Last week, I began an article on reality dated 9 Feb. 12. If you haven’t read it yet, please do so now as this will all be a bit of bad rubbish without context. Review: We try to lock parts of ourselves away and dismiss them only to find them reappearing in rather uncomfortable ways – whether in the face of a child crossing the street or the lingering fear that so defines our inner life. Both are equally part of our reality – manifest or internal. But when you fight reality, try to stifle and stuff it down, it will begin to fight back, insisting upon our lives to be recognized.
For the one who lives day to day under the assumption that who we are and what we do are two distinctly different concepts please know you are in the minority. Albeit, a very powerful minority, subject to high degrees of Western influence but certainly not one informed by the major religions. Naturally, you will excuse yourself by paying lip service to actualized/realized self, the wholeness you find on the yoga mat or perhaps with certain sacred texts. Yet, at the end of the night there is a satisfaction to be found in decompressing from work and transitioning into the home – a clear indicator that we are not as “realized” as we try to convince ourselves. Further, the market for self-help books (the #1 selling genre) and promotions for “wholeness” to be found by exercise, call to nature, sexual expression, local pubs, sewn-on patches and a variety of other complimentary resources all scream out in neon lights that we, individually as much as a society, are not yet fully integrated. Not yet.
After seeing my last post, I want to clarify what I mean by “reality.” There are a few different worldviews at play here and it is hard to tease out which one I lean towards. Reality should be defined, or at least the standard definition for us to play with. Courtesy of dictionary.com, reality is
1. The state or quality of being real; 2. Resemblance to what is real; 3. A real thing or fact; 4. Real things, facts, or events taken as a whole; state of affairs; 5. Philosophy: a. something that exists independently of ideas concerning it, b. something that exists independently of all other things and from which all other things derive.
Reality in the sense I am discussing tends to borrow more from the philosophical definition, framed (as discussed in part 1) with the Eastern tradition that reality is not what we perceive, feel, or think. It exists independent of titles or senses. This may seem rather pluralistic or relative/subjective initially, but that would be a misunderstanding of the ideas which spring from the Levant. Instead, what is being said is that there is an unnameable “higher” or transcendent which we, as mortals, fail to realize. We are surrounded by these external, eternal forces. For some, this line of thinking goes to the extreme. Demons behind lamp posts, or gods caring how many squares of toilet paper you use. For others, this thinking is considered foreign, pagan or “primitive” because it is Eastern and so mysterious, indefinable, and thus “evil.” It is no wonder that when we speak of reality, something that (in Western philosophy anyway) is permanent, eternal and affirmed by scientific method and the sensual, we look for staples to hold us down. Much like gravity, without “reality” we become scared that we shall become untethered and leave this world. Speaking as one who has been to that horizon, I feel this kind of thinking is the more primitive. Reality is not a construct. It is not tangible, and as such it manifests in different ways: the corporeal as much as the mystical and transcendent. A monotheist will (rightly, I would say) intuit that God is a reality without ever having touched or seen Him. But we are not trying to prove God’s existence here – instead we are discussing how reality fights back against us and so, having secured what we mean by reality in some sense, let us continue.
According to Hebrew wisdom tradition, the effects of human behavior produce ripples, even shock waves, in human societies. The writer of Ecclesiastes put it like this: events of “time and chance” happen to all those living under the sun. But are time and chance personalized? Are they subjective? And if so, do we have some control over them or are we subject to a never-ending set of chaos; or as the theoretical astrophyscist would ask, Are we subject to infinite string theory? I would propose, at least within the realm of theoretical metaphysics, the answer is equivocally “No.”
Reality exists apart from us, and while we have some means of control by way of closing our eyes, medicating our mental functions, or conditioning the body to ignore sound, we cannot control Reality. Reality is a god; not really needing us, but for some reason allowing us to share in the experience and yes, at times, demanding to be heard.
When the feedback from last week’s article came in there was a tongue-in-cheek question asked: Were the girls you saw last week a hallucination? The answer is of course no. They were not brought on by chemical supplements, nor were they the actual women that I have known in years previous. In this sense, they were not “real” but merely a surprising glimpse into something I have not wanted to think about for quite some time. Freud would describe it as a repressed memory, Jung as an unrealized hope, the Aborigine as Dreamtime. These women represent different points of time though, and in this sense, yes, they were very real – if even for a moment. Their “appearance” was more about my own narrative than their own or any lingering question about them. Which is precisely the point here: Reality directs itself to you every day. Whether you ignore it or delay it or embrace it, Reality will find a way to be heard and seen. As I said last week, whatever religious culture you come from, we have names for this: karma, judgment, reciprocity, life, shit. It happens. What we do with it remains to be seen.
