On Finding Your Way to the Real
Who Are the Realists?
Something is wrong. I've
noticed it for a long time, as if there is something odd or unreal
about the world. Most of the time I'm busy with what I'm doing and
don't notice, but, sooner or later, that persistent nagging awareness
emerges again, telling me that something is peculiar about my view
of things, end everyone else's, too.
don't mean that the world seems to be collapsing — starvation,
atomic bombs, pollution — it isn't just those things, drastic
as they may be. There is something still more basically wrong. It's
as if you went to the movies and there was something odd about the
projector or something strange about the camera that was used to
take the movies in the first place. The images themselves seem normal,
but the way it is put together is out of sequence, or taken at different
speeds, or the perspective keeps changing. That's what I mean. There
is something basically wrong with the structure of the world – as
we have been taught to see it — but you might not notice it
for a long while. It's not until you really examine your experience
that you catch sight of the peculiarities. It just isn't the way
you've been told. Let me give you an example:
Time makes no sense.
It really doesn't apply to me; it doesn't fit. My hair gets thin
and I can't stay up all night the way I used to. But I don't change.
At my center I'm transparent; I'm looking out a window at everything
that passes by. Time passes (I observe) and I will die (I am told),
but these things don't fit that clear place where I am. Isn't that
your experience, too? You get older and everyone around you gets
older and you see your birthdays clicking away like numbers on a
gasoline pump, but I'll bet there is something inside of you that
doesn't feel it is changing at all; inside you're like some kind
of mirror, reflecting everything without absorbing it. The mirror
doesn't change. You watch time pass, and perhaps believe it when
people tell you that you'll die — but it really doesn't fit
that clear place inside. Time fits my body and the world I see,
but it doesn't fit me.
Or consider it from another
angle: Time flows like a river, it would seem. Yesterday, today,
and tomorrow seem like a road stretching far behind and far ahead.
Yet outside my window is an actual road, and on that road any place
seems the same as ten feet ahead or ten feet behind — but
it's not that way with Time. Ten seconds past and ten seconds ahead
is nothingness, just smoke, whereas Now,
this moment, where I am, is clear and bright. On either side in
Time, there's nothing similar to Now, only memories (the past) or
imaginings (the future). The place you were ten seconds ago has
vanished, and what is the place ten seconds ahead? There is nothing
there. It's very odd. Doesn't it strike you, now that you notice,
that something is wrong? The "road of Time" is a thought
— and the thought doesn't fit.
have been told that you are fundamentally alone. "We enter
the world alone and we exit alone," and so forth. Just you,
confronting the universe. And what is the nature of the universe?
Our scientific "realists" tell us it is a fascinating,
orderly biochemical machine composed of electrical charges, but
meaningless, purposeless, and indifferent. So – you are alone in
an indifferent world. You are a highly sophisticated "biocomputer"
in a highly sophisticated "hyperspace." Congratulations!
But is that your actual
experience? Remember those times you were touched by something impalpable
emanating from that "outside"
realm of people and things. Music, nature, sports, prayer, sex,
insight, drugs, encounter, friendship, or love — a moment
when you felt connected, merging, exalted. I'm talking about those
special times when you felt a joyous reverence and gratitude and
mystery and recognition, at finding yourself, once again, at that
place. Of course, you can "explain" it and nothing need
change. The mechanical puppet cosmos can clank along forever: just
tell yourself that those experiences, "mystical" or otherwise,
are the infantile derivatives of wishes, fears, and early memories.
It's simple. But is that what they feel like? Talk to children and
see if they experience such things. Consider carefully whether those
special moments really fit the vapid formula: "Infantile derivatives.”
Isn't that explanation something you have swallowed, force-fed,
like an infant, indeed, but have never been able to digest? It's
indigestible because it doesn't fit, that's why. It's another swindle,
You are told you are
basically alone — in empty space. Yet, when you love, are
you alone? When you look, unguarded, into another's eyes, clear
place to clear place, are you alone? When you wholeheartedly engage
in work or play, are you alone? There is only one way to be alone:
by thinking about it. The
thought creates the aloneness; the concept is the problem. "Aloneness"
does not fit experience.
mathematics and chemistry define your world, it has no meaning;
the world dries up. But, for you, as you walk the streets,
engage others, live your life, your world is charged with meaning,
filled with purposes, conflicted or aligned at every level. Do the
words "random" and "meaningless" really fit
what you feel, what you experience, moment by moment – or
are they something you have
been told, something you now think?
Let's go a step further:
Who or what are you?
I ask myself that question and take a look to see, it's very curious
indeed. I thought that I
was happy, that I was thinking, that I was
seeing, but when I pause and look inside it seems as if I've
been looking out a window at "my" feelings, at “"my"”
sensations, and at “"my thoughts – such as this one. If I'm
looking at them, how can they be me? There is some kind of
awareness, something basic that observes everything, and, although
I usually don't notice because it is drowned out by all the noise,
it's always there. If
I turn back to find myself, look forward to the deepest, the very
heart of me where I actually live, that awareness is me. It seems
to have been there always, just as it is, while everything else
changes. Try an experiment, right now. Close your eyes and ask yourself
if you have disappeared. What's your answer? Now, cover your ears
so sounds are absent — have you disappeared?
