All creations follow the Tree of Life. Movies, for example, vividly illustrate the inner-workings of the Tree because virtually every film tells the story of the wish-fulfilling journey of its hero. Nerdy boy yearns to love beautiful girl. The Queen wishes to unify England. The FBI agent dreams of cracking the big case without cracking up himself. The Sefer Yitzerah, the oldest Kabalistic text on Earth, states “God created His universe with a story [Sipur],” and so logically every story embodies the process of God’s creation.
By transposing the plot of a movie onto the Tree, we are able to see quite emphatically the nature of the spheres and how they all lead one to another, how they all work together, to create the finished product. To fulfill the hero’s wish. Examining a movie step by step, sphere by sphere, illuminates the bank of symbols native to each energy as well as all the unexpected synchronicities that point the way to the fulfillment of the quest. A harmless glass of water on the table, the number of cookies on a plate, anything could be an arrow pointing the protagonist down the essential path.
Analyzing how the Tree works on the hero of a popular film can help us to recognize in our own lives the similar symbols, plot twists and synchronicities that are sure to pop up as each of us embarks on our own hero’s journey through the Wish-Fulfilling Tree. Tracing the story from Crown to Kingdom will, I hope, aid you in recognizing how to put all these theories into practice.
Let’s look at the blockbuster 1999 sci-fi thriller, “The Matrix” by the Wachowski Brothers, which won four Academy Awards for its filmmaking flair. It tells the story of Thomas A. Anderson, played by Keanu Reeves, a corporate drone and genius computer hacker, who emerges as the Messiah to deliver humankind from a nightmarish form of high-tech bondage. (I had nothing to do with the film and, alas—for the thing has been an astounding success—I have no financial interest in the original or the upcoming sequels. But watching the movie, if you have never seen it or don’t remember it vividly, will help you to understand how each sphere adds more and more layers as the plot literally thickens, just as they add more and more complexity, more and more life, to your own journey on the Tree).
Crown: (Time in the movie, minute: 0:00-9:44) Defining the wish – the root of the wish.
The movie begins with an endless stream of computer-generated numbers matching the Sefer Yetzirah’s contention that God also “created His universe with number.” Next, we hear Trinity, the heroine of the story played by Carrie-Anne Moss, formulating the wish that will be fulfilled on this particular journey down the Tree: “Morpheus believes he is the One.” Right here in Crown, at the top of the Tree, Trinity provides the mission statement, Is he the One? We don’t even know who He is yet, but we know the wish. The initial moment here in the Crown also introduces us to the primary players, Trinity, Morpheus and this mysterious One. Then Trinity asks: “Are you sure the line is clean?” She brings in the threat of the antagonist. We don’t know who or why, but since someone might be tapping into the lines (which represent the paths that connect the spheres), there must be bad guys out there somewhere. Everything that will be is in the seed, in the Crown, even those poised to block the wish.
As the camera zooms in on the digit zero (remember the nothingness linked to Crown), the screen dissolves into a white sphere. White of course is the color of the Crown. When the camera zooms out, the white sphere becomes a flashlight in the hand of a policeman chasing after Trinity. We don’t understand why they’re after her, we don’t really understand anything, but that’s to be expected. No one can ever really comprehend the elevated wispy light of the Crown.
In the next scene, we find the protagonist, Thomas A. Anderson, sleeping at his desk as the words “Wake up, Neo” flash on his computer screen. Kabbalah teaches that all of us possess both a mundane name like Thomas given to us by our parents as well as a spiritual heavenly name bestowed by God. In this case, Neo. Kabbalists also like to fiddle around with the letters of words to decode their hidden meanings. Play with the letters of NEO and you fast come up with ONE. The entire plot of the film centers on the gradual awakening of Neo from ignorance into the true acceptance of his potential. That he is The One.
