Shattering Illusions

This time of year is always one of reflection for me.  I think it has to do with the whole ‘new beginnings’ thing that comes with the start of a new school year.  This is the fourth September that I won’t be heading back to the classroom- either as a student or a professor- after manymanyMANY years of it being the norm.

But I still find that the self-analysis and evaluation happens more at this time of year (and on Christmas Eve as well- pagan that I am) than at any other.

Heavy thoughts, sometimes, as the summer winds down and the last days of warm weather and relative quiet in the neighbourhood persist.

The other night I got to thinking about illusions- those we hold dear and those that we suddenly seem to discover either have been or are in desperate need of being shattered.  Not just quietly set aside, but blown out of the water completely.

Illusions can be interesting and very personal things, and there are all kinds of meanings that the word conjures up

They can be tricks our senses may play on us- based in the way that our brain reacts to perceptions.  Sensory illusions distort reality but are a commonality that most humans experience in the same way.

Girls with puppy or scary skull?

Practitioners of stage magic are called illusionists.  Harry Houdini, arguably the greatest of them all, used this human propensity to perceive the distortion of reality to entertain and amaze audiences for years.

In addition to using illusion to fool patrons into engaging with the stunts and magic tricks he performed, Houdini spent the latter part of his career debunking ‘spiritualists’- self-described psychics and mediums.  A Scientific American committee, which included Houdini, offered cash prizes to any medium who could successfully demonstrate true supernatural abilities- money that was never claimed.

Harry Houdini used illusion- well aware of its principles and mysteries and effects on human perception- in his stage act, and then worked to shatter the illusions that putative psychics wove around themselves as a means of bilking their unsuspecting marks.

In Sanskrit and Pali literature, Maya has many meanings, but it has come to be associated with the many concepts of illusion.  In Vedic tradition, Maya is associated with Varuna- originally the god of water and the celestial ocean.  In the later Rig Vedic phase, Varuna lost some of his ascendancy and became connected with death and the ‘chief of the evil spirits’ (asuras).

These evil spirits practiced a form of black magics to tempt and harass the gods.  The concept of illusion became associated with dark magics that sat in opposition to the existing Truth.  These magics were inferior, deceptive and illusory.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the concept of illusion illustrates the ways in which people misunderstand their realities- and themselves- believing that things and people exist aside from their underlying conditions and causes.  Really, alone, they are empty- like the illusions the magician performs for our entertainment.

Mara, the devil-like figure who tempted the Buddha with visions of beautiful women, likewise distracts humanity from spiritual paths by making the mundane seem attractive.

In Sikhism Maya is connected with both snakes and money- and in some myths is the ‘grand illusion’ of materialism.  This primary illusion begets all others, but by understanding this foundational concept, a believer can begin to approach true spirituality.

I seem to be all about transitions lately.  Feeling a little trapped between things- reality and illusion, one state and another…  Thresholds.  Hammering at misconceptions and changing of realities.  That’s where my head is at.

Styx, that groovy prog-rock band of the 70’s and 80’s, took their name from river that marked the boundary between Earth and the Underworld, Hades, in Greek mythological tradition.  In later Greek and Roman sources, Charon (who I talked about a while ago- post won’t link- AAARGH!) ferried the souls of the dead between the worlds.  It was a place of liminality- like the Crossroads I talked about the other day.

In many legendary traditions, the Devil (yes, him again) is a Trickster figure prone to casting illusions upon unsuspecting humans as a means of outwitting and messing with them.  For little other purpose than because it’s what he does.

This connection (and ALL is connected) brings us back to both our Trickster figures at the Crossroads, and the vilification of the Devil as the externalized personification of evil, rather than as an exemplar that warns us to be wary of the traps of the illusory nature of the materiality and superficiality of life that get in the way as we pursue higher wisdom.

It would probably be most appropriate to end this post with the title song from The Grand Illusion, but it really is one of my least favourite Styx songs (I know- it’s kind of scary that I actually rank Styx songs).  So instead, I offer up, for your consideration and enjoyment, my very favourite Styx song, from the same album.

