Perhaps the most shocking insight someone can come to in the healing process, otherwise defined as restoring the mind to wholeness, is the recognition that you are never, ever, dealing with people out there. There is no one out there. It only seems that way.
You go outside and see people. You work and go to the store, you do your errands, you complete your tasks. You watch TV and search content on social media, all filled with people, of all shades and stripes, doing and saying all kinds of things. You come home and deal with more people, and those people you call your family, friends or loved ones. You fight and you laugh, you cry, you hide, you reconcile and join. And this all seems to be occurring with other people. You live your life through and with other people.
But in reality, you are never really dealing with anyone. You are only ever dealing with yourself.
What you see, feel, experience and relate to does not have objective reality outside of your own experience of it. In this sense, what you perceive can be more accurately described as being a part of you, rather than something separate and external to what you believe is you. Of course other people exist, it is simply that they are not in any way separate from you.
In functional terms, and precisely within the context of our closest relationships (often the places in our lives where the biggest challenges lie) the truth is that if we are angry with someone, it’s our own anger that is being projected outward, which means, the anger belongs to us. It only seems to have its source from ‘out there’.
This can be a particularly revolutionary insight in our struggles with other people (so goes the famous quote, “Hell is other people”). In truth, what bugs us about people, what we believe about them, the way we think about them, and how we judge what they do or don’t do, is nothing more than an indication of our own state of mind. There is no one and nothing out there apart from what we perceive, and more to the point, what we believe about what we perceive. While the facts regarding our experiences are what they are (he or she said such and such, or that person is wearing a blue hat) the meaning we make from these apparent facts is solely and purely an interpretation originating from the mind, our mind.
This dynamic mind-process is what gives life it’s juice, its meaning, its content. It is what dictates our life experience, how we think about ourselves, how we think about our past experiences and memories (even, especially, the bad ones), and what we project upon the future.
Thus, while we live our lives thinking that we are a discrete, separate self – a body with a mind – a better self-description is that we are a mind, who experiences a body that we call our ‘self’. We are minds believing we are persons – persons with stories, histories, preferences, likes and dislikes. These life-details form the boundary of ‘me’. But these boundaries are arbitrary, floating stories in space that have no meaning other than the meaning we give them.
Once we see, really see, the arbitrary nature of our tiny, personal narrative, a smile begins to form in the innermost center of our being. We begin to take things a little less seriously, and develop the capacity for more joy, more ease, seeing the joke that is all around us: I made this up – my reactions, perceptions, beliefs and thought structures – all of these point to a made-up narrative, but one that I perpetuate through nothing more than my own desire and wish that it be true.
And so we wake up to ourselves as dreamers of our own dream.
And that’s the joke.
The pervasive lie is that we are these human atoms, tiny monads, little islands of fleshly experience, totally cut off from others and the world. The world wants us to believe this. Indeed, it is the foundational belief of our known human universe. It’s the original conspiracy. And this belief forces us to live lives, as Thoreau said, of “quiet desperation”. We believe we’re small, tiny beings floating helplessly in an immense universe, at the mercy of urges and forces completely outside of our control. It’s not true. We are minds, we are meaning-makers, decision-makers (as Ken Wapnick says), dreamers of the dream of ourselves.
And this is where insight from spiritual traditions, accounts from the great sages and saints of history, current literature in healing, psi research, NDE experiences, and the like, comes as a helpful adjunct. In some form or fashion, the conclusions wrought from these knowledge domains show us that we are much more than these bodies, that perhaps in the most radical interpretation, these bodies are nothing more than a belief which has become apparently solidified, rather than being a solid ‘something’ in and of itself.
A dream feels real while you’re dreaming it, and this world, as many have asserted throughout history, is more akin to a dream, our lives included. To awaken, as did the Buddha (as well as many others in this and previous eras), is to see the dream as it is. To recognize that we are dreaming it. This is transformational, as through this awareness we are no longer victims of the world. We dream the world, not the other way around. So as dreamers, we are part of everything, joined with everything. Nothing is apart from what we are. This can be a visceral, felt-sense experience, one that is inclusive and penetrating. We begin to see our thoughts, beliefs and experiences as malleable, and we see ourselves as cosmic image makers at once connected to everyone and everything within the dream, yet also outside of it, above the fray and devastation that this dream is.
Real power and real peace lie in this realization, and the task of our lives becomes to live from this awareness more and more, to include more of ourselves in the warm embrace of the Self beyond the body. The smile says, ‘this is not true’, and gently and softly, we withdraw from dreams and come Home.
Artwork: Poppies and Oranges by Bruce Cohen