“Is this real? Is this real? This life I am living?”
This morning I emerged from morning meditation and stepped outside with compost bucket in hand. Walked barefoot over the rain-soaked earth through wet golden leaves, inhaled the pungent smell of decay in the compost bin and re-entered the house a different person, brought back to some solid ground of “real.” And I remembered the Haida Indian song above quoted in an old Gary Snyder book of essays.
I always thought of this quote as one of those partings of the veil between waking and dreaming, that sense that all is illusion, that sliver of doubt that drives seekers to Buddhism or art or a general habit of deep-questioning. But many layers to this simple inquiry. It might also be asking, “Is this authentic, the life I have chosen? Is this life I have chosen aligned with the life that has chosen me? Is this what I’m meant to be doing and are these people the people I’m meant to do it with and is this place the place I’m meant to do it in?” All questions, like the best questions, that simply lead to other questions and keep us honest, keep us moving, "keep it real.” Going through the school gates each day to the bubbling laughter and yelps and shouts of children, tucked into my window seat on the plane on the way to the workshop, seated at the piano preparing for the next house concert, that sense of authenticity is always by my side. In a different way, the same roasting root vegetables, curled up on the couch with Hitchcock on the screen or blanketed in the bed with Dickens in my hand, all reminders of the real life that has blessed me and I’ve been blessed to recognize and pursue.
At school yesterday, an 8th grader was talking about her new favorite ap on her phone— something that makes the sound of rain and invokes a certain indoors-coziness she values. Well, at least this was an aesthetic appreciation, but these days, the old quote carries a new layer of meaning as we ensconce ourselves in a virtual life far away from bare feet on wet earth and decaying compost. Is reality TV real? Is shopping at Walmart? Are Facebook friends real friends? Is walking through the world talking non-stop through thin wires without attending to the place we’re walking real? Are the 56 messages in my e-mail box awaiting my response the real life I hoped to live?