Life should not feel dull. In order to live your life wide awake, you need to avoid becoming a zombie. You need to “Wake up from the Matrix.”
A note about this post: This post is the original spark for this blog. I posted it originally to Reddit (it’s been slightly altered and edited based on feedback I got). You can see the original post here. I also guest posted on High Existence where there is yet another slightly different version of the post called Stop Bullshitting Yourself If You Want To Wake Up (From The True Matrix).
I am lost.
Does everyone feel that way? Or is it just me? I think I fell asleep at the wheel of my own life. I’m my very own “Walking Dead.” It’s odd too because by most measures I’m successful. Married my college sweetheart 20+ years ago. 2 incredible kids. Great job. Awesome salary. Incredible opportunities everywhere.
Yet I can’t shake that feeling of something being wrong. I feel alone. The dream-life I wished for now feels more and more like a nightmare.
I’ve tried all the tricks. I lost 20lbs. Got more sleep. Ran a 5k. Didn’t help. I tried to exercise more, eat better. Read books about happiness. Didn’t work. Changed jobs. Changed jobs again. Changed industries, a decade working in non-profit. Changed jobs again. More money sure, but still, felt like a failure and a mess.
My marriage started to getting rocky and we ended up in therapy. It sort of helped. But it didn’t stick. I wasn’t honest with my therapist, or my wife, or myself at first. I numbed myself by being distant and aloof. It didn’t work. I didn’t feel better and I felt like a liar. I felt like I was saying things to just make everyone leave me alone, instead of being honest with myself.
I told myself maybe this was a phase. Mid-life crisis perhaps. It wasn’t. It isn’t. I was starting to get angry with myself. Hating myself. I couldn’t even look myself in the eyes in the mirror. I was really lost.
I’d sit at dinner with my family around me and feel alone and isolated. Totally tuned out and inside my own head thinking about this or that. I watched too much TV, and worked too much. My job had me traveling every week to some shitty city or another, doing some sort of shitty work for some shitty client or another. All of them interchangeable. Dallas, Atlanta, Charlotte, Phoenix. Whatever. Wherever.
When I wasn’t working I’d call home for 2 minutes to say “Hi”, then go out and work some more, or get drunk. Or watch some stupid movie. Or just go to sleep. Day in and day out.
I knew I was in a funk but was powerless to do anything about it. One night at dinner, alone, I decided I’d get myself going again by learning new things while traveling. Great idea right? I tried to learn 3D modeling. Got bored. I tried to write a novel, hated what I was writing. Tried blogging and thought to myself, what a douchebag. Shut up already.
I kept looking for an ah-ha moment. I’d look for signs in movies, books, TV shows. I imagined that the answers were “out there” waiting for me to find them. I’d make a big deal out of coincidences in my own head as if they were signs, signals of what to do, or how to act, or how to talk. How to think. What job to take. What gift I could give my wife to just make everything perfect.
I tried Tony Robbins. I bought books and audio programs and did the work. I have pages and pages of notes, memories, ideas. I had goals that in hindsight, read like someone who wasn’t being honest with himself about his own life.
2005 – “Improve overall family relationships.”
2007 – “Break 100 in golf.”
2009 – “Enroll in business course.”
2010 – “Disconnect while on vacation.”
Looking back, these notes feel delusional to me now. I was lying to myself and couldn’t admit it, even to myself. What they should have said was “Wake up,” and “Be honest.” I’d have been better off if I had simply tried to be like Jim Carrey in Liar, Liar and never tell a lie for once.
It gets worse. In 2011 I wrote as part of my “Ultimate Vision” that “I am someone who brings passion and spirit to whatever I am doing.” Yea. Not so much. No amount of breathing exercises, gratitude prayers or Tony Robbins pump me up audio was working. I love TR, but it was time to admit he wasn’t helping me the way I needed to be helped.
After finishing Time of Your Life a few months ago, I felt a little better, but honestly, nothing much really changed. I was still a zombie in a meat suit walking and talking as if I were living my life while inside, I may as well have been asleep.
I felt really alone. I didn’t want to share my true feelings with anyone because I was afraid, and ashamed. I was ashamed because everyone around me was telling me how great I was, how they wanted advice or wanted me to share my knowledge at work. I felt like such a fake. A cardboard cutout figurine. A marionette with a mysterious puppeteer.
First World Problems, I know. What right did I have to complain? I have a great job, I make enough money. I am healthy, and my family loves me. I was really terrified to admit any of this to anyone, least of all to myself. I’d started to journal because Buzzfeed or Lifehacker said it would help. When you aren’t honest with yourself, it’s hard to find relief.
There was no ah-ha moment. I desperately wish there was. It would have made life so much easier. Ah ha! Color your hair, quit your job and sell your car and voila – you’ll be happy! But no, that didn’t happen. Still sort of wish it would.
What did happen, and what is still happening to me as I type this is that I have started to realize something incredible. Something so simple and so shocking that I can’t believe I couldn’t see it until recently. I feel a tiny bit like Neo in the Matrix. When Morpheus says “He’s starting to believe,” that’s me, sort of. No awesome glasses but still. You get the point.
