Tuesday, December 15, 2009

My Story Part V (Splintered Visions)

How dreams affected the lives of my friends as well as my own.

Life became a confusing roller-coaster ride for me throughout the rest of high school.  Between the drama of my developing social life and the stress of my extra-curricular activities as well as my educational, philosophical and spiritual studies, I found myself continually thrust into an existential quandary.

But I was not alone, close friends of mine shared the same experiences I did.  One particular friend, 'S', also had a revelation similar to mine when watching The Matrix.  During our Junior year, he became very quiet and always seemed sleep deprived.  He pulled me aside one day to talk to me about something I will surely never forget.

"My parents think I'm using drugs, I'm not, " he said to me.  "I'm having a continuous dream and it won't stop."

I was in awe at the thought.  I had very vivid out-of-this-world dreams myself, but never were they continuous.  "Tell me about it," I said very curiously.

He then related to me how he started off having dreams of coming to school like normal but then waking up to find that it never happened in real life, but only in the dream world.  This was something I could definitely relate to since I had similar dreams myself.  But what he said next I was not expecting at all, especially since it had to do with me.

"Eventually in one dream I noticed you weren't at school, " he said.  "You disappeared.  You were gone for a week and nobody knew what happened to you.  Later in the dream I got a phone call from you asking me to meet you on a bridge, that you had something to show me."

He continued, telling me how in the dream he met me and a girl he did not know.  We drove in a black car to a restaurant where instead of giving him a choice, I snuck a red pill into his food and woke him up out of The Matrix without his consent.  "But," he said, "You did it because you knew I was important to the fight against the machines and there was no time to waste.  Eventually I, with the help of the girl apart of the crew, accepted my fate and joined in the battle against the machines."

The time came the dreams stopped and life returned to normal for my friend, but he was frustrated that they ended before there were any sort of conclusions to the drama that had unfolded when he slept.

Dreams were frequent during the last year of high school and their mysterious nature was a subject discussed frequently among my group of friends.  I had learned to interpret dreams for my friends with the help of my friend 'B' back in my Freshman year, but I never really understood how it worked.  It was a very intuitive thing to do, having to completely empty my mind in order to better visualize for myself what my friends would describe in their dreams.  When 'S' had related to me his continuous dream, I didn't know how, but I knew that it meant my being such a profound catalyst of change in his dream meant it was a reflection of what was happening or would eventually happen in reality.  Normally I would've been straight to say what my feelings were about a friend's dream, but for this I chose to keep it to myself; I had matured and acquired a better sense of humility and restraint after all the drama the year before and did not want to seem boastful to my friend.

It was apparent to me at this point in my life that dreams had a profound impact on not only my life but the lives of my friends.  I was interested in knowing more about dreams and what their purpose was.  At the time, being an active priest in the LDS church, I sought answers through the usual means of prayer, scripture reading and the inquiring of my Bishop.

I found myself constantly referring to my patriarchal blessing, especially the part where I was related to Joseph of Egypt.  I knew Joseph was a dreamer and also an interpreter of dreams, but I was continually in awe at the direct synchronicities between the two of us.  But the more I inquired, the more I found myself with a mystical and ethereal definition of the dream world.  I wanted to know exactly what was happening with dreams, not just proverbial hints of personal revelation.

It was about this time in my Senior year that I had to choose a major world religion to study for my concurrent college humanities class.  I instantly jumped into the Buddhism group as I had become very interested and familiar with the belief system through my martial arts training.  I wanted to take this opportunity to discover more about the religion than I had already learned on my own.

Part of our final class projects was to attend services of the religion we were studying.  I had the awesome opportunity to visit the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple of downtown Salt Lake City.  This particular sect of Mahayana Buddhism is from Kyoto, Japan, called "Jodo Shinshu".

I remember I went on a beautiful and sunny Sunday morning in December.  The ground was blanketed with a fresh layer of snow and the air was crisp and fresh from the late-passing storm.  I entered the building to find the pastor greeting everyone as they entered.  I introduced myself to the pastor, letting him know I was visiting for school.  He was very welcoming and told me to sit anywhere I'd like.  I sat in a pew towards the back so I could observe all the people, mostly Japanese-Americans, filing into the main room of the temple.  In the back was a golden statue of a Bodhisattva with elaborate decorations surrounding it as well as an incense burner in the front.  There was no artificial lighting, just natural sunlight shining through the sky-light windows in the ceiling.  The atmosphere was very peaceful and very different from what I was used to at the LDS Sunday services.

Hymns were sung in Japanese to begin with and then people stepped forward to say the Nembutsu and offer incense to be burned, all the while the room was was very quiet and peaceful.  Even the children were obediently reverent during this ceremony, something I was not used to coming from an LDS background (my ward was especially loud with children.)

The time came for the pastor to give the sermon.  I was amazed to watch him invite all the children to come to the front and then start his sermon by asking them direct questions in a kind and cheerful manner.

"Do you know what today is?" he asked.  The children reply: "Bodhi Day!"

"Do you know why we celebrate Bodhi Day?" he asked in return.  The children took turns explaining in their own words the reason for the day, something I had been oblivious to prior to my visit.

"Bodhi Day is the day we celebrate in remembrance of the day Shakyamuni came to enlightenment underneath the Bodhi Tree,"  he stated, this time directing his attention to the audience in whole.