Then the film tells him to follow the white rabbit. White again for Crown. But the white rabbit from “Alice in Wonderland” leads that heroine down the rabbit hole, suggesting that Neo must go down deep into his subconscious to find his answers. And, even more importantly, he must venture down the Tree. His doorbell rings, and here in the final moments of the movie’s brush with Crown, the imagery intensifies. His clients at the door tell him he looks a little “whiter” than usual, a little more Crown. And then Neo declares: “Ever had the feeling you are not sure if you are awake or still dreaming?” Just before the movie leaps from Crown, Neo clarifies the mission, the wish—just as we all must do here in the Crown as we work our own wish on the Tree. He yearns to awaken, to become enlightened. That’s it. That’s the whole story. The rest is simply the act of getting there. So down the rabbit hole we go.
Wisdom: (minute 9:44-17:02) – Flash of Truth
Here on the expansive, benevolent pillar of the Tree, Neo receives a cellular phone from Fed Ex and begins to communicate with the wise man, Morpheus, his future mentor. Just as Gandolf the Grey mentored Bilbo the Hobbit and Yoda served as sage to Luke Skywalker, so is Morpheus, played by Laurence Fishburne, the spirit guide to Neo. In the film, we cannot see Morpheus yet, but he immediately begins to move Neo around with his quick bits of wisdom. This high up the tree, we only hear the voice of this wise, compassionate character. Slowly, as the plot descends the tree—and moves to more and more practical levels—the character will become more and more tangible. For now though, Morpheus is a voice in Neo’s ear—a flash of insight inside his head—offering him an escape route from the looming threat. It requires Neo to jump through the window of a very tall building, but he balks. He is afraid of heights. We all are. The escape route symbolizes spiritual heights and Neo is not ready. If he were, if he were already enlightened, his wish fulfilled, the movie would end right here. There would be no need for the rest. But he suffers from spiritual vertigo, from fear. Most of us do. So we need the rest of the Tree.
Neo fails to escape and the bad guys nab him. They throw him into an interrogation room, propelling the story across to the restrictive pillar of the Tree.
Understanding: (17:02-25:04) – Pressure, Guns and A Giant Leap
Finally, we begin for the first time to understand what’s going on. This sphere puts Neo under pressure. The antagonists attempt to coerce him into leading them to their real target, Morpheus, in exchange for their forgetting his hacker crimes. But newly arrived from the expansive energy of Wisdom, an overconfident Neo proves defiant. “You can’t scare me with this Gestapo crap,” he says, punctuating his belligerence by giving them his middle finger. It’s sort of amazing. The Nazi Gestapo is the embodiment of the darkest, darkest energy of this sphere run amok, and Neo immediately makes that connection. Also, Saturn, the planet of pressure and karma, rules this sphere as well as the middle finger flashed by Neo.
While you might conclude that Neo is simply staying true to the symbolism of the sphere, the bad guy agents know the ropes of this territory too. They react violently, inserting a living bug in Neo’s body that is designed to track him wherever he goes. Not fun. Then Neo wakes up and realizes it was all but a vivid nightmare. Or was it?
Morpheus calls and tells Neo to meet him at the Adams St. Bridge. Now I must confess, right here I fell in love with this movie. They named the bridge after me. I also loved the Tracy-Hepburn classic, “Adam’s Rib.” I even liked “The Addams Family.” But enough of my neurotic asides. Let’s go back to the Bridge, The Adams St. Bridge. What does it stand for? The Abyss.
But just meeting near the bridge does not mean you have crossed from Understanding to the comforting, watery sphere of Mercy. In the film, it is now raining, an indication that Neo is getting close. But he’s not there yet. He waits under the bridge. A car pulls up and stops on his left—signifying that he still stands on the left pillar of the Tree. He enters the car and Switch, one of Morpheus’ gang, points a gun at him. The pressure of Understanding torments him yet. Like the ferryman in old Greek myths, the car will carry him across the abyss to Morpheus. But first Neo must show his faith and let them kill the bug. “Take off your shirt,” Switch orders. “Right now there is only one rule: our way or the highway.”
Neo must trust these people. But arrogant Neo, yet the unbeliever, opens the car door to leave. But beautiful Trinity, speaking the voice of the One, stops him with her persuasive, kind voice: “You have to trust me.”
Here is Neo’s test, his leap of faith. And he submits. He surrenders. Understanding is designed to grind you with so much pressure that you finally surrender. But you never give up. His allies remove the bug and Neo crosses the Abyss. Now he will meet merciful Morpheus, the king of those who have awakened, just as Jupiter was the king of the gods. So during your own trials in Understanding, always think of Neo. Leap with faith over the obstacles and pressure. Remember: There is only ONE way. Our way or the long lonely highway.
