Tag: reality

Just before Christmas, I met a young man named Mitch. He was living on the streets of Sydney. My girlfriend and I almost walked by him as many people do. Choosing not to see someone because it’s somehow uncomfortable. Acknowledging the homeless also acknowledges that you are doing nothing to help them. The city was filled with Christmas shoppers and the homeless are an unwanted obstacle in the path of those fulfilling their consumer missions. Ironic, people so obsessed with securing gifts for others because society says this is the time to give, yet ignoring those in obvious need right before them.

Something about Mitch made my girlfriend stop. Perhaps it was how young he looked. I was making pace for the station, ready for the trip home when I noticed she was no longer walking next to me. I took a few steps back to join them. We introduced ourselves and my girlfriend asked Mitch if he would mind sharing why he was living on the street. At 21, Mitch is frank and clear-eyed, drug-free apart from a smoking habit. I don’t think it’s fair to share the details of his life without his permission, suffice it to say his story was one of misfortune, abandonment and ill-treatment. He expressed a great desire not to be living on the street. He shared his plans to get an apartment of his own. He freely admitted life had put him in situations that had led to bad choices, choices that made it more difficult now to find work and housing. Waiting for social housing was likely to be long and fruitless, other services only solve immediate problems, like a charity food voucher for $15 that might get him a meal once a month.

As we spoke, standing to one side of a busy Martin Place, a woman walked right between us, completely disregarding our conversation and Mitch’s presence, her shopping bags nearly knocking us over. We all had to take a step back and collectively laughed in disbelief. But part of me wondered if I was any better than the bustling intruder. I’ve occasionally bought meals for people living in the streets, or given money, but like many of us, I’ve also found it easier sometimes to walk by. I like to think I’m a little better as a human being because I see these people, even if I feel powerless to help.

Mitch said he didn’t want to say, ‘See you next time’, because next time we come to Martin Place he didn’t want to be living there. He wanted to take his social security and start paying rent. From there he hoped he could get work. We asked if there was anything we could do now to help him. He simply said a hot meal would be nice.

Mitch could have turned his life into a sob-story. For various reasons, he’d been rejected by his family and society, but he expressed a determination to make something of his life. He possessed a strong sense of self-determination. He took responsibility for the poor choices he’d made, despite many of them being made as a result of even poorer situations outside of his control.

We gave Mitch some money to get some food and he thanked us for taking the time to stop and have a conversation. He thanked us for listening and for seeing him. We all agreed we didn’t want to see him next time we might pass through Martin Place. Hopefully, because he will have his own place and maybe even a job. I’d hate for him to become a long-term member of the invisible homeless, ignored by thousands every day, too busy with our own lives to stop and help. But Mitch not being on the street doesn’t change the fact that others will be and as long as there are people on the street can we honestly say we live in a fair and compassionate society? More likely we are living in an age of misaligned priorities. We look beyond the obvious, we relegate problems like homelessness to our peripheral vision, choosing not to see because it has become an issue that is hard to change. The reality is though that change is just as much an act of will as keeping things the same.

Evan Shapiro
Author – Road To Nowhere

There are a ton of things going on in the world that bother me. They range from mildly inconvenient intrusions into my daily life to global demigods that threaten the end of our existence. The everyday intrusions I’m learning to deal with. What’s harder is the wave of moderate to high, national and global issues that inundate my mind at the speed of light. Literally, light carrying information from the multitude of screens I’ve allowed to infiltrate my existence directly into my thought stream. I’m angry with many things people do in my world. Rather than list them all, I can sum them up into two very simple actions. 1. People treating others without compassion. 2. People treating their world with contempt.

Within this constant download of outrage from social media and the 24/7 news cycle, there is one person in the world who is damaging us all by relentlessly surfing the waves of light we recklessly allow to flow into our view. I’m angry with the world for not only allowing it but for propagating it. I don’t even want to use his name because that’s what he wants. Instead, I’m going to refer to him as The Great Disruptor.

