What Makes Reality Real

You may not think often about why it is that you think about reality as real. But in this article, I would like to take you on a journey towards realizing some insights into that matter for yourself.

To start our investigation we might begin with the one state that we would consider to be not real. Besides our waking awareness, the only other state that we all share and visit on a daily basis are our dreams. This you might call an experience that is not real.

1. What you can learn from dreams about reality

Why is it that we say dreams are not real and is that even true?

In order to answer this question, we have to analyze it from two points of view. And by making that distinction we can learn what we mean by “real”.

In our direct momentary experience, dreams appear to us as very real. Inside the dream, we are usually not aware that we are dreaming while the story of the dream is unfolding. If we become aware of the fact that we are dreaming, an ordinary dream turns into a lucid dream. But in regular dreams, we only are able to label it as unreal after we have woken up and the content of the dream is put into a larger context. The context, in this case, is that the experience took place inside of our heads, while the body was asleep.

If you had your first insight by now, you might have noticed the first pattern here. What we call real always needs another context. Keep this in mind, as we will build on top of this understanding going forward.

From the point of view from inside the dream, on the other hand, the dream appears as real as everything else in life. This is important to notice. Because we have no “outside” reference to our actual life. In other words, we might say, that we have never woken up from the dream called life. If that would be possible, it would put life into proper perspective. Just as waking up from a dream does with the content of the dream. Try to imagine right now, how radical of a shift that would be. How different would waking up from life feel? What could you wake up to? And is it possible to wake up while remaining “in life”, just as you do in a dream when you become lucid?

Think about these possibilities and you might arrive at some deep insights for yourself.

If dreams are not important to you, you might even think that you aren’t dreaming that often. But in fact, everyone has several dreams each night. How much attention we give them determines if we remember them or forget about them the moment we wake up. This might also give us a clue about how our current life might feel or matter in a larger context. If waking up from life is more radical of a shift than waking up from a dream, than also the shift in context is something to think about. How different would you live if the context of life becomes much vaster than what it seems form your current point of view? What would change? Would you gain some clarity and truly be living your dream life?

Did you have an insight into the state that you are in? You may have noticed that you never asked yourself these questions and that you have no reference outside of life. That is a very important first insight to have. It’s better to know that you don’t know than living in the illusion of never asking those questions in the first place.

If you deeply grasped the fact that you lack a larger perspective on life, then it can be a great motivation for spiritual work. To invest time into answering these questions for yourself and gain direct knowledge of what your life is about.

2. Shared human experience

The second more important aspect of reality that makes it appear real is found in our human relationships. Since you remember, all of your experiences took place in a social context, whether you were with other people or alone. But mentally, you always put your experience into the frame of experiencing what it is like to be a human in a social environment.

I would like to ask you to try and grasp the fact, that you project onto other humans the idea that they share basically the same internal life as you do. You can only experience yourself as a human being through this very idea. This apparently self-evident fact is in truth a projection that is created by your mind.

From personal experience, I can tell you that it is possible to experience reality with a total lack of this idea. To see another person without the projection that they have their separate internal lives. This is only possible when our direct experience is seen for what it is. Normally we don’t experience reality like this. Just like you cannot stop your brain from understanding your native language. It just happens. And every time you see a human being, you automatically assume they possess internal experience. Even if you think that you don’t want to do it. Just like thinking the thought “I will try not to understand these words” won’t stop you from making sense of the words which you are reading right now… Do you begin to grasp how tricky this is?

We might, therefore, conclude that reality becomes real because we share a part of reality (external reality) between all humans. Even though we see it from slightly different angles, we have some overlap between what we consider objective reality. The discovery that shared experience with other humans is just a belief rather than a feature of external reality, will reveal a deeper truth to us. This information is something that needs to be contemplated until a genuine insight arises. It has to feel similar to the experience of looking at these words without also interpreting them at the same instant.


These are two important aspects that make reality real. But it’s important to notice that there are probably countless more details to reality that create the overall packages of realness. Contemplate the difference between dreams and waking life. And, secondly, the importance of other humans to your sense of reality. This will take you very far in your discovery of the true nature of reality.

Spiritual Intelligence

Ken Wilber, in his book "Integral Meditation", writes about the different human intelligences. Usually when we speak about intelligence we think that it is a certain character trait which is measurable. The well known intelligence quotient (IQ) is a result of a test that is designed to capture and measure a persons intelligence. At least since the discovery of EQ, emotional intelligence, do we know that intelligence is a wide field.

Thinking we understand the mechanism behind reality takes away wonder and awe.

The research today is pointing towards a very complex landscape when it comes to human intelligence. Even though it might not be the case that we possess multiple intelligences, which are completely independent of one another, we can point to different aspects of intelligence. These aspects might be developed to varying degrees in one individual.

