The Nature of Reality

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Hello everyone! I'm a philosophy undergraduate from Maine and I wrote this essay for my 300 level university Ecology and Spirituality class (first real paper I've written)... I was trying to complete and articulate part of my world view. Please let me know what you think... have you any logical opposing arguments? If you notice any errors in my logic Please! let me know- I very much want to improve this paper. Thanks : )

Submitted: September 04, 2009

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Submitted: September 04, 2009

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We would be wise to choose a moderate course when making use of the Earth that supports us both in body and mind. Because we live on a planet with finite resources and an ever increasing population, it clearly makes sense to stop using more than we need and to stop producing more people than the earth can comfortably support. As the physics law of the Conservation of Energy (the first law of thermodynamics) tells us, this is where we will always be; even Heaven is within the system of everything. Our choices now affect all that is and all that ever will be, as all that ever will be is already here (in one form or another). Because we ultimately don't know what the true nature of reality is it is safest to live a life of moderation, and moderation is what we and the planet need.

We stand to lose much of what can be considered the good in life by avoiding our responsibility to utilize our environment in a fair and just way. What would the pleasure in life be if we sat in stuffy offices and around the television all the time? The beautiful trees are the lungs of the world and provide shade to read a book. The sight of a child playing in a pile of leaves has the ability to warm our hearts probably a little bit more than if they were jumping about on a steel fixture in a concrete playground.

The softest, brightest morning sunlight fell on the dry grass and the stems of the trees in the opposite horizon and on the leaves of the shrub oaks on the hillside, while our shadows stretched long over the meadow east ward, as if we were the only motes in its beams. It was such a light as we could not have imagined a moment before, and the air also was so warm and serene that nothing was wanting to make a paradise of that meadow. When we reflected that this was not a solitary phenomenon, never to happen again, but that it would happen forever and ever, an infinite number of evenings, and cheer and reassure the latest child that walked there, it was more glorious still. (Thoreau: p 31: (C))

That's the good in life. The profound resides in the simple.

What is reality? In his essay On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings famous American philosopher and father of psychology, William James, so magnificently provides, "[H]ow insensible, each of us, to all that makes life significant for the other! ... As you sit reading the most moving romance you ever fell upon, what sort of a judge is your fox-terrier of your behavior? With all his good will toward you, the nature of your conduct is absolutely excluded from his comprehension. To sit there like a senseless statue, when you might be taking him to walk and throwing sticks for him to catch! What queer disease is this that comes over you every day, of holding things and staring at them like that for hours together, paralyzed of motion and vacant of all conscious life? ...

... The spectator's judgment is sure to miss the root of the matter, and to possess no truth. The subject judged knows a part of the world of reality which the judging spectator fails to see, knows more while the spectator knows less…" (p 229 – 231 (D)) The blindness of which James spoke is the blindness that we all experience when it comes to knowing what a tree is, because we are not a tree.

Most of us usually communicate using just one language, and usually that is a human language, understood only by humans. But why do we talk only with each other? Why do we, for the most part, only embrace the other if it happens to take the shape of a human body? We find ourselves here in what is a big, beautiful world with many marvelously wonderful creatures and trees and beings of all sorts. There is so much to explore outside of ourselves. These are the pleasures of the soul. In his essay, Jungian Psychology and the World Unconscious, Depth psychologist Dr. Stephen Aizenstat writes, "Imagine a world in which carpenter knows beaver, lawyer knows eagle, philosopher knows the silence of the deep night." (p 96: (E))

Despite the enormous amount of awesome beauty that can be found and experienced in our world, it is obvious that life entails much unnecessary suffering too. Much of this is the result of people who, for whatever reason (usually unintentionally), have chosen to view and subsequently treat what is perceived as other from them in a way that causes harm and destruction. This is most unfortunate for everyone because we live in a world that is a harmony, that is, the web of life is just that, a web. And of course a web is interconnected at many points where each of the several sections within connectedly construct the whole— So each section adds to, and in totality is the Web.

Clearly, when a piece of the Web is somehow damaged or destroyed, imbalance occurs—we humans often cause disharmony through our action choices of overuse of resources and other abuses. Because every thing is interconnected, everything is nature, so this, in effect, affects the whole, you, me, and everyone - all beings- everywhere, including, of course, future generations.

