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“Get real”, Urban Dictionary: When someone tells you to get real, they want you to get a reality check and to stop behaving as though you’re living in a fantasy world.

I love this pop phraseology, yo. That right there was a way to keep things real, the “yo” at the tail end of the sentence. In counseling we call that joining. It’s a way of saying, “Even though I used a 50 dollar word like ‘phraseology’ and I am about to analyze something like an overeducated nerd, I am normal, just like you.” Whether or not you choose to believe my attempt at getting real is, however, your business. Since anyone can say “yo”. This decision making process about what feels real is what happens during a presidential election these days.

A few blocks below me on the hill, there is a dilapidated house that’s mysteriously full of grown men (there could be SEVEN, wink wink), surrounded by fungible motor vehicles in various states of repair, the whole arrangement densely accessorized by American flags and political opinions in red, white, and blue. Very educational. There I learned that Trump’s new political slogan is, apparently, “No more bullshit”. Good tactic, Mr. T. He’s hoping to lure people in by “keeping it real” in the colloquial sense already mentioned- and that’s not too hard. Because most folks in my culture haven’t actually thought about what the word ‘real’ means.

No offense if you dig the man, he has done a lot for the U.S. in his own very, very… special way.

And obviously I’m about to do that for you. Here’s what ‘real’ means. A good old-fashioned phrase I learned in my youth back in the Boston area, we used it a lot: Jack shit. It’s kind of like Trump’s bullshit. In both cases shit serves the purpose of standing in for what’s NOT real- in our opinion, of course. Shit is something that we have crossed off our to-do list for all intents and purposes. We’re going to resist it, for it has no place in our “reality”. We shall shun the shit from where we metaphorically stand, using our personal creation station. We utterly reject that shit’s presence in this little kingdom we rule, lord of all we survey. We shall keep shooting at it from the mind-created gaming platform we man. We pronounce upon its lack of “realness” from our own internal Wizard of Oz throne.

Our imagined “No bullshit” front…
the back

I’m gonna get serious now for a bit, because, I’m gonna get silly later. Is that OK for you? If not, I propose that you are enslaved by the socially conditioned concept of “real”. ‘Real’ is actually a word that frequently requires the backup idea of “serious”; check it out. The sillier things are, the less real they feel. “Silly” is childish; “serious” is adult, is mature. We learned that cultural pairing of ‘real’ and ‘serious’ as we inched our way through adolescence into full-fledged, red-blooded American adulthood. Whatever that is.

We slowly enshrouded ourselves in our culture’s zeitgeist of “real” as we more or less struggled to get with the adult “reality” program. Or programming. For many of us this project included lots of backsliding into less serious realities, maybe days of video gaming (not an option in my day),or perhaps drug usage, legal or otherwise (yes, we had that if we were lucky). We didn’t want to go.

That’s why adolescence is so long in my society, possibly encompassing a whole lifetime. And I’m not talking about all the people that off themselves in their teens. Adolescence is a modern invention, and a developmental stage that basically doesn’t exist in some cultures. What I wanted to say is, we faltered because we saw reality was coming, and we knew better.


I am guessing that you had a few adolescent/young adult experiences where things got distressingly, and therefore seriously, real in this colloquial sense of heavy, dire, serious. “Reality” is serious, heavy, dire because it’s a country where so-called “fantasy” is not allowed (reference the quote that started the article). Not allowed, since in this “get real” quote context fantasy refers to something fun, something comfy, something joyful and free of bullshit concerns. Something not-serious.

Though the quote mentions the need to stop fantasizing, “serious” actually breeds its own style of fantasies, of course, since humans are not going to stop imagining things any day soon. It’s OK to fantasize that you are incompetent, and needy, and nobody loves you, and the world is going to hell in a handbasket- all the super-fun fantasies my society accepts as reality. You can get loads of attention on Facebook for those serious fantasies. Every time you are thus validated, the so-called fantasy seems more real, however unreal Facebook is in a lot of ways. That’s social conditioning in a very small nutshell.