The story of Siddhartha Gautama was well burnt into my mind at this point in my research of Buddhism.  It was a story I had become very familiar with as I was able to relate to the story on many different levels, especially with how Siddhartha was just an ordinary man who was in search of deeper meaning of life, the root of suffering and how one could liberate oneself from it.  He was not half god, or part god and he did not seek answers from a god or gods; he looked inward for the answers to life, not outward.  I was truly amazed of all the days I had chosen to come visit this place that I did so on the occasion of Bodhi Day. 

The sermon continued-- the pastor talked of coming to enlightenment by letting go of worldly cares and living in a true spiritual reality.  He explained how the busy world of modern life could only keep us from attaining the same thing the Buddha was able to attain and that in order to prepare ourselves for such a change we must "awake" from the world we only think is real.

To illustrate this, the pastor told the story that Taoist Chuang Tzu wrote commonly called "The Butterfly Dream."
Chuang-tzu had a dream, in which he was a yellow butterfly. As a butterfly, he flitted here and there, completely oblivious to actually being Chuang-tzu. And then he woke, to discover that he was a man. But then he wondered: now am I a man who just dreamt he was a butterfly; or a butterfly who is now dreaming that he is a man?
The pastor continued, showing how this parable could be applied to the topic at hand.  Are we truly alive with our 9-5 jobs, our bank accounts and our fancy things?  Or are all these things a part of a dream we call life?  What is a dream? And how does it differ from the real world?

And then he asked, "Are you familiar with the movie, The Matrix?"

I'm pretty sure my mouth went wide-open at that point.  He gave a brief synopsis of the movie and likened it unto Chuang Tzu's dream of being a butterfly.  "Have you ever had a dream, Neo," Morpheus said, "that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference, between the dream world and the real world?"

He concluded that we should strive every day to connect with that of true spiritual reality and realize that most worldly concerns are only distractions in the long run.  In order to attain enlightenment, like Siddhartha Gautama, we need to disconnect from what we think is real and search ourselves for that which is eternal.

My mind was blown at the parallel that was just made.  It was even more so when I realized that I was getting this through a sermon of a religion I didn't even belong to.  Here I had been, earnestly praying to God for the answers I sought, and yet the answers were given to me from a source outside of the Church.  I did not understand how I could get spiritual answers outside of the Church as I was always taught that revelation can only come through the order of the priesthood and not by any other means.  Here I had been searching for answers in the external and was in turn told that the answers I sought could only be found within.

I left that experience feeling spiritually refreshed and renewed, but simultaneously confused and bewildered.  I went to my ward meeting afterward but I noticed the atmosphere of the meeting was not the same as it was at the Buddhist temple.  I did not feel the same sense of peace in that LDS chapel.

I asked to speak with my bishop following the block schedule in which he agreed to.  I told him my thoughts and feelings concerning what had happened that day, hoping he could shed light on my situation.  But, as it always had been with that man, I was met with disappointment:  "I'm not going to tell you something I don't know myself," he said, I remember very cautiously.  "I do not have any promptings concerning what you've just told me, so it must be something you'll need to figure out on your own."


I went home that afternoon mentally exhausted from the day's happenings.  I changed into more comfortable clothes and decided to take a nap in order to sort out my mind over some proper rest.