As British philosopher, writer, and speaker, Alan Watts, instructs us in, The Middle Way, "Imagine a multidimensional spider's web in the early morning covered with dew drops. And every dew drop contains the reflection of all the other dew drops. And, in each reflected dew drop, the reflection of all the other dew drops in that reflection. And so ad infinitum..." ((F)) This allows us to see that everything we do affects and is reflected in every other being (or dew drop) in the universe! In this way we can see the world as a mirror reflecting everything we each do unto, through, and within all of everything.

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In The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching Vietnamese teacher, author, and poet, Thich Nhat Hanh writes, "What is a human being? If the trees and the rivers were not here, could human beings be alive? If animals and all other species were not here, how could we be? A human being is made entirely of non-human elements. We must free ourselves of our ideas of [human beings]. 'A human being is not a human being. That is why we can say that he is a human being. ... 'A is not A. That is why it is truly A.' A flower is not a flower. It is made only of non-flower elements- sunshine, clouds, time, space, earth, minerals, gardeners, and so on. A true flower contains the whole universe. If we return any one of these non-flower elements to its source, there will be no flower. That is why we can say, 'A rose is not a rose. That is why it is an authentic rose.'" (p 129 (G)) "To say that the flower exists is not exactly correct, but to say that it does not exist is also not correct."(p 147 (G)) "We have to remove our concept of rose if we want to touch the real rose. ... Our concepts about things prevent us from really touching them. We have to destroy our notions if we want to touch the real rose. ... A real being is quite different from a concept.” (p 129 (G))

We have become very destructively anthropocentric; we absolutely must, if we are to survive as a species, concern ourselves with the entire web of life. But it’s so much more than that; we’re missing a big opportunity here. The world is our canvas, our choices- the paintbrush. Along with many other forces, it is you and I who create the world, moment by moment! We have bird, bear, tree, grass, cloud, man, and rain to work with. If someone gave you this same number of colors to create a masterpiece, would you always paint with the same one? We don’t have to choose one reality, one way of being, and strictly stick with it as if it were the only way. That kills life because life is inherently dynamic. We are merely executing within a world of preconceived notions when we choose one reality (perspective) and grasp onto it calling it Reality; when we do this we are living within our individual reality, not the real ever-changing world.

So you see, it’s all about where we draw the lines…

We need to restore our childlike sense of wonder. The beautiful, strange world around us never left; we just stopped seeing it for what it really is. When we were first born we didn’t know the difference between a ‘this’ and a ‘that’. There are no lines in the life of the very young child, that’s why they stick worms and shoe polish in their mouths. As a new member of the world there was no physical biological dot dot dot borderline between your hand and your arm. Someone taught you where to draw the line; where the division was to be made.

As children, these lines helped to keep us safe because eating things like shoe polish and running into a busy road isn’t a good idea. But as adults we’ve clearly learned those invaluable lessons.What if your doctor said that because of either hypothermia or diabetes, or whatever it is, we have to cut your hand off, but you get to define what your hand is, as you've always been doing. Now, where would this dotted line go? You see how the boundaries and the borders that we set up WE set up? YOU set up?

“Every single thing in your life that you think is impossible ... As a baby you used to think you could fly. And maybe to the casual observer you couldn't even sit up; you couldn't even run; you couldn't even ride a bike. But in your mind you could fly- and you did. When you were playing with the Barbie dolls or GI Joe characters you were actually there on the battle field or inside that pink Corvette. Your mind took you to places that you cannot go now because you've set up boundaries and borders. This is no different than playing a game in a wide open field in Iowa saying that there are walls here, obstacles here, ceilings here, in a wide open grassy field, and then believing it to such an extent that you can't just walk straight through the field, that you actually have to turn and twist, open doors, jump over hoops, to get from one corner to another- Because you have put your mind onto these imaginary lines. And these imaginary lines began when you first partook of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad. ...