There’s no call to make such a big deal about real, or reality, except that my society has conditioned us to occupy ourselves thusly. “Real” is completely and utterly and 500% about thoughts, thoughts about other thoughts; that’s square one. First we are trained to the idea or thought that thoughts are real. Then we get trained to the idea that some things are real and some things are not-real/bullshit. Then, once we get old enough to care, as in the aforementioned adolescence, we stumble around in the caverns of our minds like windup toys, trying to parse the “real” stuff from the bullshit.

This ongoing mind-based effort to choose what’s real requires what we call “proof”, because that’s how the intellectual mind functions. Proof is a thought that you can add to a two column “for” and “against” checklist. We layer one thought upon another like an invisible house of cards seemingly located inside our noggins. At risk of sounding like a redundant a hole, I refer again to the presidential election game, to all the crap offered for and against, that seems so real, so serious. I’m not going to diverge into options for “serious” here, but I will say that “important”, “exciting”, “compelling”, or “engaging” are healthier options on the word menu for whatever you prefer to engage in.

This has nothing to do with the blog really, it’s just so funny I added it as a comedy break

The smart first step is rarely taken, due to our conditioning in a society that believes thoughts are important, are real-real. That step is, to cut to the chase and ask, how real ARE thoughts? If we are saying that “fantasies” (which are thoughts) can be not-real, then what makes our chosen thoughts any more real than those we judge as fantasies? This is a simple logic puzzle.

What we end up with is that something being “real” in the sense that some thoughts are and others are fantasies, is just a thought. Just as you can’t see your own eyes without a mirror, and you can’t touch the tip of your tongue with your tongue, so thoughts can’t actually be real on any real-to-bullshit scale, because “real” is a thought generated about thoughts. If you get that, you don’t need to read any more. You graduated the class. You get a diploma, however unreal. Well, nobody ever needed to read anything. But thanks for doing it.

In order to ground this essay in cultural reality, I shall resort to quoting a famous personage. I ran across this particular definition of reality while I was in graduate school. Sidebar: Notice that going to graduate school is an idea that can make a person more real, so I included that. It’s much advised by publishers.

Yeah, I know, it looks very innocent. And it could be.

Graduating from various levels of formal education, now beginning in preschool, affirms reality in my society; you’re instantly not “nobody”, or in my crude slang assignation, Jack shit. You are serious. You get your picture taken, you get a signed piece of paper to take home. This validation journey begins early on, when some adults can’t think of anything to say upon meeting a child except “What grade are you in?” or “What school do you go to?” They hope to teach the child early on that it’s important to enter the adult goal oriented reality, and not waste their lives fantasizing.

Famous people’s ideas also validate (or make real) other people’s ideas; that’s why we like to quote them in our writing and speeches and text books. We can use them to build our houses of cards.

You’ve probably been waiting to find out who the famous person is, so you can recover from confusing puzzles and have something real to hang your referential hat on. Here’s the big reveal; the famous person I will now refer to is William James, whom we might call the father of American self-help psychology. Not sure who the mother was, but then many people don’t consider that angle.

Mr. James rocked my world with an idea I shall here explicate. To whit; that reality is whatever an individual is experiencing. Why is this earth-shaking? Because my society is so busy trying to prove that their reality is true, is right, is REAL. My reality is more real than some other people’s realities, forsooth, and it’s my job as a serious citizen to judge everyone’s realities.

William James

To the average contemporary “educated” American, William James is not famous. His brother, Henry James, currently retains notoriety, as a novelist. Universities are tasked with choosing what shall be taught to succeeding generations. Henry hit the legacy jackpot, though William filled auditoriums all over the country for years. Of course the average psych survey course will mention him.

