward its ending (insert much wailing/gnashing of teeth here) I’m spotlighting independent artists who’ve done Lost-inspired work that I like/admire. Last week you saw Ty Mattson’s minimalist, very fun/cool posters. If you missed them and would like to check them out you can do so by clicking here.
This week, I branch out into the world of video. Sam Balcomb is a reader of these columns, and a member of my Back to the Island site. He’s also, apparently, a finalist in ABC’s Lost “fan art” promotion. I’d unofficially decided not to promote anything ‘official’ in the columns, since that stuff gets a ton of promotion anyway (and I’m all for the underdogs – always have been), but I recognized Sam from my blog, and I genuinely appreciate his readership (along with yours), given just how many Lost sites/blogs/columns/probable-communes there are out there.
So I decided to give his video a viewing and give my unofficial policy a rest long enough to fairly judge his work. I was impressed. Very impressed. You can check out Sam’s entry by clicking here and going to the video entitled “Convergence.” It’s short, and it’s definitely worth a moment of your time (as are the other entries). Best of luck to Sam in the competition.
2) If you know of an artist that’s created something Lost-inspired, whether for sale, just for admiring, or so bizarre that it must be remarked upon, shoot me an email at WhatIsWater@gmail.com and provide a link to their work. I’ll feature my favorite suggestions up through the end of the show. Support the creative impulse and your fellow fans!
3) If you haven’t contacted me about potentially purchasing my to-be-self-published book on Lost’s themes, philosophical, literary and pop cultural references, its characters and minutia, you can shoot me an email at WhatIsWater@gmail.com to be added to the list. You will not be bound in any way, just notified on the book’s progress, as well as where and when you can buy it. The wizened sages of Tibet speak of a prophecy by which peace and prosperity shall be achieved on this Earth. I’m not saying that sending me an email will help usher in that age of enlightenment – but I’m not saying it won’t.
If you enjoyed this column, please spread the word using the buttons provided below!