How Do We Define Real?

November 6, 2011

Ironically, when I left the Island of Bali, and also when I left Jakarta it rained.  I absolutely love the rain.  As Ray Charles sang, “It’s a rainy night in Georgia, feels like its raining all over the world.”  Living in Georgia, I know the truth of that song.  For me, the smell, the sound, the presence of rain brings out the contemplative….

As magnificent this experience has been, my good fortune is not lost on me.  To have opportunities such as this to expand my breast….I am most grateful for….

To say the least, having the immersive experience of not only being in various countries on the other side of the world, but seeing first hand Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Confucionist culture first hand….is, well to say the least, a life-time type of experience….not to mention that South Korea has the largest Christian church in the world (1 million plus).  When I make these trips…learning is the most important goal, experiencing cultures is a goal, but getting to know the people….the human side….that is what is most important!

So often when we discuss other countries and societies, the human factor gets lost in the term used to describe them.  We hear about Hindu’s, but not the people.  We hear about Muslims, but not the people.  We see pictures of monks, but what about the people…what about their humanity….even on the other side of the world, each person has a story….a human story…

And so, it was amazing to hear their stories….to hear about their parents, their families, their questions about life, their quests to develop their lives….and come to find out…we are all not that different….even when it comes to War.  With my travels, I often wonder, who is actually at War…what is at War…people, ideas, desires for power….in all of this…where is our humanity…do we take the steps to develop it…or do we just leave it to be haphazardly developed through the processes of socialization dominate in each of our countries….or do we take an active approach to as my friend Consuela says…”to improve our literacy, through unlearning….

While there are many things I could touch on that I’ve learned throughout this trip, I wouldn’t want the most significant points to become lost in the volume of experiences.  And so, be mindful of just obtaining your information from one source.

Bali is indeed a paradise….but it is only a paradise for some.  Ubud, the coast and some aspects of the mountains are a haven…other parts not so much.  In some areas, you would think that you are in Haiti…in particular the “bidon-villes”…homes built on top of each other.  Definitely when you leave the western world or at the least the United States, the concept of personal space departs.  Just like in many other places I’ve visited, people in this area seem to be stacked upon each other.  Not quite a slum, but not luxury.  On the other hand, on the way to the airport, we drove by a river…full of trash/waste.  People were wading and swimming through it…collecting items.  It may be similar to some South American countries where people mine the trash to find items of value to sell…I don’t know….

All is not fine….but, poverty is relative.  However, there is a stark contrast between poverty in the United States and global poverty.  And as we become encompassed in our excesses and in our convenience….or even the exceptional view we have of ourselves, it is easy to allow the narrowness of our thinking to make us a trite bit self-important…making absolutely no contribution to the world or those around us…yet, consumed with our own exceptionalism.  Considering the quest for food, the attempt to find a dry place in the house when it rains, attempting to keep the water out so that the dirt floors don’t get muddy…so many things faced every day without pause…but, in our exceptionalism…what do we pray for? What are the challenges we bemoan every day?  And if the God is privy to our prayers just as God is privy to the prayers of the woman sleeping with her children in the street, then how trite must many of us appear.

If the attitude is that we are exceptional and they are not, thus we all reap what we deserve…well, what can be said about the perspective of the asinine mind.  But, with some humility, if we can place all of these considerations in the balance, then what type of person do we become.  As human beings, are we improving…are we becoming better, or are we following a course of stagnation and insignificance…setting up our children to make war with the implications of such?

Considering this extensive experience along with those in other countries that I have had, coming back to the United States requires a bit of re-orientation, at times.  Oddly enough, for some of you movie buffs….coming back put me right in line with Neo from the Matrix…figuratively, I could hear Morpheus saying,

“What is real? How do you define real?  If you are talking about what you can feel, what you can smell, what you can taste and see, then real is simply electrical signals interpreted by your brain….”

Check it out:

And so, over the years when I was in a contemplative mode in West Africa or recently during a visit to a temple, the contemplative mind suggests we ask ourselves, are we responding to and contributing to something that is real in this world.  That perception could be shaped by the broadness or narrowness of our views.  Of course, this also impacts the depth of insight we have into multiple realities.  Never-the-less, this is a question we should ask ourselves…and it is an answer we must produce for ourselves.

Either way….I am profoundly grateful for the friends I have made in all walks of life.  And, trips such as this drive home the point for me that it is critical to make travel, immerse yourself in literature or engage in a vehicle that can transport our minds across the globe…in fact, it is imperative…particularly since we are going to be required to improve our literacy to become better global citizens.  Hope you enjoyed…and see you on the next trip…

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One Response to “How Do We Define Real?”

  1. Rabiah Muhammad said

    Thanks for sharing your memories. Beautifully stated. . .

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