Over the many years that I have been exploring the spiritual side of life, one of the concepts that has, quite frankly, baffled me is the idea that everything we know and see in the physical world is an illusion. My head always argues that the chair in front of me, the trees I see outside, the cars passing by, the people I love, all LOOK and FEEL very real! And of course they are.
When I came across an understanding of how the mind works, and how our experience of life is created (called the Three Principles or Inside out paradigm) this concept slowly started to make sense. And what’s more, I can now see how understanding this, even a little bit, is helpful in our lives.
We can define that which is an illusion, as that which is temporary or changes - even if it takes a million years to change or one nano-second. And that which is real, is that which is not changing or is permanent. (Already my analytical head can be on board with this!)
So this begs the question, by this definition, what is illusion and what is real?
Using the above definition, we can see that EVERYTHING in our physical world falls into the category of illusion. All of nature changes form, dies and does not remain the same. Even our beautiful planet is most likely to completely change form (or die) in some millions or billions of years’ time.
Also, all human experience falls into the illusion category too. It is often said that the only constant in life is change. Our thoughts and beliefs change on a daily basis, our emotions too. Relationships begin and end; money and jobs come and go; our bodies grow old and change shape. NOTHING in our human experience is permanent, and is therefore an illusion.
So what is it that is permanent? Almost all spiritual and religious traditions teach that the animating, intelligent energy within the universe is the only thing that is truly permanent. Even if you don’t believe in a god, or the spiritual element of life, there is an energy within nature that drives life on earth and throughout the universe – the energy that spins the planets, keeps gravity in place, beats our hearts, grows babies and changes the seasons. To me, this all-that-is formless energy seems to be the only permanent thing in our universe. As the first Law of Thermodynamics states “energy can neither be created nor destroyed; energy can only be transferred or changed from one form to another”. Everything that has taken form in our world (and everything not in form, the potential that is yet to come) is made of this one energy, which simply changes form.
How is this lofty spiritual discussion helpful in practical terms?!
From my own experience, I used to think of myself as a pretty fixed type of person. And I would defend myself and the person I believed myself to be. Criticism hit pretty hard, and I didn’t take it well. After exploring this new paradigm of understanding, and I came to know that my thinking is creating my feelings, including those about who I am. And furthermore that thoughts are transient, ever-changing, and therefore by their very nature, an illusion. So therefore any long held beliefs I may hold about myself, others and the world are open to change, are not ‘real’ in the permanent sense, and don’t have to be believed. I have found this incredibly liberating. It no longer makes much sense to keep looking at what is already formed for a sense of self – my thoughts, emotions, beliefs, my body etc. These are temporary, changeable and therefore an illusion. Looking at the part of myself that doesn’t change – the eternal energy that runs through me that we can call Soul, wisdom, innate intelligence, resilience, compassion….love, seems a much better place to put my focus, instead of on the totally changeable and made-up human part of myself.
This doesn’t mean that I am denying my emotions, or not enjoying being this human being. I definitely am! In fact I now find myself allowing all emotions to be OK, where I used to try to deny or suppress them. It means I am less caught up with trying the change, manipulate or make better this human experience, as I know it changes all the time…and is an illusion anyway (even if it is hopefully an illusion of many years of life!).
I find myself less caught up in trying to fix, or control, that which is changing and transient within myself. And less controlling of how the energy of life is unfolding around me, and within me. This takes SO much off my to-do-list!! Once we see through an illusion, we don’t waste time trying to fix it. For example, if a child is frightened by the shadows on a wall at night, once that child knows they aren’t real, that they are an illusion or trick of the light, it wouldn’t make any sense to help that child with strategies or behaviours to manage the fear of the shadows. The understanding of what the shadows are, in and of itself, dissolves the fear.
There is a transient part of me, of us all (my experiences, emotions, beliefs, body, thoughts) and a permanent part of me (the energy within me that by its nature is made of love, compassion, wisdom and resilience). I find a sense of security and peace from knowing that this permanent part of us is always there, can be relied upon and is guiding us very gracefully through this life. It is the very essence of who we are, and as such we can never be separated from it.
We all get caught up in the illusion of life, believing our thoughts and beliefs, seeing them as ‘real’ and as having meaning. And this is totally OK too of course. I believe we are in a constant process of remembering and forgetting who we really are. But the more time we are able to remember our true nature, that which is real, the more at peace we become.
Lindsey Elliott is a Wellbeing & Resilience Coach, energy healer and meditation teacher working in Brighton and online. She offers one to one coaching in a life-changing paradigm of understanding about how the human experience is created. With this understanding you can move from feeling insecure, stressed, anxious or unfulfilled to happy, secure, inspired, peaceful and filled with love.
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