“It is strange to be here” is the first line of John O’Donohue’s Anam Cara, a book of insight and wisdom, reflecting on what it is to be human. When I read that very first line, I knew I was in for some writing that would pierce me to the heart. (And it did.) It is strange to be here. I have that same sentiment nearly constantly.
Along with noticing the strangeness of this life, a question often arises in my mind: What is all this? which echoes the sense of mystery and strangeness, yet is also inquisitive. I think I prefer John’s line. No trying to get to the bottom of what this all is, just a stirring yet almost peaceful observational remark: It is strange to be here.
If you don’t think it’s strange, then you’re not paying attention. If our perceptions weren’t so dulled by familiarity, I think we would be in a constant state of wonder.
Luckily, there are ways to see things, as if for the first time, and awaken this sense of wonder. To remember the strangeness and also the awe. I know of a few ways to do this, but the way that is healthiest, most natural, most reliable and most accessible in any moment of our lives is mindfulness, or (my preferred term) awareness. Awareness is about paying attention. When you pay attention with focus, and awareness grows steady and open, spacious and clear, you’re bound to be struck by the strangeness and beauty of this life.
For most of us, for most of our lives, life itself is pressed too close to our noses for us to see it clearly. Meditation allows us to step back just enough to focus. Now, from here, from this quiet seat of awareness, with clarity, life can be appreciated for what it is — a strange and beautiful moving parade.
Still not convinced? There is another way to get a glimpse. Not a shortcut — there are no shortcuts. But there is another way to catch a glimpse into this way of viewing the world — a glimpse that may be motivating enough to make the necessary effort to practise until this new way of seeing is sustained, lasting, and our default way of being in the world.
Virtual reality is that glimpse. VR technology, at the time of writing, is still not ubiquitous in every household. But neither was the smartphone a mere decade ago. Accessibility and affordability are quickly growing and the buzz and excitement over the potential of VR is well-founded. From gaming and education, to travel and social events, and even therapy, VR is an unstoppable force.
We put on the headset, look around, and look up at the virtual sun beaming down at us, the hyper-real clouds gliding across the sky. We look down at our hands and bodies. Here is my waving hand. Here, I pluck this flower and toss it across that meadow. But I know this is not truth. I know I’m really standing in my living room in my pyjamas in the dead of winter. Oh, this is an illusion, a trick of the brain. Oh, my senses are being fed all this and my body believes it. Oh, this feels so real, I’m standing at the lip of the canyon, and it’s making my heart race. But I know. I know there’s nothing to be afraid of. I know I won’t be hurt, not really. Ultimately, I’ll be fine. Oh, this is life. This is just like life.
The magic, for me, is when the headset comes off. In that moment of transition between realities, as we are landing back. We look around again. It was strange to be there, and it is just as strange to be here too.
My curious mind still wants to ask, but what is all this anyway? I let it ask. Is it all that different from the virtual reality I was just in? I let the questions have some space to wander and poke around and investigate, but I make a quiet resolution that if I never get to the bottom of it, it’ll be fine. If I’m stuck with the headset on, if it’s built right into my body, and I am unable to take it off and peer into the great beyond, I will rest in peace. On some level, I already know the answer. On some level, there is no question.
I come back to John’s line: It is strange to be here.
I add: It is good to be here.