The Straightjacket of Delusion

The Straightjacket of Delusion is a funny thing. You only notice it when it’s pointed out to you, AND you are open to looking. 


What’s Your Problem, Man? 

This topic is described in my book, [amazon text=Half Asleep in the Buddha Hall &asin=0968444660] You can read more about it here

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One of the main plot points in the movie series “The Matrix” is that what peo­ple are see­ing is an illu­sion. — and this is a key tenet in Buddhism.

In the Matrix, the illu­sion is done on a grand scale — humans are food, are con­fined to cylin­ders, and are drugged into think­ing they are actu­al­ly liv­ing in an appar­ent­ly “real,” yet total­ly fab­ri­cat­ed universe. 

Mor­pheus, the guru to pro­tag­o­nist Neo, is sort of a guide cum men­tor cum mar­tial arts train­er. A human Yoda, as it were. 

He offers Neo a choice: 

Mor­pheus: 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. 

And believe me, that rabbit hole is deeper than is easily imaginable

Mor­pheus: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?

Much of what I’ve writ­ten, and the way I attempt (and often fail) to live my life has to do with escap­ing the straight-jack­et of delu­sion. The delu­sion comes in many flavours, and has every­thing to do with think­ing. Ana­lyz­ing. Judging. 

And, emphatically, it has to do with escaping how we act. You know, things like looking outside of yourself for success, happiness, fulfillment, and approval. Or even more problematic: looking outside of yourself for rescue.

The truth of the mat­ter is that all of us have been fed a line about what the world is about — about how the world works. This imag­i­nary dream-world was described in the Sto­ry of Indra’s Net, mil­len­nia ago. (I write about this sto­ry in my book, Half Asleep in the Bud­dha Hall.)

Mor­pheus: 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?

Blue pill reality” = the story society teaches you — has been, and continues to be, handed to you on a platter. 

It’s the fan­ta­sy that the world is (for every­one but you) wired to pro­vide for your every desire, that oth­ers are sup­posed to do what you want them to, and that life is sup­posed to be (or make you) happy.

If only… my cami was green, then I’d be happy

The kind of hap­pi­ness being sold is of the mate­ri­al­is­tic sort. It’s depen­dent hap­pi­ness — if I have the right job, take the right course, have the right parents/spouse/kids, if I make the right amount of mon­ey, and live in the right town, in the right size house, then I’ll be hap­py.

Except that, even as some or all of those fan­tasies come true, all that hap­pens is that hap­pi­ness recedes, as new “demands on the uni­verse” occur to you.

Along with the “happiness is everything” mantra comes its partner — grasping. 

Because the stuff you want seems fleet­ing, you cling to what you have. Because some oth­er stuff seems “yucky,” you end­less­ly push it away, yet find your­self end­less­ly pushing. 

And the biggest grasping of all is the belief that the way you think the world is, has anything to do with how the world is.

At the same time, there’s that lit­tle voice, whis­per­ing that some­thing about your pic­ture of the world isn’t quite right. Yet, when a solution(such as med­i­ta­tion,) is offered, that’s when the excus­es come out.

Peo­ple are quite con­tent to stay stuck in the Matrix, des­per­ate­ly doing what they can to ignore the pain of know­ing something’s amiss. 

That’s the splinter in the mind part of the above quote.

It’s the nig­gling, pok­ing, irri­tat­ing “know­ing” that some­thing about this pic­ture is hay­wire — that some­thing about what we’ve built out there, the way we live, the way we relate, the way we make a liv­ing, that all of it is some­how “half a bub­ble off plumb.” 

In the mid­dle of the 19th cen­tu­ry, the exis­ten­tial­ist philoso­pher Kierkegaard first described this splin­ter as Angst. More than anx­i­ety, Angst is a deep seat­ed and pro­found despair and inse­cu­ri­ty. In a sense, the baubles and allures of mod­ern life are sold to us as a dis­trac­tion from this Angst-dri­ven splin­ter of suspicion. 

The path we suggest is finding your freedom. It is not freedom from. It is, symbolically, popping the red pill.

I tend to frame this from a Zen per­spec­tive. I do this because I am con­tin­u­al­ly amazed at the insights of The Bud­dha, so many cen­turies ago, as he saw through the illu­sion and delu­sion of liv­ing life from a per­spec­tive of dual­ism. He iden­ti­fied the essence of life — clear, unen­cum­bered, lib­er­at­ed understanding.

