You need to be a reactor

A Review of Ian McKenzie’s Reactor documentary with Michael Stone

By Scott Johnson

Japanese anti-nuclear demonstrator

July 2017 Update: Hey, Scott here. As a response to the tragic passing of Michael Stone on 16th July 2017 I wanted to share a memory of one of the times he spent with us here at SYL. In 2014 I organised a viewing of the documentary Reactor, a film collaboration between Michael and filmmaker Ian Mackenzie, at a local Bermondsey cinema. Michael attended and afterwards talked about the film and held a Q&A regarding the film’s ideas and content. It was a lovely lovely evening. Below is a blog post I wrote about the event.

Michael will be sorely missed here at SYL. His spirit and teaching shone….

Michael Stone profile

On Monday 17th Feb 2014 we hosted the first UK public screening of a short film called Reactor, a documentary made by the Canadian film maker Ian Mackenzie on the aftermath of the nuclear meltdown in Fukushima, Japan 2012. We had over 40 people come and join Michael Stone, Louise and myself for the evening. We rented a local independent cinema in Bermondsey called Shortwave so as to make it feel like a real premiere. The venue was lovely and we pretty much filled up all the seats in there.

Why did SYL host the first UK public screening of Reactor?

Stillpoint Yoga London hosted Reactor primarily because it features Michael Stone, a Canadian yoga and buddhist teacher, author and activist, who had come to SYL to run some classes the previous year in 2013. Michael was in the country at the time working and we asked him if he could extend his stay and be a guest at the event. He kindly agreed and it was such a pleasure to have him talk about the film and answer questions afterwards.

Protesters after Fukoshima

In the film, Michael takes a personal pilgrimage to Japan and while there he connects in with the country amid the aftermath of the nuclear meltdown that happened due to the tsunami. He brings his vast experience as a yoga practitioner and meditator to ask questions of how culture can move forward in the face of this manmade catastrophe. To realise that we are hitting critical points on so many levels as a planet and that we need to rediscover the meaning of connection to be able to move forward and live as a wider responsive society.

What is the film about?

The film is really about stories. About how we as a culture have grown to this point where we are living our lives out of consumerism, out of materialism and out of seeing ourselves as individual identities and cultural identities, a kind of ‘us without them’. This film asks us to see how we frame our perspectives, our viewpoints and to take a sideways look at how we have done things in the past and how we are doing things now, to see if there are other ways to evolve. There is an incredible ability and necessity to adapt as a race and the question that tragedies like this ask is: what are the possible alternatives that can be opened up so that we learn from mistakes rather than continue making them?

Nuclear detonation archive image

The nuclear issue is one that began, some would say, in Hiroshima and it’s an interesting part of the film when Michael visits there to learn from the past. What does that tragedy teach us about this one? Why do we continue to make the same mistakes and what can the future hold if we make different decisions?

Michael Stone, as a buddhist practitioner & teacher, has a wonderful way of framing the conversation into a contemplative narrative. As if the ideas and practices of contemplative traditions such as yoga and buddhism can be widened into a cultural ideology and framework of seeing how we relate to the world and how we can grow as a culture. He sees the world as intimacy, as everything being dependant on and part of everything else. This little film really takes the spirit of activism, of the need to be shaken and woken up to what we are doing to ourselves, and opens it up to seeing that maybe what is needed is a cultural connected coming together of humanity to begin to ask bigger questions of how we evolve, including the ecology/environment and not as a separate entity to it.

Reacting to the awakening

The name of the film ‘Reactor’ also has a double meaning. As well as being about the nuclear reactors it also is about ourselves becoming reactors. Reactors to what is going on in our worlds, about becoming awake and reacting to that awakening. It seems that that’s what this world needs more of.

What we were left with was that Michael didn’t have any answers but had a deeper commitment to understanding how practice can wake us up to what is going on and to keep asking the important questions of how we as a culture can change.

Michael Stone sitting in Japan

Michael gave a talk plus a Q&A at the end of the screening. One of the loveliest insights was that he and Ian had been arguing about how the film would turn out. Michael wanted activism, Ian wanted stories. The stories won, but is there an activist account still to be made? Who knows. Perhaps we should watch this space…

Ian Mackenzie has made a wonderful little film and I urge you to see it. You can watch the film here:

REACTOR (2013) from Ian MacKenzie on Vimeo.

Michael Stone’s work can be found here.

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