The first time I saw Waking Life, I was just beginning college (2004). It resonated with me on so many levels. So much so, in fact, that I think I can credit it as being a major part of the reason I chose to major in philosophy. At the time, I was at the verge of a great philosophical struggle with myself: Is this all there is to the world, or is there something more? Is the physical breathe-eat-work-and-die world really all there is to it, or is there a vast world of perception and consciousness beyond the scope of human understanding that we have only had just glimpses of? This movie came, for me, at a time when I most needed to hear it. It’s ok. You can trust yourself. You can trust your instinct that the world is a far bigger place than the human physical understanding even knows. You can trust that a universal consciousness and intention is behind all things. It was wonderful to hear. It was like an epiphany. Except…
I went to college. Life got stressful. It was always stressful, but this stress was different. This stress was offering me a big challenge to my new found hope. It was an opportunity to finally wake up, for real this time, and see the physical world for what it is. A chance to see who I really am and that I can experience the physical world while still remaining detached, with an understanding of my greater nature. I chose to stay asleep. I chose to trust my fear–that the physical world of stress and struggle and survival was all there was. It seemed safer to trust in that instead of hoping for some grand mystery to believe in that turned out to be nothing more than a comforting fantasy. And my fear always showed me every validation I needed. Life became harder and I was always the victim of circumstance, just waiting for things to get better for me. They didn’t. Even when things were going great I was still the victim of whatever unpleasant circumstance I didn’t want to deal with. I was asleep, back into the dream where things just happened to me whether I wanted them to or not.
I saw this movie again recently. It moved me and resonated with me in much the same way it did the first time, but this time it was different. I came to it with a whole new understanding of the world. The world I now have begun to see is a world where we can stay asleep in our dreams (our experiences, our lives) and let things just happen to us. Or, we can wake up and start to control the life that we are having. The whole thing is about being lucid in our waking life. This was something I didn’t believe I could do years ago. And now I’ve seen it happen.
Intentional astral travel has a lot to do with this movie. The main character wanders around talking to new people in new places, at times bumping into people he knows and most of the time people he doesn’t. They seem to come up to him and say exactly what he needs to hear at the time, whether he understands it or not. For the moment, they bump up against him and his story and share that moment with him before moving on to share other moments with other things and people. He has an identity that he assumes merely out of expectation. Not realizing that his tie to everything he previously acted out is no longer bonding him to it, he continues to act it out, until finally it becomes so strange that he can’t ignore the truth anymore. It reminds me a lot of the discussion of “hollow hells” and “hollow heavens” of astral theory–that people go to a world that is fashioned in the way they believe it will be when they die. The main character of Waking Life, not realizing he is dead, creates a world similar to his waking life. So much so that he doesn’t realize until much later that it isn’t the world he thought it was. Only when he begins to truly understand and accept his situation is he free to pass on.
Having had a few astral experiences and read about many more since the last time I saw this movie, it has taken on a new meaning. Its message goes far beyond “do you know the difference between waking and dreaming? Is there a difference?” It has so many more layers than I realized. It speaks of the layered consciousness we all have and that, wherever we are traveling, we have far more control than we might know.