Accessing & Anchoring Essence: Touchstones of Truth

April 22, 2021 § 6 Comments

“I contain multitudes.” ~ Walt Whitman

In your soul are infinitely precious things that can not be taken from you.”~ Oscar Wild

“We have to get back into the inner jeweled realm and make ourselves at home there.” ~ Terence McKenna

“The soul is your temple.” ~ Chanakya

This December 2020 marked a decade of exploring the architecture of reality that surrounds us, and the nature of being within us, via PARALLAX.

My first post, “The Role of the Dreamer & The Falseness of Civilization,” written in December 2010, names the call to move beyond the conditioning of a mad world into something more immediate and real within ourselves—a theme that feels more relevant today than ever.

During times when fear and uncertainty run high, as now, it is essential to be grounded and connected to our own energy, or we will go as crazy as the world.

Nobody teaches us in school how to connect with the wisdom of our soul. The idea of a soul at all is often viewed as an antiquated or purely religious concept. This erasure leaves us viewing ourselves as a blank slate mind to be filled with memorized facts. We may be informed about the world, but we are set up to miss out on our greatest resource of all: inner wisdom, essence vision.

[artist unknown]

Words are placeholders for realities far more complex than the limited signifiers used to represent them. Whether or not you subscribe to the idea of a soul or spirit that exists beyond the body, we are unarguably a point of specific consciousness containing a unique collection of experiences, feelings, talents, perspectives and affinities.

Our point of view is a feeling signature unlike any other person’s—an imprint of presence that is our deepest self beyond the personality, beyond fears and projections. A core truth of self.

This core essence knows more than our conscious minds. It is tapped into the wealth of subconscious creative connections, as well as innumerable possibilities within the imaginal planes of collective consciousness and universal inspiration. We construct our personality as a form of self-protection to interface with the world. (See, Authenticity & The False Self.”) But deep-diving beyond this construct yields a wealth of inner richness.

[Artist: Javiera Estrada]

Essence is innate. The constructed egoic personality often throttles the pure expressions and impulses of this essential nature, trying to play by the rules, gain approval and “get it right” by applying logic. But there is a deeper guidance system of resonance available to us, one which is infinitely expansive. Transcendent, even.

We are not told about this inner wealth, or taught to access it.

Yet anchoring our essence—and accessing its wisdom—has never been more important, both individually and collectively. Traumatic experiences and distressing, stressful circumstances—like a global pandemic, a rapidly changing environment and massive civil unrest, for instance—create dissociation. We might be partially present, going through the motions, but we are half dislodged and not fully embodied.

This deeply uncomfortable, sometimes excruciating, experience—seen as soul loss by indigenous and neo pagan traditions—manifests as anxiety, depression, brain fog, feelings of dread, listlessness and disconnection.

I’d like to share with you a time-tested personal practice I use to connect to my own essence. Using this exercise as a morning practice has been my lifeline through the past year of lockdown. I’ve shared this exercise with several friends who tried it and gave glowing reports of better days and increased well-being.

Try it as a three day challenge and let us know how it goes!

I’ve found it to be a game-changing tone setter for the day, giving a significant elevation of mood every time. Obviously some days more than others, but I’m always glad I did it.

As one friend put it: “Instead of waiting to see the day through someone else’s filter, you get to YOU deeply.”

Essence Meditation

&

Soul Dictation

Needed: a notebook & pen within reach. A way to listen to music & a timer.

1.Set the timer for 5-10 minutes. Close your eyes while sitting or lying down somewhere comfortable.

2. Listen to calming, uplifting music—I find ambient or instrumental is best to free the mind & support elevation. (Youtube & Spotify have a vast array of healing/meditation music & soundscape options.)

3. Direct your focus inward, resting your awareness in the space surrounding your heart. Placing your palm over the heart center can help stimulate sensation of presence within this area. Feel your chest rise and fall with your breathing. Relax into your inner being. Soften and sink inward.

[Artist: Antonio Moro]

4. Feel into your own essence. By which I mean: internally, on a feeling level, using your attention like a spotlight scanning inwardly, do your best to locate the purest center of your “you-ness” at its most innocent and pure. Then feel into it, lean into it, feed it with your attention. Deep-dive your interior like a vast ocean. And while you are swimming there ask yourself:

What does my essence feel like? If I was a color pallet, what colors feel most like me? Most like home? Does being underwater feel soothing? Feel into that.

