This post was first published by Meg in March of 2011.
Paul Giamatti, playing himself in the movie, Cold Souls, was considering having his soul removed to free himself from his anxious mind. His friend’s mother-in-law had done it, a friend was considering it, why shouldn’t he? It would only be for two weeks, long enough to get through a play, Chekov’s Uncle Vanya, that’s likeness to reality had become too burdensome.
The doctor of soul removal, more of a salesman than a physician, invoked the fate of circus elephants in a bid to convince. Circus elephants, he explained, are tied to sticks too big for them to move when they’re young, and as they grow bigger, the elephants don’t question their ability to move the stick, so they stay, stuck in place. “Many intelligent people are like circus elephants. They never question their self-imposed limitations, and the soul can become just such a stick.” The doctor pushed the paperwork forward and Paul, hesitantly, signed. Only after his soul was removed, as one may guess, did he regret his choice, realizing that his anxious mind, with all of its self-imposing limitations, ultimately informed who he was. Without a soul, he was left creatively void.
Sometimes I’ve cherished my anxious mind, sometimes I’ve hated it. Anxiety generates nervous energy that propels me forward, and anxiety generates unnecessary worry that wrangles me back.
The film reminded me that our self-imposed limitations are not something that we can ignore into submission, and that we wouldn’t want to, even if we could. But we can examine them, sit with them, and accept them – allowing the burdens we self-impose coexist next to us, not control us, and not keep us stuck in one place.