They say life is like being in the cinema watching a movie.
There is an image that is sometimes used in spiritual teachings where life is like being in the cinema watching a movie. I love that image because I enjoy watching movies and identifying with the characters. When James Bond is saving the world I completely forget about myself. This joy that lies in forgetting oneself has always intrigued me.
In our daily life we put so much effort into being somebody, being loved, popular, successful, beautiful, spiritual, whatever.
Then why is it so blissful to be nobody?
This doesn’t only happen while watching movies or reading a captivating story. Sometimes a beautiful sunset stops our mind and leaves us stunned and lost for words. A moment of intimacy can dissolve our carefully crafted sense of who we are, we lose all sense of time and expand beyond the limitations of our egoic self. Such experiences are unforgettable precisely because for an instant we are present without being anything in particular. For once in our life there is no self-concern, no self-image to protect, nothing to hide or gain.
Despite the fact that we try so hard to be somebody – it appears that we are happiest when we are nobody.
Here lies an important discovery for our spiritual path: the more the sense of a solid and separate self moves into the background of our awareness the more present and embodied we can be.
Coming back to the cinema. Let’s say you are watching a movie. The movie is brilliant so you are captured by it, completely oblivious to your surroundings, you hold on to your seat and even forget to eat your popcorn. More and more you identify with the main character and feel with him or her. When he is suffering you almost have no choice but to suffer with him. What is happening in that movie becomes real for you.
Now imagine you watch the same movie out in an open field in the middle of the day. It is unlikely you will get captured in the same way. You hear birds singing and see people walking by, you notice the blue sky, the sound of cars in the distance, the gentle breeze on your skin. All this is far more real than what is happening on the screen. It brings you back to being here now. You find it hard to identify with the characters on the screen because your awareness has expanded into the wider context of your reality.
When we apply this to our own experience we see ourselves as the main character in our own movie called life and we take it very seriously. Walking around with a kind of tunnel vision we get mesmerized by the drama and obsessed with our project called ‚my happiness‘. We get pulled into the movie as if it was real.
Without a felt connection to the ground of our being our life appears dramatic, urgent, even scary. It seems it is up to us to make sure that this movie has a happy ending and the main character comes out winning.
Many people who have had some kind of spiritual opening report that it was like waking up from a dream. Spiritual awakening does not turn your dream into a happy one, it wakes you up from the dream of being a person who needs to be happy.
Now you watch the movie but you are no longer caught by it, without the shadow of a doubt you know it is a movie. Even when the awakening is not permanent, you cannot completely believe in the drama in the way you used to. Awakenings, big or small, are life-changing.
There are many skilfull ways to help us wake up from our dream-state, we don’t need to wait for a big moment of realisation. Every time we bring presence and awareness into our experience, it loosens up our identification with the main players in our drama.
The practice of meditation is a powerful way to connect with awareness itself and to prevent us from getting lost in the movie.
However, we can also practise in small ways. During the day there are always opportunities to pause for a moment, stop what we are doing and connect with our body, feeling the ground under our feet, taking a deep breath, bringing our attention back to the immediacy of now. ‚How does it feel to be alive right in this moment? What is my attitude to my experience right now? Is there openness, allowing? Or fighting, resisting?‘
It usually takes some effort to pull ourselves out of a story. Sometimes when I notice a powerful desire or fear in me, I ask myself: ‚How important will this be for you in 10 years time?‘ This is not to diminish or rationalise my feelings but to gain some perspective on the mind’s tendency to dramatise. ‚I really must have this‘!
Reflecting in this way helps me find my inner balance again. Such practices bring more awareness and spaciousness into our life. However, spiritual practice is not about finding a place to hide from life. Awakenings, transformations and moments of clarity give us the strength and the freedom to meet ourselves in truth, not to turn away and dissociate from challenging experiences.