The Illusory Nature of Reality #12 #cong23 #reality


The nature of reality is fluid, perception is subjective. We depend on fictional constructs to add meaning and structure to the infinite array of phenomena that surrounds us. A recent psychedelic experience gave me an unexpected perspective which has had a significant impact on my current view of reality.

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Key Takeaways:

  1. The perceptual nature of reality
  2. The importance of fictional constructs
  3. Experiencing reality as an illusion
  4. Living in presence and acceptance

About Zanya Dahl:

I am a visual artist, working primarily in oils and specialising in figurative painting.
My focus is around the theme of connection – the absence and discovery of it. I am fascinated by how we connect within, with each other and with our environment.

When I’m not painting, I’m playing hockey, engaging in comedy improvisation, and mothering two little people. I rely on yoga and meditation to still my mind and loosen my limbs.

Contacting Zanya Dahl:

You can connect with Zanya via emailInstagram and LinkedIn

By Zanya Dahl

I was recommended an excellent book recently by Will Storr called “Selfie”. He introduced me to a wonderful new word: “confabulation” which he explains as follows:

“Our narrator is just observing what’s happening in the controlled hallucination in our skulls – including our own behaviour – and explaining it. It’s tying all the events together into a coherent tale that tells us who we are, why we’re doing what we’re doing and feeling what we’re feeling. It’s helping us feel in control of our thrilling neural show. And it’s not lying, exactly. It’s confabulating.”

The more I accept that reality is completely unpredictable and that my version of events is my own confabulation, I feel my attachment to opinions, events and memories loosen.

It’s harder to be righteous and judgmental when you know that the world as you see it is a neural construct rather than the absolute truth. Knowing this makes it easier to be more accepting of contrary views. My own views change all the time.

Thoughts come and go, feelings come and go, events come and go – nothing stands still.

We are constantly adapting and redefining our responses in every moment, sometimes consciously, mostly unconsciously.

Reading ‘Sapiens’ by Yuval Noah Harari, I was blown away by his assertion that the greatest difference between humans and animals is our ability to collaboratively buy in to fictional constructs such as money, nationality, and religion. Even though they are merely concepts, they are collectively endorsed on a global scale and have enormous power over us.

After listening to a lot of teachings on non-duality, I remember struggling to wrap my head around the idea that time is also a fictional construct.

What would my reality be like if time didn’t exist? Would it be so bad to be freed from its shackles and live in a random unstructured flow of happenings? It’s hard to even imagine. And yet, this question was somewhat answered a couple of years ago after I intentionally ingested a large dose of handpicked Liberty Caps in the comfort of my own home.

I was looking forward to journeying into unexplored realms of psychedelic insight. Initially, my brain was dazzled by a kaleidoscope of visual effects. I could feel my whole being becoming the music I was hearing – I was no longer human but simply a wave of sound. Eventually, as the special effects began to fade, I felt the trip was coming to an end. I was sleepy and I walked to my room to go to bed. As I did so, I became aware that time had somehow evaporated. I vaguely wondered if I was 80 or my current age or if I was in an afterlife, haunting my own home. I didn’t know if tomorrow was going to come. I couldn’t feel the solidity of my arms or legs. Nothing felt “real”.

With creeping horror, I had a realisation that everything in my reality is an illusion – my partner, my children, my friends. None of them are real. It was like an experience of being God – everything in my life that I took to be real is a manifestation. I didn’t feel like an all-powerful creator. I felt very alone – like the last person left alive in the world. I also feared that in that moment, if I attempted to go beyond the illusion of Zanya for even a second, I’d disappear too. I felt my brain trying to claw its way back to the reality it knows, desperately trying to preserve my Self. I wanted to go back to being the oblivious character in a dream and not the character who’s wide awake in a dream knowing that her world is not real but a dream. I didn’t want to be the solitary godlike Dreamer either. I wanted to return to my illusory reality. With every fibre in my being.

I felt a wave of nausea and rushed to the bathroom to throw up, relieved to clear the mushrooms and all their filter-altering psilocybin out of my system. I just wanted to get to sleep and wake up to a stable tomorrow.

Ever since, I’ve steered clear of any plant medicine. I’ve no further desire to chase after the ‘authentic truth’ of life. To find it, I would have to be willing to disappear. If I choose to exist, then my version of reality is still a projection of my mind.

The great Indian philosopher and spiritual teacher, Jiddu Krishnamurti put it nicely,
“If I do not know reality, the unknown, how can I search for it? Surely it must come but I cannot go after it. If I go after it, I am going after something which is the known, projected by me; by my own mind.”

I am now paying more attention to my existence with a clearer, upgraded lens – keeping my two feet on the ground and enjoying the magic of living rather than disregarding it or trying to uncover the mysterious force behind it.

And yet, as I gratefully feel the solidity of my existence, my mind still pulls me into hypothetical scenarios – dreaming of positive outcomes, re-living pleasant memories, planning my response to imagined obstacles or worst-case scenarios. Every time I do this, I disappear from the present moment and enter yet another confabulated virtual reality.

There’s so much to explore in the present moment. Why do I keep jumping out of it?

When Krishnamurti offered to share the secret of his life in his later years, his audience held their breath in excited anticipation. His reply was this:

“I don’t mind what happens.”

It sounds flippant and simplistic on first hearing, but it’s so deeply profound. Imagine being ok with whatever may or may not occur in your reality, be it a missed opportunity, a disagreement, a falling out, an unexpected loss, a rejection, a failed attempt at something, an unfulfilled dream.

Oh to be free of fear and desire – the two states of mind that cloud our view of everything.

Every time I catch myself worrying about an outcome, I say those words to myself:

“I don’t mind what happens.”

Imagine accepting reality like that.


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