Simple illusions and multi-layered illusions.
Illusions are just illusions.
In an earlier post, I wrote that ideas are illusions. They have to be, I argued. Must be.
What we perceive of reality must be an illusion. Must be.
The conventional self is an illusion, too. Check and see.
So how could ideas not be illusions as well?
I described my experience looking at an idea -- the happiness I felt as I wrote that post. I looked carefully, which is what you do to see if something is an illusion or not. I saw it as an illusion. And as the illusion disappeared, as I saw through it, I found myself looking at something better -- life with one illusion less.
Would it also be true for sadness and anger? I wondered. What if I did the same thing?
...will it work? I don't know. I'm not angry. Or sad. Or depressed. I kind of wish I was. I almost can't wait.
Be careful what you "kind of wish for." You may just "kind of get it."
A day later, it was utter exhaustion and sadness. I didn't try looking at the exhaustion to see if it was an illusion, but after a day of exhaustion, nothing was done, I was sad. And I decided to examine that sadness to see if it was an illusion.
It was. But there was a trick.
Pay attention, and I'll tell you what I learned.
Some ideas are pleasant and useful. Like happiness. We'd like to keep happiness around. And if we looked at something like happiness, we might see it as an illusion or not. If not, it'd be a welcome thought. If we did, it'd be a welcome illusion. Whatever it was, it would be welcome. And it might persist even after being looked at. We might hope it would persist.
Other ideas are unpleasant, even harmful. Like sadness. We'd like to get rid of sadness. If we looked at sadness and saw it was an illusion, we'd want to dispose of it and quickly, too. Or replace it with a happier illusion.
So, on a theoretical basis, we can expect that an unpleasant illusion will be gotten rid of if it's seen as an illusion, and it will persist only if it's not obviously an illusion.
The guiding rule I got from "Waking Up" (in my words, not Sam Harris') for determining whether something is an illusion is this: "If you look at something closely and it disappears, it was an illusion. If it changes into something else, then it was probably an illusion. Only if it persists, unchanged, except perhaps for detail, can you begin to believe that it's not an illusion.
I examined self; the closer I looked, the more certain I became: there's no self there, only the world. Self was gone. An illusion.
I examined happiness; again -- the closer I look, the more I saw the world and not my happiness. Happiness was gone. An illusion.
Now, faced with sadness, I did the same thing-- I looked. And I felt even sadder. The sadness did not disappear. It didn't fade out. It got worse. So happiness is an illusion, but sadness was not. Soren Kierkegaard would like that. It's not an illusion.
I looked more carefully. If looking at sadness had lightened the feeling, it would have encouraged me to look again, look still closer. If I did that, then perhaps it would have vanished. But looking at sadness worsened the feeling. And that encouraged me to stop looking, which ...
...but it did change! The fact that it got worse was a change. So maybe...
I looked more closely and saw the change again, and then the pattern came clear. The more I looked, the sadder I got. The superficial sadness was an illusion -- but it was hiding a deeper sadness. I looked at that. Also, an illusion, hiding even more sadness. I looked again. And got sadder. And then again. And then suddenly, some number of layers down, no sadness to be found. Just me and the universe.
Sadness gone. All of it. So an illusion.
And if you think about it, it makes sense for happiness to be one kind of illusion and for sadness to be another. I'm not saying that one of these is how my particular sadness came about. But these are reasonable explanations, and one of them, or a blend of them, or something like them, might fit.
1. If someone designed an unpleasant illusion and if wanted it to persist, here's what they'd do: They'd create the most unpleasant illusion they could create. On top of that they'd layer another illusion, not quite so bad. And on top of that, one that was still less unpleasant. As the outer illusions dissolved (or whatever they do) the inner, worse thing would appear. The inspection would stop, and the illusion would persist. Done. Not saying there's an evil twin inside my head doing this, but if there was one, that's what he would do.
2. If mental phenomena evolve -- instead of being designed -- the ones that survived would be the ones that persisted most effectively. A mild feeling of sadness -- easy too look at it, glance at it, and it's gone -- would not have much success. Even an intense sadness -- hard to look at it, but once you look, it's gone -- would not have much success. A layered illusion -- changes when you look at it, but it gets better, so encouraging further examination -- would do better, but still, it would disappear. But, the kind of layered illusion I've described -- crappy on the outside and horrible awful on the inside -- would do the best.
3. Supposing a mental experience like sadness arises and instead of looking to see if it is an illusion, We accept it as real and "try to make it better." And we do. It's better. Now we've got a bad illusion, not gone, with a layer of “better” on top of it. An illusion within an illusion. Lather, rinse, repeat, and there you have it.
Three ways to build what I experienced.
Whatever the mechanism of operation, my self-conducted, admittedly confirmation-bias-prone experiment seems to confirm what thousands of years of practice by mindfulness students have found: all mental phenomena are illusions. Some simple. Some complex. All illusions.
So what about tomorrow? What illusions will tomorrow bring?
It might be exhaustion. It's 1:33, and I haven't slept yet. So is exhaustion an illusion? Or is some part of it an illusion?
I don't know. But I'm looking forward to finding out.