Illusions, written by Richard Bach and first published in 1970s after his enormously popular Jonathan Livingston Seagull, is one of my all-time favorite books. I believe its wisdom contains answers to all of life’s problems.
In the book, Richard – Bach’s alter-ego protagonist — is a burnt-out writer who chooses to live as a barnstorming pilot, flying his antique bi-plane through the nation’s farm belt,flying from meadow to meadow, giving biplane rides for $3 per person.
Richard has a chance meeting with another barnstorming pilot, Donald Shimoda, who, it turns out, is now a “reluctant” Messiah, tired of being a Messiah because he has seen that people are more interested in the glitter of miracles than in the substance of his teachings. Shimoda chooses Richard to be his apprentice and to replace him as a Messiah.
I’ve read the book about 30 times – it’s easy reading, probably about two hours — and just this week I read it aloud to a friend. It had been a couple of years since I read it, and this time I saw that what Bach called illusions in the 70’s can now be labeled our“virtual reality.”
Here’s what I mean by virtual reality:
We humans come into this world with a blank canvas, free of judgments and evaluations. We use our five senses to inspect, judge and evaluate our experiences of the world,and this fills up our “canvas.”
This canvas, with all our interpretations of our past experiences, is our unique universe, which I think of as our personal and unique virtual reality. It’s analogous to our fingerprints. Our fingerprints may look the same from a distance, but on closer inspection they are unique, just as our perceptions and experiences are unique. On the whole, we humans are similar, but we are all vastly different in our experiences, judgments and evaluations, and this makes each of us unique.
For example, you and a friend may see a bowl of peanuts, and your friend can’t get enough of them while you are allergic and have to avoid them. Your friend’s virtual reality is, “Eat those peanuts – they’re fantastic!” and yours is, “If I eat those peanuts, it’s a trip to the hospital or possible death.” Everything is subjective. You may love a book that your friend hates. It’s why one person loves me while another wants nothing to do with me.
Each virtual reality has within it some content that is commonly agreed on – we all agree that water is wet and a rock is hard — while other content is always “iffy” and constantly debated: some people think Democrats are the good guys while others think Republicans are the good guys. Shimoda’s teaching is simple and elegant, and shows us all that it’s an illusion!
When Richard questions seeing the world as illusions, Shimoda explains that the answer is all in our perception. Nothing is real other than the way we “hold” it (that is, the way we interpret it). At a personal level, I think of this as our tendency to experience our feelings as if they are facts, and then casting them, mistakenly, into concrete facts.
Most of us have had the experience of feeling right about something and feeling that the other person is wrong, and we act as if what we feel is a fact,only to discover later that the other person is right – or at least equally right and entitled to his or her point of view. I’ve learned that just because I feel strongly that I’m right doesn’t mean I’m right; it just means I feel strongly that I’m right!
IT’S ALL AN ILLUSION, WITH NOTHING CAST IN CONCRETE.
Enlightenment begins when we recognize that everything is simply our perception. This gives us the ability to get over things that are difficult for us emotionally, for example, the sense of desolation that comes from the breakup of a relationship. When this happens, you experience pain and sadness, and, although for a time you may have the illusion that they are permanent, these emotions are the feelings that come with loss, and they are just part of a full life.
Every time I read Illusions, I re-experience the understanding and remember that the whole universe is simply my illusion. Nothing can really hurt me because my virtual reality, my unique planet, can’t be destroyed since it’s all an illusion; it’s all my own virtual reality; I made it all up.
In situations that don’t fit my picture, initially I may react uncomfortably. Recognizing that that this is just the result of my illusion that things should fit my picture helps me to be lighter, less defensive, less angry, and to find a sense of humor about life. It helps me see that what looks catastrophic to me is just the world not fitting my picture.
The world is eighteen billion– that’s eighteen thousand million – years old, while it’s estimated that we humans have been here far less than one million years. The planet will continue going on long after the cosmic second that will be my fully-lived life. In the meantime, I have a choice: I can enjoy that cosmic second or not.
One of my main take-aways comes near the end of the book,
when Donald Shimoda takes Richard to the movies to demonstrate that our lives are like going to the movies. We go to the movies for either entertainment or education. We have a choice of what kind of movies we want to see: action-adventure, comedy, drama, documentaries, and so on, and we run our lives just like choosing the types of movies we like. Some of us like romantic movies, some family dramas, some horror movies – any of the huge range of possible kinds of movies — and we use these themes as filters through which we choose to experience and create our lives.
Hence, some of us are drama queens while others are monks on silent retreat and others choose one of an infinite number of other choices. The choice is ours.
Reading Illusions reinforces my belief that the key to a successful life is knowing that
1. The voice in my head isn’t me
2. Feelings are not facts
3. We must quiet the voice in our head
4. Being mindful (being in the present, making intentional choices rather than being controlled by our past-based interpretations) leads to our experiencing more fulfillment and joy in our lives
5. This wisdom is RENTED; we never own it, and we continually need to get back on track when something knocks us off our enlightened pathway.
- 5 Sep, 2013
- Posted by Steve Fogel
- 0 Comments