Uprooting illusions

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

Picture from Ocean of Compassion Facebook page

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.


spring in bloom Olaf Hajek

This entry was posted in connections, dreams, yoga. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Uprooting illusions

  1. Madhu Sameer says:

    We arent’ capable of “seeing” reality as you say. So everything that we see, and hear, and feel, and know, *is* an illusion at its core. So the term *illusion* itself is an oxymoron.

    Nice blog, nice thought process….

    • Maybe one of the last remaining illusions, in the world of avidya that we inhabit, is that I may be able to see clearly without the colouring of illusions, if only for a nanosecond here and there. More likely it is like an onion or a set of Russian dolls. I strip away each illusion and see more clearly now coloured by the deeper, more subtle, or just different illusion – until I see past that one too. Thanks for your comments as ever, Madhu.

      • Madhu Sameer says:

        The buddhists first meditate to get away from illusion, to realize emptiness. And then the next stage is to realize that even that emptiness is an illusion…

    • Emptiness is also still an object. 🙂

  2. Dody says:

    I am afraid the older I get, the more comfortable I am living within the confines of my illusions. I am not able to think terribly hard about whether it is or is not reality, my head starts to ache. However, little experiments I have been doing with myself over the past few months, do tell me you can create your own reality. Sometimes, we are jolted out of it by events – example the Boston Marathon bombing. As a result, today, I feel a bit spongey and unsure. I am already making plans to return to the illusion life I have been carving out.

    • At least you are aware of your ‘illusion life’, Dody – that gives you a different relationship with it. Not everyone has that awareness. I’m thinking that the illusions I’m aware of as illusions, are no longer illusions. They’re fantasies or nice stories or whatever. It’s not just wordplay. It’s the illusions I’m not aware of that I’m more interested in – things that I’ve given the status of truth/reality because I want them so much to be that. Thanks for your reflections. I think most people settle into their illusions as life ticks over. But there is another goal/way, which is to step out of the cycle of pain/pleasure that having illusions perpetuates.

  3. litlove says:

    I am all for parting with illusions, Why? Because by their very nature they are unstable and unreliable, and will often let you down just when you need them most. My career was spent in university departments where truth and reality were notions that we deconstructed and undermined. But that clever cognitive fine slicing doesn’t do away with the truth and the reality that do exist around us in the solid, self-evident world and in the relations we work at building (if we could rely on illusions, we wouldn’t need to spend so much time on our relationships!). My favourite saying is that the truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off. I think most people cling to comforting illusions in order to avoid the pain of being pissed off. But what’s real and reliable is the only stable and reliable ground we have. It’s worth it to get there.

  4. I love your comment. But holding on to illusions is not simply a way of avoiding the pain of being pissed off – if it were, I might want to hold on to them more! 😉 I think we are often conflicted in our relationships with our illusions as we are in other relationships. We are pissed off, repeatedly, as our illusions are demonstrably not upheld by what happens. Yet we still stubbornly hold to those illusions. Why? Because our illusions are self-defining, they are also often shared and give us a sense of identity not just as an individual but in a group, in society. It is a scary prospect to be without illusions – if it even is possible. The process of working on that, to get closer to there, is a lifelong journey.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s