Illusion

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”

— Albert Einstein

Wherever humans exist, things are not what they seem. Illusion taints every aspect of the human experience. It’s in everything we do, and feel, and think. It is in the way things taste, the way time flows, what we believe is valuable, beautiful, right, and wrong. Illusion goes as deep as free will and to the very core of who you believe you are.

An illusion is what is left when our experiences do not match up with the true state of the world, and it is where ever our thoughts and emotions do not match up with reality. The objective perspective eludes us because the world cannot be experienced outside of our minds. For human beings, the outside world is filtered through our senses and our bodies flaws, through our emotions and biases, then colored, categorized, and served up to us in a version we can understand.

To be plagued with illusion is a universal condition, every mind is different, everyone’s body is different too. The specific illusions each of us perceives varies from person to person.

What you see and feel, physically and mentally can never be shared, and can never be accurately conveyed. Even if they can, they can never be fully believed or verified. How do I know that the red you see is the same as the red that I see? Things have form outside of our mind, true, and it is also true things have form outside of our gaze, but they do not look like anything.

“If a tree falls in a forest, and there is no one around to hear it, does it make a sound?” The cause of sound surely exists without the human nervous system to carry it from the vibration of air molecules to the brain, but does sound exist? What else is only in our heads?

“Today a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration, that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively, there is no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we are the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the Weather.”

— Bill Hicks

The taste of honey, the smell of a rose, the cry of a newborn baby, and the pain of a broken bone are illusions, but what about love? What about fear? What about justice and the right to free speech? What about money, or the happiness we think it will bring? What about the past? Does the number two exist? Does π? Is it all just one big shared hallucination? Does it even matter?

These are questions philosophers, scientists, and men of deep spiritually have been asking for centuries, and while the data is piling up, the answers are as far away as ever. How can we know that any inference or interpretation isn’t simply another trick of the mind? How can we be sure there isn’t another false reality underneath each fact? We can’t. Reality is not for us it is not a state we can enter.

Luckily, humans are very good at creating elaborate and persistent false illusions. These lies lead to the richness of our experience. Without them, life would be quite boring indeed.

Our world is a complex web of interpretations, on top of opinions, on top of incomplete data, on top of subjectivity masquerading as universal truth. We have created an entire world of values, customs, emotions, language, sciences, philosophies, social structures, and taboos painted over the world around us. Illusions on top of illusions. It’s all made up, and somehow it still feels real. It all feels right and true. It feels like it all came into being before us, we discovered it rather than created it, and that these truths will endure long after we are gone. That’s part of the illusion too.

Your identity and the control that you think you have over what you do is the greatest illusion of all. You are simply an effect created by a mind stitching together the past it remembers and the future it hopes for. You are simply the face of a larger collective making decisions and moving you through the world and this life. Most of what goes on in your mind is kept from you entirely.

Information is passed to the subconscious first. Meetings are held behind closed doors, buttons are pushed, levers are pulled, choices are made, and only at the very end are you brought in, and you, like every other human, are duped into thinking it was all you all along. Another deception.

“Is not this whole world an illusion? And yet it fools everybody.”

— Angela Carter

So what though? So what if it’s all in our heads? It exists in all our heads the same and doesn’t that make it all real too, in a way. I mean, knowing money and marriage and morality is made up doesn’t change a thing, does it? Does it?

There is a kind of truth in our illusions too, a human truth, the only truth that really matters to us. Our world may be an illusion but it’s the one we have to live in whether we like it or not, the subjective viewpoint cannot be escaped, and rationality and hard science will only get us so far. We can’t fight our nature. We cannot escape the human condition.

What we have done is taken reality and superimposed our own world on top of it and that world may only be around as long as us, but as long as we are here we have to live in it, and it comes with its own rigid rules. We still have cause and effect. We can still predict outcomes based on data and observation. Much of what is true in one life, at one time, in one place, is consistent in all lives, in all times, and in all places. The human world is a science all its own with its own method and reason, laws and theories.

Our illusions are our reality. They are real, and they are persistent and consistent. They are useful. Our illusions help us move confidently in the world and to tell the truth some of them are quite beautiful and elegant. We ought to be proud.

“Illusion is the first of all pleasures.”

— Voltaire

You may hear people, especially old philosophers who wrote old books, tell you to get rid of your illusions. I’m here to tell you that you can keep them. They are who you are after all. And anyway there can be no other way for us to live without them. Without the way we see the world, experience space, time, and ourselves, there is no us. If we lost them in our place, another species would exist that looked like us but was not us at all. The human world that exists in our minds is the only world we have, will have.

