Why Life Sucks 2: Thoughts And Illusion

Sometimes, I can’t help the feeling that I’m living a life of illusion.

– Joe Walsh

Thoughts and "Reality" - circle square optical illusion

As with this classic optical illusion, things are NOT necessarily what they VERY MUCH APPEAR TO BE.  What you “know” to be “true” is not necessarily even remotely connected to reality. And that’s true for all of us.

What’s really hard to accept is just how much of what we perceive and believe is actually a bunch of poppycock. Balderdash. Ballyhoo.  Utter hogwash. Horsehockey. Life appears to suck — does really seem to suck — often because we have ideas about how things are that are largely inaccurate and certainly unhelpful.  In short: your most treasured beliefs about the world: mostly bullsh*t.  But really, that’s good news, because in fact it’s not life that sucks, it’s your belief system.

Illusions

Optical illusions show us that our eyes and brain selectively filter and alter reality. They are not mere curiosities; they show us something very fundamental about our world: that it is actively constructed by our minds. That assertion, that the world is constructed by our minds, seems highly metaphysical and counterintuitive, even mystical, or worse, just plain nonsense. Common sense would tell us that the world is the way the world is, regardless of how we want to talk about it. But that is precisely the point: The world IS the way the world is, but NOT how we perceive it to be–and all we really have to go on is our perceptions and construals, our thoughts and beliefs.

Or so it would seem.

Direct Perception

Although our eyes lie to us under some circumstances, for the most part they are far more honest than our thoughts. Our bodies are not capable of constructing the elaborate web of half-truths that we consider to be our world, our conceptualized reality. For this reason, mindfulness involves paying attention more to the senses, “coming back to our senses” rather than believing all the words and reacting to all the images the mind gives us. Life sucks when we believe literally the products of the mind, that “I am thus-and-such, and she is so-and-so,” for example, “I am an idiot and she is smart” or “I am smart and she is an idiot.” Those are exactly the kind of thoughts our mind generates that we can allow to suck our lives dry of any interest and passion. It’s not life that sucks, it’s our minds that suck, and our minds suck the life out of us, or suck the color and richness out of our lives.

Why Life Does NOT Suck

Life actually doesn’t suck, except our minds make it suck. When we doubt the mind, when we don’t believe everything we think, when we learn to return, again and again, to the body and temper our belief system with our direct experience of the world on a daily basis, we begin to see that life can be something very different from what we thought it was. We thought it was a war, a struggle of “I”, “Me”, “Mine” against “Them”, “They” and “Their”. We thought we had to win that struggle. When we practice mindfulness regularly and diligently, and when we have good teachers to help correct our misperceptions, we begin to see that life is more accurately directly viewed as “We”, “Our”, “Ours”, a shared existence. This world of pain can become like a paradise then.

What is your experience of thoughts, truth and illusion?

Have you ever felt freed from suffering by seeing past your own mind?

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Joseph Rhinewine, PhD. People collaborate with me to live life fully: with principle, passion and vigor. My expertise is providing and teaching Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), an evidence-based, experiential and relational behavior therapy. I also apply Acceptance and Commitment processes to coaching those who wish to take their lives to a new level.

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  • I think the comment at the end about “shared existence” is the key. We are all in this together. The illusion is that we are somehow “separate” or “individualized”. Nothing happens in a vacuum. We are all connected in one way or another. Even science is learning this profound truth. I think if we all stop taking ourselves so seriously, reach out and help one another in a loving way, we would all be happier! Life is what you perceive it to be, so change your perceptions!

    I like my uncle’s old saying: “look beyond the end of your nose, there is a whole world out there to see and interact with.”

    • yes, thanks Sean. I think the topic of “separate” or “individualized” deserves its own post. In the west we over-emphasize separateness, while in the East perhaps conformity is over-emphasized. As with most polarities, a balance is needed, and we in the West desperately need to see our connectedness.

  • When I’m bored, which isn’t often, I still like looking at that illusion graphic. It’s just so darn good. It tickles the brain!