One day, after talking with my coach whom I recently hired I had a bit of an epiphany. We were taking about life and choices and something hit me. I still can’t believe how simple and clear the message was, it didn’t contain all the answers, but it provide me an insight to stand on a new foundation for thinking.
I was not being accountable to myself.
I had spent my entire life, trying to make other people happy. I’m one of those people who can’t say no. I say yes to everything and anything people ask for – and of course, I end up failing half the time and feeling horrible about it.
I work hard to provide for my family. I bust my ass off at work to deliver great results. I try my best to make everyone around me happy and yet – I was miserable. As it turns out, so was my wife, my kids and everyone around me. I hadn’t noticed but it was true. I thought I was hiding my misery but in fact, I was broadcasting it all around me.
As I thought about my big insight – I wondered what it really meant to be accountable to myself. My coach encouraging me to shut my mouth and just listen to myself but I didn’t know how. I had no idea how to just be quiet and listen. I’d soon learn about meditation but at that moment I was lost. Listen to myself? What the hell does that mean?
I started reading a book by a guy named Sam Harris called “Waking Up” and more lights came on. Harris wrote “There is now little question that how one uses one’s attention, moment to moment, largely determines what kind of person one becomes. Our minds—and lives—are largely shaped by how we use them.” That quote and the book struck me as a signpost, a clue.
I was listening to a Tim Ferris podcast and sure enough, in the episode with Maria Popova from Brain Pickings, she mentioned that she listens to guided meditations from Tara Brach. I downloaded a bunch and tried my best to quiet my mind. I learned to start with simple things, like just sitting still and focusing on my breath. It felt weird but I kept at it and a tiny little voice inside my head started saying stuff. Whispers.
I started meditating early in the morning. On the couch before anyone woke up. My wife walked in on me and I felt I like had gotten caught masturbating, or doing something bad. I told her I was trying something new and we joked that maybe I was becoming a buddhist but really, I was just sitting there quietly trying to shut up and listen.
I found a book called “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. It’s a 12 week course in rediscovering your creativity. As of this writing I’m in week 7. During week 4 I was instructed to go on a media and reading diet. No reading, no newspapers, no TV, no movies, no social media. I fought it but I did it and the whispers got a little louder. I had an incredible week of writing, thinking and didn’t miss a thing on TV or online.
“The reward for attention is always healing. It may begin as the healing of a particular pain—the lost lover, the sickly child, the shattered dream. But what is healed, finally, is the pain that underlies all pain: the pain that we are all, as Rilke phrases it, “unutterably alone.” More than anything else, attention is an act of connection.” – Julia Cameron
I read that passage 3 or 4 times. I just sat there and stared at the words, trying to unscramble them. I wanted to believe her, needed it to be true that attention will lead to healing. I put my trust in a 15 year old book that I bought and had never bothered to read.
I don’t know what will happen next on this journey but I feel like I found a doorway to something better. There is a light down the ways a bit. I think I can see it. I can hear the whispers telling me to keep going. To push hard against my need to please others and focus on myself, on what I need.
I wish i had a 5 point plan to post here, but I’ve been through enough to know that all the lists and shit you find on the web won’t help. There is no color by numbers answer to waking up. No simple, singular answer. Taking a walk, or buying myself a Neo action figure or going away on vacation isn’t going to help. I think waking up requires something a lot simpler.The Matrix calls to us, tempting us with drugs, booze, toys, distractions – it calls me to take the blue pill. But no, I’m taking the red pill and am going to Wonderland., I’ve had enough. I hate feeling like a zombie. It sucks.
I think waking up requires one main ingredient that I don’t see anyone talking about… personal accountability. True, no bullshit, no fucking around accountability to yourself. No one is going to save me, no one is going to hold my hand through this fire, only me.
I am taking steps. I am holding myself accountable in new ways at work. Investing my time in learning new skills. Meditating on a regular basis. I committed to waking up at 5:30 am every day and writing for 20 minutes before I even get coffee. What I write doesn’t matter, “The Artist’s Way” assigned me morning pages and I refuse to miss even a single day.
So what’s next – is it time to wake up from the Matrix yet?
I kind of like the meditation, so I’m going to keep doing that to see where it leads. I committed to cooking dinner for my family every Sunday night – a new dish, no repeats followed by table talk, conversation and being with each other. I am being mindful and not allowing myself to get sucked into endless sessions of Facebook or Reddit. Instead, I’m writing that novel and thinking about what I can do every day to keep waking myself up. I am learning to love myself, and am committed to finishing “The Artist’s Way” and to breaking my old patterns. It’s hard but I can’t afford to stop searching. I am spending my time creating, not consuming.
I know something is happening. I can’t explain it yet but I do feel it. I am just now realizing that I’ve always felt it, but have been too scared to look directly at it or to think about it. This short scene from “The Matrix” between Morpheus and Neo sums it up well…
Morpheus: I imagine that right now, you’re feeling a bit like Alice. Hm? Tumbling down the rabbit hole?
Neo: You could say that.
Morpheus: I 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, that’s not far from the truth. Do you believe in fate, Neo?
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?
Searching For Sumthin is an experiment. But know this, you are not alone. Today is the day to wake up from the Matrix.