No matter what part of
the world or your thoughts or your feelings you make go away, you
stay there. Now, what is that you? That's what I'm talking about
— that place. And, in fact, it's not even a place, it's you.
That's what you are and that's what I am. Until I ask that question,
I'm a psychiatrist, a male, a husband, Arthur Deikman. But when
I ask that question and look to see, I'm that window, that lookout,
that awareness. It isn't just a theory; it's what my experience
actually is and yours, too. It's really very obvious, but you were
told nothing about it through all your years of school. The most
basic factor of your existence, the one thing you experience indisputably,
your own aware self, is never mentioned. Everything else is: the
everything else that is not you.
Let's look at the wisdom
you've been taught, your guidebook to the human condition:
Sample 1: Satisfaction
doesn't last. We're used to that principle and accept it, but isn't
that a strange arrangement? You work for a goal that evaporates
when it's in your hand. "True, so true, that's the way life
is . . . " What an odd life!
Sample 2: Nothing's perfect
— particularly you. Everything's flawed, everything's a little
off. How come? It's not so obvious that life must be defective.
Would you have constructed it that
way? No. So why would God? It doesn't make sense.
see, you've been taught that that's the way everything is. You're
even annoyed that I bother you about it. But stop, consider what
you've been taught: time, aloneness, dissatisfaction, imperfection,
identity; are they really logical? Are they facts? Are they "realistic"
or have you been swindled, conned so well that it feels like home
to you? It's almost funny! You thought you were being mature, adult,
strong, looking life straight in the eye, hardly flinching. Maybe
you've been duped. Maybe you've been living in a crazy house all
look around. (Perhaps there's a door.) Let's be curious and ask,
"How did I learn about reality? Who are the realists?"
The list of the seven deadly sins has left out
the worst one. For if you want to know reality and act in it with
your creative power, dependency will do you in. Perhaps it's not
listed because it's so often hidden and has so occupied our perception
that we are not aware of how tyrannically it binds our lives. What
we are told is dependency is a caricature: the man or woman still
tied to the mother's apron strings or dominated by a spouse. Dependency
is more subtle and disguised than that: it is just the wish to have
Dependency is a fantasy. In that fantasy parents
know what you should do; they give you what you want and what you
need. They are powerful. With their power, parents can control what
you cannot: love, anger, and fear; sickness, age, and death. They
give attention and esteem and love you no matter what you do. They
make no demands--except submission. Parents will provide if you
bend you knee. In dependency, tyranny is sought, not overthrown;
for the more tyranny, the more comfort in the parents' power.
Who are the parents of our adult years? Anyone will do. Husband,
wife, son, daughter, boss, America, city hall. Neighbors, policeman,
the company, the bar. Doctor, lawyer, senator, judge. The President
of the United States of America. We all kneel.
Dependency is a disease, an insidious fantasy
of protective power looking down, guarding you, judging you, rewarding
you, punishing you. The disease has symptoms: helplessness, envy,
vanity, jealousy, and admiration; blaming, exploitation, and reproach.
"You're supp0sed to love me no matter what I do, for I've done
my part [submission, feeling small and frightened], now you do yours!"
Consider the justified anger, the sweet despair, the mournful longing,
and the upward gaze, or the sullen pout that says, "I can't
do it, I have no choice. You're supposed to do it, so give me what
I need!" And when the fantasy seems true, when parents play
their role just right, you're "blissed-out" with "God"
or "life" or anything at all.
Perhaps you thought you left all that behind
you when you left your home for college, job, or marriage. Not likely.
Remember the moment when you said good-bye? You didn't really. Let
me sketch the scene as, psychologically, it really was--and still
may be, now.
The local band is playing outside, children, dogs and the ice-cream
man, noisy in the street. The whole neighborhood is gathered, cheering
with a banner: "Good luck to you! Come back and see us some
Inside the house, the moment has come. Mother
and Father are standing there, tearful and proud. The suitcases
are packed and ready by the door. The rest of the family gathers
around. You kiss them all and shake their hands, embrace Mom and
Dad one last time. The band strikes up the final number, you pick
up your bags, open the door, and then march--round and round the
The band is gone, the street is quiet. Mom and
Dad have gone to bed. But chances are, you are still there, marching
around the living room or your childhood home.
It's very difficult to leave--and yet we must.
Dependency is so commercial; it's nothing but transactions from
morn to night. Security agreements, barter, bribes, and threats,
manipulation and maneuvers of a hundred kinds. And all that accounting
and the double set of books, the strong-arm squad collecting debts,
for in dependency the parents can't say no, they must pay up , there
is no dropping out of the parent game. Your own task is clear: bind
the parent person and lock the door. Once you've got the parent
caught, he or she must be fed; he must be satisfied to play the
game. Yet it isn't that easy to detect his needs, to give him what
he wants so you'll get yours. You must be good at watchfulness and
care, with one eye guarding the inner road on which your energy
may flow. Guard that road, for the unrestricted outflow of yourself
may take a form unpleasing to the Big One. You see, it's not an
easy business, living in dependency. It costs a lot.