... Every single major religion knows about [this tree]. Because it's a simple archetype, whether that tree physically existed or not really doesn't even matter anymore because the archetype, the message that it sends you is that when you take and bite of this fruit of knowledge of good and bad you've accepted that there's a possibility of something being good OR bad. Now you've created duality in your life. This is when Singularity, the World, stops being One.” ((H))

Spiritual guide and author, Don Miguel Ruiz writes, "Everything we do in life is based on the agreements we have made—agreements with ourselves, with other people, with society, with God. But the most important agreements are the ones we make with ourselves. In these agreements we tell ourselves who we are, how to behave, what is possible, what is impossible. We say, 'This is what I am. I can do certain things, and some things I cannot do.'" ((I))

"True Freedom requires unplugging from energy sources that are not authentic to you. Realize that you are free to connect to that which resonates with you on every level of your being." ((J))

To our conscious minds life is about our experiences. In the 1950’s educator, philosopher, and scholar Marshall McLuhan said, in the Socratic sense, “'The medium is the message.' The words you use, the modes of communication you use determine the realities you inhabit. Most of our lives, most of us live in realities determined by others, imprinted in our brains by education, by religion, by politics, by the authorities. McLuhan said, 'If you want to change your mind, change the medium.' Change the words you use. Change the mode of communication. If you change the medium, you change yourself. You change your society. McLuhan said, 'Who controls the media is programming your mind and programming your brain.'” ((K))

We get very sour about life, and it's easy to do because there's so much bad news often and what is construed as news in the media often is bad news, wars and so on. And if we kind of watch that everyday… as Thich Nhat Hanh says, it's a kind of toxic; it's a poison. And we end up becoming- because what it is, it's really telescoping dramas from all over the world into your own living room in a TV or newspaper and it's all being telescoped. And so you're seeing, rather you're not seeing Reality. You say, Oh, some people say, this is reality, you’ve got to face reality. Well it's not really reality, not from this deeper level. ... Reality is really experiencing the present, really enjoying and loving the present. Then what's going on on the other end of the world obviously has an impact but one doesn't have to get attached to it and obsessed with it, and follow it and build one's hopes and wishes on those things.

If we don’t give others the opportunity, the permission to shape our lives, our thoughts and actions, then they can’t. When we take control of our eyeballs and our eardrums life becomes calmer, more enjoyable, more about the moment. It's amazing what an odd experience really experiencing the moment in and as the moment for nothing but what it really is is. Just being should not be odd!

For many of us life has become a race- a competition. Much of the race that we are running isn't so much about survival, but rather it is an effort to measure up to completely synthetic ideals. And too, we often purchase items that we don't need in an attempt to flee from depression, or to feel as though we have gained some previously lacking control over our lives. All of this is the pursuit of the glittered city that holds the counterfeit gem. The real gem lies within "a manner of living that is outwardly more simple and inwardly more rich, a way of being in which our most authentic and alive self is brought into direct and conscious contact with living." ((M)) “Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.” (Aesop)

Since we've presumably no last word way of knowing if our own perception, that is, interpretation, of the world and the phenomena in it is reflective of what is actually going on here in the universe (and it probably isn't), it is safest to tread the middle path throughout our life. To embrace the Middle Way means to be moderate in our viewpoints and actions. Mindfulness naturally leads to moderation and practicing mindfulness in all that we do is incredibly healing!

The goal of mindfulness is to 'see' beyond the lines that we have encapsulated phenomena in; the aim is to see things as they really are. To practice mindfulness is to consciously live each moment in a state of objective awareness and acceptance. When we physically or mentally morph the object of our perception we are no longer experiencing it, but rather we are experiencing a construction of our own. So to be upset by what we perceive is to be duped because what we perceive is (almost certainly) not what is objectively there."[T]hrough mindfulness practice the metacognitions shift from evaluating thoughts as personal and dangerous, to seeing thoughts as impersonal and part of the passing show" ((A))

Practicing mindfulness is to pay attention to what we're doing and thinking as opposed to being driven by our habits. It means not allowing ourselves to operate on autopilot; to suspend interpreting through our preconceived notions whatever is being observed or experienced—to see what is called a tree as opposed to seeing ‘a tree’. It is to embrace each moment in the now and to attend moment by moment to what objectively exists as opposed to attending to one’s subjective interpretation of a phenomenon (i.e.: a tree or ones thoughts). It is to look at everything from the outside in as a spectator witnessing each unique particular; for no two snowflakes, or thought processes, or anything else for that matter are ever identical; that is, you cannot walk in the same river twice.

When we are mindful we are being an authentic participant in life and an authentic observer of life. The task is to look at our life and society and everything else as an unbiased spectator as if we were just hurled down from planet Whatever to see and otherwise perceive wholly new phenomena. It is to be one with our experience. For example, when we’re washing the dishes we look at the dish, feel the temperature of the water, experience the texture and smell of the soap. That is, we do the dishes mindfully as opposed to say, thinking of what we have to do in three hours. It is an exercise in observation; of being totally involved and committed to what you are doing at the moment, of giving it your full attention. In doing this we relax; we become more aware; more open. In short, mindfulness is to view ones experience from outside of the self- as an objective spectator; it is to not operate on autopilot; and it is to practice “the process of intentionally attending moment by moment with openness and nonjudgmentalness” ((A)) to all that we perceive.

