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The Sanity Project
I have stepped into the Matrix. I don’t mean the word in the sense of its root — matter, mother — but in the sense of an artificial reality with its own rules and totalizing narratives. The question I am asked, the question I ask myself, is how will I stay sane? That is, how will I not lose myself in the simulation and forget what is real?
I am speaking of the world of politics that I have entered as an advisor to Robert F. Kennedy. There are default rules and assumptions of that game. But, as Morpheus says in The Matrix, “Some rules can be bent. Some rules can be broken.”
No, I’m not talking about campaign finance rules. I mean assumptions about how change happens in the world; for example, as expressed through the reflex of blame. I mean assumptions about who is important to talk to and who is not, and what true power is and where it is to be found. I mean the rules about what people are unwilling to hear and what to avoid saying at all costs. I am talking about the pretense that anyone actually knows how to fix any of this, and the resultant idea that a leader always has to have a plan. These are just a few of the pretenses that everyone in politics takes for granted as simply the way things are. The rules of the game. That’s the Matrix.
So, how do I step into the Matrix without becoming its creature? How do I stay sane? Why, someone asked me, do I think I’m any different from all the other idealists who sold their souls for power?
How I stay sane is not through my own willpower. I am no different from the other idealists. What will keep me sane is a community that holds sanity for me and with me. To extend the metaphor of the film, I need to pull out of the Matrix sometimes back to the Mother Ship. I need to rest in its embrace and serve my role on its crew. I need to replenish myself in a field of sanity so that when I interact with the political world, I remember that its rules are not reality and its assumptions are not truth.
I do not mean to play the hero, the lone sane person in the campaign ecosystem. Far from it. In fact, I think everyone on the campaign team, in fact everyone in politics generally, feels on some level that they are in alien territory, that their true self cannot find its full expression there. And I speak not just of politics, but our interactions with most of the institutions of our society. Rules that aren’t reality, assumptions that aren’t truth, reflexes and habits that grate on the soul, and agreements that betray life pervade all of them. And yet, all are part of the one reality, one living planet. Life courses through all of them.
This morning I realized anew that the program I’m launching next week, The Sanity Project, is just as much for me as it is for the people who will join. An oasis of sanity. Because I need to express myself in the fullness of my real beliefs, and some of these have as yet have no home in the context of a political campaign.
As a public speaker, I am never just telling people things. Always, in my speaking, there is a subtle request. I think this is true for most one-on-one conversation too. The request is for some kind of agreement. Beneath my declarations there is question: “Is this right? Do you see this too? Does this make sense? Am I crazy?” It is psychologically necessary for me to write and speak, because the things I think are so at odds with much of the dominant culture that I must seek out agreement in order to continue holding those beliefs. Belief is not an individual endeavor. Belief is a field. Sanity is a group project.
That is why I have decided to host the Sanity Project even as I continue to work with Robert F. Kennedy. I need it to stay sane. I need to be untrammeled in my expression, and not always be translating it into a foreign language. I need to hear the echo of an agreement field to sustain me as I navigate the Matrix. I need to return each day to the Mother Ship.
Here is the information page for the Sanity Project. It’s a six-month program hosted by me, fabulous former wife Patsy, and a group of member facilitators. I’m resisting the urge to copy the contents of the page here. How about just the tagline: “A program to hold and grow sanity in turbulent times.”
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