The Great Disruptor, via traditional and social media, is destroying our thought patterns. His every move, great or small, is reported in a way that no other world leader has been subject to and the constant appearance of stories related to him, the constant disruption is corrupting normal thought processes. It’s very important to respond appropriately to the outrageousness of his actions, but equally, it’s important to remove him from our stream of consciousness as a constant form of unpredictable energy. The Great Disruptor needs to be compartmentalised. His intrusion into our consciousness should not be at the expense of caring about other people or self-nurturing. The Great Disruptor aims to leverage our fear as he aims to validate his self-worth by the accumulation of wealth and power.

By disrupting our thoughts, by intruding into our conversations, by infiltrating our social media feeds as well as our mental processes he is taking our thoughts away from where they can do the most good. He is undermining our ability and our right to create a sense of self-security.

I like to think I have a strong will, but I’ll admit I’ve been mentally fractious since The Great Disruptor came to prominence. My peace of mind is slowly and surely being eroded. But now that I can see the negative influence of the constant news stream I can take steps to disrupt the Great Disruptor. For me, this is taking the form of reading less news and reconnecting with what’s happening in the immediate world around me. I’m turning off the internet and phone for a few hours every day and when they are back on engaging with them less.

We can and should have our moments of protest. They are vital. Our voices can and will change things. But along the way, it’s essential to also protect our thoughts. To allow ourselves the time and space to evaluate and to contemplate. We can grow meaning in our lives and hold true to what is of real value when we tune out the noise. And right now, The Great Disruptor is simply the noisiest child in the room. We can’t allow his cries for attention to be our undoing.

Evan Shapiro
Author – Road To Nowhere

When I saw this photo of my friend Hector and his mother Irma I couldn’t help but burst into a broad smile. Knowing them as I do and having stood around the Boudha Stupa myself, I had a strong visceral sense of the moment, of the feeling in the air, of what would be passing between these two.

I remember when Hector first went to Nepal in 2008. We were in regular contact over what became a life changing trip for him. What evolved from those experiences has become life changing for many including myself. One individual who was seeking to see reality, seeking to see through the multiple social constructs of life, discovered compassion for others as a key means to cut through his own challenges. And he hasn’t stopped taking people along on that journey. He tirelessly points out for others what has become a clear path for himself, with a desire not to leave anyone behind.

Now 8 years later and Hector is back in Nepal. This time he has brought along his mother and other members of his immediate family. What an amazing moment to stand and look out at the palpable history of Kathmandu, the history of spiritual exploration and share it with someone you have explored life with so inextricably.

While all photos capture a moment, this one for me, captures how powerful some moments can be. I think of the many lives Hector has affected and how that has flowed from simple moments of understanding. And I’ve been thinking about other people in my life who have taken the time to share and give. What flows from all moments is an opportunity. You can take a negative and push that out into the world, or you can see a better way and bring people along with you, invite them to see a different perspective.

I’m very proud of my friend Hector and what has grown from his moments of insight. Equally I’m grateful to the many people like him in my life that share their time, ideas and energy. Moments are wonderfully complex, intangible and fleeting things, but they are where we exist. Seeing Hector and Irma exist in this moment is a joy and I can’t wait to see what flows from it.

Evan Shapiro
Author – Road To Nowhere

Photo: Gina De La Chesnaye

‘Looking at the world through rose coloured glasses’ is an expression that has fascinated me since I was a child. I had a baby sitter who actually had rose coloured glasses and said she preferred to see the world through them than the harsh reality she saw without them. She let me try them on once and I found it amusing to flick them up and down, comparing my reality to her rose tinted version.

