What Is Reality?
In this post I would like to investigate with you what the term "reality" truly means and how it differs from an illusion. By grasping and directly experiencing this fundamental difference, you will be able to relate with anything in life in a completely different way, devoid of any attachments and therefore suffering. Freedom of creation within life will be finally given you, devoid of any assumption and limitation.
"What is reality?
Anything that is not a mirage".
Once you stop experiencing life from the perspective of being a body, exclusively focused on what happens in the so called "external world", and finally giving a chance in looking at what resides within ("Look Within You", "No-Self: The First Step Towards You", "Neti-Neti: Who Am I?", "Who Is Behind The Scene?"), your perspective about reality will shift upside down. Once you discover that to truly understand a bit more about your true self you do not have to look at the world but rather that the world will be understood by looking within you, your life will taste differently.
The most important and meaningful question you can ask yourself is: "Who Am I?". Nevertheless, most of humans have a ready-made answer to this profound question, mostly composed of what others have decided for them. And by assuming these assumptions to be true, most of humans relate to reality holding a concept that was never truly questioned. The problem is that what you decide to be and the way you define yourself, automatically sets limitations in what you can or you cannot do, in what is possible and impossible to achieve, it defines the border between happiness and suffering in your life.
What if, instead of being a human being living within a world, the world is within you? What if you are not some content moving and interacting within a context but you are the context itself in which anything else moves. And if this is true, which is the nature of this context? Which are its and therefore your features? Even though these questions appear to be an intellectual and therefore indirect attempt to look at and investigate reality, they underlie tremendous consequences for our life.
Who are you, truly? Are you 100% sure that you are not taking some stuff for granted regarding your true nature that could limit your life in whatever you want to achieve? Would not be worth spending some times in investigating a bit more carefully and closely what is actually happening within you and around you? Are you sure 100% you know what a tree is, an emotion is, a thought is, an object is, what other beings are or are you just thinking to know? Because once you define something to be in a certain way, you also define the way you can relate and interact to it.
I have discovered, after many headaches, that the questions "Who I Am?" and "What reality is?" are actually only apparently different questions sharing the same answer: what I am and you are and anything is, it is reality itself. At this point it is important to give a conceptual definition of what reality truly means in order to use it as a compass to experientially experience the given definition. Knowledge must become embodied experience to be truly lived and manifested in the so called "physical world".
Let's say you are walking in a desert, deadly thirsty, and at some point a beautiful and fresh waterfall appears in front of you. You cannot believe your eyes! With the few remaining energies you drag yourself until the lush oasis, trying to drink some of the refreshing water falling down the waterfall until realizing all you have in your mouth is nothing but more dusty hot sand. A mirage, an illusion. "It appeared to be so real!" you might say. The waterfall was a simple appearance appearing within reality.
The waterfall did appear to you, it did exist in your experience but it turned out to be an illusion, something that has appeared to you but that had no real substance, something that had appeared and then disappeared in front of you. That is the difference from reality and an illusion, a mirage, an appearance: reality does not come and go, it is stable, reliable and trustful. Being able to rely on it, you are confident enough that whatever you are going to build and create in the frame of reality will stand on a solid ground.
I do invite you now to transpose what has been just said to your direct experience. What does represent the only solid and reliable ground in which you can build and create whatever you want without being disappointed in realizing to be an illusion? What does represent the reality of all experiences?
The short answer is You. You are the ground on which whatever else can be built. But you need to be sure that what you think to be is not itself an illusion, a mirage, an appearance, otherwise anything built on that will crumble apart as something devoid of any grounded reality. Whatever you are going to build and create on an illusion will be utterly useless and it will bring enormous amount of sufferings. You had better to realize that the oasis is an illusion before building a water park around it.
What if all your struggles and sufferings are due to the fact that you are building and create a life based on an illusion? What if what you think is real, turns out to be an oasis in the desert? You are bound to disappointments and unhappiness. The illusion may last years or decades, bringing you transitory happiness but then anything built on an that will reveal its fragility.
Are you 100% sure to be a physical body made out of flesh and bones? Are you 100% sure that the environment around you is made out of plastic, metal, wood, mud, water, fire, energy or whatever other substances you or science claim to be there? Have you ever truly checked that out in your direct experience? Because so far not even science has proven that an objective and physical world exists outside your own perceptions and sensations.
No one, over hundreds of years, has ever directly experienced a "thing" or an "object". If you truly are honest with yourself, you have never experienced an objective and physical apple. All you have about the apple is your projected sight, concepts and images about an apple. Can you truly say that an apple exists in your direct experience without perceiving it? Be honest and do not fall into the temptation of assume it. What happens to the apple when you do not think about the apple, when you do not touch or smell the apple, when you do not conceptualize the apple?
You cannot find a "thing" unless you refer to it somehow. A "thing" is just a mix of concepts, feelings, images and perceptions that together give the illusion of the existence of an independent objective "thing" existing out there. An object is nothing else but the inner world projected outside as something with its own existence.