It was then I experienced one of the most dramatic dreams I have ever experienced in my lifetime, the beginning of a series of very vivid dreams that would come to me over the next course of the year.  I will now relate to you what took place in this first dream by transcribing from my dream journal that I felt prompted to start at the time.
"The dream began in First Person.  I leave my house, opening my front door and closing and locking it behind me.  These images are familiar as I do this most everyday usually early in the morning near or at dawn.
"My neighborhood is empty.  At first I think nothing of it but as I walk a few steps away from my front door I am hit with the sunken feeling of being alone.  Very alone.  I feel like I am the only human being for miles.
 "Suddenly, there is a tremor in the ground.  I look up and the darkest clouds gather in the sky together.  I look North East to the mountains and I vividly watch Mount Olympus crumble to the ground, engulfed in flames.  Fires in the valley reflect off the clouds making them glow as a smokey haze rises from the ground.  Then finally, I hear the screams of all the inhabitants of the valley.  I feel their pain and anguish as their torturous yells ring through my head.  I feel like crying but I can't.  It is at this point that I am thinking only one thing:  I've got to get out of here!
"I run to my car, jump in and start it up.  I go into third person as I watch myself back out of my driveway and speed towards the freeway, but I am having a difficult time.  Stop lights and traffic signals slow down my progress.  When finally I reach the on-ramp to I-15, it is in pieces an dI can't get on the freeway.  I try other on ramps but they are all unusable.  No matter what I do I can't get on and finally I give up.
"I enter First Person again as I step out of the car, awaiting an aftershock.  I look up to the sky and the clouds begin to swirl as if they were getting ready to create a giant cyclone.  The clouds are different now, though.  Now they are on fire.  Suddenly I feel dizzy and everything fades to white.
"Third Person.  I'm looking down at myself.  I'm laying on brick in the middle of a beautiful courtyard.  I begin to wake up.
"First Person.  I pick myself up, rub my eyes and look around me.  My thoughs are only this:  Am I dead?  As I look around I see a white picket  fence surrounding the courtyard engulfed in the greenest shrubberies.  The weather is nice and there are only a few white fluffy clouds hanging in a clear blue sky.  And then I turn around 180 degrees.
 "Before me, seated in front of me, are endless rows of people as far back as I can see.  They are seated in two columns with a wide aisle down the middle.  They are all looking right at me with blank emotionless faces.  And yet, oddly, I recognize every single one of them.
"I begin to hear voices.  They are talking but their mouths don't move.  It is as if I can hear their thoughts and feel their emotions.  They're all talking/thinking about me.
"Some are concerned for me, others are only thinking good things.  I do not recall hearing anything about me.  All these people care for me.
 "I step down from the elevated brick plane I've been standing on and begin to walk down the aisle.  Their heads follow my movement and they keep on watching me until they can turn their heads no longer.  As I watched when they got to this point, their heads snapped forward violently and their voices/thoughts faded away.  When they did this, their motions were blurred.  Every so often they would blink, this was also blurred, like they blinked several times really fast, but it only looked like they blinked once.
"Still in First Person.  I continue down the aisle, listening to these people's thoughts about me.  I felt sadness and sorrow for them, like I had failed.  I kept thinking, "Am I dead? Is this the afterlife?"  I continued to walk
"Eventually, to my right, I see an empty chair.  This void in the endless crowd of people made me more than ever want to fill it.  I quickly make my way towards the chair and sit down.
 "I lean forward and bury my face into my hands.  I rub my eyes.  I want to cry but tears escape me.  Even though I'm surrounded by all these people I feel alone and abandoned.
"I look up and I am stunned as the most beautiful girl I've ever seen turns around.  She looks at me and smiles.  She pats me on the back and tells me, vocally with lips moving:  "Everything will be alright.  Don't worry."  An extreme feeling of calmness washes over me as for the first time in this dream I feel happiness.  suddenly, the leas expected happens: she kisses me.
(At the time I had wrote this, I had never kissed a girl before.  I wrote this.)
"To this day I am 100% virgin lips.  I've never kissed a girl before.  But it was at this moment that my subconscious did the most amazing thing.  It created, for my nervous system, a sense of touch.  I could feel the kiss and thinking back it was just as real as me sitting here writing this.  I cannot, for the life of me, explain this in any terms at all.
"Suddenly I feel tears flow into my eyes.  Except these were not the tears I had begged for previously.  These were tears of pure joy and happiness.
"The girl smiled at me and began to turn back around in her seat.  I didn't want her to, but she kept going.  Slowly my vision faded to white.  I did not want to leave her.  I didn't want her to turn around.  I didn't want to be alone again.
 "Third Person.  I see myself running down (a private) lane, my childhood play area.  I'm running towards the main street, running towards my old home.  I am back amidst the chaos and destruction.  The sky is swirling and on fire.  Everything is hot and tinted red.
"I am running now in First Person.  I'm trying to get somewhere but I don't know where.  Suddenly my phone rings.  I reach into my pocket as I come to a halt.  I look at my phone and I see who is calling.  It is my best friend ('S', who I introduced in the beginning of this part).
"This is where I wake up.  I remember feeling disoriented and exhausted.  At first I didn't know where I was.  When I really came to I realized that I was breathing hard, like I had (actually) been running."
"My phone was ringing.  ('S') was calling.... to think that ('S') was actually calling in reality made everything (the) more crazy."
"This dream was not provoked by any outside forces as far as the five senses go.  I wasn't listening to music, I hadn't watched any movies or played any video games in the past (48 hours).  This dream was simply uncalled for."
As graduation drew nigh, I began to see how the first part of the dream reflected my mental state as I was very anxious to graduate from high-school.  I was not a straight-A student and due to my devoted time to extra-curricular activities ran by the school in the fine arts department I found myself having to catch up via make-up packets.  I was very stressed because of this.  I felt the bit where I was searching for a way out by taking the freeway perfectly represented my feelings concerning my life in general, especially with the biblical Armageddon-like craziness all around me.

But what threw me off was the second part where I seemed to do a dimension-jump to a calm and peaceful place with all these people directing their attention towards me.  It took me a while to realize exactly what this part meant, but what freaked me out the most is that I found myself experiencing all the emotions I felt in this part of the dream in reality in the exact same order.

One day I made my way to the music hall where I would often spend my lunch breaks.  At the time I felt as I did in my dream: alone, sad and anxious for a way out.  On this particular day I was surprised to find an attractive girl who I did not recognize eating her lunch in my usual spot, a place usually only those involved in the fine arts department would come by every now and then.  She, however, was definitely a stranger to these parts.

Curious, I introduced myself to her and said something a long the lines of "So, I haven't seen you around here before.  Are you in choir or orchestra?"

"No,"  she replied.  "My friend is, though.  I was just going to meet her here."

I soon found out her friend was also a mutual acquaintance.  We had light conversation as we ate until it was time for me to move on to my next class.  I was, however, perplexed at the fact that our mutual acquaintance never showed up during lunch.  I thought little of this and went on my way.

The next day I showed up to the same spot pleased to find this girl, who I will refer to as 'J', again in the same place eating her lunch again.  We greeted, talked lightly about the school day and ate our lunches again.  It was good to meet someone new who I could talk to so casually.  We departed at the bell again and I found myself in a mood more cheerier than I recall being in in a long time.

