When it comes to stories that talk about questioning one’s reality, “The Matrix” may not be the best example, but it’s one of my favorite. I remember watching it back when it first came out on DVD and feeling a little physically sick to my stomach after the scene in which Morpheus reveals to Neo the true nature of the world, and what the Matrix really was. As wake-up calls go, that is probably the biggest bucket of ice water anyone has ever imagined.
Still questioning my own reality during this minor breakdown/breakthrough, I re-watched “The Matrix”. In fact, I re-watched the whole trilogy and “The Animatrix” (all of which are highly underappreciated, in my highly subjective opinion), and it really occurred to me to explore our own “system” a bit more closely. Of course, with my life continuing to be the lazy-busy epiphenomenon that it is, I didn’t hit the university bookstacks or interview any particular experts in the field. Instead, I went to Netflix.
Netflix has an entire documentary sub-section with some pretty interesting stuff, from Michael Moore to TED talks. I watched the first one, “I AM” by director Tom Shadyac, which explored the true nature of human beings. I took it in, liked it, gave it 4 out of 5 stars, feeling pretty good.
Then I watched “Zeitgeist”, and for a little while there, the metaphorical shit hit the fan.
Here, I thought, was my Morpheus moment. The three-part structure used by director Peter Joseph, linking religious hegemony, 9/11 conspiracy theory, and critiques of the global financial system, was something new: I’d read about each of these topics on their own, but I’d never seen them linked.
Of course, even a cursory fact-check of the arguments that Joseph cites in the film is enough for me to advise any new viewer of “Zeitgeist” to bring along a few grains of salt to accompany their intellectual digestion.
However, the shift in consciousness I’d achieved from watching it was what mattered to me more than the film’s factual accuracy. For days afterwards, I no longer took anything I saw for granted. In fact, one of the best exercises in opening your mind that I can suggest is to watch “Zeitgeist”, then make a run to Wal-Mart on a Saturday afternoon. You won’t look at it the same way: more than just banal, it’s downright tragic, the way we’ve allowed ourselves to become.
The hidden power systems, deliberate inequalities, and subtle control mechanisms that I’d learned to ignore through years of “positive thinking” have all re-surfaced in my awareness. It’s no longer enough to simply pursue selfish goals for their own sake. After all, another modern-day use of the term “solipsism” is as a synonym for pure self-absorption.
There is a world out there, I am part of it, and I have a choice, as you do, to apply my talents towards improving it, leaving it as is, or making it worse. I don’t want to make it worse, and doing nothing will precisely achieve the status quo. How could I go about adding to the world?
“THE IMPRESSION OF INCREASE”
Sometime during all of this, my 33rd birthday rolled around. The number was insignificant enough, but I didn’t want to acknowledge it. I spent most of the days before and the day itself sulking, hiding from it as much as I could. Facebook, of course, played a factor as I watched the birthday greetings come in from my really awesome friends, most of whom having no idea that I was as “blah” towards the day as anyone could imagine.
Since that conversation, I’d largely stayed off of Facebook, not feeling comfortable exposing my thoughts and feelings to debate, but not having too many people close enough with me to know when I just wanted to be listened to rather than debated with. Even then, I didn’t know what to say.
The cause of these birthday blues, in hindsight, was that I wasn’t all that much better off in 2013 than I was this time in 2012, though there were some improvements. There were also a lot of things that hadn’t happened: my book didn’t take off as I’d hoped it would from our book launch back in February; I was still living at home, hadn’t auditioned, hadn’t made that much more of a dent in my manuscript and had even re-boot the whole project twice.
All in all, I didn’t feel that I had advanced, even though evidence existed to the contrary. Even then, the goals I had set until that point – to make $250,000 from my writing, to move out, get my M1 license, get a dog, travel, among others – didn’t inspire me as they used to, because they were all so meaningless if just for me. What was I doing to contribute?
Then, later that night, among the Facebook birthday wishes, I received a lovely one from my friend that saved my birthday and helped me along the next step along this breakdown-breakthrough. We were relatively new friends, having met for coffee conversations several times in the spring before she relocated to the U.S. She wrote me that she had an uncanny knack for attention to mannerisms and voice in the people that she had met, and that unbeknownst to me, she and I had had several “conversations” in her mind since her departure, such was the impact that our meetups and chats had had on her. I’d had no idea, and I was, and am, very grateful that I had touched her life that way.
That is what I want more than anything: to impact as many lives as I could, in person or at a distance, and leave people feeling better about life, and more empowered than when we met.
Today, before I started writing this, I re-watched “I AM”. This time, I damn near got teary-eyed, because it touched on that same idea: that we are more connected than we believe, both to the natural world and each other, and helping others is a form of species survival. We help others to help ourselves, because at a certain level, we are one. The flipside of solipsism, then, but now informed with the intellect. I upgraded my rating to five stars out of five.
Empower others, improve the world. This is, of course, the goal of most coaching and therapy, but in this case, it’s far more authentic. This is my form of service, to “leave everyone with the impression of increase” (one of the positive takeaways from my last coaching program). It’s not something I want to make money from, because I can sustain my finances through other means and my return for the time is the knowledge that I’ve left my mark on the world in the form of another person’s greater happiness. That seems to me a far more meaningful and, frankly, more influential legacy to leave the world than a shit ton of money, big houses, and some kind of celebrity status.
So, what’s next?
I’m still not completely out of the woods on this latest bit of inquiry, but my goals have been refreshed. I circle back to that idea of a truly holistic personal growth philosophy that values the intellect as much as the body and spirit. Applying rational thinking and analytical discourse towards the process of self-growth is as classically Western as you can get, and it’s also the slowest way to reach bliss, because you’ve got to make sure the connections are all logical before you can proceed. Yet to my mind, it’s necessary to think hard and think often about what it is that you’re doing, because some part of you will always hold back, will always feel incomplete for being ignored in favour of the flesh and the esoteric.
Beyond that, there is an awareness that everyone can reach via these means and others that we are much stronger than we think we are, that what fulfills us may in fact be far simpler and far less materialistic than mansions and millionaire parties, or even suburban housing and condos. If the end result is greater joy in our daily lives, we may be surprised to find that the key is to want fewer things and to be more to other people, to finally figure out what we can really be happy with, and just get that. I still don’t know what that is for me, but the happy thought I now have in my head is that it may be far less ambitious, and thus far more attainable, than what I thought before.
Assuming, of course, that it exists independently of my own thinking. And that you do, dear Reader, for that matter.
Somnio, ergo sum?
(*This is the nutshell edition of solipsism. For the more detailed explanation, Google the term yourself. I’d explain it further, but to quote another great thinker of our time, Sweet Brown, “ain’t nobody got time for that”).