The illusion of reality
Sam Harris has this great metaphor for the experience of waking up, which I've written about here:
Imagine you're in a theater, watching a movie. You are immersed in the story. Your attention is captured. You are emotionally engaged. Then suddenly you realize that you're sitting in a theater, surrounded by other people, watching light projected on a screen. A moment ago you were entranced -- in a trance. Now, for a moment you are in a different state. You're still aware of the story that's still playing out on the screen--but you are also aware that you are outside that story. You are not in the story, but watching it. That particular spell is broken. That's "awake." He says: "Most of us spend every waking moment lost in the movie of our lives."
I've had that experience many times since reading about it. It's great when it happens. And when it happens, if I remember, I do another thing that I learned reading his book:
He says: the way you tell an illusion from something real is to examine it. You look at it more closely, more deliberately. If you examine something and it changes to something completely different--or disappears entirely, that's a sign that what you first saw was an illusion.
So now as soon I "wake up" and feel that "I," my "self," am no longer in my usual trance, I look to try to examine "that which is now awake." When I do this, when I turn my attention toward whatever I just identified as "my self" when I "look" in a direction I would describe as "inward" I IMMEDIATELY feel my attention shoot "outward" toward the rest of the world. I have an immediate sense of WOW!!! And I'm even more awake
I check to see if I am an illusion. Seems like I am.
But today's waking up experience was different. I don't know if I can convey it to you. I don't know if I'll be able to recreate it for myself. But I'm going to try.
Imagine you're in a theater, watching a movie. Really do this. Stop reading for a moment, and imagine it.
Continue. And imagine each step.
You are immersed in the story. Your attention is captured. You are emotionally engaged. You've had that experience before.
Now imagine that you suddenly realize that you can control the movie!
With your mind!
You know the movie is an illusion projected on a screen. And at the same time, you realize that you can sit there and control the illusion. With your mind.
Well, not the whole movie, but you can control one of the characters. Not perfect, but still pretty cool.
How do you do it? You have no idea. There's no connection between you, sitting in the theater, and the projector. But still, you can do it.
Imagine having this experience:
You're reading this post. You're immersed in what you are doing. Your attention is captured. You are emotionally engaged.
And suddenly, you realize that it's an illusion. You realize that what you are perceiving comes from photons striking objects, proceeding into your eyes, hitting your retinal cells, firing neurons which fire other neurons, racketing around in your brain. And somehow, you (another illusion, remember) are aware of this.
You realize that you are perceiving an illusion. Whatever reality is, you are not perceiving it. You are not waking up and realizing that what you thought was reality is really light, projected on a wall. Instead, you are waking up and realizing that what you thought was reality was neurons firing in a brain.
You realize it's an illusion. And then, suddenly, you realize that I can control part of the illusion. With my mind!
I can change what's going on.
I can do it with my mind.
And then I realize my mind is another illusion. There is no "thing" called a mind. It's just another bunch of neurons firing.
And then, I realized that there was one more illusion.