References (your inner world) do not refer to an existent "thing". "Things" are the references! Things only exist in the reference of the thing. The "thing" will still appear but we learnt to look through the illusion, discerning what appears to be from what is real.
Why is this important? Because if you build up your happiness on having and collecting objects, for instance, you are building your happiness entirely on an illusion since objects are not real. Once you understand that your relationship with an object is entirely made out of and created on your emotional state you will not focus anymore on the illusion, but rather on your inner world. You will not anymore have the need in buying objects to fulfill your emptiness but rather in looking a bit closer why you feel that way, understand what an emotion is and what it represents. The object never existed outside your inner feeling and perception of it. Objects and physicality are the illusion, your inner world is reality. Are you following me?
So keeping buying stuffs is not the solution. Your attachments to objects has to soften to become more real because physicality is a dream, an illusion, a mental assumption. This realization is also valid for another powerful inner component that we keep projecting outside as if it is existing out there: fear. Start realizing that the danger is not objectively out there, that we have to stop blaming others and viruses for our condition and misery and start digging more into our inner emotional state to become untouchable no matter what seems to appear in the "external world".
This is what about this inner journey, the spiritual path, and this is just the top of the iceberg regarding our investigation of reality. We have just started to realize and define what a dream, an illusion, a mirage is and to separate it from what reality is. We have just discovered that the external world is not reliable since it is entirely composed of your inner state but can you truly trust your inner experiences? Can you truly claim that what you feel, sense, perceive and think is what defines you and reality? Without too much investigation this affirmation already sounds a bit egocentric and it would imply that each of us holds a different reality. But, as we said, reality must be trusted, must be solid, must be reliable in order to create something worth. It cannot be subjective.
My question to you is: "Are your thoughts, feelings, emotions, perceptions real or do they fall into the classification of illusion?". The practice of real meditation and self-inquiry will show you that all those personal events are nothing but mirages. They come and go, they continuously change during the day, they are appearances within something else and as such they cannot represent reality and therefore what you truly are.
This step represents a crossroad from realizing the magic of life and starting awakening to reality and being alive as walking zombies pretending to be awake when in reality we are sleeping. Most of people think to be awake but there are sleeping big times. Most of us are lost in the illusion, in the mirage of what appears to be real but it is not. Mind is, in this sense, a powerful tool to keep us enslaved and distant from our true condition and instead of being used as a creative tool by us (whatever we are), it becomes what we think we are leading us to immense suffering (see my posts "Mind: A Double-Edge Tool" and "The Importance Of Mind").
Realizing that our thoughts, inner voice, mental images, sensations, emotions, bodily feelings, perceptions do not represent what we are is a huge accomplishment. Quite easy after all but extremely challenging due to our education and indoctrination about reality being physical. Everything is seen in term of biological and physical perspective and the belief that what we are has to do with our body or brain is extremely persistent and difficult to eradicate. But it is, after all, a belief that is not encountered in our direct experience. Biology, physics and any science is nothing else that a belief system based on the assumption that reality is a self-standing structure.
Can you see that your thoughts, inner voice, mental images, sensations, emotions, bodily feelings, perceptions come and go? Can you see that they cannot represent the ground we are looking for since they are just appearances, a sort of a mirage in the desert? The entire inner world is made out of subtle forms that continuously change during the day, they assume different qualities within the dream and completely disappear in deep sleep. Can you be that? Can the ground of reality be represented by something that appear and disappear?
Here something crucial to understand, some food for thought. What you are must be that which is aware of the changes. There must be something that does not change in order for the change to be registered and noticed. If you true nature was something or someone that changes, it would not be possible to realize the process of changing.
What you are MUST be changeless, it MUST be firmly grounded in order to be conscious of the changes. In your meditation practice, find the one that is witnessing all these changes, try to see through all the mirages that come and go to clean the whole reality from the illusions. What can be seen, it cannot be you. What comes and go, it cannot be you. Find you. Find reality.
A further step can be done in the investigation but I believe these steps of cleansing of reality represents already a good ground to allow you creating something in your life that is solid enough to find lasting happiness in the process of creation.
Reality and You are not what you think you are. Reality and You are not what appear to be. Reality to be real must always be, it must be permanent. It cannot change from one day to another. If something appears in your experience afresh, it must be unreal. This does not mean that experiences are not worth to be experienced or are useless. It does not invalidate the experience of an experience. It simply does not qualify it as reality and therefore it should be not taken so seriously. This is the main problem: we take illusions as important, as crucial and we lose the joy of life.
Once you find true Reality, once you find your true Self, you are free to experience anything you want, to create anything you want, to label anything good or bad devoid of any moralistic assumptions and any attachments. Stop assuming reality to be physical and stop being so attached to your inner world. But rather be focused on being the creator of the best experiences arising within you (whatever you found to be) knowing that you will never be affected by those, that you are free from what you create.
Be playful, be joyful, be fluid in your creation and be honest with your experiences. Leave concepts aside for once, they are only a representation of what is real. This is true freedom in my opinion and this is the secret to create a magical life.