Ben-hur, till this day, continues to remain one of my all time favorite films — a timeless classic.
Over the years, I have seen this movie over and over again – so many times that I have lost count of it. Not only that – I took care to show the movie to my sons when they were young. Lo behold! it captured their hearts too — just as it did when Dad showed me this film when I was a young boy.
However, for some reason, one scene stands out in this remarkable movie — the chariot race — unforgettable. Even now, I have goose-flesh recalling that scene. There was something mysterious that pulled me again and again to view it with riveted attention. It is said to be the greatest chariot race ever put on a film.
What draws us to this race? Was it the rare dash of brilliant cinematography? Was it the charisma of Judah Ben-hur played by an equally charismatic personality, Charlton Heston? Or was it the cruel, cunning but enigmatic character of Messala played by Stephen Boyd? May be everything was too good for anyone to miss. However, it took me years to get to the essence that made the ‘chariot race’ the ‘chariot race’. It was about ‘flow‘.
In recent years, much has been written and discussed about flow, forming various views, interpretations, re-interpretations and perspectives, the most famous of which came from Mihaly Csikszentmihalhi, — informing researchers and practitioners alike.
To me, being in the flow, the source of greatest human happiness and creativity, is the other name of being enlightened and skillfully acting from an enlightened state, where attention, awareness, learning and creativity effortlessly merge altering experience of time and space.
An enlightened state of ‘flow’ may be characterized by the following:
1. It is without a preformed image of any kind — “image-less“.
2. In such a flow, a person is equipoised to take any direction at will but chooses a direction based on the context and not travel the path dictated by a pre-determined plan — “direction-less“.
3. Actions in a flow are born in empty space; carried out in an empty space and die out in emptiness — “emptiness“.
4. Meaning in a flow is only generated through interactions set against a rich backdrop of context; else there is no meaning — “meaninglessness“.
5. Dialectic movement in flow is created by the existence of intensely focused attention on specific details and defocused attention on general details.
Coming back to the chariot race we are privileged to witness all of those. The crowd roars with expectation. The elites, headed by the Roman Governor of Judea, is restless to see Messala, a Roman, win against Judah Ben-hur flouting all ethics. Individual participants, pitted against each other, are wary of each other’s guile and tactics. The outcome is uncertain. But within all that din and commotion Judah Ben-hur stays image-less, alert, equipoised to take the right step as the situation demands, doesn’t go ahead with a predetermined plan, respects the emptiness of uncertainty of the event yet forges ahead with the meaning created by years of bitter interactions between him and Messala reflected by Ben-hur saying — “this is the day, Messala,” before the start of the race. During the race, Ben-hur acts effortlessly – being one with his horses – without losing a moment’s focus, keeping the din of the crowd and the count of the laps in the distant horizon of his mind.
That is a fine example of enlightened action by an enlightened human being in flow — bringing happiness and rewards in its wake, without expecting any.
No doubt, Pontius Pilate, Roman Governor of Judea (played by Frank Thring), while crowing Judah Ben-hur as the winner of the game, tells the crowd, “I crown your God.”
God indeed — a human in ‘flow’.
A beauty to behold.