The Matrix 20 years later: a personal reflection

I rewatched The Matrix this past weekend, and it brought back a lot of memories and old perspectives on life.

My wife and I were both surprised at how many lines of dialogue I knew by heart. I must have watched it a lot back then. My brother reminded me: there wasn’t much else around, right? And yeah that’s true.

But for me The Matrix came along just as I was getting intently into my spiritual search. I’d read de Mello’s Awareness and was primed for anything that spoke of a deeper meaning to life, promising enlightenment and realisation.

I’d even started learning kung fu around that time, again looking for anything that promised mystery or just more to life.

Searching for freedom

When I saw The Matrix I thought “these people get it!” I was so excited and took it as evidence that I was on the right track – that there was a track.

But it also matched my bleak experience of “ordinary” life. I felt trapped, uninspired, and already weary of the reality I found myself in.

Enlightenment promised a way out. I took Neo’s death and rebirth experience at the climax of the film as a spiritual allegory. He transcended the Matrix, saw through the illusion, pierced the veil of Maya, and was liberated.

I wanted whatever it was that the sages, mystics, and saints spoke of in such glowing terms as surpassing anything reality had to offer.

But in my search I took as foundational my awareness of insufficiency, of lack. I took as my starting point the very words “there’s something wrong with this reality” and tried repeatedly to piece together the answer to that problem.

Reality isn’t broken

I depreciated reality on the understanding that it wasn’t real, and with faith that I could find the truth and the freedom truth would bring.

I took for granted that I was a soul mired in illusion, and I clung to that sense of frustration and imprisonment, inner tension battling against a world of empty appearances that somehow held sway in me.

I kept struggling to overcome, to see through the superficial and find the treasure within. I really believed that all my problems would be solved. I was taking the direct path, looking for the ultimate answers in life.

Projecting inadequacy

But the whole time my desire for greater meaning and purpose and enlightenment was clouded by my sense of personal inadequacy.

I felt like a loser, I couldn’t point to any outstanding qualities in myself, and I also felt alienated from friends and family and broader society.

Being different and having no words or concepts to explain how and why, I thought I could just leave the world behind and find my place in whatever final truth enlightenment would reveal.

The answer to my inadequacies was that reality itself was at fault. My lack of good qualities didn’t matter because life was an illusion anyway. The only quality that mattered was spiritual, and I could excel at that because everyone else was neglecting it, or so it seemed.

You create your reality

But now I’m approaching a different view of life and reality. I’m learning that I create my reality, and my thoughts or beliefs determine how much of my desired reality I allow.

In that context, feeling inadequate already, I interpreted spiritual teachings in a way that shifted the inadequacy onto reality itself. And yet I was unable to shift any further. Reality remained inadequate and over time my hopefulness dimmed and my own inadequacy returned.

I felt like I was on an important and meaningful path…yet had nothing to show for it.

In Abraham-Hicks terms I was treating enlightenment as an action pathway, a course of action I hoped would make me feel better. That’s not how it works. For twenty years it hasn’t worked. I’ve just been kicking the can down the road.

What do you want?

But my spiritual search wasn’t totally uninspired. I was genuinely drawn to a deeper understanding of life, reality, meaning and happiness.

But even though I immersed myself in spiritual teachings I was still caught in the same false premise as everyone else: give me what I want, and then I’ll be happy.

I wanted purpose, meaning, a secure identity, freedom, belonging, and clarity. I thought chasing enlightenment would give me all these and more. But the A-H prescription is simpler: find the feeling place of these desires, and you’re already there. No more action, no more resistance, no more kicking the can down the road, blaming yourself and then others and then reality and then yourself again.

Just find the feeling place. Align yourself with those feelings and enjoy what follows.

Born in the wrong era?

How many of you grew up feeling like you were born into the wrong era, the wrong culture, or even the wrong reality?

I used to want to escape into a fantasy world; or I’d imagine what life would be like if I’d lived in the Middle Ages. Sometimes I’d wish I had an ethnic or cultural background a little more interesting than the Anglo-Celtic “default” option in Australia.

The cynical side of me poured cold water on all of these: you only think other cultures are cool because they’re unfamiliar and exotic; you want to live in the past but you’d be a peasant, not a knight; you want to escape into fantasy but that’s all fantasy is – empty escapism.