Follow what feels “warmer, warmer, warmer…” like that game we used to play as kids. Move towards what feels good. Allow yourself to dissolve slowly and pleasurably into the core of your own inner space, like trust falling into your own arms. This, in here, is your safe place. Your regeneration chamber. Your temple. A home base just for you. A source of infinite nourishment to drink from.

[Artist: Javiera Estrada]

Be playful. Be gentle. Have fun.

As one friend said of the exercise, “I found it very playful. An invitation to really savor the joy that I often shove down.”

What images, colors, places, activities or symbols conjure a deep, abiding sense of home and truth for you?

Does the sound of the wind in the trees give you an extra lift of excitement, reminding you of running free as a child, when you could still hear the secrets whispered between leaves? Feel into that energy.

Perhaps you have a favorite memory that conjures a feeling of home for you. Color combinations that give you a little spark of joy.

[Source: Oli Dale/photonify.com]

Does the way sunlight looks on water make you feel a special charge? Expand that sparkly visual in your mind’s eye—dive deep into the feeling of that liquid light.

Maybe you can access the feeling without needing to conjure images or words. Sink into that cozy sensation that feels like home.

With loving awareness, nurture the feeling the touchstone inspires inside you. Allow yourself to drift pleasurably inside the feeling.

What brings you alive? The answers will be the same things that bring you home to yourself.

What we love is part of who we are.

[artist unknown]

What are your touchstones of personal essence? This meditation will help you discover them, at which point they become a vital resource—instant access to anchored essence which increases well-being, flow state, confidence, clear thinking and creative connections.

Images and symbols, like words, are portals to the energies they represent. Make notes in your notebook when you find a touchstone that elevates your feeling state.

Once you have discovered your inner touchstones of essence, you can use them as a shortcut to access the feeling-state they inspire.

Remember, this isn’t shadow work. We aren’t going down the dark interior rabbit holes here. This is an exercise for nourishment, uplift and re-connection with the truest parts of being.

You are consciously creating a bubble of heavenly frequencies within and around yourself. Watering your inner garden, showing your truest, deepest, purest, most innocent and powerful self interest and love. Focus on joyful, uplifting sensations.

(This is not to advocate for spiritual bypassing. Facing fears, uncomfortable truths and healing inner wounds is an important part of coming home to yourself. For more on shadow work, “Navigating The Dark Night of the Soul,” and to work with wounded inner aspects, see “Soul-Retrieval.” That being said, in these dark times I truly think we need the fortification of going straight to the spirit for nourishment, vision, uplift, empowerment and regeneration.)

Essence Meditation is about elevating your inner atmosphere to connect with your most exalted aspects. Your multidimensional self.

5. Anchor essence. Once you’ve located the “warmer, warmer” feeling enough to evoke it, even slightly, at will—once you have fed your experience of your essence with your attention, grow it. Expand the sensation outward from your inner being to fill your body. Then keep expanding it to surround and encompass you like a loving atmosphere.

If you saw colors, visualize them around you. If you saw stars, surround yourself with starlight. Expand your inner world to form a protective energetic cocoon of your own essence around you. This is also a good strategy for creating energetic boundaries.

[Artist: Gilbert Williams]

6. Soul Dictation.

When your timer goes off, open your notebook, raise your pen and ask your soul, your essence—this inner magical mystery you’ve just spent the last five or ten minutes communing with—“What do you have to tell me?”

Write down whatever comes. Even if it seems simple or obvious. Silly, cheesy, gibberish. Disjointed. Doesn’t matter. Withhold judgement. Allow yourself to be vulnerable with yourself. This is a process of getting comfortable with allowing a vaster, more intuitive, multidimensional aspect of self to speak—and be heard.

Just free-associate and write down whatever you hear internally as you listen for that true voice, whatever comes up. If you want, ask a question. Words, impressions, downloads will start to come. And the messages might surprise you.

Sometimes they feel very ordinary or generic while you’re scribing, but then you’ll read them later and they’ll suddenly light up. Profound truths are often simple. In the moment, it may seem like nothing. But later, it might be exactly what you need to hear. Just play, trust, explore. Sometimes I purposely let myself write messily so I can trick myself into thinking less and listening more. The idea is to get out of the way so you can hear the still, small voice.