Life is too short to try to escape the inescapable. You cannot win the battle against illusion, and you shouldn’t want to either. My advice is to be the most human you can be, and that means accepting that the world in your head isn’t reality, and the reality you know isn’t even yours to control. Give up trying to be so damn objective and go experience all the illusions you can.

Try on new ones and discard the ones you don’t find quite as satisfying or helpful. Share them, trade them, lay them out side by side, stack one on top of another, combine them and tear them apart. Hold tight to whatever feels the most real to you. Not that the choice is really yours to make anyway, is it?

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter I under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence

Photo by Miriam Espacio on Unsplash

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Body

“I’m literally always looking at my reflection not because I’m conceited but because I just think it feels kind of strange to have a physical form and I’m constantly trying to process who and what I am.”

zygoats

When I ask who you are, how might you answer? I would wager you might tell me your name, what you do for a living, list your likes and dislikes, your political leanings and your moral absolutes. You might tell me about your personality and about your spirit, but what would you say of your body? Do you consider it to be part of who you are? Maybe I should ask what you are you instead?

Do you believe in a soul? Do you believe it exists before, after, and apart from the body? Are you a body with a mind, or a mind with a body? I do not believe in a soul, and I do not believe I am more than the matter I am made of, and science seems to agree. Even the Gods who made us in their image of arose out of mere human brain matter themselves.

Without a frontal lobe, the limbic system, the pituitary gland, the thumbs, and even the gut flora, we wouldn’t recognize ourselves. If any part of the body had been different, you would be different. What you are may go beyond what can be touched or seen, but you are still made from matter. This matter is where your choices are directed, where your memories are kept, where your needs and pain are felt, and where your personality is shaped. Matter imagines the self, and that self is made to serve the body. The spirit was conjured to paint the prison into a paradise.

Even the intelligence we hold so dear and take so much pride in is nothing but well-placed neurons and our emotions merely coordinated releases of hormones. The soul is an electrical signal and a chemical reaction firmly rooted in the physical world. You are not just in your body, you are only your body.

“Body is a home, a prison and a grave.”

― James Runcie, The Colour Of Heaven

None of us wants to be made of mud and air. None of us wants to be reduced to DNA and hormones. None of us want to be chained to a sad sack of meat and bones, and we surely don’t want to be dragged back to mud with it when it’s ceased functioning. So we ignore the body, compartmentalize who we are from what we hate and what we hate to be so limited. We hate to be so fragile and easily broken.

The immortal and transcendent soul has not been shown to exist, and when science deemed it unnecessary to our understanding of the mind, we needed a new illusion we placed ourselves at the top of the animal kingdom and announced we were the aim of the evolutionary arrow. We are biology at it’s best.

Look at this body, your body, any body at all. You think that is the peak of evolutionary excellence? Hardly! The human body made of “good enough” solutions. From the size of our skulls to the bones in your feet, you are made of weak points and inefficiencies. The knees are easily injured, the spine is stupid, each of our eyes contains a blind spot, your teeth are crowded, you can die if you don’t time breathing and swallowing right, and so much more. Your body is prone to problems and always aging. It was designed by chance with no forethought or care for the quality of human life. It’s a disappointment.

Worse, its delicate design is the end of us all. The truth is you are tied to something that is dying. You can prolong the inevitable with maintenance, medication, and mindfulness, but you cannot live forever. The smartest, most empathetic, prosperous, self-aware, and free among us will all be dragged, kicking and screaming, to nothingness right along with the body.

Death is not a being or a state that comes for you, death resides in your bones, in your heartbeat, in every cell of your body that is obliterated and replaced, obliterated and replaced, a little further from perfect every time. Eventually, the body just breaks down, from the bones in the feet to the lungs, to the limbic system, and everywhere else. The body is where you were born, it’s kept you alive, and it is where you will end. You will never leave this place.

“The body is the outermost layer of the mind.”

― David Mitchell, number9dream

But, for all its poor design and problems, isn’t just a prison, it’s our freedom too. The hips, knee, and ankle may be inefficient and fragile, but those bones carried humans all across the globe. Our opposable thumbs made tools and technology possible. Our large skull makes for painful childbirth, but the frontal lobe is worth it. We love with our bodies, we fight with our bodies, we feel heartbreak, loneliness, and fear in our bodies. The body is the boundary of your being and the interface through which you exist and interact with the world.

