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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

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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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This is the story of three characters. Me,You and We.

The story begins with Me.

Me was born. A girl child.

Like most newborn babies Me cried when she felt hungry. Me’s parents came running to feed her. Me learnt when she needed something all she had to do was cry. And Me did. And sure enough someone came running.

As Me grew to be a toddler, she was admitted in a playschool. Me came across other Me’s. For the first time Me realized that she was not the only Me. There were others like her. Small Me boys and small Me girls. Each one crying for attention.  Me now had to compete with other Me’s.

And, boy was there competition! They called it exams. They called it sports. Someone stood first and someone stood last. Someone won and someone lost. When Me won a prize, her mother gave her an extra warm hug. Her father gave her an approving look. Her teachers patted her back.  No one paid attention to the Me’s that lost. The worst thing that could happen to a Me was losing. If a Me failed, they were called failures. It was frightening!

That’s when Me gave birth to You.

Me realized that if it had to survive and thrive in the world it had to please You. You Parents, You Teachers, You Friends, You Everybody else. Gradually she lost touch with Me. And got pre-occupied with You. She didn’t even realize when she stopped being Me.

For many years she lived as You. For You.

You did all that others told it to do. It wanted their approval, their love, their affection. It was hungry for others to like it. Could never get enough of it. You graduated with distinction, got her dream job, even had a grand marriage. You did all the right things. Like everyone else. You ran the mainstream race. Yet the more mainstream she became the more marginalized she felt. As though life from her very veins was gradually being sucked dry. She began to feel hollow. And this emptiness seeped into her life. She lost her marriage to her job. She lost her job to the economic meltdown.  And one day she realized that she had lost herself. She didn’t know any longer who she was. Or what she wanted. As she sat on a park bench, watching the children play, she reflected on her life as You. She was angry with You for ruining her life.

That’s when she re-discovered Me.

She thought she had lost Me forever. Yet it was there. Hidden somewhere in the deep recesses of her being. For the first time she spoke to Me. “What do you want?” Me did not respond. It was extremely angry. Hurt at being abandoned as a child. She realized her mistake. She knew that she didn’t have a life without Me. Me was the source of her life. She apologized to Me and they decided to become friends.

Now there was Me. An angry Me. A rebellious Me.

Wanting to make up for all those years it had lost, Me only cared for itself. Like a petulant child it wanted everything for itself. She blamed her parents, her friends and her ex-husband. For being selfish. For making her sacrifice. She believed that the world is selfish. And from now on she would be selfish too. Now she would live only for herself. She got another job. Another apartment. Another car. And indulged herself. She only had Me to please. She moved from one relationship to another. She didn’t believe in love anymore. Only loving herself. She covered herself in a hard shell of cynicism borne from her bitter experience as You.

She distanced herself from her parents and relatives. She hardly had any friends. She got into fights at work. She was angry most of the time. She knew that this was not who she was. In her fight to reclaim Me from You, she had lost out on Me.

She wondered. “How can I live as Me, in a world full of You?”

She quit her job and went on a sabbatical.

She read books. Met holy men. Visited ashrams. Attended workshops. Each had something to offer.  Yet the answer eluded her. Just when she was beginning to give up hope, something happened.

She was sitting at the seashore watching the sunset in the distance. In the fading sunlight she caught the sight of geese flying in a V. We! She had an epiphany at that moment.

We was born.

From experience. From wisdom. From lessons learnt as Me and You. We was a space where Me and You could co-exist. She could now be Me without making You a villain. We knew how to draw boundaries to protect Me. Yet engage with You. She got her answer atlast.

Without You, Me could not exist. And without Me, You had no meaning.

She got up and dusted the sand from her clothes and looked up once again. At the flying geese in the distance and wondered….

How did the geese learn to fly in a We?

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I just read in the Sunday paper of a celebrity pop star having the words  ‘anuugacchati pravahtattooed on her right arm. Anuugacchati pravah is the Sanskrit version of ‘go with the flow’. Having just started our blog, I was looking for an interesting topic to initiate the blog-voyage. This seemed like an interesting topic to flow with. Even though I have no clue what I would be writing, I stayed true to the spirit of the words and decided to go with the flow.

The idea of Flow germinated precisely a year back on 25th October 2009. Today Flow Consulting celebrates its first birthday. Incidentally, it happens to be my birthday too. Birthdays are a good day to reminisce on the year gone by and visualize what the future will be.

Starting your own venture is a cocktail of emotions. Heady excitement, fidgety nervousness, daring audacity, crippling fear, resurrecting hope – I have experienced all of these, in some measure or the other, this past year. I think the first year of being an entrepreneur is the toughest, yet the most memorable. Perhaps it is similar to becoming a parent for the first time. The first year creates the maximum churn. It is a shift from seeing yourself as being responsible for your-self to becoming responsible for another. An integral extension of you. It makes you reflect, change, grow all at once.

Apart from emotions, it affects your vision. The way you see things. Having been brought up with the conditioned belief of ‘study hard – get a degree – have a job – live happily ever after’ syndrome, I never saw life beyond my corporate cubicle. Now I do. Varieties of systems make up the world. The education system, the corporate system, the social system, the economic system, the political system, the entertainment system, the sports system, the religious system, the spiritual system, the community system, the family system…. All these systems engage within themselves and with each other to create the life experience. We belong to certain systems. They shape who we are and what we believe. If you belong to the majority system good for you, if not too bad, you have to contend with the more powerful systems.

Being on my own has made me reflect on my beliefs. Particularly around faith. When things are bleak one prays to the God of your choice or one consults an astrologer, in the hope that that there is a remedy for a bright hopeful future. After a while, I got tired of playing this game. If the situation was tough – accept it. Take responsibility for managing it and yourself. Look for support if need be. Move on. Finding metaphysical reasons of the divine forces, configuration of the planets and rituals to appease those forces, to remedy the situation, to me is the minds way of managing the fear it cannot deal with. Perhaps it has its own place. I much rather feel the emotion and learn from it. Perhaps it is the first step towards having faith in self and the inherent goodness of human beings.

It has instilled a passion for learning. Since the time I am doing what I love doing, I just cannot get enough time to read. I wish there was a machine that could download book content into the human brain in a few minutes. The way Rajnikanth does it in Robot. I realise that discovering a genuine passion for the subject is an integral part of education. Learning does not happen if it is not backed with feeling for the subject and an opportunity to apply that knowledge. I do not equate simply acquiring more information with education. We have google to do that now.

What do I see in the future for Flow?

Like a proud parent, I am extremely optimistic of a bright flowing future. Life requires two kinds of Vitamin M. Meaning & Money. They are like parallel lines, if your pursue one line you have to often let go of the other. Flow Consulting has given me meaning. Abundance will follow.

Until then ‘anuugacchati pravah’ – Go with the flow.

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