It’s still about illusions- and expectations- and overcoming both.  And it’s about sailing- which I love.  And angels turning out to be aliens (another illusion shattered)- which is pretty cool.

‘But we’ll try, best as we can, to carry on.’
And hope the illusions can be set aside to let some clarity shine through.

9 comments on “Shattering Illusions

  1. […] When illusion spin her net I’m never where I want to be And liberty she pirouette When I think that I am free Watched by empty silhouettes Who close their eyes but still can see No one taught them etiquette I will show another me Today I don’t need a replacement I’ll tell them what the smile on my face meant My heart going boom boom boom “Hey” I said “You can keep my things, They’ve come to take me home.”‘ […]

  2. […] based in spurious arguments without basis in fact.  We can avoid subscribing to the insidious sleight of hand that politicians, lobbyists and business leaders employ (often through the use of popular media) to […]

  3. colemining says:

    Reblogged this on colemining and commented:

    So ends the first week of the new school year and, as usual, it’s got me doing some thinking and reflecting as I try to put some thoughts and words together into something approaching a cohesive whole.

    It’s also the first weekend of TIFF- so the city has exploded in celebration of the science of illusion-creation.

    As the temperature soars (40 degrees when you factor in the humidity today) I’m doing my best to keep cool and carry on (amidst the insane crowds ’round my neck o’ the woods), so I’m thinking that the first part of the weekend will include watching the mini-series about the master of illusions that is hanging out on the PVR awaiting my gaze.

    Happy weekend!

  4. Doobster418 says:

    Great song and very educational post.

  5. I know we’ve spoken before, in comments, about the enjoyable side of sustaining illusions, suspending reality and belief to participate fully in a movie or the wondrous world of a child where magic and illusion feel like the reality. And Nessie awaits! 🙂
    But there are certainly times where illusions are downright dangerous. I can’t get my head out of political framework at the moment and thinking of the Tricksters who would deceive with grandiose embellishments on the facts. A liminal period for us, definitely at the crossroads, and illusion should have no part in the process.
    I know the name of this band but can’t for the life of me think of any of their songs so I’ll go search to see if the web will aid my aging brain cells. 🙂

    • colemining says:

      Anne-Marie- as we’ve chatted about before, some illusions retain a level of incomparable comfort and do no harm, so why not? Can’t wait to hang with Nessie (she will make an appearance while I’m there- I know she will!).

      The dangerous ones are very dangerous indeed. And you, and your fellow Scots (who I will be visiting SO soon!), are certainly at that place where illusions spun by the political Tricksters for their own benefits must be separated from clarity regarding the best move(s) for the most people. I’ll be watching with interest, certainly.

      Styx- you might know Babe, Mr. Roboto? Renegade? (my second favourite- after Come Sail Away). Thanks for reading. Getting so psyched to see you soon! xo

  6. “I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had.

    “We live happily forever, so the story goes.

    “But somehow we missed out on that pot of gold.”

    These three lines gave me pause for thought for a long time. One can always find disappointments in one’s life if one looks hard enough. The world certainly does its best to keep them fresh in our minds.

    At some point I came to the realization that, despite what we were told as children, we don’t have the capacity to be whatever we want. But I also realized that we can find a measure of happiness and satisfaction and usefulness in life without falling into a materialistic-fueled rut of complacency.

    Everyone has something to offer the world; it’s up to us to find what that is and take advantage of the gifts we were born with, and understand that our ability to learn and grow never ends. My children are still relatively young (between 11 and 18), but if I can get this point across to them it will be one of the ways I conclude whether I did a decent job as a parent.

    • colemining says:

      CBC- For sure. There are so many opportunities to find failure and disappointments if we spend too much time looking for them. And I very much agree that we are all limited- in some way- by what we can or cannot do/be in life. To maintain otherwise does a disservice- albeit one that is well-meaning.

      Things like happiness, success and satisfaction have to be measured by our usefulness and the contribution we can make to the larger society, rather than material gain and conspicuous consumerism. Sounds like your children are being given an incredible start by someone who understands those things that matter most.

      Thanks for reading- and the comment. Insightful, as always.

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