Picking A Reality


"In nature, the emphasis is in what is rather than what ought to be."
Huston Smith


People talk about reality as if they know what it is. We go through our days assuming that we are dealing with reality. The floor is solid, the food is safe to eat, the cars we see on the street are really there, and the drivers are real people who’s intent is not to run us down. These assumptions work pretty well for most of us. Because they work, we keep them.

Some people construct their universe a little differently. Assumptions that people can be trusted have not worked out for them. They’ve noticed that the government and corporations cannot always be trusted. They’ve noticed that we are not treating our planet with respect and that we have created cruel and dangerous food production processes. They’ve noticed that war persists and is not always noble, and that famine and genocide continue to happen unnecessarily. These folks have constructed a dark view of humanity. They don’t feel they can trust others. They come to believe that people are not basically good. It appears to them that nobody cares.  If they were not already depressed before they came to these conclusions, they likely are now.

Since we estimate what reality is based upon consensus, we could be in trouble if we got all these people together, because there are millions of them and they describe their dim world in remarkably consistent terms. One can make a case, backed up by the news media, that the world is chock full of murderers, kidnappers, torturers, and other criminals on the one hand and stupid apathetic people on the other.

Some people reading this may be thinking that this pessimistic view of the world is making pretty good sense. Hopefully, we can take this in a different direction. The problem with this unhappy worldview is that it is unbalanced. It only focuses on the negative. It recognizes evil and objects to it. It values justice and compassion, but fails to see them where they exist. It sees the shadow, but not the light.

In order to be happy and healthy, we need to be able to see the whole picture. We need to recognize ignorance and evil, but not just that. We need to acknowledge wisdom and love as well. We need to know that sometimes people behave poorly and that sometimes they are wonderfully kind. We need to be able to see darkness and know that there is also light.

 Yin Yang

The yin yang symbol is a tool for helping us recognize these truths. The yin side of the circle is dark and the yang side is light. Together they make a whole. If we focus on one side only, we have an interesting shape that appears incomplete. It is not a circle or a square or any shape we see often enough that is has a common name. If we look only at one side of the yin yang we know we have an incomplete view. At the same time, each side may be represented as containing a spot of the opposite color. There is a bit of dark on the white side and a bit of white on the dark side. This suggests that we should be wary if our take on reality contains absolutes. Good may not be entirely good and bad may not be all bad. Good people make mistakes and the worst of us have good moments.

Life works better when the reality we accept is not overly simplistic. If we can see the big picture in its full color, including the black, the white and the gray, we have more information and can make better choices.

Consider spending some time meditating upon the yin yang. Explore its meaning to you. Consider, as you do, that it need not be a static symbol. That perhaps the circle does as circles tend to do; it revolves. The black and white follow each other around and around. What might that mean to you?

As you go through your day interacting with the universe, recall that you are constructing your reality based upon sense impressions and thoughts. Stop once in a while to observe how you are doing that. Notice your body sensations and observe how your mind creates your world from them. For instance, when you touch a tabletop, how does your mind get the idea of hardness? When you touch a feather, how does your mind get the idea of softness? When you interact with a person, notice when you are judging them. Are you viewing them as all good or all bad or using some other all or nothing filter?

Seek to become aware of the process where you interpret the world into your preconceived reality so that ultimately, you can relate to it in its suchness, just as it is beyond the screen of thoughts, symbols and definitions.

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© 2007 Tom Barrett