It’s increasingly difficult to determine what is real, as we filter our perceptions ever more through screens and machines. It can be confusing, though it isn’t always bad. Magic is often newly artful, as the stunning array of recent digital images can attest. I celebrate the wild new creative possibilities.
I also celebrate the humility of accepting that we’re always in the realm of unknowing. To the degree that I can keep beginner’s mind, assuming that I begin each glance without knowing what’s real in what I see, I’m better able to perceive unexpected truth and beauty.
Still, the illusory chatter of “news” is too much for me to filter well today, and I find I must remove screens by walking through the forest to the lake. Even my house and my own mind are filled today with things I can’t interpret. I can’t distinguish illusion from wisdom and whatever I might believe to be fact.
As I walk, I find distant memories illuminated, of the time in my twenties when I was an aerospace engineer. It was common for those in that corporate world to return from vacation and say something like, “Well, back to the real world now.” As if distant vistas and experiences, family visits and adventures, were somehow less real than the bureaucratic paperwork of military-industrial projects more likely to be canceled than built, within windowless buildings with concrete walls several feet thick. Their notion of the “real world” seemed spectacularly backwards to me. It wasn’t real enough for me. I left and never looked back.
Ever since then, I’ve reversed the perspective. I say to myself, “Well, back to the real world now,” when I’m leaving behind walls and screens for the raw realities of nature.
Today the real world is filled with pelicans and geese, cormorants and other soaring travelers. The real world is the magic mirror combination of still lake waters and sculptural clouds. It is rare that this magic combination comes together, but it is as real as the duller days of gray.
There are no other people out here today, but on other days when there are, I notice how much different my interactions with them are than on city streets. We tend to greet each other openly and share our wonder at the beauty, rather than averting our eyes. People are much friendlier and happier outdoors. We are back in our natural realms of gratitude and celebration, and that completely changes even our most casual moments of connection.
Reconnecting to the real world changes our deeper relationships too. It reminds me that compassion is as real as division. Love is as real as suspicion. Healing is as real as our wounds. A love song is as real as the news. There’s music in that truth, and in the songs of the birds I hear as I watch them soar above the lake.
It takes patience and stillness to let the real world reveal itself again, from under the layers of artifice. But when we do, our inner real world reveals itself too, our own health and beauty interdependent with that of the earth around us. Our long-buried emotions and visions appear. It’s gritty at times, often difficult. Yet when in our natural context of beauty, celebration, and gratitude, even the difficult becomes clearer and easier. It’s real, after all. It’s where we were born to belong. All it takes is a walk beyond screens to remember the natural song of the day.