As one friend who tried this exercise to great success related: “It’s a doorway to your own sacred heart.”

Going within for answers is a radical act in a society that conditions us to look for the truth from authority figures outside ourselves.

Ask your essence questions you don’t know the answer to…and watch an answer come.

*Please share your experiences in the comments if you try this exercise. I’d love to hear any thoughts you care to share, regardless. I love it when the comments becomes a shared pooling of notes.

What Is Consciousness?

May 1, 2017 § 6 Comments

“Everything we do is for the purpose of altering consciousness. We form friendships so that we can feel certain emotions, like love, and avoid others, like loneliness. We eat specific foods to enjoy their fleeting presence on our tongues. We read for the pleasure of thinking another person’s thoughts.’‘ – Sam Harris

”The key to growth is the introduction of higher dimensions of consciousness into our awareness.” Lao Tzu

“As we grow in our consciousness, there will be more compassion and more love, and then the barriers between people, between religions, between nations will begin to fall. Yes, we have to beat down the separateness.” Ram Dass

Consciousness is awareness of our own existence; the mind contemplating itself & its place in the world.

It gets a little trickier when we try to elaborate.

Article Image

”The human brain contains about one hundred billion interacting neurons,” relates science writer Michael S. Graziano. ”Neuroscientists know, at least in general, how that network of neurons can compute information. But how does a brain become aware of information? What is sentience itself?”

”What is the essence of awareness, the spark that makes us us? Something lovely apparently buried inside us is aware of ourselves and of our world. Without that awareness, zombie-like, we would presumably have no basis for curiosity, no realization that there is a world about which to be curious, no impetus to seek insight, whether emotional, artistic, religious, or scientific. Consciousness is the window through which we understand.” (‘What Is Consciousness? Neuroscience May Have Answer To The Big Questions.”)

Fajar P. Domingo[Fajar P. Domingo]

“Consider an analogy from physics,” adds psychologist Kristian Marlow, “knowing every equation predicting how mass and gravity interact does not tell us why they interact in the way they do. To understand why mass and gravity interact, we must appeal to highly esoteric explanations involving relativity, quantum mechanics or string theory. ”

Graziano offers a simpler metaphor: a child and his father watch as a magician saws a woman in half. “How do you think he does that?” asks the father. “Dad,” says the kid. “It’s obvious!” “Really?” asks the father, intrigued. “How?” The child replies: “The magician does it.”

Neuroscience, at this stage, Graziano asserts, is merely pointing at the magician; not explaining the trick.

how to become a magician[image source]

In philosophy, the study of consciousness is called phenomenology.

The mind–body problem examines the relationship between mind and matter, specifically the relationship between consciousness and the brain. The issue was addressed by René Descartes in the 17th century, resulting in Cartesian dualism. Descartes asserted that the the seat of intelligence & sentience was distinct from the brain, “a ghost in the machine.”

[ Fajar P. Domingo]

In the world of philosophy, physicalists maintain that consciousness is entirely physical,  while dualists think we are dealing with a two part system in which mental phenomena are, in some respect, non physical.

The philosopher Spinoza apposed Descartes’ theory of dualism, asserting that all matter was in fact made up of a single substance: an impersonal God with infinite attributes.

Spinoza’s theory represents a monist worldview, in which the distinctions we perceive are not ultimately indications of separation—a view which quantum physics appears to confirm & the Hindu philosophy of Vedanta established thousands of years ago.

How To Shoot Stellar Milky Way Double Exposure Portraits[image source]

Pioneering writer & philosopher Starhawk comments that the dualist way of thinking has created a culture of estrangement in modern life in which people feel “as strangers in the world,” disconnected from nature, each other & themselves.

Within this stock narrative of dualism in Western culture, Starhawk observes that “all qualities can be broken down into pairs of opposites—one is good, idealized, and the other is bad, devalued. Psychologists call this thought process “splitting”—the inability to see people or things as wholes containing both desired and undesired elements. In the split world, spirit wars with flesh, culture with nature, the sacred with the profane, the light with the dark.” (“Dreaming The Dark: Magic, Sex, Politics.”)

