What is really real?
“If we all are always creating separate realities, then what is really real?” That is one of the most frequent questions I get as a Principles practitioner. People want to know how we dare even imply that catastrophe, death, weather — everything going on — is not really real. People who are suffering, grieving, or longing demand to know how we dare suggest those bleak feelings aren’t really real.
Those questions come from what has already been created and is playing out in our awareness. They are about the movie that is playing on the screen. The important question for our mental well-being is, “How does the movie come to be?” When we look out to try understand life, there’s a lot happening and it all looks and feels real. When we look in, however, we are looking towards the source of it all, the way it enters into our awareness. And when we look in, we see the truth that is really real: We create and experience thoughts. Creating our moment-to-moment experience of life via thought is really real. What we experience as our ever-shifting reality is the the flow of that creative gift manifested through our own minds.
It’s simple. Life energy (Mind) is real. Our ability to think (Thought) is real. Our ability to bring our thinking to life via our senses (Consciousness) is real. What we create with those gifts is the movie of our life.
I was stuck one time with a flat tire along the side of a mountain road while I was living on Okinawa. That was long before cell phones. There were American military bases both behind and ahead of me; I was confident help would appear. The area was breathtakingly beautiful, a steep drop down a lush landscape to the South China Sea. It was early afternoon on a bright spring day. I sat on the hood of my car and waited, enjoying the sun and the view. A lot of cars, trucks and motorcycles passed by; some honked; I waved. After a while, an Army Jeep pulled over, and two soldiers got out to change my tire. The soldiers seemed quite concerned. “You should have stayed in your car with the doors locked,” one of them said. “This is a remote area. Something terrible could have happened to you, a pretty young woman stranded alone by the roadside.”
Funny thing is, as soon as he said that, I began to be a little afraid of them. Two big armed men could easily overwhelm me, I thought. I had not had one single fearful thought for the 40 minutes or so that I had been there. When the fearful thought came into my mind, the whole situation looked entirely different to me. I was on edge. I was relieved when they got back in their Jeep and drove away. From that day forward, I never enjoyed that lovely drive from one of the bases where I taught back to my home again. Every time I took it, the dark thought crept into my mind that something terrible could happen to me if my car broke down. I spent the drive watching my dashboard indicators and gripping the steering wheel.
The road was the same both before and after that incident. Sure, it’s really a road. But the reality of that road, for me, was shaped entirely by my own thinking about it. I took on the scary thought that soldier expressed and I never let it go.
Of course, I didn’t have to do that. But at the time, I had no idea whatsoever about how we create our experience of reality. I lived at the mercy of whatever thoughts came into my head. I had felt carefree and confident and enjoyed the view until my thinking changed and I felt nervous and fearful. I could have exercised greater caution without getting frightened and upset, but I did not know the fear was coming from me, not from the drive.
Remember the philosophical question: If a tree falls in the forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? If no one hears it, if it never enters the consciousness of a human being, the sound is still real, but it never enters our reality. Trees are falling all over the world, but they aren’t part of our experience of life because we’re not bringing them to mind, having a thought about what is happening, and becoming conscious of that thought. It helps us to see that all kinds of things are happening all around us, but only the things that we bring to mind and think about and experience through our own consciousness appear in our reality. When one thing fades from our mind and another comes to mind, we experience an immediate change in our reality. In the ordinary flow of life, as our thinking comes and goes, our reality is always changing. When we see how that works, the real reality becomes our inner journey of continually making things up and experiencing them, and we see how easily everything changes with a change of thought.
The power to shape our experience of what is happening is really real. Mental health and well-being arises from looking to use that power wisely, and not taking ourselves seriously when we’re not.