This page is a personal homework reflection for Kira's Ways of Knowing workshop.

    I propose to consider the idea of "real" in the personal context - that is, what is it to be real "as a person"?

    The question about being real "as a person" can be framed in different ways, and while each has some interest, I like to start at the end of the list (experience and practice) and work backwards.

    1. What is "reality"?
    2. What is a "person"?
    3. What is being-real-as-a-person "in general"?
    4. What does it mean, in an analytic, theological, or philosophical sense for a person to be real?
    5. What does it mean to me to be real "as a person"?
    6. What is it like for me as a person to be "real"? (What is my experience of "being real"?)
    7. How can I be (or rather, what can I do) to experience myself, and the world, as "more real"?


    I'll focus on the phenomenology of this question, and note its connection with the ideas of presence and embodiment.

    The quality of experience varies.  Sometimes objects or situations (an unfinished project, the noise of a neighbor's power tool) seems irritating, chaotic, intrusive;  perhaps the situation is a body state such as fatigue, physical discomfort or illness.  There is a lot of secondary emotion attached to these experiences -- not liking the feeling of the situation, not liking having the feeling about the feeling, and so on.  This type of experience seems "stuck" in some way:  inflexible consciousness, a fixation of attention, repetitive thoughts... Other times that fixation is missing:  I'm relaxed and fluid, there's more depth to both my sense of self and of situation.  Objective conditions are the same, but I can distinguish the "I" aspects of experience independent of the contents of experience.  This seems "more real" ... but how is that, exactly?  I'm freer, more open and responsive to a wider variety of forms, qualities, and nuances of awareness in the changing flow of experience.  The field of experience is larger, deeper, more dimensional.  At the same time the "objects" seem freer to reveal a greater variety of what they are "in themselves".  I think of this latter state of experience as "more real".

    I'm out walking in nature, noticing the ground, the textures, the movements in response to the slight breeze, the contours of the ground, the full surround I'm moving through, all in a mixed sensory mode of "synaesthesia" that references subtle body responses and movements.  I am an unfolding process of moving through my environment.  I'm feeling very "embodied".  When I compare this to a state of absent, abstract, discursive thinking, I think of it as "more real".

    Want to feel "more real"? Try this -- walk around slowly in a natural setting, barefoot, and preferably, naked.  It won't just be the novel, vulnerable, unfamiliar feeling that will lead to a heightened awareness.

    Approaching a tree, I have an instantaneous, full-body sense of a possible encounter, including momentum, orientation, trajectory, various body sensations of converging on it in a physical collision, the possible effects on my posture, bones, skin, relationship to the ground, and in sum, my entire body and relevant elements of environment.  Imagination is a crucial dimension of presence in the process of perception as an embodied process.  Experience is a realm of possibilities as concrete and detailed as what "actually" occurs and since this isn't literally happening, it could be considered an act of simulation or imagination embedded within the experience of perception.  Yet I'm not going to label this as an illusion and question its "reality".  On the contrary I'll venture that this participation of imagination-within-perception makes experience "more real".  Imagination is the gateway to reality.

    To "be embodied" sounds like a passive condition as our language doesn't provide an active verb -- it seems to be to cultivate or build up a whole landscape of anticipatory and participatory sensitivities required to meet and engage with the unique circumstances (including people and other conscious entities) that life presents.  As a quick formulation -- I'm "more real" when in embodied contact, with a participatory interplay ("feedback") from others and circumstances, in a way that is congruent with what I project or anticipate.  In fact, I rely on the presence of others as a "wakeup" influence, if I were to take "being more real" as an intentional practice.

    According to this view, life is more "real" when I'm engaging in action, which the whole subject/object/relationship triad -- a sense of myself, of situations and circumstances, of their dynamic relationship.  This state of presence contrasts with the state of being submerged in or identified with the objects of experience.

    This way of being may be seen as dynamic, material, circumstantial.   What about meditation, then?  Closing the eyes, letting attention withdraw from "external" perception and sensations. This sounds different than the experience of embodied, participatory flow I described earlier, but it isn't necessarily so.  Meditation can be a very present, embodied experience; only the perceptions, sensations, and movements are subtler than in typical outward activity.  I find meditation supportive to, and a component of, the experience of being "more real".  It provides the subject ("I am") pole of the combined (triadic) event of being present.

    The subject/object/relationship triad is artificial but helps focus attention on different facets of experience.   Fishing for a definition, I'd say one is "most real" when there is the greatest and most accurate awareness of the "I", the "It", and the dynamic interplay between them.

    Being Real "As a Person"

    Life is complex and rich.  Let it register fully in awareness.  Find ways to increase both "inner" and "outer" awareness and their dynamic interplay.  If separate, if bemused by thought, dive in and participate.  If embedded and submerged, pause and be aware of the "I".  Don't pretend life is as simple as one wishes it to be, or as simple as the concepts by which we try to apprehend it.  Learn to see with, through, and beyond concepts, definitions, interpretations, secondary emotions, ideas and feelings "about" what's happening.

    If there is such a state as "enlightenment" (which I neither affirm nor deny!), it can be summed up in the word "responsiveness".

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