He freed himself from the paralysis of analysis, stopped over-thinking, and began to live.

He saw through the delu­sions that sur­round­ed him, dropped the end­less search for hap­pi­ness, and found Nir­vana (peace.)

It was not Siddhartha’s aim to be hap­py. His path does not ulti­mate­ly lead to hap­pi­ness. Instead it is a direct route to free­dom from suf­fer­ing, free­dom from delu­sion and con­fu­sion. Thus Nir­vana is nei­ther hap­pi­ness nor unhappiness–it goes beyond such dual­is­tic con­cepts. Nir­vana is peace. 
What Makes You Not a Bud­dhist, pg. 87?

Here’s a hint: if this splin­ter anal­o­gy makes sense to you, if you “get” that some­thing is wrong with the tra­di­tion­al pic­ture of who you are and how the world works, then — wait for it — you must step out, com­plete­ly, from the faulty pic­ture, and embrace anoth­er way.

Half measures do not work. 

Dab­bling at med­i­ta­tion, try­ing a com­mu­ni­ca­tion mod­el, exper­i­ment­ing with Qi Gong, test­ing out a ther­a­py — all are ways to stay deeply caught in the Matrix, while lying to your­self that you are actu­al­ly accom­plish­ing something.

Half mea­sures do not work, and are actu­al­ly a part of stay­ing deeply stuck. 

But, but…

But noth­ing. The splin­ter feel­ing is there, for all of us, because the com­mon, “blue pill” ver­sion of the world sim­ply does not hold. The cos­mos is not a celes­tial can­dy store, just filled with good­ies for you to “man­i­fest.” It’s not up to oth­ers to do what you want them to. It’s not about who you know, where you work, or even what you cre­ate — if you think any of that stuff will last, dream on, dream on.

The only way out is 100% commitment to removing the straight-jacket of delusion by taking 100% responsibility for yourself, and 0% responsibility for correcting, directing, or demanding anything of another.

Mor­pheus: Neo, soon­er or lat­er you’re going to real­ize just as I did that there’s a dif­fer­ence between know­ing the path and walk­ing the path.

So, what’s real­ly the point of it all? Com­ing into full self-aware­ness, which in a sense means see­ing through the games. It’s accept­ing that you are the cre­ator of every iota of your real­i­ty, and you do so by and through your judge­ments, attrac­tions, and aver­sions. Once you see that the world you have is the one you are mak­ing, you can ease up, drop the judge­ments and inter­pre­ta­tions, and open your­self to the path of sim­ply and ful­ly being.

What I mean is, you begin to immerse yourself in the experience of living your life, with full attention, absolute dedication, and no investment in outcome.

Can this be done? Of course. Moment by moment. It looks like active atten­tive­ness, with­out desire for life, sit­u­a­tions, peo­ple, or “what’s hap­pen­ing” to be any dif­fer­ent than it is. 

This is not sur­ren­der or not car­ing. Because of this focus, you may tire­less­ly invest your time and ener­gy into any­thing. But you will do so from a full com­mit­ment per­spec­tive, not from “Some­body should do some­thing about this!”

Here’s how it appears:

When observed from an ordi­nary point of view, enlight­ened beings may seem insane because they don’t nego­ti­ate, they can­not be lured or swayed by mate­r­i­al gain, they don’t get bored, they don’t look for thrills, they have no face to lose, they do not con­form to rules of eti­quette, they nev­er employ hypocrisy or per­son­al gain, they nev­er do things to impress peo­ple, and they don’t dis­play their tal­ents and pow­ers just for the sake of it.
But if it ben­e­fits oth­ers, these saints will do any­thing necessary… 
What Makes You Not a Bud­dhist, p 104

This is life lived without games, illusion, or restriction. 

It’s liv­ing life full bore, expe­ri­enc­ing it all, not hold­ing back, block­ing your­self, depriv­ing your­self of expe­ri­ence for propriety’s sake. It’s a com­mit­ment to move heav­en and earth so that oth­ers might awak­en too, but with­out get­ting your ego involved in whether oth­ers choose to join you or not. (This would be one I deal with all the time, some­times ele­gant­ly, some­times not so much.)

If this kind of liv­ing, this kind of free­dom appeals to you, stay tuned! I’ll be talk­ing about the prac­ti­cal­i­ties of this in the weeks to come.

In the mean time, take the red pill! 

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