Archive | September, 2023

Illusion, the stuff of life.

A couple of weeks ago, Thomas, my learned hubby told me an astounding fact that even now, I’m having the hardest time digesting. He reads the most varied array of fascinating non-fiction about the natural world, astro physics, quantum mechanics, all sciences, essays and books about power, political and social systems that we odd humans set up and deconstruct for ourselves on a regular basis. I read only literature and feel distinctly uneducated in comparison, although I’ve been told that we are not supposed to compare, which is a joke of sorts. So, most of what I learn about the mysterious workings of the natural world comes from his cliff notes. Impressive cliff notes they are too, and I am as grateful to them, as I am oftentimes overwhelmed by them.

Every now and again, he tosses out a little something that has grabbed his attention. All too often we are walking with our dogs when he tells me these things, and all too often I, lacking the depth of imagination to fully comprehend the marvel at hand, will let it slide by. Yet, on occasion, I actually hear what he is saying and am stopped in my tracks.

“Did you know” he asked me, “that if you took all the atoms in just one human body, and eliminated the space in and around them, the total mass would fill just one 10th of a teaspoon?”


I did not know that, and not only did I not know that, I can’t believe or fully comprehend that either. “What! How is it possible that our perceived reality is so utterly different from what appears to be more accurately the case?”

In my last blog, I made what I thought was, a compelling case for our knowing the world through and with our sense. However what we perceive as so real and true, solid, informed and informing, is but a fraction of the whole story. This flesh and blood, these nerves, muscles and bones, as real as we experience them, are also part of a great illusion. Our bodies are predominately space and water.

Given that our perceptions are so far removed from deeper aspects of reality, how can we possibly trust our experience or perceptions at all? He explains patiently with the excitement of one who understands, that this phenomenon has to do with the level of ‘granularity’ we are accessing or levels of magnitude. This kind of makes sense. I ask with all the insecurity of a child who is called upon in class but who has not paid sufficient attention, “Is it like looking into stronger and stronger levels of magnification, which then opens us to a new hitherto unseen reality, one not available to the naked eye?”


Is our perception of a stable world in which we know ourselves to be not only solid but relatively constant, merely an illusion? No! But there are different levels of reality from the molecular to the atomic, the quantum to our more ordinary everyday experience and all are real. Then, to add spice to the complex soup of perception, there are all the levels within our bodies that also determine who we are, that we may not be aware of, like our hormone levels, our neurotransmitter levels, our blood sugar levels, our thyroid levels. All our various levels, from the gross to the particular.

Given that the mirror through which we perceive and experience is so skewed, due to our limited ‘range’ capacity, and a host of other limiting factors, like the childhood skew of how we were brought up and what beliefs were inculcated into our perceptual lenses, how can we possibly trust our senses. Add to that the now new knowledge that we can be reduced to a mere 1/10th of a teaspoon of material?

When I was a younger, an under 50’s therapist with rather strong ideas of how things were, I refused to work with clients who were on medications. Those judgements were shattered, with much needed humility, when I myself went into menopause and found that everything I had known about myself was turned upside down by the new hormone instability presently wreaking havoc with my sense of self. That lesson has endured and woke me up to the power of those chemicals within our bodies. They were much more potent than I had reckoned when I arrogantly thought of consciousness as supreme. But in that game, ‘consciousness’ didn’t stand a chance in the ring against hormones. Maybe it was just my state of consciousness that was a tad feeble not up to the challenge.

Once in Chicago we were privileged to see the exhibit on the human body called “Body Worlds” in which the skin of the human body was peeled back so we could see and be awed at the brilliance and complexity that is ‘us’. The circulatory system, the nervous system, the lymphatic system and undoubtedly many that I am not remembering to name but am still impacted and determined by. We don’t tend to register all that is formative, necessary and operative just under the skin of each of us, of everybody.

As a society, we are suddenly and belatedly waking up to the superorganism that is our growth driven economic system, which in turn drives us, we are waking up to the improbability of extricating ourselves from being slaves to our desires and the fossil fuels which feed them. We are also belatedly waking up to how close we are to the edge in our very system of societal structure and governance.

We are also waking up to the dangers that A.I. may present, to the question that arises, “How will we know what is real and true?” A great question in the time of disinformation which is only getting more rampant and out of control. A great question when it is on the cusp of getting worse.