The human body is capable of many wondrous things but it has its limits, and the body’s limits, no matter how much you resist, no matter how much you fight, are your limits too. You cannot exchange it, and you cannot replace it. You may live in blissful ignorance for a time. You may even conquer it for a time, through rigorous workout and extreme discipline. You may take advantage of technology and surgery and mold it for a time to your vision of perfection but the fact remains and that facts catch up. You are limited to this space and resigned to the physical world, and it’s laws.

We are not beyond mere matter. We are trapped within the physical relm. We have limits, both in quality and quality of life that are set by the body, but there is freedom and great privilege in this body too. Realizing our limitations and your dependence on mere matter can be a hard reality to swallow, but doing so will help you face what is to come. You will get hurt. You will get sick. You will age. You will have to care for your body, for yourself, with acceptance and compassion.

The mind may recover some power, but care must be taken. Compassion and cooperation with the body are crucial. You will have to be patient, understanding, and ready for the body’s disappointments and betrayals. You must understand that what it goes through, so too, will you. You must accept that the body may die before the mind is ready, but the mind will still be taken too. You cannot separate the two.

Your body may not be what you wished it to be but is a prize to cherish. It has taken you this far and will surely take you further still. It has given you an identity and a universe all your own and shown you all you are capable of. Your body is a gift as much as it is a coffin, and you would do well to see it, and yourself, as both.

“Having a body is in itself the greatest threat to the mind… The body encloses the mind in a fortress; before long the mind is besieged on all sides, and in the end the mind has to give itself up.”

― Marcel Proust

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletter for inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter B under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence” 

Photo by Tanja Heffner on Unsplash

Alive

“How wonderful to be alive, he thought. But why does it always hurt?”

― Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago

The first condition of being a human being is, of course, being alive. Some humans were once alive, but are not now, some aren’t yet, but will be one day, but all of us will have been in this world physically, and mentally.

Being alive and consciously feeling alive are two different things. Many of us are alive but don’t put much thought into it. We follow the prompts and live life according to a script but never stop to consider what a strange thing it is to be a freely moving agent made of meat and bone with a self-contained inside who is capable of choosing things, imagining things, making things, and reflecting on its own existence and meaning.

We don’t like to feel alive it because the fact reminds us that we once weren’t, and eventually we won’t be. Being alive means time is running out. We don’t like to feel it because it’s confusing and terrifying to find yourself to be so awake and aware. You are a moving and breathing and thinking thing, but what are you? Why are you? You have all these sensations, warm, cold, hungry, tired, wanting. You have hands that grasp, eyes that see, and parts that you can’t see that do things that you can’t understand or control.

What are you?

“creatures smart enough and unlucky enough to have figured out we’re alive, and we’re going to die without ever knowing any purpose. We can pretend all we want and we can wish all we want, but that basic existential fact remains—we can’t know.”

― James Redfield, The Tenth Insight: Holding the Vision

We don’t understand how we could come from chemicals and dirt and still feel so fierce and full of light. How does a heartbeat come from carbon and water? How does love come from DNA and oxygen? How can an I come out of gray matter and neurons? And where do we go when those parts stop working? We know we will no longer be so awake and aware, but where will we be?

Why must we be burdened with such knowledge, curiosity, and awareness, huh? No other animal seems to know or care whether they are alive or not so why should we? Why, even when we try to forget and live as best, we can, do these questions and uncertainties creep up on us while sitting at a red light or in the middle of the night when all we need is sleep. Why must our peace be so disturbed and why must I remind you now that you do know that you are alive, even if you don’t know what that means exactly, and that you do know that you are wasting your privilege by ignoring it and refusing to face it.

I know you don’t like to feel so alive or to examine the related implications associated with your condition. I know you’d rather not spend so much time facing that confusion and horror, but it’s time you did, and did so often.

“The human heart beats approximately 4,000 times per hour and each pulse, each throb, each palpitation is a trophy engraved with the words ‘you are still alive.’ You are still alive. Act like it.”