Forgive me folks if this post is something weird for you. What you read is totally my own. I respect your ideas about this.: [image source]

Starhawk observes that the split narrative becomes a metaphor for hierarchy. The fact that the “good guy versus bad guy” theme is the most dominant story line in Western culture is no accident, she asserts: it implants the message that in order for some to be good, others must be bad. A mental program that keeps us eternally divided, from each other & within ourselves.

Although we are technically all conscious as long as we are living, sometimes, although we are operating in the world, we may feel dull, uninspired, disconnected, apathetic. We encounter people who seem checked out as well.

This state has been dubbed in the parlance of modern spirituality “unconsciousness”: that trance-like state when you’re technically alive but don’t feel particularly vital or connected with your environment, yourself, a sense of purpose, etc—when, as Starhawk would say, we feel “as strangers in the world.”

Julian Pacaud:

[Julian Pacaud]

Contrast this with the experience we have all had at certain times of feeling intensely present, conscious & vital—in which we feel awakened to a sense of possibility & connection.

But words fail, because this “awakeness” is an extra, internal layer of awareness & alertness beyond the physical mechanism of simply not being asleep. This experience is universally typified by a sense of peace & uplift. Insights, which seem to recede into the background in “the trance, ” re-emerge as self-evident truths.

[Fajar P. Domingo]

Spiritual practice could be defined as the conscious cultivation of accessing this experience of “awakeness”—as one often seems to stumble into it and out of it. But tools like meditation, mindfulness & gratitude practices can help us access this feeling at will. This sense of deepened awakeness is often referred to as higher consciousness, and connecting with this state is the goal of spiritual practice.

We might define higher consciousness & its pursuit as: consciousness being conscious of itself as consciousness, and seeking to refine that awareness.

[Fajar P. Domingo]

What are your thoughts on consciousness? Which camp do you fall in (dualist or monist) & why? What is your experience of the awake/unconscious scenario?

*

If you enjoyed this post, try:

“Dreaming The Dark: Technologies of Immanence”

“Stardust Contemplating Stardust: Inner Space & The Science of Illumination.”

“The Human Soul & The Floating Man”

“Polarity & Paradox, Black & White Thinking In A Rainbow World.”

Polarity and Paradox: Black and White Thinking in a Rainbow World

February 8, 2012 § 27 Comments

escher_sky_water“Sky & Water” by M.C. Escher

“To offer the leadership and vision, our times require as individuals, professionals, change agents in any domain, and even as spiritual leaders, wisdom dictates we move beyond unconscious polarization – not just intellectually, but in the very words we speak and the actions we take.” ~ Ragini Elizabeth Michaels 

“[T]he thinker without the paradox is like the lover without passion” ~ Soren Kierkegaard

“To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind.”
~ Jianzhi Sengcan

From an evolutionary standpoint, it makes sense to think in terms of black and white.

If one extreme presents itself, such as a predator, it’s logical to put as much space between you and that danger as possible—to go the opposite direction. It makes sense to label the saber tooth tiger “unsafe” and the cave where he can’t reach you “safe.” In situations so basic, locations which are “somewhat safe” are ineffective to ponder.

But we no longer live in an age where this kind of thinking serves us. In fact, the cognitive distortion brought on by viewing a complex world through the reductive lens of “this or that,” “all or nothing,” “either/or,” can harm relationships, diminish well-being and limit our overall understanding of the world. In viewing a multi-faceted situation through a binary lens we are bound to miss essential details.

In the modern era the ability to perceive nuance, ambiguity and paradox is considered the height of cognitive vitality. Finding balance between seemingly contradictory elements is believed by many to be the road to inner peace.

Language itself promotes dualistic thinking. ‘Difficult’ and ‘easy’ define each other. What would ‘calm’ mean without ‘anxious?’ ‘Up’ makes ‘down’ distinguishable.

Even the simplest, most everyday question — “How are you?” — pressures us to pick a side. Are you feeling good? Bad? Which is it?

Yet, our lives at all times contain both pleasant and uncomfortable aspects.

Middle-ground responses provoke an interpretation veering towards the negative. For instance responding with a shrug, “I’m okay,” or the unlikely but far more accurate, “I’m both good and bad,” will be read as unspecific and inspire detail pressing. The most honest answer (“I am”) would be considered highly uninformative.

