How real is your reality?

Aug 03 2011 by Peter Vajda Print This Article

If you put 200 completely different people in a theatre and then project the world going by in real time, you would probably hear 200 different opinions, reactions, observations and judgments on what they're viewing. But why?

As people sit and watch the world go by, the reactions and responses to what they're seeing is being guided and shaped by their "internal map of reality". While "reality" is what is passing by on the screen, those viewing it are doing so from their own "inside reality" – their beliefs, assumptions, perceptions and misperceptions, the premises and "stories" they've created to describe their experiences.

No two people are "hardwired" the same. Thus, their views about life are products of their respective life experiences, beginning at birth.

So what is "real" reality and what is the reality that is "created" by the viewer's interpretation of what they're experiencing? The answer to this question can help us understand why we experience so much conflict in dealing ourselves and with others, be it at work, at home or at play.

In Zen and Buddhism, a "koan" is a challenging question or statement that encourages reflection, so leading to a higher state of understanding or awareness. There is a Zen koan that says: "Show me your original face before you were born." A variation is: "Without thinking of good or evil, show me your original face before your mother and father were born."

This koan asks us to stretch towards our real and authentic self – the self we are/were before we were born. In this process, we transcend our "database" of thoughts and beliefs, moving to a place of no-mind – where we experience reality as it truly is and ourselves as we truly are. Our true face before we were born is actually who we were (and still are!) before we were shaped and crafted by our "life experience".

"No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true." - Nathaniel Hawthorne

The koan is not meant to cause a reactive: "Hey, how can I have a face, or exist, before I was born?" or "Hey, I don't believe in evolution." But it is a question of "Who am I without my set of beliefs or my image of myself or an identity that I've adopted for myself?"

Reflecting on the koan, we can begin to see how we've become addicted to our own reality - our beliefs, assumptions, theories, perceptions and perspectives. Deep reflection can also support us to flow in a space of no-mind, an "original space" of mental quietude, unencumbered by our thoughts and thought patterns.

The point of this is that when we become more natural and internally quiet, we can better interact with others - not as a robotic, human collection of beliefs, opinions, or assumptions, etc., but as one who is open, curious, and accepting in the way we experience the world.

We gave (and give) birth to our self every time we draw a conclusion about "who I am." Each time we make a decision about our self – "I'm not good with people," I'm a great manager," "I have problems with difficult people," I'm not very smart," – we reinforce our "subjective face" and move farther away from our "original face".

But we all have an "original face" – who we were before we identified with anything. And we can return to our original face – a place of inner peace and well-being - if we learn to let go of our "false face." This "false face" is full of beliefs and assumptions about who we think we are, beliefs that rarely serve us well but instead cause us pain and suffering.

Some questions for self-reflection

  • When was the last time you experienced your "original face"?
  • Aside from physical elements, what emotional or attitudinal elements obscure your original face?
  • Do you tend to take people, events or circumstances "personally"? If so, why?
  • As a child, did you behave in ways you didn't want to get your parents' attention, love, or approval? Do you still do the same now?
  • If you were sitting in that theatre, would you be able to simply watch and observe without feeling the need to judge or inject your $.02? How about in your everyday world?
  • In addition to your closet of clothes, do you have a closet of faces and personas you put on for different circumstances and people? Why is that?
  • Would folks describe you as authentic? How do you know? Would you ask them? If not, why not?
  • What was being authentic like for you when you were growing up? Were you able to have your "original face"?
  • Can you envision a world where everyone wore their "original face"?

When we don't take the people, events and circumstances of our world personally, we can move into a place of deep relaxation and peace. From here, we can watch the projection of the world go by right in front of us without the need to become reactive. Our experience is one without tension, pretension or phoniness – none of the "should haves" or "ought tos" telling us how to be or what to do.

So, what takes us away from our original face? In a word, survival. First, as young children our survival – physical and psychological – depended on our unconsciously taking on others' beliefs as to how we should behave.

If we behaved accordingly, we "survived". If not, we lost out on love, approval and, for some, on safety and security. As we developed, we took on more and more beliefs, assumptions and ways of doing and being that we felt would help us survive at work, at home and in relationships.

Now, as adults, we no longer have access to our original face. We wear masks. We have various personas we take off and put on daily so we can survive. Having lost our original face, we've become unconsciously controlled by our ego mind as reflected by our inability to just let the world pass by as we sit in that theatre.

When we let go of our false faces, of our need to survive and our habitual patterns of thinking, doing and being, we set ourselves free - free to acknowledge our original face – free from self-limiting, self-defeating, and self-sabotaging thoughts and beliefs.

Our original face is what supports us to see the freshness of life, free of conflict and the need to be judgmental. And only when we wear our original face can we sit in the theatre of life and experience the world without needing to take everything "personally" .

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About The Author

Peter Vajda
Peter Vajda

Peter G. Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a seminar leader, workshop facilitator and speaker. He is the founding partner of True North Partnering, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counselling and facilitating.