Friday, October 3, 2008

About Reality

Today I heard 18 people's comments on the nature of reality. About half were retired people; the rest were college students. We wrote for 4 minutes, given the prompt "About reality," then read aloud our musings.

Almost everyone spoke of reality as something frightening and unlovely. "About reality--it is to be avoided," one woman began, and spoke of avoiding reality by traveling, reading, talking. Reality is the music in the command, "Face the music." Reality is cold, hard--gray, unforgiving.

But then, "Reality is what you make it," several people said. Reality is your experience; there is no ultimate reality; each person has his or her own reality. To my surprise, this notion of extreme subjectivity was just as common among the sexagenarians as the teenagers.

The funny thing is, these two common ideas are mutually exclusive. If we make our own reality, then it is mutable and squishy, not unforgiving and hard. Alternately, maybe we are saying that people who perceive reality as painful and harsh are in fact victims of their own minds. Their suffering is their own fault--it's their reality!


Two or maybe three people hinted at the idea of a reality too large to grasp, greater than our experience, behind the scenes that pass before our eyes--something transcendent, what C.S. Lewis might refer to as supernatural. Of these, two are hard-core Catholics.

And then there was me. I didn't finish writing as I would have liked. (Reality in four minutes? Come on!) But I said:

Reality is a smooth cold stone pulled from the snow-melt river. Hold it in the palm of your hand. Wait for it to warm.

(kinda like "may came home with a smooth round stone / as small as a world and as large as alone." [e.e. cummings], now that I think about it.)

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