Then are you never to be cared for? Are you never
to relax, let go; in the arms or lover, friend (or the world itself),
feeling cared for, at peace? Of course you can, such letting go
needs no fantasy and no parent--only trust: trust in yourself, that
your need will end, that you will want to work again and care for
others, that you emptiness can be filled; trust in others, that
they receive in the act of giving, that they need you to need them.
It is an inward process through which you turn to others, as they
are, to receive that which you must have. You do not need parents
now, and you do not have them (as you had them then, or wanted them
to be). To resurrect parents requires fantasy, and the price of
fantasy is high.
You pay with fear. Pretending you are helpless, imagining you are
small, feeling needy for protection, you scare yourself. It's part
of the game, to be afraid. And having summoned parents, you become
more fearful, for you harbor treason: wishes for the parents' power,
anger at the parents' needs, resentment of the role of humbleness
you must adopt. The treason is concealed but it poisons trust, creating
You pay with greed. The child is needy, and feeling
needy, in wnat of something from outside, how reasonable to seek
possessions, love and power, money, sex and food. But the fantasy
of needfulness turns pleasure into possession and power into tyranny.
The acquisitions are symbolic: A millionaire will seek more millions,
beyond consumption, for the emptiness will not be filled and the
desire for security is not appeased. That hunger can consume the
world, yet the appetite stays sharp. So your greed whips you on:
to acquire clothes for vanity, thus building loneliness; to acquire
homes for granduer, in which you feel smaller.
You pay with vanity. You must be special and
attractive in your body or your mind to catch the eye and hold the
person who must save you. It's competition to the death, to win
the prize from all the others. Fame entices in the hope that all-out
war will capture entire populations of providers. And if you win?
The people crowding toward you have dead eyes; they are blind, grasping,
dependent, and self-centered. Throwing their own ropes of fantasy,
they tie you to the book, performance, reputation--whatever object
you have created. You have summoned angels to provide and find yourself
with vampires that feed their own vanity by possessing you. In consolation,
they leave piles of money on the floor. You gather it up thinking
money means more pleasure, except that pleasure done too often fades
away; and so you find, instead, the death of pleasure.
It is as if we saw the enormous animals of sickness, age, and death
roaming wild across our land. Grasping power and fame like a bit
and bridle in our sweating hands, we go chasing madly to fit them
over the terrifying muzzles. But the animals are too big; they cannot
be controlled. Sickness, age, and death tower over us, gigantic,
while we scurry on hands and knees to harness their shadows.
So the house becomes emptier than when you began.
That emptiness is born of your abstractions, and the fantasy of
emptiness engenders fear. Fear drives you to the Future, and the
satisfaction of the Now recedes and further disappears. Rising in
its place are more abstactions, more desires, jealousies, envy,
more vantiy--more hungry ghosts rioting in the shadowy house within
which you march around the deserted living room.
Dependency exacts a further price: it murders
creativity. Creative action plays with the unknown. But as the child
fears the dark, full of big dogs and mental monsters formed from
fantasies, the adult child will be fearful, too, faced with the
dark world of the unknown mind, with vast concepts looming enormous
just beyond the front yard. Peering out, he sees no parents in the
darkness of that land where he has never been. The unknown is uncontrolled--no
strategies exist that will enclose the endless territory of the
new. Only trust in yourself and in this world can carry you past
the watchdogs of your fears and out of the iron gates of the already-known.
Dependency locks you in, secure.
In order to create, you must move forward into
what you cannot see and urge it into being. You cannot do that in
submission, doing what you're told--nor, in rebellion, not doing
what you're told. In both, the focus is the same: turned back to
Them. To be dependent, you stay a child. To stay a child, you stop
reality's forward motion, roll back to a past time and freeze it
there, preserved forever. It's "transference," the reliving
of the past in the midst of the present, the casting of all newcomers
into the roles of the dead. Time stands still, stagnant. When transference
is finally given up, a person mourns the departing ghosts, who slip
back into their proper graves, leaving that person "alone"--in
the world--Now. But while the wax museum holds sway, nothing new
can enter. Information needed for creation is made to pass a censor,
whose job is preservation. Thus the past is reinforced to keep Now
from flowing, for the flow will carry your parents away.
So to keep a fantasy, do not peer too closely
at the world; fuzzy vision suits you best. Your creative power,
turned away, is aimed inside to juggle fantasies, to solve the problems
of a child's intrigue. Thus, "What am I? Who am I?" the
cardinal questions of our life, are never asked. These guiding questions
direct creation in a thousand cultures; they are the points by which
we navigate our voyage, carrying us as far as we will leave the
land. They do not orient our lives in dependency. Aborted in its
course, the creative thrust misses the world.
Dependency kills us, for it is the unknown that gives us life. The
unknown flowers when we are receptive to it, allowing it to enter.
The unknown carries us to the constantly forming edge of the world
where light, beauty, and ecstacy are found. There is no other path
to the spiritual, to the creative, to reality.