Ah..Dr. Strange...that movie that everyone thought was going to flop cause there was no way a “spiritual superhero” would translate to the big screen...but then ended up making millions and being nominated for Academy awards….Classic. We know....its spirituality isn’t exactly hidden; in fact, it’s pretty in your face. So instead, we’re going to look at things a little differently this time around.
At its heart, Dr. Strange is a movie about surrendering to the Self. It’s about a journey of transcendent understanding that is mirrored in Stevens journey from the West to the East, yet perhaps one of the most amazing things about the movie lies in its depiction of Spirituality from a Western viewpoint or perception, and in what way that can teach us about ourselves and our relationship with such concepts.
Right from the outset, there’s some bias inherent in the name…. “Dr. Strange”..it’s not a story of science or anything close to what we tend to understand in the Western world...it’s a bit...Strange… *badum tss*. Okay, okay, but seriously..this movie is essential for several reasons, the least of which being that it’s spirituality's grand debut at the forefront of the MCU. Up until this point, every superhero on the big screen has been the result of scientific research, some accident involving genetics or radiation, or a remarkable feat of engineering. There haven’t been many spiritual concepts that made it big like this.
What’s even more remarkable about Dr. Strange, though, is that it flips the concept of a superhero on its head. There’s nothing inherently “special” about Steven -..; sure, he has a genius IQ and is a good Dr, but otherwise, he’s just an average guy, kind of a jerk, but definitely, no special abilities or genetics to speak of. That is until he undergoes a training montage that even Silvester Stalone would be envious of… The point being, Strange’s powers don’t come by accident, and they come from “Study and Practice, years of it.”
Here we find this idea that literally anyone could go to Kamar-taj, and learn from the Ancient One to understand their inner self, regardless of background or ability. Unlike the Western, egocentric view that only particular individuals can have powers; here, spirituality is akin to the knowledge that anyone can gain and understand. It is a universal concept that isn’t limited to particular people but is part of universal truth and relationship to the individual's soul.
From the very opening scene, we’re shown one of the most important aspects of Western life, emphasizing the physical senses -most notably touch, in the form of his hand washing. This sets the stage for a transition to occur—one from a focus on the outer physical world to the inward energetic one. On the surface, you might think that the scene is foreshadowing his accident..but it goes a lot deeper... See, in today’s world, our hands are -for many, the first point of contact with our physical surroundings, and while we can see or hear things happening around us, it’s that sense of touch that anchors and allows us to interact with the material world.
But Steven’s real power isn’t in his hands -his physical body, but in his mind and how he uses it. By losing the primary way of interacting with his physical life, he’s set on a path of discovery that ultimately leads to an understanding that the outer world is simply a reflection of our inner one and that the physical senses are useless unless interpreted inwardly. Ironically, once he encounters a problem he can’t physically solve, his attempt to heal ends up healing his inner self, which eventually begins to correct his physical self. So I guess; first, he cleans his hands, then he cleanses his soul!
After exhausting every possible scientific cure, he turns to a kind of faith that one man’s miracle might set the stage for his own and travels to the Kamar-Taj monastery in Nepal. Once there, he tries to bring his scientific understanding into the new world by talking of cellular regeneration and surgery but is stopped in his tracks with pictures of the Chakras and Acupuncture diagrams. Both traditional methods of healing in their own right in the Eastern world, one’s that treat the body as a whole, rather than something made up of individual working parts.
Almost instantly, that sense of wonder and belief that was present before shifts into ridicule and denial, thinking he’s accidentally walked into some “Guru Gift Shop”....After all, Kamar-Taj is set a short walk away from Thamel, one of Kathmandu’s busiest commercial and tourist neighborhoods, full of people wanting to read your future...
Sound familiar? His reaction is typical of a western/scientific perception of the East. For many people, this is the first thought they have when exposed to anything remotely spiritual, that someone is trying to sell something or that the beliefs are just that... views. Going around talking about Chakras, Energy and Vibrations seems to get many debunkery videos made about you….
But isn’t it interesting that concepts of spirituality in the west seem to be so firmly rooted in commercialism? And yet, material wealth seems so at odds with the core tenants of many Eastern Spiritualities. In our society, spiritual knowledge is presented as something we can buy or have, and in doing so, it makes us overlook it and at times outright deny it as hearsay.
One of the best scenes in the movie is his whole psychedelic trip scene during Astral Projection - Which in itself is one of the better presentations of plant medicine experiences Hollywood’s given us… And it also marks a fundamental shift in the story. A point where his understanding is shattered, and he’s quite literally PUSHED into this new world of the spiritual by the Ancient One.
Under the surface, this speaks volumes to how we understand Eastern practices today. It emphasizes that many times, people almost need some “push” or leap in that direction even to consider the possibility that there’s something worth pursuing there….
In honor of the magnificence of this scene, I’d like to read a short quote from the Ancient one, an invitation for all of us to connect with the fabric of reality on a deeper level.
“You think you know how the world works? You think that this material universe is all there is? What is real? What mysteries lie beyond the reach of your senses? At the root of existence, mind, and matter meet. Thoughts shape reality.”