Yeah, my cynical side is a bit of an arsehole.

And ultimately cynicism is for arseholes. There’s nothing creative or beautiful about shooting down people’s inspiration and dreams. It’s true that the grass can look greener on the other side, but it’s still grass, and why let that stop you exploring the other side if that’s where you want to go?

Maybe it’s just fear of disappointment masquerading as wisdom? “What if I go, and it’s not as good as I’d hoped?” Well at least you’ll have a story to tell. But I can guarantee cynicism won’t help you find what you’re looking for.

Making peace with your reality

But at the same time there is a bit of escapism here. I didn’t just want to be somewhere else, I really hated where I was and saw evidence of it everywhere.

I wanted excitement and adventure, not suburbs and mortgages. I wanted a suit of armour, not a business suit. I wanted to live in a fortress or a mysterious and magical old warren of interconnected buildings and passages, not a McMansion or 70s era unit by a main road. I wanted every day to feel full of meaning and excitement and satisfaction, not some monotonous grind of swapping time for money in a miserable office.

How can I put this delicately…it’s not that I should accept all these things I hate and just live a normal life filled with resentment. Instead, it’s actually possible to see that the way things are right now fulfils a lot of people. It isn’t perfect, but it’s better than it was in many ways. Toilets, for example. Modern toilets should inspire endless gratitude and appreciation in us all!

In fact there are so many things about the modern world to appreciate; they vastly outnumber the things to resent. And even if I don’t want to work 9-5 in an office, can’t I at least appreciate that some people do?

Do I really need to be surrounded by peasants for me to be a knight in armour? That’s metaphorical but also literal: there are people around the world who compete in jousting and melee combat with historically accurate weapons and armour, and they get to do it with modern conveniences.

If that doesn’t appeal to me then what does? Maybe that “different era” I longed for was really about a specific feeling I wanted? And maybe that feeling is not about the era or the culture or the clothes people wear or the buildings they live and work in? Maybe that feeling is something accessible right now and the fantasy of a different era was just one way of accessing it?

I can feel that feeling right now, but I don’t know what to call it. Maybe I’ll leave it there, maybe it doesn’t need to be defined or nailed down right this minute. Maybe I can leave it for you to find your own version of this feeling you always longed for, in the form of “another era”.

Inspired Feeling for INFP-Melancholics

When an INFP’s introverted Feeling function (Fi) is working well it integrates the auxiliary Ne, tertiary Si and inferior Te perfectly.

When Fi isn’t working the other functions come into play without balance or support and we end up grasping for genius ideas (Ne), trying to remember what worked before (Si), or looking for some kind of irrefutable logic to apply (Te).

How to use Fi (and why we don’t)

Fi at its most powerful is like an actor becoming a role he loves and knows inside and out.

Fi is knowing how things are supposed to feel and it draws on the other three functions to inform it.

Using Fi in this way is powerful but can feel a little fake. Being able to slip in and out of different roles or characters with ease seems too easy or strange, and we can feel insecure about our authentic self.

For example, when I learned to sing in a choir I simply imitated the kind of voice I was “supposed” to have. It took some confidence, and giving myself permission to do it. From my point of view I wasn’t singing with my voice, just imitating the inspired ideal of voices.

But for me that’s what singing is.

Singing in a small church choir was a pretty low-stakes game, and that’s why I could give myself permission to “pretend” to be a singer.

In other areas of life when it seems like the stakes are higher INFPs risk doubting and distrusting their Fi ability.

For example, in martial arts we’re warned against being someone who looks the part but has no true skill or power.

An INFP can take this to heart and reject the Fi approach, searching instead for a more authentic or objective basis of skill.

Building trust in Fi

I think without practice our Fi abilities fall into two categories. There are low-stakes contexts where we use Fi easily, and for that reason don’t prize it.

Then there are higher-stakes contexts where we distrust Fi because it feels unreal. And because we distrust it, we don’t practice it or explore it. It remains dormant or dislocated.

I think the answer is to learn to engage Fi and remain inspired by it even while practicing and improving our skills.

Imagine you’re learning to play the violin. You already have a Fi image of what it looks like, the feel of a highly skilled violinist.

