Are we experiencing reality? Or something else?

What do you see when you look out at the world?

Virtual Reality? Or Actual Reality?

I took my teen to see the latest Johnny English movie this weekend (meh, so-so — go see Bohemian Rhapsody instead).

In one scene the hapless agent is running amok in London — he put on a set of virtual reality goggles to rehearse an attack but misfired the platform and went out the door instead. The action is amusing to the outside viewer because we see him attacking a sandwich shop owner with two organic sourdough baguettes, accosting an old lady and crossing the road on all fours.

To him, in his VR world, it looks as if he’s pursuing the bad guys. To us, with our wider perspective we can see how the actions he’s taking relate to the world he sees — but don’t make any sense at all — and wouldn’t were he to take off the goggles.

…Applies to Your Life

To me, this is pretty much how we all look all the time. We live life, immersed in a reality that is generated by our experience. It looks as if everything we’re doing makes sense in relation to the world we see, but that’s because we are living from our experience — our version of ‘real life’.

Unlike Johnny English we can’t take our goggles off, we can only hone our awareness that we’re wearing them.

Like we do when we wake up from a dream, we can see that the action that looked sensible in the dream makes no sense to our waking selves.

When we’re ‘awake’ to the fact we are living through our experience, we can often step back and take a second glance at whether an action really makes sense.

And we can know that the emotional response we may be having is a function of our experience, not a reaction to the sandwich shop owner or the harmless old lady.

Experience Comes From…

When we are awake to the fact that we live from our experience, we don’t need to live as if our circumstances mean something.

When we are awake to the fact that we live from an experience that has no solidity, then the boss, the job, the relationship, the lack of X, or the surplus of Y we think is causing us to be happy, sad, frustrated, joyful doesn’t look quite so meaningful.

When we’re ‘awake’, then we’re more likely to see those outside ‘things’ as a toy, a game, a plaything. Something to throw ourselves into but not to take too seriously. And, when we’re awake, it’s much easier to ‘see through’ our goggles and look beyond. And what might that world look like?!

So What’s Really ‘Real’?

I suspect you already see life a little like this — at least in some moments.

You might find yourself looking back and seeing something different ‘once you’ve calmed’ down.

Or you might have a sense of knowing that shouting at the kids in that angry moment isn’t about them, it’s about you and how you’re feeling.

You know this, and yet, for most of us, it looks as if the outside world is at least partially responsible for how we feel and therefore how we act.

In the Johnny English film there really were two organic sourdough baguettes. There was something of ‘substance’ in the movie, I hear you say.

But, when we zoom out even more, we can see that the entire movie was made of celluloid. (or, more likely, pixels on a screen).

And what might that mean for us tiny humans living our own personal virtual reality existence? What if that was a metaphor for us as well?

Most of us can access a sense of perspective by zooming out one level — by seeing that our actions and emotions are coming out of the virtual reality headset, and that’s enough to help us calm down, relax and step away.

But sometimes it’s hard to let go. Something looks so real, and it generates such a powerful and visceral reality that it’s hard to get any perspective.

Those are the moments when I find it’s worth remembering that it’s all an illusion.

Not just what we see ‘out there’ but us too…

…every single pixel.

With love,



About the author

Cathy Presland is an expert in human-centred leadership and transformative change. She has more than two decades of experience in government and international organisations and her focus as a coach is to support impact-driven individuals and organisations to improve their performance, leadership and peace of mind to enable them to make more of a difference with the work they do.

What if making an impact was part of your everyday? Stories to light up your soul. Read more and free courses:

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