And what happens next? As soon as Steven gets that push, as soon as his crown chakra is blasted open, revealing that he doesn’t even know that which he doesn’t know… He falls to his knees in complete awe and wonder and begs to be taught. Interestingly, the way that Dr. Strange becomes a superhero is very similar to Tony Stark, but traveling in the opposite direction. Where, as we explored in our Iron Man video, Tony moves from the Root and up into the Heart, Dr. Strange goes the other way, from the root he moves straight to the crown, to an awareness of a higher reality, and then balances out his whole systems from there.
Speaking to this, there is a specific tone to the scene -and to a lesser extent the whole movie, that to truly understand something, you must experience it for yourself. You can watch or read about others doing all these exciting meditations and energy work. Still, unless you take the leap and practice it yourself, thereby embodying that new paradigm within, you’ll only get so far. There is also, of course - the split paradigm in how the audience viewed this scene. For many, this scene may have been a subtle wake-up call… for others, there’s no such thing as chakras. It’s just a movie.
The fundamental difference is that we see the divine as something to be spoken about and explained in the West. In contrast, the Eastern Philosophies tell us that it is something to be experienced from within. In a nutshell, while we may see god... practitioners can feel God.
Looking at the sling ring, we see a similar idea. When Steven first tries to use it, he’s in the courtyard trying to copy everyone else. He has the same stance, the same motion, the same breathing, yet...he keeps failing.
Ultimately, he approaches the task from a Western/Scientific standpoint, that “everything has to make sense” because we must live in a replicable world where everything can be repeated to gain the same results….right? But what the section teaches us is that, while that approach may work in a world where the illusion of separation is at the forefront, sometimes to succeed, we must flow with the river, rather than beating it into submission. That, ultimately, we gain control by surrendering control.
The Ancient One summarizes the differences of perspective in a simple sentence: “Not everything makes sense...not everything has to”. Here on our side of the world, there seems to be this idea that everyone in the East knows EVERYTHING there is to know about spirituality, but what Dr. Strange teaches us in actuality, that experiences sometimes don’t make sense to us. They defy everything we think we know and cause our mindset to shift drastically..but that’s okay because sometimes you don’t need to understand something to feel into its change.
The latter half of the film is devoted to Steven embodying his new self, from a position of compassion and a new understanding of his place in the universe (....multiverse...whatever). Interestingly, after his battle with Kaecelius in the sanctum, he takes a lousy stab and portals into the hospital where Dr. Palmer’s work, and ultimately needs to be revived defibrillator. Doesn’t this seem like the death of his old self? At this moment, after defeating his demons -symbolized by Dormamu’s minions, he re-awakens as an embodiment of his higher self, the Sorcerer Supreme, and not only treats others with tremendous respect but immediately following his return to the New York sanctum, is crowned “Master Strange.”
His journey of rebirth itself, going from his old Western mindset to a new Eastern one, mirrors Egyptian cosmology of how the sun god Ra would die in the West every day, only to be reborn brighter in the East the next day.
Even in his boss fight with Dormammu..which isn’t a conventional boss fight since there is no actual “fighting,” this rebirth theme is still there. Steven doesn’t approach the demon intending to fight it, but rather from a position of surrender and compassion for everyone back on earth - which might have also saved on the CGI budget….. Well, maybe not; the dark dimension is pretty intense.
Like Jesus, he sacrifices himself -over and over, to help others. Looking at this more in-depth, though, the “time loop” is undoubtedly speaking to the reincarnation process, as we too are arguably stuck in a cycle/loop that brings us back over and over again until we’ve learned the lessons our soul wishes us to.
One could even argue that Steven attains a level of enlightenment at this moment and understands that both time and death are merely stepping stones on our soul’s journey.
Lastly, the concept of appearance speaks volumes about how we perceive the spiritual through a western lens. Epitomized in the scene where Steven first meets the Ancient One, he mistakes her for Master Hamir, as he looks much more like what you’d expect with the name “The Ancient One.” Granted, the original version of the Ancient One looked like an old Asian man in the comics and was changed for the film adaption to avoid unsettling politics with China… Yet, even with this new adaption, we get our superstitions to be challenged. Instead of an elderly, sage-looking figure, the ancient one as a young, joyful character flips this on its head. Even the wifi, while seemingly only mentioned in passing, goes to show that spirituality isn’t some relic of a forgotten age, it has a place in the modern world, and much like the Sanctums that defend the earth from mystical threats, it is hiding in plain sight...you only need to look to find it.
In a nutshell, Dr. Strange highlights how we perceive spirituality as a commercial product, practiced by people wanting to make quick money, acting in opposition to science. In this paradigm, it’s something that belongs in primitive gift shops as a trinket or superstition. But the real magic, however, is that just under the surface, we see a notion that perhaps if you were to leap into the unknown, trust yourself and give it a chance, approaching from a position of surrender and curiosity, rather than rigorous information and testing, you would see how little we know, how wrong our preconceived notions are… and perhaps even how deep and profound true spirituality is…
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This video was created by Team Spirit Connect with the team at https://spiritsciencecentral.com/about
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