In the last dialogue of Waking Life, director Richard Linklater re-enters the film and is found playing pinball by protagonist Wiley Wiggins. Linklater was also in one of the earliest scenes of the film, in the “boat car” with Wiggins, and he gives the driver very specific turn-by-turn instructions as to where to drop off an indecisive Wiggins. When Linklater reappears in the film, Wiggins instantly recognizes him and calls him out. He says (paraphrased), “Don’t you remember me? We were in the boat car together. I got dropped off and then a car hit me…oh, but wait, yeah that was a dream because then I woke up.” Linklater does not recognize him, but says, “Oh yeah, that was a false awakening. Those happen to me all the time”, and then goes on to tell a long story about a dream visitation of the “land of the dead” and a Philip K Dick theory on life.
Philip K Dick’s theory of life, as summarized by Linklater, is that all of life is an invitation to accept being one with god in the kingdom of heaven, but all the while we keep answering the invitation, “No, not just yet!” until finally we are ready and we surrender.
What really gets me about this scene and about the whole movie Waking Life is that this is the point in which it is not just a movie about lucid dreaming. Linklater, the writer and director of the film, leads his protagonist essentially to his death and the protagonist spends the rest of the movie in varying degrees of ever-increasing lucidity in a dream that he feels he cannot escape or wake up from. Linklater tells him, “Oh, no, you’re wrong. That was just a false awakening,” as if to say “No, you’re not dead yet, you still have a choice.”
This is where the film becomes more about life and about becoming enlightened and actualized. At the end of their conversation, Wiley says, “I feel like this is not just any dream, like this is THE dream. And I can’t wake up from it. I’m starting to worry that I’m not actually dreaming, but that I’m dead!” Linklater responds, “Well, if you want to wake up, then why don’t you?” He waves his hand over Wiggin’s face, and says, “Wake up!“
The last scene mirrors the opening scene. Here we have Wiley’s character as an adult in the driveway of his childhood home. The same car is in the driveway, and Wiley again begins to float, feet-first towards the sky. Just as he did as a child, he grabs the handle of the door to ground himself but his reach fumbles and he floats away. The last scene is the shadow of his being against the sky.
At that moment during my car accident when I realized that something was happening that I could not control, I remember thinking, “Wow, it’s just that simple.” Although I had not explicitly made any mistake (the power steering on my car ran out), I felt like all of my life could slip away with just one poor choice. And I just remember thinking, “Please, no! Not yet.” It was funny because in those moments when my car was swerving, spiraling, and turning over I just kept thinking about how much I cared about myself and valued my life and how I didn’t want it to be over yet. While I didn’t feel there was much I could do, I remember caring for myself almost as I would care for a child. And then I hit a tree, on the passenger’s side. I have a tiny scar on my knee, that is it. I lost my car, but I am still here, physically unscathed. I am lucky.
Apparently as a child and in recovery, I asked my mother at one point if I could have died. I had not remembered this until recently, when my mother told me in a conversation. So, even at 10 years old I had realized that I had come close to death, that I could have died. I never really thought very much about how this played into my philosophy on life after that, but I do know that by 14 I was enthusiastically ranting about living fully in the moment and making the most of every single moment.
Lately, I have been really comfortable with the acceptance of my own mortality. I even meditated in a graveyard recently and visualized vines growing through my body. Surprisingly, I felt very at peace and grounded. I felt like it was really okay. Because nothing is permanent, not even this “Everything” that I have always known, this life, this being.
Though I may find myself at the center, in a situation that Thomas Pynchon describes as being “the projector at the planetarium”, I can realize that this, too, shall pass. This too is impermanent. So what lasts? Well, clearly there is something bigger than “me” going on here. The world will continue to exist without me. But I realize this, I accept it, and I am still here, still alive…so in a way I do feel like a lucid dreamer, but a lucid dreamer of life. And now I get what Waking Life is really about.
But then, reflecting on Waking Life, I started to worry: What if my acceptance of my own mortality, my own death, somehow signals my own acceptance of that invitation? Because I am not ready to die, not just yet! I still have so much to do!
A part of me still loves being spirited and eccentrically “me”, this “Lynda Joy” personality. Because it’s fun! So, while I am dancing with egolessness, I also really like feeling like I kick ass at using my own genes, habituated knowledge, and response modes developed from my experiences towards creating my own song and dance in this world in my own way. And I like to encourage, empower, and implore others to do the same. It’s just such a “at the center” or “without a center” way of being a self! No wonder ‘Within You and Without You’ was always one of my favorite Beatles songs.
And while I can ask myself, “Can you truly accept that all beings are the same as you?” 500 times a day, my answer is still “Not just yet!” because I still want to dance with my eccentricities in this life as this specific being. And yes, of course it could be implied that I can accept this one-being-ness and still be myself, but the oscillation feels a bit too intense for me to maintain.
When yogis talk about samadhi, we talk about a sense of being one with everything. So, on one hand, if we saw ourselves as we really are, from this post ego-loss perspective, then we wouldn’t really need to be ourselves anymore. That’s kind of liberating, and I’ve experienced traces of it, ironically most of all when I’m just sitting listening to someone with my whole being (I love those experiences). Maybe it’s easier to lose yourself in the fullness of presence of another versus just losing yourself in the fullness of your own presence? Because I haven’t achieved samadhi yet in meditation. I think I’m still at pratyahara. Sometimes dharana.
There is a line from my favorite album Systems and Layers by Rachel’s that has always stuck with me. She says, “Just in case, you said, one of us were to disappear mid-sentence.” I always pictured two people having this really ephemeral conversation with a miasmic purview into something greater going on, having it be so intense that they begin to fear that they might just disappear! And it is such a sweet, romantic sentence. It reminds me of a scene in Before Sunset where Ethan Hawke’s character relays that he has not been touched in so long that he feels he would crumble to dust with the slightest touch; when Julie Delpy hugs him, she reports, “You’re still here.”
One of my favorite scenes from Waking Life has always been the featured image of this post, which is the “holy moment” scene between filmmaker Caveh Zahedi and poet David Jewell. The two men refer to Andre Brazin’s theory of film as being a god-like presence because it could make a moment immortal and frame it to make it holy. And then the two men sit together, looking at one another, and they have a holy moment. As they do, they turn into clouds. And I think in those moments, it feels like that might be a possibility! That is what makes those moments so magical. When we really let go and look into the void, or the full-void of another’s presence, it feels like the ground may drift away and our own sense of being is somehow…displaced, disoriented, and altogether different. We spend our whole lives clinging to this being, to our ego, to our authority and control over our lives, and yet…when we catch ourselves off-guard liberated from this clinging we feel so transformed and mesmerized. (Full transcript of the scene is available here — http://wakinglifemovie.net/Transcript/Chapter/11)
Yet, we still want to be loved for being this specific person. Because we have suffered, and we have thrived. We have been strong and resilient. Our experiences, good and bad, have made us who we are and allowed us to be the way that we are right now when we appear on the scene to another. There is something very enthralling about that.
How can we love and be loved for being our most authentic, true self, while still allowing ourselves to fade into gradations of selflessness, of total union and connectedness?
Reply and comment on this question below. I challenge and implore you.
Copyright © 2014 Lynda Joy Gerry