Reality. What is it? How can we be sure? Is this the real life or is this just fantasy? Like Queen's timeless observation, how are we to know truth, fact from fiction? Are we even capable? Philosophers, artists, monks, scientists, and the lay person alike have all, at some point, pondered down this very road. Where to start?
We can begin by our observations. In the universe, one may observe that there is happiness, love, and other pleasant sensations. There is also misery, pain, and anger. What is misery? There is no Christian misery, no Islamic pain, no Agnostic anger. Misery is a universal experience. Therefore, the answer to misery, too, should be universal. At it's core, misery is sensation, neither good or bad. At a deeply conscious level, we react to these sensations. Pleasant sensation? Ahh how nice!! Lettuce seek more. Unpleasant sensation? Namastay away from that. We develop aversions to unpleasant sensations and cravings for pleasant ones. Both of these reactions cause us to seek a reality that we would like to experience rather than reality as it is. These illusions lead to disillusionment. Under disillusion we expect a separate reality. When confronted with actual reality, we suffer. We don't get what we want? We suffer. We get what we want but it is different than expected? Just like Britney Spears' 2000's banger, "Lucky", we may get everything we want only to find out it is different than what we had hoped for and again, suffer. The idea of happiness and actual happiness are two very distinct experiences. So how is one to experience happiness if the craving for it leads us elsewhere? We observe. We observe reality as it is, not as how we would like it be, but as it is naturally occurring. We allow unpleasant sensations to happen, as they happen. We soon realize, like happiness, this misery is coming and going. So impermanent, only carrying the illusion of permanence. Like a river flowing, you may dip your hand in. You may dip your hand in again. It may seem, on the surface, that you have dipped your hand into the same river. You have, in fact, dipped your hand into two completely different rivers, two entirely separate sets of water molecules. Happiness and misery are just as fleeting. To avoid misery or to crave happiness is a fool's errand for both are as fleeting as the river. To observe these sensations of happiness and misery, these sensations of anger and pain, of joy and bliss, as they are happening, only for as long as they are happening, we are able to experience reality as it is, without any attachments to what we would like it to be and the chain of self perpetual negativities that it creates. We realize suffering is simply a sensation. This too shall pass. To avert it is to create sensations that do not exist which lead to more suffering down the road. Similarly, happiness too shall pass. To cling on to it is to disallow all suffering and happiness to take place as they are happening, creating more disillusion and more suffering.
To develop this awareness, we focus our attention on reality, as it is happening, in the present. We sit and focus on our breath. It is the most direct experience we have to the fleeting river of the present. We may find our mind jumping from past to future. This is fine. It is in the nature of the mind to do so for this is what it has done for every moment since our inception. It needs to be disciplined on the present with patience. We continue to focus, to refine our attention. What sensations are actually happening, in the present moment? Our focus may last only a breath or two before our attention is once again diverted. That is fine, for it is two more breaths of reality. We continue to work. Eventually we notice sensations. Loud, flashy sensations at first. The pain in our leg. The throbbing in our shin. The pinch in our toes and the heat in our back. Brilliant! ! Actual sensations. We soon develop the sharpness of the mind to detect the more subtle sensations. The crinkle of a hair on our elbow, the slight pressure on our chest, the electrical current of our blood. More sensations. The deeper we go, we begin to detect emotional sensations. Bold and subtle. Pleasant and unpleasant. We observe; how long do they last for? A minute? Five minutes? An hour? A second? However bold or subtle the sensation, we will find that like the river, it too passes. Noticing the dissolution of the sensation, we gain direct experience of impermanence. Pain, no matter how gross, is impermanent. Not because any scripture says so, because of any amount of devotion, because of what any Internet meme says, but because we have direct experience in it's coming and going. Pain, then, immediately becomes less abstract. At it's core, it is sensation. How we react to it either dissolves it or multiplies it.
By observing our physical bodies, the coming and going of sensation, we realize reality itself is comprised of fleeting sensations and our reactions to them; subatomic particles, constantly popping into and out of existence and the perception of those particles (mind body phenomena). We are left with the illusion of permenance, and as a result, the illusion of suffering only for as long as we choose to live in realities that no longer exist, or arguably, never existed.
So what are we to do? A boy and his friend go trick-or-treating annually. One year, one of the friends is sick so he asks the boy to bring him back candy. Like a good friend, the boy obliges. House after house, the boy saves candy to bring back to the friend. At one house, the owner has forgotten to purchase candy. In consolation, the owner offers the boy some vegan oreo milkshake. Delicious! ! But it's liquid and alas, the boy cannot bring back any to his friend! So upon returning to his friend, the boy explains how he was unable to bring back any of the vegan oreo milkshake. The friend understands but asks the boy what it was like, this vegan oreo milkshake. The boy says it was black and white like a cow. The friend says ahh!! So a vegan oreo milkshake moos!! The boy says no, it is like a cow in it's appearance. Ahh!! So a vegan oreo milkshake has utters and a tail!!
Like the explanation of the delicious vegan oreo milkshake, all of this information may present itself as truth or non truth. However, it is ultimately in direct experience that we find true wisdom. So let us meditate on the vegan oreo milkshakes of life, for ourselves, and directly experience reality, as it is.