Humans: Maybe we have become too smart (or stupid) for our own good! Some theorists say that at some point in our evolution, our consciousness advanced to the stage where we confused the contents of our consciousness (thoughts, perceptions, feelings, sensations) for consciousness itself. This is like confusing the movie screen (consciousness) with the movie (content). Because the screen holds the movie, you cannot have the movie without the screen, but you can have the screen without the movie. Confusing the contents of your consciousness for what is ‘real’ creates an illusory reality in your own head. This detaches you from the here-and-now reality, the life given to you in this moment.
To expose the created illusions (the movie) of your mind, you need to find a way to see how these illusions are constantly created. If this understanding doesn’t occur to you, your illusions remain your reality. What is the problem with this? First of all, you are unaware that you are living in a dream-like state. Second, very often your illusions are distressing, and usually more painful than the simple reality of your existence right now.
Note: I am not talking about people with delusional disorders here. I am talking about all human beings!
The way you formulate your thoughts and attitudes determines if you see what actually occurs or whether your life becomes the made-up reality of your beliefs. Because we lack this understanding, most of us reside in two different realities simultaneously: (1) the simple facts or what is actually occurring now, and (2) our thoughts about what’s occurring. These are not the same thing. The more unaware you are of this, the more your thoughts make up a story (an illusion) of life, and the more you suffer. However, the more you identify and question these thoughts, the more you live your life centred on actual reality, and the less you suffer.
For example, I can think of clients who are convinced that their partner is uncaring or that their children hate them. Others fear that their group therapy peers won’t like them, that their house won’t sell and they’ll be on the street, that their job will be made redundant and they’ll go broke, that they won’t cope if their partner leaves, that they will languish alone forever if their marriage ends, or just simply that they are unlikeable or unlovable. And whether their fear becomes reality or not, the mind soon finds something else to fix on. These illusions (thoughts, beliefs) are so compelling that they feel very real. But when we look deeper, we start to see them as fearful creations of mind that have no solid reality. They exist in imagination. They are illusory.
If this is how you are living, even sometimes, it makes for a stressful and wasteful existence because you have a “made-up life”. It’s like a magic trick: no matter how real it seems, it’s an illusion. When it comes to tricks, to expose what makes them seem so real, we need to uncover how the trick is done. It’s the same with your life; to expose your made-up life you need to reveal how it’s being created. If this understanding doesn’t occur, the illusion remains your reality.
Therapy can help you to understand this “made-up life” and see how your perceptions and resultant emotions are creations of mind. When you uncover something you have been believing (often unconsciously), you can question it and begin to imagine (and live) your life without it. As with magic tricks, questioning a belief soon means it is impossible for the illusion to exist in the same way as before.
But how do you break through the illusion of your mind’s story? Here is one way. It is a simple 5-step process:
- Take a deep breath, slow down, and isolate one upsetting thought or belief. For example: “He is uncaring” (NB: this process works on most stressful thoughts)
- Ask yourself: “Is it 100% true?” This is like meditation. Let your answer be either Yes or No (or I don’t know). Either way, go to question 3.
- Ask yourself: “What does this thought do to me?” You may notice it leaves you sad, scared, hopeless, angry or overwhelmed.
- Ask yourself: “How would I be without this belief?” Imagine that! You may notice a sense of freedom, peace, gratitude or presence.
- Ask yourself: “Are there other ways to look at this thought?” For example, you may notice that you are being uncaring towards yourself by dwelling on negative thoughts. You may consider that he is not being uncaring so much as feeling overwrought and needing some space. It may also be true that you are being uncaring towards him in some ways.
There are always two realities to choose from: the reality of what is, and the made-up reality of the mind. It can be scary to expose the made-up reality, because we have come to trust our illusory mind, even though it makes us suffer. To choose the less painful reality, you need to expose the made-up one. The above process is one way to expose the illusions of mind and to diminish their power over you. When you are living your given life (what is) rather than your made-up life, you are more able to see people and situations in your life clearly, communicate mindfully, and experience appreciation for what you’ve got.