“To paraphrase Maya Angelou: When people show you who they really are, believe them.”
I recently came across this quote. There’s a great deal of wisdom packed into it, and not a few important lessons. Another word for “show” is reveal. If someone shows themselves through their behavior to be cruel and indifferent—especially when you are most vulnerable and open—this is a revelation of their true character. Something is coming through to which we need to pay close attention. We often try to ignore or paper over such revelations, and make excuses for the person, so we can hold on to our illusions of them. In other words, we gaslight ourselves: we disbelieve the clear evidence of our own experience. This is dangerous to our mental, and sometimes even to our physical, health.
The same holds true for reality as a whole: it discloses its true character to us. But we must pay attention, and not try to explain away or cover up its revelations, particularly when they upset our expectations. These are the kinds of experiences my late parapsychologist friend and mentor, Rhea White, would have called “exceptional.” They pierce our standard illusions about who and what we are, and what reality is, and they usually have great, if not disturbing, emotional impact. They are what the Ufologist Dr. Jacques Vallée would call “Reality Transformers”—or have the potential to become such—because they play havoc with our conventional metaphysical assumptions (“only physical matter is real”), and our usual experience of time (strictly linear and one-way) and space (separate bodies situated in a three-dimensional manifold). These are, in Kant’s sense, the basic forms through which we construct our perceptions.
What is called for in such breakthrough situations is not, strictly speaking, the adoption of a brand new set of beliefs about reality–for these new beliefs will, in turn, become restrictive mental prisons–but rather, belief in our own experience of reality. Do you see the difference?
“When people show you who they really are, believe them.” Another word that could be substituted for “believe” is, paradoxically, “trust.” But you’re not really trusting them; you’re trusting your own experience of them, your own perceptions and newfound questions. You’ve stopped gaslighting yourself in order to preserve the dysfunctional status quo. You’ve become open, receptive, and inquisitive, as opposed to being closed-minded and dogmatically attached to the illusions.
Let me give you just one example of the kind of thing I’m talking about from a recent experience of my own.
An academic colleague recently passed along a PDF copy of an unpublished manuscript written by a friend of his. It’s putatively a work of fiction, the story of a kind of metaphysical quest that involves characters who are consciously attempting to pierce the veil of illusion in a rather determined way. It caught my attention off the bat and hooked me in—a real page-turner! And then, about halfway through the almost 500-page manuscript, I had one of the strangest and most disconcerting experiences in recent memory. Here’s the way I described it when I communicated with the author himself:
“My initial reading of these paragraphs produced perhaps the strongest sense of deja vu I have ever experienced. It was so powerful it made me sort of nauseous, dizzy, almost panicky, like I’d fallen into some strange time slip. I not only had the sense that I’d read these words before, but also that the events they were narrating had actually happened. It was not just a fictional story. When I went back to reread them again, the feeling had vanished and didn’t return.”
I could not repeat or reduplicate the feeling; but this is to be expected with genuinely spontaneous experiences. Since this was an unpublished manuscript, and, as a PDF, I had been reading it sequentially, from page to page, it was impossible for me to have already read these passages and merely forgotten. But the sense that I had already read them was simply undeniable. Perhaps even more disconcerting was the sense that the events being narrated had actually happened, not just in some fictional universe created by the author that momentarily seemed “real to me,” simply because he is a good storyteller, but in a reality that he and I both share outside of the reader-author relationship. I’ve tried my own hand at fiction several times, and I know that the characters one creates can even become far more palpably “real” to oneself than the figures in the novels one reads, or the television shows one watches. But this was light years even beyond that.
And it was not just the characters, but the events in the story, and the events about which the characters were conversing, that became, at least momentarily, real to me. But “real” how? In what sense? In terms of an imaginal realm, as Henri Corbin would put it? An alternate universe? Or, was it the author’s luck to have subliminally perceived hidden things in our own shared physical reality that he mistakenly thought that he was creating in the alembic of his “private” imagination?
Whatever it was—and, to repeat, I emphatically don’t think that such experiences are prodding us to come up with new theories, new sets of ingrained beliefs, new Answers—there was an emotionally powerful dissolution of boundaries between past, present, and future, time and space, fact and fiction. It was an exceptional moment, not because reality was different, but because it was revealing itself as it is all the time—whole and fluid—but as I am typically blind to it. For I, too, am all too well ensconced in the dulling habits of mind cultivated by our dominant cultural paradigm. Subconsciously, I’m working overtime not to let the mask slip that I myself have unknowingly projected onto the face of reality. I’m constantly gaslighting myself into ignoring or forgetting these revelations.
Turn off the gas!