Positive Living Newsletter

The Life of Pi

Eliana Cobain, M.A.

“Survival had to start with me.  In my experience, a castaway’s worst mistake is to hope too much and do too little.  Survival starts by paying attention to what is close at hand and immediate.”                                                                                                                                     Piscine Molitor Patel (Pi)

Covid-19 changed the world seeing many, and differing, degrees of suffering that continued into 2021.  Yet, second wave positive psychology delivers an important message: mindfully accepting and exploring our own suffering can develop both resilience and creativity.  2021 granted an opportunity for anyone to draw on this very strength and build resilience.  Positive psychology put cinema therapy on the psychological map.  Offering an individual an adventure, through animated story telling, to seek meaning, construct meaning, and reconstruct meaning.

To boost creativity, I turned to the Life of Pi as the film depicts a story of hardship and survival.  As many scenes deliver bright colours throughout, momentary experiences of joy each combine to enable a uniquely positive quality that allows the viewer to inventively gain their own meaningful perspective.  My imagination drew together two specific scenes that capture the Iron Triangle of Strengths for building resilience from challenging emotions, even in the harshest of times:

Scene 1) As a child Pi is eager to befriend a powerful and fierce tiger, Richard Parker.  Horrified, Pi’s father, Santosh Patel, claims “That tiger is not your friend.  When you look into his eyes, you are seeing your own emotions reflected back at you. Nothing more.”


Scene 2) Pi is shipwrecked, alone with Richard Parker, who I see as, a symbolic representation of his own emotions, reflected back at him.  The emotional suffering of bereavement and being stranded in a drastic situation in which death is a possibility.  Initially Pi tries to avoid his emotional suffering, represented by Pi running off on the lifeboat away from Richard Parker.  Such avoidance fails.  Pi then tries to fight his emotional suffering, as witnessed when him holding an axe attempting to scare Richard Parker.  Being frustrated with his emotional suffering also fails.   In learning lessons from common, human instinctive responses to emotional suffering, Pi established great wisdom.  He announces: “…maybe Richard Parker cannot be tamed, but… he can be trained”.  Following this, Pi courageously approaches Richard Parker.  He trains Richard Parker, placing fish on the end of the piece of wood, showing and showing compassionate acceptance.  Hence reaching modus vivendi with his emotions.

For me, these scenes accentuate the importance of courage, acceptance, and finding meaning for transformation in challenging times.  2021 became an important time for me to be more rigours with my own mindfulness practise and embrace the courage to look inwards and train my inner Richard Parker with abundant compassion and acceptance.  And the meaning for transformation?  Well, “survival had to start with me.”

“…wise attention requires that, when faced with great challenges, especially those that bring with them enormous suffering and grief, we be willing to do a certain kind of work on and with ourselves, a work that no one on the planet can do for us…”                                                                       Jon Kabat-Zinn

This is an offering of my diverse interpretation tying together several scenes.  This film quenched my thirst for creativity.  It reminded me not to avoid or fight reality but to courageously accept, with compassion, reality as it is.  And how mindfulness can embody a deep gratitude for cultivating inner acceptance as it builds resilience.  Yet, the Life of Pi inspires creative juices to flow to discover many ways to integrate negative emotions and difficult situations, and even establish a changed worldview.  Whatever an individual’s takeaway message, Pi remains the narrator of his survival story, able to self-direct and self-transcend.  Duly, the Life of Pi can empower us all to narrate our own story of survival.