Three Ways of Knowing and Changing Reality
by Cynthia Sue Larson
August 8, 2000

Reality Shifts

I woke up this morning and felt really awake. I knew I wasn't dreaming any more, because I could feel the cotton sheets on my bed as my legs stretched under the covers. I thought about several things I wanted to do today, and felt my heart's longing to see my sleeping daughters before they woke up. I jumped out of bed, pulled open my window shade, and danced down the hall to give my daughters kisses and hugs in the early morning sunlight as I began my day.

How can I tell which parts of my waking experience are real? My dictionary defines real as "true", "actual, rather than imaginary", "genuine", and "authentic". The physical sensations, intellectual thoughts, and emotional feelings I experienced when I awoke this morning all felt equally real to me.

While you'll probably agree with me that physical sensations and actions are real, you might feel more hesitant to agree that thoughts and feelings are real. After all, we can't measure them or know for sure how they affect the world. Part of the reason for this is that consciousness necessarily runs into some trouble when it encounters itself -- when we contemplate the nature of consciousness, we question the nature of reality to its very core.

Mystics know that there is a deeper level of reality than meets the eye... that there is much more than just the physical world of our senses. This other way of knowing goes beyond anything we can touch, taste, smell, hear, or see. This other way of knowing has been described by mystic Rohit Mehta:

Even though most people don't slip easily into the mystical realm of awareness, all of us change the world with our thoughts and feelings as well as with our physical actions. Let's take a look at how this happens by considering how real our actions, thoughts and feelings are. Do they affect anything? If so, how do they change the world?

What We Do Changes the World

Few people would argue with the premise that actions are real, or that physical movements have physical effects. The field of classical physics describes laws governing the movements of physical bodies, and we intuitively recognize the truth in these laws. We know that a ball's movement stops when we catch it, and that a ball sitting on the floor will most likely continue to sit in the same spot on the floor -- unless someone or something disturbs it.

We feel certain that "a body at rest remains at rest", that "for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction", and that "an external force acting on a body gives it an acceleration that is in the direction of the force and has a magnitude directly proportional to the magnitude of the force and inversely proportional to the mass of the body (F=ma)". Ever since Sir Isaac Newton defined these three laws of motion for us, they have become the basis from which we view the world around us.

What We Think Changes the World

In the last hundred years, the study of physics has moved from the realm of the purely physical into the realm of how our observations affect the reality we are attempting to measure. As physicists searched for the "fundamental particle", they found tinier and tinier building blocks from which every known physical thing in the universe is formed. Molecules contained atoms, which contained electrons and protons and neutrons, which in turn contained subatomic particles. The very tiniest particles were discovered to behave in very non-particle ways... moving more like waves on the ocean than tiny balls moving in straight lines.

Early experiments with photons traveling through slits in screens showed that quantum particles behave as if they "know" when they are being observed... only appearing in physical form when they are being measured physically, and otherwise traveling as waves (not particles). Alain Aspect's series of experiments in Paris in the early 1980's proved that "spooky action at a distance" in which a scientist's observation of a photon affects the behavior of a photon's partner, even across great distances.

What laws of motion pertain to thought? If we consider that even photons are conscious, each act of observation can be considered to be an intellectual "force" affecting what is being observed. Every observation "pops" a quantum wave function, resulting in some observable physical outcome. Our thoughts have physically discernible effects that can be seen and measured, and quantum physics has opened the door to a greater understanding of how this happens.

What We Feel Changes the World

Medical researchers are the front-runners in today's quest to discover how feelings change the world. Several recent journal articles show physical evidence of the tremendous effects that our emotions have on our physical health and well-being. While anecdotal evidence has existed for centuries that love heals, some courageous medical researchers are now venturing forward to share the amazing results of their double-blind, reproducible experiments indicating ways in which prayer and feeling loved and loving results in tremendous health benefits.

We instinctively know that this is true... we can feel the way our world seems brighter when we change our attitude from despair to hope, from complaint to appreciation, from doubt to confidence, and from fear to love. Even when things seem to be going terribly awry... perhaps especially at those times... we can most afford to be our kindest, most compassionate selves.

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