Posted tagged ‘meaning’

The Matrix, Real Life, and Bending the Spoon

June 20, 2010

“Let me tell you why you’re here. You’re here because you know something. What you know you can’t explain. But you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there. Like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad. It is this feeling that has brought you to me. Do you know what I’m talking about?”  – Morpheus

In the beginning of the Matrix, we are introduced to Thomas Anderson as your everyman – living a normal, albeit slightly troubled life. He works in a cubicle by day and is a hacker on the computer by night. Mr. Anderson doesn’t sleep enough and feels something missing in his life but can’t quite put his finger on it until he meets a woman named Trinity.

“It’s the question that drives us,” Trinity says.”What is the Matrix?” By answering that query, Thomas Anderson begins his journey down the rabbit hole towards ciphering the Matrix and becoming The One.

Much like Thomas Anderson, we adults in our real world also struggle to find meaning in our lives occasionally.

What are we here for? What is the meaning of all this (life)? Am I doing what I want or should I be doing something else? Am I happy? What do I need to change? How do I change?

Questions such as these become ubiquitous at various points in all our lives. We’ve even given the really defining moments names like Teenage angst; Quarter-life crisis; Mid-life crisis; College; Parenthood; etc. etc. etc.

The commonality in all these situations for us all, no matter when we experience them, is this – each of these moments point to a struggle for identity. These identity crises are periods laden with dramatic self doubt – wherein we glimpse the passing of our lives through the rearview mirror and yet don’t know the road ahead.

You question who you are. You fear facing an uncertain future. You yearn to find yourself. You feel like something is missing in your life yet you can’t quite put your finger on it….

Back to the Matrix.

In watching Thomas Anderson awaken and grow into the character known as Neo, we see that he is gradually awakened to the world of possibilities. At first, he can’t even learn kung-fu, much less fly, stop a speeding bullet, or leap a mountain in a single bound. His was a transformation that did not happen until he decided to see things from a different point of view. He had to let go of Thomas Anderson and be Neo.

“We never free a mind once it’s reached a certain age. It’s dangerous, the mind has trouble letting go.” – Morpheus

For most adults in the real world, we struggle to change because of the same reason Morpheus quotes above. We like to say we are set in our ways but what we really mean is that we are discomforted by what is unfamiliar. We fear the unknown and cling to the perceived safety of sticking to what we know. Even if this sometimes means staying at a job we hate for bosses we despise or staying in unhappy, destructive relationships, we humans would typically rather stay rooted than make a decision that would have us lose sight of shore and sail us toward the great unknown.

How did Thomas Anderson make the transformation to becoming a fully-badass Neo?

For starters, he went to the Oracle – the one who knew past, present and future. Yet once he was there, she did not tell him what he needed to do, where he needed to be, or what was ultimately going to happen. She did not shape the future for him, she merely opened the way. She simply told him what he needed to hear so he could chart his own course.

The Oracle: I’d ask you to sit down, but you’re not going to anyway. And don’t worry about the vase.
Neo: What vase?
[Neo knocks a vase to the floor]
The Oracle: That vase.
Neo: I’m sorry.
The Oracle: I said don’t worry about it. I’ll get one of my kids to fix it.
Neo: How did you know?
The Oracle: What’s really going to bake your noodle later on is, would you still have broken it if I hadn’t said anything.

Back to the real world.

Much like Thomas Anderson, we in the real world look for our own oracles to help give meaning to our lives in so many different ways. For some, this can be as simple as reading books on self-help and philosophy for guidance. Others go a little further and incorporate a mentor / role model into their daily lives. Many go the route of listening to gurus like Zig Ziglar or Tony Robbins for regular motivation. More utilize organized religion or the Joel Osteen’s of the world as their guiding light. Heck I’ve even had friends go to for-profit seminars that incorporate different aspects of all these aforementioned methods as a crash course on unraveling life’s purpose.

Now keep in mind I’m not knocking any of these. Sincerely, to each their own in terms of what gets them through the days. Just like Neo benefited from visiting the Oracle, everyone can derive benefit from their own personal muse as long as their guiding light isn’t to the detriment of others and doesn’t run out when the bottle is empty or when the money runs dry.

