Filmmaker Tom Shadyac would likely have gone on acquiring possessions on the profits of comedies such as Liar Liar, Ace Ventura Pet Detective and Bruce Almighty if a mountain biking accident had not scrambled his brain. He recovered from the bad scrapes, the broken hand and even the concussion. What he did not recover from so easily was post-concussion syndrome, a condition that led to depression, mood swings, and light sensitivity.
A gnawing discontent had already led him to start giving everything away. He had moved into a 1000 square foot manufactured home, stopped buying stuff, stopped even carrying a cell phone. He told The Guardian:
I didn’t like the values that I saw. I was part of the problem and I wanted to stop the hypocrisy. I did not want to preach about the gap between the poor and rich when I represented that gap.
His personal reassessment opened his mind to other options. When he recovered enough to travel, he set off with a camera crew to interview people whose lives and writings had given him a larger sense of life. He asked each of them two questions: “What’s wrong with our world? What can we do about it?”
He wanted to know if there was “a fundamental problem behind all the other problems” humanity faces. He spoke with such thought leaders as David Suzuki, Lynne McTaggart, Dean Radin, Thom Hartmann, Dacher Keltner, Noam Chomsky, Chris Jordan, Howard Zinn, John Francis, Desmond Tutu, Coleman Barks and others.
He was changed by the experience. Before his accident, Shadyac had bought into the model of success embraced by most wealthy people. He had the 17,000 square foot home and the other two homes on the huge property, the private jet, the seven cars. None of it had made him happier, but the trappings were part of the “good life” of the rich and famous.
What he discovered on his quest was interconnectedness and sufficiency, cooperation rather than competition. In a review of the resulting documentary, I Am, for Huffington Post, Dan Siegel wrote:
The film may fall short in convincing viewers about the underlying cause of the world’s ills—war, hunger, poverty and the environmental crisis. However, what I Am accomplishes in 76 minutes is to lift up the wellspring of compassion and empathy that is hard-wired in each of us, point to the invisible threads of energy that bind us, and remind us that, in the words of the late Howard Zinn, ‘change comes from millions of tiny acts that seem insignificant.’
Shadyac’s journey is one we must all make if we wish to come to the end of our days with a sense of having found meaning and purpose in our years on earth. What he found transformed him profoundly and gives me hope for all who set out on a journey of self-discovery.
If you are unable to get hold of the video or see the movie in a theatre, you can watch it on YouTube. I have no idea if the version there is authorized, but you can start with Part I here: