Q&A With Louie Schwartzberg
Gratitude Lab Kicks Off With a Sit-Down With Louie
If you haven’t heard yet, Gratitude Lab is now officially begun! In response to your requests, we’ve curated the best gratitude videos, gratitude facts, DIY projects for you to download, and…. a series of gratitude exercises which can be adapted to fit your specific needs.
As Louie’s holiday gift to you, he’ll gather your anonymous insights, along with his breath-taking photography, and create a beautiful Gratitude E-book.
Louie has a lot to say on the subject of Gratitude. We sat down with him to ask him a few questions about this subject and more…
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GR: You just finished an exciting presentation at TEDxLA, held at the stunning Dolby Theatre. How was the evening?
Louie: Truly awesome, as in the actual meaning of the word [laughter]. The Dolby Theatre is made of five stories of mezzanine, first, second, third, fourth, lobby, all stacked above you. The audience is close to the stage, and very vertical. It’s an amazing theater, gorgeous beyond belief. I spontaneously opened with, “As a filmmaker I have to admit I’ve imagined how it would feel standing up here receiving an Academy Award. The good news is I’ve got more than 20 seconds to speak with you.”
The theme was Imagination. I summarized my talk by saying we need to imagine and create the solutions we need, and we can’t have our political leaders turn their backs on science in fear and denial. As soon as I said that, giant applause, I couldn’t finish my sentence. I was trying to say we need them to work on the solutions and the partnerships that we need, but I wasn’t able to finish the sentence until they stopped applauding.
GR: What a great segue into the subject of gratitude! You must have been filled with it in that moment.
GR: I was wondering if you would touch upon the darker moments when gratitude doesn’t come so easily, but is rather something we need to consciously cultivate. Can you speak to that?
Louie: Gratitude has been a lifesaver in that regard. I think we all have lots of things that make us feel various degrees of stress. These seemingly small voices can create a baseline of discontent. It’s really easy to wake up in the morning and have your brain go straight to problem-solving mode, geared to put out fires all the time. We get an adrenaline rush out of it.
So, I’ve created this practice to address this first response when I open my eyes in the morning… I visualize a capital G. It stands for gratitude, but it also stands for G-d.
As a young child growing up, I was taught in Hebrew school you’re not allowed to write the word G-d on a piece of paper because that piece of paper may get thrown out, which would be taking the Lord’s name in vain. We were instructed to write it out as capital G-D. As an adult, I’ve adopted the capital G just by itself as my focal point to pull me out of the darkness, and for me that capital G now stands for gratitude.
GR: That is beautiful. I love that.
Louie: It’s true.
GR: It is interesting as the world grows smaller and various faiths intertwine, how cautious we must be not to offend or subject others to our beliefs. Is gratitude associated with faith for you?
Louie: If you get peace by looking at the Half Dome in Yosemite Valley and you’re blown away by this incredible cathedral of granite, or if you get it through walking in the Sistine Chapel, the point is you’re in spirit, “in-spired,” that’s all that matters. What separates us at times is the differing back stories of who created us and how we got here. The goal is to feel spiritual and the divine in whatever way it takes to get there.
GR: The sense of connection to something bigger and greater than yourself is a unifying experience.
Louie: Right, it’s like being “blown away.” The research now from Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center says wonder and awe is actually good for you. When you look at the forest and the mountains, you become what you behold. You feel small and that can make you feel humble with feelings of well being and compassion, connected to all of it.
GR: You’ve been doing Gratitude Revealed now for over a year. What do you know today about gratitude that you did not know yesterday?
Louie: What I’ve learned from practicing gratitude, is that in a matter of seconds I can pull myself out of a negative spiral. When I first came across the teachings of gratitude I thought it made for wonderful philosophy, but I never used it as a tool. Now I use it to pull me out of a negative moment and it’s incredibly effective.
GR: It sounds like your own practice of gratitude has strengthened measurably by making this available to other people.
Louie: It’s like having something in your back pocket that you can rely upon. It’s something that we can access instantly when you need that extra boost of strength. What gratitude gives us, and nature gives us – which is very much one and the same – is resiliency.
Even if we do our best to be mindful and compassionate in the world, If somebody cuts you off, or someone tries to take your parking spot, little things like that can completely disrupt you and upset you, right?
GR: Yes, they can.
Louie: But with this tool called gratitude, I’m able to pull myself out of that disruption by thinking about what am I grateful for. I’m grateful that I didn’t get into a car accident, I’m grateful I’m fine. I’m grateful that something worse didn’t happen. Studies have proven that people who practice gratitude are therefore more resilient, bouncing back faster from a negative event.
GR: Tell me about the word warrior and what it means to you.
Louie: I love the word warrior because I think we all need to be strong and vigilant and stand up to injustice and bigotry wherever we find it. I think it’s our responsibility to make the world a better place. We value self-care, but self-care needs to include world care. This is our one and only home. Let’s protect what we love and celebrate Life. Whether I call it an eco-warrior, a Jedi knight, or a peaceful warrior, we have to employ the wisdom we’ve learned from our past and be leaders to our young people and help them find their path.