One of these lines of intelligence is our spiritual understanding. Our spiritual intelligence is a measure of how we understand our relation to existence/the universe/god itself. If we have a direct experience of god, a so called awakening experience, we might interpret it in a number of different ways. The way we explain such an experience to us is our spiritual intelligence. Someone with a deep believe in christian mythology will interpret the same experience very differently from someone who has a background in buddhism. The problem with religion is that it has stopped it's evolution on the mythical level of spiritual understanding. This was the common understanding of people 2000 years ago.

A person at an integral stage of development on the other hand will arrive at a pantheistic understanding of the same enlightenment experience. His level of spiritual intelligence could be regarded as much higher than the person on the mystical stage.

The critical insight here is that we have to admit that we have no school in western societies that addresses our spiritual intelligence. Since religion has turned it's back on true spiritual practices that lead to waking up, many people have lost faith in it's efficacy or don't even know it's original purpose anymore. In general that leads to a population of people with very low spiritual intelligence. Most people in western societies have very little chance to ever discover the value of an effective spiritual practice. Some people discover eastern traditions, eventually leading to an awakening. But it is a difficult undertaking because these traditions developed from a very different cultural background.

To effectively develop ones spiritual intelligence requires serious effort, which is why very few people are willing to do it. There is no default mechanism build into society that would advance spiritual development, making it a very personal undertaking.

By the nature of the overall process of human development, and because the different intelligences are at least partly interlinked, our spiritual understanding of the cosmos advances slowly over time. It takes hundreds of years until the insights from physics trickle down into our common understanding. We can see how, one hundred years later, the insights from quantum mechanics, that nothing exists independently of anything else, has not made it into our common understanding. Our perceived reality is still such, that we experience ourselves as an independent entity.

"If you have not been shocked by quantum mechanics, it is impossible that you have understood it." - Niels Bohr

The Final Frontier

In mindfulness meditation we become aware of the concepts that build up our self-identity. What we have formerly identified with and have unconsciously seen as the subject, is slowly turned into an object in awareness.

The Zen-symbol for the oneness of existence.

We dis-identify with the tendencies of our psyche. Through that process we gain freedom from our worldviews, that shape our behavior and determine how we feel about the world. Just by holding these concepts in our awareness, we become clear of their underlying mechanisms and see through the ego-identification that is there.

In that process we come to a point where we have separated from all mental phenomena and recognize them as not-self. This is also called the neti-neti method. Finally we come to a state where we seemingly have nothing to let go of anymore. At that point we continue to ask the question: what remains?

The last identification that remains is that of the Do-er. We think we are directing our attention. We think that we are the source of our thoughts. That we produce our actions.

This is the final frontier which needs to be investigated.
Finally we might discover, that this deepest of all identifications is also illusory.


Time is so essential to our existence, we usually overlook it.

Dogen watching the moon.
Here I will present an interesting viewpoint from Zen-Buddhism. Dogen writes about this in his book Shobogenzo. What follows is my interpretation of it.

Time can be seen as fundamental to reality. Everything can only appear as moments in time. Time is what we observe as the pattern with which the present moment changes.

If everything exist, it exist as moments in time. Infinite possibilities are unfolding as a seamless band of individual moments in conscious experiences. This band we call time.

Interestingly, time itself only exists as a concept. The only real thing about time is the everlasting moment. Time is never experienced outside of now. The concepts of past and future emerge as functions of our minds, always in the now.

Truth is only found now. There are all kinds of different experiences happening in the now. One day there will be enlightenment happening in the now, where the human concept of individuality is seen through and is replaced by more genuine understanding of being. On the other hand, there are many moments, in which the flow of events has no knowledge about it's own nature. This is the ordinary human experience.

Time after enlightenment. After enlightenment, time is seen for what it truly is. The change of events in the moment are still going to occur, but the awareness will always stay in the now. Concepts of future events are recognized as such. Plans can still be made and memories are still useful and nice. But the present moment will no longer appear as a tiny sliver of time, in between the seemingly infinite past and future. Instead it will be the eternal now that it actually is. Time being a property of what happens in it.

There is only being-time. All time occurs as moments of being. Nothing exists outside of it. Time both encapsulates all of existence and does not exist at the same time. This is one of the paradoxes of reality.

Win-Win-Win Decisions - From The Perspective of Spiral Dynamics

When you realize nothing is lacking, the whole world belongs to you. - Lao Tzu

We know Win-Win-Situations. When we make a business deal or we buy something, it usually is a Win-Win-Deal. We get what we want and the other party gets what it wants too.

We buy something because it is more efficient for us than if we would have made it ourselves. We benefit from efficient mass production. The company usually offers the product at a price where they make a profit too. A classical Win-Win-Situation.

Industry exhaust
The result of our highest wisdom?

From the theory of Spiral Dynamics we know that, in order to deal with future problems and to be successful in the long-run, we have to consider the third "Win". What is the third "Win"?

In the context of business, the third "Win" emerges when at least the whole industry benefits or better yet, the whole economy. But really, the third Win represents a higher level of consideration. It means we have to take into account a larger picture than the immediate people that are involved in the decision. In the long-term, in order to fulfill this third "Win", we will have to take into account the impact on the largest system we can think of. The ecosystem of the earth that supports our very existence.