But you don’t have the basic skills yet, and the gap between your skill level and the Fi image of playing like a concertmaster or world-renowned soloist is….embarrassing.

So instead of drawing on that feeling, you think “I’ll practice until I’m good enough and then I’ll start acting like it”.

But it won’t work that way because you’re rejecting your most powerful function out of embarrassment and fear. The fear of “who do you think you are?”

Practice with Feeling

The solution is to do both. Stand inside your Fi image of the highest skill and accomplishment, and bring that to your practice, no matter how basic or beginner-level it is.

Use the Fi to keep you inspired and engaged, facing toward your goal. And instead of looking like a fool or coming across as pretentious, you will bring to your practice the focus and sincerity of the very mastery you desire.

When a master of one instrument comes to learn another they don’t blush and cringe at their mistakes. They don’t cower and slouch like they have no idea what they are doing.

They bring the full bearing of their existing mastery into the practice, with the openness and patience of one who knows they have much to learn.

Anything less is self-sabotage.

Can everyday life be joyful?

I was taught as a child that I could only relax when all my work was done for the day.

I was taught by example that everyday life is full of unwanted chores that you put off as long as possible until you can no longer ignore them.

I learned that it was impossible to feel good so long as these chores awaited you; and yet they were endless.

On my own I concluded that there was no joy in this kind of life. But at the same time I accepted this “daily grind” as reality, something that had to be escaped or overcome.

This is my resistance to everyday joy

In order to find joy in everyday life I must let go of these beliefs. Yet when I do, I face the underlying thought that these chores must get done, and by refusing to shoulder the burden I am being lazy, selfish, and inflicting harm on others.

If joy comes, I can’t accept it unless all my “work” is done. And my work will never be done – it restarts each day and some of it carries over.

So joy is simply not compatible with everyday life, unless my circumstances change somehow.

First change your thoughts

I’ve been working for two years at learning to feel better, so I know already that changing my thoughts is more powerful than trying to change my circumstances.

So what thoughts can I change to feel better and let go of my resistance?

I’ve already shown myself twice before that supposed burdens can be transformed if I look instead for what I want, what I appreciate.

For example, instead of thinking that the dishes have to get done and no one else is going to do them, I started to think about how much I love a clean and tidy kitchen. If I then choose to clean, it’s for the sake of something I love and appreciate, rather than a burden I must bear or else be labelled lazy, selfish and somehow morally deficient.

Another recent example was getting my 1yo daughter to sleep. For a year I could only think of it as something necessary, regardless of how difficult or burdensome it might be. I was the only one who could rock her to sleep, so it was up to me to shoulder that burden or else be totally irresponsible, selfish, and a bad parent.

What changed was that I found a thought that felt good: I’d love for her to learn to soothe herself to sleep. I was able to set aside my resistance for the sake of this positive goal, and help her learn to soothe herself.

Extrapolating to everyday life

The stuff of everyday life can be transformed if I allow myself to find positive thoughts instead of old patterns that feel burdensome and self-accusatory.

Starting at the beginning of the day, my morning routine can be because I love getting up early, feeling clean and refreshed, and enjoying my coffee, rather than the burden of being up early enough to get everything done.

I can enjoy my kids’ company early in the morning, and get my son ready for school because I want him to feel secure and safe and cared for, and to learn by example how to care for himself.

I can enjoy the walk to school because it’s lovely to be outside for some exercise with my kids, stretch our legs and get some fresh morning air.

I can enjoy taking my son to school because I want him to enjoy learning and interacting with others and working out his own preferences in life.

I can come home and enjoy relaxing in my home with my wife and daughter. I can write blog posts that inspire me and work on articles that feel good. I can do research into things that interest me and work out my own preferences and where I’d like to go next.

I can tidy the house – if I want to – because I love having a clean and tidy home. It’s not a burden that must be shouldered, it’s not something for which I am judged and criticised. I love the feeling of a clean and tidy home, but it’s okay for it to not be clean and tidy. And it’s okay to let my wife tidy if she wants to.

I can plan dinner because I love our evening meal together. I love cooking for my wife and kids. I love their enjoyment of my food. But it’s also okay to let my wife cook if she feels like it. And its okay to get take-out occasionally too.

