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Willow and Jaden Smith are too cool for me.

They are also, I think, not crazy.

An interview they did with The New York Times Magazine has been bobbing across the internet over the last week or so. Finally I succumbed and took a read… probably several reads, considering how many times I had to reexamine sentences after they went way, way, stratospherically over my head. The headline is “Jaden and Willow Smith on Prana Energy, Time and Why School is Overrated,” so that sort of grabbed me.

If hearing teenagers talk about breathing as meditation and the needlessness of public education doesn’t do it for you, well, um, that’s probably for the best. But for some reason, this was worth reading anyway.

I mean, I still think “Whip My Hair” is terrific. I feel like I owe Willow something.

To be honest, I mostly just wanted to know what prana energy is. Can we harvest it? Can it stop global warming?

I’m not convinced Jaden and Willow know what prana is either, but they sure talk like they do. I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt. I went and looked for myself, so if they’ve succeeded in nothing else with this interview, they’ve at least inspired some genuine curiosity.

Turns out prana is a Sanskrit term, so you know it’s going to be cool. It’s a primal, life-driving energy – akin to the Chinese qi, Japanese ki, Polynesian mana, and Greek pneuma. So now it all makes sense, right?

Apparently, prana is “present in the air” and that’s why breathing is helpful for attaining it. Yes, you might be thinking, Hey, breathing is helpful all on its own, and you’d be one hundred percent correct, but when you add the whole prana thing into it, that’s when we really start cooking.

To be clear, Prana is not the air itself, nor the vibration of the air (which would be cool). It is a separate thing. Katha Upanisad 1.3.1 says:

O Naciketa, the expansions of Lord Visnu as the tiny living being (jiva) and the Supersoul both stay within the cave of the heart of this body. In that cavity the living being, resting on the main prana, enjoys the results of activities, and the Supersoul, acting as witness enables him to enjoy them. Those who are well-versed in knowledge of Brahman and those householders who carefully follow the Vedic regulations say that the difference between the two [prana and jiva] is like the difference between a shadow and the sun [Bold mine].

Prana is the chief of ten kinds of air in bodies. It is the kind that we breathe in through the nose and which goes to the heart. In Ayurvedic medicine, prana is credited as “the life force governing inspiration and the conscious intellect.” The Smiths certainly seem to have that!

Do Jaden and Willow know this? You know, I bet they do, actually. What they said was mostly gibberish to me, but I don’t think it was to them. And that’s good. (To interpret more of the interview, Vice printed a philosopher’s explanations here.) The philosophical, physics, metaphysics stuff didn’t bother me too much. I just wish Willow hadn’t sunk to this little jewel: “There’re no novels that I like to read so I write my own novels, and then I read them again, and it’s the best thing.” No novels she likes? Not one? I think you would like Roth, Pynchon, Philip K. Dick, but I guess we cannot win them all.

On the one hand, I think, Whoa, this is kind of profound stuff. On the other hand, never far away, I think, Whoa, Jada, Will, sign your kids up for AYSO, quick.

Down to brass tacks, I like the interview. I like what they say, partly for the entertainment, and partly because it’s a perspective (if a confused one) I don’t hear every day. We cannot fault them for thinking deeply. We cannot say to anyone – especially young kids – You have thought too greatly; you have thought too far. I wish I read about prana energy when I was 16, not because I think we should run off with it, but because maybe Jaden and Willow are right that our minds are in danger of becoming narrow-thinking, norm-constrained, curriculum-caged, government-approved stencils if we confine ourselves to the three books we’re not too lazy to read in freshman English class. Not that those books are bad (in fact, they’re usually excellent); we just need to expand ourselves not only according to the prescribed pathways.

Probably, the Smith children do not understand all of what they’re saying. (Though, maybe I’m just saying that because I don’t understand all of what they’re saying – or even half of it.) But I don’t know many teenagers who read quantum physics or ancient philosophy – actually, I don’t know many teenagers who read, period – so I have to give them some credit.

I do not think they are over their heads in curiosity or intellect. I think, as others have said, they are over their heads in confidence. But, at 16 and 14 respectively, there are worse problems to have. The world could use more over-confident kids who read and think.

Carry on.

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