By Rosemary Gray-Snelgrove
I believe there is an appropriate amount of illusion for each person to cultivate. How much of the soft warm realm (as opposed to the cold hard realities) an individual can sustain is a highly idiosyncratic function of the mind and emotion, and often relates to how much need one has for relief from the discomfort of bare bones life.
Any of us can go too much one way or the other (toward living in a largely illusory personal world or living in an entirely materialistic reality where one thinks and acts only upon observable facts). Being unable to distinguish between imagining and what is actual and observable to others is one of the indicators of schizophrenia, and not to be desired. But there are virtues to being able to maintain what are maybe reasonable illusions, that keep us company when we need them.
So what I’m speaking of here is not crazy-making fantasy. Nor is it, in my view, exactly the same as delusion. Delusion includes, I think, something that is generally held to be a falsehood. Someone may try to delude me – to tell me that something is true that they know to not be true. If I believe it, I am deluded and may become un-deluded over time.
But someone who describes to me a beautiful place they’d like to visit, and we build up an illusion that someday we might travel there, and at night I imagine myself in that spot, I’m indulging in an illusion – an imagined possibility – and it can be better than TV.
Illusions can take one way beyond the possibilities of future delights. And I wouldn’t want to live without mine – though I have many more hard-truth friends who wouldn’t want to live with anything they can identify as a voluntary illusion.
Illusions Can Be Pretty Personal
Confessing to my illusions could be a dangerous business – providing ammunition to anybody who already thinks I’m a jerk. But what the heck – if it frees up any reader to acknowledge their own illusions and to claim them happily, why not put mine out there?
Once I put my clothes on every day, I go forward with the illusion that I look okay. Photos or a comment or raised eyebrow may inform me that I’m kind of off. That outfit is much too young, or too tight, or too silly. But the next day, I don’t change my self-assessment: I boldly go forth as if I look as good as I want to.
If general, I keep forgetting that I’m not ten years younger anymore. Never was! Have always thought I was younger than I am. Now that’s ridiculous, but I just don’t think I’m actually the age that I am. Neither are my friends. They’re all still about 55 or 60 – even though they’re not. When we’re talking and laughing, sometimes hysterically, I know we’re the same age we always were – about 30.
I still keep thinking that I’ll see again everybody I care about – the living, that is. Don’t know at all about the heaven business. But Mary in B.C. and Barbara in England, and Susan in London, and all the people who come into my mind when going off to sleep – we’ll have visits again. In the future. Here I have to really work at holding on to that illusion because it means so much. To say, “Not a chance! Who’s go the money for that?” would be realistic, but I’ve learned that you just never know. Things happen, wonderful surprises turn up. Look at Skype! Would never have thought we could talk to our daughter in Brooklyn regularly but we do. So why emphasize the unlikelihood of something happening when you can choose to hang on to the possibility?
A Fine Illusion
Then, of course, there is the matter of the spiritual realm.
So many dear friends have come to the conclusion that there is zero possibility of a divine presence engaged in caring about we humans. Others have maintained a faith life that they find sustaining and meaningful. Those who are convinced that religion is all nonsense, superstition, childish, can be quite persuasive to those who don’t want to be identified with delusion. Slipping away from faith isn’t hard to do. Does maintaining a faith within one’s life require delusion or maybe illusion? I think it is closer to illusion, because we don’t have proof that there is no divine presence. So some of us maintain a wide open mind.
If one is a person, like myself, who has always felt a reaching, a yearning, in my heart, or my soul, toward something greater than myself, that may be an illusion – the image of myself reaching out. If it’s a delusion, I might have to decide it’s got emotional roots: dissatisfaction or longing for more of something tangible.
And indeed, it seems likely to be a reaching out for love. But it’s more than human or societal love – it’s much more ambitious. I yearn toward the presence that the Scriptures of many religions lead us to hope for. And I have known great peace and joy when my attention is fully tuned to that reality.
My most significant illusion is thus seeing myself s someone reaching for connection with the Spirit of God. God isn’t the illusion because I have realized God’s presence often enough that I’m not being misled. The illusion is that I am a being who can reach for that connection and find it. And that puts everything else up for grabs – all is possible!
I expect many will disagree wildly. Love to you all.