“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
― Albert Einstein
Understanding our ‘reality’ gives us a stronger foundation upon which to create ourselves and our lives: This post is a succinct summary of four key lessons that I’ve learned from the process of rebuilding my own life, all of which have served to help me re-energise myself by refusing to invest in my illusions and instead invest in reality.
Work on cultivating these four qualities and watch your life improve exponentially: IDGAF, Abundance, Direction, and Being.
#1: Work from the inside out instead of the outside in (aka ‘IDGAF’).
Most of the ‘unhappiness’ or discontent in our lives is rooted in attempting to understand ourselves and our lives from the outside in, instead of the inside out. My personal view on this is that human beings are naturally active and personally responsible in their authentic state, but as they’re pulled across the hot coals of conditioning and personal challenge, they (more often than not) find themselves in a state of passive confusion in which the approval, appreciation, and applause of others influences their decisions more than their own acceptance.
Working from the inside out in the way that I’m advocating here means that we understand the difference between facts and interpretations and realise that whatever information is presented to us from the outside world is seen as something that is being filtered through our perceptive and cognitive understanding. What does this mean? It means that we don’t have to react and treat interpretations as facts at face value, but that we recognise our own power to make sense of them on our own terms in relation to our own experience (see Personal Revolutions #98: Interpretations / Facts).
Combined with an acceptance of the inevitabilities of reality (conflict, problems, suffering, ups and downs, etc.) this ‘inside out’ way of thinking can revitalise our lives by showing us that we have more choice than our fear may make us believe. In my case this led to seeing problems and conflict as learning opportunities; seeing criticism as feedback; and stasis and rigidity as fluidity and flexibility.
#2: Free yourself of ego and intellect: Cultivate a non-zero sum mind-set (aka ‘Abundance’).
‘Abundance’ is a slippery word because it often has associations of passive wishful thinking and belly button fingering over actual action and positive thinking, but when we understand the difference between the fluid world in reality and our static intellectual interpretations, we become better equipped to release ourselves from the anguish that comes from clinging to illusions. Beyond the veil, we realise that, at least in terms of opportunity, there is way more abundance than our fears and the limited POVs built in response to these fears makes us believe.
The veil between the world and our experience of the world is one that we usually create to protect ourselves from the initial ‘pain’ of facing reality. Unless we are able to distinguish between ourselves and our thoughts about the world, we will become attached to our abstractions of reality and treat them as being reality itself. This causes unnecessary friction between ourselves and the world and the way we interact with it.
When it comes to the opportunities available to us, an unhealthy zero sum mind set begins to emerge when we treat abstract concepts as being tangible and real. The effect of this is that we begin to believe that when one of us acquires something abstract like popularity, love, or opportunity, somebody else will miss out.
A healthy non-zero sum mind set is about understanding the reality of these abstract concepts, realising that they’re not in limited supply because they can exist in more than one place at once (like information: if I share it with you, I still have it but, now, so do you too), and thus preventing us from trying to cling to something that isn’t there in the first place (see Personal Revolutions #156: Abundance / Scarcity).
#3: Find your mission/purpose and your ‘meaning’ will follow (aka ‘Direction’).
Reality’ in itself is neither ‘good’ or ‘bad’ as these are intellectual concepts that exist within the human mind and are projected out into the world through our interpretations of events. This being the case, expecting to find ‘meaning’ out in the world in itself, or having somebody come up to you and tap you on the shoulder with the answers you’ve been seeking is a folly of passivity. The only person with the answers about your life is you.
Life becomes ‘meaningful’ when we create and dedicate ourselves to a purpose of ‘making our values valuable to others’. Knowing our own values and building a mission or purposeful process of action around them serves two purposes: 1) Our values motivate us to start and continue with our chosen actions (so, for example, if we truly value ‘creativity’ but work in an uninspiring environment, we will eventually run out of steam); 2) Consciously ‘making our values valuable to others’ acknowledges the interdependence that we all share, connects us to the wider world around us, and takes our mission from the level of personal success to realistic significance.
Combining this third step with the previous two shared in this article allows us to create an active process for our lives, cultivated on authentic terms, and imbued with the confidence that comes from understanding the abundance of opportunity available to us. A well-chosen mission or purpose also gives us overall direction, makes it easier to make decisions, and helps us to understand and work with our ‘tribe’ and avoiding the illusion of attaching ourselves to ideas and things that have no relevance to our values and core (see Personal Revolutions #134: Purpose / Meaning).
#4: Presence is the foundation of Self and Self is the foundation of your world (aka ‘Being’).
If the first our four key lessons can be seen as cultivating an inner foundation of intellectual strength and framing our interactions with the world in accordance with our own reason, this final section can be seen as standing fully within ourselves and the world. ‘Presence’ in these terms is about releasing ourselves from the intellectual understanding that we have of the world and also bringing in our instinctual and intuitive intelligence. It is about ‘being’, instead of just ‘doing’.
Really, that’s the whole point of this short article: acknowledging the limitations of the POVs that we create about ourselves and our world, freeing ourselves from the hold that we sometimes allow illusory concepts to have over our ‘reality’, and clearing away as many falsities as possible so that we can start to build a meaningful process of action in our lives that takes us further and further into ourselves and then the world by extension.
Though presence shares some similarities with the ‘inside out’ mind-set discussed above, it is an extension of this in that the inside out mind-set is about the cognitive side of our experience (thoughts, beliefs, etc), whereas presence is something that can be found both within and without. When we clear away the cloud of expectations and assumptions that we carry into our experience from the outside world alone, we free ourselves to move with the flux of the person we are in reality and to become as fully alive and ‘human’ as possible. This is authentic living and the start of all true ‘flow’.
If you have to rebuild or you simply want to build something new, then follow the lessons in this article and you will eventually lead yourself.