How to Escape from Virtual Reality

In ancient times, the Earth was assumed to be flat. Now we believe it is round. We have all seen the NASA image of Earth floating in space—we’ve seen this beautiful blue globe with our own eyes! So we believe that is the case. But how do we know what we believe is really true?

Today, we get our facts mostly through electronic media and books. We live in an information culture, where technology takes over. And even though the new media encourage us to “connect,” in some ways we are losing true inter-personal connections.

Neuroscientists today talk about “neuroplasticity,” which simply means that our brains constantly change, growing new networks, shaped by our daily activities. In other words, what we do and what we think shapes who we are—and how we see the world. We believe the world is really the way we see it. But how can that be true? When we do different things our brains filter the world differently. Nevertheless, we believe that’s the way reality is. What we perceive shapes what we conceive—perception creates conception.

It gets more complicated because our concepts—our thoughts and beliefs—act like lenses that filter our perceptions and experiences. Most of the time, we are not aware of this process, and we mistake our beliefs for what is really real. We let our beliefs hijack our moments of experience—rather than experiencing our experiences as they happen. Instead of getting stuck in old belief patterns, we can practice mindfulness or meditation and become more and more aware of what happens in our experience from moment to moment. Doing so, we can use our minds to rewire our brains, laying down new networks of nerve cells. By remaining open to our experiences as they happen,we can liberate ourselves from fixed beliefs rooted in static patterns formed in our brains.

Soon we realize there are two “realities”—a perceived reality based on our beliefs and filters (I call this our “virtual reality”) and actual reality, what is really happening in the moment. We can know actual reality by paying attention to our direct experience—our whole-body experience right now. Mind-body practice bridges the gap between these two realities by tuning into the direct experience and acknowledging that we also continually create a virtual reality though our interpretations, thoughts, and beliefs.

Our virtual reality is mainly created by our cognition or intellectual mind, which is known to be only about five percent of our total capacity for intelligence. The other 95 percent, our unconscious, embodied mind, always connects us through direct experience to the universe as it actually is.

A common phrase explains the holistic, integrated mind-body view: Everything is connected to everything else. Eastern philosophies, such as Indian ayurvedicmedicine and traditional Chinese medicine, follow this principle. Our embodied mind connects us directly with actual reality, with the unfiltered universe.

Today, we think we increase our connections through Internet. However, as a matter of fact, we are already deeply interconnected. The whole universe is interconnected and our direct experience is part of this universal connectivity.

Back in ancient times, no-one questioned the belief that the world was flat. Today, we would say that those ancient people were mistaken, even deluded, because that’s just how it appeared to their eyes. But now notice how much of our own daily lives are filled with ideas we have constructed about really because that’s how it appears to us—just like the flat world of our ancestors! The “reality” in our heads, based on our beliefs, is just as imaginary, just as virtual, as the flat-Earth reality of the ancients.

Do we want to continue to live in a virtual reality that misses 95 percent of what is actually real? Or do we want to investigate the deeper aspects of the world? Awareness is key because our beliefs habitually take us back to the virtual reality we construct in our brains.

We need to integrate mind-body practices into our lifestyles in order to transition from “virtual reality” to “actual reality.” It doesn’t really matter whether the world is flat or round because, either way, what we “know” is based on our perceptions and beliefs—which selectively filter or distort reality.

Here’s a question that really makes a difference: What is your direct experience at this very moment? That’s your touchstone to reality.