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.)