“So,” came Fear’s voice, “you’re wanting to talk about the nature of reality, huh?”
“How’d you know that?” I asked.
“I shouldn’t tell you this I suppose,” replied Fear with a mock look of concern, “but what the Hell, I’ll tell you anyway.”
“Tell me what?”
“You remember when your wife’s computer malfunctioned the other day, and you contacted the technician via the Internet?”
“What did he ask her?”
“He asked Zane for permission to control her computer’s mouse. She said yes, and all of a sudden the arrow on the screen started moving. It was somewhat disconcerting because, until then, she had always been in control and moved the arrow herself, but now it seemed to have a mind of its own and was doing whatever it pleased. Neither Zane nor I could control it.”
“You both thought that was pretty ‘cool,’ didn’t you?”
“Ya, in an eerie sort of way.”
“Well, for me it’s definitely most totally ‘cool’—and I don’t mean the permission part! So forget it! I mean the control part because that’s what I do all the time with people’s minds. I take control, just as the technician did, but I don’t ask permission! I just do it; so no one knows I’m in control. That’s the beauty of it.”
“And that’s what you call ‘reality?'” I asked with a quizzical look on my face.
“No,” snapped Fear, “but it’s what most people think of as ‘reality’ and, therefore, it is ‘reality,’ at least from their point of view.”
“Ya, I saw your notion of ‘reality’ yesterday,” I said with disgust. “It’s pathetic! There was this poor man, who was obviously in great psychological pain because he felt himself not only to have been used and abuse by a greedy boss but also stuck in an eternal victim’s role, which no doubt he is. His anger was white-hot and got hotter the longer he played his mental tape of ‘reality,’ the one you clearly painted for him. In fact, his description of his boss sounded identical to a description of you—the worst of you, now that I think about it.”
“Pathetic? Pathetic?” quipped Fear with mock anger.”Pathetic you say? Why Maser, what I’ve painted in that man’s mind is pure artistic genius. He has no idea, not the slightest inclination, of what the truth is, so skewed has he become in trying to win agreement with his version what ‘really’ happened. And he’ll never know because he keeps embellishing his fairy tale, making it better and better as it suits his needs. So you see, I’ve really given him something of great value. In fact, I long ago created the world’s greatest art form, it’s called ‘painting by the numbers.'”
“‘Painting by the numbers,’ my foot! On second thought, maybe it is indeed painting by the numbers, but the numbers are always in the exact same pattern. Ha! Now I get it! All you ever paint is your own self-portrait. Is that the best you can do?”
“Of course that’s what I paint,” said Fear in exasperation. “What more is there? Think about it! There are so many facets to my personality, so many wonderful angles to me features, that I can’t have enough portraits. Besides, as I said once before, you people have the irritating habit of dying, so I must keep painting if I’m to have any sort of collection of my masterpieces. Besides, practice makes perfect, remember?”
“There is, however, one point I must concede, albeit reluctantly.”
“And what’s that?” asked Fear with anticipation.
“That man was definitely out of himself and under your control. Indeed, the more he ranted and raved, the more he even sounded like you. It was downright ugly!”
“Why, Chris, a compliment from you? How nice.”
“Having said that, however, one thing is absolutely clear to me. I’m eternally grateful that you’re less and less in control of my canvas because I don’t want any of your ‘reality’—especially your portrait—curdling the beauty and hope of the world as I see it.”
“Mores the pity,” sighed Fear. “Clearly, you just don’t understand great art.”
“Art? What art? All you are is the static that keeps us from hearing Love’s voice, which comes to us through our intuition. The reality I see has nothing to do with your sick notion of art.”
“Oh ya? How’s your high and mighty view different from anyone else’s?”
“To begin with, I think reality lies in the inner silence of our beings, where Truth resides.”
“Really? Well, I’m in there too, you know!”
“Yes, but you’re confined to the inside of people’s minds, which are constantly chattering with your infernal static. You’re expressly forbidden by The Eternal to enter the divine silence of their hearts. Only Love and Truth occupy that heavenly space.”
“Then why do I hear so much talk of someone having a ‘bad’ heart or a ‘hard’ heart? Huh? Come on, give me an answer to that one!”
“That has nothing to do with one’s heart; that’s all head stuff. All that says is someone’s cut off from their feelings of Love, like you. But then, you don’t even know what Love feels like, do you?
“Besides, I think we’re all immersed in, penetrated by, and inseparable from the Universe, whether we know it or not, and as we come to know ourselves, so the Universe comes to know itself. I say this because, even as a small boy, I always felt a deep connection with the Universe as a whole, as though I’m somehow a fluid part of it, and in that I find an incredible sense of peace.”
