From The Matrix
Let me tell you a story about one of my all-time favorite films The Matrix and how rewatching it recently on a flight back to New York helped me realize the secret to living a fulfilling life.
When I first watched the movie at the age of 11 at the movie theater? ? like most young boys at that time? ? I was blown away! The visual effects, nonstop action, and the world building.
The Matrix was a captivating piece of cinema that only reinforced my desire to make my own films someday. However something irked me about the film, I didn?t understood what it meant! I knew that the film had deeper ideas beyond the hero?s journey of the main character Neo and I wanted to uncover what they were.
Then the film came out on DVD and I watched it for a second time, then a third, then a fourth, and then at least 10 more times. I kept rewatching it trying to grasp its esoteric concepts about the nature of reality, the dichotomy between free-will and determinism, and last but not least what the f*** did ?There is no spoon? mean?!
It may sound silly on the surface because it?s just a movie about a guy getting superpowers and crushing his enemies, right? Nope. There?s so much more underneath the surface. The reason this film struck a chord with people across the world and became a staple of our culture is because of its multiple layers of meaning within.
All of the best stories have that in common: a hero?s journey that many can relate to on some basic human level draped above the fundamental truths that are conveyed in the greatest of human stories. The myths, the religious texts, the books of philosophy. That?s why certain stories linger for centuries, if not longer.
As I kept rewatching The Matrix at the young age of 11, I was starting to understand the concept of living in a dream world that can feel so real because that is the only world we know of, from our current perspective.
That made more sense when I learned about Plato?s Allegory of the Cave later in high school. A thought experiment imagining people who are tied up since they were born in a torch-lit cave facing a wall. All they would ever see is the shadows of the people who are free. The tied-up people would only know of the world through shadows, there is no other reality to them. The shadows are their reality.
Just like many sages and saints have pondered throughout the ages, is the world we sense in front of us truly the only reality that exists? Are the five senses the end-all-and-be-all of the ultimate truth? Perhaps there?s more to reality then we can know in our current corporeal forms. You can find these ideas in the most iconic stories from the teaching of Jesus Christ, to the wise words of Lao Tzu in the Tao Te Ching, to the writings of Plato, to even William Shakespeare?s iconic line ?All the world?s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.?
Then there?s that iconic line of the film that has become a joke when one wants to sound nonsensical ?There is no spoon.?
For many years I thought it merely meant that you can imagine the spoon being anything you want and hence bend it to your will. But back to my flight back to NYC, 20 years after I saw The Matrix for the first time, I noticed one little thing.
As the climax starts picking up and our hero Neo has to face certain death to save his mentor Morpheus he whispers to himself, ?There is no spoon.? It?s very easy to miss that line since the directors don?t bring much attention to it. But what does that mean?
Let?s go back to earlier in the film when Morpheus is training Neo in martial arts and defeats him in a spar. Neo is catching his breath. Morpheus looks at Neo and says ?Do you think that?s air you?re breathing?? Fast forward to when Neo meets the young boy bending telekinetically bending spoons and they have this conversation:
Boy: Do not try and bend the spoon. That?s impossible. Instead? only try to realize the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Boy: There is no spoon.
Neo: There is no spoon?
Boy: Then you?ll see that it is not the spoon that bends, it is only yourself.
A lot has happened to me in the past 20 years since first seeing The Matrix, but most pertinent to this revelation is that I?ve done a deep dive into spirituality, the occult, mythology, philosophy, quantum physics, history and world religions. I?m obsessed with these subjects of study. Not just because of their individual merits, but how they connect and tell a deeper story of our universe.
I?ve read countless books and consumed hundreds of hours of talks. It?s a realm of study I know from the back of my hand, just like I know the city of New York from the back of my hand. The Matrix was the initial spark for my fascination.
Over 30,000 feet high in the air jetting at hundreds of miles per hour, it finally clicked! The true depth of ?There is no spoon? dawned upon me.
However the issues with conveying deeper truths about life and the universe is that we are limited by our words. It?s like conveying the Mona Lisa through text. I can do a good enough job because I?m apt at writing and describing things, but I will never be able to fully convey the majesty of the Mona Lisa solely through words.
That?s why poets like Rumi or a sages like Lao Tzu took creative liberties with the meaning of words and their structure in order to convey deeper truths. So I?ll do my best. For this we need a brief primer into three topics: quantum physics, the law of relativity, and meditation.
You may think that a film like The Matrix is weird, but brace yourself for the study of quantum physics, because things get really weird. There?s an experiment that is the first thing covered in any Quantum Physics college course (which I took when I studied Electrical Engineering) where you take one atom and split them in two: Atom A and Atom B.