“To the extent that we are able to observe the contents of consciousness, we are no longer completely embedded in or fused with such content. For example, if we are able to see it, then we are no longer merely it; i.e., we must be more than it. Whether the it is pain, depression, or fear, [mindfulness] allows one to dis-identify from thoughts, emotions, and body sensations as they arise, and simply be with them instead of being defined (i.e., controlled, conditioned, determined) by them. Through [the practice of mindfulness] one realizes, ‘this pain is not me,’ ‘this depression is not me,’ ‘these thoughts are not me,’ as a result of being able to observe them from [the outside looking in].” ((A))

“Through [mindfulness], the stories (e.g., about who we are, what we like or dislike, our opinions about others, etc.) that were previously identified with so strongly become simply 'stories'. In this way, there is a profound shift in one’s relationship to thoughts and emotions, the result being greater clarity, perspective, objectivity, and ultimately equanimity.” ((A))

Thich Nhat Hanh provides a good example for us in The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, "While walking in the woods with a group of children last year, I noticed one of the little girls thinking for a long time. Finally, she asked me, 'Grandfather monk, what color is that tree's bark?' 'It is the color that you see,' I told her. I wanted her to enter the wonderful world that was right in front of her. I did not want to add another concept"; (p 60 (G)) this is the language of Zen. A concept is a view, and from the viewpoint of ultimate reality, Right View (a Buddhist teaching) is the absence of all views.

This can of course be hard at first, that is, it can take some time getting used to paying attention to that which we psychologically habituate out. Usually whatever activity we find ourselves doing a lot, if carefully examined, we see that much of the execution of our action(s) is done on autopilot. Like when we're commuting home from the workday and suddenly we find our self at our destination but we don't remember experiencing Reading Rd. or traveling down the all too familiar Plots Drive either. That which is different is often that which is funny to people precisely because we psychologically habituate out what is normal, that is, what our senses are used to perceiving and our filters are used to filtering. Funniness often comes from weirdness. All of these things are easily noticed when we are mindful of what it is that we are observing. When we allow ourselves to see beyond the lines, that is the containers, that others have drawn and encapsulated phenomena in— When we see and then name the 'tree', and then, when we realize that we cannot name the tree— we become Free. "I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing." (Socrates)

Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) seeks to free one from the tendency of being drawn into automatic reactions to thoughts, feelings, and events; the goal is to respond to things as opposed to reacting to them. That is to say that the goal is to Live as opposed to Executing. Living can only be done in the present moment because the past is already gone and the future has yet to come. Thus, when we fully embrace the present moment we are living; and conversely, when we are functioning on autopilot or otherwise reacting through preconceived notions we are merely executing in a way not very different from that of a computer program. There are many reasons that we do this; it's the safe bet (i.e.: such and such method has worked before so I'll do it the same way again). But again this way of functioning cannot really be called living. Each unique particular deserves its own analysis --> reaction cycle; to skip over the fresh analysis is to render a result based on incomplete processing, which would be similar to randomly choosing what college courses to take.

University Philosophy Professor Joseph Grange writes in Nature: An Environmental Cosmology, "In its originality life expresses an exceptional spontaneity. Freshness is the mood and tone of all living things. ... [I]t is the sense of spontaneous and fresh joy that is characteristic of life in its most original guise." ((N))

The study of mindfulness and thus MBCT interventions is still in its infancy in the West, but promising results have been reported from the first comprehensive study comparing TAU (Treatment As Usual) to MBCT intervention targeted specifically at the prevention of depression relapse in recovered clients. For clients with three or more previous episodes of depression, risk of relapse over 60 weeks was 66% in the TAU group as compared to 37% in the MBCT group. ((B)) In this case the practice of mindfulness certainly appears to have led to moderation, which makes sense because mindfulness results in a thorough examination of things, revealing extremes for what they are, expensive and generally unproductive.

As the physics law of the Conservation of Energy (the first law of thermodynamics) tells us, this is where we will always be; even Heaven is within the system of everything.

