Ever notice that when we talk about reality it is rarely in a positive way? When you tell someone to “get real” or “face reality” you are rarely – if ever – pointing out something happy or fortunate. Chances are you are pointing out just how bad things have become and how badly someone is failing to deal with their circumstances. No wonder people are always seeking ways to escape reality! No matter what your definition of reality may be, odds are that it’s not “happy place”. To most of us, reality is the place where pain lives, where we are disappointed, where we do not get what we want, where things do not work out as we would like, where we grow old, get sick and face death. That is why we dream, why we escape into books and film – we create whole worlds that allow us to forget that reality exists at all, if only for a while. Our dreams are where our happiness lies and reality is the rock on which our dreams are shattered. For a lot of people, realism is just another word for pessimism.
I have been thinking of late that maybe we are wrong about reality and realism. Maybe our negative perception of the “real world” has less to do with reality being harsh and cruel and more to do with the narrowness of our focus. I think we seek to escape from reality because we fail to see just how big reality really is. Certainly, there are many things that cause us pain in the real world, but there are so many things that give us joy in it too. It has ugliness but it also has more beauty that we can contain. While we focus on our failures and disappointments we so often fail to notice how many successes we had and how much joy we were given. The same reality that sometimes treats us so cruelly oftentimes also treats us kindly. In this real world there is war and famine and destruction but there is also goodness, mercy and joy. If in your mind “getting real” means recognizing just how rotten and evil people can be then you are really only looking at one small slice of reality for in this real world there are also plenty of good, selfless people. I do not argue that there are plenty of things to discourage and make you hopeless in the real world. What I am trying to point out is that if you look you will also find so much to encourage you and give you hope. Unfortunately though, we are not wired that way are we? Somehow it is easy for us to feel forsaken and hard for us to feel blessed. We make our vision narrow, we choose to focus on one thing and exclude all else. How easily we cry about the love we want but cannot get while we forget about all the love we do receive. (Ever notice how when someone says they want somebody to love they usually already have a specific somebody in mind?) We remember how we were wronged and we forget the thousands of small kindnesses done to us. Clearly it is not reality that is to blame, it is the smallness of our minds and the narrowness of our vision.
So then, the real challenge is to see reality for what it is – to stop seeking refuge in either mind numbing optimism or soul destroying cynicism but rather to become true realists. We do not need to escape reality, we need to learn to appreciate just how large and all encompassing reality really is. Reality is cruel and beautiful and painful and filled with wonder and mystery. In it we find love and disappointment, loneliness and joy, sweet and bitter. When we start to appreciate the bigness of the real world we will not find it such a horrible thing to be grounded in and we will be more willing to live without our precious illusions. Like it or not, the real world is the one we are destined to live in. Why always seek to escape it? There is so much more to gain by embracing it!
One of the reasons realism seems so unattractive is because it seems so bleak, it is perceived to be a life without dreams, dedicated to hard facts alone. I should note though that when I suggest getting rid of illusions I do not mean dreams. Illusions are dangerous, dreams are not. Illusions are fake versions of reality we set up in our own minds to escape and hide from parts of reality we do not like. In so doing we are only blinding ourselves to what truly is. When we hide from reality we trap ourselves in a static unchanging existence. The way to deal with an unpleasant facet of reality is not to hide away from it in a comfortable illusion but rather to face it and do something about it. That is where dreams come in, they remind us that things can be better and spur us on to change things for the better. Of all the creatures on this planet we alone have the ability to bring the things we dream into reality. Not in the nonsensical woo-woo sense like “The Secret” would try to tell you but rather by applying our will, our skill, our resources and our knowledge. So while our illusions trap us, dreams free us. In the words of Marcel Proust, “If a little dreaming is dangerous, the cure for it is not to dream less but to dream more, to dream all the time.” In the same way, if a little reality scares you, the cure is not to seek escape from it but rather to seek to see the true vastness of reality. The real world is alive with possibilities and chances but only dreamers and realists can see this. I only hope I can learn to be both.
I spent most of my life as a fundamentalist and discovered Reason much later than I would have liked. I'm still dealing with the trauma and this blog is my therapy. So this is me: non-conformist, heretic, fan of delicious flavour and a man without a home. I’m a cynical optimist and a really angry zen master. I am just a man trying to make sense of it all. This is my life in juxtaposition.