The two new atoms ? Atom A and Atom B ? are then separated up to many miles apart. Then Atom A is made to rotate. This is where things get really weird so much so that it freaked out Albert Einstein who called it ?spooky action at a distance.? While Atom A is rotating, without anything being done to Atom B it starts rotating too.
At this point many scientists thought to themselves there must be a signal transmitted by the speed of light so there has to be a delay. They increased the distance to many more miles apart and tested it again. Atom A is rotated and then Atom B rotates? at the same exact time! No delay. Literally the same exact time.
Then they tried it with other actions, such as shaking Atom A then Atom B would do the same. Countless experiments have been made and it?s always conclusive whatever you do to Atom A, Atom B does the same, and vice-versa. This is called Quantum Entanglement.
Quantum Entanglement has either two implications. Either a signal can be transmitted much faster than the speed of light. Or that there is no true separation between atoms. Traveling faster than light is improbable, so many quantum physicists are lead to believe its the latter. Which means that nothing is ever truly separate from ourselves. The spoon is not truly separate from us. We are the spoon and the spoon is us.
However if there is no separation on the atomic level, then let?s bring in a much simpler scientific concept theorized by Albert Einstein himself. Energy cannot be created nor destroyed, it?s only converted into matter or vice-versa. To take you step by step through this thought process will take a much longer conversation, but let me cut to the chase. Whatever runs our bodies, may it be the brain or consciousness, they are energy nonetheless. Meaning that they can never be destroyed.
Even when our bodies decay and the heart stops beating, they are still transmuted into energy. If energy cannot be destroyed, does that mean the energy that animates us truly lives on forever? This is something you can do more thinking on later. But let?s assume for now that there is truly no death. Our energy still lives on, in whatever form that might be. You can even call that the ?soul?.
Now let?s go to meditation to complete this trifecta of concepts to understand why there?s really no spoon. After reading this do an experiment. Close your eyes. Breath deeply. And let your mind wander. There will be lots of chatter, images, and sounds. Maybe your mind will be saying that you need to do something else, or that you need sleep, or how can you be so dumb to forget to do this or that. Let that chatter keep going. Then stop and ask yourself who or what is aware of your mind?
How can you think about thinking? How deep does the rabbit hole go? In many traditions that is simple called ?Awareness?. It?s not your mind because awareness can be aware of your mind, it may not even be your body because awareness can be aware of your body. Then what is it? Is it the soul?
So why did Neo whisper to himself ?There is no spoon? when encountering eminent death? Because at that moment he realized there is no death. Sure our personalities may die, our bodies may perish, but there is no true death. If we realize the truth that nothing ever truly dies then we can be free from the fear of death.
While the fear of death, stops us from doing death-defying activities such as mountain climbing or skydiving, it also stops us from doing everyday things. The anxiety we encountered when presented with doing public speaking, asking someone you really like on a date, or traveling to a new country ultimately comes from a fear of death.
Hundreds of thousands of years ago it was risky to speak in public, because if you said the wrong thing you could easily be killed for it. Same goes from traveling to unknown land, a wild animal might kill you. Or when asking someone on a date, if you ask the wrong person that might partner of a tribal leader, you can be conceived as a threat and killed.
Rationally those fears don?t make sense in the modern world, but speak to any psychologist and they will tell you that those fears are deeply embedded within us. We can logically say they are silly, but we can?t logically talk our way out of our human nature.
However if we realize that there is no death, then we are capable of doing great things. The same goes with realizing there is no difference between you and the object of your desire, we are all ultimately connected according to quantum physics. What does that entail? Only those answers are found currently within the realm of spirituality.
But if we take the leap to realize that there is no spoon then anything can be achieved, or more so it is already achieved. For achievement is a belief in a world of separation and legacy is a belief in a world with death. There is no achievement, there is no legacy, there is only the truth experienced in the now.
But if Shakespeare is right about the world being a stage and we are merely players, then we have nothing to fear. This is a grand play and we are here to give our best performance. That?s what dawned upon me while watching The Matrix once again and I hope this brings at least good questions for you to ponder upon.
There is no spoon. Now go forth and live fearlessly, for we are all connected in the greater scheme of things, and just like in any story everyone has their part to play.
? Photo taken by Rachel McKinney of Notorious Rebel Artist.
Also the only relation this photo has to this story is that I told myself ?there is no car? when taking this photo in middle of a busy NYC street. ?
And finally I want to give Patrick Willems a huge shoutout for making an amazing series about The Matrix, which encouraged me to see the film again! He has a few videos essays about the films, this is the most recent one:
Keep being awesome!