“What is real” asks the Velveteen Rabbit, that dear fictional character, whom I have always loved, as if he had been real. The answer to that question is slipping further and further away and I for one, haven’t a clue. What appears true is that there are levels of experience, levels of reality and levels of illusion, deception and misinformation. The issue becomes a problem because if we really peel away the top skin of appearances, we discover that there are many more layers of complexity and interconnectivity than the smooth surface skin of appearance might suggest. And guess what? They all talk to each other and are formed and informed by each other and the relationships, both symbiotic, complementary or rivalrous that they have established and attempt to maintain.

Many these days, increasingly overwhelmed by the ever more complex and urgent stresses of modern life, seem to yearn for the definite, the simple and the sure. It is therefore even more incumbent upon us to hold simultaneously the multileveled complexity of all that lives beyond the surface, as well as keep trusting our perceptions of what feels true, knowing full well that it is not the whole story but a part, a piece, albeit a real piece.

Remember the story about six people who were all blindfolded, brought into a room, their hands placed upon a part of the elephant in front of them and told to explore what they felt within their arms scope. Then they were asked to describe it. For one it was the wizened skin of a rhino, for another the exotic muscular body of a huge snake, for another it was the bulk and texture of mammoth, etc. We make assumptions on the bits we get to know and experience. Of-course we do. Naturally we do.

It seems that we get into the most trouble when we forget that we have only glimpsed one piece and can’t see, feel or know the whole glorious creature, either because it’s too vast to know or because it’s simply not yet perceptible to us, as was the case of the experiment when blindfolded.

In my long and varied therapeutic career I studied and was drawn to somatic therapy because the body does not cannot lie, at least not for long. It keeps score and tells more of the truth about who we are, through structural defenses, physiology and dis-ease, than does our cognitive minds or our speech. Later in my career I was equally drawn to dreams, still am, for the same reason. They are direct paths into the unconscious.

There is an old Jewish saying that goes like this: you can never know a person until you have seen them, angry, drunk or being asked for money. Wise words indeed. Basically, we can’t know someone till we have seen and experienced their shadow, their unconscious. Same is true for us, we can’t know ourselves till we know our own shadows, till we attempt by whatever means to shine light on our blind spots or to understand how others understand and come to know the whole elephant of our bodies, behaviors and beings.

I spent 13 years in a spiritual community and a further two years loosely affiliated to a particular practice. The community was rooted in East Indian culture while the other was rooted within the Japanese Zen tradition. There was talk, reference and aspiration towards awakening, or enlightenment. These notions meant nothing to me. Coming into a fuller life, into the intensity of experience, into community and a sense of belonging, these were the things that meant the world to me.

This being the case, I was hardly surprised when some three decades later the shadow aspects of the community, mainly concerning sex and power, started to arise. We chose to see the light and chose at the time to ignore or deny the shadows that were gathering and which finally rained us out of the game.

When Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche said that enlightenment was nothing more than ‘waking up from self-delusion’ it was so starling and refreshing a statement. I was struck by his inclusion of the words ‘nothing more’ in the sentence. As if it would be a simple thing to wake up from ‘self-delusion’. As if waking up from our prejudices, our biases, our fascination with being right, our unconscious motivations and narratives, our podium place in the ‘victim Olympics’, our insistence we humans are god’s gift to the planet, with all manner of rights which supersede the whole ecosystem, was a simple matter.

How are we to proceed? How are we to get out of bed and bother putting one foot in front of the other? We have to trust ourselves and what we perceive and the conclusions we come to, even though they are only partially trustworthy. Not because we perceive incorrectly but because we are seldom capable of perceiving wholly. Maybe the best we can do is to remember that we only see bits of the puzzle. Maybe we can at least remember that much. Surely that is the basis of developing compassion. Remembering that the whole is greater than the parts we know. Remembering that our truth is not necessarily ‘the truth’, although it might be. When the great Zen Master Ummon said, “Things are not as they appear, nor are they otherwise,” he was encapsulating in just 10 words what I’m spending 1,985 words attempting to convey.

So, while we might well get condensed to 1/10 of a teaspoon of atomic material, our minds can, at least while we are alive and embodied, still touch the far reaches of our known universe and our hearts can reach across time and distance to love. That being the case, we can surely trust what we perceive to be real, while also knowing it’s just a tiny weeny piece of the unfathomable, unknowable whole.

Love to you in this changing season.