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Friday, March 7, 2014

Is This Your Reality, My Reality, or Someone Else's?

Many popular spiritual expressions seem to be telling us that we can either create or co-create our own reality. On the surface, that sounds wonderful. If I don't like my reality, I can simply decide to create a better one and the universe has no choice but to cooperate. How nice it would be if it really worked that way. The problem is that there are potentially seven billion people on this planet, not to mention other sentient beings who may or may not have the "power" to influence their reality, each and every one of them potentially creating their own reality. That would be nice, except it's a little unclear what happens when your reality and my reality collide due to our not agreeing on all of the details of our, now shared, realities.

An interesting example of this can be seen when couples decide to live together. The each bring their own "reality" to their now shared reality, and must begin the tedious process of negotiating precisely what reality they shall now inhabit together. Most of the rocky periods early in relationships are precisely due to conflicting realities colliding once the passion of fluid exchange has cooled. On an admittedly mundane level, conflicting realities around who takes out the garbage can destroy a relationship if there isn't a willingness to negotiate a new reality. You can imagine the destruction that might be wrought by conflicting meatloaf realities! Then there are perceived changes in reality. Many of us know couples who lived together for years quite successfully, only to formalize their relationship through marriage and watch it fall apart. Sometimes it falls apart because they perceive a change in the reality of their togetherness, which is objectively a little absurd given that the only thing that has changed is the creation of a legal document and an overpriced party. Other times, though, one or both partners actually do start behaving differently because of their understanding of what it is to inhabit the reality of being a married person! Most of these images have been acquired by watching our own parents, which may or may not be advisable depending on the quality of their shared relationships. I have often thought that some couples need red tattoos on their foreheads that read: WALKING BAD EXAMPLE, DO NOT IMITATE! It's probably a bit over ambitious on my part to hope for these warning labels, but I can dream.

I would like to suggest that we co-create our realities in a limited way. I say co-create because in those places where we share what I want to call "relationship space" with someone else we absolutely do create the reality of our relationship - together. We can decide what our rules will be, together. When I unilaterally attempt to impose my idea of what the rules should be onto our relationship it tends to not work out very well. If my partner is rather submissive it may work for a while, but sooner or later they will tire of my nonsense and I will either find a way to become less of a control freak or my relationship will fall apart.

However, beyond individual relationships involving small numbers of people, we don't really have the power to completely create our realities. I can put all of the energy I have into creating a reality where gasoline is purchased at the hardware store rather than the gas station and it won't make a bit of difference. I can decide to be nicer to my neighbor so that they might be nicer to me. It may work, but it likely won't happen overnight and so I need to be patient and not insist on my own time table for change. You might say that in most areas of life the best we can do is influence reality. To change it we will need to secure the cooperation of somewhere between one and seven billion other people. We will be successful precisely to the degree we secure the cooperation of that required number of other people.

Wouldn't it make more sense to reserve changing reality for special cases where reality is life denying, and determine instead to learn how to better cope with reality in most cases? After all, changing my outlook on life and coping ability in the face of adversity requires the cooperation of only one person - me! I can give up my insistence that the world conform to my expectations and learn to be better at dealing with the world as it is. Where I see people being truly harmed by the world as it is, I can band together with others who see it the same way and work for change. We will soon learn, if we haven't already, that the expectations we lay on the world regarding how it should respond to us are mostly the product of our neuroses and narcissistic tendencies rather than any real injustice. It really doesn't rain simply because I have something planned for this afternoon.

The most insidious aspect of the idea that I create my own reality is that it takes my attention away from where it needs to be for spiritual growth to occur - my own dysfunction - and places it somewhere outside myself. In doing so we assert that we aren't the problem, the rest of the world is the problem. Recall the old adage that when the rest of the world is crazy and you are the only sane one, it's time to reevaluate the situation. The only person responsible for my feelings, thoughts, and behaviors is me. I am the only one I can change. I view the world through my own lens of experiences and life circumstances. This means that spirituality begins at home, and it isn't helpful to spend our time looking outside for what must come from within.

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