Are we living in a dream world?

In the latest episode of THE RABBIT HOLE on The Chopra Well, Deepak Chopra addresses this timeless question about the true nature of reality. A conventional understanding of reality suggests that, equipped with our five sense and a logical mind, we move through life experiencing things just as they are. But consider how much time we spend in our heads, immersed in the past, future, or in daydreams. The present often eludes us, entire hours, days and weeks passing in a waking sleep. Only in rare moments do we find ourselves entirely awake and present, perhaps while intensely focused on a project or in the electric experience of love.

Perceptual reality, as Deepak explains, is bound to be incomplete. We can’t expect our limited senses to capture the whole kaleidoscope of the universe. Oriented as we are to the tidiness and reliability of life, our sensitive egos probably wouldn’t be able to handle a new picture of reality, anyways. Take the example from Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” In the story, human beings exist in a cave, confined by restraints that limit their movement. They are only able to see the wall directly in front of them, across which shadows dance. This is their reality – a world of darkness and shadows. It is not a good or a bad life, in and of itself, because it is all they know, all they perceive. It just is.

One day, a person is released from the constraints and, upon discovering the opening of the cave, ventures outside into the unknown. He is blinded at first by the unbearable brilliance of sunlight. He trips and cries his way through this strange new world. For him, shadows represent the truest reality. What is a tree when before there were only silhouettes of trees? But as he acclimates to the light, he begins to perceive reflections of objects in water, then the objects themselves, then the light of the sky and stars. Finally, he beholds the sun, itself, and comes to see the true nature of life. Upon this realization, Plato continues, the man would surely think back to his time in the cave with a sense of relief and a great pity for those who still dwell there.

Thoughts and beliefs tend to crowd our reality much like the shadows on the cave wall. The process of deconstructing these beliefs and shedding old habits can be uncomfortable, even disorienting. But if we find the spaces between our thoughts and internal dialogue, Deepak says, then we can awaken to a more fundamental truth. Question what you ‘know’ and what you believe. Bring your mind back to the present moment when it strays to thoughts of the past. As our perception shifts, the conditions of our lives will follow. And outside the cave, anything is possible.

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