Rudy Francisco

Rocks exist. Dogs exist. The moon the wind, and theory of relativity exist, but they do not feel like we do. They do not know they exist the way that we do. Our existence is something we fear, celebrate, and grieve for. Our hearts swell at the reminder, and then quickly contracts from our fragility, our transience, our insignificance. We recoil with regret and panic. We simply can’t process what it means to be a living thing, it’s too disturbing, but you cannot escape it. You know the truth.  Somewhere we know the truth. We are alive. Against all odds and beyond all comprehension we are alive, but only right here and only for now…

The truth is it hurts to be so aware and yet so transient, so temporary. It hurts to be given this body and this mind and no time to really put either to much use. It hurts to be something you cannot be comfortable being. It hurts to be given an existence you have so little control of. Being alive is disappointing and draining. It’s a horrible weight on your chest. The weight is eons behind you, eons ahead of you, and the knowledge that all you will ever get out of it amounts nothing.

“Why don’t we have a little game? Let’s pretend that we’re human beings, and that we’re actually alive.”

― John Osborne, Look Back in Anger

Existing is a real pain sometimes, but it’s better than not existing, some would argue. Facing your existence isn’t easy, but it’s better than living your life on autopilot, maybe. It’s up to each of us to decide for ourselves I suppose but I would advise that any time your existence looks you in the eyes, you look right back. To look away is the biggest waste of all, the biggest regret you may have. Being able to face that you are a living being and consider what that means is one of the few dignities we have been afforded in this universe. So let yourself feel it, the pain, the fear, the wonder, and all.

Us humans aren’t very good at separating the privilege of life from the burden of life, but feeling alive does not require acknowledgment of any of that baggage. I’m not asking you to take stock of where you are, or examine the choices you’ve made, or where you want to go. I’m not asking you to love life, or even to be especially grateful for it.

I’m asking you to look up and admit simply that you are here and that that fact is really something. All of it, the good, the bad, the ugly, it’s all such a rare privilege and each of should acknowledge and explore what that means. Each of us should breathe it in and wear our existence with dignity. Roll your existence around in your head, breath in and out, wiggle your toes, look up all the sky, take in the light, and call your own name aloud. Plant yourself in space and time, and with spirit, with pride, announce your existence to yourself and no one else. You are here. You are here. You are here!

“The aim is to balance the terror of being alive with the wonder of being alive.”

— Carlos Castaneda

You can see, and smell, and touch things. You can move your body and you can shout, laugh, or cry. You can feel sunshine, pain, and time passing you by. You are a you, an I, and that is something special. Can you even fathom the astonishing odds of that were against you? Can you fathom all that had to happen to get you here?

Not many things get to be a thing, let alone an I. You should never fear your existence, regret it, or ignore it. It’s too curious and too temporary of a state to shy away from! You should feel proud and interested in your being, and you should try to be as alive, feel as alive, as you can be and as often as you can. It will be over before you know it and you will wish you had faced sooner.

“It felt so amazing to be alive I could never think of anything else.

― Marty Rubin

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Thanks for reading! If you like this post check out my weekly-ish newsletterfor inspiring reads + existential musings on life, love, and inevitable human suffering. Or help support what I do by sharing a cup of coffee.

Written for the A to Z Blogging Challenge: Letter A under the theme “Bleak Realities of Human Existence” 

Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

From Me to Me at Fourteen

Dear Me at Fourteen,

You do not know me but I know you very well.

You do not know me but you will become me one day.

I want you to know that even though life is hard right now, that even though you feel alone and hurt, know that I love you. You do not love yourself yet, that won’t come for a very long time, and not without a lot of work, but it will come.

I want you to try to have hope. I know it must seem silly to have hope in a world where things only ever go from bad to worse, but it isn’t. You must have hope. You must try to survive. I promise you there is light at the end of this very long and very dark tunnel and you cannot imagine how beautiful life will be.

There will come a time when all of this will feel like nothing more than something bad that happened to someone you once knew. The wounds will heal and there will be love and security. It seems impossible, I know, but it will come. You only need to hold on for just a few more years.

Until then, try not to be so hard on yourself. I know you are struggling to figure out what is right and whatever you choose is ok. You are only a child and those who are meant to teach you are leaving you to figure it out on your own. It’s ok, you will get there. Try to be patient with yourself, no one else will and it’s what you will need the most right now.

I know no one has told you but I want you to know that you are amazing. You are beautiful, and kind and so, so smart. More than that though, you are strong. There are so many people who would have crumbled under half the weight life has piled on you but you can handle it. You are stronger than you know, and stronger than they tell you you are.

One day, when you are all grown up you will be happy.

All you have to do is survive!

– Love always,

You at 30

This is part one, can read part two here.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “From You to You.”

Original image via Caleb Roenigk