As the days went by, every school day we would meet at lunch and we would converse, each day the conversation growing more in-depth and much more personal.  We talked about where we wanted to go in life after high-school.  I had my eye on being a music major, but I wasn't sure.  She had her eye on anthropology and I found myself attracted to the idea of her pursuing such an interesting field of study.  She was a year younger than I, though, and she was jealous at the fact that I would be graduating soon.

This change of mood brought much more focus and motivation to my studies.  I was glad to finally graduate from high school a few months later with "J" in the audience there to cheer me on.  We had become very close in those few months and I was extremely excited.

But as I walked down that aisle amongst all my peers, the dream I had several months before flashed back.  There I was, again in my dream, looking for a place amongst all these people.  And then it hit me:  the girl in my dream, surely it was 'J'.  She gave me that final motivation, that final push to finally find my escape and to finally graduate high school.  The night of my graduation was a climax.

And as school ended and I entered into the real world, I realized that all climaxes must have a Denouement, a fall and finally a conclusion.

At this point I knew I was in love with 'J' and it made things even better that she had a deep interest in me.  I thought I had finally been blessed with an answered prayer, an angel to relieve me of my worries and someone to uplift me and bring out the best in me.  I had never been so happy in my life.

But as I contemplated the parallels between the dream and the direction my life was going I suddenly realized that if these paralells were to continue that I would end up alone again.  I remember seeing the girl in front of me turn away after kissing me with the ensuing deep withdrawl; the fear and the sadness overwhelming me as I reached out for her only to be thrown back into the world of fire, death and destruction all around me.

And with all that had happened in reality, I watched as she drifted away from me during the summer until finally she would not even talk to me any longer.  My heart was broken as I found out she started dating another guy and started associating with new friends.  In the end I was left alone, running.

I saw the pattern of my dream come to fruition and realized that I didn't know where I was going next.  I was just running to somewhere, anywhere.  The realization that the dream I had months before eventually came to pass literally blew my mind.  It turned my whole perspective of reality completely upside down.  I realized that I would need to face the fact that there was definitely something beyond the reality I understood at the time.  I admit, I had never been so frightened in my entire life.

To Be Continued...

(Commenting will not be available for this series until the last post. Please stay tuned.)

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Intermission: An Illustration of a Major Paradigm Shift

The Cave  
An Allegory for All Mankind

In the 4th century BCE, Greek philosopher Plato wrote a collection of dialogues of what we now call The Republic.  In the beginning of Book VII, Plato's main speaker, Socrates, is conversing with his peer, Glaucon.  The following conversation takes place--
Socrates: And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened:--Behold! human beings living in an underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.
Glaucon: I see.
And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.
You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.
Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?
True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?
And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?
Yes, he said.
And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?
Very true.
And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?
No question, he replied.
To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.
That is certain.
This is the beginning narration by Plato's main character, Socrates, of what has become known as The Allegory of the Cave.  It is an effort on the part of Socrates to explain to Glaucon the process of coming from a controlled ignorant state of mind to that of a free and enlightened mind and the implications of the journey that must be made in order to achieve this mental transformation.  (Though this is not the core theme or purpose behind their entire conversation in Republic, this allegory has and can be analyzed on its own, something which we will do in this article.)

Over the years, it has been illustrated literally through artistic representations (as shown to the left), but nothing in our modern age has illustrated this allegory in both imagery and story as well as The Matrix.

In Part IV of My Story, I presented you with how I first experienced the core premise of The Matrix, something which had opened my mind to a whole new dimension of looking at the world I lived in.  Allow me to speak further concerning this before I continue with my memoirs.  I would like to present you with a personal interpretation of this allegory as I believe it is very pertinent to the events that took place in my life following the epiphanies I received when watching this film.

The "Matrix" is the world presented to us in our upbringing by our parents, our culture, our educators and especially the government.  It is the metaphorical projection and contrast of shadow and light by the marionette players who stand in front of the fire with their puppets as described in Plato's allegory.  Neo is a representation of a prisoner who has had his head directed towards the wall in front of him his whole life.  But, like Neo, this prisoner has began to question what he sees because he feels something is not right.

I, too, had realized I felt like something was not right with my life.

It would be a few years before I discovered that The Matrix was all actually an elaborate modern illustration of Plato's Allegory of the Cave, but at the time I did come to realize how I could apply the story's message to my own life.

However, I did not completely realize the full impact a major paradigm shift as large as this would do to a mind.  Back to the allegory, Socrates continues-- 
And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows...
In The Matrix, after Neo has chosen the red pill, he is lead to a room with strange machines.  Morpheus says to him,
"Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure was real? What if you were unable to wake from that dream? How would you know the difference, between the dream world... and the real world....?"
It is then he is released from his bonds.

It is also here where the film excels at illustrating Plato's Allegory of the Cave. We witness Neo experience a huge initial shock as well as an immense amount of physical pain when he is woken up into the real world.   The hoses that were connected to his body have broken off symbolizing his release from the bonds of The Matrix, the experience obviously a painful one.  But it does not stop there; the scenes after show the crew caring for Neo, rebuilding his atrophied muscles and nursing him to good health.  When he physically comes to, Neo must then mentally adjust to this new reality.  In Plato's Allegory, Socrates continues--
...and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?
Far truer.
And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?
True, he now
And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he's forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.
Not all in a moment, he said.
We watch Morpheus take Neo into the Construct, a loading program that is similar to his former reality within The Matrix.  Morpheus, as his instructor, explains to Neo how the things of his former reality were nothing but shadows.  We watch as Neo learns the true nature of his former life which, in turn, causes him great mental "pain" as his mind attempts to cope with this realization.

