Thursday, July 14, 2016

Living in a Delusion

- the desert at daybreak -

For most of my life we lived in Upstate New York and during the longest and coldest months of the harsh winter season the outside temperatures were sometimes so cold and the snow so deep that we were confined to staying indoors - it felt like we were prisoners in our own house. That uncomfortable experience of having to stay indoors was commonly referred to as “cabin fever.”  Oddly enough, I am going through another bout of “cabin fever” out here where we live now, only this time it’s the harsh heat of summer in the California desert that keeps me indoors. The triple-digit temperatures are just too hot to spend any prolonged period of time outside.

Yesterday as I sat confined within a limited space surrounded by the four walls of our “climate-controlled” home I was feeling the effect of "cabin fever" and I recalled a vivid childhood memory.

When I was a child I hung out with a pretty creative bunch of neighborhood kids and one of the things I remember most about those early years was a “great fortress” we had constructed in a nearby wooded area - a treehouse that served as the “headquarters” for a kids-club we had created. We built a rather imaginative protective wall of tree trunks, rocks, branches and scraps of wood around our club-house in the forest and we would “pretend” that the wall was keeping out wild beast that roamed in the woods, protecting us from invasion from those other kids from other neighborhoods. Interestingly enough, we spent an awful of time within those four walls of our childhood fortress

It was fun to play in that fantasy world as a child, but obviously we all grew up and became adults, ultimately realizing that the tree house fortress surrounded by the protective wall was just a fantasy, nothing more than a childhood delusion.

Today, more than ever, we live in a world where lots of adults confine themselves to live within the limited space of fortresses they have built for themselves to protect against an outside world of different others. Maybe an epidemic of "cabin fever" is infecting the globe?

Britain has withdrawn from the European Union hoping to return to the imaginary fortress of the good old days. Many Americans fondly talk about building walls to keep out immigrants and protect against foreigners. In this age of “rugged individualism” many if not most people confine themselves to live within the limited space of ideological camps along with others who look or think or believe alike.

As I think about it, I wonder if lots of adults today are living with the walls of a fantasy world, a world of childish delusion, and yet think they are actually living in the real world?

The Buddha taught that “delusion” was a terrible “poison” that brings on some of our greatest suffering as human beings. We are “deluded” when we imagine that we are separated from and isolated from other beings because everything and everyone “is” a flow of relationship, a web of dynamic interconnection. When we live within artificially-created walls of division we are only “playing life” – pretending to be something other than what we really are.

In these harsh summer days, as I suffer from "cabin fever" confined within the four walls of my own house, I am reminded of a wonderful Taoist piece of wisdom. Chuang Tzu once wrote:

One night Chuang Tzu dreamed about being a butterfly,
 a happy butterfly unaware of being Chuang Tzu.
Suddenly he awoke drowsily, Chuang Tzu again.
And he could not tell whether it was Chuang Tzu who had dreamt the butterfly
or the butterfly dreaming Chuang Tzu.

Every day I hear stories about so many people everywhere who are unhappy and angry. This may well be why they want to withdraw from others and build all those walls, so that they can have greater security and lead richer and more fulfilled lives. But building walls of any kind will have just the opposite effect. Living within the delusion of separation is toxic and poisonous to the human spirit leading only to deeper pain and greater suffering

Maybe its time for people to “grow up.”

Some may say that we need to unlock doors and open windows to one another, I say we don’t need to open any windows or unlock any doors because there are no walls to begin with.

The mystic Sufi poet once said:

They say there is a window from one heart to another,
 but how can there be a window where no wall remains?

1 comment:

  1. The walls are in our mind, and we can only see those walls if we choose to notice them. And that's the hard part, because it is like a fish swimming in does it see the water? I have just had a conversation with my husband about our lives...and how we seem to be cloistered in our own family home a lot of the time. Sure, we know a lot of people, but most of them at a little distance. It would be good to step outside these walls both physically and mentally. For some reason our society encourages this less and less, perhaps because communication is in part done at a distance now, or we have this societal conditioning for self sufficiency and independence. Anyway, I'm just musing now. As ever your blog posts are food for thought. Thanks Paul xxx