Mercy: (25:04-36:36) – Healing and Opportunity
Neo waits outside a building. Rain pours even harder from the sky, emphasizing his move into the watery sphere of compassion and feeling. Lightening crackles, more intensely the closer Neo gets to Morpheus. Jupiter, the planet of this sphere, is the god of lightning. Symbol after symbol leads us deeper into the sphere. Neo enters a room where Morpheus, traditionally the god of dreams, awaits him. A glass of water sits on the table. The same glass of water I asked you to drink back in the chapter on Mercy to help you remember your dreams. Even Morpheus’ dialogue mimics the dreamy qualities of imagination and feeling embodied by this sphere.
“I imagine right now you are feeling like Alice,” he says. “What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it, you felt it your entire life…It is this feeling that has brought you to me.”
Feeling and only feelings brings us (Neo) to Mercy (Morpheus). In a sense, Morpheus is like John the Baptist, who baptized people with water to awaken their spirituality. “I baptize you with water; but One is yet to come, who is mightier than I. He will baptize you with fire” (Luke 3:16). That would be Jesus of Nazareth, or in this case, Neo of Chicago.
Morpheus offers Neo two pills: one blue (the color of Mercy) and one red (the color of Severity, the next sphere). Yet another critical choice. Blue, which will anesthetize Neo in the comforting dreamworld of Mercy. Or Red, which will launch him on his way across the tree to the fiery sphere of Severity. Neo chooses red; he chooses his destiny.
He awakens next in a tub of liquid and realizes that for all this time he had been asleep in some cocoon. He falls through endless tunnels of water (Mercy, Mercy everywhere) until he lands in a pool of water. Here the Morpheus team rescues him into the real waking world. They bring him to the ship and begin the healing process. They attach needles to reactivate his muscles. He sleeps. Mercy and water heal and expand. Neo’s muscles expand.
But remember the key. Mercy provided Neo the opportunity to go forward. The red pill. He chose to take it. To move ahead. In Mercy, you too must make use of all the opportunities that arise. You must rest and heal. And work on your muscles. You will need them in the upcoming sphere of war
Severity: (36:36-55:35) – Warriors in Training
Neo awakens yet again and pulls out the plug hooked to his left hand—the hand ruled by Severity. Morpheus tours him around the battle ship called Nebuchadnezzar, the famous Babylonian conqueror. Then Neo gets slapped in the face with the truth. The world of the 22nd Century is nothing but a desolate desert thanks to a war once waged between man and Artificial Intelligence. Endless fields of humans grown like crops for energy is all that is left of life. Mars, the god of war, crops and fields, rules this sphere. Neo can’t take it. “Stop! Let me out,” he cries. But it’s too late. The process of growth and wish fulfilling has passed the point of no return. It’s a lesson for all of us. We might bang up against moments when we regret what we’ve started. But we can’t turn back. We can only train ourselves for the battles ahead.
And so, wise Morpheus trains Neo in marital arts (The arts of Mars). Morpheus also prepares Neo by revealing the prophecy: there will be One who will liberate humanity. Neo, Morpheus tells him, is the One. Which sounds like a lovely vote of confidence. Why should that occur here in the restrictive, severe sphere of war? Well, think of the responsibility. Think of the expectations. It’s a pretty heavy load.
Beauty: (55:35-78:24 minutes) -- Love, Balance, Sacrifice
The center sphere in the middle column, Beauty mirrors both the Crown and the Kingdom—the wish above and its ultimate fulfillment below. We see Trinity, who started the movie for us in Crown, bringing Neo food, nursing him to health. Her expression reveals her love. Beauty also demands sacrifice. Cipher—the same character Trinity spoke with about the unclean phone lines in the opening—agrees to betray Morpheus in return for the bad agents making him “someone important, like an actor.” Actors and entertainment are ruled by Beauty. He agrees to sacrifice Morpheus to become a star. It makes sense here. The sun, the only star in our solar system, runs the show in Beauty.