“While we speak to the unity and harmony of the whole as our desired goal,” writes Ragini Elizabeth Michaels in her article “Managing a Paradoxical Life,” “our language itself too often reveals an unconscious choice of one pole of a polar pair as more important, or more right, than the other – spiritual over material, peace over conflict, trust over doubt, unity over diversity, harmony over discord.”

A false dilemma (also called a false dichotomy or black-and-white thinking) is a type of logical fallacy that involves a situation in which only two alternatives are considered, when in fact there are additional options. (“It wasn’t medicine that cured Mrs. X, so it must be a miracle.”)

Marked by a logical leap and the oversimplification of a more complex matter, a false dichotomy may be presented intentionally, in order to manipulate a perspective (“You’re either with us, or you’re against us,”) or unintentionally, due to an assumption (“He wouldn’t do that if he loved me.”)

Social systems reinforce this kind of polarized thinking. For example, if you want to identify with a political party of any influence in the United States you have two choices: either you can identify as belonging to a party that is pro-peace, pro-gay, pro-tax, pro-regulation, pro-choice and anti-gun, or pro-military, anti-gay, anti-tax, pro-free market, pro-life and pro-gun.

What if you are pro-gay, pro-free market, anti-tax, pro-life, pro-peace and pro-gun? Too bad. Pick a side or your vote yields no power. Cultural splitting such as this encourages people to think in unnecessarily polarized terms.

In structuralism (the sociological study of cultural context) dividing the world into two opposing categories, known as binary opposition, is seen as a fundamental organizer of human philosophy, culture, and language (for example, we need the idea of “evil” in order to conceive of the concept of “good.”)

But others (post-structuralists in particular) argue that such binary opposition is often value-laden and ethnocentric.

French philospher Jacques Derrida agrees that binary oppositions often mark “a violent hierarchy” where “one of the two terms governs the other.” In this way, binary language can be linked with oppression.

paradise, m.c. escher“Paradise” by M.C Escher

“Black and white thinking doesn’t just hurt ourselves, but also the relationships we try to build with other people,” notes psychology writer Steven Handel. “When we view the world in strict and over-simplistic terms, we are less likely to compromise and cooperate with others to meet common interests.

“We lose in black and white thinking because we are never going to be everything we want to be. We’re always going to be lacking something if we’re trying to measure ourselves on some black-and-white scale where x is good and y is not good. We’re never going to be able to be completely x. It doesn’t happen, because we’re human – we’re unfinished – and we’re not simple.”

“A black and white viewpoint often creates artificial ‘needs’ in our life that lead to disappointment and depression,” continues  Handel, adding that the cognitive-based psychotherapist Albert Ellis called one example of this ‘musterbation.’ “This is our tendency to think that we must have something, or we must do something, or life must be a certain way – or it will be awful.

“Black and white thinking doesn’t open us up to the possibility that even if life doesn’t work out exactly the way we think it should, we can still find happiness.”

Ragini Elizabeth Michaels agrees: “We may think that by eradicating the pole we don’t want, we are creating a non-dual universe, or ‘fixing the problem.’ We may believe that the dilemma, or duality itself, with its conflicts and tensions, will then somehow disappear. Or worse yet, we may begin to perceive the spiritual as the solution to the problems of the material world – which, paradoxically, it is and it is not.

“In contrast, depolarizing the mind frees us to perceive war and peace, anger and compassion, freedom and responsibility, and even duality and non-duality, as partners, and to perceive the friction or tension between them as creativity in disguise. This shift in perception changes everything.”

German philosopher  Hegel saw history as a merging of opposites, creating progress: one viewpoint (the Thesis) merges with another, seemingly polar, viewpoint (the Anti-Thesis,) creating a new entity altogether, the Synthesis. This process is known in philosophy as the Hagelian Dialectic. For Hegel, dialectic tension is inherently creative and capable of union.

Great thinkers have always embraced paradox — looking past black and white simplification into a world where seemingly contradictory forces can co-exist. Kierkegaard said:

“…one must not think ill of the paradox, for the paradox is the passion of thought, and the thinker without the paradox is like the lover without passion: a mediocre fellow. But the ultimate potentiation of every passion is always to will its own downfall, and so it is also the ultimate passion of the understanding to will the collision, although in one way or another the collision must become its downfall. This, then, is the ultimate paradox of thought: to want to discover something that thought itself cannot think.”