GR: When you were a young student at UCLA, how did you discover film and photography as your voice?
Louie: After growing up in my parents’ home, who were holocaust survivors but raised us underneath a roof of gratitude, I learned to appreciate all the blessings that come their way. Given their experience as survivors, heaven on earth was food on the table, a roof over our head, a steady job and the miracle of having children. I think it inspired me to not only to want the world to be a better place, but it inspired me want to become a history major. I still do love history. It’s like biology, but you’re looking at the rhythms and patterns of civilization and how they have evolved. I went off to UCLA as a history major in 1968. In 1968, Martin Luther King was assassinated, Bobby Kennedy was assassinated, the democratic convention turned into chaos, and a movement of young people were clubbed and beaten for protesting an unjust war.
Richard Nixon became President and a repressive regime arrested, clubbed and beat people who were protesting under their expression of free speech and their first amendment right. We didn’t have cell phone cameras, obviously. But one way to fight back was to document through photography.
I had to learn the art of photography and master it so that I could film all that was happening. I wanted to protect myself and my fellow students, and also bear witness like my parents had done. Their only weapon left to them to survive was the will to tell their story.
So, the FBI was on campus harassing student leaders at UCLA. We were one of dozens of campuses that were protesting the war. Other campuses like Berkeley and Kent State, where four students were shot and killed, had horrific events. It felt very significant and important to participate in whatever way I could. The silver lining in all that turmoil and conflict was that it spawned the liberation movements for women and people of color, and the first Earth Day was born.
I discovered it was easier for me to hand in a photo essay than a term paper. I was able to communicate what I wanted to say visually, and I knew that others were affected by what I could show them. So I found my voice and fell in love with filmmaking.
GR: Is there something in particular that you would like younger people to understand from your work?
Louie: The texting generation could benefit from slowing down. Gratitude forces us to savor the moment and slow everything down and to explore the deeper meaning of Life. Gratitude is a way of savoring magical moments and prolonging joy.
When we were young, we were idealistic and we believed we could change the world. We were filled with wonder and awe, like little kids. We were enchanted by this amazing life, which is a gift, and we were grateful back then for all of it. I think my work helps to nurture and remind us of our child-like idealism.
As we grow older, some of us become more conservative. It just happens. I want young people to nurture this age in their life when they have all this wonderful idealism. You believe you can change the world, and so you will.
I still have child-like idealism within me to a large degree, but I’m aware in some ways I’m a little more conservative than I used to be. For example, I appreciate comfort now more than the adventure of sleeping on the ground [laughter].
I want everyone – no matter your age – to see more than the superficial beauty of nature’s wonders. The colors, composition and texture on the surface may grab you initially, but if you look deeper into nature, you realize that there is this harmonious dance going on, where every single piece is working in harmony with one another to create an ecosystem which wants to thrive. We need to not block that energy. Life is a force of energy that wants to flourish.
This harmony exists already in each of our trillion cells within our body. I see a visually similar pattern that lives within the mycelium under the ground, as well as the human brain, as well as the galaxies in deep space. A visually similar pattern appears in all three. That says it all for me. All is connected above and below. I want to inspire resilience and the strength required to protect this life force of energy that wants to flourish.
When I create journeys in time and scale using the arts of time lapse, slow motion, micro and macro cinematography, I’m stretching your perception. I’m expanding your vision and opening the heart to give you a new world view. Once you see the world differently, you will see the world differently forever. You are changed, you are transformed, and you are the gratitude of the world revealing yourself to the universe.
GR: Warriors unite?
Louie: Absolutely. We chose to be born at this time and place of breakdown and breakthrough. Place a big “G” on the wall to inspire you upon waking.
I discovered the Gratitude clip on Oprah just after learning that I had an inoperable thoracic aortic aneurism and just prior to flying from my home in the Midwest to a tiny Iñupiaq village on the north slope of Alaska to celebrate Thanksgiving. At 30 below zero with a windchill of over 50 below, I found beauty and grace in the love and sharing of my “adoptive” native family who look beyond the worldly to the infinite values of peace and sharing. I am thankful for my illness because it has opened my eyes to the treasure in each moment of life and given me the power to choose wisely in love. I ask “Is it worth dying over?” at each stressful decision and select the option that conveys gratitude for and to others. As I discovered in my PhD research over the last ten years among the people of Wainwright, free choice is the panacea for intergenerational trauma, social justice and cultural sustainability — for that, we can be truly grateful and empowered.
Wow, Paulette. Thank you so much for sharing. The scientific community seems to be inching toward recognizing the therapeutic value of gratitude with regard to genuine healing. Visual healing, in partnership with medical science, at the very least brings comfort and peace to the journey we are all on. Please continue to let us know how you are.
Thanks Paulette. I try to re-watch the clip regularly. May you live every moment, then, as the film states, you will have lived your life very well. Be well, be safe, be at peace.