The Zen of Bill Murray: I Want to Be “Really Here, Really in It, Really Alive in the Moment”

We all know, on the deep­est lev­el, what we have the poten­tial to achieve; once in a great while, we even catch glimpses of just what we could do if only we put our minds to it. But what, if any­thing, does it mean to “put our minds to it”? In break­ing down that cliché, we might look to the exam­ple of Bill Mur­ray, an actor for whom break­ing down clichés has become a method of not just work­ing but liv­ing. In the 2015 Char­lie Rose clip above, Mur­ray tells of receiv­ing a late-night phone call from a friend’s drunk­en sis­ter. “You have no idea how much you could do, Bill, if you could just — you can do so much,” the woman kept insist­ing. But to the still more or less asleep Mur­ray, her voice sound­ed like that of “a vision­ary speak­ing to you in the night and com­ing to you in your dream.”

Through her ine­bri­a­tion, this woman spoke direct­ly to a per­sis­tent desire of Mur­ray’s, one he describes when Rose asks him “what it is that you want that you don’t have.” Mur­ray replies that he’d “like to be more con­sis­tent­ly here,” that he’d like to “see how long I can last as being real­ly here — you know, real­ly in it, real­ly alive in the moment.” He’d like to see what he could do if he could stay off human auto-pilot, if he “were able to not get dis­tract­ed, to not change chan­nels in my mind and body, so I would just, you know, be my own chan­nel.” He grounds this poten­tial­ly spir­i­tu­al-sound­ing idea in phys­i­cal terms: “It is all con­tained in your body, every­thing you’ve got: your mind, your spir­it, your soul, your emo­tions, it is all con­tained in your body. All the prospects, all the chances you ever have.”

Mur­ray had spo­ken in even more detail of the body’s impor­tance at the pre­vi­ous year’s Toron­to Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val. “How much do you weigh?” he asked his audi­ence there, lead­ing them into an impromp­tu guid­ed med­i­ta­tion. “Try to feel that weight in your seat right now, in your bot­tom right now.” If you can “feel that weight in your body, if you can come back into the most per­son­al iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, a very per­son­al iden­ti­fi­ca­tion, which is: I am. This is me now. Here I am, right now. This is me now.” The idea is to be here now, to bor­row the words with which coun­ter­cul­tur­al icon Ram Dass titled his most pop­u­lar book. But Mur­ray approached it by read­ing some­thing quite dif­fer­ent: the writ­ings of Gre­co-Armen­ian Sufi mys­tic George Ivanovich Gur­d­ji­eff, whose con­tri­bu­tion to Mur­ray’s comedic per­sona we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture.

Gur­d­ji­eff believed that most of us live out our lives in a hyp­no­sis-like state of “wak­ing sleep,” nev­er touch­ing the state of high­er con­scious­ness that might allow us to more clear­ly per­ceive real­i­ty and more ful­ly real­ize our poten­tial. In recent years, Mur­ray has tak­en on some­thing like this role him­self, hav­ing “long bypassed mere celebri­ty sta­tus to become some­thing close to a spir­i­tu­al sym­bol, a guru of zen, and his fre­quent appear­ances among the mass­es (in a karaoke bar! In a couple’s engage­ment pho­to!) are report­ed on the inter­net with the excite­ment of sight­ings of the mes­si­ah.” So writes the Guardian’s Hadley Free­man in a Mur­ray pro­file from 2019, which quotes the actor-come­di­an-trick­ster-Ghost­buster-bod­hisatt­va return­ing to his wish to attain an ever-greater state of pres­ence. “If there’s life hap­pen­ing and you run from it, you’re not doing the world a favor,” he says. “You have to engage.” And if you do, you may dis­cov­er pos­si­bil­i­ties you’d nev­er even sus­pect­ed before.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Phi­los­o­phy of Bill Mur­ray: The Intel­lec­tu­al Foun­da­tions of His Comedic Per­sona

Lis­ten to Bill Mur­ray Lead a Guid­ed Medi­a­tion on How It Feels to Be Bill Mur­ray

An Ani­mat­ed Bill Mur­ray on the Advan­tages & Dis­ad­van­tages of Fame

Nine Tips from Bill Mur­ray & Cel­list Jan Vogler on How to Study Intense­ly and Opti­mize Your Learn­ing

What Is High­er Con­scious­ness?: How We Can Tran­scend Our Pet­ty, Day-to-Day Desires and Gain a Deep­er Wis­dom

97-Year-Old Philoso­pher Pon­ders the Mean­ing of Life: “What Is the Point of It All?”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.