Ancient Eastern mystical philosophy contains the concept of yin yang (referred to in the West as “yin and yang”), which describes how seemingly contrary forces are interconnected and interdependent in the natural world, giving rise to each other in turn. Yin yang are not opposing forces but complementary opposites that interact within a greater whole.

Paradox is the heart and soul of Zen philosophy. As Lau-Tzu said, “If you want to become full, let yourself be empty…Look, and it can’t be seen. Listen, and it can’t be heard. Reach, and it can’t be grasped… seamless, unnamable, it returns to the realm of nothing. Form that includes all forms, image without an image, subtle, beyond all conception…You can’t understand it, but you can be it. The Tao is beyond is and is not…”

Next time you find yourself feeling anxious over some perceived reality, take note. Are you making a logical leap that if X is true, then so must Y? Are you boxing yourself or someone else into an all-or-nothing false dilemma, considering only two alternatives where there are many? Ignoring seemingly contradictory aspects in order to create the illusion of a more manageable whole? In the end, the dualistic worldview is not more manageable. It is more prone to distortion.

Am I saying to abandon discernment? On the contrary! By releasing preconceived dualistic notions we open ourselves to perceive a greater spectrum.

The Eternal Return

April 17, 2011 § 6 Comments

By Tai Carmen

What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.  Ecclesiastes 1:9

I dwell in sacred time, which flows in a circle. Not historical time, which runs in a line. T. A. BarronThe Lost Years of Merlin

The idea of the eternal return is not limited to Biblical platitude. The concept can also be found in ancient EgyptianMayan and Aztec beliefs, in East Indian and ancient Greek philosophy, as well as the 19th century thought experiment of Friedrich Nietzsche.

The concept of the eternal return posits that the universe has been recurring, and will continue to recur, in a self-similar form, an infinite number of times across infinite time and/or infinite space.

The image of the Ouroboros, the snake devouring its own tail, symbolizes the eternal recurrence, or “the end is the beginning.” It has been seen in various expressions through out ancient Egypt, Japan, India, and Greece — in European woodcuts and Aztec art.

Stephen Hawking affirms the possibility of the  “arrow of time”,  a concept that the universe proceeds up to a certain point, after which it undergoes a time reversal.

Respected religious scholar, Mircea Eliade, expands on the concept in his book, Cosmos and History: The Myth of the Eternal Return, first by splitting man’s experience into two categories: the sacred and the profane, or everyday.

In his studies of tribal belief systems around the world, Mircea concludes that traditional or “archaic” man associates “the sacred” with some original mythology of creation. He sites the Aborigines concept of “dreamtime” as one example. In the Aborigine legend of “the time before time” creators, who exist in a world outside of time, created the world within time, and then become rocks, trees, stars, etc. in the world. In this way, Mircea observes, the profane only gains meaning through the sacred.

Nietzsche uses the idea of the eternal return as a thought experiment to explore his concept of Amor fati, or “love of fate.” Imagining such an existence horrifying, he rallies with the cry of embracing what is:

“I want to learn more and more to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful.”

The Question of Reality

January 19, 2011 § 9 Comments

By Tai Carmen

“I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke. Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?” — Chuang Tzu

From Plato’s Cave to The Matrix, thoughtful humans throughout the ages have found different ways to ask the same question: Are we fully cognizant of the true nature of the reality that surrounds us?

There is a basic unease to the human condition, the vague and gnawing sense that there must be something we are missing, something we have not been told; a feeling rooted, no doubt, in the fact that we are born into a world where the most burning questions have only theoretical, subjective answers.

Religion has attempted to fill this void with meaning, but even in its answers, more questions arise.

How solid is our reality? Science, so often pitted against the mystical, has the most mystically fraught of answers: not solid at all. On an atomic and subatomic level — as we all learned in school, though most likely didn’t grasp the full implication of at the time — there is space and movement between atoms. The so-called solid wall is teeming, pulsing, dancing — molecules full of wide open space.

If I put my hand on the wall, the sensation I experience as touch is the interaction between the molecules of my hand and the molecules of the wall; on an atomic level, there is a point where the difference between my hand and the wall become indistinguishable.

