“We live in a fantasy world, a world of illusion. The great task in life is to find reality.”
— Iris Murdoch, Irish-born British author and philosopher
“Have you been to my house?” she asked. “I’ve been visiting with neighbours.”
I turned around to see an attractive young woman standing before me wearing a blue peasant dress with a floral design. On her head was a colourful scarf that was tied under her chin. On her feet were a worn pair of black leather lace-up shoes. She spoke with a Ukrainian accent.
“I did stop by,” I replied. “But no-one was home. I guess you know that, though.”
“Yes,” she said and laughed. “I hope you will stop by now for tea and biscuits.”
I had been spending the day with my family at a historical interpretive centre. We had been told upon arrival that interpreters would be dressed in period costumes and be in character. Most were history students and each had studied the history of the home or business they were to represent. I’d encountered other interpreters on site, but this young lady was incredibly convincing. I could almost believe that I had somehow travelled back in time to 1929.
Some people say we live in a world of illusions. This illusion was carefully manufactured with actors, props and costumes but sometimes in life, what’s illusion and what’s real can become intermingled. Our beliefs and perceptions so distort the world that we no longer know what is real and what’s a creation of our mind. They become like a filter through which reality is perceived. For confirmation we need only flip through the pages of history, back to a time when it was believed that the sun revolved around the earth and there was ample “evidence” to support the assertion. Scholars were so certain of this geocentric truth that an entire science — astrology — was created around it. Observations supported belief, creating an irrefutable reality.
Only later, when awareness grew and science progressed, did scholars change their ways of thinking. The first to consider an alternate point of view were called fools or heretics — some were even put to death. Likely, the first time you began to look at your reality in a different light, you wondered if you were losing your mind. Certainly all (or most) of what you had accepted as true for so long couldn’t be so wrong — so misinterpreted — or could it?
Are your perceptions real? If I were to ask, most people would argue in support of them. After all, they have ample evidence that is backed up by reliable observation. Yet, which came first, the belief or the observation? That is the central question we must ask ourselves.
Voltaire said, “Illusion is the first of all pleasures.” Is it possible that we see what we want to see? Could it be that we observe what we expect to observe? Or perhaps more to the point, do we look right past or filter out completely what we do not expect to observe?
If you’d like to know if you’re living an illusion, consider the following …
Viewing the present through the past. Certainly, the past is important and the source of many life lessons. However, if our time is spent regretting the decisions of the past, blaming others for the past or making choices based on misinterpretations of the past, we’re not seeing the world as it is; we’re seeing it filtered and distorted though the lens of past pain.
Feeling unworthy and undeserving. Again, such perceptions were usually formed in the early years of life and without a doubt, we’ve found ample evidence to support the belief that we just don’t measure up. That does not, however, make them real. Remember the early geocentric theory? As challenging as it will be, we need to stop looking for proof that our disempowering ways of thinking and being are true, and start looking for evidence to the contrary.
Seeking fulfillment through possessions. There’s nothing wrong with acquiring things such as a home or nice vehicle, but it’s another story entirely to place our value as a human being — or the value of others — on the number or quality of things amassed. If we’re constantly comparing ourselves unfavourably to the neighbours or judging them as lesser, we’re not living in reality. Our consumer-driven society would have us believe our value is based on how much we can accumulate but it’s just a marketing gimmick, albeit one that works exceptionally well. I know, I have been in the advertising business for decades. To shatter the illusion, look beyond the stuff.
Change is impossible. If we believe that change is impossible for us, then we’re creating and living out one of biggest illusions of all. Who knows where or when we bought into this illusion. It’s important to remember that not all illusions came from us — some were created on our behalf. That’s why it’s important to challenge our early programming and look for recurring patterns of behaviour. Discovering reality is a continual process of challenging the ego, removing filters and letting go of disempowering ways of thinking and being.
“Reality is merely an illusion,” said Albert Einstein. “Albeit a very persistent one.”
As I continued my tour of the interpretive centre, I felt myself being pulled deeper into the illusion created by the setting and the storyteller. My visit to 1929 was interrupted by the ringing of my cellphone. I quickly checked the number and apologized for the interruption.
“That’s quite all right,” she said with a smile and then continued spinning the tale.
Admittedly, none of us are going to be completely free of the illusion-generating machine that is our mind. There will always be some blurring of reality — some filters that we are unable to remove. The healthier our self-esteem, the further we move from a world of illusions.
Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His recent book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.