Then Neo journeys to the Oracle to learn if he is really the One—the star yet again. Before he enters, Morpheus warns Neo: “Try not to think in terms of right and wrong.” Why? Because here in the middle pillar there is no good or bad, right or left, expansive or restrictive. Neo approaches the Oracle and she says, “I can see why [Trinity] likes you.” Love is in the air of Beauty. To his true concern, the Oracle replies, “being the One is like being in love. You just know it.”
Love and One. Exactly the same. Both under the sphere of Beauty, ruled by the Sun, our one star. Neo yearns for the Oracle to fulfill his wish with a direct affirmation. But no one can fulfill our wishes for us. We have to toil on the Tree ourselves. Her cryptic response leaves Neo discouraged. He doesn’t feel it yet himself. He doesn’t know it yet. The journey still has miles to go. But the Oracle does say this: “Poor Morpheus…He believes it so blindly that he is going to sacrifice his life to save yours.”
Again with the sacrifice—Beauty, remember, stands as the nexus of the cross, a powerful symbol of sacrifice—and again Morpheus lies on the altar. As he leaves, the Oracle hands him a plate of cookies. There are six cookies on the plate because Beauty is sphere number six. Whether the writers of this movie were consciously aware of it or not, I couldn’t tell you. It doesn’t matter. They knew it somehow. Deep down, we all know it. And how many cookies does Neo take? You know that too, even if you’ve never seen the film: One.
“The Matrix” spends more time in Beauty than in any other sphere. It is the heart of the movie, the heart of us all. It’s the sphere for cultivating love. The sphere of balance, of no judgement—nothing is wrong or right, a success or a failure. It embodies sacrifice, the star, the One. Take heed of these lessons on your own trip to Beauty.
Eternity: (78:24-98:45) -- Repetition and Action from Within
As they leave the building, Neo sees a black cat two separate times. The image repeats itself. Like Déjà vu. Eternity is the sphere of repetition. Mother Nature—the energy of animals and other earthy forms—lives here too, which is why this moment marks the only place in the film that we find an animal. This weirdness with the cat presages a snag in the matrix, the agents, who immediately swoop down on them. As the Oracle predicted, Morpheus sacrifices himself to save Neo, and the agents take him away.
Eternity represents the sphere of internal action. Cipher, the informer, begins killing the crew inside the ship. One after the next after the next. Again the repetition of Eternity. Meanwhile, the Agent interrogates Morpheus. He quizzes him again and again about the location of Zion, the last human city. Again the repetition. Morpheus refuses to squeal, prompting the villain to spit: “you [humans] move to an area and multiply until every natural resources is consumed.” This speech eerily evokes this expanding energy of Mother Nature, reproduction and the eternal repetition.
Back on the ship, Neo obeys the rules of this sphere too by deciding inside himself to save Morpheus. “I’m going in,” he announces. Trinity insists on going with him because Venus, the planet of marriage and partnership, reigns over the sphere, coupling them in eternity for better or for worse.
So learn from Neo. In this sphere, take inner action, a step initiated yourself rather than as a reflex to someone or something else. In Eternity, start the chain of events that will result in the fulfillment of your wish.
Splendor: (98:45-112:23) -- The Message of Magic and Real World Action
As they prepare for the big showdown, Trinity tells Neo, “No one has ever done anything like this. ” He replies, “that’s why it’s going to work.” Now he speaks like a true magician. Up until now, Neo was merely Morpheus’ apprentice. But here in the sphere of Splendor, the magician’s sphere, he transforms into the true master. And like a magician, he conjures up that famous, visually stunning scene of racks and racks of guns and ammo sliding in from nowhere.
In Splendor, Neo will discover that he is the messenger, carrying the message that He is the One. Splendor embodies movement, outer action. The ultra-physical shoot-em-up in the lobby of the villain’s stronghold exemplifies this energy ever so vividly. Then on the roof, Neo uses the tricks of the magician to dodge bullets. He moves inhumanly fast, just like Mercury, the speedy winged messenger of the gods and the ruler of this sphere. Helicopters—Mercury, the bearer of technology, flies too, you know—show up here and nowhere else in the film.
