The Totem TIF – An Elegant Reality Check

Please pardon me if I indulge myself in a series of elucidations on my new favorite movie, Inception.  One trip through Christopher Nolan‘s dream epic is not enough to start connecting the dots on its symbolism.  I was just trying to keep up in my first journey; Nolan is truly a writing and directing ninja.   The second time, however, I allowed myself the freedom to participate in Nolan’s multiple metaphors, starting with reality and ending in the “Basement” of the hero’s prison of memories.

My favorite imagery ties into the Totem, an personal item that each dream warrior identified in the real world in order to ground themselves to reality in the dream world.  In Cobb’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) case, it was a spinning top.  If ever he became confused as to whether he was in reality or fantasy, he would spin the top and wait for it to stop spinning.  If it didn’t stop, he knew he was in a dream.

Each traveler’s Totem was personal and confidential.  As stated by several characters:

Arthur: So, a totem. It’s a small object, potentially heavy, something you can have on you all the time…
Ariadne: What, like a coin?
Arthur: No, it has to be more unique than that, like – this is a loaded die.
[Ariadne reaches out to take the die]
Arthur: . Nah, I can’t let you touch it, that would defeat the purpose. See only I know the balance and weight of this particular loaded die. That way when you look at your totem, you know beyond a doubt you’re not in someone else’s dream.

Ariadne state’s later, after she’s created her item that the Totem is an elegant means to ground oneself in reality.

I remember hearing a story about famed basketball coach John Wooden concerning his Christian faith.  When asked why he didn’t discuss the topic more in public he responded that he wanted to live it more than speak it – which of course he did.  Then he added that he carried an item in his pocket to remind him at all times of the example he provided others regarding his relationship with Christ.  The item was a small metal cross with sharp edges.  When, as coach, he was tempted to erupt in response to a bad call in a game he would reach into his pocket and grasp the cross as hard as possible.  As the sharp edges of the cross pressed against his fingers the great coach would remember Who he represented on the court; then he would take a deep breath to control his emotions.  He rarely if ever lost his temper on or off the court.

I have decided to carry my own Totem, but for a slightly different reason than Coach Wooden.  When I’m confused by a particular circumstance or when pressure mounts quickly, and I’m tempted to let my emotions rule – I need a reminder.  I need to remind myself of three grounding principles:

  • Truth – what’s the truth here?  The truth is God is in control.
  • Illusion – What’s the illusion here?  Is the enemy using something (probably simple) to distract my attention – even by only a few degrees?
  • Fear – What and where is my fear in this situation.  Fear is for the most part illogical, not based on reality – what’s the worst that can happen here?

Truth, Illusion and Fear (TIF).  If I can grasp my Totem and ground myself with these three benchmarks – shouldn’t I be more successful in grasping the “reality” vs. the enemy’s “dream”?

But don’t ask me to show you my Totem… I want to make sure I’m not in your dream (illusion) or any one else’s 🙂

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