The phrase implies a world view that is ignorant to the truth, but could it be seen another way? There isn’t anything inherently wrong with wanting to see things better or perhaps just differently to the way you naturally perceive things. Putting a rose tint on everything isn’t any different from filtering all you perceive through your own mind and body. ‘You’ are what you have to perceive the world. Your mind and body are essentially your mechanisms for perception. Your world view and your self view completely influence how you see things. So, consciously adding a tint is quite possibly more aware than simply going through life taking in information and not recognising how you are altering information as it comes in.

In science this is called the ‘observer effect’, that by the act of observation, the observer actually changes what is being witnessed. If we have low self-esteem, poor self awareness then pretty much everything you think and do will be altered by that ‘reality’.

There have been times in my life where I have felt embarrassed to say what I think, too shy or concerned about what other people might think about my opinion. To people who know me now this must seem ridiculous. Yet I’m aware of how these patterns can corrupt my experience of the world. Over time, through self examination, I have learned to be accepting of myself and this has unlocked a degree of confidence. But I know people who are consumed by what they perceive as their failings. If perhaps they realised they could remove that filter and choose a different way to look at things who knows how their observations of life might change the world before them.

Evan Shapiro

What do sorting cutlery, obeying traffic lights and Shakespeare’s King Lear have in common? Their relationship is not overtly obvious, yet as with many other possible examples, they can tell us much about our lives and how we live them.

How can everyday cutlery help us make better decisions in life? Take a moment to consider how easy it is to sort cutlery. Something I find myself having to do most days is stacking and emptying the dishwasher. If you don’t have a dishwasher, don’t worry this concept works without one. Simply take the clean cutlery and sort it into the cutlery drawer.

That was easy. That was too easy. Did you notice how quick that actually was? You know the knives go in the knives compartment, the forks with the forks, spoons with spoons. You even know the difference between types of spoons. Ok so now you are thinking, ‘what has this got to do with anything, of course, I know how to sort my cutlery?’ The reason you are able to unconsciously sort cutlery is that you have been conditioned to. This mundane everyday task simply demonstrates how deep that condition is.

Without thinking you can perform the task of sorting objects into a predefined order. Not only can you do this super fast, without thinking, but the order that you are sorting into is not something that you created. It was something that you have learned. It is something other human beings determined and then many many others perpetuated until ultimately it was taught to you. You don’t get much of a choice, you just get to carry on the process.

Traffic lights have been around for just over a century. For many of us, they are part of our everyday movement as we drive or walk to our various destinations. When driving they directly control our behaviour. Green, we go, Red we stop, Yellow, we should slow down and prepare to stop, but in a hiccup of conditioning many of us speed up to catch the light. When I first became aware of how traffic lights were controlling my life I was pretty upset with Red for making me stop all the time, but it soon dawned on me that Green was just as bad as Red in the way it controlled my actions. I’m not advocating anarchy here. There is a good reason we have traffic lights and for pedestrians waiting patiently for the little green man to appear before crossing, they make possible a safe transfer from one side of the street to the other. I don’t mind the safety afforded by traffic lights, I just want to highlight how we have become conditioned to act according to a colour response mechanism.

Cutlery and traffic lights are the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In what other ways are your decisions being made based on conditioned responses? I would argue that unless you are making a conscious effort to deconstruct your decisions outside of all social conditioning then perhaps everything you do is predefined by social constructs that have been in place well before you were conceived.

Your world doesn’t have to fall apart when you deconstruct it, however, you may find you can make better decisions for yourself based on what you truly want. Again I’m not promoting anarchy. Social order serves a purpose. Doing only what you want when you want is not what I’m advocating. Actions have consequences and respect for others and their fundamental rights should always be part of decision making.

So how does King Lear fit into all this? Shakespeare gives us a great example of a man who has lived his life according to his conditioned perception of the world. He discovers towards the end of his life that when he makes decisions based on that world’s ‘reality’ they are flawed. His decisions may have a social truth but there is no truth for what is actually real. For example, Lear bases his decision to divide his kingdom on his three daughter’s protestations of love for him. The one that says the least actually loves him most genuinely. Ironically because of her true love for him, she won’t satisfy his ego with false or flowery statements in the way her older sisters are more than willing to do in their thirst for power.