Back to the Allegory, Socrates' continues his conversation with Glaucon--
He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?
Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.
After this scene, Neo asks Morpheus, "I can't go back, can I?"

Morpheus responds, "No, but if you could, would you really want to?"

Neo's reply is silence.  Morpheus tells him he is sorry for putting him through this as they usually only wake up a mind before a certain younger age.  However, Morpheus expressed to Neo his high hopes for him as he believes he is the one who will finally free humanity once and for all.  If only we could know what Neo is thinking when Morpheus tells him this.  What we can assume, though, is that because of the faith Morpheus has invested into him Neo has realized his purpose is much more important than he originally anticipated.  In this sense we can see he has seen himself in his "own proper place" as he wakes up the next morning with fervor and enthusiasm for his training rather than continuing to recede in disbelief.

To further illustrate this section of the allegory in The Matrix, we watch as Morpheus takes Neo through a series of training exercises to teach him the differences between his old reality and the new.  Morpheus also shows Neo how, if he changes his mental paradigm, he is capable of and can do much more than he could in his former state.

In order for Neo to complete this paradigm shift, he must take a leap of faith.  This is what the "Jump Program" illustrates in the film, that of separating from your past self and "jumping" into your new reality.  Morpheus tell him, "You've got to let it all go, Neo: fear, doubt and disbelief.  Free your mind."

"Everybody falls the first time." What this has shown us is that experiencing a paradigm shift if not easy and can even be painful.  After coming out of The Matrix and back into the real world, Neo finds that his mouth is bleeding.

"I thought it wasn't real?" Neo asks in confusion, obviously in pain.

"Your mind makes it real, " Morpheus replies.

Neo thinks for a second and then asks in return, "If you're killed in The Matrix, you die here?"

Morpheus answers plainly, "The body cannot live without the mind."

This is a powerful metaphor that shows while this paradigm shift may give you an advantage, it does not put you into "God Mode".  Though the realization of this new knowledge may give you much power; humility, discipline, perseverance and other virtues of the like are still required on your part.  In the end, you are still just as vulnerable as you were before and if you are not careful you can still get hurt.

In Plato's Allegory of the Cave, Socrates describes what would naturally follow should the newly freed and adjusted prisoner think back to their former habitation in the cave--
And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?
Certainly, he would.
And if they were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honours and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer,
"Better to be the poor servant of a poor master,"and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?
Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.
Imagine once more, I said, such a one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?
To be sure, he said.
And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.
No question, he said.
Later, Socarates refers back to this and concludes:
Anyone who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind's eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye...

There are a few things to be said of this selection from Plato's allegory, one being the idea of a newly awakened person wanting to return to his old habitation to help free his old peers.  The Matrix, aside from Neo's story, is centered on the idea of those who have been freed from The Matrix, learning of the true nature of their universe only later returning to The Matrix to free more minds from their enslaved estate (which I believe is a brilliant plot device in of itself).

But what I find most intriguing is the idea of using physical/literal sight as a metaphor for gauging the mind's conscious awareness of its surroundings.  In the allegory, Socrates' poses the situation of the free man returning to his old habitation without allowing time for his sight to adjust.  How is he going to make out anything in all that darkness?  How would his peers react to his "ridiculous" state?  How could the freed man ever hope to convince any of them to come up with him to surface in such a situation?

Think of how difficult it was for Neo to make the decision to take the red pill even when he was the one searching for answers.  How do you go about waking up a mind that is perfectly content in their "false" reality of The Matrix?

The next morning, Morpheus leads Neo down a busy city street to teach him one last lesson.

"You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it."
"Anyone we haven't unplugged is potentially an agent.  Inside the Matrix, they are everyone and they are no one."
This scene is profoundly important.  It is here we realize how immense the responsibility is to go back into "The Matrix" to free more minds.  We see how much danger there is involved in the operations that must take place in order to free someone from their bonds and also, symbolized by the "woman in the red dress", the temptations that are there to distract the freeman from his goals.

But we also find an interesting metaphor with the "agents" or as Morpheus calls them the "gatekeepers".  While potentially deadly for the operative, I believe this symbolizes the "programming" inherent to those who are still doscile to their true nature.  The "blue-pills" or "sleepers" who are still plugged into The Matrix are still suseptible to the mind-patterened programming and, though they feel they may be fighting for what they believe in, we know that they are only under the influence of an "agent".  I believe this is a very interesting and important metaphorical device that can correlate with many real-life scenarios one may face, but we will explore that notion at another time.

Ultimately, we see that it all comes down to choice.

On part of the freed mind:  Do you stay in the real world and avoid the danger of The Matrix all while simultaneously cutting yourself off from everyone you knew from your old life?  Or do you return to continue the work of waking the minds of those both familiar and strange?

On part of the enslaved mind who is searching for answers:  Do you take the blue pill and stay ignorant to the truth and to the questions in life you may seek answers to?  Or do you take the red pill and venture into the unknown, journeying through a major paradigm shift to that of clairvoyance?

