I was text chatting with a friend of mine who recently went through a bad break-up. She said she was trying not to be angry. I asked her, “Why not be angry?” and she said,
“None of this is real. It’s all an illusion.”
Now, this produced an interesting response in me, converse to a similar response I had had before. One day in a class with my Toltec teacher, he said, “I don’t know. This reality seems pretty real to me. When you get punched in the face, does it hurt? Hell yes, it does.” My response at the time was, “That’s a very narrow/interesting definition of ‘real’… I think you’re full of shit.” And yet now, in response to my friend, I was thinking, “No, it’s not (an illusion).”
This perplexed me — nearly to the point of vexing me. I let my sub/un-conscious chew on it for a few days and something finally occurred to me today, an important extension to that thought: “No, it’s not. And if it is, so what?”
How could that possibly work? Then, a context for my opinion emerged.
I love mysticism. It is effectively a compulsion. I think I came into the world this way. Any time I have been exposed to a mystic tradition, my first response is, “Naturally.”
All is one, one is all.
Atman is Brahman.
As above, so below.
I am God. God and I are one.
Everything is nothing, and nothing is everything.
Maya, samadhi, moksha.
Kabbalah and Mystic Christianity, ascetic Hinduism and yoga, certain neo-pagan beliefs, Mahayana Buddhism, Sufism — any of it, all of it. The critical juncture for much mystic tradition is that the spirit is true reality, and the physical is merely transitory, so a focus is put on experiencing the eternal, here and now*. While I am a very bodily person, this always appealed to me. And yet here I was, responding to my friend, saying this is not an illusion. “And if it is, so what?” Why?
Here was the critical string of thoughts that pushed me over —
If this is all an illusion, then what is the point**?
“The point is to recognize that it is an illusion.”
“In order to grow and change, to improve.”
But in order to improve, we must treat it as real. So —
It doesn’t matter if it is an illusion!
And so I came full circle to my teacher’s statement. This sure seems real to me. What is the value of focusing on the not-real-ness of this experience, ultimately? Might it have temporary value? Sure — distance, perspective, juxtaposition. But then after that, what? The real work begins — ENGAGING WITH THE EXPERIENCE. If I am to grow, I must immerse myself in what happened, consciously or unconsciously. If I do not learn from this “illusory” experience, the illusion will persist! I will create it, again and again and again, whether through explicit cause-and-effect from my repeated choices or from the cosmic notion of attraction (not that I think there is ultimately a difference***).
It does not matter whether any of this is real. What matters is how you/we respond to it.
So, have at it!
* Methods vary greatly, which is why I included asceticism in my original list.
** …if reality should have a point…
*** At some point, let’s talk about Aikido and the “unbendable arm.”