The Unreliable Narrator, Blue Cheese Moons, & Santa’s Claws
“I don’t believe in fairy tales.”
—Freddy Krueger, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors
If enlightenment is the natural state, what’s keeping us from it? According to most teachers, it’s only an idea, a point of mistaken identification. Ego, mind, false self, constructed identity, an octopus by any other name. This imaginary entity inside our heads looks out from behind our eyes, like Rapunzel inside her Tower, providing an ongoing and consistently flawed description of reality. The ego is the unreliable narrator of our lives. The bad news is that the octopus-ego turns our body into a prison for an imaginary “self,” instead of an expression of the life force. The good news is that “life force” is all we really “are,” because it’s all that anything “is.” So how is possible that we’ve become something that we’re not? Or, as the inimical and underrated movie I Heart Huckabees had it, “How am I not myself?”
If a child insists that the moon is made of blue cheese, is that a mistaken interpretation of reality? Does the moon have anything to do with blue cheese? Does belief in a moon made of blue cheese make the “actual” moon any cheesier? Common logic says it doesn’t. So the how about the false self? If the idea of a separate ego-identity is false, how is it that it seems so real to us? Maybe enlightenment is similar to when a child figures out that Santa Claus doesn’t exist and never did—a turning point in which nothing has actually changed?
Can we say with absolute certainty that Santa doesn’t exist to the child who believes in him? In his Enlightenment trilogy, Jed McKenna describes enlightenment as the realization that no one exists (including himself). Can there be a search without a seeker? Does any of this make sense? Perhaps a better question is: should any of this make sense? If enlightenment is real, and if it can only be understood by the enlightened, any definition that makes sense to the rest of us poor schleps would be by definition wrong—at best incomplete. In The Matrix, the Morpheus that came to Thomas Anderson and offered him the red pill didn’t exist. It was just a “residual self-image.” The same is true of the red pill: it didn’t exist. So how did Thomas get awakened? How can something that happens in a dream change reality? And if it can, doesn’t that make the dream real?
Is modern spirituality anything besides teaching dogs to chase their own tails and go back to their vomit? Have we all been conned?
The idea that “only truth exists” is a tautology. It sounds deep but it’s not really saying anything. Just because mistaken beliefs about the moon don’t affect the nature of the moon doesn’t mean they are unreal. It only means they are powerless to affect reality. Popular New Age philosophies (The Secret, etc.) assure us that belief shapes our reality. If that were really the case, however, we would need to redefine what we mean by “reality.” What the seeker can observe is that a belief that’s strong enough will create false realities (moons of blue cheese), and that these false realities (if that’s not an oxymoron) will then come between us and the truth. Like a child’s fantasy, the purpose of such false realities or crucial fictions (such as the illusion of a separate self) is to keep out the truth.
So what’s the great need to dispel that fiction if it’s really so crucial? If we let children believe in Santa for as long as it takes them to figure out the truth, is there any danger Santa will sneak into their rooms in the dead of night and whisk them away, like Freddy Krueger in Nightmare on Elm Street? Is any harm that results from an allegiance to an illusion also illusory? If truth is our true nature—if it is really Truth—how can it be affected, much less harmed, by mistaken beliefs or false allegiances?
The obvious answer is that a child’s harmless belief in leprechauns eventually grows into an adult’s belief in God and country, money, national security, and other “grown-up” incentives for murder and mayhem on both a local and global scale. And while the enlightened perspective (according to the theory at least) might take the annihilation of the Universe in its stride, the unenlightened one (to which most of us are chained) continues to get broken up over a hang-nail.
The spiritual seeker isn’t seeking non-existence. That’s something only suicidal people are looking for. The spiritual seeker is looking for relief, and to some people enlightenment sounds a lot like final and total relief from everything. But if they’re honest most seekers will admit that, if they could get the bliss, fulfillment, superior wisdom, serenity and confidence which they imagine enlightenment would give them without having to annihilate every last trace of their identities, they would take it. According to the spiritual testimonies throughout the ages, however, the only deal that meets those criteria is the kind of deal Faust made with Mephistopheles.
In simple terms: the most real thing about the unenlightened state would appear to be our attachment to it. Santa Claus is not real. The child’s belief in him is.