The Problem is Choice

I believe that The Matrix is one of the greatest cinematic stories ever told. For me, the scene that stands out above all others occurs when Neo meets The Architect of the Matrix, the man who is the machine that created the Matrix, the virtual world that all captive and ignorant human batteries exist in. It is at this point that Neo learns that there were five like him before he existed, five who also arose from and against the Matrix in the ultimate exercise of free will.

Why? Why in this supposedly all too perfect virtual world would someone wish to consciously awake from an ignorant sleep to take the hard road and live as a criminal in a cold, dark world absent the creature comforts so widely and readily available in the Matrix? The problem, as Neo so succinctly expresses it, is choice. The choice to be real, to feel everything there is to feel. To experience the full range of human emotions, happiness and despair, the joy of love and the pain of loss.

I was once part of a Utopian religious sect which provided for “built-in” friendships while the promise of everlasting life in a perfect world enveloped me like a protective bubble. However, choice was not a part of my vocabulary. Oh yes, I could “choose” to exit this group and lose all of my family and close “friends” overnight, as they would no longer be allowed to speak with me once I left. But the “architects” of this group know they are not providing a reasonable choice to their members and so millions remain enslaved to the notion of a perfect world “just around the corner.” I did leave and my departure was painful. I made many mistakes and found myself mixed up with people most would not associate with. But I learned from all these experiences what no textbook or religious literature could have taught me. I would not trade my life experiences for any so called protection from the outside world that someone or some religious group would pretend to offer to me.

Likewise, many take pills to avoid dealing with raw, uncomfortable or even tormenting emotions. Some have real chemical imbalances that are near impossible to cure so I’m not saying all drugs are bad; but I do question the relative ease with which doctors prescribe SSRIs. To me, the number of people on these drugs, as well as the millions on Opiods, represents a growing need to disconnect from the difficult decisions that life calls on us to make. In our blissful, altered state, have we fallen asleep at the wheel as a society? Our choice in elected leaders may be the ultimate manifestation of this.

Whatever reality you are struggling with please always know you DO have a choice. You can choose to face an uncomfortable present, deal with the source of your pain and find a way to eradicate it. You can choose to deal with bullies, whether they be bosses, partners or family members. You can choose to believe what you want to believe and how you will believe it. Your choices may then very well be a problem for others, but as the saying goes, “that’s their problem.”

SCHISM

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This is a story about divisions. There are many which we are already very familiar with. Satan versus God, Democrat versus Republican, Black versus White, Fascist versus Pacifist. I’m not writing about those divisions, but rather about those that can occur in one’s mind. The insidious cracks that wedge themselves into our subconscious, separating one area of our mind from the other, creating a chasm over which no sane thought may cross. If you’ve been torn, confused, felt stuck, or been unable to decide, you may have experienced this on some level. I’ve personally known painful, crushing and demoralizing vacillation, gripped and frozen by the depths of my own indecisiveness. I’ve spent a long time reflecting on the root cause of this affliction and its complex origins.

When I was just eight years old, my parents decided to separate and ultimately divorce. Unlike other children I knew whose parents were splitting up, my situation was made more difficult by the fact that my mother decided to leave her religious beliefs behind, the ones that my father still clung to. Prior to their divorce, they were both still loyal and active Jehovah’s Witnesses. Unlike most religions, one does not simply fade away from this organization. If you publicly proclaim your allegiance to it through a water baptism, and then later walk away, there is no simple shrugging from the other members. No, Jehovah’s Witnesses liken such a person to a “dog” that “returns to its own vomit,”  to quote the Bible at 2 Peter 2:22 (English Standard Version). They “shun” and cut off this sort of individual, meaning no one is to even acknowledge their presence at any time. In effect, my mother, once a friend to many in our congregation, was now dead to everyone she had known. My father even went so far as to forbid me to speak about her in the presence of other Witnesses, and if I did so accidentally, I was met with stern rebuke.

To say I was put into a tough situation would be an understatement. My father made it clear to me that my fervent loyalty to Jehovah (God) was of paramount importance and would even take precedence over my relationship with my mother. He quoted scripture to support my new reality, telling me that Jesus came to “set a man against a father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law” (Matthew 10:35, English Standard Version). From that moment on I would be divided, split in two, ripped apart, conflicted and torn. My mother left the Witnesses and never looked back. Over the years she moved from a wild life style to one of Christian devotion and conviction. My father remained a Jehovah’s Witness, even to this day, now approaching 50 years since his own baptism. When I was at my mother’s house, I was expected to celebrate Holidays and Birthdays and other “worldly” events. At my father’s home, I was expected to study the Watchtower magazine, attend mind-numbing meetings and spend Saturday mornings knocking on doors while other kids were watching cartoons. Moving from one house to the other was like sliding through space and time into another dimension in which nothing was familiar on either side of the worm hole.

I began to feel the conflict brewing in my mind, a battle actually for my mind, which led to my developing two personalities, the one my father expected to see, and the one my mother allowed me to be. I learned to move between the two personalities with ease. I fancied myself a chameleon, able to adjust my outward self based on the environment I was in. I didn’t know then just how dangerous this skill would become. In the process of becoming overly adaptable to the opposing worlds that my parents lived in, I didn’t develop my true self. Worse, I did not develop my own internal compass, or my own ability to make healthy choices. I learned to become whatever people wanted or needed me to be at any given moment. It took many years of therapy to unpeel the onion and find out who I really was beneath it all, and to become the person I am today.

As a teenager, I made my own commitment to the Jehovah’s Witness movement, and from that point on I was expected to have no more contact with my mother. I hadn’t really considered this outcome when I chose to get baptized. I thought the bond with my mother was above all others, yet should have known better. After four short years, I came to doubt my beliefs and the reasons I had for believing them. I left the Witnesses, was instantly cut off from friends and family members, but now the tables were turned, as I could no longer speak with my father. Since that time I have been in a situation where I can never have both parents in my life at the same time. If I return to the Witnesses I get my father back but lose my mother; stay where I am, and I remain disconnected from my father.

I’ve learned to accept this arrangement, knowing that the most important connection is the one I have with myself. I’m no longer divided, I’m no longer torn. I’m at peace with this life and know that it is my acceptance of my circumstances which contributes to this peace. I hold no hate in my heart for my father. Hate for others is a punishment one brings on one’s self and I will not allow that to interfere with my devotion to becoming my best self. In the absence of hate, love fills the void, and brings us the true happiness we seek. If you can relate to my experience, I wish you much success with your own healing process.

Please know that any outcome is possible, despite whatever environment you were raised in, and as someone more famous than me once said,”Your past mistakes are meant to guide you, not define you.” -Buddha