A woman stands on a ledge, ready to jump. Her husband pleads with her to go back inside the hotel room, but she is obsessed with the notion that this is a dream world, and that her only way back to her life is to commit “suicide” and “wake up” back in her “real” life.
The husband watches in horror. There is nothing he can do to stop her when she smiles at him…and jumps to her death. He is overcome with shattering guilt…because HE is the one who gave her the poisonous notion that our world is a dream.
An idea, planted deeply, was the seed of her destruction.
Rewatched “Inception” the other day. Terrific movie in many ways. Wow. Visually on the “Matrix” level, with greater emotional depth and connection. And some of the notions are fascinating: how do we know what is “real”? Who is to say dream-world With some really fascinating ideas. One of them is that it is dangerous to implant an idea in someone’s mind, because if it goes deep enough, it will define their existence.
More on that later. But after a recent conversation with someone I concluded was a “Snake” and not a “Sleeper”, I thought there were a number of “Inception”-esque aspects to the conversation, which in the aggregate, made me realize I was not investing my time and energy well.
- Toxic ego. Trying to get you to believe they are a superior individual by listing accomplishments and so forth.
- Gaslighting. Trying to get you to trust their perceptions more than your own.
- Honor games. They expect you to believe they are being honest, but are quick to question your honesty
- Rule Makers. Define rules for “winning” and declare themselves victors of a conversation even though there are no established rules or neutral judges.
- Gang-fighters. They bring their posse, all jumping into the conversation and then slapping themselves on the back about how clever they are.
It really is strange. Perhaps the nastiest one, for me, is when I make the mistake of assuming someone is conversing honorably and philosophically, with an intent to gain clarity and determine truth. To communicate. I’ll put up with a lot in such an instance. Sometimes more than I should. But about the time they hit a couple of these points, I realize there is some “Inception” going on. That I’ve accepted an idea not originating from my own mind and perceptions. That I extended more “benefit of the doubt” than was extended in return, and that the actual point of the discussion is not “truth” but “winning.” That’s politics, not philosophy.
There are special times that we are more vulnerable to “Inception”. Be careful.
- In the grip of a powerful emotion. Love and fear can make us VERY vulnerable to a predator’s psychological manipulation.
- Sex. The things people say to you while you are sexually aroused become associated with the powerful sensations. A wife or husband can make or break their spouse with pillow talk.
- Other intense positive sensations.
- Pain and intense negative sensations. Pain is a survival sensation, telling you to PAY ATTENTION.
- Fatigue. When you are deeply tired, the psychological barriers lower. This is optimal programming time, and cults use it ruthlessly, keeping members up for more than 24 hours while chanting, or listening to propaganda.
- Hunger. A negative emotion, but worth looking at on its own.
- Isolation. Solitary confinement can break down ego walls
- Group activities. Similarly, when we are part of a large group, it is easy to be swayed.
How do you protect yourself?
There are two core philosophical questions: “Who Am I?” and “What is True?” When these are the core of your daily inquiry, you penetrate to deeper and more primal answers, begin to pierce the illusions. Whether through meditation, journaling, or processes like “Spiritual Autolysis” we peel back the layers to get to core survival wiring, core being.
A person who knows who they are is not troubled by verbal insult…unless it is true. They develop ways of error-checking their reality, and dialectic doesn’t sway them. They don’t need approval from others, so anger (unless accompanied by the actual threat of violence) doesn’t move them.
“I yam what I yam” Popeye said.
“It is what it is” the philosopher says, and his sense of the world, grounded in thousands of hours of inquiry, simply cannot be shaken by lies or distortions.
This is the work that enables us to pass through life with courage and commitment. And enables us to love ferociously. It is a means to that quality of “Awake, Aware Adulthood.”
Accept no substitute.