I can pick up my son after school because I love being there for him, to hear about his day and how he feels, to say hello to some friends and bring him back home. But I can also let my wife do it sometimes if she wants to.

And the evening together can be a time when we enjoy watching things together, playing games together, reading stories together. It can be a time for fun and enjoyment rather than the last hours of burden and work.

Finally, we can put the kids to bed and get some sleep ourselves, not because we are worried about tomorrow’s burdens, but because sleep is so good for body, mind, and spirit. Sleep is true rest and it’s something we can love and enjoy for itself.

Letting go of old resistance

I can retell the story of my day and like a miracle transform endless burdens into continual joy.

I can gently remind myself as often as necessary that these daily activities are only as burdensome or routine as I make them out to be in my thoughts.

I live and work and think and play and sleep at home. I’m home so much, it’s time to let home be the place of joy and love and happiness I’ve always wanted it to be.

I want my everyday life to be joyful, and I think I know now how it can be.

I don’t feel depressed anymore

Last night it suddenly hit me that I don’t feel depressed anymore.

I’ve been so focussed on feeling good I didn’t even notice. But there it is: I don’t feel depressed!

Twenty something years of focusing on things that felt bad, enough to make my emotional “average” a negative one.

Two-ish years of learning to feel less bad, then better, ramping up into my thirty day Happiness Challenge and now my easy-going “feel good all day” theme.

So yeah…there it is. Who would have thought that the secret to no longer feeling depressed was to focus on feeling good instead?

It’s obvious in hindsight, and it also seems incredibly easy and straightforward now too. I know it didn’t always look that way, and that’s also testament to this amazing change.

For anyone else suffering from depression, well, I was deeply cynical about this “positive thinking” stuff too. But I can appreciate now that I have steadily and consistently trained myself to focus on thoughts that feel better and better, with the promise that it’s my thoughts alone which create my reality.

A cynical view is that my depressed perspective was “reality” and I’m now simply deluding myself.

But I can’t pick out a single thought that would constitute “delusion” now, nor is there a single thought responsible for my better mood.

I just feel better without even trying, but I know that this is due to all my work retraining my thoughts to uplift me rather than bringing me down.

Feel good all day 2

The garden where I sometimes sit to write.

I love having this extreme goal, this ideal of feeling good all day.

Melancholics are idealists: it’s ideals and meaning that excite us.

Feeling good bit by bit gradually doesn’t excite me. I love all or nothing ideals, even though I know they usually contribute to gradual progress.

An outside observer might say I’ve made gradual changes over time, but the thought of gradual change just doesn’t inspire me enough to commit to it!

I want the excitement of a great ideal and an enormous goal and an absolute accomplishment to move me.

“Feel good all day” is not only all of that, it’s also vague or general enough to keep my creativity flowing without fixating on precise outcomes.

Happiness Day 29

Find your inspiration.

I can’t believe it’s been 29 days of focusing on happiness!

I’ll save the recap for tomorrow’s post because today I’m inspired to write about inspiration.

Inspiration is life, my friends.

It comes from the Latin for “breathe into” or “blow upon” like when we blow on the embers of a fire and it springs to life.

But you can’t miss the allusion to Genesis where God created humanity by breathing His spirit into the clay form of the first man.

We are divine spirit in a physical body, and when we feel inspired it’s like we’re receiving a fresh influx of that life-giving breath.

Forget about problems! What inspires you?

Today some contrast helped me to remember an old fear I’ve been keeping alive.

It’s the old fear of not understanding instructions, not knowing what I’m supposed to be doing, and so failing and falling behind and losing hope.

I took those experiences to heart at a young age and resigned myself to having to work things out on my own, in my own way.

I resigned myself to never really understanding, and never succeeding in the “proper” way.

I’m so glad this memory came up, and I’m really appreciating all the work I’ve done to feel better this past month.

Because it only took me an hour or so to allow the answer to come.

All those experiences of “failure” and “not understanding” were about other people’s tasks. School projects, friends’ games, parents’ chores: they were all about being a follower.

Never did I fail at something I was inspired to do! Never have I failed to understand something I actually care about.