I often wonder what Neo is thinking to himself after realizing he could die by going back into The Matrix.  But as the story continues, we see that Neo is suddenly faced with the choice of whether or not he should save the life of Morpheus, the one who freed him from his bonds.  (I won't spoil the rest of the movie for you if you haven't seen it.)

At the end of the movie, when all is said in done, we see what Neo has chosen to do as he gives a message to the metaphorical puppeteers of Plato's allegory.

I, too, have made this same choice.  I've chosen to share my story with the world in hopes that it may help lead others who are searching for truth towards the answers they seek.

It will now be my pleasure to take you through my real-life paradigm shift as I recall the events that took place during my young-adult years.  Amazingly, but not surprisingly, it has followed the same template which Plato outlined in Socrates' Allegory of the Cave as well as The Matrix.

"Buckle your seat-belt, Dorothy.  'Cause Kansas... is going bye-bye."

To Be Continued...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My Story Part IV (The Wake-up Call)

The Ethereal Sphere
An account of how I discovered that which is intangible, the synchronistic events that took place and how I coped with the changes that ensued.

In the Summer of 2002, I found myself alone on the bank of the Colorado River staring up at a beautiful gigantic mountain of sandstone on the opposite side. My boy scout troop was in the midst of a white water river rafting expedition and we had just finished setting up camp at our first night's stop. I decided to walk alone along the river shore as the sun began to set behind this mountain, dimming daylight into twilight. The water flowed smoothly past our camping area creating a meditative ambiance as I sat on the shore, staring up at that mountain.  I could not help but be enraptured by this massive piece of earth.

I suddenly felt detached from myself; the more I stared, the more I felt like it wasn't real. I felt like I had been dreaming the day's ride down the river and that I only just realized that I was dreaming still, but I couldn't wake up. I wanted to wake up very badly, but that mountain seemed to stare back at me, keeping me in a dream-like trance.

As this feeling of unreality crept over me, I found all the stress and frustration from the previous year I had been pushing down billowed up, exploding within me as my eyes filled with tears. I did not cry very often growing up, but about once a year the pressure would well up until I couldn't hold it down any longer and I would find a secluded place to let it all out.

If I could, I would've climbed to the top of that mountain to prove to myself that it was real. I remember I thought about how the prophets of old used to climb up to the mountain tops to pray.  Right then and there I wanted to do that more than ever, not just to pray but to also meditate on my life and clear our the garbage I had within me.

But as the twilight turned to night and the stars came out in droves, my attention changed from the mountain to the sky. Nature was so beautiful and I hated how detached to nature I felt when I was back in the city. I wanted to stay there on the beach of that river forever.

By the time I returned home from that expedition, I felt refreshed and ready for the trials ahead.  Little did I realize at the time, though, that the years that would follow would not just be filled with trials, they would be compressed with them.

If being an angsty, girl-crazy teenage boy had not been enough, I also happened to be a judgmental and self-righteous Mormon as well. This was definitely not a good mix and was both unhealthy for my psyche as well as my public relations, especially since my "holier-than-thou" attitude had driven a lot of my friends away. The little humility I had gained had only been achieved from weathering the drama that had ensued from my actions with my peers the previous year.  Regardless, I was still caught up in what had been said to me in my patriarchal blessing; I felt elevated and unfortunately it got to my head.

And so just when I needed it most, I was introduced to a very wise man that was able to instruct me in the virtues of self-discipline, humility and respect. It was just a few weeks before school started that a neighbor friend of mine invited me to join him to a martial arts class he helped teach that was ran out of someone's basement in the neighborhood. I was very interested; when I was younger I had taken karate from a local school but I was too young to retain anything of worth from it. Up to that point I had developed an interest in Japanese culture, as well as the various forms of martial arts from the region including Karate and Kendo. I remember my favorite book was The Book of Five Rings by the master samurai Miyamoto Musashi and I had taught myself in the way of drawing and striking with a katana by way of books and the internet.

I joined the school immediately after getting an introduction from the school's Sifu.  Not only was this a school of Karate, but also that of Shao-lin Kung Fu.  What struck me the most was that the Sifu was a Mormon and had taught at the institute of religion at Brigham Young University.  He explained that he had set up his school of martial arts to also teach the virtues of the gospel, much like the original Buddhist monks had done when they taught young monks at the monastery with the Buddhist teachings.

I was intrigued at the way he had set up the school.  I did not know anything about Buddhism or the Shao-lin monks when I first joined, but as I attended class and learned the history of the martial arts I was amazed at how much Zen Buddhism's teachings of virtue made sense and even correlated with some of the things I had learned that Christianity had taught.

There were lots of symbolism involved with the motions of the kata we would learn, for example, the triangle representing the balance of the body, mind and spirit.  I was especially attracted to the idea that the martial arts was not just to keep physically healthy, but it was also to keep both the mind and the spirit healthy as well.

It was then I learned about spiritual energy including chi, or ki/qi, aura and chakra.  We would do blindfolding exercises where we would need to "sense" others in the room and walk to them all while completely blindfolded.  The only sense we could use was our sense of hearing and also the sixth sense of feeling auras that we were to ultimately practice developing.  The Sifu told us that his master had focused his chi perception so well that he was able find and take down his students blindfolded in a parking garage.  It was hard for me to believe at first, but as I developed this extra sensory perception I was able to walk straight to and find a classmate in the studio who was focusing their chi through a 3-foot rod and then reach out and touch the tip of it.

