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The Real and the Unreal

By Darren Main • January 2002

Lead Us From Darkness to Light

From the Unreal to the Real

From Mortality to Immortality

Om Peace

I often end my yoga classes with the above prayer. It is a traditional prayer in a number of yoga traditions, for a very good reason. It sums up some of the core issues that yoga tries to address.

 It is no secret that yoga is a very healing practice. Its effects are quickly felt in just about every aspect of a person’s life. This is because yoga seeks to address our mental, physical and emotional suffering at the root of the problem— a radical distortion in perception. In other words, yoga seeks to redefine what we perceive as real and unreal.

Because of this reality confusion, we walk through life seeking happiness in things that are not real and denying the things that are. This has an unfortunate and double-edged effect on a person’s ability to find contentment.

On one hand, this confusion about what is real and what is unreal allows us to make bad investments with our emotional and mental capital. Rather than invest in eternal things like love and compassion, we allow our hearts to become shallow and our minds to become clouded. We value the size of a wallet over one’s capacity to love, and we place physical beauty before inner beauty. Aside from the shallow nature of this distorted perception, there is an even bigger problem. The things of this world will always change, and when this happens the mental and emotional investment we placed there gets lost along with our peace of mind.

For example, if you value your physical beauty over your inner beauty, you will eventually lose out. All beings will age and eventually die. This is a given. To value this over inner beauty is to place a wager on a horse you know in advance is going to lose.

Through yoga, our perceptions get healed and we start to experience the qualities of love and compassion as real rather than an idealistic fairy tale. The very nature of who we are— Atman is the only thing that is real. Our jobs, relationships, racial, religious and sexual identities are all temporary. Eventually all these things will change. Once we fully realize this, we are free to enjoy life without the burden of attachment. Through yoga, the confusion between real and unreal disappears, as does the suffering that such a confusion always carries with it.

The life of John Nash is a great example of this process. In the movie about his life, “A Beautiful Mind,” John struggles with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is a mental illness that is characterized by various hallucinations and delusions. In the movie John learns to decipher between what is ‘real’ and what is ‘unreal’ by looking calmly at his delusions and seeing them for what they are. Yoga would have each of us do the exact same thing.


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