By Thomas McConkie, adapted from an episode of the Mindfulness+ podcast.
The Matrix came out in 1999 and rocked the cinematic world with its metaphysical implications. There’s a famous scene in the movie, where Morpheus, a mentor character of sorts, sits down with the main protagonist, Neo, and describes the false reality called the Matrix. Morpheus tells Neo that you feel the Matrix when you go to work. You feel it when you go to church. You feel it when you pay your taxes. In other words, it's everywhere. It's all around us but we don't see it. We don't realize that we're always in this Matrix, which is obscuring reality from us.
At that point, Morpheus offers Neo a red pill or a blue pill. The blue pill will lead him back to sleep — back in to the Matrix where ignorance is bliss. The red pill will reveal to Neo the true nature of reality.
It’s an iconic moment in Hollywood. But for me as a mindfulness practitioner it points to a profound truth: namely that all of us live in a matrix.
Now, I’m not going down the road of saying that there is some nefarious alien race that’s using human beings as batteries to power their civilization. Where I’m going is much cheerier than that.
What I want to suggest to you is that the matrix we live in as human beings is invisible to us if we don't have the ears to hear it or the eyes to see it.
This matrix we could call, simply, see, hear, and feel.
What do I mean by see, hear, and feel? Well, notice in this moment your experience. Notice that your experience will be some combination of seeing (what's in the visual world around you), hearing (what you can hear in your environment), and also feeling (how you're feeling in the physical body).
And on a more subtle level, irrespective of what's going on in the external environment, you can notice that you can see, hear, and feel things from an internal perspective as well. Namely, with the thinking mind, your thoughts come up as internal images, which is a mode of seeing. Internal sound is often mental chatter, which is a form of internal hearing. And we could say that emotion is a kind of subjective feeling. It's a feeling in to our unique personal experience.
It's remarkable, but the entire spectrum of human experience (external and internal) can be broken down into these three sensory categories: see, hear, feel. We take for granted what is so natural to us. To have this breathing, feeling, moving human body, to see and to hear, to think and to dream and to anticipate the future and reflect on the past. These are things we do so innately that we don't think about them as special. And we certainly don't think about seeing, hearing, feeling in a given moment as a matrix that holds us captive.
But what’s so potent about a mindfulness practice is that when we actually witness all of this happening — when we bring our awareness to seeing, hearing, and feeling on an external and internal level — we start to realize that these things constitute the building blocks of our human experience. And what’s more, when we're aware of them we bring them into our awareness as objects of awareness and then experience a degree of freedom from this matrix.
We're not just what we see, hear, and feel. Most significantly, and here is the kicker for you mindfulness practitioners, when we are aware of seeing, hearing, and feeling as awareness, we are free from this matrix.
This can be difficult to comprehend at the level of the mind. So let’s practice and extract ourselves from this matrix in order to taste the freedom that a mindfulness practice can uniquely offer to us.
For this meditation you don't have to be doing anything special. You can sit in silence, of course, but you can also keep doing exactly what you're doing throughout your day. Whether you're driving a car, out on a walk or cooking a meal, it doesn't matter. It doesn't matter because this matrix of see, hear, feel is always present.
Let’s bring our attention to it.
Go ahead and take a couple of big breaths. You can let them out with an audible sigh if that helps you relax, if that helps you feel more deeply in to your body.
Start by bringing awareness to the feeling body. Notice how all of the physical body is feeling in this moment. Just allow awareness to evenly cover all of your physical being. As you attend to this feeling component of experience, you can note to yourself in your mind: feeling is happening. Feeling is happening. And just let it happen. Be aware that feeling is happening and just allow that feeling to happen the same way you allow clouds to form and dissipate in the sky above. In other words, you don't have to interfere with it. You can just let it happen.
You can notice where sensation is the brightest, the loudest. Notice where sensation is the dimmest, the quietest. But simply, be aware that feeling is happening. And from here you can shift your awareness to hearing. Hearing all the sounds about you in the world. Even hearing the silence if there's no sound apparent. On a more subtle level you might hear thoughts in the mind like internal talk, chatter, commentating. Just notice. Hearing is happening. And you can just let it happen, resting as the awareness that witnesses the hearing, witnesses the feeling. Are sounds in front of you, behind you, to the left, to the right, above, below, inside, all around you? Note to yourself: hearing is happening and you can just let it happen.
And you can bring awareness to seeing. All of the visual world all around you. Notice what you can see out in the world. Perhaps your eyes are closed and you're aware of mental images flashing across the mind's eye. In any event, seeing is happening. And notice that you don't have to do the seeing. The seeing just happens, and you can let it happen. And you can continue this way, monitoring with your awareness — see, hear, feel. In a given moment are you more aware of seeing or hearing? More aware of hearing or feeling? And you can just note to yourself: seeing is happening. Hearing is happening.
This concludes our brief tour through the matrix today, everybody. If you find yourself feeling wound tight like Neo, and you're needing to unplug, this is a great and simple exercise that you can do on the go, any time, anywhere. Notice as you deconstruct your experience — as you go from being imbedded in this matrix of sensory experience to taking the position of awareness, of the witness, seeing is happening, hearing is happening, and feeling is happening. And what is it that's aware of seeing, hearing, and feeling? As you do this, you'll realize that awareness is aware and awareness is already free.