People v. The State of Illusion
A Conversation with Austin Vickers
by Sydney L. Murray
The film, "People v. The State of Illusion," is presented from the viewpoint of the protagonist who is in a trial for his life. All of what you see can be interpreted in many ways. Every lawyer knows that there are more than two sides to every story. Austin Vickers, with his legal background, illustrates the veil of illusion that covers many of our lives. In a painterly manner he illustrates how our lives can spin out of control until we break through the veil of illusion.
Vision Magazine: What is illusion?
Austin Vickers: Everything. I think one of the understandings we have from quantum physics is that nothing looks the same or would appear the same without our participation in it. The perfect example of this is if you look up at your ceiling right now, it looks like a barrier, and it is a barrier to your body. But if your consciousness was a photon in your cell phone, and you were coming from the perspective of that photon, then there is no ceiling above your head. Which is why your cell phone works.
Everything in life that we observe or that we see is wholly dependent upon our participation and perspective for it to even appear to be the thing that it appears to be. So in a very physical and literal way, everything is an illusion. People look at their bodies and they go, well, I know I have a body. What you think is your liver won't be your liver three months from know. Your skin that you think is your skin replaces itself every five days. Your skeleton replaces itself every three months. So is the skeleton four months from now the skeleton that you think you have today? Well, no. What really is more persistent than the actual skeleton is the idea we have about that skeleton.
We forget that we're actually imagining our body on a minute-by-minute, day-by-day basis. We forget that we're imagining the state of our relationships and the possibilities that we see existing in our current environment. And we often allow our awareness to be unconscious. Like Aaron [the protagonist] in the very beginning of the movie when he's in the jail cell and the janitor says, "Look around, and what do you see that's beautiful?" He looks around and says, "Well, nothing," because he has a very limited imagination of what is possible in that environment. So what we see in the transformation of Aaron through the film is that as he begins to expand his own awareness and his own understanding of what is possible and his ability to imagine—even though the space around him never changes through the whole movie—by the end of the film, he sees an amazing space and thinks, "I'm able to do all this work, I'm having all these great conversations, I'm touching people's lives."
And I think that's the metaphorical point I was trying to make with people's lives: if we are sucked into the illusion of what's going on outside of us and we derive our possibilities or our limitations from that external environment, then we're severely limiting our ability to imagine.
VM: I always loved that one quote by Einstein that "Imagination is more important than knowledge." Because we're so rewarded for knowledge in this society, I think Americans have forgotten that imagining capacity.
AV: It's true of everybody. And part of what I was trying to hopefully show in the movie is that people don't fully understand and appreciate what they actually are imagining every day.
There's no better time in human history than right now for our imaginations to become possible and real. When, ever, in the history of the world would you rather have been alive with a major health problem than right now? When, ever, in the history of the world, could a black man, who, 50 years ago, couldn't sit at the front of a bus, now rise from obscurity to the highest political office in the world, as Leader of the Free World? When could a college kid imagine an idea—where he's eating Top Ramen every day—and then four and a half years [become] one of the world's richest billionaires?
VM: When you say, "the people," what does that mean to you? Who are the people?
AV: That means, to me, who we really are. In this court case that is the trial of all of our lives, the state of illusion is obviously that cloud, that veil that we operate on that keeps us locked into a very literal view of life that we think what is real is just what it is that we're observing. Or, like in the movie, we're walking around almost like they're paintings on a museum wall; we're just observing these things. Whereas the reality is that we are co-creating them. We co-create them by our participation in those imaginations and in those ideas. And at the root of every person is the ability to have that awareness to really cut through the illusion and to really be a creator, to really imagine something and bring that imagination into reality.
VM: I was thinking about it as punching through that ceiling. If there were one thing that can punch you through to the next level, what would it be?
AV: For me, it's the content of process shift. I really think that when people first become aware that they can pay attention to not only the content in their life—like the stories and the drama, and what's this event going on, and what's this person doing—they actually start to participate in an observing outlet: what are the patterns of their thinking? That's the first time where real accountability and responsibility begin. And that, for me, is the secret to getting out of the illusion.
I'm an expert at imagined conflicts. If my someone calls me up on the phone and says, "Austin, I need to speak to you, it's really important, I've got to call you tomorrow and I really need you to be on this call because we've got something important to discuss," what I started noticing 15 years ago is that where my mind would automatically go is to a conflict. I would imagine there was a problem, I would think about what problem it possibly could be, and then I would begin to imagine my argument in a response to that conflict. Now, that's a really great skill to have as a lawyer. It makes you very effective as a trial lawyer—it makes you effective in an argument—but it's terrible in a relationship.
And I didn't become aware of the process so I can all of a sudden become self-judgmental. It's rather, I've become aware of it and then I can ask, "Is this the process that I want to employ in this situation?" And sometimes I do want to imagine conflict. If I'm in a crisis situation where I have to respond, I do want to go through all of the potential conflicts, all of the potential problems, and I'm going to find my way out of those situations by preparing my best line of attack.
But if I'm having a conversation with my girlfriend or my daughter or my son, that's not the kind of thought process I want. And so if I see that process come up, I can then interrupt it and ask, "You know what, that's not the process I want. What's an imagination I want?" I want an imagination of love or compassion or connection.
VM: If there were one thing we could do to change our life, people around us, the world, what would it be, on a daily basis?
AV: Stop worrying about the world. I get a lot of parents that come up to me going, I really loved your movie and I love your stuff, and I've got an 18-year-old child that really needs to hear this, what could I do to change them? Well they're the wrong person to do this. The minute that they're in their kid's business, I can tell you that probably the problem that that child is experiencing is a problem with their parent who is constantly projecting their own weaknesses, their own fears, their own compromises on the child and trying to have the child make up for their lack of presence in their life.
