Imagining Reality / by Michael Sloyer

If we were to imagine reality, what would it look like? Would it no longer be reality? Would it just be imagination? And in our culture, why does imagination seem to have a better reputation than reality? From our earliest days in school, imagination was always the "cool kid," while reality was the kid with no friends who always got the short end of the stick. 

The bottom line is that it is a lot of responsibility and a bit risky to be satisfied with what we see and have in reality. Extolling imagination over reality means that we do not have to accept responsibility for appreciating the real world. It means that we can hang our hat on what could have been or what might be. It is safer to glorify that which does not exist. Glorifying reality, on the other hand, comes with great responsibility. It means that the answers to the questions “what’s next?” and “what else?” are “nothing next” and “nothing else.” This is it. This is what we got. This is what is.

And what’s so bad about that? This is IT. It’s all about how you say the “it.” An ascending “it” is very different than a descending “it.” The ascending “it” implies satisfaction, contentment, and presence. The descending “it” can imply longing, displeasure, and emptiness. The ascending “it” will often be followed by an exclamation point. The descending “it” will often be followed by a question mark but will really be a statement of discontent disguised in the form of a question.

To be clear, I don’t condemn imagination. I just glorify reality. The visual treats in reality available for our consumption are essentially infinite. Well they are finite in a literal sense, but infinite in a practical sense. From the most pristine of natural landscapes, to the most empty of city alleyways, to the most spectacular of mountain tops, to the most intricate of man made structures, reality is visually awesome. Like totally freakin’ awesome. Nature and humans have teamed to make what, when combined, would be impossible to imagine. So in that sense, reality trumps imagination.

Take the zebra print, for example. It is a truly incredible design. Could the designers at any of the top design firms have really thought of a design like that by themselves? Well maybe they could have, but I doubt they would have. The zebra print is beautiful. Potent. Loud. Elegant. Passionate. Chic. Sexy. Intoxicating. I never really appreciated the zebra print as a naturally occurring design until I got to see zebras in the wild while on safari. I was bedazzled. I could not stop staring. It was mind blowing to contemplate how such an emotion inducing design occurs naturally, in reality, without any imagination or human intervention necessary. And 750,000 zebras get to wear it everyday of their lives without being called “ostentatious” or “showy” like a human might be called if one decided to wear zebra print everyday.

And the man made stuff is pretty awesome as well. I concede that the man made stuff required imagination at some point (not only in design, but also in engineering, construction, etc), but what really amazes me is the visual spectacles created by the interaction of the man made with nature. Take the Chinese Fishing nets in Kerala in India during a sunset, for example. Or Machu Picchu in Peru as the cloudy mist lifts itself from the mountains to reveal the buildings just after sunrise. These are not some imaginative dreamscapes. These are what our Earth already has on offer. These are reality.

And I stand in awe of this reality. I feel feelings of oneness, bliss, and connection when I am in the presence of such reality. I get my “flow moments” during these experiences. Why? Well, here are a few reasons that may transpire on their own or in some combination of varying degrees…

1.    These experiences help us to feel closer to the truths of the universe. They remind us that we are all made of the same stuff and that everything we are and everything we see originated from one physical point at one discrete point in time. We are the same in our composition and origins as the sun, the stars, the rocks, all of the animals, and our fellow humans. Remembering that the truth is in fact this simple, in stark contrast to the complexities of truth in our everyday human material world, is both beautiful and comforting.

2.    We feel small and insignificant. And there is so much freedom in that because we can become unburdened by all the stuff that we give so much weight and importance to in our daily lives. No matter how much our boss likes us or how much the cute girl in our homeroom pays attention to us, the beauty of our natural world will be there. It can be a wonderful reminder not to sweat the small stuff.

3.    These are often (but not always) novel experiences. And novelty gets us out of our comfort zones and into the zones of openness, acceptance, and gratitude. I like to call these the “Bring it on” zones.

4.    They give us a feeling of connection to the humans that have come before us, even if it was centuries ago (as in the case of Machu Picchu for example). Carl Jung advocated the idea of a collective or transpersonal unconscious, a level of unconscious shared with other members of the human species comprising latent memories from our ancestral and evolutionary past. We often feel that this area of our unconscious is activated in the presence of aesthetically pleasing displays, especially if our ancestors would have had a chance to have similar experiences in the same location.

5.    We can experience awe induced by the actual physics of the scene. How could light possibly be refracted in such a manner? How could a volcanic eruption possibly produce this mountain range? How could the snow fall in such a perfectly soft and precise way? We might not know the answer to these questions, but we do know we are glad that the laws of physics that govern our universe allowed reality to transpire the way it did.

So back to the original question. If we were to imagine reality, what would it look like?

For me, it would be bold and beautiful. It would be colorful and have lots of contrast. It would reflect light in crazy ways. It would by mystical and mysterious. It would be massive without feeling overwhelming. It would contain great details without getting lost in the detail. It would speak to me. It would teach me. It would inspire me. It would throw me off my rocker. It would challenge me. It would induce feelings of love and gratitude.

In other words, it would be exactly what we already have…in reality.