But this new ability did not come without its initial issues.  As I entered into high school I became overwhelmed by all the energies around me, mainly, all the people and their emanating auras.  As I walked down the halls I found myself repeatedly sensing others directing their attention to me as we passed in the halls.  Every time I felt someone look at me, I would quickly look back and catch them as they quickly looked away.  It was an eery feeling, but as my training continued I found myself getting used to this occurance on a daily basis.

As we had entered the second week of school, I found myself socializing with friends in the hall during lunch break.  I got the feeling again, that of someone looking at me, but this time the feeling was piercing.  It was not like the casual glance I had started to get used to.

A tap on my shoulder; I turned to find someone that I did not expect to see.  Her name was 'K'.  She was my first love interest at the young age of 9 or 10 when I was in 4th grade.  My feelings grew for her up through 6th grade, but I was disappointed to find that she was attending a different middle school than myself.  I remember as the bus drove away on the last day of 6th grade that that was the first time I had felt heartbreak.  All through middle school she would appear in my dreams as though she were haunting me in my sleep.  I was sure I would never see her again as the middle school she went to directed students to a different highschool.  But, alas, here I saw before me that very apparition that had appeared to me only in the dream state for the past three years; only this time she was real.

"Hey Kris!" she said, apparently excited to see me.  "Remember me?"

All too well.  For that split second I felt like I had felt earlier that summer back on the shore of the river as I stared up at that magnificent mountain.  It didn't feel real.  It felt like every dream I had of her in the past, like my subconscious was once again living out a reunion fantasy with my first youthful crush.  Still in that split second, I began to doubt reality as if I had dreamt up the whole morning only to find myself having this experience.  If it wouldn't have been awkward, I would've slapped myself to see if I was awake.  Instead, I very shyly and helplessly replied.

"Oh my, K, how are you doing?"  I remember saying.  "You're coming to school here then?"

"Yep!" she replied.  She had grown up since I had last saw her and I was in utter awe.  She was more beautiful than ever and I still could not believe at the time that it was actually happening.  But what threw me off was what she said next:  "You know, I used to have a crush on you in 6th grade."

I'm not sure, but I believe I stuttered, "Really? Me too..."

"You had a crush on yourself too?" she said without missing a beat.

"No! I mean, you know, I had a crush on you... back..."

I wasn't doing to well, but we promised to meet up later and then we went our separate ways.  My best friend, L, who was standing there the whole time, was confused as to what had just happened.  When I had explained to him who she was, something I had related to him years before, he was almost just as amazed at what had happened.  When I realized I wasn't dreaming, a surge of excitement shot through me.  I felt like I was given another chance to get to know the first girl I had ever had developed romantic feelings for.

But I was suddenly hit with the realization of two obstacles standing in the way of achieving my long formerly-lost fantasy:

1. I wasn't 16 yet. (Can't date until the age of 16, remember?)
2. She wasn't Mormon.

Looking back now, these are poor excuses to not take advantage of the second chance that had been given to me, but at the time these were things that could not be simply bypassed.  I knew I couldn't date until I was 16 and I knew that I should only date young LDS ladies because we would have to eventually get married in the temple. (This is a common theme in the Church that is bombarded on LDS youth.)

And so it was then I became determined to help convert K over to the Church, regardless of the events that had just taken place earlier that year when I had done the exact same thing with A, B and others.  It did not matter to me, though.  I was only concerned with achieving what I had long dreamed of doing, that of reuniting with my first crush and developing a relationship.  This was my second chance and I wasn't going to waste it.

Little did I realize, though, that through my premeditated actions I would waste it anyway.  My attempts of "sharing the gospel" with her only drove her away from me in the end.  I became very frustrated and depressed over the school year as every attempt I made to advance my relationship with her was trumped by my over-zealous nature to convert her to Mormonism in the process.  I didn't understand why God had given me a second chance with K (which at the time I truly believed was the case) when my attempts to share the gospel with her did the exact opposite of what I thought it would do.  I thought that the whole reason for her coming back into my life was so I could share the gospel with her and we could live happily ever after.  It made sense then, but of course now I look back and realize that it was nothing but my selfish fantasy and because I didn't accept her for who she was I was the one who ended up ruining any chance of any sort of relationship at all.

An account of how I searched for answers that were not supposed to be there for me, but I was eventually lead to them through the synchronicity of an unexpected source.

As the depression sunk in I found myself in a dazed state of confusion.  I felt betrayed; why did God torture me so?  I had done everything I had been asked to do in church and seminary, especially to share the gospel with my friends, even the one person that meant the world to me.  But in the end all that did was drive them away and I was left in this sorry state.  I would tell myself that it was all for some grand reason, or even, to teach me a lesson, but I couldn't help but feel like I had been purposely put down.  It was as if the universe was out to get me.

I earnestly prayed night after night for help to weather the immense negative emotions I had found myself with.  Each night I went to bed telling myself that tomorrow would be a new day and a new beginning, but as the days continued the further I found myself in bewilderment as to what the true meaning and purpose of my life really was.  If not to share the gospel, then what?  I recalled my Patriarchal Blessing where it said, "There will be times you will seek answers that will not be there for you.  You must live by faith."  And so I did, even with all the heavy emotional baggage I carried with me.

