You create your own reality. Those five words crystalized the unformed questions that had been swirling inside me with radioactive intensity since I discovered that there was more than one answer to be found regarding the parameters and substance of reality, depending on whether I looked to science, religion or daytime television for illumination; and even then there were schisms and contradictions to be found within each as individuals and institutions scrabbled--sometimes violently-- for the monopoly on a singular, exclusive, and Absolute Truth. One ring to rule them all.
What if my assumptions about reality are wrong? What IS reality? Why doesn’t everyone agree about what is and is not real? How can I tell the difference? What if we don’t live in a chess game manipulated by God and Satan, or a mechanistic straight line either-or world of cause and effect, real or unreal, but a spherical world of divine consciousness discovering itself, a world of infinitely expanding AND? What would-- should!-- I do differently if I truly have the power to shape my experience of reality? The questions lingered in the crowded foyer of my mind like guests who wouldn’t leave as I pored over the pages of Roberts's books and others found on the trail through a multidimensional myndscape far richer, more mysterious, exuberant, and creative than mainstream culture had led me to believe possible.
The questions followed me to college. They distracted me from academics, and picked fights with my childhood religion. They picked up hitchhikers (What is good? What is evil? What is beauty? What is truth?) But it was What do I want? and Where are my desires designed to lead me? that seemed most radical to a compulsive people-pleaser. What if what feels good TO me is actually good FOR me; what if desire is actually a navigational tool leading me to fulfillment of my life’s sacred purpose? Those questions blew up the skirt of my morality and dared me to listen to murmurings originating east of my solar logic, and west of my lunar intuition--yes, right there in the immovable center that goes everywhere I go, fully cognizant of my deepest desires, dreams and intentions to embody love, to create beauty. That voice slowly usurped my trust in schizophrenic external authorities with a steady, sensual and soulful new brand of reason.
The growing cadre of questions accompanied me on barefoot walks along the Outer Banks of North Carolina. (They like the ocean. It makes it easier for them to hear themselves think.) What if? and How about _________? prompted me to pick up my neglected rapidograph pen and draw the circles and trees that would boost the signals from my imagination where new realities gestated. Relentless and playful, the questions tiptoed through my dreams and periodically pulled my body out from under my mind lest I foster any illusions that my consciousness was nothing more than an electrochemical storm behind my eyes.
I felt the questions peering over my shoulder as I read passages from the ancient Taoist text, the I Ching, which proclaimed in a voice intimate with the secrets of season and cycle stashed in the underwear drawer of the natural world, “The social responsibility of the artist is to reunite people with their reality through the rhythms, symbols and patterns that have long inspired mankind.” What exactly does that mean? I asked them and the questions, grinning with crackpot zen master glee, laughed, pointing back to the crazy notion that started it all: You create your own reality, leaving me to decipher which rhythms, symbols, and patterns could best illustrate the possibility that we are not merely pinballs in a soulless machine, but co-creators of subtle psychological constructs, electromagnetic fields that attract and organize matter and the events therein in meaningful ways.
You create your own reality. Sleeping in that philosophical acorn was, in E. E. Cummings’s words, the “deepest secret nobody knows” (or at least it was... Hello world wide web!). Most of us operate on the assumption that Seeing is believing, unaware of how much of our reality is bankrolled by the flip side of that coin: Believing is seeing. This, in contemporary psychology, is known as confirmation bias, “the tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confirmation_bias )
Discounting or ignoring altogether information that contradicts our carefully cultivated world view, we often mistake opinion for fact, our beliefs about reality for reality itself, the finger for the moon to which it points. Have we ever been more keenly aware of the lack of consensus regarding the “truth,” ever seen more extremist points of view, the ability of people to ignore “facts” in order to find/fabricate proof that theirs is the “right” version of reality than in the 2012 elections? Emotions are sticky, the stronger the emotion, the stickier it is, prone to accumulating whatever evidence will validate it, until, like a snowman rolled from the lawn, with bits of grass and leaf caught in the ice crystals, it has acquired enough mass to be observed, or at least its effect on us and our behavior-- until it melts away under a more compelling sun.
Despite widespread agreement about the objective physical characteristics of the reality we share, the assumption that those who do not assign the same subjective values to reality-- a word, a behavior, an object or event-- as we do (for no better or worse reason than because they are biologically bound to perceive everything through their own brains programmed with different genetic codes, grown in different climates, exposed to different stimuli), are stupid, lying or mentally ill, undeserving of the respect at the foundation of all human rights, has caused incalculable human suffering.
