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Get Real! But What Really Is Real?

Real water, rain, wilderness—or is it. What’s really real? Read my metaphysical musings in this week’s edition of Isn’t That Ironic?”.

This is me last week on a canoe trip in Northern Saskatchewan.

I was recently on a canoe trip in the wilderness of Northern Saskatchewan. It’s a great place to canoe—in the Canadian Shield, there is more water than land. It’s always fantastic to get back in touch with nature, to feel the earth and rocks under your feet; the rain on your face; shiver in the cool, crisp morning air; bask in the calming warmth of the afternoon sun; strip off your clothes and dive freely into a clean, refreshing northern lake; feel the tug of the fish on your line, the wriggly-slimy squirming as you take him off the hook, hear the sizzle as he roasts over the open fire, taste the hot, delicious flesh in your mouth; feel the sting of campfire smoke in your eyes; even to hear the buzz of mosquitos in your ears and the prick on your skin when they bite you. This is real. This is real experience of life.

So much of our lives are not “real”. So much is virtual, fictional, and even lies. Things are rarely as they appear. Everything we see on a screen (TV, movies, computer, phone) is not real. It’s virtual at best—complete fictional lies at worst. And yet we make it real in our minds. It’s ironic, really.

I haven’t watched television for decades but I’m well aware that most people in today’s society are incredibly wrapped up in fictional TV shows, “reality” (which isn’t reality) TV shows, news reports that tell half-truths, and the lives of celebrities (which are almost never the way they’re reported). In many homes the TV is on all day long, pumping non-reality images into people’s minds which they mistake for their connection to the “real world”.

Yet things are getting worse. Voice software is so good that Siri sounds real. Alexa sounds real. They are not. They are just programming.

We have become used to seeing videos on Facebook and Youtube that show real people in real situations. We believe these to be true. Yet I recently read that computer-generated videos are now so good they look like reality. Soon you might see a video of yourself that looks like your friend just took it on his phone, but it’s completely computer-generated. You didn’t do those things and weren’t in that place. It’s all fiction, if fact, a lie. We will have to get used to questioning even what we see with our own eyes. Soon, “seeing” will not be “believing” anymore. It will cause us to really question what is real and what is not.

What is real and what is illusion? This has been one of the great metaphysical questions of life for millennia. Some of you will remember learning in school about Plato’s analogy of the prisoners in a cave. The fire casts shadows on the wall of the cave—reflections of people on the wall are all the prisoners can see. They think what they see is real, but it’s only a reflection of reality, an illusion. Life is like that. Things are not what they seem to be. It’s often hard to tell what is reality and what is illusion. Here is one to think about it.

The real world is what you are experiencing right now, right here. Everything that takes you away from your own experience of the “here and now” is an unreal distraction. In fact, our whole lives here on this earth are an opportunity to experience. Even though it’s not permanent, the present moment experience is the only thing that is real to us. What you experienced a moment ago is gone forever. It’s now a memory. And memories aren’t really real, however comforting or terrifying they might be. What you will experience a moment from now is just speculation. The future is always unknowable, even the immediate future, and we waste far too much time and energy speculating about it rather than appreciating the experience of the present moment.

Yet even our experience is malleable. Experiences are partly a sensory perception of the physical world, and partly our own mental interpretation of the sensory experience. Look again at the photo of me canoeing. It’s obviously raining. I could experience the rain and also experience being annoyed because my holiday is ruined by bad weather. Why isn’t the sun shining? Why is God spoiling my holiday? Or I could experience the blessed relief of rain, preventing sunburn and maybe skin cancer. I could experience the joy of water on my skin (I love water), the taste of the clean rain as it drips down my face and into my mouth, enjoy the artistry of the tiny rain splashes on the calm lake. Although I can’t control the weather, my experience of the present moment is largely in my control. I experience what I choose to experience. So do you.

In the midst of whatever struggles, joys, tragedies, or triumphs the present moment brings to you, realize that every momentary experience is a blessing and an opportunity. Life is good, even what we think is bad. “Judge not” your ever-present momentary experiences. Just appreciate them as real life.

God Bless You!

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