"The Art of Life: is a joyful documentary celebrating the remarkable life of Michael Behrens, as told through his own words. It is a deeply spiritual and moving account of the art of living outside the usual conventions of society, at peace in the solitude of being unique, and in deep integrity with the essence of who and what he is and believes.
Filmmakers Zaya and Maurizio were on a trip to Hawaii a few years ago and met Michael on a remote beach. It soon became evident that there was more to him and his story.
A spry 72-year-old (at the time of filming in 2015), Michael lives alone, off the grid on the island of Maui, specifically in the middle of a thick, lush, tropical jungle in a house he built himself. He purchased the property 40+ years ago because it seemed right and had to make the road into the property himself, cutting into the jungle practically with only his bare hands.
Though he now has a solar panel that powers up his internet connection to reach out to other mathematicians and the world, the highlight is a gorgeous garden with lush tropical plants and ornamental fish ponds where he can practice yoga and run around without clothes.
He was a math genius/prodigy, discovering at 14 years old that he could see complex patterns where others could not. He studied at Standford and MIT, became a rising star in abstract mathematics, and fully immersed himself in the academe from ages 16 to 29. He then decided to take a break, wanting to see the ocean, eventually leading him to Hawaii. 40+ years later, he is still there, where he created a life away from society, a life that most people would find strange.
He is free from the trappings of conventional success and wealth and the stressors of modern life. He lives very simply, with a holistic perspective. He laments that society is so stressed and focused on material things that they have lost touch with nature.
A typical day for him is practicing yoga out in nature, even up on trees, following Buddhism, and swimming with the dolphins every day off the secluded coasts of Maui. Wild animals embrace him and allow him to join their groups; he takes every day as it comes.
Yet what is fantastic about Michael's unstructured life is that he is still deeply steeped in mathematics, and he recognizes and respects that it does exist and makes up almost everything in the world.
And despite this unorthodox way of living, Michael is probably one of the most successful people on the planet, merging the abstract constructs of science and math with a deep spirituality that has him living his life in deep contentment, simply "being".
To quote Michael: "There are two strains of spirituality. One of them is loving everything beautiful and positive. But the other is in transcending that and seeing everything as beautiful and positive". Wise words to live by.