Playing Reality Roulette

"Perhaps the most important fact of human functioning is that human beings have the capacity to think and that what a person thinks has the power to shape personal reality."

Rick Suarez, Ph.D., et al. in Sanity, Insanity, and Common Sense

As we move through life, we pass through many varying states of mind and emotion. We tend to view our configuration of perceptions, emotions, and thoughts as reality. We get a sense of how things are and develop a basic trust, or perhaps suspicion, that such is the nature of people, of life, of the world. Because of their consistency over time, these views of things appear coherent to us, and they may become fixed and difficult to alter. Yet, our reality as an infant is different from our reality as a child. Our reality as a child is different from our reality as an adolescent. Our reality as an adolescent is different from our reality as an adult. The reality experienced by one person can be very different from that experienced by another. The parent may see the teenage girl as totally irresponsible. The girl sees herself as quite responsible. She says, "Look, I had to deal with my abortion all by myself. After I ran away, I had to take care of all my drug addicted friends. I was getting ready to get clean and sober. I'm very responsible." The parent and the girl see themselves and each other differently. They see each other's friends differently. They barely seem to be living in the same world. An outside observer could confirm that they live simultaneously in the same geographical area and share many common life experiences. Subjectively, however their realities are quite dissimilar.

Each of us also goes through a series of transitional states as we move through time. When we awaken in the morning, we leave the state of sleep to enter a state of relative awakedness. Some of us live in an in-between state of dull consciousness for an hour or so that eventually emerges into alert busyness. As we get busy we may pass through states of anxiety, anger, dread, excitement, elation, deep concentration, daydreaming, boredom, and on and on. At each moment we feel, "That's the way it is."

While our daily routine creates a fairly rapidly changing sequence of states of consciousness, we also have longer lasting mood states that filter our view of reality. The person in a stateof depression may feel and think that life is not worth living. They may feel hopeless and helpless. Their emotions are painful. Their perception is that the world is not a safe and nurturing place. They are likely to discount their own ability to contribute to life, and their thoughts and beliefs are congruent with this negative perspective. Talking with this person, we may feel very differently about their value as a person, and our world view may be very much at odds with theirs.

Life is filled with transitional states of mind. Our enduring moods, our transient emotions, our levels of alertness, our moment to moment experiences are all temporary. We move from experience to experience, but usually we remain unaware of the transitions. Because our beliefs are relatively stable, we tend to interpret the world in similar terms from moment to moment. Experiences fit into categories. The categories may become rigid. As our thinking and behavior shapes the quality of our experiences, patterns of experiences repeat and further solidify our perceptions of reality. The wheel goes round and round and we are engrossed in the game to the point that we forget we are playing.


Increased awareness of our states of consciousness, our thoughts and emotions can enable us to avoid becoming stuck in unproductive mental states. It is helpful to remember that all mental states are transient. It is useful to be able to purposely modify our mental and emotional states. To do these things requires practice and persistence. Some suggestions:

Mindfulness: Seek greater self awareness. Remind yourself to pay attention to the nature of your experience. Notice what you are thinking and feeling. Pay more attention to the sensations in your body.

Productive Thinking: Knowing that thinking shapes your personal reality, train yourself to have productive thoughts. Positive thinking brings positive results. Negative thinking draws negative emotions and behaviors and thus negative results. Seek to disengage from the negativity of people around you. Focus instead on affirming that you will stay rooted in a productive sense of reality.

Seek Truth: We may each live in our own realities, but certain things are true and useful to know and believe. Seek to know the truths that have been discovered by the wise. Go with what works.

Choose a Better Way: We form our realities out of our conscious and unconscious choices. Consciously choose your personal goals and consciously practice the behaviors you need to approach your goals.

Meditate: Make meditation one of your regular practices. Meditation allows us to see more clearly the subjective nature of experience and the expansive possibilities of our mind. The Sitting Meditation is a good place to start.

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© 1997 Tom Barrett