But what’s even more important than the inspiration of a muse is reaching the stage of self-awareness. This is the point where you can separate your thoughts of the moment, positive or negative, from who you actually are as a person. Without self awareness, you are a slave to these thoughts. Worse yet you are a likely candidate to be a slave to the thoughts of others – a talking head, serving no purpose of your own other than being a very good parrot repeating what you hear. Critical thinking need not apply.

Point being, Neo would never have become Neo unless he let go of Thomas Anderson. He would have never grown into the person he needed to be unless he became self aware despite the best efforts of his captors. Without freeing his mind and realizing the power of his own volition, Neo would have remained a tool, his energy used to feed the imaginary world around him.

Let me point you to the pivotal moment where Neo begins to wake up for real and see infinite possibilities for himself and what he could do.

Spoon boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That’s impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Spoon boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Spoon boy: Then you’ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.

“There is no spoon.”

This was the most important lesson for Neo. It helped him realize that manipulating the Matrix wasn’t about focusing on objects or trying to force them to chance. His epiphany was seeing that the constraints on what he could accomplish (and the spoon itself) existed nowhere but his own mind. In order for him to have any measure of control on the world around him, he had to look inward. It was all in his head after all.

Eureka! That’s the solution to life’s moments of crisis and self-doubt, anxiety, and uncertainty. It’s in realizing that we must look inward to accomplish our goals. We can’t change the obstacles, people, or world around us. We shouldn’t even blame others or the world itself, for that bears no factor in moving forward. We can only exact control over that which is in our own dominion. The key to the future is all in our heads.

So the next time you find yourself in a rough situation, just remember that there is no magic red pill solution. Sometimes you have to let go of your own personal dogma, stop clinging to what is familiar in order to move forward. Also, heed that you can use the guide of oracles but they can’t ever do the life-changing for you. And most importantly, realize that there is no spoon.

Reality Bites

September 4, 2009

Yes, reality bites. And you know what? As each day passes and I see more and more people of my and the upcoming generation taking all the riches that our American world has to offer for granted, I start to seethe.

After watching the movie, Reality Bites, I was compelled to write the below. If you haven’t seen this movie, it is basically a monument to the drowning cynicism and complete arrogance of the early nineties.

It is slacker personified.

reality bites poster

The last time I saw this movie I was 18 and I thought it was profound and edgy. Now, 8 years or so later, I am just watching this train wreck of my generation’s pop culture with my mouth hanging open. It is not cool to abstain from being a productive and hopeful member of society! Why did we ever subscribe to this ridiculous way of thinking?

To be fair, the movie is a parody of sorts on just this kind of thinking. It is pointing the finger at itself as much as anything else. However, in the midst of the sarcasm and tongue-in-cheek fun, a real message starts to come through. Try as they might, they weren’t able to escape the sense of entitlement and the too-cool-for-school cynicism that marked the early nineties…and only gathered strength as the years rolled on.

The characters in this film are an inherent contradiction. Through all their artistic pessimism, sharp wit and clever lines, they are still filled with hope. Hope for the future and full of ideals they try to pretend don’t exist for fear of losing their put-upon edge. Hope born from irrepressible youth and  dreams, near tangible in their clarity. To quote a different movie, they are,  “Hope dancing in stiletto heels…

The invincibility of youth is a powerful drug that rockets you to the highest highs and keeps you company through the lowest of lows. It is a beautiful ride, filled with dizzying drops and heart-stopping inclines. The comedown, however, can be a terrible thing. If you haven’t been paying attention, if you haven’t learned to look outside your self-centered bubble; it will give you a nasty, but nelife isn't fair mugeded wake-up call. It sneaks up on you around 24 or 25, give or take a few years contingent upon your personal level of maturity, and where you are in your life. The comedown is being forced to look at your future as it relates to reality. Remember when your parents repeated ad nauseam that, “Life isn’t fair.”? They were right. Again. Get used to the idea now, because it becomes a louder litany for every year you gain. Nothing is what you thought it would be and life is even harder than you knew it would be.

