Project Happiness Founder and CEO, Randy Taran, recently had the opportunity to chat with award winning cinematographer, Louie Schwartzberg, about happiness, purpose and opening up to the beauty of life.
Here is the transcript of that interview about Beauty as A Force for Change:
Randy Taran (RT): Louie, such a pleasure to be talking with you. Your Gratitude Revealed series is so compelling. One of the first things that struck me –in your mindfulness episode, you described that state as “being present always, ready for the light to strike, without preconceived notion or judgment.” Sounds kind of like a metaphor for your work.
Louie Schwartzberg (LS): Yeah, well, that’s what I’ve learned…that the art of filmmaking has become practice for me as meditation might be for some people, or yoga, because basically what I’m doing is I’m allowing my mind to be like film – and what a beautiful metaphor. Here is film sitting in the camera like total darkness, always in this state of readiness for light to strike, without any preconceived notions or ideas about subject matter, wide open to whatever comes in, and always in a state of conscious awareness, but with a blank slate. So, no preconceived ideas, no prejudgments, no attitude about being a know-it-all, but more in a sense of wonder and curiosity.
RT: Yes, that’s beautiful, and that allows you to do the profound work that you do…
LS: I think it enables me or anyone to basically connect with the deepest part of your soul because you are recognizing and identifying yourself with universal rhythms and patterns, which is what nature shares with you… like looking at the veins going through a leaf, or the veins going through your body. Those patterns and rhythms are synonymous throughout the universe, and they’re also happening inside of every cellular body, so you get that connection. You’re looking at something and recognize it as being real, truthful, authentic, and, guess what, it happens to be a part of you.
RT: Yes, just like we are a part of nature and something greater.
LS: Right, which is why I’ve been using my imagery as a bridge, not as an end-all necessarily, to get people to appreciate and experience nature. I’m using – I call it – visual healing, whether it can be used either in hospitals or in schools or on your i-Phone, to have a two-minute experience, like the short videos we did for Gratitude Revealed. I think that it’s one way to share that wisdom and sacred knowledge that we have become disconnected from, and so, that’s the gift I’m trying to share with people, because we don’t always have access – we’ve become disconnected and have forgotten that prior to the industrial revolution, everybody was living in nature.
…I think we need to reconnect, not totally, but at least a little bit, and now we have scientific evidence, that proves that, you know, a walk in the woods reduces your stress, lowers your heart rate, promotes creativity, better thinking, lower blood pressure. I mean, we kind of knew all this stuff before, but now we can actually measure it.
RT: How does nature change people?
LS: I’ve worked with the Nature Bridge program which brought over a million kids to national parks, children who grow up in inner city who are marginalized, and have never been to nature, kids in South Central LA have never been to the ocean. And so, they have a lot of fear, anxiety, and after a three-day trip in a national park with their friends, they are completely changed forever, and their attitude to, not only nature, but to life is totally changed. All it takes, I believe, is an immersive experience in nature, and I think it can happen overnight.
RT: And awe plays a really big role in your work – can you speak about awe as well?
LS: Well, I think – I mean, for me – awe is a glimpse, or portal, into the divine, and we all have a desire to be connected to that, and, whatever religion or practice one does, we all want to feel connected to a universal energy that’s about love, right?
RT: Right, right!
LS: So, it doesn’t matter what pathway it takes, or what your belief system is, or what the story is. We just want to feel it. And that sense of awe, for me, happens when I recognize something of extraordinary beauty in filming nature, whether it’s a flower, a hummingbird, a landscape. It could be, for many people, listening to a beautiful piece of music, or eating a delicious fresh-baked muffin, or practicing your religion. But, here’s, I think, the interesting part: in the videos I have online, most people say “Oh my God, it’s beautiful.” What is important is feeling the divine, is to be moved. It doesn’t matter how you get there. If it’s walking into a cathedral, wonderful. Walking into Yosemite, awesome. We all want to feel that in the moment, in the present moment. And we don’t have to argue about how we got there.
RT: What has been one of your most memorable experiences in filmmaking or even in creating the Gratitude Revealed Series? What stands out for you in your mind?
