A drug addicted prostitute and a convicted drug trafficker discover the power of mindfulness meditation to transform their lives and help others find peace in a culture where anxiety, depression and addiction are increasingly the norm. Woven into the narrative are interviews with world renowned meditation masters and researchers who are working together on the cutting edge of neuroscience to learn how meditation physically alters the brain to increase concentration, empathy, and happiness.
Long Synopsis / Treatment
It would seem that America is blessed with the conditions for happiness: we are the richest, most powerful nation in the world, with beautiful countryside, a diverse cultural heritage, and freedom of expression, yet Americans suffer from the highest rates of mental illness in the world, and alcohol and drug abuse are rampant. How can this be?
Americans are incredibly busy. We work more than any other developed nation, and are among the top consumers of information communications technology. We have created so many ways to connect, to consume, and to entertain ourselves that we live in a veritable culture of distractions. Dozens of books, articles, and news programs describe the rising trend of the “busy trap” and its possible links to soaring rates of mood and attention disorders. From board rooms and classrooms to hospitals, prisons and even the military, millions of Americans are turning to the simple yet radical practice of mindfulness meditation to help them restore their equilibrium. Through the turbulent life stories of two ex-convicts turned meditators and interviews with some of the world’s foremost experts in meditation and the exploding field of contemplative neuroscience, Naked Mind explores how meditation has the power to literally change human minds and lives for the better.
Naked Mind is shot in HD Digital 24 P in a hand-held, participatory style using third person narration. We use a combination of observational footage of our characters’ lives over the course of 5 years, archival footage of one of our characters, and formal and informal interviews. We’ve filmed in Japan, Nepal, India, Thailand, Bhutan, Canada and Poland and the U.S.
The film’s dramatic content focuses on two former felons who demonstrate the power of meditation to realize one’s full potential. Sean Bowers’ early life was characterized by violence, drugs, prostitution, homelessness and prison. After a failed suicide attempt when he was twenty eight, Sean began a deep meditation practice which helped him turn his life around. He says: “A friend gives me a book on Mindfulness meditation, which I always thought was for hippies, but when you pump your heart full of cocaine and it doesn’t kill you, it’s like…well…fuck it…I’ll read a book.” Today Sean lives in Portland, where he is very active in the 12 Step community; he is pursuing a Masters and/or PhD degree in creative writing and teaches juveniles at the MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, where he was incarcerated as a teenager. Production has secured permission to film Sean’s classes at this facility. “My poetry is the deepest form of mindfulness that I can express. It’s the present situation in the way it really is. Not how I want it, but how it is.”
While meditation has helped Sean get sober and find direction, it has not been an easy path for him. He continues to struggle with violent and addictive behaviors, and worries he may throw his life away if he succumbs to an intense desire for revenge. “My father’s murderer gets out next year. I swore to kill him. I work very hard at trying to be as nonviolent as possible, even though it doesn’t feel good and is counterintuitive. There are people that I deeply feel deserve to be mutilated. I kicked in the face of a Neo-Nazi and I don’t feel bad about it. So what the hell am I capable of doing to the man who murdered my father? And then I met Fleet Maull who made a huge impression on me. Here was a guy who had seen some shit. Fourteen years hard time. And he wasn’t angry, and he used that time to do some serious good, helping people.”
Fleet Maull was leading a double life as an advanced meditator and major drug trafficker when, at the request of his spiritual teacher, he turned himself in. While serving fourteen years of a thirty year sentence in maximum security prison, Fleet experienced a spiritual awakening. In archival interviews from prison in the 1980s Fleet discusses his path to prison and how he began teaching the principals of mindfulness meditation to prisoners. Today Fleet’s life is devoted to service and he crisscrosses the globe in a continuous stream of workshops, consultancies, and conferences to help prisoners, youth at risk, the dying, and victims of violence. Fleet stays on top of his schedule using every communications technology device imaginable. His pace is frantic yet he seems remarkably calm and goes on frequent meditation retreats to deepen his practice. “I think that what really has drawn me my whole life and has taken me down some scary paths is looking for what's real. That was a lot of what was going on in the culture I was growing up in, the youth culture of the 1960s. Hundreds of thousands of young people trying to break free from an incredibly inauthentic world and it was messy. Finding the dharma, finding my teacher and embracing the path was not distinct from that, but a much healthier form of it with less baggage and obviously grounded in nonaggression whereas the other was kind of reckless, but they were both all about the same search.”
Sean takes part in Fleet’s signature Radical Responsibility Workshop in New York City to learn mindfulness techniques to help him master his rage and self-destructive impulses. Fleet sees Sean as disempowered by anger about his past and confronts him about his victim narrative. Sean resents Fleet for his apparent lack of sympathy and is visibly tense and anxious during their interactions. A confrontation in the midst of the workshop leads Sean to question the ways he continues to behave like an addict, years after becoming sober.
Though powerful on its own, mindfulness meditation is far more effective if the practitioner is also a student. The Dalai Lama believes meditation is made more profound when combined with deep self-analysis, education and research to understand the workings of the mind and to cultivate compassion: “Education is very important. The proper way to practice dharma is to utilize human intelligence maximum way and carry investigation into reality. There are many levels of reality. All these not understood through just faith but use human intelligence and thorough investigation, and also combine scientific research. Use human intelligence and through that way transform emotion. So intelligence with holistic view, then people realize sense of concern for others’ wellbeing, that's compassion. Sometime back I recommended that they should have some kind of scientific research laboratory. Now I am extremely happy that they have achieved that.”
The scientific research laboratory the Dalai Lama is referring to in his interview is the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Neuroscientist and psychiatrist Richard Davidson is the Founder and Chair of the Center where he researches the way meditation affects emotional resiliency and alters the physical structure of the brain. Electromagnetic resonance scans of the brain show that just two months of meditation increases the part of the frontal cortex that is associated with compassion, and shrinks the amygdala which is associated with aggression. Dr. Davidson’s lab is at the cutting edge of an exploding new field of research known as Contemplative Neuroscience. In 1998, there were eleven scientific publications relating to mindfulness. By 2013, there were over 1,500. Dr. Davidson describes the intersection of science and mindfulness: “This inability we have to come out of a particular brain state - there is a very scientific name for it: ‘stickiness’ (laughs). And stickiness is a major cause of all kinds of suffering. Not only does mindfulness help to lessen stickiness, but it allows for the cultivation of genuine happiness. What is happening is a conversation between first person experience through meditation, and third person experience through objective science. These are two radically different ways of knowing about the mind. But they come together, they interface, they dialogue.”
Naked Mind will illustrate the vibrant dialogue as mindfulness, science and psychology collide and inform each other in an unprecedented global conversation about human experience and the human mind.