Carrying out his internal vow promised in the previous sphere, Neo succeeds in saving his teacher. The lesson is clear: only through bold action, can you prove to yourself that you have what it takes to be the One. Only then will you grab your wish.
Foundation: (112:23-124:44) – Death and Rebirth
The camera follows Neo as he descends yet another level. He, Trinity and Morpheus, head toward the Subway, down to the Foundation. Just as the foundation of a building lies deep within the earth, the subway runs deep in the Underworld. And the sphere of Foundation embodies the Underworld, the world of death. It also stands for sexuality and as the last depot where all the energies accumulated so far blend together to make the wish come true.
It also represents the sphere of secrets, and just before Trinity leaves for the ship, she tries to tell Neo something. But she can’t yet risk that intimacy. She’s close, but not quite. Set between Beauty and Kingdom, Foundation always will reflect the qualities of both. The love sparked in Beauty should become more of a solid flame here.
Most dramatic of all in this ultra-dramatic sphere, Neo must face his ultimate foe. It’s the final showdown, the foundation of all good vs. evil sagas. “I will enjoy watching you die,” the villain croons. Neo’s old self must die—the unbeliever, the confused wannabe—in order to be reborn as the One. And like Neo, all of us on this wish-fulfilling journey must die as our old unfulfilled selves in order to become something new. To do it, we blend all the previous spheres together. Neo is a good fighter (Severity); he knows his mission (Understanding). This moment stands as the climax of the process that started when he took the Red pill in (Mercy). He stands here because of his decision to save Morpheus (Eternity) and because he was successful in doing so (Splendor). He’s here alone to fight the agent, even though Trinity (Beauty) is on his mind.
But the Agent is beating the hell out of him. Trinity gazes at Neo’s body and cries, “He is killing him.” Again death. To make matters worse, the ship has been discovered and insect machines penetrate it. For the first time, death infiltrates both the real world and the virtual world of “The Matrix.” Foundation abounds. The bad guy Agent overpowers Neo. “You hear that Mr. Anderson. That is the sound of inevitability. It is the sound of your death.”
Neo has hit the bottom, the spot where Foundation touches the Earth, where all the amassed weight and pressure of the building press on a single point. And it brings Neo back to life. “My name is Neo, ” he proclaims. He slips from the Agent and runs for safety.
Bang. The gunshot hits Neo in the heart. He dies, just as Foundation demands.
Back on the ship, Trinity hovers over Neo’s dead body and says, “I am not afraid anymore. The Oracle told me I would fall in love with a dead man. The man I love would be the One. So you see, you can’t be dead. You can’t. Because I love you.” All this perfectly reflects what transpired in Beauty above. Trinity, who brought him food in that upper sphere, gathers the courage to tell the dead body of Neo the profoundly intimate secret she could not reveal before. And she evokes the Oracle, which was also a core element of Beauty. Then she kisses him and the Kingdom is born.
Kingdom: (124:44-136:00) – The Wish Fulfilled; The Wish Begun
Like Sleeping Beauty, Neo is resurrected with a kiss. See now how Crown and Kingdom, seemingly separated by so much time, space and endless motion, are essentially One. In Crown, Trinity sent the message to his screen, “Wake up, Neo.” In Kingdom, Trinity awakens him once again. When he shows signs of life, she commands, “Now get up.” Again like in Crown, she pushes him to wake up and act.
We see the villains shooting at him again, but now he outfoxes all the bullets. His wish is real. He has proven himself the One not only to himself and his friends, but to his adversaries as well. Now he can remake the Matrix. He will liberate humanity. And off he goes to wake up the others, just as he was awakened way back at the start. The circle is closed. “Ten spheres of Nothingness,” the Sefer Yitzerah reports. “Their end is imbedded in their beginning and their beginning in their end.”
“I don’t know the future,” says Neo, says the One, as he stirs another human back to life. “I didn’t come to tell you how this is going to end. I came here to tell you how it is going to begin.” On any wish-fulfilling hero’s journey, the end inevitably touches the beginning. It is time for another wish. It is time for the sequel.
Oh and one last thing, the movie lasts 136 minutes, which in numerology (1+3+6) adds up to 10—the number of spheres in the Tree. And also the number of Neo, I mean the One (1+0=1).