“Interesting,” said Fear, “but I say your ‘sense of connection and peace’ is just a pipe dream. I’ve watched you humans for millennia, and I’ve seen how you’ve become a collective creature ensconced in the love of isolation. . .”
“What do you mean by the ‘love of isolation?'” I interrupted.
“I mean you’re always striving to isolate this or isolate that, to name this or name that,” answered Fear with a look of annoyance for the interruption. “Your romance with detaching an object from its surroundings has become an implicit obsession in all your judgments of ‘reality.’ You’re always trying to sort out and ‘tidy up’ what seems to you a tangled mass of things, each of which is indistinguishable from the others.
“Even something as simple as the names you attach to flowers gives you a sense of knowledge that begins the process of separating one flower from another and all of them from their surroundings. Then, in the same breath, you turn right around and want everyone else to be just like you, just the same. Each time you do that, you remove yourself one more step from total reality toward a self-centered view of the world—my kind of view!”
“Quite right,” came strange voice, “much as you would see through the lens of a camera. I am sorry, but I could not help overhearing your converstation. I am John Welwood, and I would very much like to join you both—if that is not being too brash.”
“I don’t mind, if Fear doesn’t.”
“I don’t mind. You might even be more entertaining that this Dodo.”
“Splendid,” said John with a huge grin. “If I may, to me the nature of our being is unconditional openness in that we are born curious, awake, and completely responsive to our environment, and we suffer only to the extent that we become grasping and identify our experience of life with those parts we like, while simultaneously rejecting those we do not. As a result, our identity becomes skewed, lopsided, and incongruent with the totality of our experience. We then construct ‘stories’ to explain our view of the world—stories that become self-fulfilling prophecies. In other words, our stories create our ‘reality,’ which in turn reinforces our respective stories. In this way, we become increasingly entrained in a skewed sense of self.”
“You’re positively ‘stuffy,'” snorted Fear in disgust.”What are you anyway, some kind of doctor, lawyer, or professor?”
“I am sorry,” said John, completely taken aback. “I am a clinical psychologist and psychotherapist from San Francisco, where I have a private practice.”
“I should’ve known,” grumbled Fear. “Now I have two giddy, esoteric optimists to contend with.”
“That’s enough grumping,” I said. “While I fundamentally disagree with Fear’s narrow, beleaguered world view, it is true that we impose boundaries on what we see and understand when we detach something from the context of the seamless Universe because nothing in Nature exists in isolation—except in our minds. Nature is a community within a community, within a community—a relationship within a relationship within a relationship—that is scaled from the smallest to the largest, from the largest to the smallest, and is constantly changing. But when we become ‘familiar’ with something, especially when we think we understand it, we become numbed by our sense of knowledge and thus mute to its novelty. In essence, familiarity breeds contempt.”
“Yes! Precisely!” exclaimed John. “There are no ‘experts’ in the realm of human experience because it has no boundaries in any time-space scale. It comes open-ended, as it were, not pre-packaged in a box. If you think of yourself as an expert, all that means is your sense of expertise is based on what you ‘know,’ and what you know is merely your selection of and arrangement of a set of boxes that represent your collection of concepts, beliefs, theories, and ideas about reality—not reality itself. Reality, as a Zen Buddhist might think of it, comes much closer to itself in a beginner’s mind than in the mind of an ‘expert’ because the former sees what the possibilities might be, whereas the latter ‘knows’ what the answers should be, and thus can no longer see what they might be.”
“I think I get your point,” I interjected. “Reality is a web, the strands of which are complex and composed of past memories, as well as private and public history; perceptions of the present, including times and places; all intertwined with the hopes and fears of the future in a way that makes it well beyond the ability of the human mind to analyze, let alone comprehend, even with the aid of science and computers. In essence, each human being is an internal wilderness that defies both the analytical and reductionist capacity of science.”
“Your last statement seems odd, and I don’t agree with it,” said Fear.
“Look at it this way. No human being has ever lived or ever will live who can be ‘objective’ because we are by nature subjective creatures who must share our life’s experiences to know we exist and have value. Further, because nothing can exist out of relationship to something else, even the questions we ask are subjective and based on shared information about life, albeit often unconsciously, which makes science an art. And the essence of art is never truly teachable.”
“What do you mean, art’s not teachable?” challenged Fear. “If art’s not teachable, then why are there so many art classes?”
