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Tag Archives: Illusion

While running on the treadmill, I noticed a woman, who had newly joined the gym, at the adjoining machine. She was middle aged and perhaps never been to a gym before. As the instructor got her started at a very slow pace, she strongly gripped the metallic handlebars in front of her. Interestingly her daughter who had accompanied her, saw her slow movement. After a while, she encouraged her mother to increase the pace and let go of the handlebars, as she was hardly exerting herself. The woman shook her head, uncertain of herself. It was evident that she felt she would be swept away by the pace of the treadmill if she let go, have a fall and injure herself.

As I watched the drama unfold on the treadmill, it occurred to me as the perfect analogy for how we live our life.

We are born vulnerable in an uncertain world. Whether we are prepared for it or not, life’s treadmill keeps moving. Often the pace is quite overwhelming and frightening. We look for certainty and security by holding on to the handlebars of an educational qualification, a job, a marriage, a family. We make great effort to follow the moral and religious codes prescribed by society. Trying our best to be a good person – son, daughter, husband, wife, father, mother, friend or citizen. Hoping to be in the good books of all concerned. Believing that this will provide enough financial and emotional security against the uncertainty of life. And yet, in spite of so many anchors and endeavors to secure ourselves, life sweeps us of our feet. There is fear of a relationship breaking up, of losing a job, of children leaving home, of old parents dying, of unexpected illnesses – essentially the treadmill of life moving faster than our capacity to run with its pace.  And, the other side of the coin is, if life’s treadmill moves at a slow same pace, we suffer a sense of emptiness and meaninglessness, with nothing to challenge us. Either way we suffer.

What then is the solution?

Probably the solution lies in being solution-less. We want a certain answer, theory or direction of how to live. Hoping that will secure us. Perhaps that is at the core of all the insecurity we experience. We are always looking for answers and anchors outside of us – books, gurus, parents, philosophies, power, position, money, codes of conduct – and yet it does not rid us of our misery and anxiety. On the contrary, it magnifies our suffering. We cannot match up to the ideal society or we ourselves have set for us. Our current reality is far away from the ideal image of ourselves, of how we wish our life to be. There is always a desire to be more successful and achieve more in all areas of our life – material or spiritual. Our lives are ruled by, what “should be”, what “could be” or what “should have been” or “could have been”. There is never an acceptance of What Is.

No, this article is not about living in the moment or harnessing the power of now, recommended in many books as a panacea to overcome human distress. This article is about exploring what stops us from letting go of the handlebars and embracing whatever life brings – pleasure or suffering.

“Suffering is an ingrained part of existence” declared the Buddha 2500 years ago. The sight of an old man, an ailing person, a corpse and an ascetic moved him to find the way out of human suffering. Not that we need a Buddha to validate human suffering. We all have suffered at some point or the other. Loneliness, emptiness and rejection contribute to greater suffering in the contemporary world, than they ever did during Buddha’s times. Just as the Buddha did, we too seek a way out of suffering in our own unique ways. After all, whole of life is a pursuit for happiness and completion. Whether one stays in the thick of things and pursues worldly success or chooses to opt out and seek moksha – an imagined state of eternal bliss. The pursuit remains the same. Fulfillment of a desired goal in the future.

What would happen if we stopped pursuing anything?

Would we become vegetables? Would there be anything to live for? How would we know how to direct our lives? Who will pay the bills? How will we survive? Is it even possible? Isn’t it normal to desire pleasure? Isn’t it natural to avoid suffering?

The whole idea of not wanting is so alien to us, that it immediately brings about much resistance and questions. The idea of “becoming something” and “achieving something” is so culturally ingrained in our system, that we do not know of any other way of living. Perhaps there is something for humans to learn from nature. Nothing in nature is trying to become, it simply moves according to its own unique intrinsic nature. Of course, it can be pointed out, that other than humans no other beings have the freedom of choice, of exerting their will power and the capacity to think.

Choice, will power and thinking are all synonyms of the same activity.

What if I were to tell you, choice is an illusion. As illusionary as the person who thinks he chooses. Neither truly exist.