Choose your focus

For years I’ve blamed myself for failing at all these “important” things. And yet the real problem all along is that I had no interest in these things in the first place. They were never important to me.

And if you live your life focusing on things that don’t inspire you, of course you won’t succeed. Of course you won’t feel good. Because deep down you don’t even care!

I didn’t care, but I thought I had to care, and so I kept pushing myself and feeling worse and hating it more and blaming myself.

Tell a new story

Well now I know, and I understand perfectly what I need to do. I need to tell a new story that omits all the useless crap I never cared about, and focus instead on what actually inspires me!

I want to look out at life and see a landscape populated by sources of inspiration only.

I want to wake up eagerly wondering what inspired activities I’m going to do today.

And I want to be very deliberately conscious of how good I am at everything I do.

Because I’m no longer going to waste my time on things that don’t inspire me.

I’m going to devote myself to things that feel good, fill me with life, and make that divine spark within me grow bright.

Writing for fun, profit…and a desperate need for approval?

So i wrote an article and it was picked up by my editor, which means success! Money! Well done!

And today my wife mentioned that it’s May 4th tomorrow: Star Wars Day, and I immediately thought I could write another article and repeat that feeling of success and income and achievement.

Except that the moment I started it felt like a dry uphill battle. And then I started feeling physically uncomfortable and I started feeling some pain.

Okay. Let’s stop. This is pretty clear feedback.

For a number of years I’ve wanted some kind of formula for success – a task or work I can throw myself into and be applauded and rewarded for it.

But when I try, when I think “this is it!” bad things happen.

I really should just admit that I’m acting out of something negative. But it’s so enticing! I can just imagine this being the start of a whole series of great articles that build and build and bring me success and pride and please the people around me too.

I’ll be fitting in, finding my place, pleasing my superiors and placating those who’ve worried about me.

I’ll finally have an answer for the people who’ve demanded to know “what are you doing with your life?”

This is pretty cool contrast

I really don’t want writing to put me in physical pain, and I know there’s an issue here that would really benefit from my focus.

And I suspect the issue is: thinking that I must do something to win approval.

I’m actually really well accustomed to not feeling approved of, so much so that I sometimes leap at the chance to help people important to me.

But that’s still operating under the false premise that I require other people’s approval in order to feel good. I might have given up on it, but I still feel the weight of that premise.

All good feeling comes from within

Back to basics: it’s not our circumstances that make us feel good or bad, it’s the thoughts we focus on and their relative degree of alignment with our inner being, our “God’s eye view”.

Thinking that I need other people’s approval feels bad because it is not true and it is resistant to the love and appreciation that already flows to me from within.

My impulse to write another article was an attempt to use action to change my circumstances so I could feel better. That never works.

But that doesn’t mean I should resign myself once more to living without approval.

Feeling comes first

The only reason I wanted approval in the first place was because I thought I would feel good if I had it, and I believed I would get it if I found some work I could take pride in and earn money from.

Let’s go positive with this.

How would it feel to have approval of all the important people in my life?

It would actually feel really good.

But here’s the thing: In the moment I imagined that approval and felt that good feeling, I was simply allowing a good feeling to flow from within me.

That good feeling was always accessible within me. I just disallowed it because I thought I actually needed others to provide it.

In that sense does the feeling of “approval” ever come from others? No. It always comes from within us. It is our own allowing of approval to flow.

Count Your Blessings Day 8

My little girl has now soothed herself to sleep three nights in a row plus two day time naps!

I cannot fully express how much relief this brings me!

Never again will I have to rock and bounce her til she falls asleep!

Never again will I fight exhaustion to get her to stop crying!

This is so amazing. This is a miracle! And I owe it all to changing my focus from the burden of “getting her to sleep” to the love and appreciation of “helping her self-soothe to sleep”.

This is life-changing. When I look back on this Happiness series, I look forward to appreciating all over again how a year of sleep-deprivation and struggle so easily gave way to our 1yo learning to fall asleep all by herself.

And all it took was for me to be so exhausted I had no choice but to allow things to improve.

Yep. It was my own resistance. I was so set on being diligent and “in control”. I wanted it to be easy, but found it easier to put in effort than to actually focus on feeling better.

This is profound.

