The Idea

There is a sequence at the beginning of
the Christopher Nolan movie “INCEPTION” that I found particularly
insightful. I settled in after the brief exchange detailed below,
knowing that I was in for a good movie:

is the most resilient parasite? A bacteria? A virus? An intestinal
Arthur: [the
dude from “500 days of summer”?]

“Ah, what Mr Cobb is trying to say…”
idea! Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of
the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully
formed, fully understood – That sticks… right in there somewhere.”
[he points to his head]

In the movie,
Cobb’s wife becomes so arrested by a particular idea that she decided
to jump off of the ledge of a highrise during one of the movies most
gripping scenes. We see this same scenario played out all the time
through various fanatical religious groups and cults, but the themes
sprinkled throughout this film, exhibited this rather common mind set
with a fresh spin.

Sure enough, I
simmered on this idea for days after seeing the movie. It occurred to
me how little we challenge the ideas and perceptions that we are
simply given in one way or another. On a figuratively smaller scale,
society has self-generated a myriad of archetypal personality molds
that we ultimately work ourselves to death trying to fit into as
well. The middle aged business man with his data phone and hard
shoes; the single mother from the bottom who over-achieves beyond
what the odds and statistics suggest she should;  the young soldier
who has sworn allegiance to a flag that blows in the wind; the
flannel shirt, camouflage cap, and pick up truck guy; the street-wise
thug, the priest, the multi pierced black leather wearing rebel, the
soccer mom, the ultra-deep artist [my personal favorite] – are all

While I am not
Freud or Jung, the archetype seems to fit Cobb’s description outlined
above. These ideas – or parasites, need a constant flow of things to
prop them up in our day-to-day consciousness. We exhaust ourselves
with the task of supporting this conceptual self to the point that it
over shadows our lives in the physical world. Its is the very
definition of schizophrenia. The Buddhist call it the “monkey
mind”. We jump from one vine to the next in search of the
validation that can really only be truly realized by stillness. We
buy this, get rid of that, rub on this, sign up for that… all in an
outward search for something we already possess – ourselves. This
mind state is the equivalent of trying to smooth out the ripples in a
body of water with a straightening iron. The individual becomes lost
in his effort to correct an ever-changing material experience while
simultaneously creating more confusion for himself. “Each
of us is something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided
against ourselves” ~Martin Luther King Jr,
to Love

This individual and
collective idea of the “self” has had many names. Some have
called it the persona, others the ego, some in a broader sense –
patriotism. The word  “persona” means “mask” which implies
deception, the ego is always threatened, and the nation-state spends
billions that could be used for so much more…. on “defense” –
all fear based perceptions. Whatever one decides to title it, the
self can only survive in a human beings mental past and future. It
cannot survive in the present. There is no space for it while you are
actually perceiving.

It is not until you
reflect, or anticipate that the ego exist at all! However, in and of
itself – the ego is not a bad thing, to the contrary it can be one
of the most rewarding vehicles in life. None of the roles I named
above possess any negative connotations as the role, rather it is our
obsession with the role that becomes the problem. Our imbalanced
self-identification with the role or ego is at the root of almost all
human suffering. I would make the argument that it is not until a man
ceases this rigorous association with his idea of himself that he can
truly enjoy the use of his ego uninhibited by its built-in protection

I have an exercise
that I think will help you to become aware of how much our thoughts
revolve around maintaining our conceptual selves during a given day.
Gently pay attention to how many times you catch yourself in a one
hour period thinking the words “I” or”Me” – that’s all.
Unless you are a practicing meditator I can almost guarantee that you
will be shocked! Turn your attention around to the awareness that is
reading this post. For the past few moments as you focused in on the
text in front of you, your name wasn’t the “idea” that was given
to you of who you are. Your social security number and credit score
did not matter,  neither did any of the endless things we use to prop
our fragile egos into position everyday.  You were simply…
perceiving! That is the essence of meditation – the non-self. It is
the same place you go during dreamless sleep late at night. During
dreamless sleep you are not Mr. or Mrs. So&So. The cessation of
your so called identity for over eight hours does not stop your heart
from beating or your lungs from expanding. “Most civilized people
are out of touch with reality because they confuse the world as it
is, with the world as they think about it, talk about it and describe
it. For on the one hand there is the real world and on the other
there is a whole system of symbols about that world which we have in
our minds” Alan Watts.

Over the centuries,
scientist have diced the human brain up into thousands of pieces and
they have yet been able to find one thought, one memory, not a single
fiber of intuition. That is because your conceptual identity does not
really exist in the material world! It is an idea. If you can fully
grasp this, it changes everything! You no longer have to live divided
against yourself. You are already perfect in design. Everything since
the big bang has floated into position for you to be exactly right
here where you are right now. Who are we to argue with that? The
fearful, individual ego against the entire universe – not good
betting odds. You are a human “being” not a human “doing”.
Learn to just be.

Ponder this for an
example of the effectiveness of this parasite. On average a person
sleeps for eight hours and is awake for sixteen give or take. Out of
sixteen hours, at least eight of them [probably a lot more for some]
are consumed managing this fear driven ego, by running mental movies
about “me or I” in an imaginary past or future. When you really
take a hard look at it, most peoples fears never materialize into the
real world.

Simply put, most of
our biggest fears we simply never live to see. Still, just the
possibility of the fear manifesting is enough suck most of the juice
out of the present moment because the ego is always threatened. Stay
with me here. That means that half of a person’s waking hours during
a given day are spent in a dream-like state as opposed to fully
inhabiting ones senses in physical reality. Spread that parasitical
perception out over a year and the dream grows exponentially. Spread
it out over a lifetime and that’s right you guessed it folks – that
equals half of your waking life!

There are some who
believe that it is meditation with the intention of “knowing thy
self”, not a doctorate degree indicating a high mastery of
something external, that is the most important practice one can learn
in life. Unless we learn a method of not being pushed around by our
thousands of thoughts a day, we will always be the victim of whatever
idea dominates them. It is not until the wind stops that the pond
becomes still enough to see one’s own reflection. And at the end of
the day, what else  as a sentient being is more important than self
realization? With that said, self realization is just another damn




3 Responses to “The Idea”

  1. A* says:

    heavenly bound? earthly good?

  2. step says:

    How do I follow?

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