I wonder what would be the answer to the following questions, if one were to avoid falling back on our conditioning that there is a God, everything happens due to the law of karma or some planetary configuration. If one were to drop for a moment, whatever our special brand of religion, culture or philosophy has taught us. The You that I refer to in these questions is, whatever you think of yourself as a separate independent identity.

Where was the “you” before you were born? Did the “you” choose you to be born? Did the “you” choose where you would be born? Did the “you” choose your genetic coding? Does the “you” regulate your inner body functions? Did the “you” arrange for life giving forces of food, water, and sunlight so that you may survive ? Where does the “you” disappear when you are asleep?

The existential answer to all these questions is a simple unknowing Silence. It is foolish to trivialize life by using borrowed concepts to explain it. Life Simply Is. Existence Is. The only thing that cannot be disputed is that I Am. I Exist.

Yet we choose to overlook this simple fact of our existence and live in an abstract world of theories, philosophies, knowledge, check-lists, plans, images, assumptions, beliefs – passed on to us from the past. Is it possible to drop all of it? Yes, absolutely all of it and live. Simply Live!

Live as though we are already complete, just as we are. Not seeking something to better us. Live as though spontaneous self-expression is our birthright. Not seeking the right conditions to do so. Live as though our feelings are the only authority of our reality in the moment. Not seeking anyone’s permission to feel our natural self – no matter how wild, evil and impure it may seem. Live as though life is made of many colours of love, hate, joy, sadness, lust, care, jealousy, compassion and all these colours belong to us. Not seeking to become white by hiding the black. Living as though life is a river and we are simply flowing with our destiny. Not seeking to live in the illusion of controlling the flow of life. Living with full abandon, sucking the juice of every living moment – be it joy or suffering. Not seeking to make second-hand meaning of our experiences or understand life.

We suffer for self-expression, as much as we suffer for choosing not to express. We suffer being lonely all by ourselves, just as we suffer being lonely in a crowd. We suffer being in a meaningless job or a relationship, as much as breaking away from it. If suffer we must, then why not suffer for something that gives us life. That takes us closer to our natural intrinsic self.

Finally, two sentences that sum up everything.

Let go of the handlebars.

Give life a chance!

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Have you ever had a dream, Neo, that you were so sure it was real? What if you were unable to awake from that dream? How would you know the difference between the dream world, and the real world?

–           Morpheus in the movie Matrix

***

What is Real?

Certain events in the past few days made me ask myself  “What is real?” Not just in an intellectual sort of way. Intensely. Deeply. Really wanting to know.

I googled it.

Came across an interesting article by Philip K Dick, a prolific science fiction writer . He says, “Each of us live in a self created universe. Place 10 people at the scene of the crime and they will all come back with 10 different views of what happened. We live inside a world of perceptions, interpretations and opinions which has nothing to do with reality.”

It captured my confusion well.

In fact, it added another one.

Whose reality is real?

If each person lives in his own private-mind-created-world, does a world inhabited by 6.8 billion people, have as many realities?  If so, whose reality is more real? Whose reality prevails when these realities bump into each other?

Power prevails.

The entity with more power prevails. The authoritative parental symbol. Family, school, corporations, political, social, religious, spiritual organizations. I depend on them for meeting my needs. The power each institution exercises differs according to the need it fulfills.

In essence, I barter my reality for the security I receive from a more powerful entity.

What happens once I have bartered my reality for security?

The reality of that institution becomes my reality. This process in simple words is called conditioning. In its stronger avatar, it is called indoctrination. In a corporation, the CEO’s reality colours the organization, the family-head influences the younger members, the Guru’s words are ultimate for his followers, and the leader’s decision prevails in politics. The remarkable thing about conditioning is – not that it occurs. The remarkable thing is that I am not aware of my own conditioning. My conditioning becomes me.

A  Christian American baby would acquire a perceiving lens, very different from a Muslim Pakistani baby. Their cultural experience creates a lens by which they view the world and create their reality. I may dislike anything with a Pakistan association, simply because I was born in India and vice-versa. It was written into my script even before I was born.

In effect, my experience of reality is conditioned. If the conditions change. Reality changes.

How we know what we know?

The universe is in a perpetual state of flux. All life is a process of change. Even inert matter – like chairs, tables, stones – are a whirl of electrons, at a sub-atomic level. The world at that level has no inherent location, physicalness or separation. There is no definite world. Only waves of probability.