I am a Christian and feel that frames much of my worldview – though I also adopt several components of Buddhism, Islam and Judaism (listed alphabetically without priority) and, framed by this, I must reference a few things here:
“For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.” – 1 Corinthians 11:31-32
“When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.” –Abraham Lincoln
“In my Bioelectricity class this week, we learned about the cells in our body that help us sense our environment: chemosensors in our tongue that help us sense taste, for example, the photoreceptors in our eye that sense light, and the hair cells in our ears that sense the mechanical vibrations of sound, to name a few. As a result, I recently revisited my answer to the age-old question of ’how do I know that the blue I see is the same blue you see?’ that was so startling and exciting to most 3rd graders playing baby Kierkegaard a little bit differently. An answer could be that we just have to trust that perception is guided by biology and that humans are biologically identical to within 80% of our biological systems. This answer, of course, raises new questions: even if you and I may perceive the same blue, is that blue “real?” Where does sensation leave off and perception begin, and how may we trust ourselves as we try to compare them? Can we ever know how another person “senses” the world? Would love to hear your thoughts!” – Sophie Rand, Student Engineering, The Cooper Union For The Advancement of Science and Art
If there is something to the passage in the Christian Testament that those who precede us in death are watching from above (Hebrews 12:1, which comes on the heels of an entire chapter listing the names of “heroes” in Judaism) or, to broaden our scope of reference, if there is something to the doctrine of angels, spirits, demons and supernatural forces, what stops us from believing that echoes or other stages of reality exist in other forms? More precisely, drawing upon the experience I spoke of in the first part, what if the glimpses of the women I saw were real – perhaps more real because they were not the actual figure they represented? As real as the intuit that brought you to this article? What I am proposing is not some neuveaux bit of theology, but (if anything) a supplement that Reality, as a cosmic force, presses upon us as a guide to try and help us understand our world. It is a friend, if one wishes to go so far and say that, who tries time and again to get us to realize our mistakes, to rewrite our story and do something greater. Our discussion of the metaphysical is so constrained. We are under the impression that this world is the only reality, that’s it, and that God lacks any sense of originality, form and function, to move around bits and pieces. His brushes have touched Earth and nothing else, no other palette dimension even when somewhere inside ourselves we know this cannot be.
Astrophysicists, engineers, artists, theologians, the stay at home parent all play with ideas about a fourth dimension. Even the lowest drug addict tries to discuss their experience of relaxed muscles and brain function as “altered reality” or “state of existence.” What if it’s not? Native Americans have long held that peyote, for instance, lets one in on a supernatural world which our senses have been conditioned to ignore.
For me, I find scriptural evidence of this. In the biography of the prophet and political attaché Samuel (I Samuel 3:1-10), we read of a small boy who had what many would call an auditory hallucination. Initially advised that he was “just hearing things,” Samuel would not deny the reality of what he heard. Further, the Synoptic Gospels of the Christian Testament provide us with a story about the followers of Jesus seeing a “ghost” (Matthew 14:26, Mark 6:49, Luke 24:37). Yet Jesus does not say, “Oh poppycock! There’s no such thing as a ghost!” Instead, he seems to indicate a familiarity with ghosts as a participant in the scope of existence; he doesn’t have a corrective exposition on “Well gents, you see, what you call ‘ghosts’ are really demons or angels.” Not at all. In fact, in the Gospel of Luke, Jesus’ only response is to say that he is not a ghost as they accuse him of being, nor could he be, because “a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Luke 24:39). This would been a perfect moment to rid them of their confusion and say ghosts do not exist, but instead he seems to say, “Yes. They do. But I’m not one. I’m not in that category.”
As Christopher Nolan wrote in his hit film Inception, we mustn’t be afraid to dream a little larger, to believe that God (or “whatever”) participates with something we call Reality to try and get us a message, to show us something we are otherwise oblivious to.
Naturally, you may want to know what lesson I learned a few weeks ago in seeing those flickering images of the women I have known, to which I have two responses. One: I am still working that out, and two: it’s none of your business, mate! I can’t very well offer you a prescriptive based on my experience when you and I are both trying to work out our own rocks. How real and authentic would that be?