Today I break a five-week media fast. No internet, no phone, no movies, no books. No one’s opinions or thoughts but my own. Sweet interludes of solitude. Silence between the soft spaces of a nomadic rhythm of movement across the burnished wheat fields of Sicily. Rocked by the ferries that carried me over shimmering turquoise waves, progressing slowly from the toe to the thigh of Italy. I reflected on my life, silently observed my fellow travellers, some paddling with two thumbs across the siren screens of their iPads. Some attached by two slender umbilical cords emerging from each ear, staring into the distance with unreachable eyes. Sitting silent and still on the black beaches of Stromboli, I contemplated our world at this time of unsettling change. A time where advances in technology have irrevocably altered the way we think, the way we behave. At first, I observed my doppelganger’s addiction to a fibre optic world that chatters unceasingly, filling my head with a jumble of thoughts, the pretence of belonging to a “global village” which is as make-believe as Disney World.
As the weeks warmed into the jasmine-scented solstice, the yearning for simplicity, for silence carried me Home to myself once more. In quiet piazzas of rural Sicily, people still gather at ancient wells and fountains in the cool of the evening. They sit on benches, talking, listening to one another. Old men clatter over worn cobblestones on rickety bicycles, and like battle weary knights, dismount from their steel steeds to drink a glass of wine or sip a limoncello as the swallows stitch apricot clouds together with invisible thread. My doppelganger self imagined another life … what if?
As our world becomes less and less certain, the perennial questions, “Who Am I?” and “What if?” thunder across the abyss of disconnection and loneliness. Movies like Sliding Doors (1998) and the expansive Another Earth (2011) echo this age-old motif. What if we choose differently, who would we be? Philip K. Dick (his short stories now depicted in movies like Blade Runner, Total Recall, The Adjustment Bureau and Minority Report) is quoted as saying, “I want to write about people I love, and put them into a fictional world spun out of my own mind, not the world we actually have, because the world we actually have does not meet my standards.”
Whether this world meets our standards or not, it is often a lonely, inhospitable place for so many. Alternative history, a parallel universe, a world where Big Brother watches our every move… where “artificial intelligence” out-smarts us at our own game, where we fall in love with robots. Out of our own minds we spin the thread of our own reality, and make choices based on a memory bank of feelings and subjective experiences that are echoes of a reality that does not exist. Or does it?
In mythology, fiction and folklore, the doppelganger was a harbinger of death or ill fortune. A spirit double, a bi-located self appears in all mythology. In modern movies and literature, where parallel universes exist, in cyberspace where avatars fulfil our fantasies, doppelgangers can be anything we want them to be in the Wonderland of our own imaginings. We can experience those parts of our psyches that we wear like the whisper of silken lingerie: The noble, the generous, the compassionate, and the wise. We can try out for size the “good” Dr Henry Jekyll or the “evil” Edward Hyde. In the undulation of daily life we can experience the doppelganger as we experience the paradox of the human condition, the duality of our perfection. There may be times in our lives where we dwell in the dark valley of negativity and depression, and no amount of therapy or self-help literature will lure us up to the Light… until we are ready to experience being in the Light.
Or the time may come when we become weary of our own games and courageously step into the new reality of seeing our relationships with new eyes, focusing on what is good, right, affirming, about our work or our living conditions. As in fiction, from the mists of our past, emerges a New Self concealed beneath the old one. And like a snake shedding its skin, we embrace our vulnerability as we let go one “reality” and accept another. To have something new, something better, we may have to give it all up, whether this is a relationship, a job, a belief about ourselves, others, or the world. Our old ways become as tattered and lacklustre as the wings of a butterfly as it finally flutters to the earth after its brief moment in the Sun.
As we consciously stay alert, aware of the thoughts and feelings that pinch and chaff, the emotions that resonate in our bodies, we can choose another reality, experiment with the Mystery of this life, stepping out of our limited perspective with its attachments, neurosis, judgments to give ourselves and the world another chance. As the Buddha said, to practice meeting life on its own terms instead of straining to make everything manageable, familiar, and safe. And then we begin again to experience this tremulous dew drop of life with all its paradox and all its wonder. In a reality that is here and now.
Do not go back to sleep.
The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.
don’t go back to sleep.
you must ask for what you really want.
don’t go back to sleep.
people are going back and forth between the
door sill where the two worlds touch.
the door is round and open.
don’t go back to sleep – Rumi.
Art: Pakayla Biehn’s Dreamy Double Exposure.
Breaking the Silence – Loreena McKennitt