Lear cannot see love other than in the way his society tells him love should be expressed. He doesn’t trust his own experiences of his daughter’s as people. He loves Cordelia most and expects that she will declare it with more passion than the others he loves less. When that doesn’t happen his world order collapses. His idea of what is natural and what is nature become discordant. They are filtered through the prism of the rules of the social order in which he lives. He throws himself into a great storm and relinquishes himself to the forces of nature. At this moment he understands that as a human being he is subject to the whims of nature and no amount of human thought or will can alter that.

Why did I bring Shakespeare into this you may be asking? Before traffic lights, before cutlery and even before Shakespeare, we had social conditioning. As long as we have had social groups interacting, human lives have been conditioned and great artists such as Shakespeare have wanted to tell you about it. They want you to know that there is more going on beneath the surface of human-constructed society. And while social order has its merits, not being aware of it and its control over you can profoundly inhibit your choices.

With awareness, you can blend a socially conditioned life to include genuine decisions that work for you. Ideas such as getting married or a professional career, for example, are fine if you enter into them with awareness. Are you choosing the path ahead because society tells you that is what you want or is it actually what you want? It’s not always easy to see the difference but when you stop to consider your choices, really look at them from outside the social expectation placed on you, then you can make better decisions. Poor decisions can make you feel powerless. They feel this way because despite you thinking it was a choice you made, the reality is you didn’t choose at all.

Human society likes to lay out a life path for individuals. These paths do not consider the individual, however, they only consider what is seemingly best for the collective. If you make a choice that is fundamentally wrong for you then the chances are you are going to feel dissatisfied. For many people, it’s not until their lives change dramatically, through divorce or other significant events, that they begin to question what they actually want from life.

Making decisions with insight, with awareness and clear consideration rather than to satisfy some intangible social ideology can avoid dissatisfaction. It can also bring be confronting for those more stepped in social conditioning.

How do you begin to make decisions in this way? The first step to unlocking understanding is awareness. There are many ways to gain awareness but as a human, it can easily begin by utilising the ways in which we perceive the world. The five senses are our doorway to understanding. We take in a great deal of information every day, yet much of it is filtered in ways we are not consciously aware of. Taking the time to observe your perceptions unlocks a clearer understanding of what is actually occurring. Observing the ways in which you have been conditioned such as sorting cutlery or obeying traffic lights can help you see the many other ways your actions and choices are predefined and not of your own making.

There are many different mindfulness techniques from those taught by Buddhism to those being utilised in contemporary psychology practices and corporate training programs.

It doesn’t matter how you do it. Finding a way that works for you is all that matters and giving yourself the opportunity to see things differently to the way you have been conditioned.

And this is what a metaphorical meltdown sounds like – from The Monday Daily on Radio 2ser 2007 with thanks to my friend The Eavesdropper.


Evan Shapiro
Author – Road to Nowhere

Why is it that fiction sits so fundamentally at the core of our society? We invite fiction into our lives in many forms and as a species we always have – from cave painting, oral storytelling traditions, through music and song, visual art, books, radio, cinema, television to digital media. We accept storytelling as a means of both sharing ideas but also as pure entertainment and while clearly defining content into two categories of fiction and non-fiction a fundamental commonality remains. Fiction or non-fiction, our brain likes stories. We respond emotionally to what we call reality in the same way as we respond to what we call fiction. We laugh, we cry, we learn.

Is it such a stretch then to propose that fiction holds its place of importance because our lives are fictions too? That does not mean we can’t call our lives real, or take them seriously, but our lives are essentially the same as that of a character in a book, an extremely elaborate and detailed construction. When you realise your brain’s powerful ability to create and accept fiction, I think you can start to see how to control it, how to shape it into what you desire rather than going along with it as a passive passenger.