Life or its imitation...

"Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things." (Chinese Philosopher Master Zhuang)

Do you know what is real and what is imagination? Are you sure? If so, how do you know the difference? Your mind is an amazingly creative device. When you awaken from a dream, sometimes minutes pass before you can shake yourself out of what only a breath before appeared real. If you believed in the dream’s reality, what makes you believe only minutes later in the dream’s unreality? Which reality is true—the dream about life or life lived apparently outside the dream? Which dream is the dream? Beliefs are different for each of us. What is believed real for me may not be real to you. Is it possible that what is real comes with no bottom line certainty?

Morpheus to Neo: If real is what you can feel, smell, taste and see, then 'real' is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain (The Matrix)

Is that all real is? Electrical signals? Each of us must answer that question for ourselves, but if you have experienced glimpses, have a sense of something beyond the wizard’s curtain, you already know that something other than this day-to-day experience exists. It is what drives the search. Without that inner understanding wouldn’t you be content, unable to conceive the possible validity of your butterfly nature. Perhaps there are layers of reality, like the layers of an onion, and different things appear real depending on your perspective and willingness to look deeper.

It’s an interesting conundrum, this reality question. When you are daydreaming—life lived within the dream—is that real? You make up stories in your heads, act out conversations, envision outcomes, and feel the energetic impact of your imagination in your stomach and heart. Is that real? Feels pretty real, doesn’t it? But as soon as you pop out of the trance, you immediately recognize the daydream as unreality. Too bad your body doesn’t have such a mechanism. If it did it would shake off the silent apprehension easily, effortlessly.

Imagination feels real, even after you snap out of the game. We humans spend much of our lives playing with imagination and fantasy. Most suffering stems from this mindplay as we strive to envision a life different from the one we have, replaying old conversations, conversations long gone and yet, energetically resilient.

Pay attention and you will find a goldmine of information floating through your head. Notice that it is not enough to live in the moment—that it is more important to analyze, to review, and replay. Become aware of how you spend your life’s precious days inside your head, playing with different versions of life instead of living it. In fact, can you detect that you spend so much time within the what ifs of imagination that you develop a craving for mindplay, little by little learning to prefer it to the real thing, even while you quietly pray for the voices inside your head to stop?

Most of us fear dying, afraid we haven’t fully lived because at some level we know we haven’t yet begun to live. Fear of death, when seen and acknowledged, is liberating, especially when we see the gift that lies beneath this desire to linger a little longer. Life is not a brain inside a bell jar. Life is full-on engagement. It is lived out loud and accessed only in the moment. Insistence upon our version of life keeps us locked inside our mind, crippling us emotionally and spiritually, consuming the spice of life. It kills us long before the body drops away. Our fear of death is actually our desire to truly live, to experience living life out loud.

"Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live." Norman Cousins (American Essayist and Editor, long associated with the Saturday Review. 1912-1990)

This ache, this loneliness, this sense of faking our way through life, is our blessing. It is the divine cattle prod, the siren’s call to freedom. For many of us it is the reason we search. It asks nothing of us other than to answer its call and understand its message. And the message is, “What you have been doing has not been working or you wouldn’t still be looking for answers, you would have become answer, complete in yourself”.

What have you been doing? Have you been attempting to think your way out of your predicament, envisioning the perfect future, perhaps even uttering words of hope and faith, but to what purpose, to change your current reality into one you deem better? Have you held out hope for your awakening to ensure your specialness, hope for your success to guarantee that others look up to you, hope for your picture of the perfect life that will finally establish your worthiness? Have you held out hope to be any of many things rather than abandoning desire and looking to life as it is? Each hope, is a wolf in sheep’s clothes, a distraction from reality, another foray into mind! Are you ready yet to lay down your arms and consider the message?

Morpheus to Neo: This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.

Morpheus [to Neo who is choosing the red pill] Remember... all I'm offering is the truth. Nothing more.

What is truth? What is real? Can you really know? Would you like to? You will not find the Real in imagination. You won’t even find ‘life’ in imagination. Life is only lived on the razor’s edge, between past and future. It shimmers lightly right here in this moment even before thoughts about the present. A life of imagination is not life. It is make-believe, fantasy, pretend, imitation—no different than imaginary food on a child’s play table. This pretend life leaves one empty and unfulfilled, aching for the Real. It leaves us gasping for air, depressed and alone. Life is only lived as one chooses to be fully present, fully here, regardless of what or who shows up, even when it’s messy and uncomfortable as it is certain to be.

Do you want freedom from mind’s endless conversation, from your self-condemnation and fear of inadequacy—this mess we all, when we are willing to be brutally honest, find ourselves in. Do you genuinely want emotional, mental and spiritual freedom? Stop a minute before you answer. There are many reasons you might want to continue this mindplay. As you well know, at times it is quite fun and entertaining. It has kept you utterly occupied for years. Stop and recognize that choosing Now, choosing to show up for life, means stopping the game, stopping the play of mind, stopping the forays into daydream, into what if, and the scenarios of your perfect life—you know, the life you will have when and if you get lucky or better yet, work hard enough. Choosing this moment has infinite implications. Are you ready to quit dreaming and enter into Life, ready to reclaim yourself from the bell jar of your imagination? Are you willing to really live? Will you choose the red pill?

Morpheus: I'm trying to free your mind, Neo. But I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it.

Author's Bio: 

Ms. Gregory, a former senior manager with two Fortune 500 companies, left behind a successful corporate career in 1997, unfulfilled and searching for missing pieces. A year spent on a sailboat traveling in Mexico, provided her with insights for understanding what it takes to move through fears into our natural, unrestricted potential. She founded Pure Possibility, the home of The Fearlessness Project, a coaching and mentoring program that works with individuals and within the Oregon State Corrections system. Most recently, she co-founded Workplace Evolution (WE), a resource bank of leading edge consultants whose mission is to catalyze organizational potential and nurture innovative workplaces. Gayle is co-author of "The Grand Experiment, an Expedition of Self-Discovery" and soon to be released "Workplace Evolution: Common Sense for Uncommon Times".