Let us review…

Love.

Love is not patient, easy or kind. It is usually fleeting, risky and painful. You can invest your heart over and over again, and more often than not, it is returned with a negative balance. The true love story ends with Romeo and Juliet. They were two ignorant star-crossed lovers that weren’t old enough to know anything about life. If they had actually been able to realize their dream of being together, they would’ve most likely ended up poor, ostracized, arguing about money and loathing the sound of each others chewing. Don’t get me wrong, kids, I’m not saying love it is an impossibility; I’m saying that love isn’t a certainty. It’s not a given. It can be work, like anything else. The only people that have to love you, are your parents – and even then…

Life.

Life (adulthood) isn’t just difficult because you have to work hard, pay constant bills, care about people who hurt you, let tightly clutched dreams go, or take responsibility for hurting people that you care about. Those things are just bit players on the stage of life.

It is the moments in between that shoot your hair with gray and line your face with wrinkles.

Looking in the MirrorIt is looking at yourself in the mirror every single morning and reconciling what is inside you, with what you see. It is in the fading but still visible scars that tell a story about a mistaken, drunken night. It is the very first time you fall in love with a child, protect them with all you have, then one day realize you may never see them again. It is facing your mistakes naked, with a cold and unforgiving eye. It is real cynicism, borne from life experience, that you fight with every bit of the child left inside you, because somehow you know that letting it take over would be like daily taking a little arsenic with your morning coffee. In the beginning, there are barely noticeable symptoms akin to a general unwell feeling and then, one day, you die a terribly painful death.

It is the final, full acceptance that you absolutely will die, anytime and anywhere, for no reason at all. It is the death of one or both of your parents. Learning to live in a world where the people who made you no longer exist. It is caring for your elderly at a nursing home and knowing that it could very well be you, sitting alone in a darkened room refusing to shower one day… if you’re lucky that is. That is when life is truly hard.

The heroes in this life are not the cynics, the artists and the empty, all-too-human, glittering celebrities we worship. The heroes are the people who take these harsh realities of life and turn them into a positive, even when it seems impossible. The people who find a reason to smile through adversity. The Gandhis, the Nelson Mandelas, the Martin Luther Kings of this world are the people to exemplify.

Or the everyday hero. My personal favorite.  The woman who still finds steel in her soul that allows her to smile and be gracious through the funeral of the only man she ever loved. The mom who loses her child but stays strong for the remaining ones. The fathfunny-pictures-cat-says-thank-you-to-his-fireman-rescuerer who goes to work every single day at a job he despises just to feel fulfilled when watching his children reap the rewards of all that hard work. There is such nobility in willing self-sacrifice.  The bottom line these days is so much more centered around instant gratification or the pursuit of happiness. The simple but moving stories above are becoming less and less, fewer and far in between. The people who turn their constant worries into valid causes, that look at obstacles as an exciting challenge. . . these are the people who inspire and shame us all. The heroes rise above the pain of reality and do something about it.

Not so are the people who embrace the cynicism, wearing it like a security blanket for all the world to see. Making jokes about hard working men and women struggling to feed their families, as if what they do is somehow less because they accepted the daily rat race or because they weren’t “cool” enough to get some job painting pictures for a living. You know, we can’t all be artists. Who would be there to appreciate that piece of work then? I think every self-labeled artist should profusely thank the average man and woman every day, because without them, all they’ve accomplished is putting some color on canvas or words to music that no one looks at and no one listens to. If we didn’t go to the movies, read books, drink wine, or attend museums… well, then where would the artists of this world be?

So, to abstain from the rat race, to pursue culture, to be an artist is all well and good – great even! – but don’t for a second believe that it makes you better in some way or that you are nobler somehow. We all come from the same Earth, we all will return to it and we all make a difference in some small way. And I tend to believe that the humble, rough farmer does a great deal more than the Picasso’s of the world.

I am not one of these heroes I mentioned. I am somewhere in between. I would like to say though, I do hope to be one someday…