Periodically I like to ponder my relationship with reality. Like, now.
Hey, movie theaters aren't open here in Oregon. My wife and I aren't eager to test our COVID luck by going to a gym or restaurant. My Tai Chi classes are on hold, though this week we started meeting on Wednesday afternoon in a park.
So I've had some extra time to contemplate ways reality and I can improve how we get along.
Of course, the first thing I realized is that the burden of improving the quality of our relationship falls on me, not reality, since I'm the one who is concerned about this, not the big wide wonderful world that exists beyond the confines of my cranium.
Here's some of my current conclusions on this subject, which are definitely open to change at any moment, including the next one.
(1) When in doubt, look without, not within. I used to be a big fan of "going inside," as the meditation approach I followed for 35 years termed it. Meaning, ignore sensory impressions and focus on what lies within my mind or consciousness.
Well, now I believe the exact opposite is, in general, a better approach. I feel happier and more grounded when I'm in tune with my physical surroundings. Also, less anxious.
A few minutes ago I watched our dog, who was sitting on our deck, tied to a railing by a leash, watch several deer passing through our rural Oregon yard, munching their way on whatever delicacies (like clover) caught their eye and nose. Our dog found the deer fascinating. I found the whole scene fascinating.
Way more interesting than looking at the contents of my own mind, though I'm having to do that now as I compose this blog post.
(2) Pay closest attention to the physical now, not a mental past or future. The most real things are here and now. Not long ago this included our dog on the deck and deer in our yard. But now those things are a memory, so they exist only in my mind when I'm remembering them.
Ditto for everything that comes after me typing the word I'm typing now. I have a vague idea of what I want to say next. However, until a thought becomes converted to pixels on my laptop screen, it possesses less substantial reality.
I often find myself worrying about what might happen in the future, or regretting something that happened in the past. It helps when I shift my attention to what is happening right here, right now. I remind myself that reality is immeasurably more vibrant when it is a concrete physical presence.
Memories. Thoughts. Worries. Anticipations. All the mental stuff inside my head is hugely less substantial. So I do my best to take it less seriously than my immediate physical surroundings.
(3) "Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away." As I've noted in numerous blog posts, and surely will note in more of them, I consider these words by Phillip K. Dick to be the best one-sentence bit of metaphysical philosophizing ever written.
I close my eyes. I stop believing in my MacBook Pro. I open my eyes. My laptop hasn't gone away. I'm sure of this, because my wife would let me know if I possessed the power of making my computer disappear by not believing in it. (If I could do this, rest assured that Donald Trump would disappear from the presidency.)
So what does go away when I stop believing in it? Or more generally, stop any mental activity about it. Notably, the past and future, since they are entirely mental constructs -- leaving aside the time-space continuum posited in Einstein's theory of relativity.
Yes, the past and future may exist as a concrete reality if time is inextricably linked with space. But I'm not aware of anything other than the physical reality of the present moment.
(4) Rumi has it right, even in translation. I've grown out of my previous obsession with Rumi, when I devoured every translation of his words I could find in English. Yet I still love this Rumi quotation, which I've committed to memory.
Fear the existence in which you are now!
Your imagination is nothing, and you are nothing,
A nothing has fallen in love with a nothing,
a nothing-at-all has waylaid a nothing-at-all.
When these images have departed,
your misunderstanding will be clear to you.
Wow, so seemingly true. What would reality be like without (a) our imaginings about what reality is like, and (b) our sense that each of us exists as a separate self?
That sense of independent selfhood is part of the imagining that keeps us from really knowing reality. As Rumi says, our imagination and our sense of self have fallen in love with each other. They have waylaid each other.
Yet neither truly exists. They are both nothings, or nothings-at-all. The departure of those images leaves behind... reality. At least, that's my current understanding. Tomorrow, or the next moment, I might look upon things differently.