Scary fun.

It’s Halloween season.
And people are looking forward to frightening themselves.
With horror movies and haunted houses.
It’s a weird kind of high.
A chemical cascade triggered by the fight-or-flight response.
An adrenaline rush, but with a sense of control.
It feels dangerous, but it’s not really dangerous.
And so it’s exciting, almost primal.
Our hearts beat faster.
Our blood pressure and respiration increase.
We get butterflies in the pits of our stomachs.
Our minds become fully aware, conscious, in the moment.
And we feel stronger and more alert.
Sensations that are outside our safe and boring daily routines.
Which makes us feel alive!
If we’re conscious of the illusion.
If we sense no actual risk.
The adrenaline rush is enjoyable.
The experience becomes play.
Screams turn into laughs and smiles.
Because we’re aroused.
And we know we have nothing to worry about.
We also feel a sense of satisfaction.
A strange self-esteem boost.
Because we’ve succeeded, we survived.
Human beings are strange animals.
We want to feel, to be aroused by life.
But, we want it to be safe and under our control.
And then we can approach life with curiosity and wonder.
But here’s the thing.
Wittgenstein wrote, “We are asleep. Our life is a dream. But we wake up sometimes, just enough to know that we are dreaming.”
Life is make-believe and temporary.
Just like walking into a haunted house.
If you’re asleep, you’re a slave to your feelings.
Like a terrified child.
There is no free will.
You’ll never enjoy the fear, because you’re unaware of the illusion.
But if you wake up, your free will is unlimited.
You can get excited again.
And play!
So wake up.
Don’t take yourself or your circumstances too seriously.
Step into your fears.
Have some scary fun.
And come fully alive.

The Blue Pill and You.

In the 1999 sci-fi movie “The Matrix,” the main character is offered a choice.
A red pill, to help him escape the Matrix, the unseen digital simulation he calls “life.”
Or a blue pill, which would allow him to stay in that comfortable, illusory world.
His mysterious guide, Morpheus, puts it this way:
“You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe.”
It has taken me a long time to discover the subtle irony of that movie.
And of that particular line.
Because here’s the thing about the blue pill.
If you choose it, the story doesn’t end.
Your story continues.
Which is why you get to believe whatever you want to believe.
Because (and here’s the other profound irony), you’re not living in a matrix.
Instead, you’re the hero character in your own hypnotic movie.
And, like the protagonist in “The Matrix,” you don’t even know it.
But you certainly can be made aware.
And without taking a pill.
That’s the intent of all spiritual wisdom.
In his pathbreaking new book, “Why Buddhism Is True,” the author optimistically writes:
“I think the salvation of the world can be secured via the cultivation of calm, clear minds and the wisdom they allow.”
I wholeheartedly agree.
And he got really close in his analysis of how Buddhism contributes to that cultivation.
But he never touched the deep source of his own hopeful statement.
What I believe Buddha may have meant by “not-self.”
It’s not about mindfulness meditation or being in the now.
Although both states of consciousness certainly help.
And it’s not about enlightenment and feeling one with the universe.
That would certainly change everything.
But by all accounts, it’s an elusive and temporary cognitive condition.
Rather, it’s about seeing the illusory nature of the world.
Specifically, that you have unwittingly been cast.
As the central character in a dramatic survival story.
Survival of your impermanent body.
Survival of your self-serving desires and beliefs.
And survival of your coherent “character,” your constructed identity and social status.
Living in these delusional stories is the source of most, if not all psychological suffering.
As well as the suffering we inflict on others.
Living in a story, by its very nature, creates obstacles, conflict, and villains.
Living in a story, necessarily, downplays the other characters.
Who similarly believe that they are the heroes in their stories.
And living in a story creates feelings of separateness and isolation.
Which encourages idealism, group belonging and destructive tribalism.
If you want to change your life and the world.
If you’re looking for an answer to these anxious, confusing and angry times.
It’s simple.
Don’t take the blue pill.
Rebel against your conformist, comfort-seeking instincts.
Step outside your story and negate your defensive identity.
It’s the greatest intellectual, creative and moral leap you can make.
And it just might help secure the salvation of our magnificent world.