Rocking her to sleep I felt good that I could make things easier. But it was the relief of managing an unwanted situation, not the relief of moving towards a wanted one.

The truth is that I spent a lot of my past focusing on the unwanted and trying to escape it. I didn’t put much effort into defining what I did want.

The positive aspect is that I had great faith everything would work out. I would find the one answer that would fix everything.

But I kept fixating on the problems rather than the solutions. I kept picking at the question and all the evidence of unwanted things in my life. I kept reminding myself of why I wanted to escape, rather than looking at where I was escaping to.

In other words I was trying to manage all the unwanted things in life rather than moving toward the wanted.

Managing the unwanted implies acceptance of it, keeping it alive even while trying not to suffer from it.

Focusing on the wanted is like entering a totally different reality. Changing “I don’t want to go!” into “I want to go there.”

It’s a melancholic thing to not really know what you want. But it just takes us a little longer to make our minds up, work out what is possible, and finally resolve to push beyond that!

Our feelings don’t recognise limitations or impossibilities. It just takes us a little while to accept the truth and power of those feelings!

Temperament and introversion vs feeling good

I found the perfect Abraham-Hicks video discussing what “low energy” really means, but first here’s how I found the term and its associations with temperament and introversion.

Energy vs social interest

One of the historic two-factor personality theories used combinations of energy and social interest to describe what are essentially the four temperaments.

Melancholics are low energy, low social interest and I love this depiction because it captures my past experience in ways I otherwise struggled to convey.

After all, “I’m tired” implies to most people a prior cause of tiredness, but I would feel tired even if I had done nothing that day.

“I’m always tired, for no reason” implies to most people some kind of chronic ailment 😅

But “I’m low energy” is unfamiliar enough of a term to wrong-foot people and it immediately implies the converse: some people are just “high energy”.

“Social interest” is equally brilliant because I’m too polite to say “I don’t like socialising” and anyway it’s not strictly true. I just don’t feel the “pull” that some people evidently feel to be surrounded by others.

And keeping energy and social interest distinct is brilliant too because cholerics will get it immediately and stop asking, recognising themselves as “high energy” but also “low social interest”.

But that’s not temperament!

Here everything gets turned on its head, because if you’ve ever seen me in full flight of ideas and inspiration you would never consider me “low energy” and if you ever saw me with the right person at the right time you wouldn’t peg me as “low social interest” either.

That’s why I referred to the Abraham-Hicks video at the beginning, because in it a woman describes her life-long struggle with feeling low energy, depressed and suffering physical pain.

In other words she sounds like a melancholic.

But the Abraham response is not that some people are simply low energy by default.

Feeling low energy is the feeling of resistance.

Abraham uses the analogy of sitting awkwardly and cutting off the blood flow to your foot or leg. It feels weird and uncomfortable because you’re impeding the flow of blood and life-giving oxygen and nutrients to the cells in that part of your body.

Likewise, feeling low energy, depressed and in physical pain are symptoms of negative beliefs about various subjects or about life itself. These habits of thought are obstructing or limiting the flow of energy, which is the essence of good feeling.

Personality differences

Nonetheless Abraham does mention that some people are especially focused with their thoughts. The woman in the video just happened to have gotten off on the wrong foot earlier in life, and had devoted her highly focused mind to resistant thoughts instead of good-feeling ones.

So there is evidently some degree of individual difference. It would take perhaps more time for this woman to change the direction of her focus, to train her powerful mind in better-feeling thoughts.

But as Abraham gets her to acknowledge, it’s not as though every moment of her life has been full of consistent and unrelenting depression or low energy or pain.

And I recognise that in myself. There are subjects where I’ve felt so good my feet don’t touch the ground. There are social interactions I do seek out and enjoy.

There are countless moments throughout the day where my once iron grip on misery slipped right off. There have even been times when I’ve had to work hard to regain that deathly serious focus on feeling bad!

Even a melancholic can be happy and “high energy” if their day consists of one exciting and satisfying subject after another.

And all it takes is some practice and some focus in the right direction, retraining our powerful minds for happiness.

This new understanding of “low energy” doesn’t negate differences in temperament. In fact it raises the truly exciting question of what life might look like for a melancholic who has learnt to stay in alignment with his or her own energy!