No longer can we overlook the negative impacts of egotistical Win-Win decisions of the past. To enable the sustainable long-term success of a company, decision-makers will have to take into account the environment that they unquestionably depend on. If we want to develop a society and an economy that is able to support future generations, taking the biggest view possible is necessary.

Otherwise we will have to attribute our failure to survive to our unwillingness to embrace human-psychosocial development past the point of adolescence where we are still unconsciously living from a state of avoiding basic fears and work to compensate for our lack of safety. Which is, at it's core, caused by our false believe in a separated, illusory ego that needs to be defended at all cost to cover up it's inherent emptiness.

One must be deeply aware of the impermanence of the world.  
- Dogen

Essential Spiritual Practice: Zazen

According to the Shobogenzo, which is the best resource of Zen-Buddhism, the practice of Zazen is the only real practice that is required to achieve the realization of truth. While we are sitting in the clear awareness in an upright position, we are cultivating the qualities of the buddha-mind or no-mind. The practice is simple yet effective. You sit with your legs crossed or with your feet under your butt. In both of these positions the spine stays straight without muscular contraction. These positions become comfortable for extended periods of time after the first few weeks.

Zazen is the only essential spiritual practice.

Then the whole practice is to remain as awareness, which is aware of itself. You could accompany this being aware with the question: "What am I?". This question emphasizes the empty nature of awareness and denies our commonly held believe that we know who we are, when in fact our true self has none of the qualities we attribute to our self.

Sitting in Zazen is therefore an exercise of remaining aware of the nothingness that it is. Over time this will increase our capacity to stay in this clear state of mind and detachment naturally develops. A detachment from the false self which we identify with.

Even though this practice sounds simple, it has many nuances and should be evaluated and discussed regularly with a teacher to avoid the various traps of wrong practice. For example, it is easily possible to do ones daily practice in a state of day-dreaming, where one is almost entirely absorbed in thoughts about ones life. Which actually achieves the opposite of what Zazen practice is about.

To start the practice of Zazen it can be helpful to choose an object in ones experiences to focus on. This will train the ability to concentrate without interruption for extended periods of time. In my own practice I have found constant objects, like sensations to be best to develop this concentration. I start out every meditation practice with about 10 minutes of concentration on the sensation of my hands which lie on top of each other in my lap. This concentration requires effort and silences the mind. When I feel that my concentration has deepened and lengthened, I shift over to concentration on awareness without objects. Remaining aware as awareness of itself, as mentioned in the beginning.

I wish you much success with your own meditation practice. Please feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments, or book a Consultation with me, if you want to discuss your progress in detail.

Create your own best life

This is a list of a few concepts and action-steps that I have found to be helpful for personal development. This list has developed in my journal over time and is likely to change and grow in the future. But at this point in time is is worthwhile to share. Enjoy, adjust and implement!

Becoming your own success story is hard.

First, an example for why we should engage in continuous improvement and personal development:

  • See yourself as the boss and the employee of your own life
    • and then consider yourself to currently be the worst of both: you tell yourself strictly what to do but you never do it, right?
    • how can you become a good boss and employee?
    • by designing a negotiation-process for continuous improvement for yourself
    • strive for continuous but step-by-step improvement
  • Develop a profound routine:
    • why? better to have a plan than to drift aimlessly through your life
    • work on improving your routine over time, test different styles and see what works for you
    • get up every day at the same time, even on weekends (more energy through solid circadian rhythm)
    • do one hour of meditation daily. Suggestion: 40min in the morning and 20-30min in the evening
    • pick the times when you work, when you exercise, when you study
    • remind yourself every evening before going to bed what you are thankful for that happened that day. Maybe start a journal.
    • set weekly goals of new things and challenges you want to do.
    • Set a certain amount of time that you dedicate towards caring for your relationships
  • Live your life as though you are already the version of yourself that you want to become
    • Visualize daily, where you want to go and which goals you want to achieve
    • Goals need to be kept alive. Ever wonder why you tend to forget about your motivation behind your goals? They die without constant reminders that keep you on track.
    • Acting the way you want to become is the only way to get there. Change is inevitable.
    • let your journey for personal development be guided by the best version of yourself
    • constantly remind yourself of how you would think and act if you would already be that person and then, slowly over time, you will develop those habits and skills.
  • In Buddhism they teach that you become free by letting go of your attachments
    • Giving up materialistic possessions and attachments is only one side though
    • Giving up attachments to who you currently are is the other side
    • That means having no attachments to your current state of being because a lack of freedom is largely a conceptual limitation
    • That is a tricky thing to do, because changing the self feels like letting parts of yourself die
  • Seek out your errors
    • Confront them in a way that does not crush you
    • ask people of their opinion and listen with a non-judgmental, open mind
  • When you feel fear, see it as an opportunity for growth
    • Fear is the imaginary border off your comfort-zone, behind which, growth-opportunities lie
    • Beyond that, the self imagines danger. Which feels very real, even though it usually is not

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