Life is a Movie Projected by the Mind
And that has some pretty amazing implications
I read The Four Agreements when I was ten. (I was a big time worrier. Someone must have told my dad the book would help.) It’s been decades since I read it, but I still remember one of my takeaways:
Our experience of life is like watching a movie projected by the mind. Everyone’s is different. None of them are real.
At the time, I did not find this comforting. “Reality doesn’t exist?!” I thought, “How is that a good thing? Well, if life is just a movie, then my movie sucks!”
But there was another crucial component to this life-as-a-movie metaphor:
You can create whatever movie you want.
I don’t know what The Four Agreements actually says (I should probably go back and read it), but my ten-year-old mind interpreted that to mean that my negative thoughts were responsible for my negative experience of life, and so I had to manage, re-frame, or change my thinking in order to have a more positive experience. I got really really good at rationalizing. I could craft some sort of reasonable psychological reasoning behind any behavior. For years, I was the friend you came to if you needed to know, “But why did he say that to me?!” “Oh,” I’d say, “he’s obviously just insecure. It’s not about you.”
In movie metaphor language, every time I saw an unpleasant frame, I would pause the movie, and repaint the picture by hand to try to make it look more pleasant.
But trying that hard was exhausting. And frankly, it was only so effective. I still believed the movie that would naturally play if I didn’t get in there and fix it would be ugly. I believed I was innately broken, and that my only hope was to work really hard to fix myself.
Then a couple years ago I read another book, The Inside-Out Revolution by Michael Neill. It said something like:
What if you already have the love and happiness you’ve been seeking? What if you always have and always will, because that’s what you’re made of?
In that moment, I knew it was true. I may have been covering up my innate wisdom and wellbeing with egoic angsty thinking, but I wasn’t innately broken. All that personal thinking dissipated for a moment and I suddenly saw that my movie wasn’t ugly at all. I had just been pausing the ugly frames and trying to fix them for so long that there wasn’t much time left to enjoy the pretty parts. I started to let go of some of my old habits. When I stopped micromanaging the movie and just let it play, I found that it had fun B plots and gorgeous cinematography and happy endings all on its own.
Yes, the scary, sad, and frustrating scenes are still there, too. But they’re more fun to watch now.
As my friend Jonas put it the other day, “It’s all part of the movie. You don’t go to a scary movie to NOT be scared, right?”
Besides, I am more than the movie. I am in a theater watching the movie.
(Whoa… then what’s the theater in this analogy? What am I?! Now that’s fun to think about.)