Where does the material world come from?

Observation.

“Observation alters the probable world into a definite world” says quantum physics.

Everything is happening at the same time. A cosmic dance of energy. I experience this dance through the limitation of my five senses. I take a small snapshot of the world around me, add words (meaning) to my experience and create my reality. The picture I click using my sensory camera depends on the conditioned lens I am wearing. It re-affirms what I already know. I do not experience anything anew.

Irrespective of the quality of my lens, the fact is whatever I experience is real for me. The experience of a schizophrenic is as real for him, just as my experience is for me. Others may judge our reality as factual or distorted, authentic or fake. The fact is. Fact and fantasy are both real experiences.

The Scale of Reality

Is there a scale by which I can discern fact from fantasy? What creates fantasy?

The scale of reality depicted above, moves from fact on the left end towards fantasy on the right. A progressive interpretation of sensory data. The more I move towards the right end of the scale, the more I am living in thought. The more I add thoughts to my perception, more subjective is my reality. The shift is from what happened, to what happened to me. A hallucinating person imagines a reality in the absence of any external stimuli. To a certain extent, we all hallucinate. While we modify our beliefs according to social norms, a mad man follows them to the very end. My opinions, concepts, beliefs, judgements, prejudices, ideology are building blocks of my imaginary world. A personal symbolic world.

Thought fragments perception. I divide the world into a number of things. Then attribute cause and effect to these things.

The Illusion of Language

I put my hand in the fire; it burns.

This may seem like a factual statement. Is it?

I have through language broken inseparable sub-atomic reality into parts. I have created a Me, a Hand, a Fire, and a process called Burning.

Cause: Me putting hand in fire.

Effect: Burning.

In actuality, does any of this happen?

If I had a lens that could view the whole universe together, as One, I would see that events are happening simultaneously. One universal organism breathing and moving together. The me, the hand, the fire, the burning. Are all One process! I separate it using language and thought.

Similarly, events are happening inside my body simultaneously. I use language to label them into different parts. Heart, blood, body, parts. Then say. The heart pumps blood to other parts of the body. Perhaps there is no heart, no blood, no others parts and no body. It is simply one hologram functioning – on its own energy.

Says Alfred Korzybski, the founder of general semantics “Language enslaves us by conditioning our brains to perceive a false reality. The map is not the territory; the word is not the thing defined.”

Living in Abstractions

As humans, we make abstractions all the time. An abstraction, simplifies, condenses, or symbolizes a phenomenal event in order to talk about it or think about it.

Says Alfred in his book Science and Sanity “The world is what it is. We can make all kinds of maps and models of how the world works. But the models and maps and any words one can put together can never do more than approximate the actual world or the actual phenomena being examined. The actual territory is beyond verbal description.”

For every event, we find meaning, reasons, possibilities, outcomes, judgments, concepts – becoming more abstract, personal and imaginary. Our reactions are based on the perceived meaning of an event, more than the event itself. Meanings give rise to feelings. Feelings give rise to meanings. An endless chain of meaning- feeling-meaning- feeling.  A slight itch is converted into big bleeding bruise due to constant meaning-feeling scratching.  We get lost in an ocean of words and their associated feelings. The initial phenomenal event may have affected us briefly. The perceived chain of meanings and interpretations affects us endlessly.

Is this how were meant to live?

Is there a way out of this world of abstractions?

Is it possible to have an experience free of memory and thought?

Freedom From the Known

The most fundamental fragmentation of thought is –

There is a Me and there is the World. I am separate from the world. Is this real?

Am “I” real?

The “I” is made up of the all that I know about myself from past experience and the desire to become something in the future. Built on self-concepts, ideas and beliefs. Is it real?

Perhaps the secret to what is real, lies in inquiring into this “I”? The source of all perception and experience.

Irrespective of the changing nature of my reality. Awake, dreaming or asleep. One thing remains constant.

I exist.

I Am.

Beyond concepts and sensations. This is the only reality that does not require any external proof or validation.

Perhaps the answer to discovering reality lies in exploring my own existence at the deepest core of my being. Perhaps the only qualification required to do that is a deep earnestness to know.

The truth of reality.

***

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