WJ’s story has a moral, then, in the fame department; the notorious philosopher-educator who bucks the system is ill-fated in regards to the same. If we make so bold as to tell auditoriums full of citizens that one’s reality is not a thing that can be defined by anyone else, we have called the emperor naked. In my society, science is very much taxed with creating reality for the masses, though it probably wasn’t that way so much in WJ’s time. And where does a lot of research take place? In universities. That’s especially true for the psychology academy, if I am not mistaken. As a student one is required to participate in studies, for one thing.

illustration by Elena Abdulaeva

Of course that’s how the sciences help financially support a university; they do research. Research projects garner financial support through grants and other funding. And therefore it’s a never ending codependent loop; the university needs to come up with some relevant research proposals, so they can get grants, and so prospective students will feel that their graduates are really-real. Or super-really-real for Ivy League schools. The discipline will be fitting itself into the trendy boxes that will garner research funds, of course.

Just in case you hadn’t thought about where a lot of research comes from. If you want a fun read on the socioeconomic realities of maintaining a university, read Moo by Jane Smiley.

One of my all-time favorite cartoons

I love a lot of what science has done, yeah. Originally, scientific method was the genre of some uberprogressive guys who wanted to keep it real; they were the unfunny Dave Chappelles of the 17th and 18th centuries. Because, the social conditioning for lots of folks at the time was based on whatever their religious organization dictated. So, as I see it, the Enlightenment was tasked with transforming social conditioning in Westernized society. These folks said to organized religion “No, really, I’m not going to live my life according to your bullshit ideas of reality. I am going to think it out for myself, thank you very much. I will gather evidence, and make conclusions, and choose my own reality.” These innovative fellows often decided to organize around some very realistic organizations, such as the Freemasons.

Thus we ended up with lots of creepy anatomical dissections, since the members of the organization thought body parts had the potential for ritualistic fun, due to said organization’s historic association with medieval witchcraft. Not really, that was a bit of silliness. Maybe. Then scientists, enlightened by the idea of research, came up with other fun stuff, like prefrontal lobotomies and Thalidomide babies and napalm. Of course there are also great things that resulted over the years. Hey, ya gotta break some eggs, I know that. Science is all about progress.

The seemingly hidden thing (seems obvious to ME) that’s not progressive is that we now, in my society, expect science to determine for us what is real. Which is kind of Dave Chappelle-type funny; hopefully you see that jokes can be made on the subject. Interestingly, our science-engendered social conditioning is a lot like asking a religion to determine for us what is real.

The handy thing about hiring out the defining of our realities is that we can be a part of the consensus reality. Consensus reality means, the reality most people agree on; it’s the norm. If everyone personally decided what was real, who knows what would happen? I don’t, since I live in a reality that does the opposite.

Like science, consensus reality has distinct uses. We use our consensus reality certainly in order to communicate with others, to share goals and values, to believe in social structures like families and religions and governments. With the help of consensus reality we can assume some, or perhaps many things, and get on with the interesting bits, like dissections and Freemasonry. In short, we use it to cocreate with other humans.

However, if we believe that consensus reality is the only one, we are bound to it, like scientific academies are often bound to universities to fund their research. We keep outer referencing, checking in to see if we are in line with the consensus, if we’re going to get some support for what we believe, some funding for our life project.

Well actually it is, kinda. However, there is no such thing as ONE reality. The media creates many realities to choose from.

This outer referencing behavior is not always conscious, of course. And it has its beautiful motivation; joining, yo. We want to be a part of our tribe. We want to belong; it’s the best motivation ever. And it’s THEORETICALLY hard to belong if you don’t agree with the group about what’s real. Actually it just requires more compassion, a skill they don’t teach in graduate school, and there are no diplomas for. Compassion is undercover work.

