Lost in a Powerful Virtual Reality Headset
Picture the scene: the pandemic is over and you find yourself at CES in Las Vegas.
You enter the crowded floor and a shiny device in the center of the room immediately grabs your attention. It’s the most sophisticated virtual reality headset that has ever been invented.
You put it on, and suddenly your full consciousness is immersed. Sitting on a rock outside, you stare in awe at a virtual bee. Soon, you are captivated by the immense complexity, beauty, and wonder of the tiny, sophisticated machinery of this insect. You stare at its wings, translucent in the shimmering sun. Its antennae sense your presence and the objects around you. You watch as it flies away, and stare up at the vast blue sky overhead.
In this moment, you realize that you can’t distinguish between this virtual reality experience and waking life. It’s just so well engineered, down to the smallest detail.
Then, you see some text flashing on the heads-up display: for a small upgrade fee, you can add an additional level of features. This entails the ability to begin the simulation as a child, including waking days and dreams each day, for years on end. The best part is, there is a simulated death at some point, but you don’t know when it will happen. The simulation decides this all for you, though they promise that most people will receive at least 60-90 years.
You remove the headset, take a breath, and wonder what you just experienced.
The Mystery of the Mundane
If we’re intellectually honest with ourselves, there’s no way to distinguish the aforementioned experience from our actual waking lives.
Yet, how often do we find ourselves immersed in wonder, slowing down to admire, or better yet, allowing ourselves to be awed by the most mundane details of life? Whether it’s a bee buzzing by, the rich color of a high-resolution phone screen, or the aliveness of our hands right in front of us.
There is a deep mystery about our origins and the nature of our existence, including life in this very moment.
As human beings, we’re somehow wired to search inside and out for this answer. Yet, the answers can never be found inside of you, even in a deep meditative state, nor can they be found outside of you, waiting to be discovered on a remote Himalayan mountaintop.
However, the answer can be found right on the very surface of experience, staring you in the face during each and every moment.
When we are able to slow down and drop into that wonder, the discerning, judgmental, and classifying mechanics of our thinking mind slow down, and we open up our consciousness to a much larger state: one of wonder and rediscovery.
This is called “beginner’s mind” in Zen, and it more closely approximates what it’s like to be a newborn, rather than an adult who claims to have all the answers, and lives in a world of labels and classifications.
Your True Nature and Your Social Security Number
The challenge, then, is how to not compartmentalize these two experiences. How does one live in the world of ongoing wonder, with heightened awareness and a type of waking meditative state, while simultaneously being highly effective in one’s work, or as a parent, friend, and member of society? It’s what Jack Kornfield calls, “Remembering your true nature and your social security number.”
The reality is that living in the vastness of wonder is likely to make you much more effective in the world. You’re less likely to get caught up in negative emotional states, blame other people for these states, be driven by the survival-based tendencies of egos, or treat others as transactional objects.
One person who has set a unique example of this is Michael Singer, who dedicated his life to yoga and meditation, but simultaneously managed to build and run a billion-dollar publicly-traded company.
As he puts it in his book, The Untethered Soul:
“In the end, enjoying life’s experiences is the only rational thing to do. You’re sitting on a planet spinning around in the middle of absolutely nowhere. Go ahead, take a look at reality. You’re floating in empty space in a universe that goes on forever. If you have to be here, at least be happy and enjoy the experience. You’re going to die anyway. Things are going to happen anyway. Why shouldn’t you be happy? You gain nothing by being bothered by life’s events. It doesn’t change the world; you just suffer. There’s always going to be something that can bother you, if you let it.”
Perhaps Shakespeare saw the same thing as well—the fundamental dreamlike state of our lives—when he entreated us to tread lightly and enjoy ourselves along the way, in The Tempest:
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d tow’rs, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Work and Wonder
In the end, we each have a choice in every second, of every minute, of every day.
Do we get lost in the minutiae of social media, email, and smartphones? Or, do we throw it all away, crawl into a mountain cave, and cut ourselves off from society?
Instead, is there another path? Can we do the work of holding both of these worlds together, melding the wonder and fundamental mystery of our lives, along with the daily work we’ve been tasked with? Moreover, can we weave these together into a unique story of our lives?
It’s not easy work, but it’s one that has the potential to transform your life, perspective, and well-being.
That’s why, whenever I’m aware enough to remember it, I try to drop into a state of wonder before dropping into work.