Tag Archives: witness

The Matrix: You Can Check Out, But You Can’t Leave

Although it’s too late to rescue the idea of The Matrix from pop culture irrelevance—the patient died of over-exposure and ex-sanguination, which passes for natural causes when it concerns anything of real substance in the American psyche—it’s never too late to do a post-mortem.

It has become the undisputed embodiment of evil, soon to usurp the Devil, the Ego, and Hitler and the Nazis . . . our favorite alternatives to looking in the mirror for the roots of our alienation, suffering, depravity, and insanity. It has become synonymous with “the mess we’re in” or “the human condition on steroids,” or, if you’re a child of the 60’s, “the Man,” or “the Establishment.”

These days “The Matrix” trips off the tongues of grandmothers and political bloggers alike, which is hilarious because it has acquired a rich diversity of mouthpieces to talk about itself. The hot topic of conversation is whether we live in a simulation or not, without realizing that the conversation itself is a product of the simulation that initiates a never-ending loop of contrived investigation.

Now that The Matrix has become fodder for breakroom banter its hold on us is even greater, because nothing pleases us more than to replace incisive examination with superficial chitchat. At least when it was still wrapped in a warm cloak of conspiracy theory intrigue The Matrix had a level of gravity to it. Now it’s about as compelling as Russiagate. What a relief it must be for The Matrix to be able to remove the corset from its bloated abdomen and let it hang out without shame, like a middle-aged man who doesn’t have to retract his stomach anymore around the ladies.

I recently saw a posting on YouTube of a talk by David Icke entitled, “Who Built the Matrix?” and tuned in to witness the unmasking of the scapegoat du jour. Mr. Icke scrolled through the Rolodex of Pure Evil and ruled out the usual suspects–“it’s not the corporations, intelligence agencies, central banks, illuminati, cabal, oligarchy, shadow government, or deep state”—and with each deletion my anticipation mounted. Is he really going to say it, I wondered, is he going to tell the truth in this posh auditorium full of well-dressed followers?

And here was his public enemy #1: “It’s extraterrestrials . . . “ Groan. Anti-climactic doesn’t begin to describe this bail-out of an answer. Once again we tiptoe to the edge of the pool, dip our bare foot in, shudder, and conclude: “Nope, too fuckin’ cold. Maybe tomorrow.”

Now, I can groove on a discussion about ET’s as much as the next person, but in demonizing extraterrestrials we conveniently opt for a source that is even more difficult to corroborate and pinpoint than an earth-based one, such as central banks or the intelligence community. It’s another example of the mind feigning ignorance of its own creation so that it can make a pretense of exploring itself, while twisting the investigative storyline into an exercise in arbitrary judgments and observations based on agenda, identity, and preference.

So, the spotlight gets turned even further from the real architect—it’s us, the human race, homo sapiens, John and Jane Q. Public, who created the Matrix and continue to do so! The Matrix is a product of thought as are we, and we hold it aloft as long as our thoughts make it so. As individualized aspects of consciousness and a collective mind, we all share in the blame because we determine what is real through the persistence of our thought patterns.

Since we’ve constructed the Matrix as a landfill for those aspects of human nature we feel we should revile, it is correspondingly imbued with the cream of humanity’s repressed material. It is little wonder, then, that we resist recognizing it as our own creation and prefer to see it out there as a nemesis and not as a messenger that has something profound to tell us about ourselves. It doesn’t help that we put the Matrix on the largest stage possible, because the higher the drama quotient the easier it is for us to not feel personally involved.

We love watching programs that depict a brave individual who refuses to kowtow to the Matrix and escapes with her fierce individuality intact, and we never identify with the amorphous force of oppression that seeks to squash that hero. (We love to hiss and boo when Mr. Smith enters the scene). We are both, but we fail to recognize ourselves in the latter even as the medium provides us the golden opportunity to see ourselves in all of our paradoxical glory.

And now the spoiler: We don’t really want to be free of The Matrix because we’ve built it according to our own specifications, making it the designer prison that we love to hate. Potentially, there is enormous liberation in recognizing that we are both the jailer and the prisoner, but we prefer a path to freedom that skirts personal responsibility and mortifying recognitions about ourselves and our species.

The only deliverance that can be achieved is freedom from the person within us that constructed the Matrix and accepts it as our fate. So, the self-image has to take a major hit if we want to at least see our role in the Matrix and the life story has to be deconstructed, because it is the blueprint we followed when we built it. Effectively, we have to write ourselves out of the script.

This is a formidable undertaking, since it requires swimming against a treacherous current of non-stop information that reinforces the Matrix both collectively and individually, leaving us very little room to imagine an alternative. A suitable analogy might be trying to find the exit in a hall of mirrors. Collectively, we fashion group agreements about the components, boundaries, and purpose of the Matrix, and use convenient elements from our existing stories (American culture, the military, intelligence, politics, banking, historical references) to construct a convincing argument that it is something separate from us.

At the individual level The Matrix provides a sticky canvas on which to lob and cement our identities of victim, outcast, unlovable, martyr, avenger, righteous one, the oppressed, and a host of other beauties.