Because we are outer referencing, particularly in this area of science, we ignore the nakedness of the emperor. The bare truth is actually very easy to see- if we want to. But typical media-connected Americans are currently like nervous bats, navigating by the sounds bouncing back to us from other sources. Some echoes help us find our way, and some are interpreted as bullshit. Then we change the channel, or post something on Facebook with a heading that says something like “I can’t believe this! I am going to jump off a cliff! I hate my country! I hate my life!” Then we feel better, since we have invalidated something from our creation station.

The category of science based echoes we prefer are interpreted as “facts”. “Fact” is an associated concept to “real”, and another word I advise dropping from your reality. We are buffeted and bewildered by a barrage of so-called scientific facts, for the average citizen often out-of-context research sound bites. It seems like we can’t get enough of these signals, for we believe we cannot find our way without them. They whistle lo, here and lo, there while we miss the bigger “fact” that science has no solidity, however slowly it must move in order to encourage this belief in the general populace.

How exhausting.

“Fact” and “real” as understood psychically (meaning how they FEEL to you) hold the quality of stability, solidity, something we can COUNT on. And God knows we could use that feeling in my society. We used to get it by hugging our stuffed bunny. But then we were conditioned to transfer that desire for comfort to information, basically; to thoughts.

Interestingly, mainstream psychology splits its gut trying to enlist people all over the world to buy what they’re selling, but they have made almost no headway with this. Because, even for Americans whose African forbears came here hundreds of years ago, or for Native Americans, the whole game is unreal. They don’t buy it; they don’t believe it. They haven’t been conditioned to love information, to believe in facts, to find comfort in them. Science and universities and research is a white man’s game.

Is that a fact? Maybe. I don’t believe it, particularly, since only God knows what has been going on “in space”. Science is very self important in general.

Science may feel solid to its believers, but it does indeed change its reality, albeit often so slowly that it’s like a huge Galapagos tortoise that is afraid of tripping on the rug. I refer specifically here to popular science, of course, information that is easily accessible to the average citizen. Each separate scientific branch and each individual scientist is probably moving, if at all, more like a blind mini pony in a bewildering field of tall alfalfa, with added periodic rocket blasts.

But the general populace learns about science through the filters of the academy, then electronic media, and perhaps through books, such as text books or self help books. If it’s in a text book, which we learned from day one is just chock full of solid, serious, indisputable facts, it’s already decades old. So it’s pretty hilarious that people think a text book is a solid reference for constructing their fact-based reality. Well, we gotta find a bunny to hug somewhere. If we knew our textbooks were spouting scientific stuff from our grandparents’ generation, we might act like Einstein and decide our classes were worthless. Such revelations beget a world of trouble, I can tell you from personal experience.

The academy decides what research actually filters down to those ads for supposed research-based bunion treatments on your browser sidebar. Scientific research is a broken system, but hey, it’s all we have to design our realities for us. Of course one COULD go to other sources for facts, like internet websites for people with alien implants or something. Which is probably real. Sometimes. I don’t bother deciding that stuff anymore. Or, one could ditch the whole reality project, which is where this essay is going.

When I took my undergrad research course, I walked away shaking my head that anybody believes much of it. Notice I said “believes”. My society doesn’t admit that what is “real” is CHOSEN by the individual, but yeah, “real” is a matter of belief, since our culture insists that nothing is intrinsically real. Believing is kinda what humans do, but since what we call science originated in protest of religious realities, and the word ‘belief’ in English has the connotation of religious dogma, it’s now illegal to pair ‘belief’ and ‘science’. Religion and science are supposed to be two separate camps, apples and oranges, and of course in some ways they are. But not in regards to the necessity for belief. My human power of belief makes things real in my experience, whether or not at my expense. It’s my decision.

Right. Reality is what we believe. When we believe it, we make it our experience. And the only definition of reality is whatever I am experiencing in the moment.

My recommendation to minimize the the defining of “real'” isn’t because I think my way is right, and the other is wrong. It’s just a health recommendation. It takes a lot of energy to keep this outer referencing, normative consensus reality thing up, y’all. You have to get busy listening to newscasts, and reading social media, and getting upset about stuff, and hating people who oppose your ideas of reality, and then we get bipartisan presidential elections and other land wars going.

