“All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream.” – Edgar Allen Poe
The world’s spiritual traditions tend to agree with these words Poe wrote in 1849, the year of his death. To Hindus, this world is “maya,” meaning “a magic show, an illusion where things appear to be present but are not what they seem.” (1)
Buddhists call it “samsara,” a Sanskrit word for “wandering through, flowing on, aimless and directionless wandering,” signifying the involuntary cycle of death and rebirth that continues until we grasp the true nature of appearances (2).
Jesus warned his followers that this is not the place to store up riches. In 1999, the Matrix reframed the appearance/reality question for the twenty-first century.
Being spiritual, doesn’t give anyone a pass on consensus reality. As Ram Dass put it, “We have to remember our Buddha nature and our social security number.”
Navigating samsara has never been easy. Truth is hard enough to discover when we are sincere, let alone when we are not. That’s one reason why Buddha placed a special emphasis on truth as a core value. Not lying was one of his Five Precepts. He said, “When anyone feels no shame in telling a deliberate lie, there is no evil, I tell you, they will not do”(3). Continue reading →
A few nights ago I had a 21st century dream in which the key event was losing my cell phone. In days of yore – say five or ten years ago – losing a wallet was the common dream image for a disruption to one’s persona. Now my smart phone probably tells me more about my public life than a wallet. It shows me where I am, where I’m going, when I need to be there, how to find my way, and it gives me multiple ways to connect with people I need to see when I arrive. In a few years time, I’m sure we’ll all have digital ID’s and credit cards.
Though I still think of dreams in terms of archaic elements, clearly the psyche will use whatever it needs to make a point. As technology is part of our lives now, it is also part of our dreams. All of which leads me to the heart of this post: we ain’t seen nothin’ yet!
Last Wednesday, I caught an amazing segment on virtual reality on the PBS Newshour. I didn’t expect to be interested. Since I don’t play video games or World of Warcraft, VR seems like just one more distraction in an ADHD world. It may well be, but the Newshour piece demonstrates the power of this technology, beyond anything I’d imagined. I instantly thought of the “Feelies” – multi-sensory movies in Huxley’s Brave New World. We aren’t there yet, but it would be foolish to rule out the possibility. Watch the clip and see what you think.
The power of imagined experience has long been established. In the early 20th century, Jung developed a technique he called “active imagination” and used it in therapy. In the 50’s, research proved that imagined practice was as useful as “real” practice for improving basketball free throws. In reference to meditation, Lama Thubten Yeshe, a prominent 20th century Tibetan teacher, said, “What we have to learn is that the experiences we have through imagination and those we have through our senses are actually the same.”
All of these applications involve self-generated imagery, but if and when VR comes into our living rooms, it will come through the same corporate interests that flood us with adds already. Do we want them reaching even farther into the deep psyche?
To paint a huge subject in simple terms, over time, our race has transferred successive parts of our brain functions to technology. Printed books marked the end of bards who could recite epic poems. We don’t find the griots of Alex Haley’s Roots in literate cultures. The imaginations of my parents’ generation got a better workout listening to The Lone Ranger on radio than mine did watching the masked man on TV.
I love technology, but I’m wary of it too, and not just the obvious stuff like the NSA. I’m wary of all the ways we can use it to foster oblivion until, as T.S. Eliot put it, “Human voices wake us and we drown.”