All subjective realities, judgments, fears and joys are equal in their fidelity to the mind that conceives and experiences them; harvests differ according to the intentions sown, the attention they receive. We may lament the ignorance or moral breakdown of all of Them or we might consider that an expanding global population means there are a lot more nuts and raisins to fold into the cake batter of planetary co-creation. We’ll go crazy if we take our differences personally. Surely we can come up with better ways of resolving conflicts between world views than trying to drown out the opposition with hateful rhetoric or devoting trillions of tax dollars to incarcerating or bombing Them and their families and neighborhoods.
What if we were less concerned about the veracity of other people’s beliefs and more concerned about how our OWN beliefs enhance or undermine personal and collective freedom, agency, and fulfillment?
My persistent curiosity about what Terence McKenna called the “wiring beneath the board,” is, borrowing from Cummings again, “the root of the root and the bud of the bud” that has yielded a lifetime of wondrous strange artistic fruit fertilized by the likes of Kahlil Gibran, Richard Bach, Alan Watts, Carl Jung, Tom Robbins, Jamie Sams, Jose Arguelles, Esther Hicks, Joseph Chilton Pierce, and Alex Grey. My studio bulges with sketches, drawings, paintings and assemblages, a visionary cornucopia harvested from the possibility that my life, with its myriad twists and turns, good and bad choices may itself be the ultimate work of art... and that other lives may be works of art as well, created to appeal to the taste (Chocolate vanilla or mango?) of those artful reality generators also grappling with: Who am I? Why am I here? How can I minimize pain and optimize joy? What is love? How much freedom do I require? How do I negotiate boundaries where my desires clash with others? What, I ask myself over and over, IS possible--really?
You create your own reality. Are we all, then, artists riffin’ off themes of mortality, love, lust and death? Freestying, making it up as we go along?
I enjoy a natural rapport with many of the answers I’ve found in my explorations of the psyche, the truths self-evidenced within the strange looping mechanism of reality creation. Still, questions provide livelier company than self-satisfied answers. Sure, I comfort myself with the peace and creative satisfaction to be found in my own confirmation bias, watching my intentions and carefully cultivated expectations become self-fulfilling prophecies, a lush, made-to-order landscape of sensations, relationships, objects and events, a world challenged, enriched and expanded by thoughts and intentions not my own. I try, however, not to be too self-righteous or attached to a self-referential version of reality that at every moment appears to contradict the realities millions of others have fashioned from different assumptions, beliefs and preferences (strawberry, banana, rocky road...) Who, after all, can claim supremacy in a sensory soup in which billions of realities brush shoulders, bumping, rubbing and polishing each other like rocks in a riverbed?
My view of reality creation parallels my view of art making: Harming none, do as you will. There is no “wrong” art. Art, like myth, expresses unquantifiable yet universal truths in styles unique to the era and personalities therein. Impressionism, expressionism, fauvism, realism, surrealism, romanticism, minimalism are all legitimate expressions of the spectrum of human experience, as are decorative, figurative, abstract, pop, pornographic, rococo, gothic, psychedelic, comic, sacred, secular, digital, street, protest, outsider and countless other art styles and life styles, all are snapshots of private psyches responding to and reformulating our shared social and material reality.
Sometimes my questions wander off to poke and prod other grey matter, but they always come back to keep me humble, mentally and emotionally flexible. Secure in the knowledge I may be dead wrong in my subjective assignations of cause and effect, good and evil, and the purpose of life, I’m no longer willing to quibble and quarrel with the utterly convinced or supremely self-righteous. It’s not my job to correct, convert or fix anyone.
You create your own reality. Singular you, plural you, we’re all in this together, cells in the body of something beyond the comprehension of our narrow, one point perspective. Call it Humanity, God or Gaia, the liver cell is as precious as one residing in a hamstring, a hand, an eye... I am but one of billions of beings rendering consciousness in living color and surround sound, demonstrating moment to moment, through word, thought, and deed, changing answers to the question, What reality merits creation NOW?
And so I return to my studio, to the room and tasks necessitated by my desire to keep a channel open to the realm of creative possibilities, between what is and what could be. Gazing into the velvet darkness that envelops the questions burning at my core, I coax answers-- metaphorical, ethereal and paradoxical-- out of hiding and into the fleeting garb of paper, pencil, or paint, materializing a myndscape thrumming with wonder, illuminated by beauty. I create art for the simple and profound pleasure of What?, Why?, How? and What if? answered, dissolved and reconstituted, renewed, expanded and enhanced... I create this reality, one breath, one intention, one choice at a time.