The most delicious-looking sandwich I’ve ever seen on TV wasn’t in an ad for a restaurant – and in fact, it was no more than a PB&J on white.
It is the sandwich eaten by Bastian in “The Neverending Story,” the 1984 fantasy movie beloved by us 80s kids. Harassed by bullies and his buzzkill dad, fanciful Bastian cuts class and spends the day in the school attic, reading his book (which we see as the movie itself. It’s all very meta.) He also eats his packed lunch, including the sandwich and an apple.
In this case, it all looks delicious because of the context. Earlier in the movie, during a breakfast scene, Bastian tries to make his sandwich and isn’t able to open the jar without his dad’s help. He ends up not really eating anything at that time. But after he sneaks away to the attic and reads about how the main character Atreyu starts his quest, and he/we see Atreyu triumphantly riding the horse Artax into the great beyond, Bastian gets an appetite.
Atreyu takes a snack break, and Bastian takes out his packed lunch – and not just to “eat” it. He bites into that sandwich with a gusto. That sandwich isn’t just a sandwich any more – it’s his interface with the story, with his rebellion, with who he is right at that moment.
In fact, after that first bite, he stops himself and says “no, not too much we still have a long way to go.” He is controlling his own destiny and what will become a part of him. Later on, he pointedly takes apple bites during the film’s climactic end scene, underscoring how he is taking care of himself and determining his own agency – the world he wants to make with it.
Food is often a key way we control our interface with the world, even though we don’t always think of it that way. It’s inherently very personal, and emblematic of other ways we try to control how we and the world blend.
In fact, the Neverending Story is all about interfaces – or you could say barriers or doors, but I like the way “interface” conjures up two things kind of meshing together, maybe messily and imperfectly. In the movie, the interface that is Bastian’s focus is his book, and much is made of the interaction between himself and the characters (even, eventually, direct interaction.) He chooses the book as his way to connect his outer and inner worlds.
At the same time, the story’s hero, Atreyu, encounters numerous challenges in his quest to save his land of Fantasia from “the Nothing,” all of which take him closer to interfacing with Bastian himself (all done in trippy, mind-bending fantasy style). And of course, Inception-style, they are interfacing with us too, watching him reading him.
If you prefer a more modern take on 1984, look to Stranger Things (whose Will, not coincidentally, looks quite a bit like Bastian.) The bowl cut game was strong back then. And they both are strong interfacers, going between worlds and playing a pivotal part there.
Stranger Things presents interfaces as gooey, organic, gross affairs. When people pass from our world into the alternate dimension of the “Upside Down,” they go through passageway that look like something you might find in a body – bloody and stringy. It brings to mind birth itself, actually, which is really the ultimate interface, between fetus and baby, between fully dependent and out in the world.
Interfaces for us can be physical like that, on a macro-level, bringing our bodies from here to there, or physical on a micro-level, as happens with our senses – bits of what’s around us enter our nose, mouth, pores, etc., and change what’s happening. Or interfaces can be mental, like a keyboard or a musical instrument or even speech itself, a biological feat of translation between neural impulses and near-instantaneous physical responses in both speaker and listener. The online world is full of our avatars interfacing.
Yoga naturally fits into this, since yoga itself means a yoke or a “union,” or an interface between two things (or more, some combination of physical, mental, and spiritual, perhaps.) One way this happens is by focusing on breath, which is how our bodies are constantly interfacing with what is around us. We think about controlling that interface and the effects on the mind when it is done in different ways – remarkable clarity can come from a few careful breaths. We also practice poses/asanas, interfacing with the floor, our mats, and even our own muscles, ultimately tiring them out enough that we can interface more fully with our own minds.
Eating, meanwhile, isn’t always associated with yoga, in fact more often it’s a lack thereof, if skinny yogis on social media are any indication. But when we eat something, we are having a profound interaction with it. We are saying that we want this to be part of us. We want to assimilate it, Borg-style, along with all of its nutrients and waste, along with all of the connotations of what that food means to us personally. That mindfulness is certainly part of yoga.
In any case, what we can learn from yoga and from “The Neverending Story” is to always play with how we interface with the world. Explore and find meaning, then be ready like Bastian to start a whole new Fantasia, one which evolves with you and allows you to interface more deeply with the things that you do see, smell, and hear. And that may or may not be chasing down those bullies with a luck dragon (I hope it does.)
To remember all that, I get into Half Monkey pose – or if you like, Half Luck Dragon. Eventually we all may get into a full split, but this is the more advanced form of this pose. The split involves as much interface as possible with the ground as you can get from an upright position. In the meantime you can kneel on one knee and stretching out the other leg. You bend down over the extended leg, feeling your muscles stretch as you begin to interface with your body in new ways.