In other words, it has been scientifically proven in our lifetime that the reality we behold is — to some degree, anyway — illusory.

The idea that the nature of form is misleading and ultimately unreal, of course, has been in existence for centuries — perhaps most famously put forth in the Eastern concept of Maya, (found in Buddhism and Hinduism,) a word derived form the ancient Sanskritma, meaning “not,” and ya, meaning “that.” Though the details differ, Judeo-Christian philosophy reiterates the same basic idea: that things are not as they appear, and this world is but a pale echo of a brighter, truer place.

There are more sinister shades, more paranoid potential, to this question of reality. The possibility that, as in The Matrix — where humans are grown by sentient machines, imprisoned in a virtual computer-generated world —we are living in an unperceived prison of sorts. As the character Morpheus says:

“What you know you can’t explain. But you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life. That there’s something wrong with the world. You don’t know what it is but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind driving you mad.”

Of course, we can clearly see that there are many things wrong with the world — war, hunger, violence, hatred. Easily, that can’t-quite-put-your-finger-on-it-feeling of unease can find its root in quite tangible phenomena. Perhaps it is a form of escapism to look elsewhere than the obvious issues — wishful thinking that there is some explanation which would make the world’s horrors somehow more comprehensible. And yet, true though this may be, it doesn’t hurt to probe, to dig, to question consensus reality.

The Matrix premise borrows heavily from the Gnostic tradition, wherein the world was created by imperfect gods (though within the spectrum a perfect one exists.)

These flawed creators are described as a race of inorganic beings local to our solar system, called Archons. Agents of error, they feed off human misery and hence work to deceive the mind towards darkness. Pretty trippy stuff, considering the ancient texts date back to the 3rd and 4th century.

The fact that our experience of stimuli in the world is actually an experience of our brain’s interpretation of that stimuli (rather than the thing itself) does make a Matrix-like gap between reality and perceived reality plausible.

After all, the smell of a rose is simply information recognized through sensory organs and registered as “rose.”

The light waves we see when we perceive the rose are in our eyes, not the thing seen; the molecules we smell are in our nose, not the thing smelled. They are not the thing itself, but a relayed message or impression of the thing.

In the language of philosophy, this is known as the “brain in a vat” thought experiment. Theoretically, if it were scientifically possible to place a brain in a life-sustaining liquid environment (or “vat”) & hook its neurons up to a supercomputer—generating electrical impulses identical to those the brain normally receives—the brain would perceive the simulated reality as experiential reality.

This concept is used as a  basic argument for philosophical skepticism; as theoretically it is impossible to know, from the brain’s perspective, whether it exists in a scull or a vat.

Brain in a vat

Surrealist artist Rene Margitte plays with this concept in his famous painting, The Treachery of Images, which displays a pipe, underneath which is written in French: “This is not a pipe”

For, indeed, it is not a pipe, but a representation of one. Yet our first thought upon reading the painting’s caption is to object—certainly this is a pipe. 

Yet upon reflection we must admit that the clever artist’s pronouncement is absolutely accurate and, indeed, our tendency to associate the-thing-itself with its representation has been illustrated.

How can we assume this world is as it seems, when nightly dreams themselves can seem so real? What deeper, truer, more expansive identity and truth might be revealed to us about the cosmos and our place in it upon leaving or waking from this reality?

I’m not in any hurry to get there, and as Tom Hanks says in Joe vs. The Volcano, “Some things take care of themselves,” but I do — after many a dark night of the soul wrestling with doubt — have a good feeling about it. After all, the world minus man’s debacles, is a place brimming with potential and inspirational phenomena.


I’ve heard the life-as-dream/world-as-illusion theory described as angst-producing, proof of pointlessness. I don’t see it that way. Does an inspiring nocturnal dream enrich our spirit any less because it gives way to a deeper, fuller reality upon waking? Is a great novel any less meaningful because it didn’t really happen? When you start subdividing it, the word “real” itself begins to lose meaning.

We can knock on a table and feel reassured by its bright, solid sound. But even the table is like Magritte’s pipe — both what it seems to be and also not at all. Reality ripe with paradox and potential, lots of wide open space for us to take a tip from the molecules and dance, even in the smallest spaces.

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