Kristin Armstrong’s Column

kristin armstrong tribeza austin

Waking UP

by Kristin Armstrong
Illustration by Heather Sundquist

I went to a recent meditation session (part of my New Year’s resolutions! More meditation!) where the leader made an interesting parallel between film and consciousness.

Imagine yourself sitting in the theater, completely engrossed in a movie. The lights are low, the surround sound puts you in the center of the scene as it’s unfolding. You can feel the bass drumming with responsiveness in your chest. You are feeling what the characters are feeling. Maybe your eyes well with emotion; or your heart races with adrenaline, fear, or lust; or shame makes you cringe and turn your face. You join them on a quest for understanding, love, redemption, or adventure. You lose awareness of the passage of time, totally immersed in someone else’s storyline.

Until suddenly … the credits roll and the lights come up. Or the person next to you starts hacking, talking, or rustling around in the popcorn bag with greasy fingers, chomping, slurping soda, or texting on a glowing screen. Or you realize you have to pee and remember that you are simply sitting in a theater, watching a movie. You paid good money to be entertained, to escape, to relax, to laugh, cry, learn, or be inspired. This. Isn’t. Real.

My meditation teacher compared the experience of seeing a film to the experience of living life and waking up and becoming truly conscious. Before such an awakening, we live life much like a moviegoer. We settle into a comfortable pattern and are lulled into the story and the characters until it seems that the film is all there is, all that exists. We are manipulated by the musical score, getting extremely anxious, melancholy, romantic, or triumphant accordingly, as we’re cued. We are pulled completely into every conflict without a thought as to whether it truly involves us, because this is what we do. We assume we have no power in casting decisions or script rewrites, because after all, we’re just spectating. We expend enormous amounts of energy in this way.

Does this make any sense to you?

Put another way, have you ever been totally sucked into some sucky situation (bad circumstance, toxic relationship, pattern of conflict or addiction, someone else’s business or drama) only to have a brief, jolting moment of lucidity where you ask yourself a life-changing question:

Hold on. What the hell am I doing?

For a moment, a transcendent, beautiful moment, you have a blissful sense of separation between yourself (your Self, with a capital “S”) and the situation (now, thankfully, with a lowercase “s”). And in that space of separation, you gain the perspective you need to realize that the situation is not you, maybe doesn’t even have anything to do with you at all. Suddenly the very thing that seemed looming, dreadful, or inescapable shrinks to a shrug and a hmmph. That is the awakening she’s talking about. It may not sound as profound as it is, but it changes everything after that. The drama loses its power over you when you wake up and remember it isn’t real. You can actually choose to leave the movie and go home.

I thought this kind of awakening was reserved for gurus, real yogis, or people in sweat lodges doing peyote, not really middle-aged women who raise kids, work, drive around in traffic, and get groceries. But it’s meant for all of us.

I have had this realization or awakening on several occasions now, and all I know is that I want it more often. I want to expand this awareness from separate occasions, to perhaps a series of such occasions strung together, to finally a more consistent life of consciousness. I want to move more fluidly from What the hell am I doing? to consciously letting go and moving on. It’s an evolutionary, energetic shift. I know it won’t happen all at once, as impatient as I am. It took me many years to create my movie-going patterns, so it will likely take some time to change them. I get so frustrated with myself when I realize (still usually after the fact, but more quickly than years or even months ago) that I have taken the bait, allowed an old trigger to flip me into an old, reactive pattern. My meditation teacher doesn’t entertain the option of frustration with Self. She gets more excited about growth. She says we need to view a trigger not as a trigger, which has negative connotations, but instead as a catalyst. Ahhh, I like that much better — a catalyst, a harbinger of or a precursor to change.

I thought this kind of awakening was reserved for gurus, real yogis, or people in sweat lodges doing peyote, not really middle-aged women who raise kids, work, drive around in traffic, and get groceries. But it’s meant for all of us.

Time to turn the house lights on.

Read more from the Music + Film Issue | March 2018

Recent Posts

Start typing and press Enter to search