For the remainder of the school year I did my best to focus all my energies on school activities where I was very active in the fine arts department as a musician and a stage technician.  All the emotions I built up during the course of the year I simply pushed down to the lowest parts of my mind.  Life had to come first, I could feel sad and depressed later.

But the more I pushed down the more life pushed back.  As my perception for the ethereal continued to grow, I continually found myself in a state of 'awake and dreaming'.  Nothing was real to me anymore.  The fine line that separated reality and unreality had blurred and everything just seemed to be illusion, like my life was fake.  I remember I would wake up, shower, get ready, travel to school and go to my first period class when suddenly the fire alarm went off as a massive earthquake hit, shaking everyone to the floor.  Finally, I would wake up in real life and realize that the fire alarm was my alarm clock and that everything I had experienced was just a figment of my subconscious.  I'd do it all over again (shower, get ready and travel to school) only to be in daze the whole day as a cesspool of teenage energy bounced all around me the rest of the day, sending me further into mental disarray.  Nights were restless, days were a blur.

It was about this time that I had gathered with some friends to watch the film The Matrix.  (If you are not familiar with this film, I urge you to read a synopsis of the plot before continuing.)  I had watched a watered down version on television about a few years before (because good Mormons don't watch rated-R movies, right?) and was instantly attracted to the science-fiction world it presented.  As a fan of the martial arts, I was also excited by the choreography and was pleased when I found out it was the same choreographer who did Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (which I had seen previous to The Matrix since it was only PG-13).

But as I sat with friends to watch it again, I was increasingly awe-struck at the synchronicities the movie reflected within my own life.

In the first scene Neo, the main character, is introduced as he is shown asleep in front of his computer with headphones on listening to music as his computer is running a search program for someone named "Morpheus".  Suddenly, the screen goes blank and words appear on his screen.
Wake Up, Neo._
Neo, almost as if he sensed this message, wakes up to see the words which have appeared on his monitor.
Neo glares at his computer monitor as a new message appears:
The Matrix Has You..._
But this time I read those words and I felt like they weren't for Neo, but that they were for me.  I suddenly realized how truly fake my life felt, how things did not seem to fit right though through all the trials I had been through I remained steadfast in the paradigm that I had taken upon as my own.  I knew things didn't feel right, but I could not figure it out.  But as I sat there and watched as Neo answered the door for his late guests he had been waiting on, I witnessed this fictional movie character ask exactly what I had been wanting to ask my self...
"... you ever have that feeling where you
don't know if you're awake or still dreaming?"
My mind started to spin.  I became enraptured in this film as the story continued, synchronicities abound.  As Neo later steps into the back seat of the car with Trinity, faced with a choice of whether or not to continue following Trinity as she lead him to Morpheus, he becomes frustrated and threatens to step out of the car and leave.  Trinity reaches for him to stop.

"Please, Neo,"  She says.  "You have to trust me."

Neo replies, "Why?"

"Because you've been down that road before, Neo."  The camera shows a dark and wet city road completely void of any people as Trinity continues.  "You know that road. You know exactly where it ends. And I know that's not where you want to be...."

And so, Neo moves back into the car and closes the door. He is practically throwing his life up into the wind in order to find the answers that he seeks. He is taken to Morpheus, the man who he believes has those answers. The following dialogue takes place--
Morpheus: At last. Welcome, Neo. As you no doubt have guessed, I am Morpheus.

Neo: It's an honor to meet you.

Morpheus: No, the honor is mine. Please, come, sit. I imagine that right now you're feeling a bit like Alice, tumbling down the rabbit hole? Hm?

Neo: You could say that.

Morpheus: I can see it in your eyes. You have the look of a man who accepts what he sees because he is expecting to wake up. Ironically, this is not far from the truth. Do you believe in fate, Neo?

Neo: No.

Morpheus: Why not?

Neo: Because I don't like the idea that I'm not in control of my life.

Morpheus: I know exactly what you mean. 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?

Neo: The Matrix?

Morpheus: Do you want to know what it is? The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us, even now in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work, when you go to church, when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.

Neo: What truth?

Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage, born into a prison that you cannot smell or taste or touch. A prison for your mind.... Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

This is your last chance. After this there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill, you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes.... Remember, all I'm offering is the truth, nothing more....

I did not know how or even why but I knew that this film had just given me all the answers I had been searching, even praying for.  Though Morpheus was a fictional character in a movie, I felt like he had been talking to directly to me.  But unlike Neo, I was hesitant and didn't know which pill to take.  I was steadfast in my faith and in my beliefs and so I could not see how a movie that was rated 'R' could be answering my prayers.  I thought to myself, 'prayers must be answered by God, not by a movie I technically shouldn't even be watching!'

Or so I thought...

This movie was my wake-up call, my spiritual and mental alarm clock.  This film was a catalyst in which my whole perspective of life began to change.  This was when I started to doubt what I 'knew' to be true and to question what I had been taught as fact.  Morpheus was dead-on:  I knew something was not right, but I could not figure out what it was.  Maybe I do live in The Matrix, a mental prison where I was born into bondage.  Maybe, just maybe... things were really not as they seemed.

To Be Continued...

This is the scene from The Matrix described above.  If you have not seen this film, I highly recommend you watch it as I will be referring to it in future posts.  It is an integral part of my story and I believe the allegory it reflects can benefit anyone who is a seeker of truth.

(Comments have been disabled for this series until the last post.  Please stay tuned.)