Dreams feel real while we're in them.
Cobb, Inception (2010)
Every morning I stop for twenty minutes. I stop to really pay attention to what's occurring. Some might use the word 'meditation' for that, I guess. These days I'm kinda done with the whole spiritual lingo thing. Much of the time it's just so up its own arse, in my humble opinion. I've decided that religion is, at best, a nursery school from which we grow up and, at worst, something dangerously egotistical. More loosely-defined 'spirituality' is so loosely-defined that it can pretty much mean whatever anyone chooses for it to mean and hey, that's just your opinion, man.
To pay attention, though, that is the almost universal human experience, to a greater or lesser degree, for each of us. Whilst I also think these days that Zen can also be somewhat up itself (then again, can't we all?), Soto Zen's term shikantaza, usually translated as 'just sitting' where 'just' is the sense of absolute, sweat-pouring focus, has something going for it. Pay full attention, man. What the hell is going on? What's really occurring?
There are moments, of course, this naturally happens. The 'which wire do I cut?' moment or the first heart-thumping time lovers are about to embrace, or, for that matter, trying not to spill am overly-full cup of coffee whilst climbing the stairs. The last, to be fair, is more common to me and largely my own damn fault but it's coffee. What more needs saying?
Yet every morning, before loading up the work for the day, which obviously I am fully immersed in, and focused upon, for nine hours, I take a brief period where I try to stop and see what's actually occurring. It's wonderful. The clock ticking. Various birds singing (and by God they sing when you truly listen). My cat wailing again, just because he can. The car going up the lane. The sights outside - a tree swaying, rain falling on the window pane. It's all happening. Simultaneously. And it's all in my head.
Yes, it's all in my head. Every sound. Every image. Every sensation. There it is, rattling around the ol' synapses. All those sensory inputs go through a translation. The biological cameras we call the eyes take in a rather narrow segment of electro-magnetic radiation and translate it into a usable image. Hopefully one very similar to what another human is seeing but maybe not. How do I know your 'green' field is my 'green'? My green might be your yellow for all I know - and I never will. It's all taken on trust. It's usable. Same with that birdsong. In fact, same with every sensation. The input comes in and the brain does a wonderful job of interpreting it into something useful. Usually. I also have a form of epilepsy that will do wonderful things such as make me smell burning. I might be going to hell but that's a bit much right now! It'll make the volume of noise go up or down, sometimes making it painfully loud to me. Olfactory and auditory hallucinations. Not life-threatening. Maybe a bit nauseating with the burning flesh thing but it's more about being fascinating: reality is how we perceive it. The more you stop and more deeply perceive the more you begin to engage with the the truth that what I would term 'reality' is just my opinion, man. Not by choice, usually, but certainly in truth, whatever that is...
Merrily merrily, merrily merrily, life is but a dream. A big dream. Life really exists but how we are living it, well that's just a whole different kettle of fish now ain't it?
The realisation of this, not just at the level of an idea (hey - how do you know you're not just dreaming this?) but knowing it balls-to-bone in every fibre of your being, has the effect of questioning everything and if you truly wish to engage with that questioning will lead you down long and winding rabbit-holes. This thing that's all in my head - which must include my perception of myself - is nothing more than a useful tool. Maybe it's a beautiful tool but ultimately something utilitarian. It is not who I am and it is not the world around me. Sure we need to work with it as it is the only daily experience we have to hold on to, but we cannot and must not assume that what I see and how I see it, what I think and how I think it, is The Truth. In Capitals.
Ultimately, this rabbit hole has several major stop-offs along the way as new questions strike us: who am I really? What am I really? What is this world really? What are good and evil really? Guess I'll need to take a look at those.
And here's the kicker: once I've thought through those questions how the hell will I ever know for sure? Well this last one is relatively easy. Chances are you won't. And that's a good thing because if you embrace that and work with it, it opens you to a world of mind-expanding stuff and, perhaps more importantly, not a little humility. After all, it IS just your opinion, man.