Newsletter Dezember 2022


In these days, as 2022 (gracefully? anxiously?) takes its departing bow and the question mark that is 2023 starts to make its presence felt, I find myself contemplating Illusion.

A quick dictionary check finds the definition of illusion to be "perception of something objectively existing in such a way as to cause misinterpretation of its actual nature" - so, it is not that an illusion is not real - it is simply that our interpretation of it is mistaken.

At the moment 2 books are happily occupying my free time - one is about NARM and developmental trauma, the other a collection of teachings from the great Indian spiritual teacher, Ramana Maharshi. It occurred to me that both have illusion as one of their central themes, though in somewhat different ways.

Working with developmental trauma means looking at the ways we managed to survive and get our basic needs met as children in (often much) less than ideal conditions. It is about the coping mechanisms that allowed us to survive in the past, but have outlived their usefulness and may now be undermining our lives.

These coping mechanisms, or survival strategies in NARM language, always involve a necessary distortion of reality - the child unconsciously creates illusions about who they are, about others in their life, about the nature of the world. The nature of the distortion depends on what belief the child needed to adopt in order to survive.

Some of the most common illusions are:

  • "I am essentially bad or wrong"
  • "if I open myself, others will surely hurt me"
  • "other people cannot be trusted - I need to do it alone"
  • "other people's needs are more important than mine".
  • "other people (my partner?) want to control me and take away my freedom"
  • "I need to perform and achieve in order to be loved and accepted" (an especially popular one in our culture)

As adults, we take these illusions with us wherever we go - in our jobs, in our love relationships, our sexuality, our friendships. They are the glasses through which we see the world - without even being aware that we are wearing glasses. You could even say that therapy (or any healing endeavor), is about becoming aware of the glasses we are wearing. As we learn to discern illusion from reality, we often discover a new capacity to connect to ourselves and to others. We see ourselves and others for what we are, and not as threats or problems to be fixed.

Ramana Maharshi also teaches about separating reality from illusion - only the illusion he is referring to is much more radical. The great teacher ruthlessly cuts to the core of our sense of identity with his method of self-inquiry - contemplating the question "who am I?". If I am sad or angry, who is it exactly who is sad or angry? If I have a particular thought, who is the thinker of the thought?

In this teaching, the very notion that I am a separate self, a body-mind located in a world that is external and therefore other than me, is challenged and eventually exposed as illusion. In reality, there is no separate self. It is the ultimate collective illusion, the water we are all swimming in. The body may be born and die but what we refer to when we say "I" was there before my birth and continues undisturbed after my death.

Even more far out - my "I" is identical to your "I" - it is the same "I" having different experiences, looking at the same reality from different angles. I can only imagine what life would be like without the constant need to defend, provide for, assert and improve the separate self I take myself to be. I'm guessing much more relaxed than it is now.

And so, for 2023 I wish all of us a healthy dose of disillusionment - in the true sense of the word, the falling away of illusions and the clear seeing and sensing of what is really there.

Mit Liebe, with love