Wake up purposeful,
to awaken further.
Lie down purposeful,
to rest to better awaken.
In a classic introspective Radiohead music video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oIFLtNYI3Ls) of ‘Just’ (from their 1995 album ‘The Bends’), a Wall Street kind of guy bathed and dressed for work walks into the city… and suddenly stops to lie motionless on the sidewalk. Someone comes along, accidentally trips over him, and asks him what is wrong. Refusing any help and refuting every expected reason on why he was there, the duo unwittingly gathers a curious crowd. We are not sure if the lyrics are relevant, but its chorus sings, ‘You do it to yourself. You do. And that’s what really hurts… Is you do it to yourself. Just you. You and no one else.’
He gets quizzed, ‘You don’t think there’s any point, right? What, that we’re all going to die? Is that it? Is that why you’re lying here?’ But that basic angst was not the reason either. Or was he like the zenny mountain man who was just standing on its peak, just being there in the moment, for no particular reason? Or was he just resting because he needed rest? After much persuasion, the man, with a seemingly deeper existential crisis or revelation tells the crowd why was there. The subtitles stop running as the song plays on. We are left wondering what he said, as the last scene shows the street full of people lying down.
Is there a deeper question than asking the point of living? If so, what is it and what is its answer? The video forces us to reflect deeper. Released more than two decades ago, fans have speculated endlessly on what the man uttered. Was it some nasty truth so devastatingly true that it renders nothing worth doing anymore, such that we might as well lie down where we are? Almost like a meditation of sorts, except that the folks did not exactly seem at peace. Maybe it was part of the process for spiritually awakening, by first being disturbed. Maybe they had not given up. Maybe they were taking time off there and then, contemplating in stillness.
Reluctant to tell as the man, the video director said, ‘To tell you would deaden the impact…’ Perhaps what said does not matter. Perhaps it forces us to fill in the blanks, like answering an inkblot test. Perhaps we all want to hear some convincing reason to give up going through the humdrum mundanities of life, of needing to wake up, wash up, go to school, go to to work… Perhaps as much as the crowd was dying of curiosity to know the rationale to lie down, we too crave a reason to give up all our strife for mere worldly things, which we suspect might be leading us nowhere substantial in the long run? What would you have heard?
The man lying down seemed somewhat suspended in a bardo state, neither fully alive nor dead, living in the in-between. Maybe he needed to realise insight into his true nature and purpose, or at least find a way to do so. Maybe he needed to discover his personal rationale to truly ‘wake up’ and get going on towards his true calling. Maybe we ought to do what he did from time to time. After all, to check your bearings, you have to learn to be still. But not in the streets of course. As in the video, there is just too much public distraction! Perhaps what we need to know, more than why he was down, is for what do we get up for each morning.
How about an alternative video? The same man asks passers-by, ‘Where are you going to?’ Just as he was dismissed crazy by some in the original video, he gets dismissed at first too. Ignore him at your own spiritual risk. The last scene shows everyone asking everyone the same questions. What are your answers? Well, whatever you choose, ‘You do it to yourself.’ Our first responsibility is to take care of ourselves, without finger-pointing. (A theory says that those lying down would be able to see Radiohead playing the song through a window above, that they were just watching and/or listening. Kind of a zenny no-frills answer!) [First written on 6 Dec 2004, extended on 24 Oct 2016]
Life is a quest to find and
to live the right answers
to the right questions.
Is There A God Who Allows Suffering?
Subtitled Dialogue’s Transcript
Opening scene: A man bathes, get dressed, walks to and lies on a pavement.
Second man: Jesus, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you there. Are you okay?
First man: Yes.
Second man: What happened? Did you fall?
First man: No, I’m fine. Please leave me alone.
Second man: You’ve been drinking.
First man: I haven’t been drinking.
Second man: Why are you lying in the middle of the pavement? You could have broken my neck! Look… what’s wrong? Let me help you up.
First man: No! Don’t touch me!
Third man: What’s the matter with him? Has he fallen?
Second man: No, he hasn’t fallen.
Fourth man: Is he hurt?
First man: No, please, all of you, leave me alone.
Fifth man: He must be mad.
First man: I’m not mad. Just leave me alone.
Second man: Why are you lying down? Why won’t you tell me what’s wrong?
First man: Look, I can’t tell you. It wouldn’t be right.
Woman: He must be mad. Oh look. Officer! Officer!
Officer: Are you alright?
First man: I’m fine. Please, will you just let me lie here?
Officer: I’m afraid I can’t let you do that, sir.
First man: Don’t touch me!
Second man: Just tell me why you’re lying here. Tell me!
First man: You don’t want to know, please believe me.
Second man: You don’t think there’s any point, right? What? That we’re all going to die? Is that it? Is that why you’re lying here?
First man: No.
Officer: Tell us! Tell us for Christ’s sake!
First man: You want to know why I’m lying here?
Second man: Yes!
First man: You really want to know? Yes, I’ll tell you. I’ll tell you why I’m lying here… but God forgive me, and God help us all, because you don’t know what you ask of me.
Second man: Tell us!
First man: ……
Closing scene: All present are lying motionless on the street.