“True, the technique of a craft can be taught, but the personality, which is the culmination of all the complex strands of reality’s web encompassed, as they are, in a single human being, can’t be taught because that is the true art—not the technique. Art represents the emotions and feelings rendered through one’s unique personality onto the canvas, and that can’t be taught because no two artists are ever alike, even when it comes to the art of living. After all, an integral part of every person’s path and every form of expression also houses the shadows of all the paths not chosen, all the emotions denied. They, too, are part of the wilderness in each person, part of each person’s canvas, as is that person’s genetic lineage—back to the memory, the ghost, the divine spark of the first cell of life.”
“But what about science?” snapped Fear. “Science isn’t an art, despite what you say.”
“Of course science is an art. Through science, we attempt to satisfy our curiosity about the biophysical relationships within the Universe and how we’re included as a quintessential part of them in one whole, intact movement within the present moment. To paint this dynamic portrait of Nature, we use our human intellect as our canvas and our ability to reason as our palette. Knowledge represents our colors and our degree of open-mindedness determines the richness of each color’s hue.”
“That’s ridiculous,” hissed Fear. “Every scientist knows all things are random. You’re just trying to make poetry out of a mixture of nonsense and facts.”
“If you like,” I countered. “But while many scientist may agree with you, I find an implicit order within everything, even those things that appear to be simply chance or random events. To detect this order, however, one must be able to understand the scale of time within which it is necessary to view a given even. And this we can’t do, not only because our lives are too short and we can’t see into either the past or the future but also because we can’t be objective, which, no doubt, is to your advantage.
“Of course, your shortcomings are to my advantage. That goes without saying. Nevertheless, you make things sound awfully damned complicated. I keep it simple. The reality I paint on everyone’s canvas is the same—you can never have enough to feel secure, which, after all, protects my survival. What could be simpler?
“Being unconditionally present with our experience is the simplest possible thing we can do,” replied John. “By that, Fear, I mean being present to what is and facing it as it is, without relying on any given view or concept about it. What could be simpler than that?”
“I’m sure it’s simple,” I agreed, “but by the same token, I’ll bet there’s nothing more difficult to accomplish.”
“That,” added John, “is because we have all become experts at being ourselves, and in so doing, we have lost our ability to be present with our experience in a fresh, unconditionally open-mined way. That said, our pure awareness, when it is totally present in the moment, as a Buddhist thinks of the present moment, is unbiased. It is simply there, as clear and fluid as pure water.”
“But what about me?” burst in Fear. “You’re forgetting me! Don’t I count for anything?”
“Pure awareness,” continued John, “is never entirely captured or trapped in anything, including your insidious snares. It is free space, open space that we all have access to as our most intimate reality. Unfortunately, we do not recognize our reality most of the time because we are so busy weaving the strands of our thoughts together into the familiar fabric of our life’s story, our personal identity.”
“If,” John, “you’re saying there’s a gulf between our perception of reality and Truth, I agree. Truth and reality are different in that illusion and misperception are part of reality, but not of Truth. Although Truth can comprehend reality, reality can’t comprehend Truth. And while we profess to seek Truth, we occupy our minds with our respective ideas of reality, not understanding that Truth is the complete ‘nothingness’ of which the Buddhists speak.”
“What absurdities,” said Fear butting in. “Nothingness is just that, nothing.”
“While you’re correct in your statement, Fear, I very much doubt you know what you said. To continue, in absolute nothingness is everything contained because that is the abode of absolute Truth, which manifests as undefinable peace. Although I went there once in a dream and experienced the ‘Nothingness,’ it is beyond thought and thus beyond our concept of reality.”
“Are you finished?” asked John politely.
“Yes,” I replied. “Thank you for asking.”
“Your experience of the nothingness,” John went on to say, “is why I think the totality of our present experiencing is much larger and richer than anything we can know or say about it at any one moment. In fact, we all need to heal our separation from reality and our struggle with it. Here, I must add that the greatest difficulties we encounter also offer the greatest opportunities to practice unconditional presence.”
“And where might you be going,” I asked as Fear’s countenance began to fade.
“I’ve taken all of this ‘holier than Thou’ bullshit I can stand. Beside, you have each other to impress with you academic nonsense. I have other things to do.”
“I am sorry,” John said after a moment’s pause to look at his watch. “I did not realize what time it was. I must leave also. Thank you for allowing me to include myself in this conversation. I have thoroughly enjoyed it.”
“Me, too. Although I would have liked more time to visit with you.”
“Well, in a way you can,” replied John. “I have written an article on this topic in The Quest, which is a magazine. I think my article is in the 1992 winter issue. Again, thank you.”
“You’re welcome. I guess it’s just as well we stop here anyway,” I acknowledged. “Fear has gone, who knows where.”