Our imagination—currently hijacked and neutered by The Matrix–is waiting to be unlocked, if we can only wean it from the limited menu of myths, fantasies, and possibilities served to it through entertainment, cultural institutions, the educational system, and from our personal contribution to our brainwashing that we call our life story. The imagination can be programmed as easily as any other aspect of a human being, so that its deeper expression is virtually ignored through an IV drip of minimal stimulation administered by the culture at large.

If it sounds like I’m suggesting an escape from reality, it’s actually the opposite. It requires us to deeply examine the beliefs, lies, and misperceptions of our personal narrative that we’ve used as an unreliable guide to navigate this mess. If we can allow the restoration of our personal myths while deconstructing the limited version of ourselves that keeps us safe and miserable, we can forge an alternative experience that both transcends and exists concurrently with the Matrix. For example, will I embrace my destiny as an independent filmmaker or settle for a fate as a weekend wedding videographer?

Even as we consciously dive into these stories we’ve kept hidden and stunted, the price is that we risk becoming an even greater egomaniac than the one that unconsciously maintains the Matrix, because there is tremendous personal power to be reclaimed from liberating the life force expended to keep us immersed in the Matrix. That is one reason it feels safer to just talk about it. We’d rather assume the identity of the oppressed than risk becoming the oppressor. We see abuse of power all around us in every possible context, yet we believe we can somehow stay on the right side of knowing how to responsibly administer power without actually accepting the responsibility ourselves.

We will only flip The Matrix when we stop trying to figure it out or escape it, and instead be willing to engage with the lost parts of our totality that have assembled themselves as its building blocks.

Why Is It So Hard to Find Urgency? Part 2


This is an excerpt from my upcoming book, “The Art of Getting Out of the Way.”

3. Until we’re willing to experience the nature and extent of the pain we’re in, we have a limited perspective on our situation and how to find a way out of it. Urgency springs from a transfer of energy that occurs when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to the pain underlying an habitual behavior or emotional state. The energy that was applied to suppressing the pain becomes available when we stop the suppression. It is a shift from a mental effort—suppression—to an effortless act—being vulnerable to our feelings.

That available energy is what we draw from to stay grounded and make a conscious decision to change an undesirable situation. Without that available energy, having a choice in the situation is in name only, because we will reflexively choose our conditioned, default behavior time and time again.

By the time we’re young adults, we’ve portioned out all almost all of our life force toward propping up a persona that we can live with and display to the public. Unfortunately, the script written for that persona is based on childhood adaptive strategies, traumas (real and perceived), borrowed beliefs, misinterpretations, fantasies, and false information. Besides making it very difficult to have a direct experience of what is right in front of us, it is our unwillingness to disassemble this web of misperceptions that stands between us and urgency.

In addition, episodes of illness and injury are woven into the story of our life and become associated with repressed emotions, such that a complete healing of the physical ailment requires revisiting the unresolved emotional component. We often fear what may lie on the other side of healing, because it will likely include the exposure of our hidden agendas around maintaining a certain degree of pain in our lives, and those agendas have to be sacrificed in order to achieve real healing.

In my 15 years in health care, I’ve watched clients (and myself) repeatedly choose chronic pain and illness—even death– over honest self-examination. We permit a depth of healing that corresponds to, but does not exceed, the degree of self-exposure that our ego can comfortably handle. In other words, the depth of our healing is directly proportional to how badly we want to know who we are and what motivates our behavior.

4. The mind leverages small discomforts to exert maximum control over our access to urgency. There is a whole universe of sensations and feelings that informs us about our emotional, psychological, and physical state at any given moment, but our mind dutifully chooses which ones to recognize and which ones to ignore and suppress based on the version of reality we’ve painstakingly assembled.

On cue, our mind-body produces mild, context-specific discomforts that signal the very tip of the pain we will have to confront in order to create change in our lives. However, these physical annoyances are not consciously acknowledged as heralding fear, rage, shame or whatever taboo emotion threatens us so profoundly. The more undefined the danger, the more the mind can keep us under its thumb. These discomforts and annoyances surface in that slippery interface between our everyday awareness and the unconscious, and may take many forms: jaw clenching, chest tightness, holding one’s breath, drowsiness, sour stomach, dizziness, and neck pain, to name just a few.

The discomfort’s message is a subtle, but powerful implication that whatever repressed emotions are uncovered will result in a worst-case scenario: death, destruction, public humiliation, or total loss of control. Until the repressed emotion is actually allowed expression, it is only indicated by this sensation-based signature of the repressed emotion.

Here’s an example. A man desperately wants to tell his father he loves him, but every time the thought occurs to him it is accompanied by a tightening of his throat. This has occurred so many times over the years that he no longer notices the discomfort, although without fail it has the effect of squelching the simple words, “Dad, I love you.” The throat tightening delivers the message that if he were to tell his father this simple fact, something bad will happen. It also masks the real reason he cannot say these words: a deep resentment for something that happened in childhood for which he’s never forgiven his father.

