Monday, December 20, 2010

Reality check

Finally saw the movie Inception on an airplane after many of my friends specifically told me that I would be the type of person who would love this film.  It's a movie about a corporate espionage thief Dominic Cobb (played by Leonardo Dicaprio), whose work consists of secretly extracting valuable commercial information from the unconscious mind of his targets while they are asleep and dreaming.

It's hard to discuss this movie because the plot is rather complicated. To call the movie mind-blowing is rather an understatement.  If you have not yet seen this movie, I highly recommended watching it to get your mind opened and stretched farther than it's been stretched in a very long time (brain yoga anyone?).  If you have seen this film, I'd love to hear what are your thoughts about it.  In this blog post, what I wanted to talk about is the concept of dream state vs. reality.

In the movie, Cobb and his team construct these multi-layered dreams and plant them into people's heads while they're sleeping.  It's like kidnapping someone and putting them into an artificial environment, except it all happens in the subject's head.  If you try to rationalize the details, the whole movie doesn't really make sense because the entire team hops around between different team members' dreams.  You just have to put your inner critic on hold and pretend this is possible to enjoy the movie. Since these people spend so much time in people's dreams, each member needs a way to check that if he/she's awake or still dreaming (a totem). What Cobb uses is a top that keeps on spinning in dream worlds and only stops spinning if he's back to reality.

Have you thought you've woken up, but you're actually still dreaming?  I've never had any dreams as elaborate as the ones shown in the movie (my mind is nowhere as vividly creative as the writer/director Christopher Nolan's).  However, I have had the experience of going about in my fantasy dreamland, heard my alarm clock ringing, opening my eyes to see my bedroom and my alarm clock, hitting the snooze/off button, and feeling confused/frustrated that it just kept ringing no matter how many times I tried to press the button or shake the clock.  It seemed so real,  until I woke up again, in shock, but finally managing to shut off the alarm for real. So my reality-check device is my alarm clock.  The good old pinching technique also works quite well. Is it just me, or has anyone else ever tried to pinch themselves  learned that they were still dreaming because it didn't hurt?

So what does this have to do with yoga? Well, for me, to differentiate between sleeping dreaming state and waking state is not too hard; the above mentioned techniques can do the trick.  It's difficult for me to differentiate between zoning out while being awake and being truly in touch with reality.  I spend an abnormal amount of time in my own head, daydreaming with my eyes open.  I'm not always aware of this.  Sometimes hours pass, or a whole day goes by before I realize I've just been sitting in front of the computer and absolute no work got done.

Yoga forces me to snap out of my zoning-out state. Most yoga standing poses place us in positions that require us to exert our conscious efforts in order to maintain still, whether it's a triangle pose, a forward fold, a warrior pose, or even the simple mountain pose.  If I zone out in any of the poses, I literally fall over. Isn't it crazy that I can drive from my home to my school in auto-pilot mode (not recommended, but it happens to me all the time), but not while doing yoga?  I love snowboarding for the same reason.  Even though gravity does most of the work dragging me down a mountain on a waxed board, if my mind drifts off and leave reality, the board could catch an edge at any time and throw me on the ground.

What is it about reality that makes me want to avoid it throughout the day?  It's the obligations, the mundane, the absurdity, the tiresomeness, the impurity, the ugliness, the unfairness, the injustice, the unpredictability, and my profound feeling of utter helplessness.

What is it about reality that I want to get in touch with? The beauty, the vivid colors and images I can't seem to reproduce in my mind, the creativity of others, the unexpected acts of kindness, the warm connections shared among living beings (however briefly each one lasts), the mind-blowing ideas/creations/naturally occurring events I can't possibly dream up with my own puny brain, the intense sensations, the rush of adrenaline, the pleasant surprises, the positive side of unpredictability.

Again, trying to say a whole bunch of ideas in one post.  I am amazed how Christopher Nolan managed to pull that off in 2 hours.  He literally put forth like a million concepts into one movie, and among all the complexity it's still magically coherent, understandable, and immensely enjoyable. I'll keep working on it but until I get there one day, my apologies for not always making sense :)


  1. great post! i actually just watched this movie yesterday night for the first time- mind-blowing for sure. awesome connections.

  2. Nice post! I love this movie so much, I went to see it twice when it came out during the summer.

    I like the distinction you draw between zoning out while awake and being truly present. I've heard from a martial artist friend that martial arts does the same thing for him as snowboarding and yoga does for you: If you zone out when you are sparring, you will get kicked in the face!

    For me, there is a danger of zoning out even during yoga. Because I am quite flexible, there is always a temptation to just "hang out" in a pose rather than actively engage the bandhas. This is when a lot of injuries happen.

    This is a great post. You have now inspired me to write a post on a similar topic :-)

  3. Love this! Right now you made me wonder what is it about spending almost my entire day online that makes me feel so over stimulated and over active even though I have been lying in bed with my lap top while my body is totally inactive. My guess is that the mind and the body like to hang out together, not separately and that's how they do their best work and feel at their best.

  4. Thank you all for your kind words!

    Callah, I'm totally kicking myself for having waited so long to watch this movie :)

    Nobel, I could say so much about zoning out. I could also say so much about sparring. Those can be two separate posts! It'll be a challenge to tie sparring back yoga though. I zone out in yoga too sometimes. In fact I recently tried out a home practice of Primary series and found out how easily I get distracted! That's why right now I prefer going to classes where there's a teacher to give me verbal cues/reminders and to provide the occasional mini-adjustments.

    fft, I think you're right! You're getting all these image and textual input and your body just wants to move around and participate in your thoughts and excitement :)

  5. I saw the movie. I didn't make a connection to yoga at the time. I went to see it courtesy of my employer. We were going through a tough times with deadlines in our studio at the time, and one of the younger architects placed a little top figure at my desk and put it to spin, in allusion to the movie. The little figure is now on the shelf with decorations at the desk. I think it meant more to them than to me. To me it sort of said that they hoped the rough patch they were going through was a dream and we would wake up to a better reality.
    cheers, A

  6. Hi Yyogini, great post, nice to meet you!, this is such a great topic, avoiding reality while awake, trying not to be there...

  7. I am one of those weird people that did not enjoy this movie. First there was absolutely no character development, who was the Ellen Page character besides a plot device? Further the DiCaprio character, the hero of the movie, was also undeveloped and one dimensional. There was also too much time spent explaining the concept behind me don't tell me. Further why did there need to be so many layers within that dream?? It felt like forever waiting for that van to crash.

    i think its a cool idea, but if a movie has no characters and the only dialogue is used trying to explain the concept of a movie I guess its not for me?

    Nonetheless I like your thoughts on dream v. reality ( :

  8. Hi Arturo, hopefully the rough time has passed by now? Maybe you should have led them through a yoga sequence to help ease their anxiety.. would have been more effective than the top (which I assume stopped spinning before the deadline was met?)

    Hi Claudia, thanks for visiting my blog! It's been my life time struggle to be present instead of living in my own world in my head. Yoga helps; need to build up a regular practice of meditation too....

    Hi Annie, nice to meet you, and thank you for your nice words. I don't blame you for not loving this movie. There are a million places where the movie does not make sense. I think my fascination about the idea of dream creation/manipulation and the cool visual effects caused me to overlook the lack of character development and other negative aspects the movie :)

  9. I loved this film. Walked out of it surprised at how petite Ellen Page is, then checked it up online and it happens I'm even shorter! :-D

  10. Hi V, you're even smaller than Ellen Page? How cute! :-)

  11. I really must see that movie now, thanks for the post