For example, I have an 18-year-old daughter. Let's say that she comes home one night and I think that maybe she was out drinking with her friends. So I might say to her, "I'm really worried. I don't like you out with your friends drinking. Don't you know that it's going to affect your college career, it could affect the rest of your life?" If I have a dialogue like that with my daughter, whose business am I in? I'm making it her business, like saying, don't you know you should be doing this, or you should be doing that? Well, the implied message from that conversation is my daughter is not responsible enough to figure that out on her own. It's essentially a message that says—when you cut through and below all of the content information—I don't trust you, I think that you're incapable of making a good judgment. And it's also, by the way, not honest. Because the real issue going on isn't my daughter's behavior; it's my fear about what would happen to me if she died.
So if I were honest in the conversation, the conversation might look like this: "Honey, I'm scared to death. I understand you went out with your friends and you wanted to go drinking, and it freaks me out because I'm worried about what would I do if something happened to you. I'm worried about how would I wake up every morning and be able to handle life without you. And man, I feel weak, I feel really powerless, I feel really incapable of addressing my life every day without you. Is there anything you can do to help me?"
That's a totally different conversation. And that's one that actually then empowers the child; it empowers the child to decide whether or not they're going to help. And B, it never makes it about the child's behavior because the issue really isn't about the child's behavior, it's about the parent's behavior.
VM: It really is about that being the change that you want to see. But at the same time, we have to engage. You're engaging; you've created this film, you created the dialogue.
AV: And the reason for the engagement can be very different. In other words, Austin Vickers could have made the movie because he believes the whole world is in dire trouble, and they need the movie, "People v. The State of Illusion." That's a very different intention and a very different process than the real reason I made the movie, which was, it's my Lila. There's a Sanskrit term called Lila that means "the divine play." And the idea behind Lila is that if the world is all-illusionary, then why not have an illusion that's fun? Why not have an illusion that is the highest imagination you can have for yourself?
VM: Our theme this month is Green Potential: Fair and Foul. Where do you think we're going as an environmental world?
AV: I think we're headed in some really cool directions. If you look historically, invention and imagination always come out of chaos. Chaos is always the seed of new ideas. We invented the wheel because we wanted to go places faster and we couldn't get away from things quickly enough or move towards things quickly enough. We invent things and create things in response to problems. So with the problems that are all now surfacing around oil and the use of oil and the effects on the environment and how it creates wars… I don't know a time in history [when] we've had more money going into investments, from solar energy, to wind energy, to thermal energy, to hydrogen.
VM: So that one quote, "Imagination is more important than knowledge," I keep coming back to because I had a question for you: If you were trying to change your life, what is the solution? But imagination is it?
AV: It is a solution. And it's awfully hard to be imaginative when we think the whole world's going down the toilet. Who wants to imagine in that world? Who wants to imagine in a world where we think everybody's unconscious except us? Or that there's a very small, select group that gets it, and the rest of the world doesn't get it? Well, that's not very inspiring.
So the content might be one that we agree to, but the underlying process of our thinking is pretty negative. It's pretty unimaginative. And therefore that's what the universe is going to respond to when we have those kinds of thoughts.
VM: And how do you shift that?
AV: We have to identify the pattern of thought that's going on, and classify it. Is this an imaginative thought pattern? Is this a creative thought pattern? Is this a positive thought pattern? And if it's not, then we have to look at, why might we want to be negative? And the secret is actually portrayed in the film around the subject of alcoholism. It's actually going toward that thing, not away from it. So, if it were negative thinking or limited thinking, I would start to ask questions like, why would negative thinking be good? What values might it be trying to serve? Why would drinking be good? Why would anger be good? What would my depression be really serving me? And start to look to connect with what is—what is actually going on—and connect to it. Once we look deeper within those things, we will always find the values that those experiences are bringing to our lives. And once we identify those values, we can bring them into our lives in ways that are different than just the negativity, or the anger, or the depression, or the drinking, or whatever the behavior is.
VM: How did you choose your panel of experts for "People v. The State of Illusion"?
AV: They're all just a part of my mosaic and a part of my Lila. I read their materials, and in one way, shape, or form, they changed my life. And being a former trial lawyer and just being able to go, I'm going to sit down for four to five hours and get to ask any question I want to ask. I was just thrilled to be able to pick them.
VM: What has been the response for your film?
AV: The response has been amazing. We first opened in Phoenix and we were sold out the whole opening weekend, and it played for over two months in the theatres here in Arizona. And then we went to Tucson; it sold out in Tucson and the response was amazing. We just opened in Seattle last weekend, and we were sold out all weekend.
People just really responded to the film. And I think the reason for that is because there's a really strong and emotionally compelling story, in addition to some new ideas about the consciousness of process shift and the mechanics of imagination, and moving toward our shadows and our darkness as opposed to away from it.
VM: It feels pure. Like you said, you did it for you.
AV: When I speak at my Q&A's afterwards, people ask me why I made this film, and in addition to saying it's my Lila, I also tell them, these are all the things I struggle with. I'm a lawyer, for God's sake. Lawyers are the least imaginative people on the planet! Certainly, I have struggled with being imaginative in my life. So learning all the things that are in the movie has helped unlock my imagination to the point where I could go from being a lawyer to making a movie. And that, for me, is what it's all about—helping unlock people's imagination—and I need this information more than anybody.
People v. The State of Illusion is debuting in California this April: San Francisco on April 13; San Diego on April 20; and Los Angeles on April 27. For more information and updates on showings, go to www.thestateofillusion.com.