I am aware that at least some religious texts claim that Heaven exists outside of the physical world, but our [experience(observance)/logic/reasoning] tells us that every container is contained within another container, all of which is contained within one ‘last’ and ‘final’ 'container'. That is if we are to divide things up, meaning, if we are to create/acknowledge limits and boundaries distinguishing a 'this' from a 'that'. Either way, everything can ultimately be seen as one system because everything is, in some way, dependent on everything else. So everything is part of the whole, and thus each individual thing or entity ultimately is the whole itself. Therefore, we are currently experiencing ourselves within the ‘soup’ of everything within which Heaven also exists.

So here we have a discrepancy, at least. This is a problem; both claims cannot be true in any sense of the world that we know. In life, whenever we are faced with a task of any scope (a problem to solve) the first question is always ‘What do we know?’ So here too should we not ask ‘What do we know?’ Why would the question change in this case; why should we approach it differently than any other? It doesn’t seem to make sense.

Our choices now affect all that is and all that ever will be, as all that ever will be is already here (in one form or another). From a physics point of view and from a human standpoint the first law of thermodynamics assures us that none of the energy that we invest in anything is ever wasted. Thus, we should take care of our planet because on some level this is where we will always be.

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” (Gautama Siddharta (a Buddha))

But never stop questioning! If we don’t question everything then we are bound to end up the victim of authority more often than we would if we were brave enough to seek the truth and assert our equality equality that we have by reason of uncertainty.

We find ourselves in a world where we must use non-human nature for our own survival, but use and abuse are clearly two very different things. If we take care of ourselves and don't abuse what is considered other than ourselves (other sections of the web), then we are doing our part and living an authentic life. When we act in this way the whole not only survives, but functions well, that is, it achieves the harmony that it naturally is when it isn't suffering imbalance due to abuse.

‘United we stand, divided we fall.’ doesn’t only apply to countries and people. To protect humans we must protect that which is not human. When we give the harmonious relations of the world our due attention Nature returns yet another gift, that of absolute joy! Such are the fruits of mindfulness!

"When more of us become free then we can create a world that is aligned with our integrity and value systems.” ((O)) Whatever you believe insofar as God and or religion goes - Whether there is a Heaven in the sky or elsewhere or not isn't relevant to the fact that we have the tools that it takes tools that are especially available when we practice mindfulness- to create heavens on earth— Paradises.

Life is a dynamic harmony of tensions. Appropriately, American psychologist and writer, Ralph Metzner, compared our life on earth to that of a cancerous tumor when he wrote, "An organism cannot continue to function healthily if one group of cells decides to dominate and cannibalize the other energy systems of the body."



References:


A. Shapiro, Carlson, Astin, Freedman, Mechanisms of Mindfulness. Retrieved April 25, 2009, from thezensite Web site: http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/Miscellaneous/Mechanisms_of_Mindfulness.html

B. Teasdale, J.D., Segal, Z.V., Williams, J.M.G., et al. (2000) Prevention of Relapse/Recurrence in Major Depression by Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68, 615-623

C. Gottlieb, R. S. (Ed.). (2004). This Sacred Earth. New York, NY: Routledge.

D. James, W. (1916). Talks to Teachers on Psychology: And to Students on Some of Life's Ideals. New York: H. Holt and Company.

E. Roszak, T., Mary E. Gomes, Allen D. Kanner (Ed.). (1995). Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth- Healing the Mind. San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books.

F. Watts, A. Retrieved April 25, 2009, from Google Video Web site: http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=7979952612060930063

G. Hanh, T.N. (1999). The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching. New York: Broadway Books.

H. Retrieved April 25, 2009, from YouTube Web site: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KUP1khi2uaA&feature=channel_page

I. Ruiz, D.M. (2003). Wisdom from the Four Agreements. Peter Pauper Press, Inc.

J. Bertsch, B.D. Becoming Free. Retrieved April 25, 2009, from Bryan D. Bertsch Web site:
http://bryanbertsch.com:8080/bb/downloads/Becoming%20Free.pdf

K. Leary, T. Retrieved April 25, 2009, from YouTube Web site: www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQq_XmhBTgg

L. Curran, H. PAX350. Retrieved April 25, 2009, from The Way of Zen- Alan Watts (Class Lecture video)

M. (2009, April, 25). Simple Living. Retrieved April 25, 2009, from Wikipedia Web site: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simple_living

N. Grange, J. (1997). Nature: An Environmental Cosmology. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.


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