The brilliant author/philosopher/self-appointed Pope Robert Anton Wilson once titled a book, “Reality is What You Can Get Away With.” I first read it when I was 15 or 16, and the title has profoundly resonated with me throughout my life. Many of the things Wilson wrote are open to interpretation (which I’m sure he intended), but that one sentence is seemingly ironclad in its meaning.
Reality, or the way we perceive the world around us, is far more malleable than we might imagine. The way we react and adapt to the non-stop torrent of sensory/emotional stimuli around us every day is equally dependent on our perception of it. If you actively try to change your perception of something, you are actually changing reality.
Well, your reality anyway. But that’s the point. Reality is created by each of us, individually.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife, etc.
Wilson may not have been the first to say it, but to my knowledge he was the first to put it so simply and eloquently. Of course, this is my gross oversimplification of his premise, but I have found this to be an indispensable tool in filtering and processing the events of my life.
I’m not implying that it’s easy. Human beings are creatures of habit, and our squishy simian brains are subject to the sum of all of our experiences and all kinds of neurochemical influences. It’s difficult to force yourself to imagine that someone might have just lost a parent, sibling, child, or spouse when you’re cursing the idiot motherfucker who just crashed his car and caused the traffic jam that is currently making you late for work. Or that the 20 minute delay on the way to your soul-crushing, monotonous job on some random November morning is really insignificant when considered in the context of your whole life, the length of time humans have been on this planet, or the age and vast expanse of the universe.
It isn’t always effective, either. When you see people jumping from a burning skyscraper, or read about preschool children gunned down in a classroom or a man-made or natural disaster claiming hundreds or thousands of lives, it’s nearly impossible to find an alternative to dwelling on the fact that awful, hateful, and terrible things are happening all over the world, around-the-clock, every single day.
But, for most situations, there’s one thing.
Wilson’s words have assisted me greatly in coming up with my own coping strategy:
That’s it. Six letters plus your preferred choice of punctuation.
I’m not saying “fuck everything” either. This isn’t intended to be some nihilistic, teen-aged screed pointing out the ultimate meaninglessness of life. Quite the opposite, in fact. All events may be equally meaningless in the “grand scheme of things”. But that also means, as conventional logic would follow, that they are all equally meaningful.
Those six letters are the verbal equivalent of water rolling off of a duck’s back. They can be applied to any situation, positive or negative, with the ultimate aim of achieving calm in the face of what are usually harrowing experiences.
It’s Zen Buddhism for the meme generation.