Any who saw the fist film in the Matrix trilogy series would no doubt remember that great ‘moment’ when human kind has been reduced to the status of bio-batteries to power the mad world of the robots-in-charge. Everything we think we see, feel, and know is an implanted delusion.
Imagine that! Everything you see and think you know is fake; a construction implanted in your brain. We are all living a reality scripted for us by the bots in charge.Your favourite music: fake. Your favourite book: fake. Your family, your friends, your personal memories: all fake, fake, fake.
And before the Matrix, there was Arnie Schwarzenegger’s Sci-Fi film, Total Recall. Do you remember that moment when the lab technicians in charge of designing our hero’s virtual reality holiday asked: (I paraphrase) what’s the one thing that always goes with you on holiday? What’s the one thing that you can never leave behind (and thereby reducing your prospects for a really good time)? You! Of course. You can never take a holiday from yourself. You will always be there in the background writing the script and filtering your experiences. You take your baggage and re-create your personal miseries someplace else. Some holiday… You can’t BE someone else and live an experience through the eyes of someone else; unless you invest in that premium virtual reality Total Recall holiday plan…
Both these film propositions are two sides of the same existential coin. This thing we call ‘me’ or ‘I’ is always there driving our mental car (and what a lousy driver ‘me’ or ‘I’ can be).
What would we become if we did indeed take a holiday from ourselves; or if we woke up from our role as a power supply for the Matrix? Who or what would be peering from our eyes? Would we then be like a tree? Or would we see the world like a Kangaroo?
But consider this. And many do. Consider the notion that we could observe the observer who is seeing the world through our very own eyes. Imagine you are watching yourself via spy cam. Consider yourself to be clinically observing yourself in a rampaging rage. Or in the process of getting upset. Or retreating under the weight of monumental injustices. There you are, silently watching this real-time video show starring yourself living the raw life out to a script that you are writing as the world goes on.
That’s what Buddhists do. That’s what philosophers have pondered since philosophy began. That’s what we usually fail to do when the rage/pain builds to a flood. We stop watching; we become. Some never watch, some never see. Some, or could that be most?, just play to the script without ever knowing there’s a plot to play.
The constructions of the mind start from birth. From the moment we are born we start constructing the sense of self to which all matters are referred, through which all matters are interpreted and which directs our responses; at a speed no computer can emulate. Like an onion, we add layers and layers of detail to this construction of our selves. Our constructions are always changing, always moving; but the layers are all still there. You can mine yourself to re-play the self you perhaps once held yourself to be. But what if we could play back to that very first layer? Back to that layer before all the neurotic bits got added in… To see the world again with an intelligence unclouded by the indulgences of an ego in perpetual need of validation or flattery!
Some people are in perpetual search for self-validation. It seems that some of us are very insecure about the constructions of selfhood with which we have been busy since birth. We crave evidence that our vision of ourselves is shared by at least those who matter most to us. Some of us devote our entire lives, or at least careers, to building fortifications around doubt that the image we seek to portray is the image picked up by those who choose to look. If, for example, your self image is one of ‘success’, you might surround yourself by the sort of toys that our society’s collective meme for ‘success’ might usually entail. Like expensive cars, towering houses, expensive suits, a villa someplace that attracts others with a similar affliction for external validation. There’s an entire economy devoted to providing all that any person could ever possibly need by way of fortifications for personal pride…
The games we sometimes play to project our self image can get pretty subtle. Even those who profess to be ‘in charge’ of their inner ego delusions can end up playing the same game as the diamond tiara BMW set. Beware the pseudo monk in saffron sitting in his cave. Can we be sure that he’s not projecting a display through which to tell the world about his imagined purity of mind? We can be truly taken in by monks claiming control over the delusions of a self-made mind.
But there is something we can all do to control the rampages of our ego inner-child. All we have to do is simply know that the things we do might be driven by neuroses of this kind. All we need to do is to simply know that we all hold an ego-beast within the confines of our minds. All we need to do is to know that the beast is in perpetual need of escape and display. All we need to do is to maintain a watching eye over the workings of our mind. That’s called being ‘reflexive’ of what it is that is driving the thoughts we have. Perhaps you can touch and prod those inner workings via meditation. But even without that, we can achieve a great deal by applying some ‘testing questions’ to the inclinations, urges and pathways we might choose. As yourself. Am I thinking this, doing this, or reacting this way because of some need to act out the script our ego might have devised? Are our actions motivated by some need to conform to the persona we imagine ourselves to be or to desire? Did we choose that career, that car, that hair style or react the way we are reacting to any given crisis at hand because of the dictates of our inner beast? Are you sure? Really?
Just think how politics would go if our representatives inserted such a reflexive firewall between what they think and what they do. Just imagine how your workplace might be run if those in charge considered their inspirations in a more self-reflexive way. Imagine all the wars we would no longer need. Imagine all the miseries the world could easily avoid. There’s a word for such an enlightened place. Nirvana. A place for enlightened self-reflexive minds. From where I stand right now, I reckon nirvana has a population pretty close to the number of humans currently on Mars. But to get to that better place, we all need to take the first step. Any step forwards is one removed from where we were before.