When in quiet thought, you think about your life, you tend to think of it in terms of special moments in past time. Birthdays, weddings, funerals. The time you fell off your bike and broke your wrist, the time you saw someone and immediately fell in love.
Perhaps this man, sitting on the boulevard beside the sea, is remembering one of those moments. Or even random memories: A broken window he saw in a building, sunlight shining on a wet cement street after the rain.
Perhaps he’s dreaming about the future; things he wants, things he hopes will happen to him someday: marriage, kids, cars, houses; things he hopes will not: poverty, injury, death. All these hopes and memories, strung together, form a picture of his life. He thinks that picture is who he is.
In reality, he’s a man sitting on a wall with the sea crashing behind him.
We live not in reality itself, but in pictures. Pictures of our own lives, pictures of the world around us that we learned in school and from books and films. Pictures that tell us where we are, in what country, in what city, on what street. “Scientific” pictures, of the sun in the center of the solar system, of the solar system fading into huge galaxies of stars, mixed with fearful pictures of imaginary alien beings.
We live inside these pictures. We carry them around with us with such attention that we’re hardly aware of the reality that surrounds us. We actually prefer the pictures. And yet these pictures are not real. They weigh nothing, they occupy no space.
Reality is all around us, with sun and wind and stars, and we don’t see it, we don’t feel it, we’re lost in it; and we drive our bodies through it automatically, like cars.
This man, alone and sad, lost in thought by the sea one windy afternoon — the pictures in his mind are probably more “real” to him than the wind across his face, or the sound of the waves behind him.
But the world around him is infinite and absolutely real — although he is barely aware of it inside his little box of pictures. And the strange thing is that this absolute reality is easily accessible to him at any time. He only needs to clear his mind of memories and pictures and look at it.
There it is.