‘Bipartisan’ brings us to a matter that falls under the heading of spirituality in my culture. “Real” in the consensus definition is dualistic; it implies there is such a thing as “not-real”. When we are busy playing smoke and mirrors, imagining some things are real and others are not, we are also busy cocreating duality consciousness. Which is fine; I’m just sayin’. Not like most people care about duality, consciousness or otherwise.

smoke and mirror

I mention this duality thing only because I like to point out that there is a glitch here in what I call old school spirituality. The mistake is the ill-considered use of the word “illusion” to describe consensus reality, or physicality, or the personality construct, or ego, or whatever isn’t spiritual enough for us and is therefore bullshit. That word ‘illusion’ seems very fancy and all, very high brow, but in the context it usually means “not-real”. Then we are stuck maintaining that dualistic mindset again, though we actually might have thought we were are on our way to experiencing oneness. We’re placing bets on the duality game with our belief-power chips.

I would say this is a use of ‘illusion’ that is not primarily dualistic, or concerned with real/not-real. Because it’s pointing not to a thing but a function; the function that creates and maintains separation. The function of cocreating separation is real when it’s experienced, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not-real when it isn’t. The experience of separation is contextually validated as real, or we wouldn’t be trying to heal it.

I know very well there’s a useful meaning of the word ‘illusion’ in context; I try not to act the curmudgeon. The word comes from the Latin root ludere: “to play”. So illusion, a very similar word to fantasy, is not a thing to get serious about. My purpose in defining terms (aside from health concerns) is to point out what lies beneath the obvious. And the bigger truth of the matter is that everything is real, and everything is also an illusion, in the nondual sense; made-up, appearing and disappearing, magical, play. Western physics “proved” decades ago that physicality isn’t “real”, for one thing, so that’s kinda the ultimate reality check for scientism. Of course you might not believe that, which is fine with me.

Before I let you go check your phone to see if I was right about Trump’s bullshit slogan, I will repeat William James; reality is whatever I am experiencing in the moment. Of course you are experiencing a different reality from myself, though we might agree we share some of our experience, supposedly proven or not. Or we think we do. There is no way to prove anything to anyone else, no matter how much research is done, that is not experienced directly; that’s quantum physics. And James defines experience thus: “My experience is what I agree to attend to.” Though that idea hurts some people’s brains, I’m sure, it’s actually as simple as James’s definition of reality.

It’s the foundation of many a contemporary self help teaching, as well; I am the boss. My reality is different from anyone else’s because I AM COCREATING IT IN THE MOMENT, so time and thought spent on how great anyone is at defining reality is ill-spent. I am ultimately undefinable, a dynamic multidimensional spark of the gods. I am stories, I am heart and soul and spirit. I am my conditioned personality and my body, borrowed from Gaia and inextricably entertwined with her and all her complexities. Defining myself and therefore reality with facts, research-based or not, likens me to a perennial lab subject, a pinned butterfly. Facts are fun, but only if not taken seriously.

In other words, my experience is what I agree to attend to. We pay attention to some things through our conditioning, meaning, not with willful intent. But that’s one of the challenges in the whole game of being human. No need to go into domination mode.

Like thoughts, there’s nothing solid about me, I am a moving target. And if we are busy playing echolocation with tortoises to prove what’s real, we’re going to miss the bigger picture on who we are. Everything has always been, and always will be, real. It’s whatever’s happening, baby. So get off the internet now, go get yourself a sweet little stuffed bunny, and hug it. You won’t be sorry you did.

A fun film focused on the personality, and acting. Carrey still seems to be find his ego shameful; old school spirituality alert! Well that was a couple years ago, maybe he gave it up. Alan Watts is a fave of mine, one of the greatest of masters at pulling back wizard curtains ever recorded in the English language.