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Your Reality, My Reality, and Big R Reality

A conversation I had with my selves during meditation

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NICE ME SPEAKS: While I was sitting this morning, an image came to me of everyone carrying the light of awareness. Everyone. With many of them, the light was tiny and dim, but it made me want to approach them gently and blow onto their flickering, like you would a desperately needed fire that was almost out. It only has a few coals, and dimming at that. A tiny chance, but crucial to survival.

How careful would we all be? If that tiny light were the last fire ever, how we would gather around it to protect it from a strong wind! Everyone’s faces graying out with the likely victory of ash…but everyone close together, arms locked and yet leaving small spaces between us so the breeze can feed the flame.

There would be one designated breather, inhaling deeply, then pointing lips aimed in a tiny oooo toward the remaining live coals — long, long, careful, steady streaming, gentle whoooooooos. Whoooo are you? Whooooo are you really? Each whooo strengthening the coal, brightening its body, and all our faces around it. Another in the circle ready with crumpled newspaper, and someone else with tiny kindling. Kindling. Kind-ling.

This is how it could work, I think. We take the weakest coal, place it next to whatever strong others there are — and we, together, help grow that flame. We give them our life breath. The light of consciousness in everyone. But then…

MEAN ME SPEAKS: Well if everyone has the light of awareness in them, and your thesis is that we should approach the ones whose lights are almost out, that we should (*air quotes*) approach them tenderly and (*more air quotes*) feed their light till it’s strong enough to ignite the kindling — you’re in for a rude awakening. You gotta be kidding.

NICE ME: I’m not.

MEAN ME: Oh, come on. You’re not gonna bring your "more awakened self" to Ukraine and flag down Russian tanks with a flower crown on your head so you can gentle them awake into a bonfire of love. You’re not getting onto an F Train so you can approach the nearest crazy, violent person and sweet talk them out of their troubles!

Who do you think you are? You are every bit as unconscious as you think ‘they’ are.

More so, actually, because you think you’re in a position to save them. Utter narcissistic, white girl, presumptuous, well-intentioned-my-ass bullshit. It’s not truly well-intentioned because

a) it’s dewy-eyed, dangerous, naïve fantasy thinking that is there to make you feel better, b) it disrespects the deeply rooted reality that ‘they’ are experiencing, and c) it reinforces the us/them idea that is the root of humanity’s downfall in the first place. You’re a sixty-eight-year-old woman who lies down every night in a comfortable bed — clean, warm, dry and safe. What do you know about the real world? What do you know about being a citizen of Ukraine? Or Russia? Or Jackson Heights? Nothing.

NEUTRAL ME: Why is it wrong that I’m comfortable? It’s not wrong. I can be grateful every day for it. And I don’t need to give everything up and live in a shitty apartment in a scary neighborhood and go hungry and get gang-raped in the stairwell to achieve legitimacy.

Some lives are experienced through the lens of clean, warm, dry safety. But that’s not any more or less real than experiencing life through the lens of fear, poverty and violence. Why is one more real than the other?

I acknowledge that having one’s illusions smashed brings a person face to face with a certain kind of ‘reality.’ But that’s not Capital R Reality. It’s just The-world-isn’t-safe reality. That one is every bit as limited as the People-are-basically-good reality.

Since when is senseless bloodshed real but selfless acts of courage are not? Or, to make it a little harder, since when is dying alone and homeless in the streets real but reading a book by the fire in a loving family atmosphere is not?

I think what we’re always after, when we talk about “the real world” is membership. Connection. Witnessing. My real world.

If I grew up comfortable, but life showed me that people are capable of cruelty — you, who grew up with cruelty, might say, “Welcome to reality,” when what you really mean is “Welcome to my reality.”

But say someone grew up hard, beaten and abandoned. Say they had to fight for ever morsel of food they eat. And let’s say they encounter someone kind and helpful, who opens the world in a new way for them. Imagine that the kind one then says to the one who grew up hard, “Welcome to reality.”

Do you feel how much more weight we gave to the first example? How much of a negativity bias we have toward the world?

But, just as in the first example, what the kind one means is still, “Welcome to my reality.” Can I be a member of my world, and still genuinly connect with yours? Can we be friends and you still be a member of your world? And can we share membership in a larger world of pain, of joy, of unconsciousness, of guilt, and of desire to heal?

Go far enough down this line of questioning, and you’ll end up with: Is there a real, real world? And do any of us really want to be there? (Think about this before you answer.)

I’m thinking, no. We run to our comfort, or our rage, or our deeply ingrained habits. But none of us want the terror or the boredom of what Big R Reality entails. We can’t imagine sitting with What Is without trying to change it (as if we could). Or being where we actually are without resistance. That’s almost impossible.

But we could try. When we meditate, that’s the whole point. It’s a way of preparing for Big R Reality. We sit with everything we think, judge, yearn for, and deplore without moving toward or away from it.

Try it right now. Sit still in a comfortable, erect position, relax your shoulders and think of a recent event in the news that set you off. Can you stay present with the thought, and not move into raving SHOULDS or SHOULD NOTS? Go back to when you heard or read about that event. Can you feel how many places you went, how your mind went galloping in all directions, completely unhinged, even though you might have kept a civil outward appearance?

Now, instead of focusing on the event’s details, let the event stay in the background, maybe even flow downstream, and focus on your own breathing, your body, your shoulders, the muscles that tighten, your jaw. Maybe even your eyes, or the skin around your nose. Feel into it.

That’s what thinking does to your body. Everything you discover — that’s where your thinking lives in your body.

Eventually, meditation can lead us into a deep, centered place where all thoughts are welcome because there’s no Velcro for them to attach to.

This is where things get a little tricky, because I’m not talking about detachment or denial at all. This centered place, where you sit with What Is, without moving toward or away from it, is the single most powerful place from which to take action.

NICE ME: So, you want me to just sit here?

ME: Yes.

MEAN ME: And do nothing?

ME: Yes. Do nothing, for a change. See what lives in the space behind all that doing that you think makes a difference. Go exploring. Stay present with your breath.

Pretty soon, you’ll see that it’s your own little coal, almost extinguished by years of going down rabbit holes of aversion and desire. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to move tenderly toward your very own light, almost out, and breathe it ever so gently, steadily back to life. And the magical part of this is that when you tend your own fire like this, and you do it on a daily basis, there comes a day when you get up and look around — and nothing’s changed.

But everything is...


May all sentient beings be free from suffering, be safe and happy, and may we all dwell in equanimity.


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