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Murtaza: Movies for Healing

Murtaza Bootwala: The Movie Doctor

     Cinema Therapy.  Who knew?  But when you think about it, is it much different from ancient Greek theater, in which the community gathered as a group to learn about ethos and hubris within themselves from actors on a stage?  Our guest, Murtaza Bootwala, Chief Happiness Officer of the Global Healing Project in Pune, India, shared with us the power of his work, developed as he healed himself from debilitating stress and depression.  His aim is to help people experience their highest winning potential.
    As with all good movies, Murtaza’s story began with a struggle.  “I was working in a five-star restaurant in Mumbai where the stress was so bad, I had to leave.”   Traditional medicine was not helping him.  On the advice of a friend he went to a 14-day retreat; and through diet, meditation, and yoga he was able to restore himself.  But he wanted to learn more about nontraditional healing modalities.  He spent the next several years studying many other powerful therapies in which he is now a certified practitioner.
     During his recovery he began to watch movies as a way to relax.  But instead he found in them ways to be inspired.  Movies allowed him to identify with various attributes embodied in different characters.  He could actually visualize himself possessing those attributes as well, vicariously experiencing them until he could live them.  “Mirror neurons allow us to do this,” Murtaza explained. “This set of neurons in my brain cannot distinguish if a particular thing is happening in my life or in the movie’s life.” It is also the basis of advertising.  Watch someone else have a good time driving our car and you will want to buy and enjoy it, too.  Or, tragically, watch others annihilate lots of people over and over, and you too can become inured to the suffering of others and commit a mass murder.  But Murtaza sees this neuroscience as the means to improve our lives and inspire us.  And he has helped many to those ends, thanks to the inspirational words of Howard Thurman which led him to start his new career: 
Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.
     Movies cover many of the themes he sees in his practice with individuals and couples.  Even culturally different films, if they are accessible through our own cultural lens, can be instructive.  His clients can observe how someone else transcended the situation in which they find themselves.   In one instance a couple came to him with marriage difficulties.  They loved each other, but after five years could not seem to get it to work anymore.  Murtaza prescribed Fireproof, a movie about a fireman’s challenge to commit 40 days of kindness to his wife in order to resurrect her faith in him.  “After they saw the film, they understood what needed to be done, and no further counseling was required.  They have been happily married ever since” (another hallmark of a good movie).
     Children also benefit from movies, but as Murtaza emphasized, some children’s movies are not always appropriate.  Likewise some children’s movies hold lessons for adults as well.  In the movie, How to Train Your Dragon, a young man fearful of dragons meets a baby dragon and learns to accept it as it is.  You and your children can learn how to overcome fear and prejudice together through its entertaining message.  Other appropriate titles will soon be posted at
     Sometimes you can’t help someone deal with a problem by walking through the front door.  You have to go around the back, enter quietly, and introduce an idea nonchalantly.  Movies do that exceptionally well.  The message is delivered in a way that touches our senses, our imagination, and our heart and insinuates its influence upon us in subtle yet powerful ways.  But how do you keep the inspiration vibrant?  “Watch movies once a week in a group,” Murtaza urges, “because you connect with the movie and with each other.  People frequently share deep and private thoughts.” Consider joining a group like Spiritual Cinema Circle.  If there isn’t one in your area, you can start one.  As he will readily admit, he depends on others to keep his inspirational juices flowing as well. 
     While films can teach us many different things, Murtaza recommends that we avoid negative images in order that we may put more positive energy of our own into the world.  (This is similar to the Buddhist mindfulness training on nourishment and healing.)  As he advised us, when we give energy to our shadow side, it can ruin our lives.  So other useful films he recommends are The Butterfly Circus (mercifully only 20 minutes long or I would have spent the entire afternoon weeping), The Peaceful Warrior, The Polar Express, The Cloud Atlas, and The Life of Pi.  When asked how he chooses such perfect, instructive films, Murtaza laughed and said, “They choose me!  It is the blessing of a divine gift that movies come to my attention.”
     In addition to using movies to heal himself, Murtaza was also led to study with practitioners of neuro linguistic programming with applied kinesiology, emotional freedom technique, and hand writing analysis among other therapies.  He has been incorporating these as well into his practice of coaching and healing for several years.  Those who know him describe him as warm, gracious, and relentless in his desire to connect people with each other.  Those qualities came through clearly in our interview.  His vision is to “catalyzing the co-creation of a thriving, just and a sustainable world,” and he lives it.  He truly does embody the idea of the ripple effect!  Follow his inspiring work on his blog.
     “Fantasized Experiences Appearing Real is ‘fear,’ ” he says.  “But it’s just a story.  So adopt a different story to change your life.  As Byron Katie says –  ‘Who would you be without your story?’  And any story of transformation reaches beyond the individual to change the community.”
     Slow fade to black.  Cue music.  Roll credits.

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