LS: Well, the most recent, amazing, emotional experience I have, I guess, – you know, your recent history is what you remember first – we recently had the honor to project some of my nature imagery on the Vatican during the Climate Summit in Paris to support the popes and cyclical saying we need to protect the earth. Wow, to see my images of flowers and birds and bees and mushrooms on the Vatican, oh my God, because then you see I’m crossing over into that more traditional form of belief, which is fine, and we certainly are grateful that we have a pope who is more enlightened and to be able to share the love and shine light on an institution that has not always been very open-minded. For me personally, this meant a lot because, as my parents are Holocaust survivors. Who would have thought that in one generation, the son of a Holocaust survivor would be shining light on the Vatican…
RT: Well, I can feel one thing, is that your parents must be very proud of you, Louie, for what you’ve done…
LS: Well, I think so. They’re up somewhere. I mean, I’ve got survivor DNA, and what’s fascinating is that though my parents went through an amazingly horrific experience, they still had love in their life, and they still had joy and love that they shared with their children. And then, I know many psychologists now are trying to understand and study why is it that some people have the ability to bounce back better than others, which is called resilience. We all have bad things happen in our lives. I rolled through a stop sign this morning, and it’s okay, but for some people that could ruin their whole day. And it’s just being able to look at things differently and just bounce back. We’re all going to have bad things happen. Unexpected things, and people who are more centered, whether they meditate or whether they have that connection with nature, I think we bounce back a lot faster.
RT: Speaking of bouncing back, how do you define happiness?
LS: Wow, for me I think happiness means fulfilling my purpose in life. It’s not about being smiley or jumping up and down and certainly not buying anything that’s material. I was certainly overjoyed yesterday when I did my presentation at Big Sur – I felt the reaction from the audience with the applause and with tears. Because I feel like I’m sharing nature’s energy with them, so, it’s also interesting too, in the Gratitude Series, one of the ones we did was on “Purpose” and one of the scientific research findings has discovered that people who have purpose live longer. So, yeah, for me, doing my film and being able to share it with people, being able to share this interview with you, that makes me happy.
RT: If you were not the brilliant cinematographer that you are, is there a natural talent that you wish you were born with?
LS: Oh wow, I think being able to create music. I’m just blown away that people can sit down with a musical instrument and just play, not play by looking at a score sheet, but just play. That just blows my mind.
RT: Well, in a sense, the ideal is for everyone to play their own instrument, whatever that may be, right?
LS: Yeah, right. I’m just in awe that people can do that…like where did that come from? And that’s what I guess we’re all trying to do too. When you have found your instrument, how do you get into the flow? It’s like you’re the creator. It’s you allowing that creative energy to pass through you. And that’s true, you can hear it with great musicians, you can hear it even in athletes, about being in the zone, being in the flow. That’s what makes a Kobe Bryant a Kobe Bryant, you know what I mean? That he has just completely let go and is able to channel something that enables him to achieve perfection.
RT: Yeah, it’s an ideal state, it’s, personally, when I feel that, it’s where I want to live, you know?
LS: Exactly. That’s another maybe definition of happiness.
RT: Yeah! Yeah, it is, I think that’s definitely part of mine. You mentioned, I think in one of your recent films that we’re on the threshold of extraordinary advances born of our drive to unveil the mysteries of life. Can you say more?
LS: Yeah, I think we’re in an incredible time and place where we’re seeing both breakdown and breakthrough. Breakdown of government, economic systems, economy that isn’t working clearly, you know? But at the same time we have amazing solutions being offered by creativity and technology. Now we have scientific tools and evidence that can actually measure things like happiness and longevity, the healing power of nature, how wonder enables creativity, which enables better business practices. We have data that we can measure it and prove what poets and artists have known for thousands of years, like love makes the world go round.
RT: Right along with the simple things our grandmothers told us! Count your blessings…
LS: Exactly, right, so it’s in literature, it’s in poetry, it’s in art that goes back for thousands of years but it’s kind of interesting now because we can measure it. When you’re in the zone, when you’re in nature, when you’re in love, guess what, we have endorphins that are being released and oxytocin and all these hormones that are traveling through your body, which is great that we understand it from a western scientific point of view; but we always felt it in our hearts. We need to use our hearts to take advantage of the technological solutions that are present, use things in the positive way, not to control your life, but use it in ways to enhance your life. That’s what I’m doing with Moving Art: creating these little video shorts that people can watch or…meditate with. There are ways we can use this technology in a positive way.
