Seeking Clarity and the Illusion of Reality

Watercolor of Clairty

Clarity – Private Collection

The painting above, Clarity, is one of my favorites. I was drawn to this woman’s face because I sensed clarity and peace in her eyes. I also saw a wise woman who had relaxed into accepting “what is” and the inevitability of living with paradox.

I’m learning to step into paradox. I’ve been doing this somewhat begrudgingly because my bossy left brain interpreter insists on coming to conclusions of reality and nicely tucking them away on the shelf. You might not think an artist would have this kind of struggle since creative types tend to reside in their expansive, non-verbal right brains with greater agility. Yet, often I do struggle to make the shift and, paradoxically (there’s that pesky word again), the struggle itself tends to keep me trapped in the jaws of analytical thinking. The best thing, for me, is to pick up my paintbrush and start painting. Soon, thinking settles down naturally, and my insistence on a fixed reality abates.

Why do I write about seeking clarity and the illusions of reality in a blog about building a life in Italy? Because making such a huge life change has asked me, again and again, to let go of my insistence on what is reality and how my story is “supposed” to play out. If you’re contemplating a similar big life change, you might want to ready yourself to live with paradox, and the elusiveness of a fixed reality.

Man plans, God laughs. – Yiddish proverb.

Maybe I would benefit from training myself to contemplate this sentiment every morning, first thing. Then, whatever needs to be done, and what remains to be resolved won’t take on such a sense of seriousness, or insistence on my part. Perhaps this will remind me to do the best I can, while simultaneously “going with the flow”. This can be a beautiful dance, and I’m finding the universe tends to open up a wealth of possibilities previously hidden to my thinking brain.

Italy has proven to be an excellent classroom in dealing with inconsistencies and paradox. I’m an anal-retentive Virgo who likes everything “ticked and tied”. These organizational and analytical skills certainly have come in handy plowing through the numerous logistics of living here, but I’m convinced a belief that you can simply muscle your way through the bureaucracy will only ensure your descent into insanity. I’ve talked to a few “newbies” and a few people considering a move to Italy who have this mindset. I’ve thought “Oh no,” because I can smell disaster coming at the first inevitable speed bumps.

If a person can sets aside their insistence on how things are supposed to “play out” and their indignation at certain Italian policies that seem unfair, they can spend their time and energies on allowing Italy’s riches to unfold for them.

As a painter, my style is decidedly realistic. Some observers might think I’m only about technique and accurately “representing” a particular scene. However, I believe my choice of subject and how I create focus and emphasize light infuses emotion and meaning into my paintings. Ask three artists to depict their view and experience of a scene and you’ll get three very different expressions. Not so different from our internal commentaries about everyday life.

In art, and in my personal life I’ve come to surrender my search for a universal, “sanctioned” reality. This has meant the metaphorical ground beneath my feet has felt anything but solid. As I’ve watched and become familiar with the machinations and conditioning of my mind, I’ve realized how every one of us has a different idea of reality. We’re deluded when we look at our brains as some kind of flawless recording device – one that regurgitates “reality” on command. Too often we forget that everything we experience passes through our unique filters of experience and conditioning. An individual’s “playback” of an experience has variations – sometimes dramatically so. Just ask people who have been wrongly convicted on testimony of eyewitnesses who are “certain” of the reality they experienced. A Ted Talks video by Elizabeth Loftus is an eye opener.

A wise therapist friend once pointed out to me that the conflict in the world exists because of dueling realities and insistence on nailing down a reality that each individual has become convinced is THE truth. It can be scary to ponder that our realities simply are based on concepts and judgments created by our interpretive left brains. As Chris Niebauer Ph.D (follow him on Twitter) writes in The Neurotic’s Guide to Avoiding Enlightenment: How the Left-brain Plays Unending Games of Self Improvement, we have an interpretive, pattern producer in our left brains. Our brains evolved to make sense of the world around us by seeing patterns, making interpretations and creating stories of reality. Yes, this was essential for our survival, but might this part of our brain now have imprisoned us and obscured the “whole”?

Is a master paradox that true clarity involves giving up on a fixed idea of reality? How can clarity come to us if not through words and through a story that explains it all? I offer the following YouTube video, of Adyashanti (follow him on FaceBook) speaking to trust and intuition, for your contemplation. Even if you watch only the first five minutes something inside you just might recognize a truth you’ve known all along…