At any given time, I am being one of two forms of self: the Spirit Me and the Machine Me.
The two do serve each other, at times forming a tenuous, uneasy alliance when the situation calls for it, usually in matters of survival. The protection that the Machine Me offers can lead to the outcome I want, but in those fields beyond battle and endurance, the Machine itself becomes the enemy of Spirit Me, and there I find the cause for all my personal development and inquiry. I am the ghost in the machine, and I am often also the machine. How to tell the difference is something I am still learning for myself, but I have a few ideas so far.
The Machine is an identity that assembled itself over time in response to movement through life experience. Think of Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit from the Marvel comics and films, an appropriate metaphor given that Iron Man’s genesis was in response to a life or death situation. The Machine Me identifies threats to my life and lifestyle in various areas, mostly those that closely threaten my physical state. If I get an angry boss or client, Machine Me fires up, ready to strategize and carry out tactical maneuvers based on those strategies (charm, apology, correction, or argument). If I sense the impending loss of a relationship that I know will hurt, the Machine Me figures out how to stall the other person’s departure, or cajole them into submission and agreement. If I sense constraints closing in from a game I decided to play – a personal development course that challenges me, membership in some new club that loses its luster – I will simply snap my fingers and teleport off the playing field.
All of this ensures survival. In that way, like Iron Man, the Machine Me is a strong suit, armor that serves and protects me, but it has its limitations. Operating within very specific parameters, the Machine Me responds to all outside happenings as a potential threat, even the ideas – especially – that would vastly expand my life. Having been in existence for so much of my sentient life since childhood, the Machine Me operates subconsciously, beneath ordinary day-to-day cognition, coming to the surface in the form of automatic reactions to situations familiar and new. And the Machine Me, because of its origin in reaction to past events, never forgets, even when I think I have. In that way, every past hurt, every past loss, past pain, remains alive and active in the microcosm of the Machine Me’s memory.
Like a national security apparatus that curtails freedom within the country it serves while claiming to defend it, the Machine Me limits the context in which Spirit can express itself into the world. You can’t argue with the Machine directly, because it will invoke reasons that no reasonable person can debate. Threats do exist. There are people and forces out there that intend equally real harm. There is the risk of failure and hurt in branching out beyond the security of the perimeter. In those assertions, the Machine is correct.
The result of living solely within the Machine Me’s aegis, however, is a life of comfort and privation of what I dearly desire, but haven’t already gotten. I can’t exceed the limitations of the Machine while relying on it for protection. I remain safe. And less. And lonely.
Spirit is authentic. Spirit is the aspect of me that delights in life, that looks with wonder at the panorama of farm and acre atop the escarpment on a sunny Sunday drive. It’s the part of me that marvels at the flavour of a woman’s tongue with the same carnal awareness as I do the scent of a gourmet meal being prepared in a fancy restaurant. Spirit expresses into the room whenever I am grateful for the lessons I have learned and will soon experience. It appears in the laughter at a puppy at play, the appreciation of fantastic technologies that we carry in our pockets, beyond the most whimsical musings of our ancestors.
The spirit is a quantum phenomenon in superposition, always waiting to collapse into celebration of the present moment, of just being here, and being me. It lives in possibility, in futures of light and heat and unity. And it fears nothing, respects no limits, and uses every opportunity it can get to birth itself into life.
How easily, then, does the very form of self that the Machine Me evolved to protect becomes its biggest threat.
The Machine would never directly harm the Spirit. It cannot. What it can do instead is sabotage Spirit’s intentions to expand.
What does this sabotage look like? The case of the flu that suddenly takes the body down just as that job interview comes up. It shows up in the lie that you find yourself telling someone you love who tells you they only want to be friends. It’s in the failure to pay your taxes, or balance your checkbook, or otherwise keep your life in order. It’s in the sudden drop in your energy when a course that you’re taking tests your vulnerabilities, to the point that you convince yourself you want to leave something good. It’s in the failure to finish what’s begun.
Whatever the manifestation, the result of the Machine’s tentacles taking hold of the wheel of your life is always the same: the conditions in your life stay as they are, or they become worse. And you’re forced to rely more on the Machine to get by, thanks to the loss of power you experience as a result of these automatic reactions.
You’ll never see the sabotage coming, not unless you take on the inquiry of self that millions of people are now doing in various forms and disciplines.
Blaming one’s Machine self for a setback makes no sense. It’s not as if it’s an entity outside of self. I am that Machine Me. I’m responsible for the choices I make from that form, but I have to first be aware of that responsibility, and accept it, to be able to take it. Often, the Machine Me’s programming and reactions are so buried that I don’t realize it’s happening until after it’s happened. The only way to such awareness is inquiry into the self.
One result that becomes possible from such inquiry is that the Spirit erupts from the Machine, bringing with it vulnerability, courage, completion, and daring. Spirit will be authentic to people in life on what it expects from its relationships, sharing from the heart with abandon. Rather than lie and cajole, Spirit has the courage and fortitude to say goodbye to those who have declared their intentions to travel on paths that diverge from my own. Rather than throwing up invented obstacles to getting things accomplished, Spirit will simply do the work. Spirit will commit itself to the realization and full experience of life, and the creation of meaning with no regard for the past, minding only the information that it requires to function.
When I am my Spirit, I acquire powers to rival the greatest superheroes of story and fable. Even still, the Machine Me will always recapture me, for it too is an aspect of my Self. It, too, is my creation, and every subsequent capture is an opportunity to re-generate the expression of Spirit once again. And, like any good servant, it’s always there to protect me from actual dangers when they arise.
That’s why inquiry, once begun, never stops. Like Sisyphus, the work never ends. Unlike Sisyphus, I can and have made it to the top of the mountain by the last light. The satisfaction – no, the acquisition of that state of full expression, is always a temporal phenomenon, evanescent, and then gone. The rigors and practices of inquiry provide me with the ability to return to that state of grace and possibility.
You can never get it done. That’s why it’s not about a destination, but the climb up the mountain to the light, and the whole being you become as a result.