RT: Take your time-lapse photography – doesn’t it change people watching it? Would you say that people somehow slow down when they’re watching a flower bloom?
LS: Well, what certainly is happening is that I’m breaking the constraints of how people are viewing life, I’m opening up your worldview. We have a very narrow world view, when we look at things from the human perspective, our life being at a certain metabolic rate, at a certain age range… When you look at a flower, it may only be opening up for a week, and then it’s going to die. Same thing is true with looking at a redwood tree looking at us. It lives 500 to 1,000 years and we’re just like here for a flash, so when you’re opening up this dimension of time, it’s almost like a dream state. It broadens your horizons, it opens up your worldview. It makes you realize that our concept of time is an illusion, that this wristwatch is only a click-click linear thing, a mechanical device that is not really the definition of time.
There are so many experiential portals of time that we need to be aware of. It’s kind of like when you’re playing the piano, a human being is only playing one octave. Well, guess what? There’s eight octaves above it and below it. You only see one narrow spectrum of light – the colored light spectrum – but there are wavelengths of energy above and below it – x-ray, gamma ray, ultraviolet, infrared – just because we don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there, and just because we don’t see a flower open and close doesn’t mean it’s not moving.
So, I’m able to show people – not talk about it, but literally show people – what it’s like to be a hummingbird and what it’s like to be a flower from their point of view. And what that does is it opens up your heart. It does. I love the fact that the most common phrase I get is “Oh my God”, which is great because what does “oh my god” mean? The “oh” means it makes you present, the “my” means it touches the deepest part of your soul, and “god” is that universal connection we all want to be a part of.
RT: And it connects us to the mystery of life.
LS: And that’s really important to – I’m glad you said that word, the mystery – because that’s what I’m trying to do, is unveil the mystery of life and I don’t think there’s an answer. There’ll never be an answer. That’s the point. We’re on the journey. When they asked Einstein the mission of God, he said it’s a sense of wonder, so embrace the mystery. That to me is what I’m trying to do and that’s what I’m trying to share with people.
RT: That’s beautiful and much needed. If you wanted to share some words of wisdom with others, what are three things you would want to say?
LS: I’d say, especially with young people too, find your passion and follow your passion. That way you have meaning in your life and you’re serving a purpose for the greater good, and that will make you happy and very fulfilled. I think that’s the most important and I would say. In addition to that, live in harmony with nature, which, when you do that that also means the choices you make, what you eat, the energy that you use, the way you relate to people, it’s all about harmony, nature’s all about harmony. It’s all about symbiotic relationships and so, if you do that, and actually the same thing is said in the bible “do unto others as you would do unto yourself” right?
LS: That is the essence of nature. Every ecosystem wants to flourish, and it flourishes by not being greedy, by not taking advantage of each other. Because, when one aspect dies, it affects everybody. So, for an ecosystem to work well, everybody has to work well, everybody has to flourish, everybody lives in harmony. So: find your passion, live in harmony, and then the golden rule: “do unto others as you do unto yourself.” Thank you so much for this really profound and sacred interview.
RT: Thank you, Louie. I’m so happy to share your amazing work.
Make sure to check out this video documenting the breath-taking light of show of Louie Schwartzberg’s work projected upon the greater-than-life exterior of the Vatican in Rome: https://vimeo.com/149340815
About Randy Taran
Chief Happiness Officer at Project Happiness
Randy Taran is the Founder of Project Happiness. To explore the question, “What brings lasting happiness?”, Randy produced a documentary film where students from three continents worked together on this quest, interviewing George Lucas, Richard Gere, neuroscientist Richard Davidson, and ultimately, The Dalai Lama.
An experiential-learning curriculum grew from the film, integrating current research in positive psychology, neuroscience and mindfulness. These programs are being used in classrooms and youth programs in 50 states and over 90 countries.
Randy speaks regularly on various happiness, well-being and youth-related issues, and is a regular contributor to the Huffington Post. She is a Yoga Alliance certified teacher and holds an MBA in International Business and Marketing from New York University. Randy serves on the Board of the Dalai Lama Foundation and lives with her family and two happy dogs near Palo Alto, California.