In the flow of life that is Facebook, a quotation recently caught my eye. It might have been this one:
‘Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.’ – Mark Twain
Or it may have been someone else saying something similar. It doesn’t really matter. What Mark Twain says is said in many other ways and is embedded in the fabric of our upbringing. The conversation underneath the quote was in strong agreement with its sentiments; expressing a belief that somehow illusions are a good thing, they make us human, they give us hope.
Certainly illusions are often a source of energy, drive, ambition and creativity. An illusion, sometimes accompanied with the hope of realisation other times not, is what fires us to be active. Or a disbelief in the possibility of realising our illusions can create an intensity of longing, disappointment or despair that leads to a creative act.
Illusions ensnare us, they have a subtle power that we might recognise intellectually so creating an air of detachment from them, but at a far deeper emotional and psychological level we remain tied up in their web.
Mark Twain says we can exist without illusions but not live. Embodied in this statement is that romantic belief about living, feeling passionately, being carried away, towards something, just out of reach. Just another illusion about illusions.
Can we live without illusions? Yes, in a much freer way. But maybe that is scary because our identities are so bound up in our illusions. In fact, if it is not a step too far for many readers, maybe our identities are themselves illusions and the idea of an identity is itself an illusion.
In my brief search for the quotation I stumbled across on Facebook, I found hundreds of quotations about illusions. This one challenges Mark Twain and is much more aligned with what I’m saying here:
‘Attachment is the great fabricator of illusions; reality can be attained only by someone who is detached.’
Language gets in the way often, and I stumble a little over what Simone Weil means by ’reality’ here. However, I do agree that attachment is both the fabricator of illusions and the consequence of illusions.
We become attached to our illusions. They are part of us – part of what makes me ‘me’. If I give up illusions, who am I?
I would like to substitute ‘freedom’ for ‘reality’. We become free by separating ourselves from our illusions. The deepest-rooted ones are still there and like any plant, they can start to grow again. But if we can walk by them rather than getting drawn in by their seductive fragrance, there is freedom – maybe just for a moment.
These thoughts are not original or new. But when you are in the grip of a particularly strong illusion – like bindweed – which smothers and entraps, it’s interesting to observe the pattern and effects.
Even when your observing mind is pointing out the defects and flaws of your illusion, even when your discerning intelligence and intuition is continuously punctuating your experience with challenges, ‘aha!’ moments and discernment, still the bindweed illusion persistently hangs on and holds you there, as if entranced.
Stepping back in the moment of such experience is hard. The persistent ‘me’ does not want to step back from your illusion. You want to hold on to it – for dear life. You do not want merely to exist, Mr Twain tells you.
So even over the peace of distance from your illusion, you choose – repeatedly – the pain of disappointment. Even with each piece of accumulating evidence that your meticulous mind collects, polishes and connects with the other pieces, you turn your back on your inner wisdom.
Why is that? Is it because you have been trained as a child to believe in the beauty of illusion over the simple state of how things are? It is just a deeply engrained habit and one that can be substituted or replaced, even if its seeds are always there to be scattered by a gusty spring wind.