When Realities Collide

Reality is an illusion.

This is probably the most important thing I can say in this book. It doesn’t matter what perspective you come from; if you think really hard about what we know and what we do not know – not in terms of assumptions, but in terms of actual knowledge – I think you too must come to this conclusion.

If you look at the world of physics, you will find that nothing is solid. Nothing.

If you look at the world of metaphysics, you will find many distinct dimensions could all be operating at once.

If you study art, you will know that the way one person perceives a sculpture or a painting is not how another sees it.

If you study music, I am sure you’ve found no absolutes for beauty.

If you study social science, you will find the trickiest concept of all is perception.

From my years of studying, I’ve read mountains of materials on physics and metaphysics and I accepted long ago that reality is simply an illusion. What you see in this world, or what you think you see, has everything to do with you and very little to do with what is actually there. Let me give you a couple examples.

Several years ago, my dear friend, Pierre, and I sat on a rock in the middle of a beautiful little lake nestled deep within the Eastern Sierras. If I recall correctly, it was 4th lake up near the Palisades Glaciers. It was late afternoon and the sun had already crested the sky and was well on its way toward the mountain horizon. Pierre and I sat there in silence enjoying the breathtaking view. My mind started to blissfully wander off as I noticed that the rays from the sun were reflecting off the lake and beaming right at me. The sun was directly shining on me. The rays were shimmering off the water and heading directly for me. Or were they? So in this blissful curious state, I leaned to my left side and the rays followed me, skipping across the water to stay exactly aligned with my vision. And then I leaned all the way to my right side and the rays followed me again. Wherever I moved, the sunrays moved with me. This was very cool.

As I started to drift off again thinking about light and the properties of light, I realized something else; I bet the sunrays are heading right for Pierre as well. So I asked, “Hey Pierre, do you see the sun rays on the water? Are they heading right for you?” And of course his answer was yes and the sun rays were directly aligned with his body too. Just that moment, I had a sneaky suspicion and asked Pierre to play along with me.

I had us sit back to back on our rock so that our backs were up against each other and our knees were bent up with our feet flat on the rock in front of us. I asked Pierre, “Ok, so do you still see the sun rays?” He responded yes, that he was still in direct alignment with the sun. I told him, “OK then, I want you to keep looking at the rays, but move your body back and forth with mine.” So as I leaned forward toward my feet, Pierre leaned back. Sure enough, the sun followed both of us as we rocked back and forth. Regardless of what angle we were leaning, we were both still perfectly aligned with the sunbeams sparkling off the lake.

For the final test, I asked Pierre to lean forward again, watching the sun as I learned forward too, moving us in opposite directions. The sun still followed us like it did before.  “Do you see it anywhere else?” I asked Pierre. His answer was no, it is just coming right at me across the lake and is nowhere else.

At the same time, I was experiencing the sunrays in exactly the same way. They were coming right at me and were nowhere else. At this point, please realize our eyes were a good six feet apart and what each of us saw was sunrays reflecting off the water and coming straight at each of us. To each of our perspectives, these rays were only directed toward us individually and were nowhere else on the lake. This made each of our points of view a reality for us individually, but impossible for the other. Had there been a third person with us who stayed right between us and never moved, I seriously doubt the light would have moved at all for the third person. This is the phenomenon of multiple conflicting realties. Who was right? Both of us were. Somehow, we were both right even though it seemed impossible for our individualized “rights” to exist together.

But “who was right?” is a bigger question and what I hear so often in conversations. “I am right.” “No, I am right.” Even worse is when somebody says “I am right” and implies, therefore, you must be wrong. First of all, there is no “right.” Second, making someone else wrong just makes that person defensive, so what good is that? Third, both perspectives could be wrong. Fourth, who made anybody God to judge others? I could go on and on about this type of typical human perspective conflict.

Instead of a right and a wrong (implied or explicit), why don’t we just assume both people are right? How do you think that would affect problem solving? What if you start to hear more of: “Hey, you are right. Hmm… I saw it differently and I am right too… hmm…” Well if we are both right, then what do we need to do to get us to our end result? This is where I have coined the phrase “Fix the problem, not the blame.” It is entirely possible to have conflicting realities that are both right.

Here is an old, but illustrious story. A blind man felt a dark creature in front of him and said, “It is coarse like a wire with fluff at the end of its neck.” Another blind man, who was also feeling the animal but from a different angle, said, “No, no, it must be huge. It is built like a building with great pillars that are wide and round and strong.” A third blind man feeling the same animal from yet a third angle said, “No I think you are both mistaken. It is shaped like a great serpent with soft and smooth skin that is agile enough to pick up and hold a coin.”

Well, all three blind men are correct and incorrect at some level. (In case you haven’t figured it out, the blind men are feeling an elephant.) So many times, I see this story in action in groups. People truly do not see the entire picture because of their vantage and yet are assured their vision is correct and that it is the truth. What they see is an incomplete picture from a single perspective; what they do is make unconscious assumptions and draw a singular confident conclusion. Once they make their conclusion based on their own perspective and couple that with their confidence, they present their truth and immediately imply that others are wrong.  What happens next is the other people in the conversation become defensive as they are assumed wrong and the communication ceases to be effective.

If you are still looking for the lesson here or the answer to the big “so what?” then maybe you can explore how control, ego, and the need to be right affects your daily interaction with others, your ability to problem solve, and the effectiveness of the choices you make. Does it really matter who is right? Why? Does it make you feel better to be right? Why? Does it make you feel worse to be wrong? Why? So what? Who cares?

Allowing ego to get in the way of decision making does little for the relationship or final outcome. It only adds negativity and difficult processes with hurtful emotions. Adults deal a little better than kids but kids will come right out and say things like “I told you so… I was right and you were wrong.” In essence they are saying, “I am a better person than you are.” Even if you, as an adult, have learned not to say it, just thinking it still sends off the same vibe and the same message. Plus, when you come from a place of superiority and arrogance (ego-based places), the depth of your perception usually hinders you from collecting information from others and getting good big-picture data from which to make a good choice. I do not believe that happiness comes from being right. Making yourself right at the expense of others is simply self-aggrandizement and will usually keep you separate and alone, apart from true connection with others and ultimately, yourself.

So what should you do when you think you are right? When your conclusions tell you that you are 1,000 percent correct and other perspectives must therefore be incomplete or just mistaken? Well, I suggest that you consider. There may be many “rights” in any given situation and just move on and do what you feel is necessary. It really brings very little value in relationship to be right and consider others to be wrong. Try considering the notion of multiple rights and see how that works. It might actually surprise you!