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What Is Reality?

We can’t stand apart from and SEE reality; we can only BE reality—and we can’t ever NOT be reality. Reality is all there is; and all there is, is reality. And actually, EVERYTHING we see (the apparent forms that appear in everyday life, as well as what we see in dreams or on 5-MeO-DMT, LSD, Psilocybin, MDMA or Ayahuasca, or anything we think or imagine) is ALL reality.

The notion of finding The True Reality, as if it were some particular “thing” that could be found and grasped at last, or the notion of stabilizing in some apparent state of consciousness that we think is “It,” is all a dream. All such fantasies presume we are some-thing apart from this imagined IDEA of reality.

Whatever THIS is (let’s call it reality), it is ever-changing, unresolvable, ungraspable and utterly un-pin-downable, yet it never departs from the present-ness and immediacy of this infinite and eternal Here-Now. It is always Just This, however it may appear. Our worst moments of confusion, upset, and so-called entanglement in delusion are no less reality than our most profound mystical experiences or moments of apparent clarity.

The one who seems to be HAVING these different experiences, the one who seems to be IN this or that state of consciousness, the one who hopes to REALIZE the Truth or STABILIZE in some particular experiential or behavioral state, the one who seems to go back and forth between “getting it” and “losing it,” or between encapsulation and boundlessness, that one is a mirage—it SEEMS to be there, but it cannot actually be found. In looking to find what “I” am, no-thing at all can be found, and at the same time, EVERYTHING is right here. I am at once no-thing and everything. There IS only no-thing-ness appearing as everything. Reality is all there is; and all there is, is reality. The ocean can show up in infinitely varied ways, but it never departs from being the ocean.

In the example I often give, if we think of Buddha and Hitler as different waves on the ocean of being, both are equally movements of the ocean, both equally water, but Buddha knows that, while Hitler is caught in the delusion of being an independent wave, separate from the ocean, out to conquer or control the other waves and purify the ocean. Their experiences and actions will be different as a result. But no “Hitler” or “Buddha” can ever really be carved out of the flowing whole as some static, persisting, substantial, independent, autonomous “thing” apart from the whole. “Buddha” and “Hitler” (like chairs and tables and dogs and cats) are always only conceptual ideas. We can call one of them “good” and the other “evil,” but BOTH are a choiceless movement of the ocean, inseparable from one another, and neither ever departs from being the ocean. The actuality is never really divided up—it is seamless. The perfection includes it ALL.

Within the dream-like movie of waking life, as dream-characters, we may seemingly be moved to make apparent choices and take actions of various kinds, and these may seemingly bring about various results. But this whole story has no more substance than the plotline in a dream, and the apparent “me” (the chooser-actor-thinker-observer-doer) at the center of this story has no more volitional ability or power to affect reality than a character in a dream. This is actually a wonderfully freeing realization.

And still, however ephemeral and substance-less it may be, this magical appearance is showing up—this marvelous and sometimes excruciating play. Trying to detach and shut it all out because it is supposedly “unreal” feels lifeless and dead to my particular sensibilities. But, of course, this apparent detaching (which can never really detach) is simply one possible move that reality is making, one possible dream-event that can appear to happen.

And meanwhile, this dream character here who appears to be typing this post right now seems to prefer a different possibility, a different way of dancing, which might be called love. But both detachment and love are equally movements of the whole, inseparable from one another, without any substantial, independent, persisting existence—they are simply different possibilities like clouds in the sky, shape-shifting, shapeless, disintegrating into no-thing at all. How real was any of it?

And yet, here it all is! The morning breeze, THIS cup of tea, the beloved dog trotting toward me, the green leaves, the wildfires, the wars, the child sex-trafficking, the floods, the droughts, the blossoming flowers, the falling leaves, the changing climate, the mass extinctions, the distant galaxies being born and dying—this whole amazing unnamable and ungraspable reality. What a magic show, what a dance, what a wild love affair—blessedly without meaning or purpose.

-- copyright Joan Tollifson 2022 --

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