Not telling his father he loves him is the son’s way of withholding love in payment for that episode that happened so long ago. The underlying statement is, “I won’t tell you I love you until you admit that you were wrong.” The throat constriction is tied to the son’s inability to relinquish being right about the incident, and the trade-off is the loss of emotional connection to his father.

Since the son will not consciously admit to himself that he cannot let go of a petty grudge against the person who raised him, all that remains is the throat tightening to control his behavior. The end result is the son’s rationalization, “It just wasn’t the right time. I’ll tell him the next time I see him.” And urgency is successfully sidestepped yet again.

This is one of the mind’s primary methods of keeping us in our prison, both at the individual and collective levels. In this way, our past is always informing our present experience, and spontaneity, hence urgency, is kept at bay.

5. The mind may create a constant crisis state to avoid real urgency. This is a very successful strategy as evidenced by people who use rehab like a vacation home, make a hobby of attending multiple support groups, use permanent disability as a gravy train, or spend all their time putting out other people’s fires. If a person’s baseline state is to be in a crisis situation, how will he possibly be able to discern when he actually is in a crisis?

Hitting bottom for these people will be elusive, since bottom has become the norm. This phenomenon also attests to the extremely subjective nature of pain. Someone may, for instance, be willing to subject himself to the physical pain of heroin withdrawal, but not have the courage to confront the shame that fuels the addiction.

For someone to escape from this horrible trap, they have to recover a baseline experience of well-being, or at least neutrality. For someone who has lived her entire life in a crisis mode, this can be extremely threatening because feeling good has become such an alien experience and is not easily trusted.

If healing completely is too much of a threat to a victim identity, then the mind knows precisely where to draw the line to feel just well enough to keep the identity operational.

I Don’t Need Help, But I Could Sure Use a Witness

This is an excerpt from the e-book, “Activate Your Inner Physician,” available on amazon.com.

Have you ever been fortunate enough to be in distress in the company of someone who did nothing except be with you? They didn’t try to help, console, or advise you. They didn’t hug you and say, “Everything’s going to be OK.” They simply stayed with you and what you were feeling. Do you recall how rare and liberating that felt? Just experiencing that objective presence can be a healing experience.

In essence, all the person did was stand in for you and give you permission to feel. When you combine witnessing with not interfering with expression, you get humanity. It’s a demonstration of the seeming contradiction that compassion is best expressed from a neutral place.

After all, when we try to console someone, we often do so out of selfishness. Either we don’t want to be in the presence of someone who’s having a rough time because it makes us uncomfortable, or we want to be the hero who makes him or her feel better. In either case, it’s more about us than them. We’re also passively denying their feelings by telling them it’s all going to be okay. In that moment, everything is not okay with that person and they need to acknowledge it.

We are constantly involved in short-circuiting each other’s feelings with the rationalization, “that’s just what friends do for each other.” Um, . . no. Friends allow each other to vent whatever nasty-ass feelings are surfacing while doing their best not to take it personally. If you have even one person in your life with whom you can do this, you know what a treasure you have there. Of course, a friend is also someone who’ll tell you when you’re being manipulative around your emotions.

Thankfully, we don’t need another person to experience the power of witnessing. We can simply sit our asses down and witness whatever surfaces as a result being vulnerable to hearing what our mind is telling us and what we’re truly feeling. This also includes witnessing physical sensations without immediately attending to their suppression. This may sound simple, but for many of us our whole lives are designed to avoid anything but a very superficial examination of our internal state.

Witnessing is a state of suspension whose qualities can range from exquisite calm to utter terror, depending on the mind’s judgment of what’s being witnessed. The more you’re able to witness the conscious mind, the more you realize that it’s constantly judging. And herein lies a sobering recognition: as long as we’re alive we will have judgments.

Throughout this book I use the term “neutral” instead of “non-judgmental,” for a very good reason. American culture promotes a naive innocence by encouraging us to be non-judgmental, because we’re programmed to believe that it’s a quality of a “good person.” This results in widespread shame and guilt around our non-stop habit of judging (“I feel guilty about thinking that homeless people are just lazy.”) If a person doesn’t feel that it’s possible to do the right thing in the face of his prejudices, then he has no choice but to suppress his judgments (“That’s not really me. I know that it’s not right to judge homeless people.”). Now he thinks he’s being non-judgmental and he’s wreaking more havoc than before. Any act of kindness toward a homeless person is now borne of guilt and a denial of his prejudice.

By “neutral,” I’m referring to straddling the line where you can hear your judgments but not judge yourself for having them, which allows for something amazing to occur. You can smile and give that same homeless person a dollar even as your mind is saying, “Take a bath, you worthless piece of crap.” Because guess what? The compassionate person and the elitist snob are equally part of who you are. It’s neutral witnessing that allows both of these to exist in the same moment without either one being “right.” The conscious mind abhors sitting in this contradiction because it needs to be right. That’s why learning how to maintain a neutral witness state with one’s own judgments is invaluable, because it siphons off some of the energy that goes into maintaining a rigid, polarized position.

I’ve never met anyone who was not judgmental to some extent, and I’ve known some extraordinary people. I have known people, however, who knew that their judgments were nonsense even as they were voicing them.