"Illusion is the first of all pleasures."
Many of us have heard of the saying that "Life is an illusion." It is casually declared by many, and with such certainty I might add, as if to imply an understanding of reality. But what does the saying really mean? Is everything really an illusion or is it wishful thinking on the part of humans? Or is it because as T.S. Eliot says, "Humankind cannot bear very much reality," that we cling to our illusions even if they contradict the obvious?
To assert that everything is an illusion poses a problem. If everything is an illusion, why bother trying, improving or aspiring? Since none of what you experience, see or feel is real anyway, then who or what exists? The assumption may be that nothing exists. But isn't this in a way a diminishment of life?
Everything you and I see, touch, smell and hold is real -- is it not? Many schools of thought throughout time have pointed out that the world as we know it is an illusion. How could that be? Does that mean every experience I've had, or every person you have loved or cared about is an illusion? If not, then what do they mean by the statement?
Could it be that reality is not an illusion but that our version of reality is an illusion? In other words, none of us are perceiving reality for what it is but rather for what we wish it to be. Unfortunately, one simply cannot see things as they really are, cannot be aware of reality, with illusions acting as mediators.
There is a difference between what something is and what we think it is. Actually what
we think is utterly inconsequential to what is. Illusions do not exist in the world (out there) but in here. The inner world is fertile ground for illusions to take root which then get projected into the world, thus influencing the perception of others about reality. These distortions, in the realm of reality, have no purpose other than for distraction and delusion.
So how can we know if illusions are creating reality? Well, we can't while we are under their spell and we can know only after the illusions no longer exist that we were living in illusion in the first place. When we begin to understand the difference between reality and that which we impose upon it through own thoughts, choices and beliefs, we will be made to realize that much of our despair, anger or pain was fueled by these mis-perceptions.
Most conflict, whether on a personal or collective level, stem from illusions. In our daily lives there is infinite opportunity to create them. We create them about our jobs, finances, relationships, friendships, love and life in general to shield us from that which we view as undesired truths. We do not want to live in reality but are comfortable living in illusion and we believe that somehow the gain far outweighs the effort needed to eliminate them.
As human beings we are conditioned (illusions) to hold onto culture, religion, tradition and politics even at the expense of our well being. From these elements our identity is shaped, and how this identity expresses itself is unique to each of us. Only time will tell if this identity is congruent with the essential self. In other words, illusions are learned and then passed on. Without knowing it, we live and express these distorted ideas, practices and patterns that influence our perceptions of reality and in turn create our reality. And then we point and say, "Look, that's reality." But upon further exploration, we realize that our perception was the illusion all along and not reality itself.
To summon the courage to question or challenge beliefs, assumptions and certainties ushers in a wiser and more mature perspective on reality. It takes experience to no longer mistake one for the other, and with time, life will reflect this distinction. Just recently we saw this distinction at play as Egypt and her people discarded their illusion of fear and powerlessness to reclaim their reality for freedom. People around the world are removing the veils at lightning speed -- illusions be gone -- its about time, don't you think?
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